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Podcast Episode 40: What to do when you run out of ideas, AKA what Pippa Middleton’s bum can teach us about finding writing inspiration

Every writer, at some stage or another, gets hit by a sudden lack of ideas. It’s depressing and can even be frightening, but there are ways to jolt your mind back into thinking creatively again. In this podcast episode, Lorrie and I discuss several tips and tricks you can use to reboot your creative mind and shake writers’ block off for good.

Show Notes

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Transcript

LH: Hello and welcome to Episode 40 of A Little Bird Told Me. My co-host Pippa and I are two freelance writers on a frankly heroic mission: we’re here to help you avoid the pitfalls that plague our profession and become the most wonderful wordsmiths you can be.

Freelancing is tough, and it can be a really lonely old world out there, so our hope is that this podcast will be a little ray of sunshine in a world where you can find yourself  working from bed, eating cornflakes from the packet for lunch and not seeing another living soul for four years straight.

To make sure that you don’t miss this little sunbeam of writerly wisdom, we’ve made it easy to subscribe – you can tune in via iTunes, RSS feed, Stitcher smart radio or Podomatic. No matter how you want to listen, make sure you stop by our Podomatic homepage at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com because there’s a whole range of linksydinks and resources on there to accompany the episodes. Blog posts, transcripts, funny videos and websites – they’re all there. You’ll also find links to both my and Pip’s social media profiles and websites so you can come and chat to us. I’m Lorrie Hartshorn….

PW: And I am Philippa Willitts. Today we are going to talk about what to do when you run out of ideas to write about. You may have a complete blank and have no ideas at all, or you may have decided on, or been given, a topic, but you just have no inspiration about how to approach it. If you do primarily commercial work, you might get given subjects and write to order, so think this doesn’t apply, but at some point you might well find yourself in a position where you can suggest things to write about to your clients. In this case, you will need a steady stream of ideas. Or you might write for magazines or newspapers, in which case you will need to generate constant ideas to pitch to them. Once you get known, editors might approach you with a story, but until then – and in most cases – you need to do all the legwork of planning stories yourself.

LH: Totally. And when you write for a living, it can be surprisingly easy to hit a wall. Writer’s block, creative burnout, whatever you want to call it, it affects every writer I know – as Pip says, no matter which subject they tackle and which area they work in. It’s a part of the job, which is why it’s important to have some go-to techniques when “uninspiration” strikes!

Writer's Block... Why bother...

Writer’s Block… Why bother… (Photo credit: Arnett Gill)

PW: Exactly. You will have times when you have so many ideas that you can’t write them down quickly enough, but you will invariably also have times when it seems there is nothing interesting in the world at all. We are going to look at some different situations that you might find yourself in, and go through some suggestions to get your creative juices flowing.

LH: If you’re writing for your own website or marketing activities – say, you’re blogging or fulfilling or searching out guest blogging opportunities, you’ve got a certain level of freedom when it comes to getting inspired. You can decide what’s appropriate and what isn’t, and if it gets to a point where you really need some content on your blog, you can feel free to mine the subjects you find interesting or easy to write about. If, on the other hand, you’re writing for a client or an external platform, you’ll need to bear in mind any limitations or conventions that will apply when you consider the tips we share in this episode.

PW: Yes, because you might know your general subject area really well but find it hard sometimes to find an angle that makes it worth writing about. If you write about a particular subject, you can quickly get to the end of your ideas for that subject. If you’re writing for a third party, the amount of flexibility you have in the subject will very much depend on who you are writing for, how much they trust you to provide good subject ideas, whether or not you’ll start sneaking in photos of hunks to otherwise innocuous news stories, and that kind of thing.

LH: One thing that you can get away with on your own platforms occasionally – although not too often – is the trusty opinion or commentary piece. Spotted something on social media that made you completely furious, or made you laugh out loud, why not write a short blog post on that – something quite flippant and humorous? You won’t need to research too heavily and you can be a little freer in terms of tone.

Obviously, this is something to consider doing when you’re writing under your own name, rather than if you’re ghost-writing. Of course, you can do an opinion piece for a client, but you’ll need to make absolutely sure that you have a good handle of the client’s official line on the subject you want to write about and full clearance – preferably in writing – to go ahead with anything that might be in the slightest bit controversial.

PW: Yeah. The frequency at which you can get away with opinion writing does depend very much on the niche you work in. If opinion writing is where you earn most of your money, then fill your blog up with it! If you are strictly a copywriter in the insurance industry, then probably not so much at all.

LH: Absolutely – if you’re a commercial copywriter in the B2B sector, for example, it’s going to be OK to have a few bits and pieces about writing, copywriting, marketing etc. but you’re going to want to showcase mostly informative pieces that will appeal to commercial clients and prospects.

PW: Yup. In terms of where to get ideas, Lorrie just mentioned social media, and that can be a great way to find topics to write about. The people you follow will probably already be posting about your areas of interest, which is why you follow them, so seeing what is being talked about today can give you that spark you need.

LH: Definitely – and that’s one more reason to be discerning with your social media following rather than falling into a trap that many businesses find themselves in: following as many people as possible in a bid to attract mutual followers. If you resist this urge and follow people who have something to say about the sectors you work in or the subjects that interest you, it’ll be such a valuable mine of information – both for general knowledge and, as Pip points out, for times like this when you need some inspiration rather than just a tweet-feed full of people going “Please follow me! Please retweet me!”.

PW: Long-term listeners will know that Twitter lists are one of my favourite things. They really help me manage the people I follow and they’re also a good way of getting ideas – I have lists for top social media, SEO and media people. So if I need to write a blog post about SEO, I go to my SEO list, which cuts out even the people who are generally relevant but who aren’t relevant right now.

LH: And Twitter lists are also a really good way to see exactly what people are talking about and to make sure you’re not selling old news.

PW: Oh yes, definitely.

LH: You can actually use a tool we’ve mentioned before, called Topsy. It’s something we’ve mentioned before so we won’t go into it here, but on Topsy, you can search for blog and social media posts across various platforms that cover a certain topic. Again, it’s pretty much what Pip’s just described with her Twitter lists – it’s just a good way of searching for topics of interest to you.

PW: Brilliant! And speaking of blogs, following the blogs of the industry leaders and the people you respect can also provide ideas ripe for the picking. Is everyone talking about a news story but there’s an angle that nobody’s covered? I know sometimes I’ll read four different reports about a new social media innovation and think, “But why has no one mentioned X, Y and Z?” Make yourself the person to do that.

LH: Yes, and that leads me on to thinking that, if you’re not the person to cover that angle but you spot someone else doing it, it’s another way to get a quick refresh on your blog – if you’ve had a post sitting there just a bit too long, for example – you can share material you’ve found elsewhere and make a comment on it. Obviously don’t share it if they’re your direct competitor! But say, for example, am not particularly au fait with technical writing. Say I spot a writer who’s done a brilliant job at writing about an industry development, I can share part of that post on my blog and link to the rest of it.

PW: Yes, round-up posts are really popular in every niche, really.

LH: Yes, and you have to be careful not to reproduce too much copyrighted content. Quote people, and a good way is to take a screenshot of what that person’s written and then link and attribute clearly and add your own thoughts. Say why you liked or didn’t like about it. And another thing that’s really great for this, that’s infographics.

Infographics are really quite new, they boomed in 2013. They’re full of interesting titbits, easily digestible information, and they’re colourful and attractive things to share on blogs. Every infographic will have information on it about the author and the site on which the graphic was originally featured – those things are there specifically because these types of media are supposed to be shared.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with posting something on your blog, saying, “Found this really interesting because A, B and C…” and then popping a link back to the site you got it from. It shows you’re reading widely, it gives visitors to your platforms material of value and it can actually be a helpful way to build contacts in your sector, particularly if you let people know via social media that you’ve shared the material.

PW: Yes, I got a tweet the other day, which said, “We’ve done a round-up of our favourite posts on a certain subject” and there was a list of posts, including one of mine. So I retweeted it because it’s good for people to know I’m being quoted elsewhere, but for them too – they get clicks, retweets and everyone benefits.

Often when businesses want you to write blog posts for them, or if you write your own blog, the best topics are answers to the questions that people are commonly asking. I know on my personal blog, which these days is rarely updated, I still get hits from people searching for particular answers. Years ago, I got a particular virus on my computer and I Googled how to fix it, but there was no information because I was one of the first people to get it – how exciting! – so when I solved it, I wrote a blog post on how to do it, and five years on, I still get hits for people for that search term.

And so, if you write about social media and you can answer something that people search for a lot – for example “how to get an RSS feed for a Twitter account since the latest update”

LH: And even include a date in there, as well.

PW: Yes! Something I do quite a lot is go to the places where people ask questions. The first place I check is Quora, which is a question and answer site where people really take time to give very in-depth responses to any manner of questions. It may be that somebody has just asked a question that I think would be perfect for my blog, so I instantly have an idea. The second place I look, to find out what people want to know, is discussion forums. Either general or subject specific ones, depending, but a look through the subject headings gives you a clear idea of what people really want to know.

LH: Brilliant set of ideas – if you answer key questions that people are searching for answers to, and you’ve not only come up with an engaging idea for a post, but you’re targeting really good keywords and phrases. And as you’ve pointed out, Pip, five years on, you’re still reaping the benefits.

Another point to add to that is that it’s not just the questions people are asking that make ripe content for blog posts, but also the stories people are talking about. I have subscriptions to the newsletters from all the major trade press publications in my clients’ industries – everything from property to plastics recycling to cosmetics to compliance schemes. And although it’s a lot of reading, I know as soon as something big happens and I can advise my clients to post something about it (or let me post something about it, more to the point!) so that it’s clear they have their finger on the pulse. Again, this is not just great for readers, but for SEO purposes as well.

One of my clients got a promotional back link from The Guardian this morning as a direct result from SEO copywriting that was done for them.

PW: Yes, because these kinds of posts are great for SEO is so many ways. I’ll try and give a quick summary, just because it’s come up so many times. Firstly, Google and other search engines like regular updates on a website. If a site isn’t updated, it loses its ranking, generally speaking. Also, you’re using long-tailed key words and phrases, which is when people search for a phrase or sentence, rather than a word. And if you can get those in, they have lower competition in the search results but tend to have higher conversions. However, with that in mind, something I learned the other day is that 17% of Google searches have never been searched for before.

LH: Oh wow, that’s really interesting! Surprisingly high. Another good way to keep your finger on the news pulse is to set up a whole load of Google Alerts for subjects of interest. Now if you haven’t done this already, do it – it’s content searching 101. Slap on the wrist for you, it’s one of the most simple things out there. For anyone that doesn’t know how to set up a Google alert, come out of your cave and into the beautiful age of internet.

Go to google.com/alerts, type in a search query and decide what kind of news you’d like to read about with that search term in it – you can go for just news, or anything, or blogs. It’s really simple and you’ll get a notification to your inbox (and you don’t have to be with Google Mail, you can do it with any email) every time something with that search term is published. If you chose a search term that’s very common, and have the news delivered immediately, or you can choose to get a digest of the news periodically so you’re not spammed. It’s just another good way to keep on top of all the latest current events.

I’ve stuck a Google Mail filter on my Google Alerts – now this is specific to Gmail, so if you’re in Hotmail, thinking, “I DON’T HAVE A GMAIL FILTER!”, then this is why. So yes, my Google alerts are set to skip my inbox, be marked as read and be put into a little folder, so I can dip in and out when I want.

PW: Definitely! I had an experience with Google Alerts this week that really proved their use.  Because I write opinion pieces, you can come in for hassle and abuse, and I have a Google Alert set up for my name so I know if anyone says something nasty (or nice!). Earlier this week, I got a Google Alert telling me I’ve been named as one of the most influential disabled people in Great Britain.

LH: Hurrah!

PW: Hurrah! Without Google Alerts, I still wouldn’t know and it’s rather nice to know, however bewildering it is!

