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Podcast Episode 31: Gaining Credibility as a Freelancer and Specialist – 10 Tips to Get to the Top

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In order to be taken seriously, and to progress, in a freelance career, we need credibility, but how do we prove to potential clients that we know what we are doing, and that we can be trusted with their work? In this podcast episode, I go through ten top tips to gain credibility and become respected as an authority in your chosen area.

Show Notes

@GooglePoetics

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Transcript

Hello, and welcome to Episode 31 of A Little Bird Told Me: the podcast about the highs, the lows, and the no-nos of successful freelance writing.

I am Philippa Willitts and today I’m going to be talking about how to build your credibility as a freelancer or as an expert in your field.

When somebody is looking for a writer they may have four or five websites open for different writers and you need to give them some clues to show them that you’re trustworthy, that you know what you’re talking about and so in this episode I’m going to talk about different ways you can build your own credibility.

Now first of all, apologies that this is slightly late; I have been ill and then when trying to record this morning I had workmen across the street making this noise…

[Sound of

drilling]

Cheers fellas, just what I needed!

So slightly late but here.

Anyway, to make sure you never miss an episode of A Little Bird Told Me go to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com because there you can subscribe to the podcast which means that rather than trying to remember every Tuesday to tune in you’ll actually be notified on your chosen platform, whether it’s Stitcher or iTunes or whether you use an RSS reader.  You can also find a link to our Facebook page, so go over there, like us and say hello, and there are also links to my own and Lorrie’s various social media profiles and websites and such.

So anyway, I’m Philippa Willitts and today, as I mentioned, I’m talking about credibility.

Writing

Writing (Photo credit: jjpacres)

If you put yourself in the position of, say, a marketing manager for a business and they want to hire a freelance writer to write them a couple of blog posts a week.  So they do some searches and find some writers’ websites.  They’ve got to then make a decision about who to hire and part of that will be based on how credible you present yourself to be.  If you’ve got lots of links to other writing you’ve done that can help but there are other ways that can imply a level of credibility that can really help you get work and establish yourself as an authority in writing or in your specialist area, if you specialise in a particular subject or style of writing.

So I’m going to go through various different ways that freelancers can build their credibility and some are quick fixes and others are quite long term plans but it all depends on why it is you want to.  It may be something that if you build up over several years you can end up a real kind of name in your area or it may be that you’re just aware that your website’s a bit lacking in something and you want some quick fixes that you can do to start making a difference straightaway really.

The first way to demonstrate that you are good at what you do, because, you know, the client who’s looking for someone just doesn’t know that, you have to prove it, and a really effective thing is referrals.  If somebody you already work with recommends you to somebody else that’s instant credibility.  They can go, “That PR guy really likes what Philippa does so chances are she’s alright.  I’ll hire her.”  If you can get a referral from somebody else you already work with or have worked with in the past that’s great and it doesn’t actually have to be a client necessarily, it could be a colleague or somebody you’ve partnered with on a project.  If you’ve worked with a web designer on a big website redesign where you’ve provided all new content then next time someone asks that web designer if they know of a good copywriter they can refer people to you as well.  So it’s a really good way to make a start really on your credibility.  If other people recommend you then you’re probably doing something right.

The second idea is very similar actually and that is recommendations from other people.  Now this isn’t necessarily the same as referrals, although it might immediately sound like it.  What this can be is things like colleagues and clients who leave you a review on LinkedIn for instance, who will click those new little boxes that say you’re good at whatever it is you do.  You can also have a section of your website dedicated to the reviews and comments you’ve received from former clients.  You have to be careful with that; you probably need their permission, certainly if you’re going to name them and certainly if you write for them in a ghost writing type capacity rather than under your own name.  You’ve got to be careful but that kind of thing can be really helpful.

Image representing LinkedIn as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

If you want to get more reviews on LinkedIn there are different ways to go about that and one that a lot of people do, which probably isn’t the best way, is to just send your LinkedIn contacts a message saying, “Please recommend me” and it’s not a good move.  It’s people who receive the message, you know there’s nothing in it for them.  They’re busy, why would they take time out of their day to write you a recommendation?  You might be contacting people you’ve never worked with.  I’ve had LinkedIn messages from people I’ve never worked with saying, “Please can you recommend me?” and I can’t because I don’t know what they’re like to work with or how good they are at what they do.

A better way is to think carefully about people you’ve worked really closely with who know you quite well and who you know quite well and just writing them a recommendation; write down how they are to work with, write down what they’re good at, be honest but obviously positive.  They can choose whether or not to put it on their profile, it doesn’t appear automatically, but often if you write someone a recommendation then within a week or two they will reciprocate and write one for you as well.  It’s a better way of going about it than just randomly asking people to do it because, you know, they’ve got better things to do, whereas if you show willing first then you’ve got goodwill on your side.

There are dodgy ways of getting reviews as well.  You can pay people on Fiverr, and presumably other websites as well, to record a video talking about how wonderful you are or how great your book is and it will cost you $5, but actually it could cost you a lot of business because these people do hundreds and thousands of video reviews, and so if somebody is looking at your website trying to decide whether to hire you and they see someone saying how great you are but they recognise them from eight other sites that they’ve looked at where that same woman or same guy is saying just how good the person is it will not only not convince them that you’re good, it will destroy your credibility instantly I would think.  If I thought somebody had faked a review in that way I wouldn’t trust them at all.  I wouldn’t want to hire them in any circumstances.  So it’s not just that it wouldn’t be helpful, it could do your reputation some real damage.  People would wonder what you’ve got to hide, it’s no, just don’t do it.

The next way to prove yourself to potential clients is simply your website.  You have to make it as good as you possibly can; make sure there are no typos on there, make sure there’s no weird formatting in different browsers.  You’re a writer so it doesn’t have to look spectacular in terms of visual design.  If you’re a designer then it does but if you’re a writer you know it’s great if it looks spectacular but that’s not what people are looking for.  Instead the words, the writing, the text has to be really, really good.  I’m never content with my own websites.  Every time I look at them I end up changing a bit of text but hopefully it just keeps improving over time, but if you want to persuade people that they should hire you to write then make your website content not just persuasive but impressive.

The other thing about your website is it provides an opportunity for you to link to your other writing.  If you write for a blog under your own name link to that, if you write articles for constant content you can get a code for a little widget that you can put in your sidebar that’s got links to all your recent articles.  It’s more difficult if you do more ghost writing than writing under your own name.

I know I write blogs for several companies under their name.  My job is to write the content really well and then it’s theirs.  Lorrie and I talked in the finance episodes we did about the fact that my general rule with copywriting is that as soon as their invoice is paid then they own the writing, it’s entirely theirs.  They can say it’s written by themselves, by me, by the Queen, it’s entirely up to them.

So that is more difficult because you can’t link to these blogs and say, “I wrote that” if you’re ghost writing.  So you need to think of some other ways to get published with your own name.  So this might be writing guest blog posts for a couple of big blogs, it might be getting a couple of articles published in magazines and linking to those, particularly if you have a specialist subject this is a really good way to get clips if you specialise, or whatever area you specialise in there will be blogs dedicated to that subject and if you can get a few posts on those that really show that you do know what you’re talking about then people in that sector of business may well read those blogs and recognise your name and that is where credibility really begins to build.

Another idea for website content is something I mentioned earlier, is a page of people I’ve worked for, or a section of people I’ve worked for.  Now, again, this can be varied depending on who you have worked for and how open you can be.  I’ve done some work for some quite high profile clients for which I had to sign non-disclosure agreements; so as much as I would like to name them and say, “I’ve written for companies x, y and z”, and it would look impressive, I can’t do that.  There are other companies where I can.  I haven’t got one of these pages.  It’s a tricky one.  I know Lorrie and I have talked about it a few times just amongst ourselves, not on the podcast I don’t think, about the fact that it does look impressive if you look at a copywriter’s page, a copywriter’s website, and they have a section for people they’ve worked for and it’s got big companies, big national or international brand names and you do, that gives credibility, which is what we’re talking about.  You do think, “Wow!  If she’s written for Marks & Spencer’s you know she must be good.”  You make assumptions and that’s what building credibility is about quite a lot of the time, is kind of creating the right assumptions in people.

However, there can be ethical issues around privacy and confidentiality and I know Lorrie and I have both been a bit torn on this.  Is it do you need to contact each company, which companies do you mention, do you mention the small companies that might not be that impressive, do you want a long list, even if it’s tiny companies, or do you want a list of six or seven people that are well known?  It’s difficult but sites that do have that page, that have impressive companies, it gives a good impression.

Tip No. 4 is, again, related to the previous one and I mentioned being able to link to clips which is, you know, previously published articles and such.  This does really help and actually the better the… the more high profile the publication or the website the more impressed people are, understandably.  I can say I’ve been published in The Guardian and Independent websites and New Statesman and people think, “Oh, she knows what she’s doing”, which I like to think I do, and so sometimes even if these aren’t your target markets it may be something that you can work towards, that you can aspire to really, but you might want to start with, say, pitching guest blog posts to smaller blogs to gain confidence but pick the biggest ones or the print magazines in your area to really aim towards because it does immediately make a good impression.

Studying

Studying (Photo credit: Skakerman)

No. 5 tip about how to gain credibility is to make sure that if you’ve done any training or study you let people know, mention it on your website.  I’ve got a whole page on my website dedicated to the study I’ve already done and the on-going training and study that I do.  I want people to know that I take my job seriously and that I’m committed to continuing to improve and to grow and showing that I undertake regular training does help that, and also if somebody’s unsure about whether I’m really qualified to write about a particular aspect of, say, social media, which is one of my areas, they can look at my training and study page and see that I keep on top of the latest social media training all the time.  It helps them to believe that you take your job seriously, that you have an in-depth knowledge of your subject rather than just a very vague one and that you know what you’re talking about really.

Another link to this is certification.  Do you have any kind of professional certification?  Are you a member of some guild of copywriting or editors’ association?  If you are make sure people know.  Put it on your LinkedIn page; put it on your website.  If there’s a little logo that you can put in your sidebar then do it.  It helps people to gain in confidence.

Tip No. 6, and this is a form of social proof, which is where people react well to the implication that other people support you, which is why if you see a blog post and you’re not sure whether to Tweet it or not and then their, ‘Tweet This’ button has a little note that says, “This has been Tweeted by 2400 people you’re more likely to hit ‘Tweet This’ than if it says it’s been Tweeted by two people.  We react well to what we believe other people react well to and so showing that you have certification is a form of social proof because it means that someone else has also recognised your capabilities.

Now Point No. 6, I think we’re at, is another form of social proof, which is awards and prizes.  If you have any awards or prizes that you have won that relate to either writing, proofreading, editing, whatever your area is, or that relate to the topics you write about then display them on your website, mention them if it comes up in conversation.  If you write about cookery and you’ve won a national baking competition that will make people want to hire you to write for them about cookery.  The award you won or the prize you won gives other people confidence that you do genuinely deserve to be taken seriously in your specialism.

Social proof is effective in all sorts of areas of life and it’s particularly relevant in the area of credibility and being taken seriously.

In the introduction I mentioned that some of these tactics for gaining credibility were a longer term plan rather than a quick fix and this is one of those.  It’s quite a big, long term plan but when it works it works really, really well.  So you have to decide how much time you want to invest in this and the possible benefits you can get out of it.

So Tip No. 7 for gaining credibility is to create your own products.  Now by products I don’t necessarily mean a physical thing.  Something like a podcast or writing a book both take lots of hours for lots of months to get right and to be respected but if you do put that time in then the returns can be really, really rewarding.

Lorrie and I have made this podcast now for… this is the 31st episode and we spend hours a week recording.  I spend a good four hours a week doing the audio editing.  Lorrie spends I don’t know how many hours a week doing the transcription.  It’s not something we just throw together.  Yeah, that’s not even mentioning the planning actually.  This takes a lot of hours for both of us every week but we’ve invested that because we think it’s because we enjoy it, we like providing useful information, but also it proves to anyone who listens, hopefully, that we do know what we’re talking about; it builds our credibility.  The fact that we’re co-hosts of a freelance writing podcast automatically makes people think, “They must really know about freelance writing” and they can listen to it and hopefully that will cement in their mind what they think of us as a result of it.

Writing a book is similar.  Now some people find that there’s more credibility in being traditionally published.  Other people prefer the control you can have with self-publishing and self-publishing does have a bit of a bad reputation.  I know some people are trying to challenge that.  Guy Kawasaki has started calling it artisanal publishing to make it sound a bit better and it’s a debate that will go on for ever.

So traditional publishing may be considered slightly more authoritative.  Self-publishing you keep a lot more of the money.  Either way if you write a book and publish it, be it an e-book, a paper book, whatever, this makes people see that you do know what you’re talking about.  If you’re the food writer I mentioned earlier who’s won a national baking competition, if she then writes a whole book about how to decorate cupcakes then that, again, cements her credibility.  People think, “Wow!  She won that big award.  She’s written for BBC Food magazine and she’s written a whole book about cupcakes.  This woman knows what she’s doing.”

Now like I said, these kind of products, podcasts, books, all sorts of options really, are big undertakings.  They take a lot of time, a lot of energy and a lot of persistence but, like with many things, the more effort something takes the bigger the rewards will be.  So if you do want to be freelancing still in three years’ time and you want by then to have a bigger name and be more in demand and be more known for your particular specialism then creating a significant product is a really good way to build your authority, build your credibility and make people believe in you.

Tip No. 8 is another one that not everybody will agree with, which is completely fine, and that’s to specialise if you choose an area that you want to write about that you already know a lot about.  Maybe you studied medicine at university and decided not to become a doctor you can specialise in health writing and you’ll be respected because you have a medical degree, you’re a doctor and you will be able to get a lot more not just work but work that’s probably better paid because of your credibility if you work in health and medical writing.  If you do general copywriting you won’t be able to demand better fees because the fact that you’re a medical doctor makes no difference when you’re writing about town planning or the latest film.

