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Podcast Episode 48: How to prevent your freelance business from wasting money

It’s not unusual for a freelance writing business to go through a dry patch. Finding work is difficult, regular clients go quiet, and you are left short of cash. In this podcast episode, we talk about how to avoid wasting money when you are a self-employed writer, and look at ways to save some cash.

Show Notes

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Transcript

LH: Hello and welcome to Episode 48 of A Little Bird Told Me. My co-host Pippa and I are two freelance writers on a 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 lovely podcast, we’ve made it super 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 links 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’m Philippa Willitts and we want to start by apologising for the lack of podcast last week. Once in a while, we just can’t fit it in – we both sometimes have a week with an incredibly busy schedule and last week was one of those. So we hope you didn’t miss us too much – actually, we hope you did! – but there’s always our archives if you’re missing us too much.

LH: Yes, tune into one of our older episodes and reminisce about the time we were with you. I think we’ve missed two episodes so far out of almost 50.

PW: Yeah, I think we’re doing pretty well. The thing with the podcast is that it takes up a surprising amount of time with the planning, recording, editing, transcribing and all that stuff, so it’s quite an investment of time, so sometimes unfortunately we just can’t. But we’re back now, and I’m sure you’re incredibly happy.

Now, today, what we’re going to look at is something on the business side of freelance writing: how to prevent your freelance business from wasting money. IN many ways, there aren’t that many outgoings for a freelance writer – you might think pens, paper, broadband – but the expenses can actually add up, so we want to make sure you’re not wasting money and that you’re not missing out on opportunities to save. But we’re also going to look at areas where you shouldn’t scrimp and where you do need to spend a little bit.

LH: I think it’s a really important topic. As a freelancer, your business and personal spends can be intertwined – you are your business.

PW: Yes, if I buy certain magazines, they’re business expenses because they’re research for magazine pitches. But, I also quite enjoy reading them.

LH: Yeah, I mean, as I say, you are your business. There’s no external organisation, so you have to look at saving money across the board. A good thing about being a freelance writer, as Pip’s just pointed out, is that your overheads can actually be quite minimal if you’re savings savvy. You’re unlikely to have separate premises to maintain, your travel costs may well be quite low because you’re not commuting every morning and you probably don’t have employees and great swathes of equipment to look after. So it can be quite a slim-line business to have if you’re sensible about it.

Look after the pennies

Look after the pennies (Photo credit: Mark J P)

Now, what we’re going to do is look at a variety of ways to save money, including things you can get for free – things you don’t need to pay for or can do without; things that you do have to pay for but can get cheaper; and false economies – things you think you’re making savings on but you’re not.

PW: Definitely. Now, the first thing we’re going to look at is software. There are quite a few software options for freelancers – the most obvious one is Microsoft Office, which a lot of freelancers think they couldn’t do without. But actually, if you buy the licence to use those suites, it can really add up. Plus, as software, it’s quite bloated and resource-heavy on your computer. And there are actually some really good alternatives that are completely free – one of those is something that Lorrie and I use several times a week: Google Drive. You can use it for word processing documents, spreadsheets, you can do research quizzes and get people to fill it in; you can make forms and do drawings, and store it all in the cloud so you’re not reliant on your computer.

The other main option that I have always sworn by until I very recently had to make the switch to Windows 8 is Open Office – it’s a very good suite of software and a very good Microsoft Office equivalent. Unfortunately, at this stage, Open Office isn’t working well on Windows 8, although I’m sure in time that it will do. At this stage, though, Windows 8 is a new operating system, and lots of software isn’t compatible with it. For the first time in years, I’m using Microsoft Office most of the time, and I do miss Open Office – it’s just that it was full of bugs on Windows 8.

But yes, in general, if you’re not using Windows 8, Open Office is a really good option: it does most of what Microsoft Office can do; it can open all the Microsoft file types and it takes up fewer resources on your machine.

LH: And it does mirror Microsoft Office – if you know how to use that, you’ll know how to use Open Office. There are a few things you can’t do, I think – tracked changes?

PW: Open Office has its own version of Track Changes, but it’s not that compatible with Microsoft Word. So whereas most things you could do in Open Office and someone else could open it in Word and never know you hadn’t used Word yourself, Tracked Changes doesn’t transfer that well, so if I’m proof-reading, I tend to use Microsoft Word.

LH: Now, the next thing we’re going to look at is training. With the costs of education sky-rocketing, it’s important to keep you training up but it could bankrupt you if you tried to do it with paid-for education.

PW: And even out of the education system, I see places that run business training events. You might go to a morning of How To Use Twitter and a three-hour session is charged at £240. That’s a lot of money when there are more than enough free equivalents on offer.

LH: Yes, in our planning document for this podcast, we have a whole range of things to talk about – ways to save you money – so we are going to zoom through things a little bit but we’ll add everything we talk about to the show notes. If you listen and find that there’s something that doesn’t end up there, come and have a chat with us and ask us.

Now, some of my favourite resources for writing-related training are OpenLearn by the Open University. It’s a range of free resources, a variety of subjects. Some of it’s not that technical but I like their fiction and poetry stuff – I do a lot of fiction editing so it’s handy for me. Alison.com is another one Pip and I use.

PW: It’s varied but when it’s good, it’s good.

LH: And when it’s bad, it’s horrible. But they’ve just redone the interface I think, it’s more user-friendly than it was, so if you’ve been on there six months ago, have another look because they have a wide range of stuff on there.

PW: Yes, I’ve done business and marketing stuff on there, too. And another really good resource is actually YouTube.

LH: Ohhh, really? Haha, I say “Really?” like I’ve never heard of YouTube!

PW: Yes, it’s a video sharing website, haha. Lots of universities are putting their lectures up on YouTube for free. And also, if you’re looking to find out how to do a very specific thing, it can be a total lifesaver. I was trying to do something in a spreadsheet but I couldn’t do these calculations. I read every guide on the net and couldn’t do it at all. I looked on YouTube, and there was a guy who, in 45 seconds, demonstrated how to do exactly what I needed to do. And there we were; it was fixed. You get everything from a 45-second specific problem fix to the 16-hour Journalism Ethics course that I’m doing from UCLA. So while you think of kittens and dancing dogs, it’s actually the world’s second largest search engine and it’s full of information that you might need.

LH: It’s funny – I’ve never really thought about it as a training resource. I’ve used it once but I’ll go and have another look.

PW: Yes, it’s always grown at a rapid pace, but the good quality stuff is expanding quickly now.

LH: So yes, brilliant – YouTube. In terms of more written material, although they aren’t strictly training resources, “How To” websites can actually be really helpful. Suite101 is one of my favourites; it’s a knowledge sharing website. WikiHow looks a bit no frills, but the information on there is very good and tends to be, as how we mentioned in our episode in writing for beginners and experts a few weeks ago, very well set up – and usually bullet pointed so it’s easy to follow.

PW: Quora is good too. It’s a question and answer site but what makes it different from things like Yahoo Answers is that, somehow, it’s attracted the best so people who ask a question will get really detailed responses from people who are high up in their field, and you can vote answers up and down. You can also do a search to find out if someone’s already asked what you want to know – if they haven’t, you can ask. So that’s good for one-off bits of advice, but also, with a bit of creativity, you could also compile your own training document by going through a particular category in Quora. They’re so full of top information.

LH: Fabulous. About.com is another question and answer site and it’s full of good information. Some of it’s not so well written, but you know.

PW: Yes, there are a million different sections, some are well written, some not so much, but if you get a good one it can be really spot on.

LH: Yes, so before you go looking for training courses, check these things out. Training courses tend to be advertised online and they can be a bit of an impulse buy, can’t they? You’ll be browsing online and suddenly panic and go, “Oh my God, I don’t know how to do SEO writing!”

PW: and then you find an 8,000 word landing page telling you how, if you just buy this eBook, everything you write in future will be perfect.

LH: Don’t fall for it and go for the impulse buy.

PW: Or, at least try the free options first – it might be that you decide you want to try something a bit more formal afterward, and that’s fine. But try the free stuff first.

LH: Definitely, as we’ve said, Pip enjoys listening to podcasts, watching YouTube videos. Then there’s WikiHow, About.com, Suite101, Quora, Alison.com, Open Learn – there are so many resources out there so have a look if you want to save some money.

PW: Another area to save money is when dealing with your money. Looking at how you manage your finance, have a look at your bank account. Do you have to pay £12 a month to get some weird deal that doesn’t apply to you anyway? Do you get free car insurance but not even have a car? Do you have an account that pays interest? Are you paying too much or getting a poor interest rate? Do you have a savings account so you can at least get better interest on part of your money? Do you have a weird account where you have to pay for Direct Debits, or something like that that looks like a good deal but you end up paying a load of random fees? There’s a lot to think about in terms of finances. Do you want a separate business account?

LH: Have you got an ISA? They’re a good way to make savings. As a freelancer, you pay tax at the end of every year

PW: And you don’t pay tax on an ISA!

LH: So make sure you can do it. If you have a registered or limited company, I’m not sure if you can put business finances into an ISA

PW: That’s something to check with your bank or an accountant

LH: But if it’s from your personal account, you can put as much money as you want into an ISA until you reach the limit. So you can merrily fill your ISA and all that money is tax exempt. Which is nice!

In terms of other big financial commitments, when you pay for things online, such as your utilities – gas, electric, water – it can be surprising (and more than a little annoying) when you get to the final stages of an online payment and find that a £3 “service charge” or “card fee” has been whacked on to the overall price. Whatever, it’s annoying. The reason companies do this – they might say it’s admin or processing fees – is because they know you’ll pay. It’s so annoying to get to the end of a transaction and then abort it.

For one-off purchases, you might just think, “Ehn, who cares?” And, sometimes, there’s no way to avoid these kinds of fees. But, for regular things like utility bills, there’s usually a way to make a payment via your bank, whether as a one-off payment or a Direct Debit – still online, just not via the website of the company you’re buying from. And OK, you might not think that £3 a month is a lot, but would you hand over £36 in one go just for the sake of not logging into your online bank?

PW: Absolutely. And there’s also the danger that you can look into every account and choose the best interest rates and everything, and sign up for the gas account but then you’re so disorganised that you don’t pay your bills on time, and you end up paying “late fees” of something ridiculous like £12 a day on top of your bills. As well as setting things up well, you have to maintain accounts in order to not risk all the money you think you’ve saved.

LH: I think that applies to things like meter reading as well. A lot of companies will take an estimate if you don’t give them a meter reading, and charge you for what they think you’ve used. So take two minutes, write down a number and type it in, it’s easy. I was scared at first – I don’t like technical things; I was thinking, “I don’t know how to read meters!” but it’s just a number.

PW: It’s literally the only number on the thing. So you’re alright. Look for the number, and it’s that.

LH: Yes, and you type that in and it’s almost invariably cheaper. Because the companies rely on customers’ laziness and poor organisation to scrap a few extra pounds off you every month.

Look after the pennies and the pounds will loo...

Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves (Photo credit: Mukumbura)

PW: I’ve noticed a few utility companies offering discounts if I go paper-free. If I just get statements online, I save something nominal like a pound a month. But it’s less junk through the door and it’s a saving.

LH: And you can print off anything you get online – all your statements and details. Banks have to make this stuff available, so even if you don’t get it posted to you, you can print off a PDF at any time, so it’s worth going for it.

PW: Another thing to bear in mind, in terms of finances specifically, is to try to have some savings, even if you’ve had regular work because invoices can be paid late, work might get low, so if you can start out with at least three months’ living expenses, then you don’t have to hit the ground running. Once you’re more established, I’d try to have at least one month’s savings at any given time – you want this to be accessible, and not in one of those savings accounts where you have to request money 28 days in advance.

LH: Haha, while you starve away at home!

PW: Exactly – that’s good for long-term savings but we’re talking about back-up savings. You can still compare accounts and get one with a good interest rate. This can not only cushion the blow of late payments and a lack of work, it will also help you to stress a lot less at these times. There will always be up and down times in freelancing, so it’s boring, but when things are going well and the money is rolling in, do stick some in a separate bank account for the more quiet times.

And another thing to consider is credit unions. These are usually community based and they’re a way, predominantly, for poorer people to get access to financial services that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford. That’s how they started out – basically, you can pay into your credit union account and, after a certain amount of time, you can request a loan. We’re not talking thousands of pounds, but it’s for immediate difficulties and you pay it back gradually. The original idea was to promote financial accessibility. These days, although that’s still the case, more and more people are signing up because they’re an ethical way to save. They’re not investing in the arms trade like the big banks do, they help people to be included but also they’re a good way for anyone to save and for anyone to access small loans in the event they need one. So, most towns and cities have credit unions, so I’d really recommend doing a search for a credit union near you and signing up.

