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Podcast Episode 60: Dealing with Sexual Harassment and Sexism from Freelance Clients

Many freelancers, especially those who are women or belong to minority groups, will have had an experience of being patronised, not taken seriously, or harassed. Unfortunately, these kinds of oppressive behaviours can really have a negative effect on a person’s health and wellbeing, as well as their business. In my own experience, and that of Lorrie’s, this can be a particular risk in sectors which have traditionally been male-dominated, but it can happen anywhere, so in this podcast we talk about how freelancers can recognise when they are being treated inappropriately, and what they can do when it happens.

Show Notes

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Transcript

PW: Hello and welcome to a Little Bird Told Me, the podcast where two freelance writers tell you all the tricks of the trade. We talk about the highs, the lows, and the no-nos of successful self-employment, saving you from mighty embarrassment and mortifying mistakes, and guiding you to the very top of your chosen profession.

PW: Freelancing is amazing, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Tune in to the podcast every week, and if you go to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com you can subscribe to ensure you never miss an episode. Whether iTunes, an RSS podcatcher or Stitcher Smart Radio are your platform of choice, we’ve made it really easy to sign up and be the first to hear our latest words of wisdom. There, you will also find any links we mention, our own websites and social media feeds, and the A Little Bird Told Me Facebook Page, too. I am Philippa Willitts…

LH:…and I’m Lorrie Hartshorn and today, we’re going to be talking about how to deal with clients who are chauvinist and/or patronising to you so horrible clients who talk down to you and may be trying to degrade you.

Freelance writing can be hard enough without clients trying to undermine you with negative behaviour patterns. Sadly, you can’t control how other people treat you – at least, not directly. What you can do, though, is learn certain ways of responding to behaviour like this that will help to nip the issue in the bud. It’s also worth assessing your own overall demeanour to see if there’s anything you can do to try and prevent clients trying this kind of stuff on with you in the first place.

PW: There are things you simply don’t have to put up with, but we can often blame ourselves or just think that it’s part and parcel of the job. You don’t, and it isn’t!

LH: No, and to be clear: it’s never your fault if someone else chooses to act unprofessionally. You’re not responsible for their behaviour, and you’re not responsible for changing someone else’s behaviour. But, to get along in business, and for the sake of your own health and wellbeing, it’s good to have some strategies that may at least help to minimise the effect of patronising people’s actions on your sense of self. Now as Pip says, it can be part and parcel of the job – dealing with horrible people. Our hope is not just to give you some tips and tricks for dealing with people like this, but also to let you know that you’re not on your own.

Now, typically patronising or condescending people tend to latch on to people who they perceive as easy to victimise. This may be because of something they see (or think they see) in their target’s personality, or it may be chauvinist behaviour based on cultural or societal assumptions they have – for example, seeing women as less capable.

What we’re going to do in this episode is look at a few ways that condescending people operate, and explore some of the ways you can learn to cope a little better.

So, before we really get started, I want to interject with a little word of warning, and that’s that it’s important to remember that the client may not realise they’re being patronising, condescending or offensive to you.

PW: Yes, some people genuinely feel like they’re being helpful but it can come over as some weird paternalistic behaviour and the underlying sense is that they don’t take you seriously. However that’s not their intention – they just think they’re being super nice.

LH: While that doesn’t make it OK, it does mean that it’s worth taking a gentle stand before you go in with all guns blazing.

PW: Yes, the guns are a last resort! Hahaha! My words of wisdom for the world!

LH: Try words before guns. I think we could just end this podcast there. Now, it can be difficult to want to give clients the benefit of the doubt sometimes – particularly as freelance troubles tend weirdly to come along in clumps.

English: "Henpeck'd Club's peace box No.6...

English: “Henpeck’d Club’s peace box No.6”: a 19th century wife-soothing cradle – errant husbands for the use of – from a Bradford public house men’s club: in Keighley Stories gallery, Cliffe Castle Museum, Keighley, West Yorkshire, England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You might be reaching the end of your tether with a few people at the same time – but you have to treat everyone fairly if only for the sake of your business, and make sure you’re not taking out your frustrations with something or someone else out on the person in question. Sometimes, I’ll have had a bad week or month and will find myself being like, “That’s it. Had enough. Zero tolerance. NO MORE!” but then I have to be careful that the next client who comes along and maybe puts their foot in it a little bit – say with an unfortunate remark – doesn’t get shot on sight!

PW: Yes, this happens in life as well you might have been in a busy city centre on a Saturday afternoon and your patience is wearing thin, and then one person bumps into you and they get it all, and it’s not about them, it’s about the build-up.

LH: So yes, when a client is patronising or condescending towards you, it can be really tempting to just get in there and stick up for yourself – particularly if you feel like you’ve been treated , or feel like allowed yourself to be treated, poorly in the past.

But, as I say, the client might not realise. They might think (and I think this applies in a sadly large number of cases) that they’re being funny and controversial and edgy, or they might just be having a bad day or week, and be responding to that by talking down to you in a bid to buoy themselves up. It’s not OK, but it’s not necessarily malicious or personal to you.

So, rather than retaliating with rude remarks, it’s important to take the opportunity to approach these things carefully and, if appropriate, implement some changes.

PW: So, some examples of the kinds of situations in which this kind of behaviour can occur: from personal experience, the worst experiences I’ve had of being patronised have been at in-person networking events. They can feel very much like an ‘old boys’ network’ – they can be quite dominated by older men who all know one another and pat each other on the back on a job well done. I attend quite a few, but when I turn up as a new woman, I get the feeling I’m being patted on the head like, “Well done, you.”