So specialising, especially if you can prove that you actually are a specialist in that area, can lead to more interesting work I find and better paid work because people are happy to pay more if they can get someone who really knows what they’re talking about in a certain area, but also specialising is a good way to build your credibility because you’re trying to be the big fish in a pond that’s a lot smaller than just business or commercial or blogs.  If you want people to start saying, “Yeah, she’s good” you’ve got a much better chance of that if you’re writing about just, say, travel than if you’re writing about everything.  If you only approach the magazines in your specialist area then you can really get to know the editors and become their ‘go to’ person when they need a particular article, whereas if you write an article for anybody and everybody there’s just no way to build yourself up as a specialist, and specialist implies credibility immediately.

Point No. 9 about gaining credibility is good old social media.  You can make sure that the Tweets you send out show that you know what you’re talking about, you can mention the work you’re doing on Facebook, but also, and probably more effective, is things like communities on Google+ and groups on LinkedIn where you can go into a group of freelance writers or of food critics, or whatever your area, and contribute to discussions that gets your name out there.  Again it shows people that you know what you’re talking about.  So don’t do it if you don’t know what you’re talking about.  If you don’t know what you’re talking about then you can’t specialise in that area yet until you do, but presuming you do know what you’re talking about Google+ communities, Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups are all great ways to demonstrate that you can do what you say you can do and that you do know what you say you know.  Don’t just contribute to writing groups.  Look for where you want to be, what areas you want to be writing about and go to groups in that area as well.  Make your name familiar to the people who have the power to hire and fire you.

And a final point, Point No. 10, about building credibility as a freelance writer is once you’ve got it or once you’re starting to get it don’t lose it by doing something stupid like submitting bad work or getting a reputation for being a diva or giving in work late, or even things like promising more than you can deliver.

If you work really hard to build up a reputation, if you work really hard to prove to people that you’re credible, that you know what you’re doing, that you really are a specialist in the area you say you specialise in that’s a lot of work and to throw that away by being careless, by planning badly, by taking too much on, by not communicating with your clients you’ll lose it instantly.  Clients can’t be bothered with somebody who regularly submits work late.  If you submit work late once but that meant they missed a deadline they won’t bother using you ever again.  Once you start building credibility don’t lose it.  Do your best.  You can only do your best but do your best to maintain the image you’re portraying and prove people right.  If they put their trust in you make sure that your behaviour merits that trust.

So that’s 10 points about gaining credibility as a freelance writer and now it is time for my Little Bird recommendation of the week and it’s a bit of a light hearted one this week.  It is a Twitter account called GooglePoetics and you know when you do a search on Google and it gives you dropdown options for what people commonly search for, or what it suspects you might be searching for, people are spotting poetry, I guess found poetry in some ways, in some of the dropdown predictions that Google are giving out and some of them are really quite beautiful.  So head over to @GooglePoetics to have a look at the screenshots of spontaneous Google poetry which are just lovely and a bit of light relief.  As an example one person did a search for ‘I wish I knew’ and it auto-completed in the following poem:

I wish I knew how it would feel to be free

I wish I knew how to quit you

I wish I knew then what I know now

I wish I knew Natalie Portman

So there we have it.  Enjoy your Google poetry recommendation of the week.  The link will be in the show notes.

I’m sorry if it’s been a bit choppy.  I’ve had to stop and start a lot of times either because of power tools across the road or because I’ve needed to cough and sneeze for a while, but that’s how committed we are to this podcast.  We come at you when we’re ill and when there are workmen.

Thank you for listening.  Do check us out at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com.  Subscribe, leave us ratings and feedback on iTunes and Stitcher and anywhere really.  Tell your friends that we exist.  Like our Facebook page.  Come say hi to us on social media.

I have been Philippa Willitts and we will see you next time.

 

Podcast Episode 30: It’s not about you – the art and the science of commercial copywriting

We ran out of storage space for our earliest episodes. But fear not, we have made these many, many hours of freelance writing goodness available for just £10. If you want access to them all, please click Add to Cart and buy through our e-junkie account for instant access.

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Commercial copywriting is not what most people picture when they think about freelance writing. It is so different to typical fiction or non-fiction writing, and in this episode, Lorrie and I talk about why this is, what PPC ads can teach us about why good copy might not be that good, and what the deal is with features versus benefits.

Show Notes

Calmingmanatee.com

Entrepreneur.com: Marketing Features Vs. Benefits

Google Adwords keyword tool

10 Amazing Free Online Writing Courses

Episode 23: How to Decide What to Charge for your Freelance Writing Services

Episode 24: The Art of Getting Paid

Episode 25: Why and How to Charge More For Your Freelance Writing

Calculate Your Hourly Rate With This Freelance Billable Rate Calculator

There are several ways to make sure that you don’t miss out on A Little Bird Told Me.

Subscribe via RSS

Subscribe via iTunes

Find us on Stitcher Smart Radio

And finally, please ‘like’ us on Facebook to be the first to hear our news and to talk with us about what you hear on the podcast!

Transcript

LH: Hello, and welcome to Episode 30 of A Little Bird Told Me.  I can’t believe we’ve got there but it’s Episode 30, yeah!

PW: Yeah!

LH: So this is Episode 30, 3-0, of the podcast about the highs, the lows and the no-nos of successful freelance writing.

PW: Episode 30 did you say?

LH: I did say Episode 30.

[Cheering]

*Copywriting

*Copywriting (Photo credit: Bazstyle | Photography)

LH: Yay!  So if you’d like to listen all the way to Episode 40, and hopefully 50 and beyond, you can find us on the web at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, and there you can subscribe to the podcast in any number of ways, including RSS feed, iTunes, Stitcher Smart Radio or just on the Podomatic page itself.  You can also find the link to our Facebook page, where there are plenty of tips, tricks and topics to enjoy and you can also find links to our websites and social media feeds.  So you can come and have a chat with us about any of the topics we cover in this podcast, and any we haven’t covered for that matter.

I’m Lorrie Hartshorn.

PW: And I’m Philippa Willitts and today we are talking about copywriting.  Both Lorrie and I we do different styles of writing in different parts of our work and one of those that we both do is commercial copywriting.

In A Little Bird Told Me we do look at different aspects of copywriting regularly but what we’ve talking about today is quite specifically about the art and the science of copywriting because the thing is it’s quite a unique skill and it involves the techniques that don’t tend to be found very often in fiction or non-fiction writing.

LH: Yeah, I think it’s definitely true that copywriting’s a very distinct skill and it’s very different from what people think of when they think of writing.  You know I’ve chatted to people and they say, “So what do you do?” and you go, “Right, well I’m a writer” and they go, “Okay, what do you write?”  You know they’re automatically thinking like novels.

PW: Yeah.

LH: I say, “Well I’m a copywriter” and they’re like, “Right” and you start to see their eyes sort of glazing over a little bit.  It’s kind of like, you know, there’s not really much of an awareness of really the bare bones of copywriting as opposed to just writing.

PW: Yeah, even in business context at networking meetings if I introduce myself as a copywriter some people just even know what it means.

LH: Mmm, yeah, they mistake it for copyright as in intellectual property.

PW: Yeah.

LH: You know so while copywriting is still very creative you’re actually dealing with like a whole framework, depending on the kind of document or text that you’re trying to produce, and there are rules that you have to learn and conventions that you need to respect and all kinds of things that you have to take into account, such as SEO, formatting, you know if you’re writing on a website that’ll be different for if you’re writing on social media or in a print document or on something else.  Copywriting is as much, for me at least, about skill as it is about talent and skills have to be learnt properly and thoroughly for the results to be any good.

PW: Yeah, in many forms of writing that you might do you’re trying to express yourself in a way that’s pleasing to read, you might want to show off a bit with a bit of flowery language or astound people with your incredible progressions of logic, and that is great; however, not when you’re copywriting.

Copywriting isn’t about what you can do.  It isn’t about you at all.  It’s about your client and I’d say more importantly about your client’s client or their customers or prospects.

LH: No, absolutely, I think you’re completely right.  I think copywriting is, to a certain extent, it’s much more utilitarian than just other forms of writing.  You know you’re writing for a reason, it’s not just for the pleasure of writing but the pleasure that your readers are going to get.  You know your client needs their clients to get something from what they’re reading, whether it’s a general feeling of benevolence towards the company, they need to be informed about some sort of progress that the company’s making, they need to be persuaded to buy a service or a product.  You know there has to be a purpose behind it.

While we’re actually on the topic one more thing that I do want to mention is I think it’s a not so well known fact about copywriting and that’s it’s different from content writing.

PW: Yeah, it’s kind of like there’s a Venn diagram, isn’t there, and there’s a crossover but that doesn’t mean that they’re the same thing.

LH: Yes.  I always struggle with Venn diagrams, especially the ones that have got three circles.  I always sort of try and work them out.  I sit there going, “Right, that and that and then that and that.  Oh, it does work.  That and that.”  Every time I found myself astounded, I’m not quite sure why.  Bar graphs and pie charts don’t quite have the same effect.  It’s quite overwhelming, but yes, copywriting, content writing; I don’t want people going away from this podcast thinking, “Oh, well I don’t do copywriting, I do content writing so, you know, these tips don’t apply to me.”  The term ‘copywriting’ is often used as a coverall term for content production and to a certain extent that’s fine and that’s really, I think, how we’re going to be using it in this.

PW: Yeah.  There are also people who believe very strongly that copywriting should only be used to describe sales copywriting but, again, that’s not what we’re talking about today; we’re not talking just about sales writing but as kind of commercial writing in a wider context.

LH: Yeah.  I think because the word ‘copywriting’ came from the advertising industry, didn’t it?

PW: Yes, yeah, ad copy.

LH: Yeah.  So I think that’s why people go along with that.  So yes, definition pure of ‘copywriting’ is producing text that is trying to persuade your readers to get on board with a certain point of view or to persuade them to buy or desire a certain product or service but for the purposes of this podcast whichever type of writing you do, either content or copywriting, and it’s likely to be both unless you’re writing purely sales and ad copy, most of the points, if not all of them, are going to apply to you because at the end of the day you’re writing on behalf of your client and that’s what we’re trying to tackle in this episode.

PW: Yeah.  So yes, so that’s the definition of copywriting we’re working with today and as we mentioned above one of the key things about copywriting is that you have to put your own preferences aside.  You may end up writing something that you don’t love from an artistic point of view but that’s not the point of copywriting.

LH: Yeah, 100%.  You know as Pip’s just mentioned writing on behalf of somebody else means that the first thing you have to do, as long as you’re happy to take on the brief, is to put your own feelings about a certain subject or product or service or company on one side and decide what you’re actually trying to achieve with the content that you’re creating.

PW: Yeah.

LH: A point that follows on from this is that you need to put your personal writing style on one side.  Now speaking from experience I write for clients in the waste management and compliance sector.

PW: She does.

LH: I do, lucky me.

[Laughter]

LH: I also write for clients in the fashion, style and beauty sector and everyone will be going, “Mmm, that sounds nice” but for me it’s just as terrifying.  You know I’m not… in fact it’s more terrifying actually because I’m at home with the conventions in sort of environmental services.

PW: Yeah, yeah.

LH: Whereas fashion, it’s slightly more subjective.

PW: But I have to say, listener, Lorrie always dresses beautifully and she is very stylish but she’s not a big like talking all the time about style and always wearing labels and all that stuff.

LH: I never wear labels.

PW: Yeah, exactly, and so it’s not that Lorrie doesn’t have a sense of style because she very much does but, again, that’s not the point of the writing she’d be doing in that sector.

LH: Aww, I love that you just leapt to my defence and told everyone how stylish I am.

PW: You are; you always look gorgeous.

LH: Aww, aww listeners! Get a load.

[Laughter]

LH: Aww.  Well I feel completely off topic now.

PW: Just bask for a moment.

LH: I’ll just bask in the glory.

[Laughter]

LH: So my point was going to be…

PW: Yes, sorry [laughs].

LH: …about my clothing and style, is that, listeners, do you think I write for these clients in the same way?  Absolutely not, 100% not, and do you think that either of the writing styles, or any of the writing styles, that I create for my clients are actually ‘me’ and, again, no chance.  I’ve no outside interest in waste management or scrap metal recycling or micro polymer processes.  I don’t sit down and read you know reports unless I need to for work, you know it’s not bedtime reading for me, and nor do I have anything more than an extremely fleeting interest in high fashion.  What I do have an interest in is writing and in creating and maintaining an authentic voice for every single one of my clients and there has to be a voice that reflects their mission, their values, their personality, in the case of individuals or prominent individuals in a company, or their brand, in the case of a company as whole, and it needs to be a voice that appeals to the target audience and gives that audience what it needs in order to have faith in the client.

PW: Yeah.

LH: So a fun and frolicky tone with lots of exclamation marks won’t work for metal recycling experts but it does the trick for beauty bloggers in the 18 to 25 age range.

PW: Yeah.

LH: You know likewise fashion fans don’t tend to want heavy stats and information on sort of legislative processes.  So it’s just horses for courses really.

PW: That is a really good point.  Often in social media writing I use statistics, especially early on.  If you’re trying to be persuasive about a particular service, for instance, then it can be really useful to say however many million people use that service because that may make businesses go, “Oh, I should be on there” but, again, when I’m writing about garden furniture then the number of people who have a bench in their garden is entirely irrelevant.

LH: [Laughs] “One million British people have benches.”

PW: “Why don’t you?”

[Laughter]

LH: You’re missing out.