LH: I think that’s wonderful. Although this week, I’m not a big fan of Google Alerts! Because, listeners, Pip emaileme to say, “Ooh, I did this whole Google Alert thing and I’ve found out I’m one of the most influential people in Britain!” and because the words “Google Alert” were in the email, poor Pip got filtered away and I didn’t respond for about ten hours. So poor Pip was there, celebrating alone and not very influential in my inbox at all! So yes, be careful to check your Google Alerts!

PW: Yes, I’ve made sure to include the words Google Alerts only if they’re in the subject. But yes, my first few were quite dodgy as well, so don’t worry.

LH: It’s the first time it’s happened. I just kept thinking, “I’m sure I had an email from Pip, but it was nowhere to be found. And of course I wasn’t going to check Google Alerts for you, was I? But no, there you were! So sorry about that!

PW: Actually, if you are a freelancer, it’s a good idea to set up a Google Alert for your name. It may be that a client recommends you on a forum – that’s the kind of thing you might never know otherwise, but if you do find out it’s a lovely confidence boost.

LH: Or the other way round – if someone says, “Never hire this person, they did A, B, C” – it might be true, it might not, but at least you have the right to reply there.

PW: That’s it – or if someone tweets what you’ve written, you might not see that otherwise. It can be an ego thing sometimes, but often it just seems like a sensible thing to do if you’re running your own business.

LH: I don’t think many people out there who can say they don’t Google themselves – so why not set up a Google Alert and it’ll do it for you?

PW: A few years ago, there was a man desperately trying to find a job and failing. A lot of people have copied it since, but he was the first. He used the fact that everyone Googles themselves once in a while, and he created a pay-per-click ad that would only appear when the names of the top guys at Apple, Google, Facebook etc googled themselves. So it was a very low-cost ad, because not many people googled “Larry Page” for example, and certainly no one would click on it. So he created an ad saying, “Hey Larry – or whoever – hire me!”

And it led through to a job request and he was offered a job because of it. He got a bit of publicity for it, so I bet there are loads of ads doing the same. You want to be the first person doing something like that, because it worked incredibly well.

LH: Ground-breaking. And no wonder he did so well.

PW: It might be that you’ve done your Google Alerts, looked through your blog subscriptions and read every tweet for the last hour. Rather than desperately trying to find something new, there are other ways of getting a new story written.

LH: Definitely. For one of my clients, I produce a large number of stories every week on very specific industrial topics. And although I usually manage to find 30-40 news stories each week, sometimes I do need some help and I go in-house. And what I’ve done for that is created an article submission form for the client to fill out – it’s just a list of simple questions as though I were interviewing the client: what’s the story about, when did it happen, who was involved, who’s the target audience – that kind of thing.

PW: …quote from someone…

LH: Yes, and I do the same thing for press releases. And I’ll send that over to the client sometimes to try and get some internal news from them. It’s nice to have something that reflects their corporate social responsibility, their commitment to the environment, and charity – a bit of human interest, which is really important for B2B clients. OK, people want to talk about technology, industry developments etc, but they still want to know who’s behind it.

PW: Definitely, because even if it’s B2B, there’s still a person at that business who’s reading it. You might be trying to attract business from another business, so human interest is always good to incorporate! It’s easy to dismiss B2B as entirely technical or financial or whatever, but that’s a mistaken approach.

LH: One slightly sneaky way to find something to write about is to go through material that you’ve already written for the client and see if you can build on something you’ve already written or researched.

PW: Yeah, and as Lorrie says, that can be sneaky, but that’s only really if your aim is to minimise your workload, but if you do it correctly, and truly do provide a new story with that as a basis or inspiration, then it can be good practice. In a lot of commercial sectors, things are very repetitive! So a new angle can be just what is needed, even if it’s an old subject.

LH: Yes, you need to be very careful to make sure – as Pip says – that you’re not short-changing a client. If only because you won’t get away with it! As a copywriter, you can produce 40 beautiful original posts a week, and get nary a word, but when a client’s not happy, you’ll know immediately. Even if there’s just a comma out of place – which there never is in my writing, thank you very much! – they’ll let you know.

But yes, this particular tip is really for those times when, say, you need a blog post to be written and submitted by tomorrow and you’ve exhausted your other inspiration options. Have a think about how you can do it without producing something substandard.

For example, one subject that both Pip and I write about (and around) is health and safety. So say, for example, that I’ve written a blog post for a client on health and safety at work, with a focus on fork lift trucks. I might decide to do a similar piece on working on mobile elevated platforms. And there’s no need to be sneaky about it – you could make the posts into a series of informative features.

Building on that idea, this is another way to change things up a bit when you write regular content for a client: deviate slightly from the style of writing you normally produce for them. If you normally cover current industry events, write a news story about something that’s happening in-house. If you normally cover what’s happening in-house, go the other way and do a summary of a few big stories that are in the trade press currently. Do a comment piece, or a feature, or something light-hearted, or some tips from your client to customers in their sector: just think outside your normal parameters.

PW: Yes. I have a client I write a couple of posts for every week. Normally, they’re very technological – the ins and outs of pay-per-click, or a particular SEO technique, but once in a while, we’ll do something more like a news report. Mix it up a bit, have a story with a different tone. It brings a freshness to you and them, and their content.

LH: Yes, and showcase your client’s different sides. If your writing ends up being a bit paint-by-numbers, it can switch readers off. Changing things up is always a good thing, as long as your client’s OK with it!

When I’m feeling uninspired, one of the most intimidating things is a blank page. And while it’s not OK to self-plagiarise (and yes, rewording something ever-so-slightly and passing it off as original material is definitely self-plagiarising!), it’s OK to take inspiration from your previous work – or indeed, from the work of others.

Now, if you’re getting inspiration from other people, it’s important to be respectful and not get too close. Have a read through what’s there and summarise the key points or structure. Paste those notes into a new file and build from there – having a framework to support your poor tired mind as it struggles to write a blog post or news article can be just the prop you need.

 

crumpled paper - writers block

PW: Yes, I totally agree. I’m another one who finds blank pages intimidating, so if I can get down anything, it breaks the spell a bit and enables me to get going. Write notes, write ideas, write a plan, write about how awful it feels to not be able to write something, but get something down, some ink on the paper or some words on the screen, and you will start to flow.

LH: Yup. I find notes less intimidating than the first sentence of something. You’re more than likely to just delete that and end up with a blank page again. Bullet points are an absolute life-saver. As is the copy-and-paste function! And this is where you have to be careful not to be lazy, greedy or overly tired. If you copy and paste information from somewhere else, make sure it’s in a different font or colour, so you know exactly what’s yours and what isn’t.

But yes, get some information on that page – even if it’s just pasted from a website you’re looking at – and you might well feel far less intimidated.

PW: Yes, as long as you take precautions to make sure you don’t plagiarise…if you plagiarise even accidentally, it’s your client who’s liable – they’ll get in trouble, as will you, so be really careful.

LH: Absolutely. It can be so easy to delete loads of stuff and miss one paragraph and switch everything to Arial, you might not spot it.

PW: Yes, it’s easy to do, so take as many precautions as possible.

LH: Another way to take inspiration from previous work is to do what I’d call an inverse selection – bit of a Photoshop term, there! – with a piece you’ve already written. What I mean by that is using the negative space around something you’ve already written. I’ll explain that a bit more: if you’ve done loads of research for, and written a piece about  the top six rules for writing copy about stock exchange trading bots, why not write a post about the top six don’ts for stock exchange trading bots? That kind of thing – you have a lot of the work in place, but you’re producing entirely new material.

PW: Yes, this is something I’ve done too. If someone wants one in-depth article on a subject I need to do a lot of research for, you might as well get more use out of that. So if a client wants one article about getting rid of migraines, you will also know about migraine causes, myths and misconceptions, pros and cons of certain treatments, so pitch those ideas elsewhere.

LH: Good point!

PW: What I do, if no one at that point wants those stories, I write them up and submit them to Constant Content. It’s nothing like copying the original article – there’s no relation really – but I’m also not wasting all the work I’ve done.

LH: Yes, very good idea actually. And what that makes me think of really, is if you’ve done loads of research on, let’s say migraines again, but your client only wants a 500-word article on the subject, by the time you finish your post, it might be 1,100 words. That’s 600 words spare, and you can use that content elsewhere to build another article.

LH: If you do submit these kinds of similar topics to the same client, you’ll need to spread these things out, but you’re effectively producing a mirror image of the post you’ve already written without replicating the content itself.

Justin Bieber

Justin Bieber (Photo credit: cukuskumir)

PW: Yes, it’s really transparent if you have four blog posts in a row that are the same! But if you split them up and intersperse them, that works. A lot of the big blogs will take a really common subject and do a (quite often annoying!) topical angle on it. But say Justin Bieber does something, you just know that, the next day, there’ll be a blog post on “What Justin Bieber can teach us about Content Marketing!”

LH: Oh, I hate that so much!

PW: Me too, but it’s good for SEO and it’s basically link bait. Someone sees it on Twitter and they’ll click. It’s the same content but tenuously linked to something topical. “What Kim Kardashian’s latest pair of shoes can teach us about migraine treatment!” I think it’s clear that neither Lorrie nor I are particularly fond of this, but it is another option depending on your platform.

LH: I’m trying to imagine my clients faced with an article about what Kim Kardashian has to say about waste management, “What Kim Kardashian’s pregnancy fashion has to say about compliance!”

PW: “What Pippa Middleton’s bum tells us about working at height on a ladder!”

LH: She’d probably bounce!

PW: You know, the day of the royal wedding, I was on Twitter and I spent the whole day watching people say, “Wow, isn’t Pippa’s bum wonderful?” and I’d respond and say, “Oh, thank you!”

Now, quite often, however, finding inspiration is nothing to do with getting Google Alerts on your core topics, or analysing discussion forums. Sometimes it’s more about injecting some creativity into your life, or taking your mind off work altogether. People don’t envisage professional writers sitting at a desk at a computer all day, filling out spreadsheets, and it’s really not a natural state to be in, especially if you’re creatively mind as most writers are. It can kind of sap your soul, and sometimes the reason you can’t think of anything is because you need an injection of something really inspirational, not more of the same.

LH: Definitely. As you say, it can be soul-sapping to sit there facing the same wall, writing the same things – often complex things – over and over. You need to concentrate and be fresh in your mind to make sure you don’t make silly mistakes.

PW: Something like reading a novel, going to an art gallery, or going for a walk in a park might seem unrelated to a lot of the reality of writing for a living, but sometimes it’s just what we need. There’s a well-known phenomenon where people have their best ideas in the shower, and that’s because their mind is away from work, they are thinking about random things, and suddenly inspiration will strike. Sitting and trying to force an idea can be a really pointless task, whereas taking yourself away from it, even for an hour, can replenish your mind and leave you full of ideas.

LH: Yes, even if it’s not for hours – if it’s just a 15-minute stomp around the block. It’s nice to get out and get some inspiration, or just some fresh air. You feel a bit more alive, really.

PW: Definitely. So, sure, the Picasso exhibition isn’t directly related to your copy for a packaging company, and your press release for a local butchers doesn’t have any direct connections to your favourite author’s latest novel, but something in them can spark the ideas you need. It can be the tiniest thing that gives you the angle or the topic you have been looking for, but if you really feel drained and tired and uninspired, then do something totally different for a few hours. You need an element of creativity even in the most mundane of writing tasks, so don’t neglect that need for the sake of corporate staying at your desk attitude.

LH: That’s a really good point to finish on, really. We’re freelancers, and our working style can be very different. For most of us, a guilt-free embrace of freelance working style is a really good thing. Breakfasts, brunches and lunches with friends. I like working in cafes, going to the library, being out and about. And it’s part of being a freelancer. I work evenings sometimes, admin on weekends, finance tasks… So if you find you’re uninspired a lot of the time, do something about it – you’re in charge. Just because you’re out and about doesn’t mean you’re not working. You’re your company and you have to keep happy and healthy!

PW: Yes! I used to go to a co-working space for half a day a week. I liked the change of scene, but sadly that closed last year. By about February, I was really feeling the lack of it. Periodically now, I book half a day or so and go and work in a café or bar. And I do exactly the same work on the same computer, but there’s something about working in a new environment that just refreshes me a bit.