Another situation in which I’ve encountered this – and I suspect Lorrie has as well, because, for a certain amount of our work, we do work in areas that could be classed as typically male-dominated areas – is in early contact with clients. It can be hard for the people to whom I speak to take seriously that my gentle female brain could possibly understand all that scary tech stuff.

LH: Yeah, with a lot of the clients that I work with, the only women in the company are support, reception or canteen staff, so I’ll often find that men in these companies have a slight expectation that I’ll support them in their work. I’ve had people ask me to print things out for them, and to make them a coffee.

PW: I’ve been asked to Google things for men.

LH: I’ve been asked whether I’ll stay on the phone with them and direct them as they drive, which is obviously part of my content marketing work. It’s always menial, administrative work, and it’s always friendly-friendly until you say “No.”

PW: Yeah

LH: There’s very much this attitude that you’re too big for your boots if you don’t want to do their secretarial work. Or that you don’t know your place.

PW: Yes, behaviour that would be seen as assertive in men – accepted and seen as positives. When a woman does them, it can be seen as uppity.

LH: I’ll give an example later about just how negatively it can be taken when you do assert yourself. And we’re going to give those examples just so you can see how if you get in this situation and you’re being treated like a pariah, you may not actually have done something wrong, you may just have asserted yourself in a situation where people aren’t comfortable with that.

PW: Yeah, so these kinds of situations where we might find ourselves patronised or dealing with outright sexism – we’ve mentioned new clients and networking events, but they really can happen everywhere. And so what we’re going to look at now are some of the specific behaviours you might want to look out for.

LH: Absolutely. Being patronised is sometimes quite hard to spot. You might just think, “I’m not comfortable with this – why am I feeling this way?”

PW: Yes, or is this just their personality?

LH: Or is it a tone thing – did I just take this the wrong way? Am I just being over-sensitive? And the problem with that is that it’s the very basis of some people’s condescending behaviour – they’ll do things to undermine you in a way that leaves them open to saying, “No, you’re just taking it the wrong way; you’re being over-sensitive.” This is called gas-lighting, which can be quite a difficult concept to describe. The Wikipedia definition is as follows:

“Gaslighting is a form of mental abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making a victim doubt his or her own memory, perception and sanity. Instances may range simply from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, up to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim.

The term “gaslighting” comes from the play Gas Light and its film adaptations. The term is now also used in clinical and research literature.”

PW: Yeah, so something might happen that feels inappropriate to you, but if you bring it up later, you might be convinced that you’re being ridiculous, or that it didn’t happen in the way you remembered it…

LH: Or that it didn’t happen at all.

PW: Indeed. And once you know the concept, it can be easy to spot.

LH: So gaslighting is just one of the ways people can undermine you. If you feel like you’re being treated badly, it’s important that you start to try and get examples of the behaviour so you can back up your complaints. If you find concrete examples, it’s good for your own mental state – being gaslighted is something that typically happens to women because we’re taught not to be confrontational.

PW: I think that applies to everything we’ve said and are going to say in this episode, I think. We’re not saying that these things don’t happen to men – there may well be men who are listening and can relate to everything that we’re saying.

LH: That doesn’t make you less ‘manly’ either.

PW: Not at all. Now, another example of the kind of behaviour you need to look out for is your knowledge and experience not being taken seriously. If you find there are assumptions that you don’t know what you’re talking about, or if you’re getting work that you know you could be doing more detailed or better work for them, or simply that someone doesn’t believe that you’re capable of doing what you say you can. It can be very common, particularly in male-dominated sectors.

LH: Very much – and that can extend to micromanaging as well. If you find that your work is coming back with tiny amends and changes and “could you check this, and could you check this, and I’m not sure about this, and could you let me know how you’re getting on…” all the time, and you feel like someone’s piling on top of you, that can start to damage your confidence as well as your relationship with the person you’re working for.

PW: In a workplace I used to work in many years ago, the boss was a full-on tyrant. He fired a woman for bringing him the wrong kind of coffee. I was a receptionist there and he fired my predecessor for putting through a call he didn’t want to take. Thankfully I was there on a temporary contract, so I could distance myself from it, but if that’s your situation in the day-to-day…you may find you have a client who demands things be done in a certain way, using fear and aggression, and that’s another thing to look out for.

The final kind of behaviour we want to look at is out and out sexual harassment. This can also be quite hard to define, so I’ve looked up what the Equality and Human Rights Commission. So, according to EHRC, sexual harrassment is defined in two ways:

The first type is unwanted conduct on the grounds of your sex – which is basically being treated badly because you are a woman (or a man). An example of this could be if you are being bullied at work and the harasser would not treat somebody of the opposite sex in this way. This doesn’t have to take a sexual nature; it just has to be being treated badly on the basis of your gender.

The other type, probably more well-known is unwanted physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature. This is against the law in the UK at least and it can include comments about the way you look which you find demeaning, indecent remarks, questions about your sex life, sexual demands by a member of your own or the opposite sex. Also, incidents involving touching and other physical abuse are criminal offences and should also be reported to the police.

The conduct must be done with the purpose of, or have the effect of, violating your dignity, or of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for you.

And so this is all about the things that make you feel uncomfortable. It’s often not a blatant assault situation – it’s related to being gas-lighted as we mention earlier.