LH: What a brilliant idea. Brilliant, brilliant idea. A lot of freelancers that I’ve spoken to, particularly new ones, have gone freelance not out of desire to be a freelancer but out of necessity. They may have been made redundant or had children and be finding it hard to get back to work. Often, there’s that slight feeling of “I’m doing this because I need some money” so supportive finance options like credit unions are perfect. You don’t need judgement when you’re having difficulties; you want an ethical supportive option that will give you reliable support and a credit union is excellent for that.

PW: I think the best approach – and this is what I’m doing – is to just set up a credit union account, set up a standing order, say £10 a month or whatever you can afford – and just let it take care of itself. And then you have a nice little pot of money that you haven’t accessed and, in the event you need a loan, you don’t have to start setting up things with massive interest rates. Credit union loans are very reasonably priced and they’re based on the savings that you have already.

LH: I think it’s important to point out at this point that this is a far healthier, far less dangerous option than pay-day loans.

PW: Oh, so much. In the UK at the moment, pay-day loans are rightly getting a lot of bad press. I know they exist all over the world.

LH: They can be tempting, can’t they? That’s why they do so well.

PW: Yes, like loan sharks do. When people are desperate, they do things they wouldn’t have done otherwise. So if you have access to a safe way to borrow a small amount of money, rather than borrowing a small amount of money on a 5,000% interest rate, it’s the only way to go, really. And especially seeing as banks are far less likely to lend money in the wake of the financial crisis, credit unions being so open, and being community based, are a great option.

LH: It’s prevention rather than cure again – don’t wait until you’re desperate.

PW: And even if you don’t need a loan, if you pay in £10 a month, you’ve got £120 for Christmas presents at the end of the year. However you end up using it, it’s great.

LH: Another great way to save money with your business is to have a look at what you’re paying for travel costs. If you book your train tickets on the day, you’re likely to pay far, far more than you would if you bought them in advance.

PW: Definitely, I went to London a few weeks ago and I booked my tickets about a month in advance. And even at that stage, I was on was on one of these comparison sites – looking at the options, I managed to pay just £12 per journey but there were other journeys that were just a bit different that cost £50 each. If you turn up on the day, you can pay in the hundreds.

LH: Yes, Manchester to London at peak times can be over £350 for a two-hour journey. £12 is the cheapest I’ve ever heard.

PW: I know, I was gobsmacked. It was nestled in the middle of all these £42, £36, £52 prices, and there was just one option at £12. So I thought, yes, there we go!

LH: I’ve saved my husband money on things like this, actually. If you’re going on a trip with more than a couple of stops, it’s sometimes worth having a look if it’s much cheaper to buy singles from one stop to the next.

PW: Yes, I know to London and back from here in Sheffield, it’s cheaper to get two singles, which goes against what you’d expect. So you get used to returns being cheaper, but it’s not always the case.

LH: Definitely, and it’s worth having a fiddle around with these sites to see if you can get a cheaper option.

PW: Yes, you can go an hour earlier, change at a different place, it can really be worth it.

LH: Yes, if you’re not pushed for time, go for a slightly slower train. I enjoy train journeys – I pop my headphones on and enjoy the break away from my laptop.

PW: Yeah, you can find some lovely journeys.

LH: And if you have a look at your journey – say, Manchester to London (although it’s not a great example because it’s mostly a direct journey) – and see if Manchester to X, then X to London is cheaper, or Manchester to Y and then Y to London is cheaper. If one of the routes is less popular, you can sometimes get it cheaper.

PW: There’s a website that’s an incredible resource. It’s UK centric, without a doubt, but I’m sure some of the advice will apply internationally. If there is a way to save money on something, it’s on that website. There’s great content in the main website, and also the most extensive forum you can imagine. It’s so full of great information, the site does really well in search engine results, partly because there’s so much good information on it and partly because so many people link to it.

It was started by a guy who previously worked for a credit card company. He got sick of seeing customers being ripped off so he came out of the industry and turned his knowledge to teaching people how to avoid excessive costs. The website is now huge and it’s a brilliant resource. It’s Lorrie talking about doing train journeys like that that reminded me. My brother was telling me about car insurance, actually – if you change your parameters slightly, you can save a lot of money.

LH: And you can just phone the company sometimes and say you’re not happy with the price – I’ve done it before. It’s often that easy.

PW: I phoned up my home and contents insurer when my quote came through and asked them, “Is that your best price?” and they cut it by two thirds. And it was that simple.

LH: Hahaha, that’s brilliant. My in-laws are Pakistani and my best mate is Indian, and anyone who knows people from that part of the world will know that they can drive an extremely hard bargain. My father in law got a notice from his water company telling him that his water bill would be £80 a month, so he phoned them up and said, “Well, I’ve only got £40.” So now he just pays £40 a month! Which is amazing. The company phones occasionally and threatens to increase the price, but he sticks to his guns – they’re only increasing the price because they’ve increased other houses in that area, it’s not because he’s using more water.

This is the thing: all you have to say, often, is “I’m not paying that; I’ve found a better provider, they’re offering me a better deal; I can’t pay that amount; haven’t you got a better offer? Isn’t there any customer loyalty? I’ve been with you five years…” Often just a little nudge will drive costs down quickly.

PW: One of the main things I’ve learnt from Martin Lewis at Money Saving Expert, being a loyal customer won’t get you any rewards. They’re busy rewarding new customers because they’re trying to suck them in. So it’s often worth changing providers, or at least threatening to change providers – it’s a bit of work, but it’s worth it. Putting up with every increase does you no favours at all.

LH: A lot of companies will have a retentions department. If you say on the phone, “I’m going to go somewhere else for a better deal; I’ve seen the deals you’re offering new people; why aren’t I getting those deals?” and they’ll usually put you through to the retentions department.

PW: It really annoys me, actually. I left my former broadband supplier because they had a limit on how much internet you could use. For the first 12 months, it was fine – I got nowhere near the limit, then suddenly, every month I was going over the limit and being charged extra. I didn’t know what I was doing that was using up the bandwidth; neither did they. On top of that, they were throttling certain types of traffic, which was really annoying as well. In the end, I was so annoyed at being charged extra, I did loads of research and found a better provider who could offer me better speeds at a lower rate.

So I rang my ISP to cancel and, at that point…bear in mind that I’d phoned them to ask if I could change to a subscription without a limit and they’d said that wasn’t possible; didn’t exist, and then when I finally called to cancel, they said, “well, we could offer you an unlimited deal for £4 extra a month?” and I said it was too late. If they’d offered me that last time I’d phoned, I wouldn’t have cancelled, but they didn’t, so I was going.

LH: I don’t want it any more – I’m going! It’s ridiculous – I think most companies are recognising now that the first nudge from a customer is the point at which you cave and offer a better deal – most people don’t know they can push for a cheaper deal so when someone phones, it’s time to cave and offer something more.

PW: Yep. Exactly. And so it really does annoy me that you get more the more you threaten to leave. People who don’t want to make a fuss end up losing out. And it’s frustrating, because there was no need for me to have all those extra charges. It was something like £10 per every extra 5GB, and that goes quickly. So it was ridiculous.

LH: One final trick we have for you when it comes to saving money when you’re forking out money is when you’re booking a flight. Now, not everyone jets about all over the world for business but everyone needs a holiday. And if you’re a freelancer, you are your business, we totally think this counts.

So, when you’re browsing a site for flights, you can spot one and think, “OK, that works.” You browse a bit more then, in the meantime, you find that the prices have sky-rocketed, and you think, “Damn, I’ve missed a deal.” You haven’t. This is what flight companies do: using cookies, they track you around the site and then increase the prices of the flights you want to book. Now, the way to avoid this is to browse the site, note down the details of the flight you want to book, and the provider. Click out of your browser window, and either go and clear your cache (your internet history) or go to private browsing. Chrome has it, Firefox has got it – not sure about Internet Explorer. So you go back to the website, click straight through to the flight you want and you’ll usually find that the price is back to the original one.

PW: That. Is. Ingenious.

LH: Isn’t it? It’s fab. It can save you hundreds of pounds at a time. When you’re off on holiday and you need a much-needed break, you don’t want to pay £500 for your flight and have £100 left over for spending money for the two days. If you can get the flights for £300 and keep £300 for spending, that’s going to make a huge difference.

PW: Even if you’re travelling to a conference or something, you still want to be as economical as you can.

LH: Absolutely – if you think about it, changing (or not changing) a browser window can literally cost you hundreds of pounds at a time.

PW: It’s a no brainer, isn’t it?

LH: Definitely. Just give it a go next time and prepare to be outraged!

PW: So those are some good tips for those expenses that you can’t avoid. And as we touched on before, there can be issues. You can look for the best deal and find the best thing but then completely let yourself down by forgetting to pay on time. So actually staying organising can not just help you work well, it can have a really good effect on your finances.

LH: I was devastated when I learnt that because naturally, I’m really badly organised. If I didn’t have any help with it – and I’ll talk about the kind of help I have – I’d have problems keeping track on the bigger picture. When I’m working on something, I get my nose so far into the project, that things like admin, housekeeping, library fees, invoices, overdraft deadlines…they could float away and I wouldn’t notice.

Going back to chasing up on invoices, it can really add up. If you’re waiting for say, two, four, eight weeks and you don’t chase up someone who’s not paid, your money is sitting in their account.

PW: Yes, a lot of people are happy to send an invoice and then forget to check whether it’s been paid. And then you can lose track and get confused. If you get to the point where you don’t understand what’s been paid and what hasn’t, you might well not chase up an invoice ever.

LH: Yes, and you’ll let them get away with it – and they might not even know they’re getting away with it – there’s often a disconnect between the marketing department in a company, who you’ll probably be dealing with, and the accounts department.

So yes, as a naturally disorganised person, if I wasn’t careful, this kind of problem could cost me a lot over the course of a year. What I do to combat this, and things have improved so much, is that I rely heavily on both my paper diary and Google Calendar. Some people find they don’t need both – especially now you can synch your Google calendar with your phone.

PW: I always use both, too.

LH: I think we’re old school. We’re cool that way.

PW: Haha. That’s old skool with a ‘k’, listeners.

LH: Or old s-cool!  Now, I use my paper diary for things that vary from week to week, so if I’m meeting someone for coffee or if I need to go and see a client somewhere. Things like that. And, for Google calendar, I use it for regular commitments and also, going back to what you said about invoices, Pip, when I send an invoice to a client, I immediately mark on the due date “Check Payment”. Or, a week after, because I don’t like to chase immediately.

PW: Also, if I get a long-term deadline, I might pop in some reminders like, “Two weeks until you submit X” or what have you. I also have an add-on within Google Chrome – well, I have a few, actually. One means that my Google Calendar reminders actually pop up on my screen – and you can set when in advance you want that to happen, whether that’s five minutes or a day, whenever. The other add-on that’s handy is that you can get an extra option to add an email to Google Calendar. So if I get an email about an event, I can just add that to Google Calendar with a couple of clicks. There’s another one, actually – it’s all coming back to me now! – that lets me add Facebook events to my Google calendar.

LH: That’s brilliant. It’s so easy to add things to your calendar, now, isn’t it? I sometimes go to add something to my calendar and find it’s already in there!

Same goes for library fees, overdue fees, late fees, stick a reminder in for the day before.

PW: And stick a pop-up in that you have to click to get rid of. We’re so used to getting an email and being able to ignore it, so if you have to actively click to make it go away, it’s more likely to go into your head.

LH: Yeah, like I say, that’s like me and library fees. Our local library has a three-week loan period and I get out the maximum eight books every time because editing novels is part of my job. Now, I can’t read eight novels in three weeks and do all my other work, but I don’t necessarily want to give back the books after three weeks. So I set a reminder for the day before the books are due for return. Then, I just go to the library website, click ‘renew all’ and wait for another three weeks. And I don’t have to pay anything.

PW: For some reason, the libraries in Sheffield have stopped charging for overdue books and I wish they hadn’t because I get a bit lax now. And so while I can see why they’ve done it but in practice, even I wish I’d be charged sometimes. And also, libraries here – and it sounds like the case in Manchester – are making an effort to make things easy. You can renew online. You can return books by just scanning them in, so they make it easy to return things, so there are fewer and fewer excuses for being late.

LH: Going back to our original point, after our local library diversion, you could be late with eight books for a week and end up paying £4 a week. Imagine that you do that every month – that’s £48 just for not taking your books back or even clicking on the website. You can even renew when you’re already late to stop the charges increasing. Generally, with anything that’s overdue, the sooner you deal with things, the better.