PW: So yeah, but as well as writing in different styles and tones for different sectors you are also writing for different readers too; so you can’t write the same way in a light hearted, informal blog post as you do in a detail rich industry specific press release, even if they are for the same client.  I mean it just highlights why the skills involved in copywriting are different to writing, I don’t know, your own blog for instance because if you’re feeling light and cheerful you can write a light and cheerful blog post, but if you’re feeling light and cheerful and your client today is a funeral director you need to put your good mood aside and get serious.

LH: [Laughs] yeah, I think that’s a good point, I definitely think that’s a good point, especially the point that you made about, you know, even if you’re writing for the same client the purpose of the text, you know if you’re talking about a blog post versus a press release; you know I have one client and their blog posts, by their choice, are kind of tabloid.

PW: Yes.

LH: They’re kind of like matey language, you know lots of exclamation marks and I know some copywriters and content writers think that’s like a hanging offence but I don’t.  You know if my client wants a cheeky chappy style voice for their blog posts and their news articles then that’s exactly what I’ll give to them because I’ve had a look at their target market, I’ve had a look at their target audience and I think it’s the sort of thing they’d be receptive to.

PW: I think this highlights actually why research is so important in copywriting.  You have to really know your clients and you have to really know their target market.  You can’t just learn about the topic you’re writing about because like Lorrie says if they’ve got an 18 to 25 market you do tackle that differently to if they’ve got a 55 to 70 market and you have to have your head round that before you can even start really.

LH: Definitely because at the end of the day you’re not you, you’re your client.  You’re not going to stick your own name at the bottom of a piece of writing; you are your client’s official voice, especially in something like a press release.

PW: Yes.

LH: To go back to what Pip was just saying, you know you need to keep it authentic but serious.  You know you can’t… I don’t keep the same cheeky chappy tone in a press release for my clients but then again if I’m writing a press release for my cheeky chappy client and I know it’s only going to be a regional subject I might keep it a little bit more informal because I know the regional newspapers.

PW: Yeah and also like if you’ve got a company who, say, sells a product and they sell it direct to clients but they also sell it wholesale to businesses then the writing you would do for them to appeal to customers who buy direct from them is very different from the writing you’d do to appeal to customers who sell their product in their stores.

LH: Yeah, B2B versus B2C.

PW: Exactly, and so in every way there can be so much variety whether you’re working for 10 different clients or one client but with different purposes.

LH: That’s a really, really good point you know, and I did like the point you made as well about sort of the mood that you’re in.

PW: Yeah.

LH: Because again, you know, I started out as a translator and there’s this concept called ‘the invisibility of the translator’ and some people are pro it and some people are anti and I’m pro.  You know I think that a translator should be invisible and that’s the mark of a good translation, but I also think it can be applied to copywriting.

PW: Yes.

LH: I think you do need to be invisible.  Your client needs to shine through rather than yourself and the same goes for the mood that you’re in on that day.  You can be having the best or the worst day of your life; you have to keep it out of your writing for clients.

PW: Yeah.

LH: You do.  Sometimes I even end up laughing to myself, because I’m like that, just when I think about how little clue my clients have got, and indeed should have, about what’s going on with me on that particular day.  You know it can be my birthday, I might have the giggles, I might have just had a laugh and a joke with Pip, or I might be full of feminist rage, you know maybe there’s a law that’s been passed I’m not happy with and I’m feeling a bit of an activist, whatever, I keep it to myself.

{{Copywriting}}

{{Copywriting}} (Photo credit: faithfulllyyy)

PW: So yeah, even in your dealings with clients you might be having the most frantic week you’ve ever had but when you get an email from a client and you reply you can’t go, “Oh my God, I don’t have time” or, “Stop sending things my way for God sake, give me a break” or you can’t even say, “I’m in a really big rush but this looks okay.”  You have to reply just as if it was any other day and you have to keep it under control, but yeah, like Lorrie was saying, in the copywriting itself you might be feeling rotten, you might be full of a cold, your girlfriend’s just dumped you, the roof’s leaking…

LH: Aww.

PW: I know, but if you’re writing a blog post for a comedy promoter you know it has to be upbeat and happy.

LH: Aww, you made me really sad now just thinking about that poor hypothetical copywriter.

PW: Aww [laughs].

LH: Listeners, if you’re having a horrible week come and talk to us.

PW: Yeah, it’ll be okay.

LH: It will, it’ll be fine.  Do you know actually I was having a really stressful week a couple of weeks back and I was on my personal Twitter account, which isn’t linked to my work at all.  So I was having a bit of a rant saying how stressed I was and somebody sent me calmingmanatee.com and it’s so lovely.  You click on it and there’s a picture of a lovely looking manatee and it says, “Don’t worry sweetie, I’ll put the kettle on” and there are loads to choose from and I actually felt really calm, it was so lovely.

PW: We will add that link to the show notes if you’re having one of those days…

LH: We will.

PW: …where only a calming manatee will do the trick.

LH: Yeah, they’re lovely.  I love them.  So even if you’re having the worst day in the world, even if your life is horrible and you can be typing through the tears sadly if it takes a calming manatee to get through it that’s what you’ve got to do.  If you’ve got to go and chat to somebody by email… you know Pip and I mouth off to one another by email all the time, like, “Why has this happened?  What’s with this timing?  You know I haven’t heard from this client for a week and now they’re emailing me at 7 am on a Saturday with a load of work and I’ve just not got time and what am I going to do?” and it all works out in the end but it’s good to be able to let off steam.

PW: Yeah.  Another thing that’s important to remember about copywriting is that sometimes what’s effective in copywriting is not the most beautiful wording or the prettiest words.

LH: Yes, oh gosh yes.  I’ve got a client, lovely client, long term client, but their name sounds like a plural.

PW: Oh yeah.

LH: You know who I’m talking about, don’t you?

PW: Yes.

LH: Aha.  Well this nameless name ends in an s and we’ve had so many battles, this client and I, about apostrophes and pronouns, you know, and I would say we’ve had these battles in the past but it’s been quite recent as well.

PW: [Laughs].  So past is yesterday.

LH: That’s true you know, and one minute the client… well I say one minute, for a while the client will be happy with one thing but then somebody in-house will spot an apostrophe that looks weird and it’s completely grammatically correct but you know they say, “Well it looks weird” and my clients are in their sector and I’m not, so at a certain point I have to kind of really take on board what they say.  So it’s got to the point now where I’ve had to accept that my client prefers, and this is significantly prefers, a grammatically incorrect approach.

PW: Ooo, that must be painful.

LH: It really hurts, it really does.  I have to chop the possessive s off funny name and I have to refer to the company as ‘they’ instead of ‘it’, even though it’s a single company.  So you know it’s one single noun and it drives me to distraction but…

PW: I can imagine.

LH: …if it works for the client, this is it, if it works for my client and there’s no negative effects on the audience, like I said earlier you have to do your research, then I have to put my feelings to one side because there’s no point being precious about it, even though I shudder at using that kind of grammar in my own writing, my writing, writing that’s attributed to me because it’s not my writing, it’s not my voice.

PW: Yeah, yeah.  I’ve even read certain copywriters who specialise in the big dramatic sales, you know the long form sales letters that go on and on, I’ve even read some of them saying that they don’t care about their grammar and spelling even because buyers feel reassured by things, spelling mistakes.  Now I would never go that far just because it would keep me awake at night…

[Laughter]

PW: …knowing that I’d left typos in and I don’t think that works for every audience but it kind of reminds me a bit about the… about kind of George Bush and his inability sometimes to form sentences was some people very much criticised him for it but others kind of found it reassuring and humanising.  I would be on the very much criticising side of things but yeah, I wouldn’t go that far but it does go to show that it’s never as simple as getting it correct necessarily and sometimes if you’re writing something salesy you might find yourself cringing at using certain clichés or dramatic wording but sometimes it’s exactly what’s called for.  It’s not something you’d submit as part of a Creative Writing MA but it’s doing the job it’s supposed to do.

LH: Yeah, I had to use the phrase, and this is a true story, I had to use the phrase, ‘cast iron, rock solid 60 day bullet proof guarantee’ the other day.

PW: Oh dear.

LH: I actually had to write that and I had to write it seriously, ‘bullet proof, rock solid’ and I’ve used ‘solid gold’ before as well.  I feel like it’s a confessional but you’ve got a new Pope, it’s time to confess.

PW: [Laughs].

LH: Yeah.  No, I had to ‘cast iron, rock solid, 60 day bullet proof guarantee’ and it works, it’s horrible.

PW: Yeah, that’s the thing.  We kind of wish that writing beautiful prose would work but it doesn’t necessarily.

LH: Well no.  You know some of the sales copy that I’ve done, in fact most of it, the target market is sort of men from 30 to 55 say, and they tend to be quite high earners, so doctors, lawyers, architects, you know all that kind of thing but research into direct sales copy shows that this kind of hyped up ridiculous copy really works and less subtle approaches, and we have tried them, they really, really, really don’t work but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt the copywriter.

PW: Yeah.

LH: No, but it’s an interesting point because when I was recruiting recently, as I mentioned in a previous episode, I had people getting in touch saying, “Oh but I have a really good level of language and grammar” and you know yes, good for you, great and you know it’s the basic starting point for a career in writing, any kind of writing, but it’s not enough, you know it’s really, really not enough, and sometimes it can be a bit of a distraction because, as you’ve just said Pip, you know you can’t sleep at night if there’s a typo.  You know I do the same thing, I’ll send something off that I’ve read and read and read and proofread and proofread and proofread and the minute I click send I’m like “Oooh, but what if there was a typo?” you know.  So it can be a bit of a distraction and it can stop you looking at other things in the text.

PW: I think, especially if you’re going to do… end up with a piece of writing that’s not necessarily 100% grammatically correct, like Lorrie was saying with her client with the apostrophe and plural situation, I think it’s one of those situations where you need to know how to do it right in order to then be able to do it wrong, if you know what I mean?

LH: Yeah, you need to be able to decide how much you can deviate from grammatical norms for example.

PW: Yeah, like you have to know the rules in order to break them I would say.

LH: No, I think that’s a really good piece of advice, yeah.

PW: So it is important to know this stuff but when you’re doing commercial copywriting it’s also important that you can sometimes put it aside.

LH: Yeah and know when to put it aside based on research and reading; you know don’t just get bored of correct grammar and then chuck it out of the window.

PW: [Laughs] I’m bored of commas.

LH: I don’t understand.  Do you know honestly, I’ve had clients say to me before, “That comma looks funny.”

PW: Yeah.

LH: And it’s like, “No, it’s fine”, “Could you just check it?”  I was like, “No, I checked it when I wrote it.  It’s fine.”  I’m a bit precious about my commas, I do.  Well I studied German so you know how accurate…

PW: I do, yes.

LH: …commas, otherwise nothing makes sense, and the same in English actually; I don’t understand where this idea’s come from that commas are optional because sometimes I really, really struggle to get the meaning from a sentence and I’ll realise that actually it’s because like a subordinate clause hasn’t been comma’d off.

PW: Yes.

LH: Oh it does hurt but that…

PW: Yeah, I was editing a CV yesterday that was very, very technical and had very few commas in it and they were just using incredibly long sentences with lists of… it just appeared like long lists of buzz words on every line and because there were no commas, or very few commas, I was having… it was almost like a foreign language in that I was desperately trying to work out where the different clauses were.

LH: Yeah, you try to find parts of sentences, don’t you?

PW: That’s it because if it wasn’t buzz words it was technical language and it took some work I have to say.

LH: No, I imagine it would.  You know, but sort of to get back on track a little bit I suppose you know you need to be able to decide when and how to break the rules, as Pip’s just said.  You know you need to be aware of when you’re publishing and where you’re publishing.  You know, say, if you’re publishing content that’s going to be read online you can have sentences that are reasonably long but only very occasionally, you know you need to keep your sentences quite short.  If you’re writing for video scripts you need to keep your sentences really, really, really short, like artificially short.

PW: Yeah.

LH: You know you wouldn’t… you don’t write rhetoric in the same way that you would speak, for example.  You know rhetoric is not the same as dialogue for example.  So if you’ve had experience writing fiction with characters speaking in it don’t assume that you could write video scripts because, again, there are different conventions and you need to know those.  Whereas if you’re writing a printed report or an academic report you can have a sentence that’ll run off, you know run away for a whole paragraph and it’s not a problem.

PW: Yeah, I’ve been writing a lot recently about PPC, which is pay per click advertising, which any internet user is familiar with.  It’s the kind that you see on the right hand side of your Google search results or your Facebook page.  Now to do well PPC ads need to be split tested, almost ad infinitum really, where one example is tested against another to see which is the most effective and they do that to get the exact rewrite combination of headline, image and text and so they test two options, see which gets the better results and then test that one against another, and again and again and again, and people who really know what they’re doing with regards to managing PPC ads can find that a difference of one word can change conversion rates massively.

Now PPC is kind of an extreme case but what it is is a really good example of where science actually overtakes art in copywriting because it doesn’t matter if the final PPC ad sounds clunky or if it repeats a word, or if it’s a bit of a mouthful, because if it’s proven itself to get more conversions than all the other wordings then that’s the one to go with.  It’s kind of copywriting in a quite extreme nutshell really.

LH: My husband does loads and loads and loads of PPC stuff.  He’s a marketer rather than a copywriter and it’s something we butt heads over, sort of good naturedly really, because I know, I know, of course I do, that the science has to overtake the art but when he’s showing me something that’s converting really well I’ll look it, I’ll go, “Well the grammar’s wrong” [laughs].

PW: I know, I know.  You just see ads all the time.

LH: Oh I totally do.

PW: Yeah, at the top of my Gmail and it’s just, “Oh why did you word it like that?” and it may be, we don’t know from the outside, it may be that they’re rubbish at PPC or it may be that they’ve done 24 versions of multivariate testing and that one is converting massively.