LH: yes, it could be a sexist joke by email…

PW: Yup, having topless posters in the office. You don’t have to think, “Well, no one’s grabbed my breasts, so it can’t be sexual harassment.”

LH: Yes, if you feel uncomfortable and you feel it may be related to your gender, it may be sexual harassment – it’s that simple.

PW: Yes, exactly. So we’ve outlined some of the situations you might find yourself in, so now we want to look at how to react to these situations.

Now, in terms of patronising clients, which I often encounter as a woman who specialises in technical and SEO and social media topics, my favourite way to react to them is simply to prove them wrong. If someone doesn’t believe that your fragile female brain could possibly handle writing that physics textbook or providing blog posts for a structural engineering website, then let your expertise shine. And the best way to do this is by showing rather than telling – write what they want, and do it exceptionally well. There’s nothing I enjoy more than starting to work with someone who’s clearly concerned that my gender will make me a bad tech writer, then witnessing them grudgingly start to accept that I know what I’m doing when I submit work on EdgeRank or Google authorship and it is clear that I fully understand my subject. Those people often end up being my biggest cheerleaders, funnily enough.

LH: It’s sad though, isn’t it – good and bad in the same breath because when they start being your cheerleader, it’s usually because they think, “Oooh, women are normally terrible at tech writing, but this one’s alright!”

PW: Hahaha!

LH: It’s enjoyable but you shouldn’t have to do it, should you? So in terms of coping, we want to highlight some direct coping methods – ways to deal with the situations themselves – and indirect coping methods – things you can do behind the scenes to strengthen yourself if you’re dealing with something like this.

Sexism abounds

Sexism abounds (Photo credit: ianqui)

Now, first off with the direct coping methods – you can let the snark slide and get what you can from the communication. And what I mean by that is while patronising, passive aggressive or sarky comments can make you justifiably cross, if you want to continue a working relationship with that client, it’s good to try and get what you can from the comments they’re making and ignore the crap basically. Now, I’m not a big fan of letting people off with bad behaviour, but if it’s a one-off, this could work. By distilling the meaning from their words, you may be able to prompt the client to communicate in a more appropriate way in future.

So, if a client says to you – and this is an example I’ve seen online – that they know never to ask you for anything on a Friday because you never get it done until the following week, you can respond by asking a simple question about meaning.

Often, patronising people will actually be embarrassed by someone acting professionally in the face of their condescending ways – it gives them nowhere to go, and gives you the comfort (it might not feel like much comfort!) of inhabiting the moral high ground.

So, if snarky client makes a passive-aggressive dig about you not completing work you receive on a Friday until the following week, you can respond with something like:

“Like with most businesses, I don’t ordinarily work weekends and I charge extra for doing so. However, if you’re saying to me that you need the work you send to me on a Friday turned around within a few hours or returned to you on the Saturday or Sunday, then I need to know.”

That puts it back on them, then.

PW: Yes, and sometimes just a little bit of snark can work wonders – say, asking them if they’re working the weekend, too. Not too much, but just enough to reframe it for them – I’ve seen writers do it as well when they’re asked to work for free. So if you just reframe it for the client by asking them if they’re working the weekend, it might well prompt them to think, “Oh, hang on – I like my weekends, there’s no reason she wouldn’t feel the same way.”

LH: Absolutely.

PW: And if someone’s really hard to work with, you can sometimes speak to their superior – obviously this isn’t possible if it’s a one-person business. If someone remains difficult to work with you can request a new contact in the same company.

In most businesses, you might want to speak to the marketing manager or the PR director, or even Human Resources, depending on who you know. Sometimes, speaking to someone’s superior can help resolve a situation.

LH: Yes, it’s important to remember that in this podcast, we’re not just talking about clients who are a pain in the bum. We’re talking specifically about people who are chauvinist, which means that they view you as inferior as you’re a member of a group they view as inherently beneath them. So, it might be because you’re a woman, or a person of colour, or because you have a disability or because you’re LGBT.

PW: Yes, all sorts of reasons. Or even a man who doesn’t fit with typical masculine behaviour can find himself victimised.

LH: Yes – I think it’s important to make it clear that this is the kind of situation we’re talking about – not just people who are annoying. And if you’re going to report someone to their superior for chauvinist behaviour, you ideally need to go through the advice we’ve given earlier – such as taking notes and keeping records of the behaviour.

PW: Now if you’re dealing with sexual harassment as we described earlier, there’s a website called The Muse and they’ve outlined some pretty sensible advice for dealing with sexual harassment as a freelancer. Now, it’s always hard; as Lorrie said earlier, these are things you need to do but that can start to impose on women and victims of this that they’re doing something wrong if it happens. So I think we both want to make clear that this is advance that, ideally, you’ll take but if you can’t manage it or if you haven’t done it in the past, it’s still not your fault – if it’s happening, it’s always the fault of the person who’s doing it.

So anyway, this is some fairly standard advice for dealing with sexual harassment as a freelancer. So, number one: avoid one-on-one situations. Get them to bring someone to a meeting, or bring someone along yourself. As far as you can, avoid being alone with them.

LH: If you can’t bring someone along, maybe have a Skype meeting. Or just go somewhere busy. And something I tend to do is have breakfast meetings rather than dinner meetings – they’re harder to misconstrue by people who want to misconstrue things, they’re unlikely to have too much wine, and you have a good excuse to leave.