So yes, much as there are many practical ways to find new inspiration, don’t limit yourself. We’re creative people. Even if much of what we write is commercial, you still need creativity to make it good. Don’t dismiss the need for creative outlets and creative inlets to give your brain a boost!

LH: So, really hope you’ve found this episode helpful and useful. If you have any thoughts, come and have a chat to us on Facebook or social media –all the links are on alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com. We’re friendly and receptive – for the most part! – so come and have a chinwag.

So, now it’s time for that weekly joy-fest that is the Little Bird Recommendations of the Week! Philippa, over to you!

PW: Thank you, Lorrie in the studio! A couple of months ago, I wrote some really in-depth articles on internet security, particularly passwords. And what I learned during my research scared me to death. The speed and efficiency with which people can crack passwords is really frightening – a tech writer basically had his whole life deleted in about 15 minutes, which made me totally neurotic. And then, last week, I couldn’t get access to the back end of my own website, which scared me because I knew there were bot attacks happening on WordPress sites.

Fortunately, what had happened is that my host had seen a lot of these bot attacks happening and they’d limited everyone’s access to everything. Because what these bots were doing was trying to log in under every possible username and password combination, so my host had taken precautions. All I needed to do was let them know my IP address and they unblocked me.

There have been a lot of WordPress hacks recently – not because there’s anything wrong with the platform, just because a lot of people use it. I did some more research and what I found is my recommendation this week: a free plugin for WordPress, called Limit Log-in Attempts. What these bots are doing is just automating passwords and try, and try, and try to log in to your account. By default, they get into some.

What this plugin does is limit the number of retries. You can customise it and decide how many attempts you want to have. The default settings are that, after four failed attempts, it blocks for 20 minutes and after four blocks, it locks for 24 hours. So this is a free plugin, called Limit Log-in Attempts, and, amongst other general security measures, it looks to me like a really good way to protect yourself. I’ve seen it recommended on other blogs, too.

LH: Definitely, it sounds brilliant. And it’s something I’ll be installing.

PW: The technology and effort people put into breaking into accounts is phenomenal.

LH: And often for no good reason – sometimes just to be malicious. So even if you think, “My website’s small and uninmportant.” it doesn’t matter.

PW: Yes, they’re not choosing big sites to target – it’s a blanket attack. Even if they can get onto a tiny website and add links to their site from it, they’ll do it.

LH: Brilliant recommendation, and as I say, one I’ll take on. I feel quite frivolous now! “After that shocking report from Philippa, on to the weather!” There’s Pip keeping the world safe, and here’s my story on a cat getting stuck in a tree!

PW: You’re the “And now, finally…!”

LH: My recommendation for this week build on what we’ve been talking about this week. Here in England, it’s often quite rainy and horrible. So getting out and about can be tough – my recommendations are to help you get out and about when you can’t. These are inspiration tools for fiction writing. Now they’re not specifically designed as fiction writing tools, but I use them for that and I know a lot of people who do the same.

The first is called “the secret door” and, weirdly, it’s on a double-glazing website called SafeStyle UK. It’s a cute little white door that, when you click on it, takes you to a random view from somewhere in the world – you could be in the middle of a rainforest, you could be in the Antarctic, in a fairground, a sweetshop, and you can click until you feel inspired.

PW: To give SafeStyle Windows their due, this is content marketing – I can see this being handy if you just like having a five minute break.

LH: Yes, and another site I use is MapCrunch.com, which provides you with a random Google Maps street view. You can explore – it has the same functionality as Google Maps – and I’ve used it as inspiration for short stories. It’s brilliant when you’re stuck in the same room and you’re not inspired by the bed, or the wardrobe, or the desk, or your desk chair…and much as you can try going out and find something new, it’s not always feasible, so these are my recommendations this week.

PW: It reminds me of those live feeds in enclosures in zoos – I had a phase where any free moment was spent watching penguins – watching these little things bumble around was lovely. And it takes you somewhere else if you’re stuck at your desk. Sometimes, you don’t have time for a walk. These things can just take you somewhere else.

LH: Yes, they’re a bit of a hack when it comes to ‘getting out’, but it’s OK to be a baby sometimes. It’s OK to watch a panda falling off a log. It’s nice and it’s good de-stress time.

PW: Definitely, that’s a great idea Lorrie! So, that concludes episode 40 – wow!

LH: Phwoar!

PW: We hope you’ve enjoyed it. If you want to see any of the links we’ve talked about, go to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, everything’s linked there. Come and say hi, subscribe and tell all your friends. I’ve been Philippa Willitts…

LH: And I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn, and we’ll catch you next time!

Podcast Episode 39: How to turn one-off clients into repeat business

Keeping and nurturing existing clients is a more reliable and less time-consuming way to conduct your freelance writing business, when compared to doing lots of one-off pieces of work for all and sundry. You don’t need to spend as much time marketing yourself, and you can build on existing good relationships rather than constantly starting new ones.

In this podcast, I talk about the 13 top tips to turn one-off clients into repeat business and there is, of course, the Little Bird Recommendation of the Week too.

Show Notes

Episode 8: Essential Software and Online Apps for Freelance Writers

Twitter Law

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Subscribe via RSS

Subscribe via iTunes

Find us on Stitcher Smart Radio

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Transcript

Hello and welcome to episode 39 of A Little Bird Told Me: the freelance writing podcast about the highs, the lows and the no-nos of successful self-employment.

I am Philippa Willitts and today I’m going to be talking about how freelance writers can turn one-off clients into repeat business. I am here without my usual co-host Lorrie, who’ll be back next week for our next dual episode; today, you’ve just got me.

If you want to make sure you never miss another episode, the thing to do is subscribe. And we make it really easy: there are several ways to do that via alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com. If you use an RSS feed to subscribe to podcasts, which I do, you can find the RSS feed there. If you’re more of an iTunes person, there’s a link too. And if you like Stitcher Smart Radio, which I also use on my Android tablet, you can listen to us there, too.

You can also leave us thumbs-up and feedback on your preferred mode of listening, or you can subscribe to us directly to us on Podomatic. You’ll get an email notification as soon as we have a new episode. On that page, you’ll also find links to our Facebook page and we love it when people come and say hi, ask questions and give us suggestions. You can also find the links to my websites and social media fees. So with that out of the way, let’s get down to business!

When you’re a freelancer, you spend a lot of time marketing yourself, finding new clients, approaching people and persuading them that you’re the writer for them. It’s a lot of work. What becomes clear over time is that it’s easier to get repeat business from a client than to find a new one. You’ve already built a relationship with them, so don’t let it drop too easily. It also takes a lot less of your time than finding new people to approach, taking the time to get to know their business,  taking the time to get to know what they do – that kind of thing.

Some clients genuinely just do need one piece of work doing. They may have an in-house person who was off-sick, so they hired you as a one-off. However often, if you scratch the surface, you will find that they need more. Another benefit of repeat customers is that it’s also a good confidence boost – if they come back to you, it means they were really pleased with what you did. They liked the way you worked, they found you reliable, talented and found you understood the work they do. So getting repeat clients is just really nice; you know they’re pleased with what you’ve done for them.

If you’re still unsure, have a think about the lifetime value of the customer. If you get £250 worth of work from them, that’s brilliant. But if you can get £250 a month from that client, then that’s £3,000 coming your way every year. It all adds up, even regular small jobs – it doesn’t even have to be worth that much; your income will often come from a variety of places.

So in this episode, I’ll talk about the 13 top ways to turn one-off clients into repeat customers. The first one is very simple and very complicated, and that’s to be amazing! Often, a client will say they just want one piece of work because they want to test you out. They might be nervous and want to test out your writing, skills and reliability before committing to more regular work. Can you submit work to a deadline or are you chaotic? Are you pleasant to work with? So what you have to do is prove yourself. Prove you can write in the style they need; prove that you are easy to work with; prove that you meet deadlines. Make a great impression and do the best you can.

The second tip is to be consistent. If as a one-off piece of work, they wanted four blog posts and you give them two great ones and two that are just so-so, you will not seduce your customers into coming back. They want consistency as well as quality.

First Meeting

First Meeting (Photo credit: lhl)

Tip number three is to talk to clients about their needs. Sometimes all it takes is a discussion about where they want their business to go, and from that you can identify from that the services you are able to offer that will help them to reach their goals. They may not know that you can write a wicked press release that will get their business in the local paper. They may not have thought about the benefits of a case study in their annual report. Don’t be pushy but chat to them about they need. Be pro-active and come forward and say, “Actually, I think you’d benefit from these blog posts being weekly.” If they don’t know you provide a service, or they don’t know that the service will be helpful to them, they won’t think to hire you for that. So, as is so often the case, communication can really open doors. When you find out their business goals, identify yourself as  a key way to reach those goals.

The next point is to stay in touch, and follow up regularly. Check in periodically, see how they are, see if they need any extra work. Sometimes a courtesy call can be good – two weeks after you’ve submitted the one-off piece of work to them, give them a call. See if they got good results and if they need anything else.

This can be helped by having an email mailing list – encourage clients to join, then send out regular reminders that you exist, and tempt them back for more work from you. Remind them that you exist and increase the likelihood that they’ll come back to you when they need something else.

The next tip, I’m offering warily, but there is a place for it, and that’s special offers. Be careful with this one, because you don’t want to put yourself in a position where you are working at a loss, or aren’t getting the fees you deserve, but it’s something to consider if you can make it work on both sides. An idea that Lorrie gave me was to bundle services together. Now this can be a good way to do this, especially if you can offer a package that will involve only one set of base research to produce several documents. I think Lorrie’s idea was to offer a press release with a case study on the same subject – so she’d so the research and the interviews, then do the case study and offer a press release at a reduced price, but without having to do a whole load of extra work, just the writing.

It’s important that you don’t offer discounts that will make you feel bitter at how little you are working for! You don’t want to resent your clients or yourself for suggesting it! But times when work is slow to come in can sometimes be a good time to compromise a bit on fees if you receive a decent amount of work from the agreement you come to. So don’t sell out but think about whether you can offer a good amount of work at a price that makes the customer feel that they’re getting a good deal without short-changing you.

Tip number six is to make sure they are aware of the services you offer.  Say if they hired you to write a case study, they might not know that you also write annual reports, press releases, website copy etc. They won’t consider rehiring you if they don’t know you can do what they need. They may think they need a special PR firm for press releases; let them know they don’t. Show them results you’ve had in the past, be persuasive, be clear and sell yourself.

Point number seven is to make the client feel appreciated. You can make sure you always send them a thank you email with every invoice, or thank them publicly on social media. Make it something that sets them apart and lets them see how much you value their loyalty. Make sure you thank them; treat them with courtesy. Courtesy is really important in business, so don’t just work for them then drop them. If they feel you value your custom, they’ll remember you in a positive way and it could bring them back to you.

Tip number eight is to ask for feedback when you’ve submitted your first piece of work. Check that they are happy, offer edits if they need them. Most freelance writers, I think, agree to a certain number of edits – often one or two. Be very clear – you don’t want to be in a position that you’re on your twelfth edit because you didn’t specify a limit! But if they need them, be pro-active in offering to rework parts of what you’ve written, if they’re not happy.

Similarly, requesting feedback can be a good way to find out if customers are pleased. And if they are pleased with what you did, this can be a good time to suggest other work. This opens up a dialogue where you can find out what else they might need. But even if you don’t do that at this stage, they will appreciate you making sure they are happy, and this will make a good impression that will stick with them. They’ll remember those kinds of touches.

Tip number nine is to go the extra mile. Always over-deliver when you can. For instance when I send a client a press release, I also send them general pieces of advice on how to get the best results from press releases. Now, this is very little extra work for me, it’s a document I’ve prepared to go with the press releases I do, and it’s 10 seconds extra work to attach it to the email. This took me about an hour to prepare originally – I did research on the best tips, compiled them, rewrote it and now clients appreciate it. It doesn’t matter that I send it to everyone – it just helps any client to have better results with their press releases.