LH: Yeah.  My husband loves split testing.  I don’t understand at all.  He’s way more analytical than I am but he loves split testing, absolutely loves AB testing.

PW: I see that it is vitally important, especially for anything salesy, but I do think you need a certain type of brain that I don’t have.

LH: That’s it.

PW: So I’m glad there are other people who are very good at it and very passionate about it because I do appreciate that it’s really important but I’m also glad that it’s not me that’s looking at graph after graph after graph.

LH: No he really loves it.

PW: Yeah, to see where the ‘grab it now’ or ‘get it now’ works better.

LH: Yeah, I mean he finds it really exciting because obviously once you get a spike in a graph and you see that one particular colour, you know background colour, you know sticking a coloured filter on a photo, as you’ve just said, you know changing ‘grab to get’ and changing it back again, you know trying it out with all different colours and different pictures and you know he loves it, really finds it exciting but, you know, like you say, rather him than me.  I’ll stick with my decent writing thank you.

PW: Something else to bear in mind is that some clients, especially if they’ve got a dedicated communications or marketing department, will have style guides that they send to any copywriters they work with and these can contain guidelines that hurts your grammatically correct heart.

I had one recently that said very clearly that there should be no more than one sentence per paragraph.

LH: No.

PW: I know.

LH: No.  Hang on, hang on, no, no, no, hang on, one sentence per paragraph?

PW: Yes, one sentence per paragraph because their reasoning was that people have no attention span these days.

LH: Well in like long copy sales letters or online yes, yeah one sentence per paragraph, two absolute max.

PW: Yeah but this was blog posts, you know, but you know if that’s what they’re paying you to do it’s pretty much what you do.  If it’s something that is really blatantly wrong you might want to carefully point it out to them but often that’s not your place and you do your best with what they give you.

LH: Yeah, I suppose it’s a good point really because it might rankle but you know, and it is worth pointing out to clients if there’s a specific problem with something that they’ve included in their style guide, and whether that’s an actual style guide or just a set of guidelines or preferences that they’ve got, if you can see something that’s going to have like an actively detrimental effect on their marketing, like it’s going to make them look daft, then I suppose it’s best to gather data to back up your claim and then put it to them in a polite and confident way and just let them do what they’re going to do with it, but it’s also good, I think, to note it down somewhere and to know what you’re talking about and then to bear it in mind in future because if you’ve flagged it up once it may be that that’s because it’s going to cause issues in the future.

PW: That’s very true, that’s very true, yeah.  Now as well as putting yourself aside, which we’ve been talking about when you’re copywriting, sometimes you have to persuade your client to put themselves aside a little.  It is often difficult for clients to distance themselves from their own products or services in a way that means they’re able to promote them effectively and that’s easy to understand.  You know they’re very entrenched in their own day to day work and because of that they sometimes lose sight of what will really appeal to their prospects.

LH: Mmm, and I think there’s a certain amount of possessiveness sometimes.

PW: Yes, yes.

LH: You know and it’s understandable, even when a client has brought you on board though because they’re not getting the results they want; so, say, you know an open rate on an email marketing campaign or a conversion rate on a sales page or a really good level of content in a promotional brochure.  It seems like it can be really difficult for them to accept that their personal opinion, particularly if they’re the brains behind the operation, isn’t necessarily what’s going to work or what’s important.

PW: Exactly and we do appreciate that for a lot of people their business is their baby you know and they can find it hard to feel like they’re letting go or losing control of it, but sometimes it’s gentle reminder that that’s exactly why they’ve called in a copywriter is what you need to do and it is our job sometimes to be a bit patient and ease them into it, as long as that doesn’t get ridiculous.

LH: Yeah, it can be really counterintuitive, especially if you’re suggesting something that they wouldn’t have gone with.

PW: Yeah.

LH: But like you say, if a client sort of says, “Ooh, but I wouldn’t have written it like that” it’s like, “Well no, precisely.”

PW: Yes.

LH: You know you mince your words a little bit better than that.

PW: [Laughs] yeah.

LH: Well exactly.  You know but that is the point.  You know if they’ve tried writing for themselves or they’ve tried having somebody in-house do the writing and it’s just not working for them then yeah, it’s counterintuitive but they do need to bear in mind, and as Pip’s just said, you do need to help them bear in mind sometimes that that’s the whole point of you being there.

PW: Yeah.

LH: And I think it’s a little bit like author intent to a certain extent.  Once a product or a service or a company is out there, you know sort of on the public market, the originator, so the brains behind the operation, the owner, the creator, whatever, they no longer control the way that the public views, reacts to or engages with the product or the service and it doesn’t matter what the original idea was to a certain extent because the reality might have changed, depending on any number of things, you know changing target market, new products and services developed by a competitor, or customers just finding new uses for a product that the business owner might never really have thought about.

PW: Yeah.  I mean if somebody’s invented something that’s quite clever but then people buy it and find another use for it that’s even cleverer then that may well be the angle to go for but if the creator is very, “Like no, I invented it for Purpose A” it can be difficult, it can, plus sometimes they can’t see where the absolute goal is in their own product because they have…

LH: Yes.

PW: Yeah, they have no distance or objectivity from it.  I met some guys at a networking event and they had invented this… it was a very cool mobile phone app, I really liked it, and I was chatting to them and they talked me through how it worked and what was, to me, an absolutely clear sales approach was one that hadn’t even occurred to them.  They were solving a particular problem really effectively but they were so caught up in setting up a business and the technical side of the app that they hadn’t spotted this other area of absolute genius in what they were doing and I talked to them about it and they were like, “Wow, you’ve got to write our copy.”  You know that was like, “Great.  You know that’s why I’m here.”

PW: Yeah.  So we’re not all about telling people they’ve picked a crap aspect of a thing to promote.  Sometimes…

LH: No, no of course not.

PW: Yeah, sometimes we’re pointing out that they are geniuses and they haven’t realised it yet.

LH: I often think I’m an undiscovered genius.  I’m just waiting for someone to tell me.

PW: You are most definitely a genius m’dear.

LH: I know but thanks.

[Laughter]

PW: For the record, I bought Lorrie a mug that says, “I’m not perfect but I am so close it scares me.”

LH: It’s true, it’s true.  I’m not sure my husband’s that keen on the mug but I drink from it quite regularly now.  I even wash it specifically so I can drink from it again.

PW: [Laughs].

LH: One thing that Pip and I have discussed recently has been the difference between benefits and features and it’s always worth going into because no matter how many times you go over it there’ll always be a bit of confusion with people.

PW: Yeah.

LH: And I think it’s quite a relevant point when talking about the difference between writing and what we’re terming copywriting here for the purposes of this podcast.

PW: Yeah.

LH: In a piece of marketing or sales copy one of the golden rules is to focus on benefits and not features.  Now I found a really helpful article actually on a site called entrepreneur.com and I dare say it’s not out of the ordinary in its helpfulness because, as we say, benefits versus features is a topic that can run and run and run.

PW: It’s a bit issue and if you could just Google benefits versus features I’m sure there will be tons of resources, if, you know, you listen to what we’re about to say and then want to know more.

LH: Aha, yeah.  I mean Google auto filled it for me.

PW: Oh brilliant.

LH: I was half way through Benefits A, typed in features.  So I was like, “Yeah, even Google knows.”  So yeah, the example that I found on a site called entrepreneur, we’ll link to that in the show notes, and it gives you some concrete examples of how to turn descriptions of a product or a service, which are features, into something that entices the reader and helps them see how they would benefit, hence the benefit, from those specific features.

PW: Yeah, your client might be selling a very intricate piece of equipment or some very clever software and they might want you to describe in detail the exact measurements of the engine or the processing capabilities and this is…

LH: Because that’s what they’ve spent years building.

PW: Exactly and that’s their frame of reference, that’s how they understand the product.  However, in the majority of cases that’s not what’s going to appeal to the customer.  The customer doesn’t go, “Oh I must find a 1.3 engine”, what they want to know is how that engine’s going to benefit them or what the software will make easier in their working life.  So the copywriter’s job is to translate these features, technical detail, into information about how it’s going to benefit the customer.  So if something’s got an adjustable height you don’t necessarily need to say, “The height adjusts from 1.2 metres to 2.4 metres”, you could say, “The height adjusts which makes it suitable for people of different shapes and sizes.”  That’s more appealing.

LH: Definitely.  I think the only time… I was just thinking about what you were saying earlier, the only time that you really need to focus on, say, the size of an engine or processing capabilities would be B2B.

PW: Yes.

LH: You know if you were trying to sell computer parts to distributors or like some of my clients are LED lighting companies who then sell on to electricians and lighting specialists, you know they’re more of a supplier than a B2C.

PW: Yeah, that’s very true.

LH: Then yes okay, you know in their brochure they need the specific features but still, in all their forward facing copy, they need to talk about the benefits and still, to their B2B clients, they do need to focus, as well as the features, on the benefits.

PW: Because I’m quite techy if I was buying a new laptop, for instance, I want to read a bit of prose about the benefits to me but I also want to be able to scroll down the page and see a list of numbers.

LH: Yes.

PW: And so one doesn’t have to exclude the other and, like Lorrie said, the audience is important.  If you’re selling software to resellers who can then, you know, brand it themselves and sell it on to their clients they need to know those numbers but it doesn’t mean you can put those exclusively necessarily because yeah, even B2B clients want a bit of context I think quite often.  That gives them a sense of the company and I think it’s important, yeah.

LH: Yeah.  Going back to what we said earlier about sometimes the clients need to put themselves on one side, you know to take it full circle sometimes B2B clients are resistant to writing about benefits as opposed to features.  It can be like, “Well we don’t need that.  That’s not what I want to read” but to a lesser extent you do still need benefits for B2B writing.  You know trust us, we both do write in the B2B sector.

PW: Yes, yes.

LH: And I think it’s good to remember that as a writer, rather than a copywriter, you might be quite a descriptive person.  I am, I like to get quite flowery.

PW: Oh yes.  Whenever I’m reviewing a first draft of anything that I’ve written most of it is cutting stuff out [laughs].

LH: Same really, you know, and you might get caught up, you know when you’re writing about a specific product or service, you might get caught up in helping your reader to really visualise something, like see the product, and you actually end up forgetting that you’re supposed to be effectively selling something but the piece of writing you’re creating is supposed to have a purpose.

PW: Yeah.

LH: And I think benefits versus features, it’s a good reminder that it’s really important to keep your writing aims in mind, particularly as a copywriter, because someone else is relying on you for a certain result.

PW: Yeah it’s really true.  The client will know their product or service better than you.  However, you, when you have experience and maybe a bit of training, know better than them, probably, how to go about describing it and selling it and so it can be difficult to negotiate sometimes because it’s understandable that they can get precious over their stuff.

LH: Of course.

PW: But you don’t want to indulge that to a point where you know you’ve written something that’s not going to be useful to them.

LH: Yeah, definitely.  I mean it can be… what I’ve found with B2B clients, because as you know most of my clients, until recently, have been B2B…

PW: Yep, same here.

LH: …what I find is that when you choose to leave something out they think you’ve forgotten it.

PW: Yes.

LH: You know and it goes back to the benefits and features thing.  You don’t have to say everything but with B2B they can be so excited about a product and all of its functionalities and capabilities that they want you to crowbar them all in to like a press release and talk about the fact that it does this and talk about the fact that you can do that and talk about the fact that it can process x number of y’s in a certain z period and it’s like yeah, to a certain extent but don’t overwhelm people.

PW: And quite often, if you’re going to do a really good job on some sales copy, you need to do a bit of market research and that doesn’t mean sending out women to the city centre to ask people questions.

LH: [Laughs] women with clipboards.

PW: Yeah.

LH: Have you been accosted recently?  I wonder why that’s on your mind.

PW: I am accosted all the time.

LH: Are you?

PW: I think it’s because I walk quite slowly, they just like see me coming and go, “We’ll get her.”

LH: Head her off at the pass!  You see I put my headphones on, stick my head down and stride away.

PW: Headphones are very handy for that but yeah…

LH: You can stop by headphones though.  They’ll just be like, “Hiya.”  It’s like, “No, no sorry.”  I just shake my head and smile, “No.”

PW: But yeah, yeah it doesn’t have to mean that, it can just mean literally going onto web forums and seeing what the concerns are of the target market you’re working towards.

LH: Yeah, market analysis, competitor analysis or having a look at the sector, recent technological developments in there.  It’s really common sense, isn’t it?

PW: Yeah and there are all sorts of ways you can go about it.  There’s a website called Quora, which is just people asking questions and really in-depth answers.  Forums are particularly handy to see how many people are concerned about certain issues.  So say you’re selling power tools, so drills and screwdrivers and those things, and you sell a drill that has a particular purpose that you think’s really exciting, well the client does anyway, and then you go into some DIY forums online and have a look and you see that a good portion of the people who are posting are very concerned about the fact that their drill doesn’t do a particular thing, and you also see that nobody even mentions the first thing that your client thinks is important.  That’s the time to drop really, or at least downplay, the thing that nobody appears to be concerned about and…

LH: Or to apply.

PW: Yes, yeah and to actually make this new product apply to the concerns they genuinely have and appeal to that big market there.

LH: Yeah, definitely because you know if you take it down to the building blocks of, say, online writing that’s going to affect your key words, it’s going to affect what you hyperlink in a text online.

PW: Yeah.

LH: You know say if you’re talking about a certain functionality that nobody’s interested in there’s no point linking from, say, an article in your client’s blog to the product from those particular key words.  You know you need to be linking from something that’s more relevant to their interests, their concerns and, as Pip’s just said, you need to be steering your writing more towards what they’re interested in in general and obviously you might have to go back to your client and have a bit of a tussle with them and sort of say, “No, people aren’t interested in that but here’s the link, here’s a screenshot of people discussing it.  I didn’t see anybody mentioning Functionality A.  They were all talking about this Functionality B that either it has and we haven’t mentioned, or it doesn’t have and we could include in a future product.”