PW: Yup – so number two: clearly decline all advances. Some of this advice is a bit questionable as it talks about sending mixed messages. Now, we know that people who sexually harass don’t do it because they’re getting mixed messages – they do it because they have a point to prove, or because they’re feeling undermined, or they’re just aggressive and rude and enjoy having that power over people. So while I do agree that you should clearly decline all advances, I’m sceptical of some of the reasoning on this particular site. However, it suggests things like letting your client know you are in a committed relationship. Again, you might not want to bring private life into it but if you don’t mind doing that – or even if you want to lie about it – that can help to ward off advances.

LH: Definitely. You may feel that they shouldn’t be doing this even if I have a partner and you’re right. But we’re saying that if you want to do these things, if you feel comfortable doing them and if it makes your life easier, you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. If this helps, by all means.

PW: Point number three, as Lorrie mentioned earlier: keep records. If you write down every time something happens, even small things, if something makes you uncomfortable, write down what you have experienced. If you have everything listed in a notebook then if you do need to escalate the situation, this will really make a difference to your case.

Point number four: decide whether or not to report it. If it happens once and you’ll never have to deal with the person again, you might choose not to. Or, you might feel that you won’t deal with them again but other women will, so I’m going to report it. If it’s ongoing, then I think there’s more motivation to report just to try and stop it happening. As always, it’s your choice.

Point number five: be prepared to walk away. They say, “If the behaviour doesn’t stop, be prepared to walk away. Believe me—even if this is a big client, or if you’re a struggling entrepreneur, it’s better to miss out on a business opportunity than to risk your comfort.”

LH: Thanks for missing out the word “reputation” there!

PW: Well, I know!

LH: That’s what made me go “Uuuuuugh!”

PW: Listeners: what the document actually says is “it’s better to miss out on a business opportunity than to risk your comfort.” Now, I missed out reputation because I feel that’s fully wrong.

LH: Yes, you’re not some tainted person because you’ve been sexually harassed.

PW: No, the only person whose reputation should be at risk is the person doing the harassing. So yes, I stand by their advice, but only when I’m talking about comfort.

LH: Definitely. Being harassed can be extremely stressful – it’s designed to make you feel uncomfortable; that’s the whole thing about harassment. While it’s happening and afterwards, you might be questioning yourself, worried, concerned, violated, upset, anxious and angry. And you have to decide whether, if the person won’t stop harassing you, you should walk away. And we’re not saying it’s easy – it might be a really important client to you in terms of work or finances. It’s a bitch – it’s a total kick in the teeth. It’s not fair, it’s not right, but all you can decide is who you’re prepared to deal with.

PW: Yeah, like Lorrie says, we know this isn’t idea. If someone brings in 50% of your income, it’s hard to drop them but your wellbeing is far more important and there are other clients. If you drop this client, you can look for others and maintain your comfort and welbeing.

LH: Even after years and years of freelancing, Pip and I both stil have moments where we’re basically feeling gas-lighted – I’ll email and say, “Someone sent me this email saying such-and-such…it’s made me uncomfortable, is it a bit weird?” And immediately, Pip will be able to say, “Oh my God, that’s horrible!”

PW: It can be really tricky to know if you’re being over sensitive.

LH: Yes, especially when it’s you – you’d be so much kinder to someone else than you’d be to yourself.

PW: And it’s easier to tell if it’s someone else. So, if Lorrie forwards me an email and says, “Is this ok…?”, I can see instantly whether it is or it isn’t, whereas if I receive it, I might need to get guidance from someone else.

LH: Yup – the closer you are, the harder it is to see the bigger picture.

PW: Now, another way to deal with this kind of situation is to disagree or challenge it straight on.

LH: When a client is behaving condescendingly towards you – and this applies more to patronising clients rather than sexual harassment – you can take it one step further than ignoring the tone and continuing the conversation by actively disagreeing with what the client is saying.

Speaking from my own experience, I had a client with whom I didn’t get on well at all. He would constantly refer to my work in degrading ways, saying things like, “Well, go and tweet, or whatever it is you do…”.

PW: Ooooooohhh!

LH: He was part of a company I worked for and one day, when I was producing some promotional literature for them, he got involved in the process. Everyone else had signed off the work but this particular man kept getting back in touch with me wanting to alter the order of bullet points, quibbling over synonyms for various words and then switching them back again. This went on for 16 rounds of amends – I kid you not. Now, while there’s no way I’d entertain something like that now, I was more easily intimidated some years ago, so I kept trying to get the document “right”.

Eventually, though, the client sent over a snarky email about how I didn’t know how to write, and a link to some random website about how to write copy. I’m actually quite grateful now that he did because I got straight back to him on the phone and fully disagreed with him. No shouting, no abuse, just facts: I’d been writing for years. I have a languages degree. I have A-Levels in languages. I have a lot of happy clients. He was the only person in the company who was unhappy with the writing. The only things he was unhappy with were things that he’d changed and then changed back again. By unpicking his argument bit by logical bit, I left him with nowhere to go. He was disciplined internally and I never had to deal with him again.

PW: And sometimes, that’s how it has to be. And so what we’ve looked at are ways of reacting to patronising and outright harassing clients. We’ve looked at proving them wrong, doing such a good job that they stop being sceptical. We’ve looked at being more direct, and we’ve looked at things like avoiding certain situations, making a note of behaviours, reporting or not, and walking away.

What we want to look at now are some more indirect coping methods – this is more, at the end of the day and you get in a hot bath and you feel really bothered by what’s happened…that’s this bit!