PW: Yes, don’t get all head-in-the-sand-y! Things only get worse over time. Deal with it now. If you’ve missed a payment to the gas company, phone them.

LH: Yes – likewise, keep an eye on your direct debits, this is another point we want to make. If there’s money leaving your account every month for things you don’t use – Netflix, gym membership, a postal book club, a magazine you don’t read anymore…whatever it is, make sure you get your money’s worth, or downgrade/cancel as appropriate and as soon as possible.

PW: I was guilty of this until recently with my landline phone. I had a super deal where I could get free calls and all this stuff, but I never used my phone. I keep my landline because people call me but I don’t use it – I communicate mostly online or by text. So I rang them up and I’d signed up for a period of time and there were about six months left. So I said, “I understand that there’ll be a cancellation fee if I cancel, what will it be?” and she looked it up and it was one extra month. So I cancelled and I’m saving on five months of unused service. And I’m paying considerably less – the only reason I was paying more is that I did use my landline a lot more in the past but I got lazy and missed the cut off point where it got automatically renewed. But even if there’s going to be a penalty fee, ask how much it is. In my case, it was well worth it.

LH: Yup, we did the same with Sky Movies – although there was no penalty fee. We had it for ages because we both like movies, but we weren’t watching much of watch was available and what we were watching was the Pay Per View stuff (not as bad as it sounds – just the Box Office movies!). But we had a look at Netflix and we’re paying about £5 a month. It’s great. I can’t believe – although of course I can – that we didn’t do it sooner. The savings are massive but they rely on you getting comfortable.

PW: They do. Going back to direct debits, which Lorrie mentioned earlier, what I do is I have two bank accounts that are my main day-to-day accounts. One of those is where all my direct debits go from – I know how much will go out every month so I always keep it topped up with that and a bit extra. So I can safely spend from the second account. And for me, that works much better than having one account for it all. I used to do that and I was never quite sure if I could buy something one day but would then have to pay a bill from there the next day. Having two accounts reassures me and makes sure I always have enough for Direct Debits and regular bills.

LH: That’s a really good idea. I work most of my personal finances from one account and although I’m lucky enough not to be low on money at any point during the month at the moment, but there’s always that frisson of fear when you transfer some across to a savings account or you have a bit of a quiet month. There’s that moment at the supermarket when you think, “Oh my goodness, is this payment going to go through?” That never goes away. If you’re a bit low on money, it’s a great way to take that fear away. If you know what you’ve got, you know what you’re dealing with.

Again, it’s this awareness – it’s always better to know. Even if you’ve £50 or less in your account and you’ve sectioned off £100 for your Direct Debits and bills, at least you’re not in a sticky situation where you have no money or you’re going overdrawn and paying an overdraft charge.

PW: Nothing goes out of that spends account unexpectedly – if it’s in that account you can spend it. And by working out the average amount you spend per month in bills, you also feel confident that your rent and insurance and whatever else will be paid.

LH: Yes, because it’s not a joke, is it? You can get overdraft charges, late payment fees, you can lose your home, car, gas, electricity, water…and going back to what we said earlier, sometimes freelancing is an option people turn to when things have got a bit tough and they can’t find a job. This is the whole point of this podcast – to stop you ending up in a real pickle.

PW: Yes, you’ll read stories online about Direct Sales Copywriters who charge like £30,000 for a sales letter and you might think, “Well, I’m struggling to buy food.” I guess what we’re saying is that that can happen too. Don’t think you’re doing it all wrong if you’re struggling a bit – everyone has dry periods, especially when you’re starting out. We know not every listener is that direct sales copywriter getting £30,000 a week.

LH: Yes, it can be really tough and freelancing can be an option for people who don’t have a lot of money, so it’s really important to be careful when you start out. Once things improve you can relax a bit but it’s important to keep up those good habits.  You’re less likely to find yourself in a position where you’re in trouble again.

PW: Yes. Another thing to bear in mind is when looking things that you have to buy but can get cheaper than just going to your high street shop. First of all, always shop around. The net makes this so much easier – I remember the days of traipsing from shop to shop, to see if one shop was selling that kettle you wanted for £5 less. These days, there are a million price comparison websites. You can go shopping on Google, compare prices on Amazon. Certain things like printer cartridges, as everyone knows, are ridiculously expensive but there are ways to get good deals. One thing I do is this: there’s a particular stationery company here in the UK that offers really good freebies when you spend £39 or more.

Now, normally I wouldn’t spend £39 in one go on stationery but when I need printer cartridges and I know that buying a set of black and colour could set me back by £40, I check that website to see what their current freebie is. They can be really good. That way I might pay normal prices for the cartridges but get a great freebie like a digital radio or one of those fans that doesn’t have a spinny thing! Alternatively, if you don’t want a freebie, look at the million different printer cartridge websites.

LH: Yes, remember you’re a business – have a look at business wholesalers or go on business stationery websites. Or, if you get a freebie you don’t want, stick it on eBay or Amazon. Make a fiver or a tenner out of it – it’s better than having it sitting around collecting dust.

PW: Definitely. And in most other aspects of our lives, we usually shop around, so don’t forget to do it just because you’re dealing with business expenses. When I bought my printer, I compared so many websites. I decided on the one I wanted and you can talk about like a £50 difference if you find a site with a good offer on, so always check.

LH: Yes, and always check whether you need to buy things like this. If you’re short on cash, libraries have printers, corner shops have printers. Don’t think that to be a freelancer, you have to have a top of the range printer, scanner, laptop, office equipment, paper, ink…if you can’t afford it, work with what you’ve got.

PW: And never ever use your printer as a general photocopier. If you’re teaching a course for a day, for instance, print one and take it to the local news agent who can do 20 copies for 5p a page. If you print out 20, it’ll cost you far more.

LH: Absolutely. Now, moving on from buying without shopping around, buying brand name products is another quick way to throw your money away. It’s another quick business/personal crossover because you buy brands and non-brands in every part of your life, but some brands are worth spending on but others, such as medicines, are exactly the same and you’re just paying for the name and/or the packaging.

PW: Yes, you can buy a packet of 16 paracetamol for 30p or you can buy a branded pack of painkillers for £2.50 – it’s exactly the same chemical.

LH: Same goes for cold and flu capsules. You have a quick look at the back of the pack and supermarket brand cold and flu medicines are not only cheaper by about £3 per pack of just 16, they’re also often better! The packet will tell you what the ingredients are – don’t be taken in by shiny marketing!

PW: Another thing to look at is cashback type deals. There are various websites. I use one called TopCashBack but there are plenty. Basically, these websites gain an affiliate profit if you buy through their link but then they share that profit with you. So say you want to buy something from Debenhams and you buy from a cashback site, then if they get £3 back from that sale, you might get £2 from that. And sometimes the offers you get are very generous, like 10-15% cashback on purchases you make. And even if you buy in physical shops, get a loyalty card and start collecting points on there.

LH: Absolutely – or print your own vouchers. If you go to the company website, you might be able to print something off and get 20% off. It’s worth it.

PW: Yes, yesterday I bought credit for my phone from Tesco but I got Tesco clubcard points on my phone credit purchase but I also had this triple points voucher so I got three times the clubcard points on this top up voucher, which I had to buy anyway. It’ll only be about 30p but it all adds up.

LH: Of course it does, over the course of a year, say. You read, quite often that there’s a bit of a stigma for vouchers in restaurants.

PW: Yeah people are embarrassed, aren’t they?

LH: Yes, but if you’re embarrassed and you don’t want to use vouchers on a date, for example (although it’s obviously fine!), that’s fine. But if you’re having a meeting with a client in a café or restaurant, your client isn’t going to be hanging over your shoulder when you pay. There’s no shame in keeping your money anyway.

PW: Of course. Now, given that we’ve covered so much ground on this topic, what we want to do is split it into two episodes. That way, we can carry on in this depth and make sure we don’t want to miss anything out – this is a really crucial subject.

LH: Yes, as we’re talking about how to save money and stop your business losing money, it’s quite a sensitive topic and I think that’s what’s contributed to us wanting to cover everything that can be helpful to people who are perhaps struggling a bit.

PW: And so, this gives you an added incentive to tune in in two weeks’ time, so do make sure to subscribe so you don’t end up with half a picture. You can subscribe at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com and all the different options are on there. So thank you very much for listening – I’ve been Philippa Willitts…

LH: …and I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn and we’ll catch you next time.

 

Podcast Episode 47: Should Freelance Writers Have Their Own Blog?

There is a lot of conflicting advice around about whether or not freelance writers should have their own blog. If they do, what should they blog about? Is it simply a way to show off your writing skills or can it have any further benefits? And should you write every day, every week, or just whenever you feel like it?

In this podcast episode I look at these issues, and more, along with some practical advice on how to go about blogging in order to have the most success.

Show Notes

10 reasons every freelance writer should have a blog – Michelle Rafter

Episode 7: Freelance writing – to specialise or not to specialise?

Do freelancers have to blog to get clients? – Carol Tice

5 ways writers kill their credibility online

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Transcript

Hello, and welcome to episode 47 of ‘A Little Bird Told Me’. The freelance writing podcast, about the high’s the lows and the no-no’s of successful freelance writing.

I am Philippa Willitts and I am here today without my usual co-host Lorrie who will be back next week. Before we get started, you can find us online at www.littlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com. And if you go there you can find links to subscribe to the podcast, which means that rather than having to come back and check when it’s out, it will be delivered straight to you. That can be through ITunes, it can be through an RSS feed reader or on Stitcher if you’re a fan of that app, which I am. You can also there find links to all my social media feeds and websites and also Lorrie’s, as well as links to any websites or videos, or plug-ins or apps that we might mention during the course of the podcast. So www.littlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com is just full of tonnes of really valuable information, so go check it out.

Now I am Philippa Willitts, and today I am talking about whether you, as a freelance writer, should have a blog. Lots of writers do, lots of writers don’t, and there are certainly some pros and cons associated with it. So what I am going to do is look at, first of all, the benefits of having a blog – how it can help your business. Then I’m going to look at how to do it and also importantly, how not to do it, including any circumstances you might find yourself in, where it’s better to just not bother. So stay tuned to find out all you need to know about freelance writers and blogging.

7:2 :: writing

7:2 :: writing (Photo credit: ~Merete)

And so the first thing we are going to look at, are the benefits of having your own blog as a freelancer. Now there are lots of benefits to having your own blog. It is a great way of showing the world how well you write, basically. And as a freelance writer that’s what you want to do. Especially if you don’t have lots of other places you could send potential clients to, to have a look at your work, then having your own blog is an easy way to have good quality writing samples on view for anybody who needs them. You can even, if your blog takes off a bit, you can start to build your own audience and get a name for yourself that certainly does you no harm. And blogs are basically a great way of establishing authority, if you want to show the world that you know a lot about fishing, and that’s what you want to write about, then if you start a fishing blog with a link to your professional site then anybody who needs a writer specialising in fishing knows where to come.

Another reason that having a blog can be beneficial is good old SEO. Search engines prioritise websites that have regular updates on them. Now this only works if your blog is part of your main website really. If your blog is separate then itself it will improve its SEO chances but it won’t have much effect on your main site. However, if your blog’s part of your main professional site then it’s a particularly good way of giving yourself a little boost on where you appear on the search engine results. When you blog you use lots of important keywords, you use long tail key phrases, you get a lot of things crammed into your website that people might be searching for. If you imagine if you have a one page website with 500 words of writing on it and compare that to a blog with 30 different 500 word posts on it, the keywords that people search for are far more likely to turn up in the long blog with lots of entries than in the one page.

Another benefit is SEO related and is likely to become particularly useful in the coming months and years. And that is the newish protocol that Google started using called ‘Authorship’.

Now Google spends a lot of time trying to remove the spam from its search results. It’s done various massive algorithm changes in order to try to achieve this, and so lots of websites that are ‘spammy’ and not good quality that would have appeared in the search engines a couple of years ago, are now downgraded and 30 pages in or delisted altogether from Google. Now, something they’ve started putting emphasis on is this ‘Authorship’, and without going into too much complicated detail basically what this is, is a little tag you can put into your website, which labels you in a code that Google recognises as the author of a piece of work.

Now at this stage this doesn’t seem to have much SEO benefit in itself. But expert SEO people believe strongly that as Google continue its anti-spam measures, is that it’s going to give more weight to individual authors who have proved themselves to be authoritative and who have proved themselves to write good quality content.