PW: Yeah, exactly, exactly and that goes to show why key word research is also an important part of copywriting.  It’s very similar actually to market research.  There’s a tool offered by Google for free called the Google Adwords Keyword Research Tool, is it called?  Something along those lines.

LH: If you search for Google Keyword Tool you’ll find it.

PW: Yeah and what that does you can search for a word or a phrase and it tells you how many people search for that per month and how much competition there is and it also suggests alternatives.  Now from the information they give you you could easily spend a week analysing it but often for smaller jobs you know you’ve no desire or need to do that but what you can see is that if 350 people a month are searching for one term but 35,000 people a month are searching for another it also gives you an idea of people’s priorities and interests and also the way they’re wording them, which is important for SEO writing.

LH: Definitely.

PW: So hopefully that’s been helpful in terms of giving you an idea of where to start really when copywriting and how to put aside your own style and preferences and also how to tackle trying to persuade your client to put aside theirs if necessary.

LH: Yeah.  I mean often the proof’s in the pudding with the clients.  You know don’t be surprised if they resent you for it at first.

PW: Oh yeah.

LH: You know they can get really, really grumpy and it’s like, “Well you don’t know.  You don’t work in my sector” you know especially in very male dominated sectors.

PW: Yeah.

LH: I get it, you know, “Some young filly’s just come in and she’s telling us what we already… she’s teaching grandma to suck eggs” and I just have to keep schtum until the results come in that were far better than the results they were getting in the first place and then it’s like, “Don’t worry.  Don’t all apologise at once.  It’s fine” you know because it doesn’t matter.  You know people get precious and now, hopefully, Pip and I have given you a bit of a heads up that it’s not personal, it’s just it can be counterintuitive for them to say, “Okay, well I’m the expert in my subject but she’s the expert in writing about my subject.”

PW: Yeah, yeah exactly.

Now it is time for our Little Bird recommendations where we choose a blog post, a phone app, a Tweet, a piece of software or a bit of advice that we would like to recommend to listeners.

So, Lorrie, what is your Little Bird recommendation this week?

LH: My Little Bird recommendation this week is based on something I mentioned in the last episode and that was my solo episode about how to get started as a freelance writer and I talked a lot about how important training is, and it really, really is.  You know I do at least two or three training courses a month.

PW: Yep, the same.

LH: Yeah and if you find yourself with a spare bit of time, I know that Pip’s exactly the same, you know try and get in a little bit of training even if, and it does count, even if it’s just a bit of reading.

PW: Oh absolutely, yeah.

LH: 100% you know, it all helps.

PW: Yeah.  One of my main things that I learn from is I listen to podcasts compulsively [laughs] and I learn so much from them, especially because I do a lot of tech writing I need to be up to date and there are endless numbers of tech podcasts, so it keeps me informed.  So yeah, it doesn’t have to be formal study, although that’s good as well.

LH: Yeah but imagine if you were in a lecture hall listening to somebody rather than listening to a podcast it’s all the same thing.

PW: And these are the experts, you know, like people from Google who really know what they’re talking about.

LH: Yeah and you wouldn’t be able to secure an audience for those sorts of…

PW: Never, no.

LH: You’d never ever get near them.  So a podcast, yeah, is a brilliant way.

PW: Especially a very good freelance writing one.

LH: Yes that’s pretty stunning.  If I was going to choose any I’d probably go with the A Little Bird Told Me.

PW: I think so.

LH: Freelance Writing podcast.

PW: Yeah.

LH: No bias.

PW: [Laughs].

LH: So yeah, I was having a nosy around on the net and as I mentioned in the last episode I tend to spend a lot of time on OpenLearn, which is the Open University’s free training section, and alison.com, which is mmm, it can be hit and miss but it’s all free training courses and they’re quite interactive, they’re usually quite pointy clicky.  So you know it’s a good place to be going around and I was looking to broaden my horizons a little bit and I spotted what’s quite an old, it’s about three years old, two and half, three years old now, it’s quite an old article but it’s still quite useful and it’s on something called freelancefolder.com, and it’s, ‘10 amazing free online writing courses’ it’s called, and I expected this article to be stuff like you know how to write a limerick or how to write a sentence you know because people will spin articles about anything just to get people to click, of course they will, but when I actually clicked on it you’ve got things like ‘Learn to Write a Feasibility Study’.

PW: Wow, that’s a very specific skill.

LH: Very much so and it taps into, quite nicely actually, it taps into what we were saying about copywriting being a skill rather than a talent.  You can’t just be naturally good at writing a feasibility study.

PW: Yes, yeah you need to know what you’re doing.

LH: This is it.  You know you need that specific skill set.  You’ve got the intensive grammar workshop, which is just so brilliant, it’s fabulous and it gives anybody who’s starting out, it’s good for people who are starting out as a copywriter and want to make sure that they’ve got all their grammar down pat.  It’s good for non-native English speakers.

PW: And for proofreaders as well.

LH: Yes, yeah and it even says, “Remember that poor grammar can cost you a gig” and it’s true.

PW: Oh yeah.

LH: So you know the sources are actually quite good.  Some of them are from about.com, which I think is really unrated actually.

PW: Yeah, it does often have some really good information.

LH: It really does.  I do like about.com and I do like wikihow.com.

PW: Yeah.

LH: Because often these sites are populated by very, very good writers who want to get back links from what are huge, huge high traffic sites.  I mean these sites are massive and if you did have a back link from those sites that would do you the world of good.  So the content on those sites is really very, very good, even though we’re just looking at, you know, sites with text on them.  So if you’re receptive to reading things and you’re not looking for a podcast about.com and wikihow.com are great for different types of writing and learning how to go about getting started and you can often find templates on there…

PW: Aha.

LH: …for various kinds of writing.  So as Pip mentioned in a previous episode, I think it was when we were talking about writing the perfect press release, they’re a good place to start looking, they’re really, really helpful.

You’ve got other available courses; you’ve got technical writing, marketing writing tips.  Now a couple of the links are broken but the sites are still there.  So if you just go back it looks like the page has been moved on the website.

PW: Ah right, yeah.

LH: So I think it’s No. 9 and No. 10, which are ‘Marketing Writing Tips’ and ‘Creative Writing 101’, they’ve been moved.  Now I’ve had a click through the ‘Creative Writing 101’ and it’s quite clear where the rest of the course has gone.  It’s there, it’s just it’s been revised I believe.

PW: Aha.

LH: You know and this article’s just really, really helpful.  It tells you kind of what to expect.  There’s just loads of really useful, interesting stuff on there and it underlines the importance, I think, of taking on a variety of training courses.

You know I try and… I’ve got a list of courses that I want to do in a whole year and I try and choose like a couple that I’m really, really into and a couple that I’m kind of dreading.

PW: Yes, I’m exactly the same.  I do some just for the love of it and I do others because I know I really should, that I would benefit from it but it doesn’t inflame passion in me [laughs].

LH: No, like ‘Videography’ and ‘Audio Recording’ and stuff like that, it’s just not my cup of tea at all, whereas ‘Introduction to Fiction Writing’, you know seeing what a certain training provider is suggesting the ‘Fiction Writing’ but I find that interesting.

PW: Yeah, exactly.

LH: You know, so that would be my recommendation of the week you know.

PW: It’s a very good one.

LH: And I suppose one more point I would make is that these are all courses aimed at freelancers.

PW: Yeah.

LH: They’re all at freelancefolder.com.  So they’ve been collated with freelancers and self-employed people in mind.

PW: Brilliant, brilliant.

Now my recommendation; earlier this year we both… we did some episodes, I think there was a dual episode and two solo episodes all about money and how to decide what to charge I did a solo episode about, Lorrie did one about how to increase your rates and we do know that for freelancers, especially people who are starting out, knowing what to charge is a big issue, people find it incredibly difficult.  Now in those earlier episodes, which I’ll link to in the show notes, we went through a few different ways of deciding how much to charge and how to go about it but my recommendation this week is a freelance billable rate calculator.

LH: Ooo.

PW: Ooo.  It’s on a site called Micro Business Hub, which I hadn’t come across before.

LH: No, I’ve not heard of that one either.

PW: But they actually coded and created this calculator and if you’re the kind of person who really wants to drill down to the penny and get it exactly right without taking any risks, or not even necessarily without taking risks, but who wants to…

LH: So you want to pounce at every single penny?

PW: That’s it, that’s it, you don’t want to miss anything out, you don’t want to forget about an important cost, this is the calculator for you.  It covers everything.  It has basically lots of different fields to fill in about how much you spend on marketing, how much you spend on insurance, entertainment and then how much you want to earn and then also a section about how much you work, so how many days you work a week, how many weeks you work a year, how many bank holidays there are even, and then it gives you a calculation of your hourly billable rate, what it should be or what it needs to be to meet your own goals.

Now what I like about this is there are lots of people I know who would love to do it in this much detail.  I’m not one of them.  I’m happy…

LH: [Laughs] I’m glad you said that because neither am I.

PW: I know.  I am happy working it out on a reasonably informal basis.  It’s still based on calculations and it has a basis in reality but some people feel much more comfortable knowing that everything is accounted for.

The other thing I like about this is first of all it’s based on UK earnings.  So first of all there’s just the novelty of it not coming out with a dollar sign at the end, it comes out with a pound sign instead, and that’s rare when you’re doing any kind of money calculation online, but also it has tax information at the top in terms of Income Tax and VAT, and it’s just a really comprehensive way of going about working out your fees and you can also get the report at the end emailed to you.

LH: Oh that’s helpful.

PW: It is.

LH: It’s surprising that that’s free actually.

PW: Absolutely and this site, Micro Business Hub, have coded the form themselves.  A woman called Jo Waltham has done it and the comments underneath the calculator are also really positive people.  Stunningly simple but brilliant for instance.  It’s… and I think…

LH: People say that about me all the time!

PW: They do, stunningly simple they say [laughs].  So that’s my recommendation.

If you’re unsure about your earnings, you’re not sure you’ve calculated it right or you’re not sure you’re asking for the right amount of money check out the freelance billable rate calculator along with the link to Lorrie’s recommendation is in our show notes at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com.

So goodness me, Episode 30 is complete.

LH: That’s more than me.

PW: I know.  It’s not quite me but it’s more than you.  The podcast is older than you and yet you’re in the first episode, which is almost magic!

LH: Possibly.  I’m going to have to go away and think about that one.

PW: [Laughs].

LH: I haven’t had a coffee yet, so once I’ve had a coffee I’m sure it’ll make more sense.

PW: Thank you very much for listening and for supporting the podcast through 30 episodes.  We’re really proud we’ve got this far and we’re really glad that people are enjoying it.  We’re getting great feedback and we love it.  So do get in touch.

LH: And tell us we are marvellous, we love to hear it.  We don’t bite.  If you’ve got any questions about this podcast, any other podcast episodes that we’ve recorded, any questions about anything at all really, keep it decent but you know come and have a chat with us, come and ask us.

PW: Thank you so much for listening.  I have been Philippa Willits.

LH: And I, for the 30th time, have been Lorrie Hartshorn and we will catch you next time.

 

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Podcast Episode 29: How to Get Started as a Freelance Writer

We ran out of storage space for our earliest episodes. But fear not, we have made these many, many hours of freelance writing goodness available for just £10. If you want access to them all, please click Add to Cart and buy through our e-junkie account for instant access.

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In this brilliant solo episode, Lorrie goes into detail about how to prepare for starting out as a freelance writer, and what to do and where to go to start finding work.

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Transcript

Hello, and welcome to Episode 29 of A Little Bird Told Me: the podcast about the highs, the lows, and the no-nos of successful freelance writing.

You can find us on the web at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, and there you can subscribe to the podcast in any number of ways, including RSS, iTunes, Stitcher Smart Radio or on the Podomatic page itself. You can also find the link to our Facebook page, where there will be plenty of tips, tricks and topics – that gets easier to say every time! – to enjoy. And you can also find links to my websites and social media feeds, as well as those of my lovely co-host Philippa.

I’m Lorrie Hartshorn and today’s episode is a solo one, which means that you’ll have to tune in next week to get another fix of the lovely Pip. This week, I’m going to be taking things back to basics a little bit, and talking about what to do if you want to become a freelance writer but you don’t really know where to start. This episode is actually in response to a query from one of our listeners, Tracy, who got in touch via our Facebook page and asked for some advice on this very topic.

Writer's Stop

Writer’s Stop (Photo credit: Stephh922)

She wrote: “Could you do a show for those of us who want to become freelance writers but have no idea of how to do that? I don’t even know how to get started.” Which is actually a pretty brave thing to admit to. It’s actually really common that freelance writers feel stumped at first – there’s so much to consider when going freelance that I’d be worried if you weren’t a bit overwhelmed at first.

I’ve had a think, and come up with a few tips to help you get started.

Ask yourself why you want to go freelance: are you a good writer? Do you have a genuine understanding of what a freelance copywriting career is like? Do you understand the different kinds of writing there are out there? Do you have realistic expectations when it comes to working from home? Do you understand fully that turning your passion into a full-time, self-employed position can really put a dampener on it? Are you ready to be your own marketing team, admin person, finance department, training and development team? Are you self-disciplined and pro-active? Do you try and find answers for yourself before you ask others? You’ll be working on your own for the vast majority of your time as a freelance and your clients expect you to have the answers –  often to questions you’ve no idea about. But they’re paying you to know your stuff, so your knowledge, your research skills and your motivation have to stay right up there.