LH: That’s definitely this bit, and the first thing we want to look at is self-care, which is looking after yourself. You can’t overestimate the importance of this. When you’re a freelancer that’s particularly important because you are your business.

PW: Yes, when I had flu’ a few weeks ago, Lorrie had to tell me very firmly to stop working because, despite how ill I was, I felt this massive responsibility to my clients. And in this case it took someone else – in this case Lorrie, because we work so closely together – to tell me to stop and kind of give me permission to be ill. But in other workspaces, if I’d been that ill and gone to work, I’d have been sent home.

LH: As a freelancer, it’s really scary when you’re ill because you kind of shut your business down.

PW: So those kinds of things can be harder when you’re a freelancer.

LH: Definitely, which brings us on to the first point of self-care, really, which is getting support from other people. Whether that’s a fellow freelancer, a friend, a partner, a parent, a family member, or whether you just go on a freelancer forum and tell everyone you’ve had a really shitty day, and explain what’s happened, and get some advice. Feeling less isolated is a very good way to take the hot air out of a very unpleasant balloon – it lets you know that the person causing the problem isn’t all powerful; even if they’re one of your most important clients now, you may forget them in a few years. If you have to get rid of them, it’s OK – you’re not alone.

PW: And the real advantage of that kind of external validation is that it helps you put things in perspective. If you’ve spent eight hours having a back and forth with a patronising client, then going for a drink with some friends in the evening will just remind you that there are other things in the world.

LH: And they may laugh at your stories, and you may realise how ridiculous the person is. That can sometimes help – you can have that rant turns into a laugh moment and it can really help. As we said at the start of this podcast, you can’t control anyone else’s behaviour so while you can’t stop someone being a muppet to you, you can change the way you feel about it.

PW: Yup. And other ways to implement some self-care are kind of clichéd, but that’s probably because they’re quite effective. If you’ve got loads of demands looming, lock yourself in the bathroom and have a nice hot bath, have a glass of wine if that’s your kind of thing, have a massage, or if you’re really busy, just take a concerted break for a really nice cup of tea.

LH: Absolutely – you need to say to yourself, “I’m going to take a 15 minute break because I deserve to take a 15 minute break” It’s about the state of mind you’re in. You need to be kind to yourself when someone else is being unkind. Think to yourself: would I let someone treat my friend this way?

PW: Yes, that’s always a very telling thought exercise.

LH: Yes, we’re often kinder to other people than we are to ourselves, and we internalise the messages we receive and think that we really must be bad freelancers. Which brings me on to another point I want to make: if you have one client who treats you like dirt and others who are happy, phone them up. Don’t talk about the situation, just have a catch up and soak up the positive messages.

PW: It’s a way to remind yourself that you deserve to be treated respectfully.

LH: Absolutely – shoot the breeze with them, then talk a bit of business. Give them your energy if you can. Give them really excellent customer service – and that could not just make you feel better, it could actually make a positive change for your business. You may remind a client of your deal on press releases, or blog articles. Just having a nice chat with someone will remind you that you’re a professional, you’re a human being and you deserve to be treated with respect.

PW: Yup. Now if you find that you go through those thought exercises and realise you’re being treated badly, but you might now feel that you have any confidence to stick up for yourself.

LH: What you can do in these situations is investigate either formal or informal assertive or confidence training. There are people out there who offer this as a specific skill. And if you’re a woman freelancer, there are consultants out there who offer this specifically for women and the challenges we face – there’ll be someone out there to suit you.

Five ways to fight sexual harassment(public se...

Five ways to fight sexual harassment(public service poster on a Seoul Subway Line 2 train) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

PW: When I was at University, during World Mental Health Week, there was a series of workshops provided, and I went to a Women’s Assertiveness session. It was only like an hour – not an intensive thing. But mainly what I remember was this one exercise where we went round the group and everyone had to say no. Now, this was a group of University-educated women, reasonably privileged, and yet nearly all of us found it hard to shout “No!”  And that wasn’t even to someone, or in a difficult situation – right after being given permission to shout “No!”, we all cringed a bit and it really highlighted how hard we try to be accommodating.

LH: We really are – and it may be that you’re fortunate enough to be in the position of being able to invest in some personal training. If not, have a look online, see if there are women’s networking events in your local area. If there are any other events if you’re not a woman or you don’t want to go for a gender-separate event. Or, there are assertiveness and confidence building exercises you can find online if you’re not very confident with in-person events. Try and surround yourself with positive people, whether online or in person.

PW: They recommended a book during that training, called “A Woman In Your Own Right” by Ann Dixon, and I’ll pop a link to that in the show notes. So as we mentioned earlier, there are times when it’s best to cut and run – to cut your losses and say “No, I’m not working with this person/company anymore.”

LH: Yes, I think it’s important to add at this point that although we’ve given a lot of advice and coping methods during this episode, if you have a one-off incident with one person and you think you can’t realistically cope with working with that person again, and you want to cut and run immediately, then do it.

PW: Do it. We’re not saying that if you’re in this situation, you must do A, B and C. We’re providing as many options as possible for what are terrible situations. So if half of what we say makes sense to you and half doesn’t, then stick with the half that makes sense to you.

LH: Definitely – do what you’re comfortable with. And although it’s not ideal to cut and run sometimes, you might just feel like you’ve got nowhere to go, in which case your answer is clear.

PW: Now, a time you might want to do this is if it becomes unbearable. Maybe that’s one incident, maybe it’s ongoing. But if you get to the point where you’re dreading the phone ringing, or you’re dreading getting an email from someone, dreading a meeting with that person, you need to get out, frankly.