So, whereas up to now a big part of the recommendations that informed where you appeared in Google search results were things like how many backlinks a website receives as a whole, it is thought that, over time, the individual author is going to take more prominence, and so starting a blog and making sure you have the right Google Authorship tags attached to your blog means that you can start creating an archive that where Google recognises you as the author, and this could – in the medium to long term – help to establish you as an authoritative writer.

Now SEO aside, there are still plenty of other benefits to writing your own blog. If you, a lot of clients these days hire freelance writers to write their blogs for them, so having your own blog on the very basic level shows prospects that you can write a blog, that you get the style, you’re good at headlines, that you can engage with readers and that’s all things that clients want when they hire you to write their own blog. Another benefit was suggested by a blogger name Michelle Rafter who wrote on her blog ‘If you’re normally writing one style, you can use your blog to practice different styles or voices. If you normally write straight news stories for business or trade magazines, use your blog to practice writing opinion pieces, personal essays, or comedy bits. If you are comfortable writing in different styles and genres for yourself it’s not much of a stretch to pitch those types of stories to potential clients’.

And I think that’s a good idea – you don’t want to show yourself off as too much of a beginner, and if you’re trying a particular style for the first time make sure it’s good enough to warrant being on your blog. But, I think she makes a really good point, that your blog is your blog and, if you’re going to experiment anywhere, it’s probably better to do it on your own terms than for a client who wants a comedy piece and you’ve never written comedy before.

A final potential benefit of having your own blog is that it can be a way of making money. Now don’t get too hung up on this one, because it’s a lot harder than internet marketers would have you believe, and it’s also more complex than internet marketers have you believe. However, there is the potential with your own blog of making some money, usually by having ads in the sidebar or through promoting particular products that your receive a referral fee for, if people buy through the link you provide.

So, giving those potential benefits that you can get from having your own blog let’s have a look at how to go about it. It’s really important first of all to be writing on your blog about something that you care about, if you’re just going ‘ohh it’s Friday I better do a blog post’, readers can tell if you’re bored, they can tell if you don’t really care, and it’s really off-putting. You won’t engage with people, you won’t attract people, they will just you know, they’ll just pass you by. There is no point writing a blog if it is going to be tedious, if it’s going to be something that you resent.

Now as to what to write about, this is a big issue to think about, because you might think, do I write about freelance writing? Because then I can show readers that I know what I’m talking about. However, the other side of that is that you’re more likely to have fellow writers as readers than you are to have potential customers, so, you know, it’s good and bad in its own way.

Another is to write a personal style blog about your life, about the things you are doing, and while this can be good in many ways, I’m not sure it’s necessarily the best idea for a blog related to your freelance website. You might want to write a personal blog but that might be better separate and somewhere else.

The third option that’s popular and can be really good, is too write about your speciality, we’ve talked in the podcast before about the benefits and drawbacks of specialising, I will put a link in the show notes to a former episode we made about that.

But if you do have a specialist subject, which is often a good idea to get better pay, to get more work that interests you more because it’s something you’re interested in yourself, then writing a blog about things in your specialist subject will show potential clients in that sector that you write with passion, that you write with expertise about, whether it’s fashion, or education, or health or whatever your specialist area is, if you write about fashion and a high street store approaches you wanting you to write their blog, you can point them to your latest posts about the trends for summer 2013 and that shows them that you know what you’re talking about and that you write well. If you consider your blog as a way to be a good showcase of what you can do, then you know that you need to pay attention to the how you write, you need to pay attention to how you present yourself.

WRITE

WRITE (Photo credit: karindalziel)

Carol Tice, awesome freelance writer/ blogger, wrote on a blog post about freelancers blogging, ‘whatever your personal interests are consider writing on the topic you love. When you write about what you love, you tend to stick with it and strive to improve it, that blog will be more likely to attract an audience and will end up serving as a stronger marketing tool, than your lukewarm blog about your business’.

This is really true, and it backs up what I said earlier, be passionate, be interested, show that you care about what you’re writing about. This is the best way to show off your own writing. When you write blog posts use good headlines, now these aren’t always easy, and it’s always worth having a read of some good advice about how to write good headlines. Not least because the same or similar advice applies to email subject lines to press release titles and all sorts of different areas – so it’s an important and good skill to have for any freelancer, so try to write headlines that make people need to click to see more.

Similarly, consider using a call to action, this is an important device within sales copy, sales writing as a whole, and this is basically tell your readers what you want them to do, so if you want your readers after they’ve read your blog post – if you want them to subscribe to your blog, or comment or share it then tell them to. You might say at the end of a blog post, it can be something as simple as ‘do you have any experience in this area? Let me know in the comments’, or ‘Do you have a favourite colour for this season’s skirts? Let me know in the comments’. Or ‘If you like this post share it on twitter’ or something like that, it can be amazing the difference that including a call to action can make in terms of reader engagement. When you’re writing posts also use internal linking where appropriate, don’t overdo it or it looks spammy, but link to pages within your website, link to other blog posts you’ve written. This all helps with SEO but also with navigation just to help your readers find these things if they want to see more.

Now there is a lot of conflicting advice with blogging about regularity and consistency. More with regularity, some bloggers recommend writing daily without fail; always put a blog post up. Others say always put a post up every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at the same time, readers like to know what they can expect and when they can expect it. Others are a bit more relaxed about it and say that as long as there is some consistency, as long as you don’t write three posts in one week and then nothing for four months, then that’s good, that’s acceptable, people don’t necessarily expect complete predictability, nor would you necessarily want to be predictable. The problem with saying I will definitely blog three times a week is that you might end up putting up sub-standard content because you’ve run out of ideas or because you don’t have time.

Personally, I think reasonably regular and reasonably consistent is sufficient as long as you don’t leave people waiting for weeks and weeks then you still have a good opportunity to build a blog, a successful blog and build an audience and build followers, and you know, boost your own efforts. However you may be the kind of person who may react better and cope better with a much stricter schedule, in which case go with that, it’s your blog, you might want to read many of the discussions about this online and see what you think. It’s up to you and you can even try, try different things out, spend two months posting twice a week at 10 o’clock on Tuesdays and Thursdays and then spend two months posting as and when you get inspiration. And see – do you lose readers, do you gain readers, do you get more subscribers all that kind of thing – try it out.

Now the problem with doing it on a more laid back basis, is that is easy to get out of the habit altogether, so especially when you have paid work to do, it’s hard to motivate yourself to do a post on your own blog when you’ve also got four magazine articles and six press releases on the go. And I would always say prioritise your paid work but there comes a point where you might use that as an excuse and never update your blog at all.

Making blogging part of your routine or planning time specifically for blogging is a good way of trying to keep on top of it. It is far too easy to put it off when something more interesting comes along but it you’re going to make a go of it then integrating it into your working week will help you, there’s no question. So you may do your finances on the first of the month and you may schedule four blog posts on the seventh of the month, for instance. That’s something to bear in mind actually, some people work better writing a series of blog posts in one go maybe spending a day or two of nothing but writing content for your own blog, and then schedule the updates to appear twice a week or once a fortnight or whatever you decide to do. That helps you to prepare for ultra-busy weeks where you don’t have time and also some people just react better to getting it all done in one go. Again, try things out, see what suits your working style, see what you have the most success with, but all of the major blogging platforms have an option to schedule posts whether you’re using hosted WordPress, wordpress.com, Blogspot or Tumblr you can write in advance and schedule posts, you can on movable type as well but in my own experience, that can be a bit unpredictable. So consider that as well as part of your working style.

If you really want to take your blog seriously you need to make a plan and set goals. It’s easy to just meander through doing an update when you think of it or when you have something to say. But if you want to put effort into making it a great blog, rather than just something where you go through the motions, then set out a content calendar, say in July and August I want to cover these six topics, one a week.

Say for the rest of the year I want to cover these 12 topics, and I want four of these to be very in-depth posts and I want to make a YouTube video and you can even plan how you’re going to promote it within your content plan. So you can make notes about how many times you want to tweet your each new post, whether you want to share your posts on Pinterest, and come up with a really good, almost foolproof way of building a blog that you have planned in advance. Goal setting can have a similarly positive effect, you might want to start off with small goals like, ‘I want twenty people to read my first blog post, and I will promote it until I have hit that milestone’ or you might want to have fifty email subscribers by September and so you would then use your call to action to draw attention to your email subscription box, and that kind of thing. You might even say by Christmas I want to have had 100 really good quality comments posted on my blog post.

The goals you set will be entirely up to you, those numbers may seem too low, too high, your goals might be entirely different but if you have goals then you will work harder to meet them. If you want twenty readers for your first blog post then you will work until you get twenty readers if you haven’t set that goal then you probably won’t even notice that you’ve only had four people read it and so you won’t put the extra effort in that you would have if you had a goal.

So, if you want to have the potential to turn your blog into something big, something really valuable in the industry you want to write in, then make a plan, make a content plan and set goals. Set goals that can grow, so when you’ve had twenty readers of your first post, then make sure you promote your second post until it’s had fifty readers, and your third post until it’s had eighty readers. The good thing about goals is that you can adapt them as you go, if you set a goal for eighty readers and you suddenly find that you’ve actually had 350 readers within two days then you know that your next goal should be 500. Adapt them as you go, make sure they are realistic but also that they also give you a bit of a push to do your best.

So we’ve covered why you might want to blog, and we’ve covered how you might want to go about blogging. However, there are also times where, frankly, it’s best to just not bother. And so what about when you shouldn’t start a blog? One argument is that if you’re not going to update it reasonably regularly then it’s not worth doing at all. It’s up to you to decide really, does your site look better without a blog, or with a blog that was last updated in September 2010.

Consistency is important; you might decide that infrequent updates are better than none at all. It’s up to you, but just think about how it looks. If people see a very out of date blog, they might assume that you’re not in business any more if that’s connected to your website and there hasn’t been an update for six months or a year. Also, partly it will depend on your topic: if you write about tech, for instance – a twelve month old or two year old blog post can often be irrelevant and doesn’t even still apply, whereas if you write about something like antiques, old posts may have a longer shelf life.

You can, if you use self-hosted WordPress, set up your settings so that the date of a post isn’t that obvious, it still can be found, but you can set it up so the URL, for instance, doesn’t include the date, so it’s just your web address forward slash whatever the topic name is. Some people do that, especially if they know they’re not going to be really regular with updates. Other people think, no I’d rather just not have a blog at all than have something that I know I don’t have the time to maintain.

Another reason to not start a blog is if you think it is going to be a quick and easy source of direct income. It is possible to monetise a blog, but most people who do make money from blogging do it in kind of round about ways – or by using their blog to promote something else that they do, or something that they sell.

You can put ads on, using something like Google AdSense, often will earn you a few pence a day really. Recommending products that you have affiliate links for can be a good way of earning referral cash if somebody buys using your link, but it can also make people question the validity of what you are suggesting. If you suggest, if you write a post recommending a particular piece of software and you get 50% of the price when your reader buys that software they might well think, well I can’t trust this blogger to tell the truth, because if they earn money when I buy, then they’re not going to tell me the negative points about this. That’s not necessarily true but it’s certainly an impression that a lot of people can get.

Often, money-making from a blog is very much a long-term plan, and it takes a lot of work. So if that is your primary goal, really think carefully about whether you’re prepared to keep plugging as something with no promise of an income if that’s its main purpose.

Another reason not to start a blog is that you don’t want to. You can’t be bothered, it’s not your thing – somebody has recommended it to you and you’re wondering whether you should, but really you have no desire or motivation to do it, then don’t. There are alternative ways of showing off your writing even if you haven’t been published in lots of different places or even if most of your writing is ghost writing, so you can’t claim it for yourself. You can write guest posts on other blogs and make sure you link to them on your site. You can do some writing for a charity for free, but link to it as an example of your work. If you’re not entirely enthusiastic about a blog on your site then just don’t.

So, hopefully what I’ve gone through today in terms of the benefits of blogging, how to go about it, top tips on having your own freelance writing blog, but also a bit of reality about the fact that it’s not always easy and that it doesn’t suit everybody. Hopefully it will be useful for you, if you have a blog already or are already considering whether to have one, or whether to keep the one you’ve got.

If you’ve got any questions do contact me, all my details are on a www.littlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com. If you want to contact me on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn all by email, it’s all there.

So, if you think I’ve missed anything out, it you think I didn’t mention anything important, or if you have a more specific question – do get in touch. Also if you have experience of blogging as a freelancer, tell me how you found it. I know I’ve got work directly as a result of blog posts I’ve directly written, have you had that experience? Or do you feel like you’ve been plugging away at a blog for six months and it’s just had no benefit whatsoever? I will try to feedback in a future episode some of what people tell them as a result of this one, so do let me know.