Ask yourself if you’re a good writer as well as a good communicator:

Are you comfortable communicating with people at all levels – including board level – as a representative of your own company? Are you able to sweet talk people face-to-face and over the phone? Are you ready to schmooze and flatter and laugh at people’s jokes and find the one thing you can relate to in a conversation with a potentially important prospect at a networking event? Or would you clam up? Can you chase leads? Can you negotiate rates, deadlines and contracts to suit you as well as your client, while coming across as assertive and fair rather than petulant? The last thing you want to do is fail to really take on board all these challenges – it’s better to face them before you get started so you can identify and hopefully tackle any gaps. Many of these skills can be learnt – so don’t be horrified if you’ve never done this stuff before. But, if you’re listening and thinking that this all sounds like your worst nightmare, there’s definitely an issue.

Ask yourself whether you’re good enough as a writer: this sounds like a pretty harsh piece of advice, but the key to being a successful freelance writer has to, of course, be having the right skill set. As Pip and I have said many times before, decent grammar does not a copywriter make. There’s a lot more to it – read blogs by any freelance copywriters and you’ll get a good idea of what’s involved – but at the end of the day, you do have to have that basic talent – as well as the ability and the stamina to carry on writing and improving your writing every working day for the rest of…well, forever! You need to be able to express yourself (and your client, and a marketing message) through writing, and you need to be able to do it well, relatively quickly, and time and time again.

Ask yourself if you’re in a secure enough position to go freelance. Even if you’re going freelance for all the right reasons and you reckon you’ll be great at it, life happens. As Pip and I have mentioned before, it might take ages for you to find clients. Clients might take ages to get back to you. You might have to wait a month (or more if you’re writing for magazines) before you get paid. In the meantime, bills need paying and life needs living, so think carefully and take a good look at your financial situation before you go freelance. Don’t take a “carpe diem” attitude to it because you’re likely to spend the next three months sleeping on someone else’s sofa and eating rice and carrots.

Writing

Writing (Photo credit: jjpacres)

Of course, working around a full- or part-time job means that you’ll have to do your freelance writing in the early morning or in the evening – or just whenever you find yourself with a free moment (kiss goodbye to lunch breaks!). But, it’s a good opportunity to work out whether freelancing is for you. It’s a good chance to see if you work well under pressure and whether your writing is still flowing after three or four weeks of boring press releases or brochures or websites. Better still, it’s a safe opportunity, and it won’t leave you penniless if it doesn’t work out.

So, if you’re sure that you’re ready to be a freelance writer and you’ve got as many of those challenges I’ve mentioned covered as possible, it’s time to take some steps towards actually getting started. Again, I’ll try and keep this brief, but once you’ve got these ideas down, you can go off and do your research at leisure.

Make sure you’ve got all your basics in place before you go freelance – will help you hit the ground running (service offerings, hourly or other rates, business plan, marketing plan, website, social media feeds, CV…) Starting a freelance career with only a vague idea of where you’re headed and what you’re doing isn’t necessarily a fatal mistake but it’s likely to be a costly one, and one that will waste a lot of time for you. You need to be sure about what you’re going to be doing so that as soon as an opportunity arises, you know where it fits.

So what are you going to do for the first month of your freelance career? The first three months? The first year? What training are you going to do? If you’re stuck on how to set goals for yourself, I’d suggest having a listen to our first podcast of 2013, which was all about how to set SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-sensitive and timely – goals.

What services will you offer? Will you have one main service and some little ones, or a range of equally balanced services? Do you know how to edit (and it’s NOT the same as copywriting, so don’t assume!) or proof-read?

Have you got your website and social media feeds up, running and populated with interesting and engaging information? Have you positioned yourself well in the market by looking at your competitors? If there’s a particularly sector you want to work in, do you know who the big players are and who their movers and shakers are? Do you know your trade press publications? Do you know the most popular websites and blogs in that area? These are all things you need to know in order to build a big picture of the world you’re going into. Knowledge is power.

What kinds of writing will you be doing? Do you have a unique selling point – or USP? Are there any sectors you’re going to target specifically? Are there any areas you don’t want to work in? I, for example, learned early on in my career (when most of my work was translation) that I’m not cut out for writing legal stuff. I don’t enjoy translating contracts and it’s not something I feel able to deliver well on. However, if you had, say, a couple of years’ experience as a paralegal – or if you’d taken a law degree – you might well find that this could be a specialist service you offer. Legal writing. So  you’d research that area, find out how other people are marketing themselves and try and go one better. Better website, better SEO, better offerings,  better testimonials, etter rates, whatever.

While I’m not going to be able to cover all of the points I’ve mentioned here, if you have a look through the back catalogue of episodes that Pip and I have recorded for you, you’ll see that a lot of it is covered in really good detail. We’ve talked about the skills you need as a freelance writer, we’ve talked about how to set your rates and then improve them when the time comes. We’ve talked about on- and off-site SEO, which gives you a really good idea on how to market yourself across digital channels. There really is a lot to learn if you have a listen, so be pro-active and have a root through the archives!

Create a reputation: it can be easy to get caught up in the whole, “I don’t have experience so I can’t get experience!” train of thought when you’re starting out. But, in my opinion, it’s just a matter of keeping on looking for the right opportunities and continuing to market yourself. I’ve seen a lot of people advising freelancers to build a portfolio of work by working for free – and while it’s a fair point, it’s not something I think is necessary. I think that, if you create a strong online brand, and you back that up with sustained marketing efforts and a professional persona, you’re on the right track. I don’t accept that working for free is a necessary starting point, and I’d question any for-profit company that wants you to give them writing in return for vague things that won’t pay the bills, like “exposure” or “experience”.

But, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t work at building your reputation. Get yourself on a forum or a blog and leave insightful comments. If you’ve had salaried positions before – or even informal freelance gigs – email or phone the person you worked for and ask them for a testimonial. Get them to endorse you on LinkedIn. Don’t be afraid to show you can do a good job. Make sure the copy on your website is spot on. Take the assertive approach – represent yourself as the expert you want to be (and should be training to be), market yourself consistently and I’m confident you’ll be able to build a reputation as someone people should consider hiring.

If you want more information on working for free, Pip and I did cover in detail why we both think that’s a bad idea in episode four. We did point out that volunteer writing  or guest-posting on blogs is a good way to fill the gap – if you really feel like you want to get some real life experience and some articles to show new prospects, then these are effective ways to go about it.  What we’re really warning against is 1) thinking that working for free is an inevitable rite of passage for freelance copywriters and 2) thinking that for-profit companies have a right to get work from you for nothing. Start out as you mean to go on, and value yourself. It’s a good way to get other people – clients! – to do the same thing.

Immerse yourself in freelancing – and learn about the great resources out there

Writing

Writing (Photo credit: Pascal Maramis)

One of the great things about setting out as a freelance copywriter is that it’s almost completely free. You definitely pay for it in other ways – time, stress, a super steep learning curve – but in terms of initial financial outlay, we’re lucky in that the only things we absolutely really need to pay for are a domain name and hosting for a website. In this day and age, it’s not really OK to have a site with some long-winded name, so choose a domain carefully and get your site up and running. WordPress is a really easy-to-learn tool and an easy-to-manage CMS system – both Pip and I use it for our websites and blogs – so I’d definitely recommend you get on there and start having a play around as soon as you even think you might go freelance. I upload work for several clients directly to their WordPress, so it can actually come in handy for other reasons as well.

But yes, to go back to the point, while you might be living off savings while you get started as a freelancer, the costs are minimal if you’re pro-active and finding freebies doesn’t mean skimping on quality. Social media marketing is free. Signing up for newsletters from brilliant sites like Write to Done and Copyblogger is free. Chatting on forums (or fora, if we’re being correct) is free. Asking advice from other freelancers, as our listener Tracy has done, is free. Producing content for your site, free. Finding creative commons licensed images to spruce your articles up – free. Training courses on sites like Alison.com and Open Learn by the Open University – all 100% free. So there’s no excuse not to absolutely max out all of these resources as you build a freelance career – and to keep on doing so as you progress. Training and development is hugely important, so don’t let it slide. When you’re the only person representing your business, and you’re the only thing between you and bankruptcy, you can’t kid yourself and you can’t pretend. You need to knuckle down and educate yourself.

Finally, finding work:

We’re all totally different, so the way we find work will differ. You might be looking for B2B clients, you might be looking for B2C clients. You might want to write for magazines and newspapers, you might want to write for charities, social enterprises and non-profits. And just as your target market will differ depending on your strengths, weaknesses, preferences, personal experience etc. so will your method of finding work. The best piece of advice I can give you, once you’ve got your own house in order with website, marketing etc., is know your target market and put yourself in people’s ways. That might mean collecting data from a sector specific conference and emailing people you’d be interested in working for. It might mean going to a networking event and collecting business cards. It might involve cold-calling and taking 100 rejections until you get a “maybe” from someone. It might involve adding people on Twitter at a time when you know their company is going through some big changes. Or connecting with someone on LinkedIn. Or bidding for jobs on reputable copywriting sites like peopleperhour.com or constant content.

There’s no magic formula, sadly, otherwise way more people would be freelancers. The key is to know what you’re doing, to manage yourself and your time (and your money!) wisely, and to pitch and market yourself consistently. We’re talking hours every day while you’re getting started – and remember that this will never stop. As Pip said in a recent episode, your little black book of contacts will never be full.

So, I really hope that this has been a useful introduction into how to get started as a freelance writer. As I said, this is in response to a query we’ve had from a listener – we really do take feedback on board and we’re happy to cover the topics that you want to hear! We’ll be ploughing ahead with our own podcast calendar in the coming weeks, but if you’ve had a listen to this and you think there’s a question you’d like to ask, why not pop by our social media feeds? Both Pip and I are on Facebook and Twitter, and we’ve also got a Facebook page for the podcast itself, so we’d love to hear from you.

In the meantime, let us know what you think to today’s tips. Are they spot on? Have I missed something crucial out? Drop us a line and tell us what you think. Tell us how you got into freelancing. Share some of the mistakes and wins you’ve had along the way. Help out listeners like Tracy who are just taking those first few steps.

I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn, and as ever, thanks for listening – we’ll catch you next time.

 

James while John had had had had had had had had had had had a better effect on the teacher

I love linguistic quirks, so when my friend AJ posted about this sentence on Facebook, I had to investigate.

It turns out that, “James while John had had had had had had had had had had had a better effect on the teacher” is a valid sentence, and an example of lexical ambiguity. With a bit of explanation, punctuation and emphasis it does actually make sense.

Wikipedia explains it as follows,

The example refers to two students, James and John, who are required by an English test to describe a man who, in the past, had suffered from a cold. John writes “The man had a cold” which the teacher marks as being incorrect, while James writes the correct “The man had had a cold.” Since James’ answer was right, it had had a better effect on the teacher.

The sentence can be understood more clearly by adding punctuation and emphasis:

James, while John had had “had”, had had “had had”; “had had” had had a better effect on the teacher.

There is a similar example that I was already familiar with, “Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo”. Wikipedia summarises this one pretty well too:

“The sentence’s intended meaning becomes clearer when it’s understood that it uses the city of Buffalo, New York and the somewhat-uncommon verb “to buffalo” (meaning “to bully or intimidate”), and when the punctuation and grammar is expanded so that the sentence reads as follows: “Buffalo buffalo that Buffalo buffalo buffalo, buffalo Buffalo buffalo.” The meaning becomes even clearer when synonyms are used: “Buffalo-origin bison that other Buffalo bison intimidate, themselves bully Buffalo bison.””

If you’re still unclear, there’s a useful video that explains the phenomenon, and the first example, well.

 

Podcast Episode 28: The 11 biggest myths about professional copywriting

We ran out of storage space for our earliest episodes. But fear not, we have made these many, many hours of freelance writing goodness available for just £10. If you want access to them all, please click Add to Cart and buy through our e-junkie account for instant access.

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There are lots of myths and fallacies around about what being a freelancer really involves. In this podcast episode, Lorrie and I talk about 11 of the most prevalent ones, and thoroughly debunk them!

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Transcript

Writing

Writing (Photo credit: jjpacres)

LH: Hello and welcome to episode 28 of A Little Bird Told Me: the freelance writing podcast about the highs, the lows, and the no-nos of successful self-employment. You can find us on the web at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, and from there you can subscribe to the podcast in any number of ways, and you can also find the link to our Facebook page, which is full of information about past episodes and topics of interest to freelancers. I’m Lorrie Hartshorn…

PW: And I’m Philippa Willitts, and today we’re going to be discussing the 11 biggest myths about freelance writing! There are an awful lot of things that people believe, some of which are true and some of which are so far off the mark that it’s slightly ridiculous. So what we’re going to go through today are our top 11 myths about professional copywriting in particular.

LH: I think it’s important to say at this point that they’re out top 11, not because of some complicated mathematical thing, but because they were the first things that made us go, “Oooooh, and that!”

PW: Yes, we don’t have algorithms! Haha!

LH: No, but I think we’ve been in the business quite a number of years between us – and quite a number of years each, actually – so I reckon that “things that make us go ‘Ooooh’” is a pretty good measure.

So, my first myth – and it’s based on my experiences as a recruiter in the copywriting industry – is that if you’ve got the internet and a basic grasp of English, you can do it!

At the risk of being melodramatic – and I did try and think of better examples for this! – this is like saying if you’ve got a pencil and decent eyesight, you can be Leonardo Da Vinci. OK, OK, I know we’re not artistic geniuses, but the number of times I’ve had people apply to me and say, “I have no copywriting experience at all but my grammar is pretty decent”. Honestly, it’s happened A LOT.