Point number 10 is to remind the client – tactfully – of the benefits to them of working with a writer they already know. Prompt them and point out that they know the kind of work you produce, they know that they can rely on you to meet deadlines, and they know your fees, they know how flexible you are. No negotiations need to take place, no more leaps of faith because they know what they are getting. And as long as the work you’ve already done for them means they do know you are reliable, and write well, and can follow a brief, then this may help to sway them.

Tip number 11 is: don’t leave contact so long that they’ve forgotten who you are. It’s important to follow up with past clients if you want them to become regular or future clients. If you follow up six months after you write their website copy, they might not remember you. Act within a week or two of finishing the piece of work you’ve done for them.

Tip number 12 is to keep records. It can feel a bit tedious – in my experience! – to keep a database or spreadsheet of client information, but it’s invaluable if you want to remind yourself of who you have worked with who might be good to approach with the suggestion of new work. Make a note of the named person or people you worked with, their contact details, what you did for them so you can bring that up, and that kind of thing. I have a database for this purpose, which also has a notes section to remind myself about that client. If you remember that they’d just had a baby, or that they were considering expanding their business, if you can contact them again and ask how their new daughter is getting on or how their expansion is going, it makes a good impression. If you don’t keep up-to-date records, you’re relying on your memory and once you’ve worked with more than, say, a dozen clients, you may start to forget about people – especially if you just did a small piece of work for them. It doesn’t take long to update a spreadsheet when you hear from someone new, and it helps you approach them appropriately in future.

The final tip is about practicalities – if you change your email address or your phone number, let all your previous clients know. It can be a good way to pop up in your inbox and remind them you exist. But also, if they try and get hold of you and can’t, they’ll quickly move onto somebody else. I also try to remember to add clients on LinkedIn or Twitter while I work with them, so my updates there will remind them that I exist, and so I can easily contact them if their details change. They may move to a different company or get a new number and if I want to approach them but can’t get hold of them, I can find them on LinkedIn or Twitter.

One of the ways I do that is through a little Gmail extension called Rapportive. Now, Lorrie and I did an episode (I’ll link to it in the shownotes) on essential tools to freelancers, and Rapportive is one of my favourites. As I say, it’s a little add-on to Gmail and, whenever you open an email from/to someone, you get a little box on the right-hand side of the screen with lots of information on that person. It’s nothing creepy – it’s all publicly available stuff. It gives you their LinkedIn profile, their Twitter account, their most recent emails to you, and I find it really helpful to make the LinkedIn connection that way. You can request a connection from Gmail – you don’t even need to leave your Gmail.

So those are 13 ways that can be really effective, and they can be used together although even doing one or two is better than nothing. They’re really good for persuading clients that they want more work from you than just the one piece you’ve done. You know that you do good work; make sure they know as well, partly through the work you submit and partly through gentle appropriate marketing that you do for them. If you value them and their custom, and do things on a timely basis, you can give them a better feeling about working with you.

And now it’s time for the Little Bird Recommendation of the Week. And, as there’s just me today, there’s only one recommendation. Now, my recommendation is an article on a legal website and what it’s about is the laws surrounding Twitter. Now, this is particularly timely in the UK because we have some quite high profile people on trial for libel at the moment because of things they said on Twitter, including the wife of the speaker of the House of Commons. And she said something that may or may not have been libellous, and she said that on Twitter. And so what this blogpost is (it’s UK specific, although some of it’s just good advice even if you’re outside the UK) and it goes through some of the different laws that can be broken, basically – libel and slander, for example. But it also looks at the fact that, if you say that you work for an organisation but don’t say “These views are my own”, your employer can be liable for anything you say on Twitter.

It also looks at promotion, copyright law, trademark law, cyber-bullying. It even looks at the contract you signed – i.e. ticked a box for – with Twitter itself. And also looks at regulations in certain professions, what happens if you have sub-contractors tweeting for you, and it’s the kind of thing that myself and a lot of people have wondered about over the years as Twitter gets bigger and as these things get to court more and more often.  So if you want to know about how copyright law, trademark law affects what you say on Twitter, or the legality of sponsored tweets, or what to do if you’re in a profession that’s regulated by an external body, this is the article for you. I’ll link to this in the show notes so you can have a read – it’s very interesting and slightly alarming!

So, that is the end of episode 39 of A Little Bird Told Me.  I really hope you’ve found some value in the things you’ve learned today. Do check us out online: go to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com and subscribe. Follow the links I’ve mentioned in the show notes and share the page with your friends – any freelance writer would love to hear about it, I’m sure! Thank you very much for listening – I’ve been Philippa Willitts and we’ll catch you next week.

 

Podcast Episode 38: How to break into new freelance writing markets

It’s easy to get into a rut with freelance writing, especially if your career has drifted rather than been planned out and focused. So if you have found yourself mainly working in an area of writing that doesn’t thrill you, or if you have ambitions that you aren’t sure how to reach, this episode of the podcast is just what you need. We talk about how to transition from one freelance writing market to another, so listen on and enjoy.

Show Notes

Episode 7: Freelance Writing – To Specialise or Not to Specialise

Episode 33: How to deal with a crisis of faith

Source Bottle

The Women’s Room

Ian McMillan and Stephen Fry talk Yorkshire accents

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Subscribe via RSS

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Transcript

LH: Hello and welcome to Episode 38 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 via RSS feed, iTunes, Stitcher Smart Radio or just there on the Podomatic page itself. It’s worth clicking the subscribe button, because you’ll get a notification as soon as our new episodes are out.

PW: And who wouldn’t want to be the first to know?

LH: Very true! So, on the Podomatic page itself you’ll also find the links to our Facebook page where you can come and chat to me and Pip and ask us any questions you might have and give feedback on the episodes you’ve liked or not liked, and let us know if there are any episodes you’d like to hear us record in future. You’ll also find links to our websites, so you can and admire us in our general splendour, and links to our social media feeds so you can come and tweet or Facebook us. And, there are also – in this bag of tricks – loads of transcripts and show notes, many of which are actually handy links to resources for freelancers.

PW: Definitely – any link or website or article that we mention in the podcast, we do list and provide links for in the show notes, so if you’re listening to the podcast through a subscription on your iPad or something, do make sure to visit the site once in a while as well so you can click through to the links we mention.

LH: Yes, it’s a veritable goody-bag. I’m Lorrie Hartshorn…

Audit4

Audit4 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

PW: And I am Philippa Willitts, and today we’re looking at what writers can do if they want to break into a new market. You might be a copywriter who wants to be a novelist; you might be a newspaper journalist wanting to be a copywriter. We’re going to look at some general ideas on how that might work, why you might want to change, and what to do if you do!

LH: Now, unfortunately, given that we try to keep the podcast under an hour, we’re not going to be able to look at all the aspects of different markets you might want to break into. What we’re going to look at is the transition between markets. How to prepare yourself and move from one market to another.

PW: Yes, like Lorrie says, there are so many permutations of where you are now, where you want to be, where you might go in between that it would be impossible to go through every option. But like Lorrie says, it’s more about the transition – learning how to use the skills you already have to apply to a new market – that kind of thing. So first of all, we’re going to look at why you might want to change markets.

LH: Yes. There are a number of reasons you might want to break into a new writing market. You might want to earn more. You want to write something different – and that might be writing on a different subject or providing a different kind of writing service. You want to work with a different type of client, or work in a different way with your clients. Yeah, you want a different kind of working style.

PW: Absolutely. You might just find that you’ve just got bored with the type of writing you are doing, or that you’ve kind of let your career develop in its own way without much direction…

LH: And that’s fine (I know you weren’t saying it wasn’t!). Most writers I know kind of just wandered into it, decided we liked it, and stayed in it and developed the skills from there. They’re happy enough to do that, but what I’m saying is that life happens.

PW: Absolutely. And so, if you don’t start out with a clear plan, you might find yourself in a bit of a wilderness now, thinking, “What do I really want to do?” But you might now be finding that there’s a particular area that you’ve been working in – maybe accidentally – that you’re loving: a particular topic, or maybe you’ve discovered you’re brilliant at press releases or screen writing, for example. So if you’ve started off as a generalist but now realise you really want to specialise in one area you are fascinated with, that can be a reason to break into new markets. Also, I’ll link in the show notes because I did a solo episode about whether or not to specialise and some of the info in there will back up what we say today.

LH: Yes, I remember that episode and it was really good. In terms of specialising vs. generalising, we’re both generalists with specialists in different areas, so it was interesting for me to hear how you got into your specialist areas. So yes, listeners, it’s well worth tuning in.

So, going back to areas we’ve fallen into a bit by accident, I remember the first time I was asked if I did book editing. I’d done loads of editing in an academic setting before and knew I had the right skill set for book editing, so I went for it and loved it. I offered a discount because it was my first time doing it; I explained to the client that I was new to the sector but laid out my skills. I was happy; they were happy and it’s now a big service area for me, and it helps dilute the more technical, industrial stuff I do.

PW: It’s important to remember that, if you’re a freelancer and you find you are getting bored with what you’re doing, it doesn’t have to mean that being a writer is wrong for you, it might just be that type of writing or the markets you’re working in that are getting on your nerves, basically.

LH: Yeah, I did a solo episode recently about what to do if your freelance careers is in crisis and, although you might not consider boredom a crisis, it can be if you let it go on too long. So I’d recommend having a listen to that – there are some good tips on how to ddecide whether you’re just having a blip, for example, if you’re bored, or if writing’s just not for you.

PW: And I’ll link to that in the show notes!

LH: Thank you very much! So, if you’re considering a transition from one area to another or you’re just considering breaking into an additional new area, you need to work out what’s important to you in terms of your day-to-day working style in order to know whether you’re trying to break into the right niche – and whether you’ll be able to hack it.

PW: Yes, when you’re going to try and make a change with the markets you work in, I’d strongly recommend not just abandoning all your regular clients and trusted editors in a bid to crack a new area. Unless you have a trust fund to support you for three months, it’ll take a while to build up and there’s no guarantee it’ll work. Assuming you need regular income, the key is reduce your work in one area gradually while building up work in a new area.

LH: Yeah, that makes me think of two things. First, when you say “Don’t just abandon people”, that’s something I mentioned in that solo episode too. It’s not professional to dump people and it also means there’s no going back. You can dump people – there’s nothing your clients can do about it unless you’ve signed a contract with them – but it’s just not very good.

PW: Looking at it from a selfish perspective, they might know someone who could be key to your new career. If they’re best mates with the editor of the magazine you want to work for, and you treat them unprofessionally…

LH: You can kiss that one goodbye!

PW: Yes! It’s the wrong thing to do anyway, but you’re not helping your own chances. In these kinds of markets, it’s surprising how many people know one another.

LH: Yes, I’m often amazed to find that I’m one or two connections away from someone who’s huge in a particular industry, often via a really small client or someone really unassuming. I’m not someone to exploit a contact, but I certainly wouldn’t want to ruin my reputation via that person.

PW: No, you just never know how far ripples go.

LH: Yes, people do talk and it’s not something you can repair because there are so many copywriters, journalists and editors out there vying to take your place.

PW: Yes, so when you start to cut down your current work, be respectful to these people who may have provided a large part of your income for the last five years.

LH: Yes, these people have probably helped you on the way up, so just because you’re planning a transition, doesn’t mean you can just go, “Oh bye!”. The second point I wanted to make is that I know copywriters in the hard-sell sales market, and they make an absolute fortune, charging thousands of pounds for a single piece of writing. It’s an extremely high pressure market.

PW: Yup, results, results, results.

LH: Yes, you need to be able to quantify the results your writing is going to get.

PW: And you can spend two months on one sales letter.

LH: Yes, and the contact between the client and writer is a lot more high pressure. You have to be able to schmooze, you have to be on call, things can be urgent; you have to love the high-pressure sales environment. So if you go bumbling into sales writing thinking it’s going to be marvellous and getting rid of all your clients, you’ll be in shark-infested waters if you hate it. You wouldn’t necessarily know, before you got into sales writing, that the day-to-day life of a sales writer is so different.

PW: Yes, so if you just dip a toe in the water rather than getting rid of all your copywriting jobs, you haven’t burnt your bridges.