Anyway, now it is time for The Little Bird recommendation of the week: where we share with you a link or a plug-in or anything that we think is interesting or that we think you might like. My recommendation this week is a blog post from a brilliant website called www.bang2write.com. Now this site is aimed at screen writers and novelists, and I’m neither of those things but I still find a lot of their posts really, really useful, and interesting. Anyway, this is a post from February and it’s called ‘Five ways writers kill their credibility online’ – and it’s talking particularly about social media – but not exclusively – and it goes through the ‘top five ways of isolating your peers and making pros think you’re nuts’. And, it’s funny mainly because it’s so true, don’t feed the trolls, don’t offer unsolicited advice on making a massive assumption, don’t over promote yourself – nobody likes that – and don’t get involved in arguments are just some of the points they make. I will link to this post in the show notes at www.littlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com. So, head over and check it out, there’s some really useful information, whatever kind of writer you are, there’s certainly applies to other groups of writers as well as screen writers and novelists and I recommend the whole site actually, not just because they did a feature on me a few months ago but because they’re generally brilliant.

And so, that has been episode 47 of ‘A Little Bird Told Me’. Let us know what you think, subscribe to the podcast, and like our Facebook page – so you can make sure you never miss anything we want to share with you.

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

Podcast Episode 46: How to deal with criticism and negative feedback

It happens to the best of us at some stage: a piece of work we send to a client is met with criticism. Whether it is your fault or the result of a misunderstanding, or whether we strongly believe the editor or client is wrong, this is a tricky situation to negotiate. In this podcast episode, Lorrie and I go through different scenarios that can arise, with tips and advice on how to deal with them to maintain your good reputation while not alienating your clients or editors.

We also look at clients who are bullies, admitting your mistakes, whether the job title “freelance writer” has a limited shelf life and languages made up of whistles.

Show Notes

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Transcript

LH: Hello and welcome to Episode 46 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 super 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 links 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, and today we are going to talk about a particularly tricky situation, and that is what to do if you get criticism or negative feedback from a client. First of all, you can feel reassured that it happens to everybody at some point. You can be the best writer in the world but if somebody doesn’t like your style or approach then it doesn’t matter how good you are, you need to deal with their response. You can look at any writer – even someone like JK Rowling and Stephen King, who are very successful and highly thought-of, but there’ll be someone out there who hates what they do.

LH: JK Rowling was turned down by about five publishing houses, I believe.

PW: And I bet they’re kicking themselves now! So what we are going to look at is how to deal with it, both in terms of responding to the client, but also looking at what to do if you find it really dents your professional confidence.

Man's face screaming/shouting. Stubbly wearing...

Man’s face screaming/shouting. Stubbly wearing glasses. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

LH: Yes, it’s the moment every freelancer – or at least, every decent freelancer – dreads! When you’ve put a lot of time and effort into a piece of work, and you hand it over thinking not just that it’s all a-OK, but that it’s really good, it can make your heart sink to your boots when you get it back and the client’s not happy.

Now, there are a couple of over-arching reasons that the client might not be happy: it might be that they don’t like something in the work itself, or it might be they don’t like something about your working methods – the way you interact with them or the way you do business. Either way, you need to listen to them properly, let them know you’ve listened to them, and decide what action to take from there. We’re going to look at a few ways to deal with feedback disaster in just a moment.

PW: The first thing to do, in most circumstances, is to establish exactly what has gone wrong. If you get an email or a call from a client who isn’t happy with something you submitted to them, you want to have your facts straight before you get into too much discussion.

LH: Yes, I think one thing to remember is that the urge to defend yourself can be quite overwhelming sometimes, particularly if you’re caught by surprise, say in a phone-call, and particularly if your client’s not delivering the news to you in the most pleasant of ways. Combine the two, say your client’s phoned you up for an ear-bashing, and it can be tempting to leap in and refute everything the client is saying.

PW: That’s very true. So before you dive in, you need to assess the situation as objectively as you can. If it’s a phone-call, you can say, “Let me look into this, I’ll call you back in half an hour.” If it’s an email, you can take the time you need. Some things to consider are:

Did you mis-read the instructions / guidance? Did you get an email asking you to write about Google AdWords and you wrote about Google AdSense, for example.
If you’re honest, did you perhaps rush it or not do your best?
Were you late in delivering it?
Did you proofread it properly?

Those are just a few of the things to check if you’ve been told your work wasn’t up to scratch. The exact feedback from the client might well tell you directly what they think is wrong, but it’s worth double-checking everything yourself because they might think they said one thing and you thought they said another – if there’s a mail trail, you can check. Perhaps there was a communication failure and you both had different expectations from a project. Don’t go straight to assigning blame – there may not be any – and if there is, it might be yours, theirs or someone else’s. Just try to establish what is going on.

Now, myself, I offer one revision within the fee I charge for my writing. So if anyone’s not happy, I’ll rework it once. In reality, it rarely happens, which is reassuring! But if I did get feedback with a problem, in most cases if I get feedback I just rework according to what the client has specified and re-submit it. That’s not a problem. But if you have got beyond that stage, or the client wants some significant reworking of a massive project then you need to look at it more carefully. So what we’re going to look at first is how to handle this if it was your fault.

You might realise that it is your fault. You didn’t double check your facts, or you know you rushed that piece of work, and in that case then it is down to you to fix your mistakes.

LH: Yes, this is quite often the case. And if you think about it statistically, it is kind of more likely to be the case – as the writer, you’re the one spending hours up to your eyes in the piece of work; there’s simply more time and scope for errors on your part than elsewhere. The only way the client can be at fault is in the initial communication stages or if they’ve thought there’s an error and there isn’t.

PW: If you want to be taken seriously as a freelancer then this involves taking responsibility when you mess up. Trying to get out of your mistakes, on the other hand, is a direct route to a bad reputation, frankly. So if you sent an article off with a huge typo in the title or an unfinished sentence in the middle then suck it up and fix it – if it was your fault, you fix it.

LH: Yes, words are complicated things and you can get a bit blind to typos after a while. It’s just the way it is – these are the kinds of mistakes that most freelancers will make from time to time, even though you should try not to.

PW: Yes, I did a solo episode a while back on how to proof-read your own work. It’s harder than it sounds – you read what you think you wrote, generally, rather than what you did write. Proof-reading is often where the problems arise because you do that or proof-read the whole thing but miss the title.

LH: I have a client for whom I do academic proof-reading and I was chatting to the editor-in-chief at that agency and he was saying that he’s an editor but not a proof-reader, simply because he finds most of the stuff he reads too interesting! He’ll get to the end of it and realise he’s not proof-read it – he’s just read it!

PW: Yeah, I proof-read a dissertation a few months ago that was so interesting that, what I had to do was read it and then go back over it and proof-read it!

LH: Yes, I find the same problem when I proof-read and edit other people’s fiction – I’m so caught up with what’s happening that I realise I’ve not been focusing on the spelling and punctuation!

Going back to what we were chatting about – regular listeners will know we go off on our little tangents! – I hired someone a while back to do some proof-reading for me and, when I opened the document they’d completed for me, there was a glaring formatting issue in the title – on the first page!

PW: Oops!

LH: Yes, it really worried me – I needed the document proof-read properly. Now, because I’m a freelancer as well as a client, I was able to take a step back – just as I would do if someone pointed out a mistake to me – and I went through the rest of the document and it was marked up so I could see the person had gone to a lot of care – the rest of the document was thoroughly proof-read but they’d missed that first page, which just had the title on it.

I got back to them and asked if there was any reason they’d formatted the title that way, and they were honest and admitted they’d somehow just completed missed the first page. They got straight back to me, sent me a short, to-the-point email with an apology and an assurance that it wouldn’t happen again. So while it wasn’t ideal that it had happened, it was basically the perfect way to deal with it.

PW: Definitely. You must never fall into the trap of thinking that admitting you made a mistake would make you look bad. You won’t save face, you’ll just dig yourself deeper and deeper into a hole. If Lorrie’s freelancer had got back to her and said, “It didn’t look like that on my computer; it looked fine!” Lorrie wouldn’t have hired them again, I imagine.

LH: Yes, I’ve hired that person again. The document was otherwise well done, everyone makes mistakes and they handled it quickly and in the right way,

As someone who hires other freelancers on a really regular basis, including some who are pretty new to writing and need a bit of TLC before they’re up to speed. I don’t want to sound patronising but I’ve got to know some of the warning signs with people, in terms of how people respond to feedback.

PW: Yes, how receptive they are.

LH: And how likely it is that I’ll be able to have a long-term working relationship with someone. I do see people who will go out of their way – I’m talking ten miles out of their way – not to apologise for making mistakes. And I’m not sure if it’s a “me” thing or something that most people would also feel, but I really, really don’t appreciate it when someone seems to be giving reasons for their mistake but stopping short of apologising for it. It’s almost like they’re trying to excuse it while not taking responsibility for it, and that’s wrong, in my opinion.

The Argument

The Argument (Photo credit: roeyahram)

PW: I had a situation a couple of months ago where a client asked for a series of blog posts. And one of the title was confused and conflated two topics. Now, they didn’t spot it and neither did I. So I obviously looked at one half of the title and wrote that blog post and it turned out that they wanted the other half writing. We both should have double checked – I sent them the blog post and we quickly realised what had happened. And I got back to them and said, “I’m really sorry – I should’ve spotted that, can’t believe I didn’t and I’ll do the other post for you this afternoon.”

They said, “Don’t worry – we should have checked it too. If you could get that article to us that’d be great.” And that was the end of it. We still work together now and it’s a very valuable relationship. Had I gone, “No you wrote it wrong!” and been defensive and obstructive, the relationship might have broken down.

LH: Yeah, you have to remember that making a mistake doesn’t make you a bad person, or a bad freelancer. We all make mistakes, me included, and if you make one on a piece of work for someone else, you’re inconveniencing that client. They might notice it and know they’ve been inconvenienced, or they might not notice it and you can get them into real trouble if there are serious inaccuracies in your work.

If you do make a mistake in work that’s going external, it is a problem. It is up to you to apologise if you’ve left a mistake in a piece of work and handed it over – I think most clients would feel better towards you for doing so.

PW: This applies beyond work, too. If you spill your drink on someone in a pub, you apologise. It’s the grown-up thing to take responsibility when you mess up and I appreciate it in every aspect of life.

LH: Yes. You can’t expect a client to be happy about mistakes, so of course you might get a frosty reception, but I don’t think that it would be anything compared to what you’d get if they just denied the mistake was their fault. I would certainly treat people much better if they just own their mistakes.

So, one point I want to make is about how to apologise. Remember, it’s not about you – it’s about your client and how they’ve been inconvenienced, and their needs. They don’t need your life story about how your husband’s got stomach flu and your cat’s stuck up a tree and your favourite soap star just died so you just couldn’t concentrate – that’s the kind of stuff you’d tell your mates over a cup of coffee at the end of a hard day. That’s what you unwind with. That’s your story over a glass of wine. What your client needs to know is that it matters to you that you handed them some sub-standard work, and that you’ll make every effort to prevent it happening in future. That’s all.

PW: Yes, if you want to be respected, that’s how to handle it.

LH: Yes, there are things like a death in the family, or you’ve been really ill. You say, “I’m so sorry, I’ve been ill, I’ll make sure that…” Allude to something but don’t go into all the details, they don’t need to know.

PW: I had a situation like this recently – I was writing a blog post for a client and ended up having massive broadband issues. It was on and off all day and so, early on, I emailed the piece of work that was already done over to them and say, “I’m having broadband issues so I wanted to email you this piece now. I’ll get the second piece to you as soon as I can but I wanted to let you know – I’m sorry there may be some disruption.” The responsible thing to do was explain without giving all the ins and outs.

LH: That’s an interesting point you raise, actually, because what you could have done is hand in something sub-standard, skimping on the research because you had no net access. I think it’s better to, as you did, hand something in late rather than sending over something that’s below your usual quality to try and stop yourself being late.

PW: Definitely. Now, what we’ve been talking about there is how to handle things if you think you’ve made a mistake. But sometimes, you may get criticism from your client and fundamentally disagree with it. And this can be tricky to handle.

LH: This is the bit I like: like, enough of us being wrong! Let’s talk about how we’re right and how the clients are wrong – they can be horrible, dreadful people! Haha!