Now, a good knowledge of English and an internet connection is the bare minimum requirement to even putting fingers to keyboard. But it’s nowhere near enough: it’s YEARS OFF being enough. You need to understand what you’re doing, not just the theoretical stuff behind the words you might end up using. And I’m not being glib – I have two language degrees, so I’m not reducing them, or language degrees, or language skills to nothing, but writing isn’t the same as copywriting. Copywriting – and content writing, because they are different – is what you do when you understand a product, a service, a client, an audience, a platform, plus all the market research out there on your particular topic or theme. It takes years of effort and training to become a good content or copywriter – not just goodwill and an open Word document!

PW: There’s all that understanding that Lorrie’s mentioned that you have to have in mind for any piece of copywriting work, plus all the theoretical understanding as well. Like Lorrie said, you can’t just have the theory, or you’ll really struggle, but the theory does have to play a part – you can’t just go, “Oh well, I can write good stories!” for instance. Although we are going to go into that later, I believe…?

LH: Yes, we are. So, on to the next copywriting myth we’re going to explode…

PW: OK, the first one I chose is that freelancers just mess about all day and don’t do any real work.

LH: Haha, I wish!

PW: After the last few weeks I’ve had, I cannot dispute this strongly enough!

LH: She really, really can’t! Haha!

PW: Poor Lorrie’s my accountability partner and she knows every single piece of work I’ve done.

LH: Inside out!

PW: And there have been a lot! And, you know, sure, I can choose my own hours and I don’t have to wear a suit, but that doesn’t mean the work we do isn’t real work, and it doesn’t mean I don’t bother doing any at all. My bills need paying, just like everyone else’s do, and if I did no work I wouldn’t get paid.

LH: Yeah, it always makes me laugh when people say, “Ohh, come on – just nip out with me!” or “You’re so lucky, you can do what you want all day.”. I’m always like “Yeah, if I want to starve next month!”. You have to be so disciplined, especially – and I do! – when you’ve got people who don’t really ‘get’ working from home and so can be a bit of a bad influence when they want you to hang out during ‘work hours’. They see you sitting at home doing ‘something’ on your laptop, and from an outside perspective, it’ll just look like you’re messing about on the internet.

PW: Yeah, often the vast majority of the research you do will be online. So it might look like you’re reading Wikipedia for fun, but you’re actually getting access to scientific articles on something you don’t yet understand.

LH: I love that we have to specify that we actually read Wikipedia for fun. Someone could look at us and go, “Oh, she’s just reading Wikipedia for fun again…” and it would be true.

PW: Yeah, and it’s not that freelance writers don’t procrastinate, because we certainly do, but no more than any other professional who has internet access. So what about myth number three?

LH: Myth number three: you can quit your job and start making a living as a writer tomorrow. Wrong! Haha! Both Pip and I, and every other freelance writer I know, started out small and worked our way up. I worked full time for years while I learnt the ropes, spending time learning about marketing, administration, writing, grammar, editing, summarising, paraphrasing, SEO, sales copy, B2B copy, B2C copy…you name it. That’s just a fraction of what I’ve learnt over the last ten years. And it’s a bit of a tragedy, because I’ve known a number of people who quit a job on impulse, with the idea of making it big – they’ve ended up moving back home with their parents while they try and work out why they’re not making enough to cover their weekly snack budget, let alone their rent.

PW: And that’s the last thing as an adult that you ever want to do – I never could.

LH: Great if you’ve got the option, but I think it’s far from what most people would want.

PW: I saved for a while before I started freelancing full-time, because you can’t expect to jump into it and get a full-time salary. At least three months’ salary is what I’d recommend saving before you leave your job or whatever.

LH: Absolutely. There’s no guarantee that where you hunt for clients will be rich pickings, or you might find clients in an unusual sector, so research will be needed. Or, you need to set up meetings with people, or you chat to someone and they seem really keen but then say that they’ll get back to you in three weeks.

PW: Or, someone says, do the work now and I’ll pay you at the end of the month. Often the best way to do it is to start building up freelance work while you’re still doing other paid work. And hopefully you get to the point where you’re making enough on the side, and have enough clients, that you can make freelancing into your full-time position.

LH: You tip the balance eventually. There comes a point when you have to take the plunge eventually. There came a point when I was working full-time where I had no more free time because I had so much freelance work. I would suggest to anyone considering going into freelance work that you don’t give up your day job until you have so much freelance work that you can’t carry on with both.

PW: That’s it – when you realise you’re too busy or you’re earning more on the side than you’re earning in your day job, that’s the ideal time to take the leap.

PW: So, on to Myth Number Four: “I wouldn’t be able to get a business to hire me, I don’t have business contacts or experience!” I thought this too, but then I started marketing myself. Most copywriters don’t start out with a black book full of business contacts, but that’s what marketing is for. That’s the way you let people know you exist, and if you are persuasive you might get the gig. Yes, I was astounded the first time it happened too, but once it does, and you do it again and again, you get more and more business gigs and then the contacts start! Similarly, you might never have worked in a particular sector, but given the variety of business sectors you will end up getting work from, you’d have to have a really chequered work history to have worked in them all! That’s why the skill that’s just as important as being able to write is being able to research. You learn the niches as you go, if you need to.

LH: Definitely. I started out with the contacts I had, then friends of friends, alongside marketing myself. What it’s meant is that I have B2B experience in waste management, recycling, environmental services and renewables, and that’s blossomed organically, and then I have dots of experience in other sectors because you never know who’s going to get in touch.

PW: That’s one of the joys of freelancing – you have no idea what a new client will want from you.

LH: I do love it, but when a client gets in touch – particularly by phone – and says, “Do you have any experience in…cupcakes?!”

PW: “I like eating them!”

LH: Or, “I could have, for the right client!”

PW: Haha! “What is it exactly you’re after?”

LH: Yes, “Tell me more about you…please!” But yes, it’s organic and, as Pip says, you don’t start out with a book of clients who are sitting there waiting for you to get in touch. Often, it’s just about putting yourself in people’s way, so keeping an eye on markets, content marketing trends etc. is a really important thing to do. You start to be able to predict who might need content marketing services from you and that way, I’ve found social media really good – I can start following people in that sector, and without spamming them, or being salesy, I’ll get contact from them, saying, “How brilliant that you just added me on Twitter!”.

PW: Yes, and it looks like an accident, but if they knew what had gone into it – how many times you’d read their LinkedIn and social media profiles, but if you do it right, it looks like a lovely coincidence.

LH: So yes, it’s about filling the black book. You won’t have a full one when you start out and, if you do, you should’ve started a lot sooner!

PW: And it’s never full, either – if you think, “I know everyone in my sector”, you’re really limiting yourself. You should always keep your eye open for new people, even when you’re too busy to take more people on, you should always be nurturing those relationships because you’re going to need them eventually.

LH: Definitely – don’t discount anyone. Your book won’t stay full because, just as clients might grow and decide they need a copywriter, but then they might grow again and decide that they need an in-house copywriter – and it’s bye-bye you!

PW: Or, they might see how you do it for six weeks, then go, “OK, I’ve learnt now.” And do it themselves. And it might not be ideal for us – or them, to be honest – but it does happen!

LH: So, on to the fifth myth! If you’re talented enough, your clients will find you. It’s not true. It doesn’t matter how talented you are, your clients won’t find you unless you put yourself out there.

PW: Yes, why would they? I remember, when I started out, I decided to create a website, so I did and then I was like, “Tadaaa!” And then I kind of went, “Oh no!” and it all struck home – why on Earth would anyone find it and just give me work? What was I thinking?! My whole plan collapsed into logic! You may be the best writer on the topic of sociological research, but if nobody knows, it doesn’t matter.

LH: And if you’re not engaging with anyone, no one cares. People want to work with you, rather than working with your website. To be honest, creating a website is the bare minimum of what you need in terms of marketing, but the fact is that I’ve seen frankly mediocre copywriters do really well because they put themselves out there. Their branding and marketing and online and offline presence…it’s all fabulous.

PW: Often it is those who shout the loudest rather than those who are the best.

LH: Statistically, if you get all that work and you do an OK job, you’ll do fine. What you can’t afford to do as a copywriter is to be an ‘author’ – and I am a creative writer as well, so I’m not trying to slate anyone – and get a bit precious. “I don’t want to promote myself – I want my work to speak for itself!”

PW: And that may well be OK if you’re Ian Rankin, Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, but when you’re not those people it’s unlikely to happen. And in commercial copywriting, it’s just not going to happen. People won’t be reading your press release just because it’s so beautiful.

LH: So Pip, the next myth please!

PW: The next copywriting myth is that company x, y or z will already have writers on their staff, so there’s no point approaching them. You might be surprised, actually. Lots of businesses feel they can’t justify paying full-time copywriters, and are happier outsourcing their work. Or they might have marketing staff who normally write their copy, but who sometimes need people to take their overflow. Even the biggest of companies use freelancers, and the only way you’ll know if they’ll hire you is to approach them. Writers and PR staff are – unfortunately for them – the kinds of people who have been made unemployed in downsizing initiatives, so you might be more likely to get this work as a freelancer than as a staff writer. So despite the recession, you might actually be more likely to get this kind of work as a freelancer rather than a staff writer.

I’m doing some work at the moment for a big internet company that I can’t name – you’d think companies that size would have writers in house, but you’d be surprised.

LH: Just to go back to one point you’ve made about companies having marketing staff who need overflow writers. I’m more familiar with B2B than B2C, to be honest, but what you’ll often find is that your marketing managers and directors are friends of friends, or relatives. Now I don’t mean to put them down – they’ll usually have a really in-depth knowledge of the sector and that’s why they’re there – or they’ll have been pulled in from a sales-marketing role somewhere else. A lot of these trade/industrial companies don’t have too deep an awareness of the softer side of marketing. To them, marketing will be doing a poster, doing a flyer, getting in Yellow Pages…

PW: TV ads…

LH: Yes, so that kind of marketing manager – or director – aren’t the best people for writing copy. Often, the literacy levels aren’t that great, the grammar might not be fabulous, or they might just not have time to sit down and write something. And again, social media is greatly untapped in the B2B sector.

PW: Yes, definitely. Another way you might end up being hired by a big company might be even more indirect that what Lorrie just described – you might end up getting taken on by a marketing agency. And those agencies tend to take on a lot of copywriters. It’s often through agencies that we end up doing work for the biggest clients – if you contacted one of these huge companies, they might turn you down, but via an agency you’re in with a chance.

LH: We should point out at this point that you should never try and contact an agency’s clients directly if you’ve been taken on. When you work for an agency, you’ll probably sign something that will make it illegal for you to do so, but even if you haven’t, it’s just really, really bad practice. You’ll get blacklisted for it by everyone.

PW: Definitely. So, what was your next myth pick?

LH: If you enjoy writing, you’ll make a good copywriter. Now, it might sound a bit counter-intuitive but actually, in some cases, the opposite is quite likely to be true. I’ve encountered people in the past who are avid writers, full of fabulous ideas, able to build up characters and a story from nothing, and superb at shocking readers with a fabulous twist in the tale. So when you get someone like that being asked to draft a B2B case study about dairy farming technologies, suitable for industry experts and high level stakeholders, it can be a big culture shock.

Now, I’ve also seen people whose idea of ‘creativity’ and ‘artistic vision’ – something we mentioned earlier – gets in the way of both their work and their freelance career. To be blunt, not much of the work I do as a freelance copywriter gets anywhere near my ‘artistic vision’. In my spare time, I enjoy literary fiction, poetry, cinema and feminism. At work – and yes, I am at work even if I’m at home – I can bang out a press release about waste management technologies for local councils faster than you can eat a bowl of cornflakes. Because it’s what I do at work. I can also put aside the fact that I love writing, and do my tax returns. Or my marketing. Or my research. Or my training. It definitely isn’t enough that I love writing. Sometimes, it feels like that could get in the way of my copywriting.

PW: Yes. There are definitely transferable skills. The ability to write a story can be really important for commercial copywriting as well as in creative fiction writing – it’s great for sales copy, for humanising a brand. There are skills that are relevant to both, but if you only want to do fiction, and write short stories and novels, you may well be an extremely frustrated copywriter because you won’t get from this what you get from that. Now I know Lorrie and I both do commercial work, while I also do media work and Lorrie does literary work, but we both spend a lot of time on the commercial stuff.

LH: I think, if you weren’t careful, you could end up resenting the work that is actually your job.

PW: Yes definitely. I mean, we both work hard to involve other interests in our paid work, and that’s why people contact Lorrie for literary editing; it’s why I write for newspapers and magazines as well. But if you only want to write for The Guardian or you only want to do literary editing, you’ll be frustrated writing for BP and, as Lorrie suggests, you might not be any good at it. Even if you’re brilliant at the other stuff.

LH: It’s important to add that you should consider your freelance work in the same way you’d consider a salaried position. You wouldn’t go into an office and spent six of eight hours doing a half-hearted job and thinking, “Oh, I wish I was writing about something else.” You go in, you do your job, and you do whatever you want after you’ve done your job. That’s the way it goes. It’s not fair on your clients if you try and somehow shape the work they need you to do into what you wish you were doing. Most people would prefer not to do a job, I think – we’d all love to do exactly what we wanted all day, every day. Sometimes I don’t want to write about dairy farming!

PW: And similarly, in previous jobs, we might have gone in and not wanted to do that. It happens.

LH: Exactly. You do a good job. And don’t try and turn copywriting into writing – it’s not the same thing. So, on to the next myth, Pip!

PW: OK, this next myth is something that worried me for a while, and that’s if you do commercial writing you’re a big fat sell-out! Now, the reason I worried about this is that the ethics of what I do are incredibly important to me, so I had to get it right. So, I started right in my business plan, with a long spectrum, with my ideal jobs on the right hand side, and the writing I would never do and companies I would never work for, on the left.

LH: That could be really depressing if you didn’t stick to it!