LH: Yes. Feeling nervous and negative is OK sometimes, but when you’re actively dreading any interaction with a company or person, it’s time to assess whether there’s anything to be done. It’s important to prioritise your health and wellbeing. Pip and I aren’t flippant about money – we’ve both been in situations where we’ve lived hand-to-mouth, so we’re not particularly privileged in that respect – we’ve both had lives that have not been secure at all, but money isn’t anything. If you need to see which benefits you can claim, do that. If you need to talk about getting a loan, look into that. It’s not ideal to get rid of a client if you really need the money, but your health is more important.

PW: You can replace clients. There will always be a million companies needing a writer, but what you can’t replace is your mental health. This isn’t something to mess about with.

LH: Absolutely – so what we’ll end on really is that it’s a good idea to keep your business development ticking over. Even if you love the clients you’ve got any don’t want more clients, it’s always good to have a finger on the pulse because then you’re not so powerless.

PW: Yes, marketing has to be fairly consistent because things change all the time. A few weeks ago, a couple of my big pieces of work came to an end. They were big but they weren’t ongoing. So they’d accounted for a lot of my income for a while but they both came to an end around the same time, and that’s the kind of situation where you don’t want to go, “Oh, my income!”

LH: Absolutely. And you need to be able to respect yourself. There’s nothing disrespectful about being harassed or talked down to, but if you find that the only reason you’re keeping a client on is because you have no other clients to rely on – and you find you’re allowing certain behaviours simply because you need the money – then it’s a good time to start looking for other clients. I can recommend LinkedIn, Twitter etc. If you need to get on one of the freelancing sites, or contact marketing agencies, or temping agencies, or look for part- or full-time employment, that’s all better than allowing someone to subject you to behaviour that’s damaging to you.

PW: You might be listening to this from a male point of view and/or as a client. So we just want to take a quick look at what men can do to make sure that people around them aren’t uncomfortable.

I remember, I was walking home one night and I was in a dark side street and there was a man walking behind me. As a woman, I was very aware of my safety. When I got home, I asked on Twitter: “Women: would you find this situation threatening?” and they all said they would. Then I asked men whether they would be aware of that – and almost all of them said they wouldn’t.

And so it’s important to start thinking about situations that you may not perceive as potentially threatening and double-checking whether you might be making someone uncomfortable. Do you ever protectively put your arm around someone’s shoulder when you don’t know them that well? Do you make risqué jokes. Some people are deliberate harassers but a lot of these situations may be you – it may not have occurred to you that you’re being patronising, or that insisting someone goes for a drink with you may be pushy or threatening.

LH: Absolutely. It’s a good idea to check your behaviour, particularly in the case of friendly overtures, and ask yourself, “Would I do this to a guy?”

I went on a reccy mission to see some new equipment at a client company and one of the staff members there tickled me on the breast.

PW: Everything is wrong with that.

LH: Everything. Everything is wrong with that. I’m nearly thirty, I’m a professional and I’m not someone’s bloody hand-puppet! But can you imagine if you did that to a guy? You’d get punched. He was much older than me so I can’t work out if he was being pervy or weirdly paternalistic…but I gave him a dirty look and moved away and made it clear I wasn’t happy, but he may just have thought he was being friendly.

PW: Another thing to look out for if you’re not sure whether women are comfortable with you is whether they avoid being alone with you, or you have a bit of a reputation. Things like that can tell you a lot.

LH: And I think, as long as you’re aware, you’re probably doing better than a lot of people. And there’s nothing to stop you saying, “I hope everything’s OK, I didn’t mean anything by that comment, I’m sorry if it came out wrong.” If you’ve got good intentions, I don’t know many people who won’t give you the benefit of the doubt. We’re not suggesting that you start worrying about being accused about harassment by women, just make sure you’re not singling women out for treatment you wouldn’t apply to men.

PW: Yes, and if you do get some feedback that’s hard to take, don’t dismiss it – actually listen and question yourself.

LH: Yes, I know we’ve talked a lot about men and women a lot today – Pip and I are both women, and it’s something that really does happen. It’s a big issue in the workplace. But there are other dimensions – people with disabilities, people who are gay, non-white, trans…and we can all muck up and cause offence and it’s never nice to hear it. No one’s immune to that but you have to listen to what you’re being told.

PW: Yeah, if someone offends me and I tell them – and tell them why – and they automatically start defending themselves without listening, then that’s annoying. If they say, “I’m really sorry, I hadn’t thought it through, I won’t do it again.” Then that’s it – fixed.

LH: So to sum up: the aim isn’t to wrestle an apology from someone or force them to become the kind of person you’d want to be best friends with. The objective here is to nip any damaging behaviour from the client to you in the bud and to move on – if possible – to have a friendly, dignified and professional working relationship.

PW: Essentially, what you want is a working relationship that does not demean or insult you, in which you are able to thrive and get on with your work in the way you do best. Like Lorrie says, you don’t need to socialise with difficult clients, or turn them into a feminist activist, you just want the best professional relationship you can muster.

LH: Absolutely. If getting an apology from a rude, irritating, patronising or otherwise PITA client is really important to you, it’s worth reassessing your priorities, frankly. From experience, it’s neither realistic nor sensible to go chasing an apology from a client. Even just one who’s been slightly annoying. Instead, just chase better behaviour in future.