LH: Yes, and I imagine that journalism is the same. I don’t do media writing, but Pip does, and I imagine that, Pip, there are a lot of differences in the skills and tendencies in journalism than in other areas.
PW: Definitely. The process is different, you can get very strictly edited, you can get a lot more criticism – including from people you don’t know – and yet the exposure being bigger means that when my local radio station wanted someone to talk about disability hate crime, they’d seen enough of my work to know I’d written for some big publications on the subject. The exposure can be good, but it can also be quite brutal.

LH: I imagine the skill set it quite different, too. As a copywriter, you don’t need to interview people very often, but as a journalist, you need to interview people.

PW: Yes, and you need to back up your points meticulously. If you make a factual error, everyone will know about it…

LH: And you’ll possibly get sued for libel. It’s just not my cup of tea – I think you can tell by the way I’m speaking that it’s not, and that’s really what we’re talking about, isn’t it?

PW: Yes, I absolutely love media writing. So, looking at writers who want to make a transition from one market to another, what’s really important is to make a plan for the transition from one market to another. If you’ve got a path you’ve identified in advanced, it’ll help you to follow a particular path, and you will know at each stage what still needs to be done to get you to the place you want to be.

English: iPad with on display keyboard

English: iPad with on display keyboard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

LH: Yes, definitely. And I think we can take for granted the weird little coincidences that have brought us to where we are now. I got into writing about recycling because I decided not to do more academic work and to get into marketing. I ended up as a marketing executive in the recycling sector. If I’d gone for a company in a different sector, I perhaps wouldn’t have so many trade and industrial clients as I do now. I couldn’t have planned it if I’d tried.

PW: No, absolutely. Freelancing can take such unexpected turns. You can become an expert in an industry you’d never have thought of. I know something that’s important for both me and Lorrie is to work for ethical firms, which is how Lorrie got into recycling. As a result, she’s ended up developing quite in-depth technical knowledge but still retained that ethical base.

So what we’re going to do is look at someone who might want to transition to a new market in their career. Don’t think that just because this specific example doesn’t fit your experience exactly that it doesn’t apply to you. It’s all the same thing.

Say you write for magazines at the moment about arts and crafts but over time the topic that you used to love has just got a bit dull for you. However you have developed a love of cooking and want to get a cookbook published. There are many paths to make this transition, but one that is available to you is based on a theme that will come up again and again in this podcast episode (and has done in many episodes), and it’s to work with what you’ve already got as a way to get to where you want to be.

So say you have plenty of experience getting published in magazines, you’re familiar with various magazine and newspaper editors, and these are valuable contacts. I would suggest that the best first step would be to start trying to get published in cookery magazines. This uses your magazine writing experience, you can explain to the cookery magazine editors that you have lots of experience with lots of sub-editors, you know how to follow style guidelines, and you even have good experience photographing a process and a finished product – before it was craft projects, now it’s recipes, but be aware of how many skills you already have that will help you in your new move.

LH: And going back to the point about contacts we made earlier, people in publishing talk to one another. So if you’ve done well, people might find out about it.

PW: Yes, and bear in mind that publishing houses might own like 20 magazines. So if you make this transition over time, sure, you will still have to do arts and crafts writing until your new commissions start coming in, but you’re on your way to where you want to be. Once you are familiar with cookery writing editors, and they are familiar with you, you then have a much higher chance of getting your book idea accepted and taken on by agents and publishers and voila, book deal. It’s not an overnight move, but nothing that’s worth it is, really. But if you can approach a book publisher with clips from eight different well-respected cookery magazines, you have a much better chance.

LH: Absolutely. Another example would be a copywriter who wants to move into sales writing, as we mentioned earlier. If you think you can hack sales writing, there’s lots of money to be made. You have to be the best, you have to have a really salesy website, and that;s something you can set up and let sit on Google for a while – it’s a good chance to practise your sales copy actually…

PW: That’s true – if someone checks out your website and they’re not convinced, they won’t hire you to convince their customers.

LH: Exactly, so have a look around, find out who the big sales copywriters are and see what they’re doing. But in terms of tapping into your own experience and moving over gradually, suggestion number one would be to see who your own clients are and to see if they need any sales writing.

PW: They might have a website full of information you’ve written for them, but you might be able to suggest to them that they might benefit from a landing page, which is basically the page that people land on when they come from a particular link. Some people will set up a particular landing page for people who click on a certain Google ad, for example.

LH: Yes, if your client has a product launch or a particular service or event that they’re trying to push, that would be the time to have a landing page.

PW: Absolutely, and they tend to be very focused, so if it’s a page specifically for people who come from Google and then that landing page will be all about that thing, to keep people’s interest and then start selling. So if you feel your clients have a great information-filled website but that they could benefit from a landing page or sales page, or better product description and you know that client well, suggest it to them.

LH: Yes it’s similar to something I’ve done recently. I have a client in the industrial sector that wanted to promote a particular service that they have, so we redid their pages for those. Another client is a life and career coach with an event coming up so, again, a landing page was needed to get people to invest in this event. So it’s a good way to go.

If you do tap your clients but no one wants any sales writing, the next thing to do is to see if they know anyone else who needs sales writing. People know people and it’s difficult to tap your contacts, and their contacts, and not find anyone who needs something salesy. Whether you can convince them they need something salesy is really a test of your persuasiveness, and if you can manage it, then great – you’ve got a foot in the door with that word of mouth, which is really important as I mentioned in my last solo episode about social proof.

If you’re struggling to do that, my next suggestion would be to check out online marketplaces like ClickBank and E-Junkie and find products with affiliate programmes. What this means is that you’re free to advertise and sell the products on there for a certain percentage commission, say 60 or 70%. So what you need in order to sell products are sales pages.

PW: It’s a really good way to practise sales copywriting, actually. When I was starting out, I really liked the idea of having a little bit of passive income. It was a god way for me to get my head around how the whole process works, too, and it’s lovely to get a cheque from ClickBank every now and again, even if the dollars confuse my bank! If you do it well, you can start making an income from it, and you might even decide you don’t want to work for anyone else at all.

LH: Certainly. But then if you decide that you do, you’re in a better position to go to someone and say, “Look, I’m the best of the best.” And you have to be.

PW: And you have to say you’re the best of the best without blushing or laughing.

LH: And, you have to be able to get other people to say it too. I don’t know a sector where social proof is more important. If you can get someone to say, “I hired this person and I made a million.”, you’re in.

PW: Yeah, I think you might be right. And a lot of the top money-makers are so interconnected. They’re often in mastermind groups together; they promote one another, so it can be hard to break into that circle. It takes a lot of work. You have to be able to go in with, “I built this website, made $2,000 in the first month and have made $5,000 a month ever since.”

LH: And again, you say such good things that I have a couple of points to make again. Firstly, you have to be an expert. You might be able to cover a couple of similar topics, but you can’t do sales writing at a very high level for several completely different subjects. You can’t just know a bit and then ask for clarification; you have to know what you’re talking about and it’s a full-time job. Second point, based on what Pip’s just said about interconnected affiliate marketers, you have to be quite political. Don’t target the wrong people, don’t play people off against one another, and make sure that there are no conflicts of interest in your work. You have to know your sector, your subject and your people.

PW: So these kind of processes of transition will be similar whatever new market you want to break into. If you are already a freelance writer then bear in mind that you are experienced and skilled in things like:

research
producing good quality work to deadline
liaising with many different professionals
writing in different styles and formats to suit clients or editors

All of these will be just as necessary in your new area, so you are not starting from scratch, even if it sometimes feels like it.

LH: No, you definitely have a good foot in the door and the same goes for other services as we briefly mentioned earlier. We’ll cover this in a future episode – how to move into services that complement writing, such as proof-reading, editing, substantive editing…

PW: Yes, and we could also look at things like building affiliate websites, so if you’re interested in that, let us know.

LH: Absolutely. But yes, as a writer, you’ll have skills that will help you get into your chosen market. Don’t lose heart if things feel different – things will be different if you’re trying to move from one area to another; it’s a career change so, as Pip said earlier, it’s important to plan.

PW: Another point it’s important to mention is that you might also need to increase your knowledge in a subject in order to break into a new market. If you have always fantasised about writing historical fiction then your knowledge of history has to be spot on. If you write inaccurate historical fiction, well, Amazon reviewers will spot your mistakes and will not let you off lightly! Get onto a history course which has a curriculum based on the era you want to write about – do this at your local college, or find one online, and really take it seriously. Similarly if you want to be a science writer, or a copywriter focused specifically on medical equipment, you absolutely have to know what you are talking about. Part of your transition planning should include learning things that fill your knowledge gaps.

LH: What I find it helpful to do sometimes, when I’m thinking about my freelance career, is to imagine that I’m in a salaried position. In a salaried position, you’d have the support – and pressure – of an external framework, with a wider company that you worked for. You’d be more able to view your career progress in linear fashion, a more upward-trajectory kind of way. The reason I find this helpful is that it doesn’t let you slack off. Freelancing can feel like you’re floating around and not really going anywhere. But the fact is, the longer you freelance, the more responsibilities you should be able to take on, and the more you should be able to demand of yourself. And that’s not to say you need to do more hours or charge more, but you do need to get better and push yourself. Allowing yourself to get away without doing research or prep won’t wash after a while.

PW: No, Lorrie knows – from the accountability days – that I spend so long preparing and researching and planning, and that’s because I can’t risk my reputation by letting something drop. I hate the idea sending poor quality work to a client; I would lose sleep. If you want to get beyond bidding for things on Freelancer.com, you really need to take this stuff seriously.

LH: This is it; it’s far, far wiser to take things a bit more seriously and to bide your time and tackle things with more prep.

PW: It’s really interesting how you’ve presented that, actually. I think that’s a really good point, looking at your freelance career in its equivalence as a salaried job could really help you focus on moving up the ladder so to speak.
LH: Yes, it does with me. As I say, I’m not trying to push people into doing more, but I’m just saying, don’t stagnate. If you are making a career transition, that’s a business development decision so you need to make sure you have all the skills in place with no skill gaps because the only person who’ll fall into those is you.

PW: Yes. So, I hope what we’ve done is cover some ideas on how to transition into a new freelance writing market. Like we said earlier, we can’t look at every variant, but what we have done is look at how to plan, why plans are important and the different stages you can go through to change your career a bit at a time, promoting the skills you’ve got an getting on top of the skills you might need.

LH: Absolutely. And if you have any questions, Pip and I are there on social media. Come and have a chat and we’ll try and give you any help you might need.

PW: So now it’s time for the Little Bird Recommendations of the Week. In this segment, we both suggest something that might be interesting or useful. So Lorrie, what’s your recommendation for this week?

LH: I kind of have two! And they’re kind of inspired by you, Pip. As we said earlier, Pip does a lot of media writing. I don’t. I don’t like it at all – I like staying in my little cave, doing ghost-writing. My recommendation this week is a couple of websites, actually. First one: Sourcebottle.com.au – it’s a resource for interviewers and journalists can use to find experts (journalists, bloggers etc.). You can go on there as a writer or a source, or both.

And that got me thinking, in a feministy sort of way, about a resource we have here in the UK – The Women’s Room. It’s the same kind of thing, but it’s for women. It was set up in response to some absolute bobbins by the BBC. There were two instances on the radio in which subjects that affect women were covered by male experts. When challenged on this, the BBC commented that they weren’t able to find female experts on breast cancer or contraceptive injections. Which is obviously total bobbins, so the immediate response was The Women’s Room, which is full of women experts.

So if you’d like to find a source, or you’d like to be quoted as an expert and you’re a woman, then The Women’s Room is for you.

PW: Another nice thing about The Women’s Room is that you can be an expert by study, having a PhD in something, or you can also list yourself as an expert by experience. So if you’ve brought up twins, for example, you can put yourself down as an expert in parenting and parenting twins.

LH: That is good, I think, especially as women’s experiences are still being ignored.