PW: Yes! I put as many things as I could think of onto that spectrum, from my perfect assignment through to the stuff I wouldn’t do if I was about to starve. Now, the variety of work situations I’d be faced with was much wider than I had anticipated, but each decision has been fairly easy to make, from an ethical point of view. The fact is that there are companies you could write for, or writing you could do, that would go against your own ethics, and those are the companies, or the assignments, that you turn down. Then you’re not selling out. And that’s different for everyone. But, it might be that you decide you can only write for non-profits or companies that promote fair trade, or whatever it is, so those are the companies you market yourself to and deal with. When a multi-national that uses child slavery approaches you, you say no thanks, and you haven’t sold out.

LH: I don’t really have much to add – it’s the perfect way to approach it. OK, yes, you could write for someone who you don’t agree with but you’d feel horrible afterwards. You’d get a few quid in the bank but, and I know I keep going back to it, you wouldn’t do the best job for your client.

PW: No, you absolutely wouldn’t. That’s not to say you can’t write things you disagree with in general, or about things you’re not that interested in…

LH: No, and you don’t have to represent your own point of view – on the contrary, you’re supposed to be representing someone else!

PW: Yes, that’s the whole point of hiring you! And so, we will always have a job or two that just isn’t our thing, but that’s not the same as something you’re fundamentally opposed to. There are ways – even if you have very strong ethical beliefs – to still go about the job without feeling like you’re selling out. What’s your myth number 9, Lorrie?

LH: Myth number 9 is something we covered really early on, and that is you have to work for free at the beginning.

PW: Oh, one of our favourite topics!

LH: Cheeky, nasty copywriters will tell you this. Cheeky, nasty wannabe clients will tell you this. It is not true. Don’t work for free. I’ve never worked for free and I’m doing perfectly well, thank you very much. People will say, “Work for free and I’ll give you a LinkedIn recommendation! And you can put the testimonial on your website! And you can put the work in your portfolio!”

PW: And in reality, you’ll never hear from them again because they’ll have moved on to the next naïve freelancer with the same spiel.

LH: And you’re left with what. I’ve rarely used a portfolio – and when I have, the work I include is from my best clients in relevant industries. People don’t want to see some little out-of-context bit of writing that you did once for some randomer off the internet. That’s not what it’s about. And working for free won’t pay your bills, neither will a LinkedIn recommendation. So don’t let people encourage you to work for free. People sometimes get quite nasty about you wanting to be paid for your work, actually. As though you’re being above yourself!

PW: Yes! And in the episode we did on this topic, we did acknowledge that there are nuances – you might write free for a charity, but that’s volunteering – it’s a different thing. What you don’t do is volunteer for Mr Internet Marketer who’s going to make a profit from your work. And like Lorrie said, they’ll make you feel like you’re unreasonable for wanting to be paid. You’re not – do believe us. Being paid is reasonable, it’s to be expected and you’re not wrong.

LH: The power of shaming, for some reason, has entered the copywriting industry. When you want more than 15p per article, people go, “Oooh, you’re expensive!” and you go, “Oooh, you’re not the write client for me!”

PW: Haha, yes! “Please go away, I don’t want to have this conversation with you!”

LH: So, Pip – on to the penultimate myth!

Blue alarm clock

Blue alarm clock (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

PW: Now this is one I wish was true. I so wish it wasn’t a myth! And it’s that you never set your alarm clock again! How I wish this was true! I set my alarm clock most mornings, and I resent it just as much as anyone in a conventional job does! Much as I do enjoy working my own hours of choice, I still have to work constantly with people in all sorts of office jobs, and they expect me to be around the same hours they are. And also, the depressing truth is that when I make an early start, I’m more productive. On the positive, if I need to start work really early, say at 7.45am, I can set my alarm for 7am, whereas if I was in an office job, it’d be more likely to be a 6am start.

LH: Yes, either you get up and be available to your clients, or you don’t. It doesn’t look good to reply to a client at 11.30pm, no matter whether you’re a night owl or not.

PW: Likewise, it doesn’t look good to reply to a client at 11.30am and say, “Sorry, I just got up.”

LH: Yeah, I’m coming to terms with it, but I’m definitely an early bird. I’m just more productive in the morning, whether I like it or not. I’m useless late at night.

PW: You see, I’m OK late at night – I’m rubbish in the middle of the afternoon and then I’m back at it by the evening!

LH: And I know we’re sharing these little secrets here on the podcast, but you don’t go and tell your clients that.

PW: Yes, if you know you’re rubbish in the afternoon, set deadlines for 1pm or 5pm!

LH: Yes, I have breakfast meetings a lot. I don’t have mid-afternoon meetings because I know myself and I know that they’ll be hanging over me all day, even if I’m looking forward to them. I’ll be thinking about them all day – I was always the same with exams.

PW: You have to get to know your own patterns.

LH: Yup. So whether you set your alarm for 6am or 9am…I wouldn’t suggest going any later unless you’ve got very unusual clients or, say, you work for people in the States, set your alarm clock because you have a job to do!

PW: And so our final myth…what is it, Lorrie?

LH: I feel really bad now, because it could be seen as a bit of a downer. And I don’t mean for it to be because I love my job and I love working for myself. But, myth number 11 is that working from home – and I mean the ‘at home’ bit rather than the writing – is an easy gig.

Now, it’s one of the biggest and most enduring myths, which is why I left it for last – it’s an ‘umbrella’ myth for me: the impression that what we do on a day-to-day basis is a bit of an easy ride.

A salami sandwich

A salami sandwich (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On the face of it, working from home is a pretty sweet deal. You get up when you want, you go to bed when you want, you work when you want. You don’t have to commute, you don’t have to choose between egg mayonnaise and grated cheese every lunch-time. But, flip it around. You get up, and you stay in the same room or house all day, every day. You have to make a special effort to leave the house, and usually you’ve got to find a reason for it as well. After all, when most people leave the house in the morning, it’s to go to work – not anywhere else. So, if you work at home, a quick resentful walk around the block might be all you can think of! I mean, where else are you going to go? You don’t want to waste too much time, but you need to get out for the sake of your sanity. When you get home, it’s silent. You’ve got no colleagues to bounce ideas off, no hustle and bustle, no jokes, no birthdays, no team-building exercises, no friendly boss for advice and to share your worries with. There’s no training department, no HR department, no accounts department. You’re it. And that’s the essence of working from home – it’s a definite trade-off, and it’s not for everyone.

PW: I do love it. Every problem that Lorrie’s highlighted is absolutely valid. I get to points where I’m climbing the walls and I’m forgetting what other humans look like. And it gets ridiculous but I wouldn’t swap it for an office with other people. However, just because it suits me and lots of people are jealous of me for doing it, doesn’t make it perfect. It can be lonely and you can miss the banter, or just having someone to bounce ideas off. If you’re writing something and you have no idea whether the subject heading is brilliant or awful, having someone at the next desk to talk to…Lorrie and I use each other for that, in many ways. We email throughout the day to be accountable, but also to check our work with each other. It’s not that we hate working from home – we both thoroughly enjoy it – but that doesn’t make it a walk in the park.

LH: Definitely, and I wouldn’t want someone really sociable and really doing OK in a salaried job to quit and think that they’re going to start working from home and it’s going to be a whole world of fun. Because you have to be realistic. You’ve got the difficulty in separating work and home life, plus – and I speak from experience! – the whole convincing-other-people-you’re-actually-working thing.

PW: Aaaaaall the time!

LH: Yes! You’re consistently reminding people that no, you can’t go shopping, no you can’t chat with them on the phone for 45 minutes and no, you definitely can’t watch their kids or take delivery of a package they’re expecting, and it’s not as simple as it looks – you end up offending people. So, there are definitely huge plus points to working from home, but please don’t kid yourself or you’ll be in for a shock! If you’re not sure about it, do something else rather than going 100% freelance.

PW: A lot of companies are more open to the idea of emplyees working from home one day a week now, and more are allowing it and finding that people react well to being trusted. And the ideal policies tend to say, “As long as you get the work done, it doesn’t matter if you get it done at a slightly weird time.” So if you are considering working from home, why not talk to your HR department and see about working from home? Still doing work for your salaried job, of course, but just to see how you get on with it. If it goes well, increase it. It’s a good way to see if it suits you.

LH: I have heard really good things about doing that, but I think I’d find it unsettling. For some reason, I can’t quite say why. I now work for myself, and that seems better for me. But yes, as Pip says, it does seem to be working well for quite a few people now.

PW: Yes, and given how much snow we’ve had recently, employers have had to face the decision of letting people work from home or not having any employees for that day. I think generally, as an employer, the more flexible you allow your staff to be, the more likely they are to be loyal to you.

LH: I agree, actually. Although have you seen on the news websites, Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer has banned working from home. And, there are loads of articles about ‘telecommuting’ (which is what they call it in the States) and working from home being a bad idea. I’d question the wisdom of her decision, to be honest, I think this has probably been a resented position to take.

PW: Yes, because there was a lot of expectation about what she was going to do. When she took the Yahoo job, people were giving Yahoo a bit of credit, wondering if she could lift it back up. This is an interesting move with that in mind – it seems like a retrograde move, to me. And it does go to show – and people find this when they’re allowed to work from home in their normal jobs – it’s not all as easy as it sounds.

LH: I wonder if it’s just not been working to have people working from home on a part-time basis. I don’t want to tar people with the same brush, but when friends in salaried positions have a snow day, they do just sit and watch a bit of day-time TV – there’s a “Hehe, I’ve got a day off school!” mentality. I wonder if the novelty hasn’t yet worn off. But, we’re just speculating.

PW: Yes, we are. Now, it’s time for the Little Bird Recommendations of the Week! My recommendation is a very handy tool called Zemanta. I first came across is as a WordPress plugin, but there’s a much better way to use it. Now, Zemanta is a way of adding context to your blog posts and you can install it as a WordPress plugin, but you can also install it on Firefox or Chrome – it’s much better that way. And then, whenever you write a blog post, Zemanta will suggest photos that can accompany your post, tags you can use and also links for certain keywords in your post, so maybe to a Wikipedia definition.

Now I first had this as a plugin on WordPress, but the problem with that is that plugins slow down your site load time. Site load time is now taken into account in your Google ranking, so you don’t want to mess about with that. Plus visitors get bored waiting for more than a few seconds. When I first used the web in 1995, you’d have to take a book or magazine. You’d click on a link, read three article and then the page would load. I’d set myself up with two computers at Uni, so you could have one going to one link, and one going to the other. These days, happily, people don’t do that. I was looking at some statistics the other day about travel websites and apparently, if clients have to wait three seconds, the vast majority will go to a different site. So yes, have Zemanta as a browser plug-in. It’ll also work on Blogger, Type-Pad, Tumblr – all the major blogging platforms. And all the images are all legal to use – either Creative Commons or public domain. It’s called Zemanta, it’s entirely free and I’ll link to it at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com.

LH: I think that has to be one of your best recommendations, to be honest. I’m quite resentful – firstly that I didn’t know about it, and secondly, that it’s not my recommendation. My recommendation this week is another blog post from WriteToDone.com and it’s all articles about writing. Aside from Copyblogger, that site is one of my favourites. This article is called Expertise vs Humility: A Writer’s Battle Royale, and it’s been really helpful for me because I’ve recently been advising clients on developing a voice and a brand. I’ve had one particular client who has needed to balance her expert voice with being warm and lovely – she works with children a lot, so her persona needs that careful balance. She wants people to know what she can do, but she doesn’t want to alienate people. It can be difficult not to ride roughshod over other people and bring too much academia into your writing. If you’ve got a lot of weight to what you’re saying, it can be difficult not to be too arrogant.

PW: Especially if you’re British. This is a real issue – Brits hate people who are overly self-promotional. If someone goes on about how brilliant they are, we don’t go, “Oh, aren’t they brilliant?”, we go, “Oh, aren’t they full of themselves?” It’s a national trait, and it’s not a very attractive one.

LH: I’ll defend it slightly. I went on a subscription spree around the blogosphere the other day, and I’ve now unsubscribed from most of them now because it ticks me off so much to hear about how great someone is and how they won the day. I hate it. What I actually thought you were going to say was about how Brits can come across as quite cold in our writing. I imagine that, if we’re experts on something, we can seem quite dry to an audience who’s used to effusiveness. Going back to the post, it says that expertise and humility can go hand in hand, and that humility is an endearing trait. It’s true – I mentioned it recently. People don’t like someone who’s full of themselves – it doesn’t convert well so unless you’re looking at really hard-sell copy, it’s important to get a good balance. Now, this post has some really handy tips. It’s quite a long blog post but the writing is really engaging and accessible, and I think it’ll really help people who are looking to develop a good voice.

PW: It is a tricky balance, and I’ll definitely look up that author when I look at that article. Getting the voice right can be tough, especially in sales writing that’s not ‘hard sell’, so that’s a really good recommendation – thank you!

LH: It’s been really helpful to me, primarily for B2B writing because sometimes it’s hard to write about, say, LED lighting and still come across as a human being.

PW: Yes! Often, when you research an article, you’ll only use say 10% of it. A mistake I see a lot is people saying, “I’ve learnt all this, so I need to get it in.” There’s lots of balances to be found, to be honest.

LH: So I think that just about wraps it up for this episode of A Little Bird Told Me – that’s episode 28, and we’ve been looking at the 11 biggest myths of freelance writing.

PW: Now, are there any other myths you think we’ve missed? Is there something you believed before you started out, or something people say to you a lot that you find ridiculous? If so, come and chat on our Facebook page, which is linked to from our Podomatic page. Or come and have a chat on our social media – all our social media profiles and websites are linked to from there. We love hearing from listeners.

LH: We do – we love having a chat, as you may have noticed. Let us know if there’s a topic you’d like us to cover in future, let us know if you’ve hated this episode! So yes, thank you very much for listening – I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn…

PW: And I’ve been Philippa Willitts, and we’ll see you next time!

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