PW: So now it’s time for the Little Bird Recommendation of the Week, in which Lorrie and I mention something we’ve spotted that might be of interest. So, Ms Hartshorn, what’s your recommendation this week?

LH: My recommendation this week is just a cute and interesting infographic, called Online In 60 Seconds and it says, “On the internet, we all know things can move at a lightning fast pace. In just a minute, you can read and compose a few tweets, along with look at a dozen Facebook photos. That said, we’ve pulled together this infographic to give you an updated view of everything that happens online in 60 seconds in 2013.”

And it’s set up like a wheel or clock, and in each segment, there’s a different social media platform, or website, or activity. And it outlines exactly what goes on in one minute for that platform or website. So, email: 204 million emails are sent each minute. 278,000 tweets. Professional searches on LinkedIn: 11,000 per minute. Skype – as we’re on there at the moment – 1.4 million minutes connecting with one another.

PW: To be fair, it’s probably 0.4 million people talking and 1 million trying to connect.

LH: Or just 1.4 million people going, “Hellooooo! Can you hear me?”

PW: Hahaha, yes! Now, I really like this infographic, but there’s just one thing bugging me: all the segments are the same size.

LH: You’re such a purist! It’s supposed to be a clock!

PW: I know but it’s annoying me!

LH: God, Philippa – you’re so technical!

PW: Haha, I know!

LH: Well, that’s it – whatever your recommendation is, I’m going to find fault with it. Go on, then.

PW: My recommendation this week has changed at the last minute. I was going to share an interesting blog post I’ve found but instead, I’m going to share something I spotted on Twitter just before we started recording. Now, this is a website called Sharegrab and it’s potentially really useful for your social media marketing. Now what Sharegrab does is you sign up with your Facebook account and input some Facebook pages from your main competitors or from incredibly successful people in your field.

And what Sharegrab does is analyse those and tell you which got the most views, shares etc. So if you need some inspiration on what to post, you can start to analyse other people’s success and get some ideas. Like I said, I’ve signed up but I’ve not had the chance to do anything with it yet, but it comes recommended by Ian Cleary, who’s very good with social media tools.

LH: Definitely. Were I not committed to loathing you for all eternity, I might sign up. As it is, I won’t.

PW: And it’s free.

LH: No interest to me. And so, now that Pip has outdone my recommendation again, that brings us to the end of episode 60. Whether there’ll be an episode 61, who knows? Maybe we’re finished.

PW: And while Lorrie gets all dramatic, I want to ask – are you doing NaNoWriMo?

LH: Ooooh, yes! OK, I’ll leave aside our massive feud – I’ve forgiven you now. Listeners – are you doing NaNoWriMo?

PW: Yes – if you are, or you’re thinking about it, go to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, scroll down to episode 58 – we went into real detail about how to cope with the task of writing a novel in a month. Have a listen, share it on your blog, share it on Twitter.

LH: And if you do need some support throughout the month, we’re on Facebook.com/FreelanceWritingPodcast. We’ll keep you going just like caffeine all the way through the month of November until you have a 50,000 word novel!

PW: Well, exactly. And so, that’s it for episode 60. Do head over to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com for all the links we’ve mentioned today. And remember to subscribe so you don’t miss another episode!

LH: Thank you so much for tuning in – we love recording this! We’ve had some lovely feedback, so if you’d like to hear us again next week, follow Pip’s advice and subscribe. In the meantime, I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn

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

 

Podcast Episode 59: Make Your Hobbies Pay – How Freelance Writers Can Earn Cash with Topics They Love in Niches They Already Understand

Are you looking to boost your freelancing income? There might be some areas close to your heart that you haven’t considered tapping before… check out this week’s podcast to find out more and get some potentially lucrative ideas!

In my work I can be called upon to write on a wide variety of topics, but sometimes when I’m searching my brain for a suitable subject to write about I overlook some of the most obvious ideas: those things I love and am passionate about.

Most people have a number of hobbies and interests outside of writing, and our knowledge and expertise in these areas can be tapped to produce ideas to write about, and to inform our writing. So in this podcast episode, I talk about a number of ways to make money by writing about interests and hobbies, for different platforms and audiences.

Show Notes

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Transcript

Hello, and welcome to Episode 59 of A Little Bird Told Me: the freelance writing podcast about the highs, the lows, and the no-nos of successful self-employment.

You can find us on the web at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, and from there you can find the links to subscribe to the podcast, which you really want to do because then you can make sure you’re the first to hear when we have a new episode out every week.  You might be an iTunes user or you might use RSS feeds to subscribe to your favourite podcasts or maybe you’re a Stitcher Smart Radio fan.  The links to all of those options are there at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com.  You’ll also find a link to our Facebook page.  So come over, like the page and say hi, and also links to my own websites and social media feeds.

I am Philippa Willitts and I am doing a solo episode today.  Lorrie will be back with me next week if you’re missing her terribly but in the meantime have a listen to this and see what you think.

Also, if you’re listening to this and you’re already to embark on NaNoWriMo you don’t want to miss our episode last week.  So go to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, again, and go to Episode 58 where we provide tons of information and ideas for how to get through NaNoWriMo without tearing your hair out.

Today is Episode 59 and I’m going to talk about how freelance writers can earn money based on the hobbies and interests they’ve already got.