PW: Definitely. And I’d second the recommendation of The Women’s Room. My recommendation this week is a bit of a cheeky one. There’s a poet known as the Bard of Barnsley. He’s called Ian McMillan and I love him. Anyway, he made a video with Stephen Fry talking about the different regional accents in Yorkshire. Which is part of the UK, for people who aren’t here – and also where I live. I love regional accents and I love Ian McMillan, so everything about this was going to go well. The video is only a few minutes long and it’s brilliant. And I loved it and I put it on my website, which is why this recommendation is cheeky, because it’s a link to my own blog. So if you like regional accents, I’ll pop the link in the show notes and you can check it out. It’s really interesting. So yes, that’s my recommendation.

LH: You’re cheeky, but it’s good. So, really hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of A Little Bird Told Me and that the subject and recommendations are really helpful. If you want to chat to us at all or pitch a new episode idea to us, do come and have a look for our links at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com. I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn…

PW: …and I’ve been Philippa Willitts, and we’ll catch you next time.

Podcast Episode 37: Freelance Writers and Social Proof – What it is, why you need it and how to get it

Wiki[pedia describes social proof as, “a psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior for a given situation”. Basically, we are tempted to replicate whatever we see people around us doing.

Social proof can play an important role in marketing and self-promotion for a freelance writer, and in this solo episode, Lorrie looks in more detail at what it is, why it’s important, and how you can harness it to win, and keep, more work.

Show Notes

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 37 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 via RSS feed, iTunes, Stitcher Smart Radio or just there on the Podomatic page itself.  It’s worth clicking the subscribe button, it really is because you’ll get a notification as soon as our new episodes are out.

On the Podomatic page itself you’ll also find the links to our Facebook page where you can come and chat to me and Pip and ask us any questions you might have and give feedback on the episodes you’ve listened to so far, and you’ll also find links to our websites and our social media feeds, as well as to other episodes, transcripts and show notes, many of which are actually handy links to resources for freelancers.

I’m Lorrie Hartshorn and this week, I’m here without my usual co-host Pip. She’ll be back next week as usual, though, so put your hankies away and keep listening for what I hope will be another really helpful solo episode.

Wordle Cloud of the Internet Marketing Blog - ...

Wordle Cloud of the Internet Marketing Blog – 08/15/08 (Photo credit: DavidErickson)

This episode is all about social proof – what it is, why it’s important when you’re marketing your business and the services you offer, and how you can get more of it.

So first up:

What is social proof?

Social proof  – also known as “informational social influence” – is basically herd mentality applied to marketing. The idea is that people conform to actions they perceive as being correct according to societal rules. In short: if other people are

doing something, they’ll do it too. Laughing at risqué jokes, jumping to the front of the queue, dropping litter, screaming at boybands and claiming you totally love that new single even though you’ve never heard of the person who sings it. All these things are evidence of the power of social proof.

In terms of marketing for your business, social proof can consist of testimonials, letters of recommendation, LinkedIn endorsements, quoting percentage success rates, positive case studies, Facebook ‘likes’, Twitter followers and so much more.

In an article about social proof , TechCrunch outlines five different categories of social proof:

  1. Expert Social Proof: Approval from a credible expert, such as an industry blogger or other authority.

  1. Celebrity Social Proof – not something I think will apply to many of us! Approval or endorsements from celebrities, especially those that are unpaid.

  1. User Social Proof: Approval from current users of the product/service, such as customer testimonials, case studies, and those all-powerful reviews.

  2. ‘Wisdom of the Crowds’ Social Proof: Approval from large groups of other people (Our traditional examples above would fit nicely into this category of social proof.)

  1. ‘Wisdom of Your Friends’ Social Proof: Approval from your friends or people you know – traditional word-of-mouth.

Social proof is everywhere. It’s why we have a Top 40 chart. It’s why we have bestseller lists. It’s why Oprah’s book club in the States, and Richard and Judy’s book club here in the UK, and all manner of celebrity endorsements do so well. It’s the reason actors are “Oscar nominated” and the reason sit-coms have canned laughter tracks. If everyone else is laughing, you should too – it’s proof that it’s funny!

Why is social proof important?

So why is social proof so important? Surely if you’re selling a decent product or service, clients can make their own minds up. Well, yes, and no. Social proof helps your hard work go further. It means that the positive ripples from one good deed, or brilliant project or whatever, reach beyond your client.

Social proof is a powerful way of telling prospective customers and clients that you are a trusted service provider who’s done a good job for others; which means that they can be reassured that you’re more likely to do a good job for them. The path has already been trodden, and it’s safer for new customers to follow.

Now, with social media’s continuing ascent, social proof is now more visible and easier to leverage than ever. Why else would so many businesses spend so much time trying to gain public approval across these marketing channels? Social proof can help you win new and repeat business, increase sales by a phenomenal amount, build up your reputation as an expert (for more information on how to do that, btw, have a listen to Pip’s solo episode on the subject – I’ll link to it in the show-notes) and generally enjoy a better level of trust with your target market – if you have the right social proof.

According to Google , 70% of  US consumers state that they examine product reviews before making a purchase. And which of us can’t say the same? I check TripAdvisor before booking any hotels, for example, to see what others are saying. I don’t know the reviewers. They could be compulsive liars for all I know, but it doesn’t matter – I feel more comfortable booking a hotel that 80% of people have recommended than one which only has 40% positive reviews.

What’s more, a study by CompUSA and iPerceptions showed that 63% of consumers say they are more likely to purchase from a site if it has product ratings and reviews. A good reason, if you needed one more, to display and share testimonials on your business website and social media profiles.

Where Do You Get Social Proof?

The nice thing about social proof is that, most of the time, it’s really easy to get. You can simply ask for it, a lot of the time, or just straight out get it! It makes me question why people don’t shout about their positive reviews.

You can ask existing clients to recommend you – either with a testimonial, a thumbs-up on your social media platform of choice, a LinkedIn endorsement or simply by word-of-mouth.

You can post recommendations on your website, tell people what percentage of your clients were happy with the work you did for them, write case studies about the improvements your work made to someone else’s business…although make sure your client doesn’t want to remain anonymous because otherwise negative social proof will be coming your way!

Webtreats 3d Glossy Blue Orbs Social Media Icons

Webtreats 3d Glossy Blue Orbs Social Media Icons (Photo credit: webtreats)

As I mentioned earlier, social media mentions – particularly by people with a lot of influence – celebrities, experts etc. –will help to establish you as someone worth talking to and following. People will feel reassured if they see someone they know following you.

You can also piggy-back of someone else’s social proof. Post brilliant content on your social media feeds and wait for the RTs to come flooding in. If lots of people are following you and effectively endorsing your social media activity, you can expect others to see this and do the same.

Guest-blogging is another way to piggy-back social proof (and again, we’ve done an episode on how to make guest-blogging work for you, so check the show-notes for the link). If you can wow the owner of a popular, high traffic website with a proposal for a guest post, you’ve got yourself a brilliant social proof opportunity. Your appearance on that blog will be tantamount to an endorsement and will help to raise your profile.

Authors gain social proof by sending copies of their books to people in the hope that positive reviews will be forth-coming. Likewise, bloggers send links to publications they think might be interested in their work – retweets, comments, discussion: all of these things help lift the writer into a position of trust and importance.

A couple of warnings about social proof:

Social proof is hugely valuable and it can be frustrating when you don’t have any, particularly when you’re starting out.  It’s quite like the whole getting experience without experience business – it can be a bit of an uphill struggle at first. But don’t lose heart.

With the advent of sites like Fiverr.com, you can actually buy social proof. For $5, you can get one, three, five, ten thousand followers for your Twitter feed, Facebook page, blog, whatever – but really, don’t do it: being greedy rarely does you any good.

If I’m followed by someone on Twitter with tens of thousands of followers, I simply report and block. That person clearly isn’t on social media to be sociable – how can you socialise with 10,000 people? I know that person is just following me to get me to follow them back and I object to it.

It’s also pretty obvious when someone has bought followers online. While hard-sell companies can get away with it sometimes, why would a B2B freelance copywriter, for example, have 50,000 followers? If you’ve only just started out on social media, too, and you’re there waving hello to 10,000 new followers despite having tweeted only three times, people are going to smell a rat. And just as positive social proof is hugely valuable, a ruined reputation or the whiff of misbehaviour will do you no good in business at all.

My second warning is this: there’s no clearer indication that you’re a social media amateur than begging for follows and retweets (see my solo episode – quite early on – about the sad smell of desperation for more on this!). The whole idea behind social proof is that you demonstrate your value to your audience, and they recommend you organically.

Legitimate, although not totally organic ways, to boost your social proof include:

– Running a give-away from your website or social media feed (say, customers can get entered into a prize draw by sharing or liking a post from your Facebook)

– Incentivising purchases or reviews by offering discounts, prize-draws, etc.

– Incentivise ‘introducing a friend’ with discounts or other benefits

Leverage social proof wherever you can

So now that we’ve talked about social proof, what it is, why it’s important and how you can get it, I hope that you’ll feel more able to go out there and leverage this valuable marketing tool for your brand.

Get into the habit of collecting social proof. Ask your clients if they mind you quoting them – even anonymously – when they give good feedback. If they don’t offer feedback but were happy with the work you gave them, ask if they’d mind proving a short testimonial. The worst they’ll say is no.

Another thing to remember is to deal efficiently and effectively with complaints, so you have the chance to turn negative experiences into positive ones – customers want to feel like they’re being listened to and taken seriously. Good customer service gets people talking just as much, so make sure you’re exemplary.

If you want to offer discounts in return for reviews of your work and testimonials, let customers and prospective customers know. Pop a note on your website; promote it across social media, you can even stick it in your email signature.

Rewrite your marketing material and website content to show readers just how good a job you do. Get those stats working for you. Never had an unhappy customer? Tell people! Been told you were instrumental in turning a client’s fortune around? Shout about it!

After all, there’s no point having social proof if you keep it secret!

So, now it’s time for the A Little Bird Told Me Recommendation of the week. And this week, my recommendation is a lovely little online tool called ThingLink. Thinglink gives you the chance to offer added value from the images you use online.

Images are a great way to pep up blog articles and news stories on your site. ThingLink allows you to tag images with other links to other kinds of media – music videos, other articles, subscription links, event invites, ecommerce links, social media platforms and more.

You can upload your own images and use those or, by adding the ThingLink plugin to Google Chrome, you can tag any image you find online (I will say at this point that you should only ever use images you have permission to work with – don’t go stealing someone else’s work).

The anatomy of an article is really important, and I think ThingLink is brilliant for adding even more rich content value to the content you post online. Images you tag can be embedded not only on sites and blogs, but on social media feeds, meaning that your interactive image will get around and – hopefully – get shared. Social proof again.

So there we are. I really hope you’ve enjoyed listening to this episode of the ALBTM freelance writing podcast. If you have any feedback, why not come and chat to me and Pip on Facebook or Twitter?

To make sure you don’t miss next week’s episode, head over to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com and hit that subscribe button. Until next week, I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn – thanks so much for listening.

Podcast Episode 36: Visual clues to professionalism

 

Working from home might feel like an endless opportunity to work in your pyjamas, but there are times when it is really important to think about your visual appearance – including the appearance of your website and social media profile pages. In this episode, Lorrie and I talk about lots of aspects of your visual presentation, including how you need to prepare for Skype conversations, and how to choose a business name.

 

 

 

 

Show Notes

 

How to name your business: Facebook discussion

 

The top 50 most embarrassing domain names ever purchased

 

Clients from Hell

 

The Essentials of Reuters sourcing

 

Coursera

 

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 36 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 via RSS feed, iTunes, Stitcher Smart Radio or just there on the Podomatic page itself.

 

It’s so worth clicking the subscribe button because you’ll get a notification as soon as our new episodes are out. Don’t miss it.

 

On the Podomatic page itself you’ll also find the links to our Facebook page where you can come and chat to me and Pip and ask us any questions you might have and give feedback on the episodes you’ve listened to so far, and you’ll also find links to our websites and our social media feeds, as well as to other episodes, transcripts and show notes, many of which are actually handy links to resources for freelancers.

 

I’m Lorrie Hartshorn.