PW: Hahaha! And the vast majority of the time, we’re right! Now, if you have agreed in advance to a certain number of revisions then you are most likely contractually obliged to carry them out. Even if the legality of that isn’t clear, you have made an agreement and it is nearly always good practice to stick to this. Almost always, I’d say.

LH: Yes. I think, with many writing agreements, not many people will chase you, even if you are bound by contract. It’s not worse someone’s money to chase you. But, if you have an agreement in place, you should think extremely hard because I can’t see your reputation recovering if you break it.

PW: Yes, neither of us is a lawyer, but in terms of ethics and your reputation, it sounds awful if you break your agreements.

LH: Which is one more reason that it’s good to spend a good few hours preparing a template writing agreement to send to your clients. Get to know your agreement and what it binds you to, and it’ll pay dividends in future. If you’ve got an awkward client who finds a loop-hole that, say, allows them to request unlimited revisions for free, you’re going to be sorry you didn’t spend a bit more time! Projects can be huge – one round of revisions can be editing a book all over again. Or rewriting a report. If you’ve made a tone, branding or style mistake, that’s not easily undone.

PW: Now, in previous episodes, we’ve talked before about having to write things that a client firmly wants but that you think is a bad idea. Often, I think we would both recommend making suggestions to your client and discussing it with them if you think that is appropriate, but that ultimately if they are paying you, you may have to do what they want you to do.

One tricky exception to this, that you’d have to discuss on a case-by-case basis, might be work that will be going out under your name. If a client or editor wants you to make changes you feel very strongly against, or that you know are unwise, and it will be under your authorship, then you may well want to fight harder to make it right.

LH: Yeah, I’ve had similar situations with literary editing stuff. I’ve had clients who simply will not let me edit their baby, despite hiring me. It tends to be indie authors, I find, because there’s still that tussle, and if you go back to someone and say “All these things don’t work”, a lot of fiction is very subjective, authors can turn round and say, “I don’t agree. I wrote it like that. It’s artistic.”

PW: I don’t do literary editing like Lorrie does but I do proof-read some fiction work and I get the impression that some authors send things to editors as an ego-stroking exercise rather than a skilled look at your book. And because they’ve put so much work into it, they expect to get it back and hear that “It’s perfect”.

LH: You have to want to know what’s wrong with your book.

PW: And that can be hard to take, but if you’re going to send it to an editor – which you absolutely should – you have to expect them to do their job.

LH: And I think, if you’re an author, you have to make sure you understand your building materials – you need to be able to understand grammar, punctuation, narrative theory, structure, formatting – all the things that help you build a novel so when your editor comes back and says, “There’s a problem with X”, you understand what you’re being told and you’re in a position to debate it. If you don’t understand what an editor’s telling you, and you’re arguing with them anyway, you’re wasting your money and their expertise.

PW: The reason I don’t do literary editing is because I don’t have that basis in fiction writing and Lorrie does. So, if I had a query about something related to that, I’d ask Lorrie and respect her opinion because she’s far more expert than me on that. We have different expertise, and that’s handy because we check things out with each other a lot.

LH: Yes, like tech writing.

PW: Yes, which is what I do. I know how to do that. And if you’re asking for someone’s help with something – and that includes hiring an editor – it’s pointless from a financial view, it’s pointless if you’re not going to improve your skills, and it’s pointless for someone like Lorrie because you’re wasting their skills.

LH: Yeah, and going back to what we were saying about what to do if you think the client is wrong, a lot of people will try and pay you less with the promise that your name will go on the book.

PW: And if your name’s going on the book as the editor, you don’t want Amazon reviews to say, “Horrible editing!” just because the client didn’t implement your recommendations.

LH: I’ve had it before. I don’t want to be paid less – ever – but if the author wants to name me as editor, thank you very much. Literary editing is hard to get into, but if something is just terrible because the client has been stubborn, I have to say “I’m sorry, I think we’ve come to the end of this project, I’ve done the amends you requested and it’s not going to be possible for me to put my name to this.”

PW: Yeah, similarly – I write opinion pieces for various places. And so if I send something to a web editor and they edit it in a way that misrepresents my opinion, I’d feel very wary of that going up under my name. Whereas if I wrote something for a client under their name, and they wanted something I didn’t recommend, that would be for them to worry about, not me. If it’s going on The Guardian as by Philippa Willitts, then I want it to be what Philippa Willitts thinks, really. There’s no easy answer we can give you for “This is how you deal with that situation” but a big part of it is good communication, and not just emailing them and going, “Nooooooo!”

LH: Hahaha!

PW: It can be your initial reaction but get beyond that stage before you even reply and make sure you have a reasonable response. Don’t be insulting. Express anger in an appropriate way.

LH: When do you think you’d express anger?

PW: I know of some writers who’ve written opinion pieces and been misrepresented by a title put in place by the sub-editor.

LH: It’s link-baiting, isn’t it, putting a deliberately controversial title in place to get people to click.

PW: Yes, and with the nature of the Internet, people will just read the title and then get in touch with the writer and say, “I can’t believe you wrote that!” And in those circumstances, you have to contact the editor really quite firmly and express anger, saying, “I’m really not happy that this has gone up under that title – it misrepresents me and I’m really not happy.” When something’s happening in the now, that may be a time to express appropriate anger.

LH: I can’t think of many times in my sector when I’d need to express anger – I think opinion and media writing is quite unique in that sense. I think, one time I did have to express anger was when I was working in-house somewhere. I’d made amends to something as requested by someone high up on the board – they had no knowledge of writing and the amends were arbitrary. It almost seemed like a domination exercise – “Swap the order of these bullet points” . So I did it, and they asked me to do it again. And they got back to me again with more and more amends. We got to Round 17 of amends by emails and this person went and sent me something they’d clearly just Googled for, which was a “Guide to Technical Copywriting”.

PW: Ohhhhh dear!

LH: And at that point, I think it’s fair to say I expressed a certain level of anger!

PW: I think that sounds entirely reasonable. I can imagine your exact words to be honest.

LH: I didn’t get an apology from that person but they certainly did get a telling-off from higher-up. I was angry and extremely firm but I wasn’t rude.

PW: Yes, you lose the moral high ground if you’re rude and you end up in situation where you possibly merit criticism. That’s the last thing you want.

LH: I did a solo episode recently on professional courtesy and we were both talking recently, weren’t we, about clients who’d been rude and unreasonable to us. And we both said – as I did in that episode – if you’re rude to a client, you lose all right to complain, and you can end up reproaching yourself more than anything.

Having an argument with a client – or even just a heated discussion – can be extremely stressful. And if you look back on something like that and realise that you’ve worsened the situation by being rude, you won’t get any sleep at all.

Angry Talk (Comic Style)

Angry Talk (Comic Style) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

PW: If in doubt, write an email and save it as a draft. Come back to it the next day and make sure you come across as firm and reasonable rather than rude and arrogant. Or send it to a friend who’s in a similar job. The number of times Lorrie and I check with each other…it helps a lot. We’re very honest with each other.

LH: And it can be helpful, when you’re starting out it can be easy to take mistakes on yourself. Some clients will point out every little thing.

PW: Especially if they think you’re new.

LH: Yes, it can be just them drawing lines because getting a copywriter in means having to lose control. So don’t assume you’re wrong because you’re getting lots of points back from the client.

PW: Yes – and don’t think you’re wrong because you’re new. If you’re challenged on something, read up on it. I can’t think of a situation where research wouldn’t help.

LH: One good point to make is that, if it turns out you’re right and the client’s wrong, try not to be smug.

PW: There’s nothing worse!

LH: Although you want to protect your reputation and make it clear you weren’t wrong, don’t pursue it like a dog with a bone.

PW: The words “I told you so!” should never be uttered.

LH: And likewise, if a client says, “Let’s drop it and move on.”, don’t push that whole “Yes, but I was right!” angle. Just reassure them that you do know what you’re doing, you do your research and training and you’re committed to doing a good job for them.

PW: Yes, some clients find it hard to apologise – that could be the best you’ll get.

LH: Yes, don’t expect a cookie for being right. It’d be nice, but you won’t get one.

PW: We’re supposed to be right!

LH: Going back to the point earlier about not assuming you’re wrong, I think it’s important to recognise that you shouldn’t be treated badly by clients. It can be tempting to put up with it, or just leave it, but when you put your foot down in a respectful way, it will usually go in your favour in the long-term.

PW: Yes, I’ve got much better terms from some clients by being very firm. And you need to remember that there are bullies in every aspect of life – that’s not something you should put up with just because someone’s a client, or because they pay you well. Even if you make a mistake, this isn’t something to take – you need to step away or challenge it. It’s not easy – it can be very hard.

LH: No, it can be really hard. I had a client who was really offensive to me for asking them not to pay me late. They sent me an extremely rude email and I ignored it. If that had been a long-term or regular client, I might have phoned them up and told them, “I wasn’t happy with your email because a, b and c, and I want to know how we can move on from that.”

PW: If you’re in a situation where you’re being bullied but it’s a company you’d like to continue working for, you can request to be assigned a different point of contact within the company. Now that is difficult and could well break the relationship down, but it’s one way forward. If you already have a slight relationship with someone higher up, you can contact them and say, “I’m really upset with how Steve is dealing with me. I would like to continue working with you but I don’t want to deal with him anymore.” So that manager may speak to Steve or allocate you someone else.

LH: Off the top of my head, I’ve had two situations where I’ve had to do that. One client, there are around 600 people in the company. The manager in one department was extremely rude about both me and my work. These weren’t mistakes on my part – they were communication failures on their part and I had evidence of that in a mail trail. So I phoned that person up and said that I was disappointed: 1) because we’d had a good working relationship before, 2) because that person is capable of respectful communication and 3) because they’d chosen not to raise issues with me before popping criticism in a mail trail with lots of people CCed in. Now, I got an apology over the phone but I’ve never dealt with that person again. And I think that’s kind of been mutually agreed because there were a lot of witnesses to it – those who read back through the mail trail realised I was right. I do know the department, though, and I know I’ve been given with other people in that department to deal with.

PW: You wanted to maintain the relationship with the company, and you wanted to continue the work, and you came to a way forward. If you have a one-off client who’s very rude, it’s easy – you deal with it, do the work and never work with them again. With a repeat client, you have more invested in making it work. If difficulties arise with a long-term client, it’s more worth fixing it.

LH: Absolutely. And one final point is that it’s very important to keep your courtesy levels high over your whole working relationship with the client – it’s why professionalism is so important. The first client I was talking about is a major part of my week, that’s a major client that I’ve had for a long time. If they didn’t know me to be a polite, friendly, reasonable person, they could have said, “Well hang on, “Bob” is nice, he’s our colleague, he’s our friend – you’re just a freelancer, get lost.” So the fact that I have that professional reputation with them, and also, that that mail trail was there, both of those things went in my favour.

PW: And it works the other way round. If a client hires you for a one-off project with a mistake, they won’t hire you again. If you send a mistake to a long-term client, they won’t be happy but they’re more likely to be given the benefit of the doubt. You’ll be more flexible with long-term clients and they’ll be more flexible with you.

LH: Absolutely. I hired someone recently and they absolutely mucked everything up in the first work, from the work to the way they dealt with me to the customer service – there’s no chance I’d hire them again.

PW: Whereas if they’d worked with you for six months, you might have said, “OK, you had a really rough week, can we sort it for next week?”

One thing I hear a lot from clients is that they’ll hire a writer and, over time, they’ll get less and less impressive because they’ve got complacent. And they put less effort and time in. Now, I think most freelancers would probably admit to quadruple checking a piece of work for a new client where they’d triple check for a regular client. But anything more complacent than that and you’re on dangerous ground.

But if you’re in a situation where a client insists you’re wrong, doesn’t care about you being right, or if you actually were wrong, that can have an impact on you. It can dent your confidence. If you take pride in your work and you realise you sent something off with a big mistake, or if someone’s treating you like you’re useless, it can dent your confidence.

The first thing to do is evaluate it honestly. It might be that you did a bad piece of work, but that doesn’t make you a bad writer. If you do lots and lots and lots of bad pieces of work, however, you may have to genuinely reassess your priorities and skills!

LH: Yes, I’ll be honest – and I always feel like I’m being the bad cop on this podcast – I think there are a lot of writers out there who shouldn’t be and indeed are not writers.

PW: My recommendation this week relates to that very thing, actually, so stay tuned.
LH: I look forward to hearing it. It’s my pet peeve at the moment. Saying you’re a writer doesn’t make you a writer. I also don’t believe something that’s trotted out frequently which is “Everyone’s a writer.”

PW: “Everyone has a novel inside them.” I’m a professional writer and I don’t have a novel inside me.

LH: Are you sure?

PW: Positive?

LH: Have you checked?

PW: Yup.

LH: Have you looked in your socks? Still no novel?

PW: Still no novel.

LH: No, not everyone is a writer in the same way that not everyone is an astrophysicist.

PW: I’m not one of those either.

LH: Are you sure?

PW: Hahaha, yes!

LH: I think, if you are a writer – if writing is your job – and you have been getting some negative feedback (or even if you haven’t!) it’s important to make sure the things surrounding your writing work are sorted out. Are you planning your time well enough? Is your office a mess? Are there papers everywhere? Are you an excellent writer and a really bad proof-reader? There are all sorts of things to take into account. The biggest one for me is the issue of training. Some writers think that because they can put fingers to a keyboard, they’re a writer. But I’ve contacted so many writers and when you ask them, “OK, can you write a press release?” and they say, “Um, no…”

PW: Mmmmm.

LH: And they can be quite polite and eloquent about that, “No, I’m afraid I don’t have any experience of that.” But press releases are basics!

PW: They’re bread and butter.

LH: They are. And as we’ve said and said and said, training is super important and it’s your responsibility.

PW: Anyone with internet access has no excuse.

LH: And if you don’t have net access, stop it! What are you doing? But yes, if you don’t know how to do the basic writing tasks, such as writing press releases, creating hyperlinks in documents, basic SEO, you should get some training immediately or someone will find you out for being a fraud. If you claim to be a writer and you don’t know the basics, you’re being cheeky to your clients.

At the moment, I’m taking an Open University course about fiction so I can understand where my fiction clients are coming from. Pip, at the moment, is doing ethical journalism training.

PW: Yup, from UCLA online.

LH: And this isn’t something that will directly benefit your clients.

PW: No, it will make me a better writer, improve my knowledge and training but these aren’t directly leading to a job.

LH: Both of these courses are something that Pip and I have chosen to take on because we understand that people are paying us to keep our work standards consistently high.

PW: Yep. If you are confident in your abilities, however, and you’re undergoing training, and you’re on top of your work commitments, and you believe that your client is being picky or over-critical or has unreasonable expectations, then this is the time to start reminding yourself that, actually, the vast majority of your clients are happy with your work.

Do clients come back for more? Then you’re probably doing alright. Do clients praise your work? Then you’re probably doing alright. Do blog posts you write get lots of retweets? Then you’re probably doing alright. I should also say, however, that if you don’t get lots of retweets or positive feedback that doesn’t automatically mean you’re doing it all wrong! There are many forces at work! There are personalities, there’s the weirdness of what twitter likes and doesn’t.

Don’t let criticism, valid or not, affect your confidence. As long as you can look at things objectively and say, “Yes, I am good at this.” and really believe it – as long as you’re not blagging clients, and you’re not giving in substandard work, sometimes you need to step back, say, “OK, I’m getting criticised by this one person; it feels hurtful and unfair but it’s one person. I have other supportive clients who are happy with my work, and what they’re saying isn’t a reflection on me, it’s more of a reflection on them.”

LH: To finish off, I won’t be bad cop. I’ll be nice cop. Criticism can be helpful. It feels hurtful and horrible but there are benefits to it.

PW: Yes, we can all learn.

LH: Yes, just because I’m sitting here saying, “I’m doing an OU course on fiction and Pip is doing a course on ethical journalism” doesn’t mean that a little guy from one of my SMEs can’t teach me a thing or two.

PW: Absolutely. If they’re living and breathing that company and have done for 10 years, there are a lot of things they can teach you.

LH: Yes, it doesn’t matter how clever you are, if your client comes back to you with any kind of mistake, take it on board. You’ll improve, and the more you improve, the better your work will be. And the better your work is, the more you can charge!

PW: Hahaha!

LH: And that’s the moral of the story! No, joking aside, the better your work is, the better everyone comes out of the deal. Everyone’s happier. Fewer mistakes, less criticism. Life is just a bit nicer.

PW: I think so too. And now it’s time for the Little Bird Recommendations of the Week, in which Lorrie and I share something we’ve enjoyed over the last week, and think you might enjoy too. So, Lorrie, what’s your recommendation?

LH: My recommendation is a bit of a frivolous one: I’ve gone for something that’s not really useful unless for an obscure pub quiz, but I found it interesting and think people who like language, or languages as a whole. My recommendation is for a post from AtlasObscura.com, which is kind of like an encyclopaedia / freelance map, which highlights interesting places in the world.

This particular post is about the El Silbo whistle language, which helps the residents of one of the Canary Islands, La Gomera, to communicate over long distances. Now, anyone who doesn’t know the Canary Islands, they’re a Spanish group of islands off the coast of Africa and they’re volcanic, so lots of valleys and ravines. So the people of La Gomera decided that they needed to communicate and developed a ‘language’ of whistles, containing over 4,000 whistle ‘words’. It’s amazing.

One of the nice things about El Silbo is that it’s a tonal language – it’s lovely. It was on the verge of extinction at the start of the tech era, but there’s been a concerted effort to revive the language by – and this is my favourite bit – by adding it to the national school curriculum!

PW: Ahhh, that’s fantastic!

LH: And today 3,000 school children are in the process of learning it. And in 2009, UNESCO gave it protected cultural statement.

PW: That’s fascinating, and the fact that the language was borne of a need based on geography is really interesting.

LH: I remember when I was doing A Level English, we were talking about pidgin and creole languages – and I’m not sure if you know the difference, but a pidgin is a language that’s cobbled together so a particular example would be when people were stolen from their native lands to be slaves. They were taken to islands and forced together, so to find a way to communicate, they would take a word from here, and a word from there, and they would cobble together a language.

Now, when these people had children, what’s interesting about children is that they have something called a Language Acquisition Device and they automatically impose a grammar on any language. And this is the difference between a pidgin and a creole. A creole is a pidgin on which a grammar has been imposed.

PW: That’s amazing. It’s really interesting looking at child language development. There can be times when it looks like they’re taking a step back but it’s because they’ve started implementing grammar rules. They might have said, “I went” for ages but started saying, “I goed.” Even though they’re wrong, it’s a sign that they’re understanding grammar rules.

LH: Child language acquisition is fascinating. It’s interesting, too, that language has to be triggered. Back in the day, King James of Scotland took a pair of twin boys and locked them away with only deaf-mute servants. His theory was that they’d grow up speaking a Biblical language, but they didn’t speak at all.
PW: Presumably, they would have picked up some sign language.

LH: Yes, language acquisition can be triggered in deaf and hearing children using visual stimuli. I just think it’s so fascinating, and this thing about El Silbo is so lovely.

PW: When I was a child, I used to whistle all the time and I was told off because “It makes Mary, mother of God, blush.” And I used to try not to whistle, but no luck!

LH: Oh, I’ve never heard that! So yes, there’s my recommendation – a strange but charming one.

PW: Definitely! Now, my recommendation is a blog post and I mentioned it earlier, when Lorrie mentioned writers who can’t really be described as writers. Now, the post has a provocative title, but bear with it and it’s quite interesting. It’s called “The State Of Freelance Writing And Why It’ll Be Dead In One Year.”

LH: Ooh, link-bait title!

PW: Yes, and I clicked! Now, what it’s about is good quality content and the proliferation of bad quality content. And it starts by talking about the Google Panda algorithm, which de-ranks websites that are full of badly written content. And there was a big phenomenon a couple of years ago, where writers wrote lots of content, and people clicked on the ads, the writers were paid a proportion of that. Lots of writers did it, very few made good money. Panda pretty much killed the content mills.

The article goes on to talk about freelancing websites. Now, if you’re not familiar, freelancing websites are full of people who want writers to do 500 words for $2, and depressingly, writers who will write 500 words for $2. And the quality is generally very, very low.

And there’s a nice if somewhat snarky quote in the middle of the post, which says, “Unfortunately, there’s an excessive number of kids with laptops, a passing grade in English and a warped idea of what a writer is. Read what they write and you may arrive at the same conclusion.”

And so, the author is talking about people who take pride in calling themselves a writer but who write very poorly. He talks about the effect on other freelancers. He says, “Because the work is done and paid for online, the market can be influenced by anyone who’s willing to do for 50 cents what a real writer would charge $75 for. For instance, the Philippines has hundreds and thousands of writers working for next to nothing to support themselves and their families.”

Now he talks about the market being in a state of flux, and says there are unscrupulous people and people who really take pride in quality – and everyone in between. So with this context in mind, the writer believes that more and more of the poor quality content writers will find themselves penalised and there will be a growing disincentive to pay pennies for poor quality work and actually an increased incentive to pay for what he’s dubbed “content journalists”, who is someone who’ll have a degree in journalism or writing. They’ll be well-paid and smart enough to “unite in a field-protecting group”!

LH: Haha, sounds nice!

PW: His justification for the title that “freelance writing will be dead in a year” is that it will be replaced by content journalism. Which is basically a nice name for people providing good quality writing for a decent price.

LH: I’d be interested to know how many people are dubbing themselves ‘content journalists’ at this point.

PW: It’d be interesting, also, to see if it takes off. Will we start using that title? It’ll depend on whether it grows in popularity. If I used it at the moment, people wouldn’t know what it meant.

LH: I think, funnily, content journalism as a term is a bit tautological. A content journalist – a journalist is someone who writes content. It can be tempting to want to ring-fence yourself off from people who are making life harder for people in your profession. I recruit a lot and I have people contacting me saying that they’ll do work I’m offering £40 for for £3.50. No word of a lie. It’s terrifying and I don’t hire these people, but I think most people would. I’ve been on business fora and seen people leaping at the chance to get free content in return for a link. It’s pathetic.

PW: I get daily emails from people to my professional website from people offering me free articles in return for a link. From their point of view, it’s not worth it.

LH: It shows a real lack of understanding of how Google works.

PW: If they’re good at what they do, they’re also showing a lack of understanding of their own ability and if they’re bad at what they do, they shouldn’t be offering it in the first place.

LH: So yes, I can understand where this writer is coming from and the part of me that bridles when I see other people calling themselves writers when I work so hard to cement my position as a freelance writer would welcome the opportunity to separate myself from those people, but I just don’t think it’d work. You can’t control what anyone calls themselves.

PW: And if we start using the term ‘content journalist’ then all the rubbish so-called ‘freelance writers’ will just do the same thing. And then you’re back in the same position you started in.

LH: It’s not a solution really. I wish that writers would be more ethical, and that clients would be more discerning and research what they can get for their money.

PW: If nothing else – I’m sure you experience this too – the number of clients who come to me having already spent three or four lots of $5 to get something written and eventually give in and come to someone like us…they all say, I wish I hadn’t bothered going to those cheap people. And although it’s not a lot of money, it’s some money, and it’s a waste of time.

LH: Sometimes, if I’m in a good mood, I can sympathise and say, “OK this person is naïve”. But it’s naïve at best – often people are just clinging to their money so tightly because of a belief that they should get something for nothing or next to nothing. And that’s what you get.

PW: And seeing some of what these people write, we’re not even talking about something being a bit stilted – a lot of it is literal nonsense. And something I still see website owners do, which they really shouldn’t, is hire someone good for their money site – their main website – and someone poor to write stuff linking back to it. Even some who are aware that quality content matters are still only focused on their main site. And that is what Google Penguin is targeting – poor quality backlinks to your site. You’re asking for trouble if that’s your approach.

LH: Aside from Penguin, if you’re sending out poor quality content with links to your site. And if those articles shoot up Google, as these people think they will, they’ll be sitting there waiting for people searching for your business to find them.

PW: Yes, the first rule of SEO writing is to write for humans not search engines. Humans are the most important consumers of what you write.

LH: No, I think this is a good article and it needed saying, even if I don’t agree with the solution.

PW: Yes, I think I agree with you. But yes, a re-brand in a “brotherhood” (ugh!) of writers is naïve. And should the term ‘content journalist’ take off, it’ll be adopted by anyone and everyone. However, the article’s good and it’s appropriately angry as well!

LH: I wish he’d summarised by saying we need to stick together a bit more. He does say it, but I wish it was his main focus. Freelance writing has been damaged because of people charging ridiculously low amounts. The thing we need to do impress on clients and distinguish for ourselves what quality we’re offering and how that benefits people. It’s another good reason to really understand what you’re talking about so you can tell clients and prospects what’s what when it comes to quality content.

PW: Very good point. The onus is on people who hire writers. We can do what we like, but the people who do the hiring need the most profound shift.

LH: Yes, because if we band together, that won’t stop people offering cheap deals. Really interesting article though. And that just about wraps up episode 46 of A Little Bird Told Me! We’re getting closer and closer to 50!