 

PW: And I am Philippa Willitts and today we’re talking about visual clues to professionalism. As a freelancer, you are your brand, so – for better or worse – how you present yourself, and what your web presence looks like, will be judged. And while we all know that you might don a suit for an important client meeting, there are actually a lot more factors to consider. So today we are going to cover these different issues of visual presentation, and we are going to start by looking at what you call your business.

 

LH: Yes, one of the biggest decisions you make when you’re starting out as a freelancer is whether to trade under your own name or to create a company brand that customers will use instead.

 

Spelling Challenges and More!

Spelling Challenges and More! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

PW: Yes, this can be a really big decision, and somebody actually asked our advice about this on our Facebook Page a few weeks ago. What I said then still stands actually: my advice was that first of all you should start by thinking about your real name – is it common or unusual? If you’re called Jane Smith, then calling your business JaneSmith means you will never be easy to find in the search engines. People might have to scroll through pages and pages to find you, which they just won’t do. On the other hand, having a name like mine – Philippa Willitts – where nobody can spell EITHER of my names, never mind both of them, leads to problems with web addresses.

 

 

LH: Yes, I have a friend who’s just making the transition from salaried to freelance and she’s facing the same issue – her surname is of Czech origin which leads to all kinds of mispronunciations and spelling issues. I bet you get issues with the ‘l’s and ‘p’s in Philippa as well, don’t you? And maybe even ‘f’s?!

 

PW: The number of spellings of my name I’ve seen throughout my life is really quite outstanding. When I was a teenager, I started going, “One ‘l’, two ‘p’s, two ‘l’s, two ‘t’s, four ‘i’s.” It’s the bane of my life in many ways, and it is one of the reasons I went with PhilippaWrites – it’s so that people would only have to spell one of the two names right, and it was also clear what I did.

 

PW: Now, if I was starting again I might not choose it though. At the time I chose it, I hadn’t really researched, and wasn’t aware of the sheer number of people who use the “firstname + writes” as their business name! Going in the area of specialism, if you have one, can definitely work – I’m also Social Media Writer which says a lot more.

 

LH: No, I’d back you up on the difficulties that come from using your name as your business name – Lorrie Hartshorn is a nightmare to spell.

 

PW: Of course because there are two…three immediate ways that I can think of to spell your name!

 

LH: I was going to say, keep counting!

 

PW: Yes, I said, ‘two’ and then immediately came up with more!

 

LH: Yeah, I’ve been referred to as Larry Hawthorn before. But people generally call me Lorraine. There’s no indication anywhere that my name is Lorraine – and indeed it isn’t – but no, that’s what I get called.

 

As for whether I’d stick with my own…I don’t know whether to call it my business name or not. I tend to refer to myself as ‘That Wordy Bird’ on social media and that’s had some really good feedback – people find it cute, fun, memorable, but the problem is that I’ve taken on some writers to help me. So I’m struggling to know whether I’m misrepresenting my business. I don’t think it is, and I think I’d like to keep ‘That Wordy Bird’ on, but it’s something I have to think of – and it’s another thing to bear in mind I suppose.

 

PW: Yes. In terms of the woman who approached us on Facebook, Lorrie: you had some other suggestions about trying to find a business name…

 

LH: I did because what we struggled with…we’ve spoken to this woman a few times and she’s lovely but, much as you’d like to help someone, you can’t name someone else’s business. And I think we were keen not to do that.
PW: Yes, I think we wanted to give her some starting points to bounce off so she could come up with names for herself.

 

LH: Yeah, and although it might seem obvious objectively that there will be problems with certain approaches to coming up with a business name, it can be a minefield when you’re in the ‘trying to come up with a business name’ phase.

 

So when it comes to thinking of a name for your business, the things I would say you should take into account are:

 

– Firstly, your personality and your way of working. So if you’re super serious, maybe a fun frivolous name isn’t for you; maybe Firstname Surname Consulting is for you. But if you’re bubbly and you find yourself chatting about random stuff, maybe something a bit fun and catchy. Whatever works for you.

 

– Do you want to be a sole trader or a company? Will your brand voice be an ‘I’ or a ‘we’? As I say, I’m having trouble with my name now that I’ve taken on writers to help me and moved into an agency set-up. I’m still a sole trader but I work with other people. How visible do I want that to be to clients?

 

PW: And I think in legal terms, we’re both sole traders although this isn’t going to be an episode where we look into the benefits of sole trader vs. company, but sole trader is generally an easier status to manage. The accounting is simpler and that kind of thing. But it’s worth thinking about – we’re not the people to advise you but there’s plenty of information about that. And it’s different in different countries, of course.

 

LH: The advice I was given by my accountant is that unless you’re earning an awful lot of money when you’re starting out, there’s no real tax benefits to being a company, at least here in the UK.

 

PW: Yes, that’s similar to the advice I read everywhere. Unless you’re setting up something complicated, then be a sole trader. You can always upgrade, as it were, to a different status if necessary.

 

LH: And this is the thing – you don’t have to. Someone I know who’s been freelancing for nigh on 35 years is still a sole trader. You don’t have to. I suppose ‘upgrade’ wasn’t the word for it – it’s not a case of sole trader not being as good as a company; there’s no cap on earnings as a sole trader, as far as I’m aware. So yeah, I’d recommend starting out and going from there.

 

PW: Yes, don’t complicate things for yourself.

 

LH: Yes, not unless you really like tax, in which case, help yourself!
LH: So the next thing I’d say to bear in mind is your target audience. Will you be B2C or B2B? Obviously as a writer, you’re likely to be B2B, but I mean will your clients be B2C or B2B. Will you be specialising in a certain sector? If so, maybe your name needs to reflect that. If your clients are in the fashion and cosmetics sector, then your name should be different than if your clients are in the financial and legal sector.

 

PW: Yes, I mean, my Social Media Writer ID is very specific. Possibly too specific because I also do tech writing, but it gives people an immediate idea of what I do, which is helpful.

 

LH: Yeah. Definitely – your branding is straightforward, clean lines, social media writing, does what it says on the tin. And yeah, to me, that’s good branding. But if you were targeting magazines to write about food and travel, it wouldn’t work at all.

 

PW: Definitely, and this is why I have the two different identities. It does work because I love the tech writing but I do also do magazine journalism and opinion writing, which can be on all sorts of subjects.

 

LH: Which takes us on to the next point, I suppose, which is what services are you offering? I see certain freelancers marketing themselves as, say, “[Name] Media”, while others go with the more simple, “[Name] Copywriting Services” or “[Name] Content Marketing Services” Be aware that your name needs to suit you as you grow – don’t limit your service offerings if you think you’ll be able to train up and expand your service offerings. If Pip had started out as Philippa Willitts Blog Writer, then she’d be a bit stuck now.

 

LH: Another thing to consider is: do you have a whimsical story behind your transition into freelancing? Maybe there’s a theme you could use that represents something important to you. For some reason, I see stock photography of a little unfurling seedling on lots of copywriting websites, and that plant gets everywhere! The point I’m trying to make is that that seems to represent how they feel about moving into freelancing.

 

PW: And sometimes having a slightly unusual name will provoke conversation. If you give someone a business card and it says your name is Seed Copywriting, that can be a talking point.

 

LH: Yes, I’ve also seen things like “Cherry Red Marketing” which sound lovely and could be a nice tack to take if you fancy a more abstract name. If you do go with something fun, make sure it’s not something you’d be embarrassed to announce to friends and clients alike!

 

PW: Yes, and there are a few things to check, also: try saying the name out loud and make sure it can’t be mistaken for something rude. Check how it looks as a URL, and make sure it doesn’t contain inadvertently rude words. Lorrie and I have worked as receptionists and secretaries. So with a business name, you have to imagine picking up the phone and saying it. So do check!

 

LH: True, and I suppose one thing to consider is how does it work with social media?

 

PW: True! Is it already taken? Is the URL available?

 

LH: Getting the giggles here thinking about some of those terrible URLs, like Pen Island (penisland.com!). And did you see the hashtag for Susan Boyle’s album launch (#susanalbumparty).

 

PW: Recently, when Margaret Thatcher died, the hashtag #NowThatchersDead and that provoked a big reaction, “Oh my God, Cher’s dead!” and Cher had to come out and say, “I’m not dead!” So that’s the kind of thing you have to be careful about.

 

LH: Yes, it’s a tough choice, and I’d definitely recommend running your ideas in list form by a few trusted people, just to make sure there are no unfortunate connotations with any of them! Check their reaction – read out a whimsical and amazing name and see what happens. I know that here in the UK, Moonpig has done really well, but I wouldn’t want to call a copywriting firm Moonpig. Or Cloud Hippo!

 

PW: You’d have to have a very good story behind it.

 

LH: That’s a good point actually. If you went to a networking event and someone said, “So why are you called Cloud Hippo?” and you said, “Dunno, just sounded cool.”…

 

PW: “Me and my friends were really drunk and we were putting words together and we liked that one!”

 

LH: Hahaha! Yes, so be a bit sensible and don’t embarrass yourself.

 

PW: Now, the name of your business is important, but it’s actually not the most vital part of your identity. There are some really successful freelance businesses with frankly embarrassing names, and there are others whose names I wished I had thought of myself but that have very little success. The name is important but it has to be part of an overall package.

 

PW: Another important piece of the visual puzzle you create is the photos you use, and this can be your Twitter and LinkedIn headshots, the photo you send to places you are writing for to put in your profile, your Facebook cover photo and any pics of yourself on your website. So, smiley? Serious? Or light-hearted?

 

LH: It’s a difficult one, isn’t it? When you’re in a salaried position, having your picture taken for the office website can be embarrassing; when you have to have one done for yourself, it can be mortifying. I think the thing to remember is that it’s not about pretending you’re someone different, so if you’ve got a nice picture of yourself smiling, that’s fine. What it is about is deciding what’s appropriate. If you have a nice picture of yourself smiling over the fourth pitcher of pina colada, maybe don’t use that picture, or use it on your personal Facebook and check that those privacy settings are up.

 

A half-drunk glass of beer

A half-drunk glass of beer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

PW: Yes, it might feel like you’re being “injecting personality” by showing yourself downing a pint in one go, surrounded by cheering friends, that’s not necessarily the kind of personality a client wants to see when they are considering working with you!

 

LH: Definitely not! A pet hate for me is cheesy head-shots. And particularly – people have social media pages now, and I’ve seen people have a little head-shot as a profile picture and a giant head-shot behind as a background image.

 

LH: There’s a social media expert I’ve seen who has *the cheesiest* headshots ever – pure cheddar. In one, they’re bursting through a bit of paper and making a really weird “Argh!” face, and it’s just odd. They’re looking to one side, mouth wide open, teeth showing. And while I can’t deny it’s caught my attention, the attempt to make something so contrived – it’s clearly a studio shot because who has a candid shot of them coming through a piece of paper?! – look natural and spontaneous (they’re not even looking at the camera!) wouldn’t make me want to hire that person. To me, it’s not fun or cute; it’s just kind of unprofessional.

 

PW: Another important thing is that your public pictures are of decent quality. I see sooooo many pictures that are pixellated or blurry, or with a background full of conflicting colours or a big crowd of people, then avoid using these too. Make sure the photo is clean, that if it’s a head shot then your head is clearly visible

 

LH: Haha, it kills me that we have to specify this!

 

PW:…and that people don’t have to struggle, when they look at it, to understand what is what.

 

LH: I dread to think! But yes, all good points. And just thinking about what you’ve said: if you’ve got a picture that’s blurry but you think you look a bit fit in it, don’t go to Picasa and turn it black and white, and high contrast. If it’s a blurry picture, it’s a blurry picture; I don’t care how gorgeous you look in it – it’s not appropriate for work.

 

PW: And nowadays, camera phones are exceptionally good, so either you or one of your friends will have a decent camera. As long as the photo in the end looks good.

 

LH: I’ve seen people who’ve forked out for headshots. That said, there’s no need to get expensive photography if it’s beyond your price range. Headshots can be expensive and you might not have those funds. Get a friend to take some nice, clear, non-blurry pictures of you wearing something smart, and you’re all set. And stay away from funky photography effects unless you know what you’re doing and it’s in-keeping with your brand.