PW: We’re really proud – it’s going to be a real milestone.

LH: I almost can’t believe it but we were very determined to start something beneficial, not just for us because of all the research we do, but to our listeners. We really hope you all enjoy each and every episode.

PW: Definitely. So, thank you for listening. Do head over to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com for all the links, transcripts and contact details. You’ll also find links to subscribe to the podcast so you won’t miss another episode.

LH: They’re out every Tuesday morning, so head over to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com. I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn

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

Podcast Episode 45: the Gmail hacks you really should have installed by now

Many freelancers use Gmail, whether using a custom email addressed based on their URL through forwarding or Google Apps, or directly with a @gmail.com or @googlemail.com email address. One of the reasons for its popularity is how many tools and hacks there are available to streamline your workflow, increase your productivity and manage the ever-increasing numbers of incoming messages. In this episode, Lorrie has found some great Gmail hacks and goes through her favourite examples. I can personally account for most of them, as I would be far less efficient without them!

Show Notes

 

Text Fixer: http://www.textfixer.com/

 

Rapportive: http://www.rapportive.com

 

Boomerang: http://www.boomeranggmail.com/

 

Gmelius: http://gmelius.com/

 

Boomerang for Android:

 

http://androidcommunity.com/boomerang-for-gmail-launches-for-android-20130626/

 

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Transcript

 

LH: Hello and welcome to Episode 45 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.

 

On the Podomatic page itself you’ll also find the links to our Facebook page where you can come and have a 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, so come and have a nosy!
I’m Lorrie Hartshorn and this week, I’m here without my usual co-host – the lovely Philippa. She’ll be back next week as usual, though, when we’ll be recording another dual episode, so stay tuned for now and your patience will be rewarded.

 

This episode is a tech special, during which I’ll be listing my favourite Gmail “hacks”. Some of those are tips and tricks for getting the best out of Gmail, others are clever little add-ons that you can install in your web browser to improve your email experience even more.

 

Image representing Gmail as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

Apologies to anyone not using Gmail – you’re going to want to skip this episode or, better still, get yourself a Gmail account, then come back and have a listen as I help you go from Gmail amateur to Gmail genie!

 

All of these Gmail hacks are included with the life of a freelance writer in mind. So whether it’s improving your productivity, making life easier when communicating with clients, or getting to know a bit about someone by taking a peek at their social media feeds as you email them, there’s plenty to be getting on with.

 

1) Undo send

 

Undo send is one of Pip’s personal favourite Gmail hacks. It’s a Google-built “lab”, which is the name Gmail gives to its little installable additions – and it delays the sending of an email by a few seconds (you can choose how long) so you can hit “un-send” if you’ve suddenly realised you sent a mail too soon.

 

To install undo send, go to your settings (that little cog icon at the top right of your inbox), then go down to “settings”. Once you’ve done that, go to the tab entitled “Labs”, search for “Undo send” then click to enable it. Click to save changes and you’re done.

 

Now, every time you hit send on an email, a yellow bar will pop up and give you the chance to click undo. So next time you forget to add something important, or accidentally hit reply all when you meant to reply to one person, or do something else that you really shouldn’t do, you’ve got a blessed moment of grace where you can hit “undo send” and go back to pretending to be a consummate professional!

 

2) Rapportive

 

Rapportive

Rapportive (Photo credit: Bill Handy)

Rapportive is another plug-in that both Pip and I love. It’s an add-on to Gmail that replaces the ad section at the right hand side of your inbox with a little info box so you can get the low-down on the person you’re emailing. The tool pulls in a selection of your correspondent’s social media information, such as their LinkedIn profile and their latest tweets, and you can even add in little notes to remind yourself of pertinent information – say, the discounted hourly rate you’re charging them or the fact that they’re really grumpy if you phone them before noon. The notes are totally private, although I still always feel a bit scared when typing them in, so write what you like!

 

An alternative to Rapportive, which is highly rated although not something I’ve used, is Gmelius, which is slightly different but with some crossovers. It allows you to block ads, customise your inbox and, like Rapportive, view a variety of social media data.

 

3) Canned responses 

 

Canned responses save you having to type something out over and over again, and they can be saved for as long as you need them. OK, so you have to type them out once but imagine the amount of time you’ll save in the long run.

 

I’ve started using these recently for sending invoices, confirming to regular clients that I’ll go ahead with blog posts, sending instructions or information to my various suppliers and writers, and letting applicants know when a position I’ve been advertising has been filled.

 

To create a canned response, go to the settings tab, then to “Labs,”. Search for “Canned Responses” and click to enable it.

 

Once you’ve done that, click Compose to start a new email. Write your beautiful canned response, then, just below the “To” line, click “Canned Responses,” and go down to “Save.” Click “New Canned Response,” and give your message a name title (Something like “invoices” rather than, say, “Bob” or “Dave”). Next time you want to use that email, just click on “Canned Responses”, choose which response you want and Gmail will insert the appropriate text at the top of your reply. Hit send, and Bob’s your auntie.

 

4) Gmail mute

 

As a freelancer, you have to be open to sometimes lengthy communications with your clients. But what happens when your client decides and confirms your part in a project but then carries on CCing you into the mail trail as it winds its way through accounts, design, commercial, human resources and beyond? It can be hard to concentrate on your work – both for that client and others – when tens of irrelevant emails are pouring into your inbox.

 

To mute a conversation, just click on the ‘More actions’ drop-down menu and select “mute”. New messages in the conversation will then bypass your inbox and get archived. They’ll reappear in your inbox if a new message in the conversation is addressed to you and no one else, or if you’re added to the “To” or “Cc” line in a new message. And, if you accidentally mute something or you want to unmute it for some other reason, just search for it in your search box. “in:muted” does the job very quickly and you will have had some much-needed peace!

 

5) Boomerang

 

As I speak, the hugely popular Gmail add-on, Boomerang, has just launched the Android version of the app, meaning there’s never been a better time to get on board with this email bouncing beauty.

 

Introduced to me by my tech-savvy co-host Pip, and mentioned by us before, Boomerang allows you to schedule emails in advance (perfect for those times when you wake up at 3am panicking about not having done something – best to schedule for 8am rather than sending straight away!), and bounce emails back into your inbox if you need to follow up. So say you’ve emailed a new contact and you want to check back with them in a week if you haven’t heard back? Boomerang can do that for you.

 

You can choose from pre-set times like “Tomorrow morning”, “Next week”, and “Next month”, or you can choose and save your own. So say you do your invoicing on a Sunday but you don’t want clients to see you as available on weekends? Schedule your invoices for the Tuesday.

 

Boomerang is a paid-for tool, but I use the free version, which lets you Boomerang a limited number of mails per month. Even in its free version, it’s such a fabulously helpful tool.

 

6. Gmail aliases – dots and plus signs!

 

Sometimes you’re required to give your email address out to places you’d rather not. Or sometimes you want to sign up to things, or subscribe to things, that – for the most part – you’re going to ignore. While Pip and I have chattered about Gmail filters briefly in some of our past episodes, Gmail aliases are a great way to enable you to easily filter content you don’t want to see hanging around your inbox.

 

Two points then. Firstly, dots in your gmail username are totally irrelevant. Say your username is firstname.lastname@gmail.com. Leave the dot out. Put a thousand more dots in. It won’t make a difference – you’ll still get the mail.

 

Secondly, adding a +something between your username and the “@gmail.com” part of your email address won’t make a difference. So firstname.lastname@gmail.com is the same as firstname.lastname+GOAWAYSPAMMER@gmail.com. It’s worth noting that some sites won’t let you use the + sign in your email address, but with dots and pluses all round, you can come up with a lot of aliases.

 

The clever bit, really, is when you combine aliases with filters. To create a filter in Gmail, click the down arrow in your search box and a window will pop up. In that window, you can choose your filter parameters, so all you need to do is pop your chosen alias in the “to” box. You can then choose the action you want to take by clicking some little check-boxes – so you can chuck emails to that address straight in the trash, you can archive them, you can pop them in their own folder, so to speak, using ‘labels’. If you do pop them in a label, make sure to select “skip inbox” as well.

 

By moving messages from your inbox into the trash or into a label where you can look at them later, you’re one step closer to an empty inbox, which means less stress for your busy mind!

 

7) Send and Archive

 

Another tool that can help you to reach that wonderful thing: inbox zero. If you reply to an email and you’re pretty sure you’re not going to want to refer to it again, use Send and Archive instead of send to flick the message out of your inbox and into an archived folder. If you need to get to the message again, simply search for it. And, if the person on the other end emails you back, it’ll drop straight back into your inbox. Easy!

 

To install, go – as ever – to “Settings,” then “General.” Scroll down to “Send and Archive,” and click the “Show” button.

 

8: The basics

 

Gmail's log-in page (September 2011)

Gmail’s log-in page (September 2011) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I want to finish off with a couple of basics that I can’t believe some freelance writers still don’t use: namely the Signature and the Autoresponder. These are so basic, they can’t even be called hacks – they’re just basic functionalities and they totally deserve to be used.

 

First off, your signature. As a freelance writer, you need be be promoting your professional self. How better than to sign off with your contact details right where they’re supposed to be – at the bottom of your email? A couple of dashes, your name, your email, phone and website, plus any social media profiles you want to include, and the job’s a good’un. Anyone you email will have an easy way to get hold of you; anyone who forwards your emails will be sharing your details (great for referrals) and you’ll get some bonus SEO points as links to your website buzz around cyberspace.

 

Secondly, Autoresponder. Not much to say about this other than, if you’re off on holiday, you’re off sick or or you’re otherwise engaged for more than half a day, let your clients know. They don’t need an autoresponse if you’ve nipped to the loo, but if you’re in meetings all day, pop a brief out of office message on and you’ve got it covered. It’s professional and it means no one’s sitting around waiting to hear from you.

 

So there we are: eight, or technically nine or ten, Gmail hacks to help you make your email inbox work for you. Life as a freelance writer can be busy enough without taking the long-way round for simple tasks like emailing, so save energy and headspace where you can. There are loads of other Gmail hacks that I haven’t mentioned here, such as Priority Inbox, and Inbox Pause, which sounds like a brilliant idea but has had some dodgy reviews (so approach with caution), so have a look online and find the ones that work for you.

 

Remember: there’s no point installing something if it’s going to take you longer to use it than it would to do whatever it is yourself, but it’s also worth stretching yourself for five or ten minutes to learn some new Gmail functionalities if it’s going to save you a lot of time in the long-run. If there are some brilliant Gmail hacks you rely on but that haven’t been mentioned here, let me know – my website and social media links are all on the podcast page, at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, so come and have a chinwag.

 

It’s now time for the A Little Bird Told Me Recommendation of the Week, where we recommend something that’s caught our beady eyes over the course of the last seven days. This week, I’m recommending a website called Text Fixer. It’s staying on topic with the hacks, in a way, because it’s a lovely little resource full of tools that will help you wangle text in whatever way you need to. There are also plenty of miscellaneous tools that are basically time-saving cheats.

 

There’s a word counter on there that will let you know how often a key word or phrase pops up in your content; a plain text to HTML converter so you can transform a word processor document into content that’s ready for the web; a text alphabetiser, a white space deleter, a duplicate line eraser… You name it, it’s on there.

 

Now, I saw someone commenting that the text tools on the site were a bit of a disgrace because “can’t people proof-read their own work any more?” and I take the point on board – when it comes to searching for duplicate sentences, for example, you really should be proof-reading work thoroughly enough for that not to be an issue. But, I don’t see that the site is really hurting anyone. People who want to cheat at work will always do that. The writing industry is full of cheats, from people who use Google translator and article spinners to create “original” content, to the less sophisticated souls who just steal content and pass it off as their own. I think there’s enough legitimately useful tools on this site to make it a worthwhile bookmark – and indeed recommendation. I particularly like the recently added HTML generators where you can create anything from a pop-up box to a contact form – for HTML amateurs like me, it’s handy to have all that in one place, and for free, no less.

 

So there we have it. My recommendation this week, Textfixer.com. Which brings us neatly to the end of this week’s episode, number 45. I really hope you’ve found the information useful – remember to let us know what you think at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com. Both Pip and I are always happy to chat, within reason, not 3am or anything, so come and say hello.

 

We’ll be back together next week, reunited in true love, so stay tuned for that emotional moment in the coming episode and, even better, why not subscribe – iTunes, Stitcher, Podomatic, take your pick. Until then, thanks for listening!

 

I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn, and Pip and I will catch you next time.