 

Because remember, people will be contacting you and seeing you as the person in your ‘work’ images, so give them as professional and neutral a feel as possible. We all build up a picture of someone – I defy most people to say that they don’t go and have a look at what someone looks like – I’m always interested to know who I’m speaking to. Be neutral, be professional and remember to smile.

 

PW: Another situation where you have to think about how you look, and what your surroundings are, is if you have meetings with clients on Skype. If you use video chat during these meetings, then you will be expected to not be in your pyjamas, lying down in bed. Clients know you work from home, so they won’t necessarily expect formal office attire and a plain white background, but it is worth taking a moment to consider how you are presenting yourself when you do have video chats. Also, whether you use video or just audio chats consider background noises – don’t have the TV or radio on in the background, and take care – and I know this from podcast recording! – even with things like whether the washing machine is on a noisy spin cycle or not!

 

LH: I’ve taken Skype calls before where I’ve still had messy hair or a slouchy t-shirt on: I actually pop a piece of paper over my webcam so that, if I accidentally hit ‘video call’ instead of ‘audio call’, my clients won’t be horrified!

 

PW: Yes, post-in notes can be very good for that as well. Something I do about 10 minutes before a scheduled video chat is to turn on my webcam so I can see exactly what’s on show, and exactly what the client will see. It actually helps me to spot things I hadn’t noticed, because I’m looking at it with fresh eyes.

 

LH: That’s actually a really good idea. I don’t tend to do video calls, but that would definitely help reassure me if I did.

 

PW: Yes, I don’t tend to do video calls either, but once in a while they are necessary. When dealing with other freelancers, I’ve had them say, “Please can we not do video chat? I haven’t got dressed yet!” and I’m happy to oblige!

 

PW: Now, something else to bear in mind, in terms of how you present your business visually, is the appearance of your website and social media profiles. Looking again at social media, make sure you have made the best of the opportunities that Facebook and Twitter offer you for personalising your profile and Pages, with the header images and so on. These aspects aren’t as important as your head shot, but they contribute to an overall feel. Then, looking at your professional website, think about the layout and background, and the font and font size too.

 

LH: Yes, and I think it’s important to make sure there’s a synergy between your website and social media feeds. So if you have monochrome social media feed with a splash of pink, don’t go for a beige website with a scrolly font.

 

But in terms of fonts, it’s something I wrote about on my blog recently. I do a lot of fiction reading because I do literary editing – and a lot of what I read is on blogs. And a lot of the blogs I come across have a black background with red font, or a black background with lime green font. And unless I have to read whatever it is – which is rare – I just click away. I can’t deal with the glow – it gives me a headache.

 

PW: Someone I know had a lime green background with white font, and it was actually painful.

 

LH: It’s called ‘halation’ out of interest – the glow you get from light font on a darker background. Now, I don’t have any visual impairments, but that causes me massive issues.

 

Now, in terms of font, it doesn’t even really matter to me if you go serif or sans serif…

 

PW: Yes, there are views all over the web about that, so just go with what you think.

 

LH: Yes in my view, as long as you stick with a font that people can read and are happy to read. I visited a copywriting site fairly recently and bounced straight back off the page when I saw that the writer had chosen a squirly handwriting font to go with her cutesie 1950s theme. While a cute theme can work – it’s a risky choice but it’ll get you noticed – keep your font readable.

 

PW: Yes, and readability is particularly important in terms of web accessibility. Like Lorrie, I have visited sites that I bounced straight back away from because the font was either too small, illegible or there wasn’t enough contrast to read it easily, and although I am short-sighted, my vision is fine when I wear my specs. However for people with reduced vision, these kinds of things make your site impossible to navigate, so if they are a client looking to hire you’ve instantly lost some potential work before you could even start to sell yourself.

 

LH: Yeah, I mean black or dark grey font on a pale background is always going to be your best bet, in my view. Studies that I’ve read do seem to indicate that a high contrast – although not too high – is the best option.

 

PW: Yes, I believe the best contrast advice in terms of accessibility is black on a pale coloured background. Black on white is too ‘contrasty’ and can cause difficulty for some people, so although I haven’t looked it up in the last year or two, the advice last time I researched the best practice was black, or dark coloured font on a pale background.

 

LH: One thing it’s important to remember in terms of your online presence is that people will sometimes search for you and, even if they don’t actively search, people will sometimes find you. And by you, I don’t just mean your carefully designed website – I mean your Twitter, your Facebook, your Pinterest or your blog. It’s very hard to be invisible on Google nowadays, so it’s important to control your social media feeds and make sure that anything you wouldn’t want clients to see is tucked away behind your privacy settings.

 

PW: I’ve read a few interesting blog posts recently about whether or not freelancers should be friends with their clients on Facebook, and although they all presented a “pros and cons” approach, I strongly identified predominantly with the “no, don’t do it!” side of the advice!

 

LH: God, yes, 100% agree. Do not befriend your clients! You might think you’re charming and marvellous, but a whole host of factors are going to come into play.

 

PW: My Facebook account is very much a personal one, I talk nonsense, I post about trivialities, and it contains photos and details that just aren’t appropriate to bring into a professional relationship. Not because they’re scandalous…

 

LH: They are. Pip’s Facebook is a hotbed of decadence and scandal.

 

PW: …but just because they’re not at all relevant to the work I do. This is exactly why I have Facebook Pages for my business, so that people who want to follow me or keep in touch can do so there. I need social media spaces where I can switch off, and that includes my personal Facebook account, and my personal Twitter account. I have my Facebook Pages, my professional Twitter account, and my LinkedIn account to network with clients and prospects, and to promote my work.

 

LH: And it’s nice that you don’t put all your work stuff on your friends, as well. I’ve dealt with individuals and sole traders previously who don’t get the difference between a Facebook profile and a Facebook page.

 

PW: And it’s an important difference!

 

LH: That’s the point I was trying to make earlier – I spent about an hour trying, unsuccessfully, to try and explain the different between profiles and pages. And as far as I’m aware, they’re still using their Facebook profile as their personal and professional Facebook presence. Even if you don’t say something actively offensive, most of what you say will be irrelevant, so it’s best to limit your communications to when you’re tuned in. Jokes, sarcasm, flippant comments can all be really hard to translate. If you have one shot to attract a client, that’s just not going to work.

 

PW: As Lorrie said earlier, making sure your privacy settings are carefully managed is vital. There’s no point me not friending clients on FB if they can just do a search and see everything I post anyway! I know that some clients have “subscribed” to me on FB, so I do some “public” posts, just so they have something to see! Those tend to be quite generic ones that won’t offend anybody or give too much away about my life, but that they might enjoy seeing.

 

LH: One thing I would say is that you don’t need to panic about wiping every trace of yourself off the Internet. Things like my blog and my creative writing are visible if you search for my name because I wanted my creative writing to be published under my name, and that’s not an issue. My writing is my writing – while I wouldn’t go and say to my clients, “Hey, take a look!”, it’s not something I’m interested in hiding. The same goes for my feminist articles – while they might not be to every client’s taste, they don’t interfere with the work I do, nor are they something to be ashamed of or bashful about.

 

PW: Yes, absolutely. I am always aware that, if somebody looks hard enough, they can find parts of me online that I might not promote with my professional work, but which also don’t get in the way.

 

LH: That being said, it’s important to remember that, if you’re a freelancer, the lines between professional and personal do get blurred. Like it or not, freelancing is a bit of a lifestyle, in my opinion, so you have to be a bit careful about what you post. A good way to get a bit of freedom if you want to be more controversial in your personal dealings is to use avatars that don’t show you, and pseudonyms. Or, as we mentioned earlier, to trade under a business name. But even that might not be enough if you’re posting something that clients might find really objectionable in your spare time.

 

PW: Yes, if you’re creating a “why I hate all my clients” tumblr, a pseudonym might be in order. 😉

 

LH: God, yes!

 

PW: So we’ve looked there at how clients and potential clients might view you if they see things that aren’t on your professional site. It’s an important thing to bear in mind because the vast majority of my work comes from online connections.

 

LH: So, I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode and found it helpful. It’s now time for the A Little Bird Told Me Recommendations of the Week.

 

PW: For people who are interested in journalistic writing I found a really amazing resource about how to deal with sourcing information. It comes from Reuters, the news agency, and is a really comprehensive list of 23 vital aspects of dealing with sources, interviews, quotes, privacy, honesty, and it is clearly fairly up to date because it also includes the ethics and practicalities of dealing with social media as a source of information. It’s a long read, but if you are working in journalism, news or newsy opinion writing it’s absolutely packed full of information. So I’ll link to that in the show notes.

 

LH: That’s a really good recommendation. In the current era of blogs, everyone can turn their hand to journalism and investigative writing – and indeed so many people do. What I find, though, is that people who do blog and use social media as a way of building a writing platform – and who want to be part of the commentariat – aren’t doing it properly, responsibly and in the right way. Rather than just an opinion piece, a bit of a rant, possibly libellous…

 

PW: A few misquotes…

 

LH: Yes, the damage from that can be huge.

 

PW: And like you say, because so many people blog – and it’s known as citizen journalism – there are a lot of people skipping journalism school and going into journalism. I did that, so I’m not criticising it, but one of the things about journalism school is that you learn those kinds of things. This was a particularly good resource for me.

 

LH: My recommendation this week is based on a comment someone made to me recently about how he couldn’t be a freelance writer because he doesn’t have a degree.

 

Now, for the sake of disclosure, Pip and I both have degrees. And it is useful – it shows clients you’ve reached a certain level. In my opinion, though, although it might be harder to be a freelance writer without a degree, I’ve never been asked to prove I have a degree. I’ve never been checked or even asked. So that’s not to say that having a degree isn’t important experience. But I don’t think that if you’re a good writer with a good level of English, that you should write yourself off.

 

PW: Yes, my degree is only tangentially related to what I’m doing now. Without wanting to be overly political, as student fees go up and up, more people without degrees will be making their way into the work place.

 

LH: Yes, what are people supposed to do if they don’t have a degree? Which brings me on to another point: writers with a degree shouldn’t consider their learning done. My recommendation, to get round to it, is an online learning resource, called Coursera, which allows you to take University courses from a wide range of institutions online – for free!

 

While most of the Universities featured are from the US (it’s a shame no UK unis have got involved yet) there are some from Europe, and a few Asian ones. Most of the courses range from 2 to 12 weeks, so you’re looking at a proper learning experience, and there are a wide variety that would be extremely helpful to any freelancer, whether or not they’ve reached Uni-level education. You’ve got courses like, “Content Strategy for Professionals” and “Understanding media by understanding Google”, delivered by Universities like Harvard. So really up to date course materials.

 

So there’s no reason you can’t bring your learning right up to date – and no reason you shouldn’t whether or not you have a degree already.

 

PW: it’s incredible to have access to the kind of teaching materials we can find online now. Even a few years ago, it was hard to find something good quality, but now – to have these often top of their field people teaching you for twelve weeks shouldn’t be underestimated.

 

LH: The net is so big that we can sometimes forget how much there is out there. One of the nice things about Coursera is that you can actually build a portfolio and show it to people; keep a record of what you’ve done. With Alison.com, similarly, you can download a code to show you’ve done a course.

 

But yes, Coursera: I think it’s great. If you don’t have a degree, don’t be disheartened. Neither of us has had our degrees checked. Don’t lie if someone asks you whether you have a degree – it’ll be the one time someone checks. You can say to a client, “I don’t have a degree, but here’s a list of courses I’ve taken in the last year.”

 

PW: Yes, that’s similar to what I said in my last episode about writing without clips. Don’t say, “No, I haven’t written about that.” and leave it at that; say, “No, I haven’t written about that but I have done X, Y and Z.”

 

LH: Yes, and the thing with Coursera is that we’re looking at courses from good quality institutions.
So yes, thank you so much for listening. Really hope you’ve found what we’ve shared today useful and interesting. If you have any ideas or feedback, come and have a chat with us – you can find all the links to our Facebook page and social media feeds at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com. We’re very friendly, so feel free.

 

I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn…

 

PW:…and I’ve been Philippa Willitts, and we’ll catch you next time.