A lot of the work we do as freelance writers you have to do lots of research, you have to learn about the topic before you can write about it, you have to learn general topics as well as more specific areas within a niche.  You could spend as much time, if not more, researching as you do writing but what we often forget is that we have areas that we already know an awful lot about, things that we do regularly, things that we might read about for fun, things that we spend our time getting involved in.  It’s easy to forget that we can also apply those and use those as part of our freelance writing work to earn us some extra cash or even to focus our writing careers on.

The thing that got me thinking about this was when I was doing some work myself for a client and I was thinking about the different types of work commissions I receive and how much quicker it is for me to write on subjects that I’m already familiar with.  You know, because I do specialist writing on social media and SEO I know that if I get a commission to write 1000 words about a particular new Facebook change I don’t have to do all the background research about what current Facebook statistics are important, how many users there are currently, how many users there are in the UK, what kind of engagement rates, how the site works, how businesses can use it best because this is stuff I know because it’s stuff I enjoy reading about and it’s stuff I write about all the time.  So all I had to research for that particular article was this particular new change that I was being asked to write about.

If, on the other hand, I had been asked to write about a particular change in retail law, for instance, I would have had to do the same research about this recent change but I would have also had to get a real grounding in retail law itself.  I’d need at least, at the very least, a general overview of the most significant, most important aspects of retail law in whatever country I was writing about.  So that, although it could have been a very similar piece of work, would have taken me an awful lot more time to research and write than something in one of my specialist areas.

Takoyaki cooking

Takoyaki cooking (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now in my work I do a combination of that kind of specialist work and also more generalised work.  So I have a nice combination of the two but it really did get me thinking about how much quicker it is to write on those familiar subjects.  So I was thinking then about different hobbies and interests that people have, things like going to live music gigs or model making or maybe you’re interested in learning about science or you enjoy sport or reading sci-fi or cooking, gardening, photography, DIY, decorating.  Even things like parenting or surviving on a low budget may not be hobbies but they’re certainly subjects that many people are expert in.

So the first thing to do is have a think about that kind of thing.  What kind of things do your friends ask you for advice on, for instance?  If you find that you’re the person that your friends ring if they have a baking disaster they want to know how to fix, a curdled cake mix for instance, or if you’re the person they ring because a shop is refusing to refund their money for a damaged product and you perhaps, say, used to volunteer with the Citizens’ Advice Bureau so you know all about consumer rights, have a think about what people ask you about because that’s a good indication that it’s something that people respect your opinion on, something that people know that you really understand and that can be something to use to your advantage while freelancing.

Similarly with more hobby related things what, at the end of a working day, do you really look forward to doing?  Are you learning Spanish or do you love nothing more than going to the cinema to watch all the latest films?  There are things that we take for granted that actually when you think about it you know an awful lot about because you’re passionate about it.

The fact is that these are the things that you’re reading about or learning about or just know an awful lot about already.  So it makes sense to use that knowledge and information to make your life as a freelancer easier to spend more of your freelancing time doing things that you really have a passion for and also to give you a leg up in specialist areas.

So have a think and start writing down for things that fascinate you, the things that you love, the things that you really know a lot about and start developing some ideas of those kind of niches that you might want to start spending more of your writing time doing.  Once you’ve got those down there are so many ways to use that information and knowledge you’ve got and turn it into work, turn it into money.

You may decide that you don’t want to focus the majority of your freelance career on those areas.  You might think they are hobbies because, “I enjoy them.  I don’t want to start working on them and then finding that I lose interest.”  That’s fine.  This doesn’t have to be 100% of your freelance writing work.

However, maybe you want it to be 10% or maybe you just want the occasional relatively easy piece of work where you don’t have to research the background of everything because you can talk about it off the top of your head and talk about it well.  So we’re going to look at different ways you can use that knowledge and information.

English: Cinema 4 at HOYTS, Forest Hill Shoppi...

English: Cinema 4 at HOYTS, Forest Hill Shopping Centre, Forest Hill, Victoria, Australia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So the first idea is to approach businesses and websites in that niche to see if they need any writing.  So let’s look at the cinema, that was one of the ideas I mentioned earlier.  You might love going to the cinema to see the latest films.  Have a look at some film review websites and pitch a review for the most recent film you’ve seen.  Contact them, say a little bit about yourself, why you’re the perfect person to write this review, give them a brief outline of what you thought of the film and the kind of things you would write within the review and ask them if they’re interested.  It can be worth checking in that particular instance have they already reviewed that film but what’s great about this kind of approach is that especially pitching reviews you can end up getting lots of freebies.  If you prove yourself, you write a few reviews that demonstrate that you’re very good at writing about film then they might approach you, the site might approach you in the future and say, “We’ve got some free tickets for this film.  If we review it would you like the free ticket?”

The same could happen with reviewing restaurants or live music gigs or all sorts.  You can start off by reviewing things you’ve paid to see and end up getting freebies to go and see more of those things without having to pay and getting to write about it afterwards.  It’s a really good way of building up your name in the industry and making contact with people who are also passionate about the same subject.  So find some paying review sites if that’s your thing.

Alternatively, if you’re into pottery then you might want to approach some craft websites or some ceramics websites and suggest to them that you write a ‘how to’ article about how to make the perfect bowl.  That’s not a very creative pottery idea, I have to admit, but I haven’t done pottery since school and I don’t think we ever got beyond bowls.

If you recently got married and you love dressmaking and you made your own wedding dress contact some wedding websites, some dressmaking websites and offer a ‘how to’, a real step by step approach of how exactly you made your wedding dress.  If you thought ahead ideally you’d have taken photos at each stage in the production and that, if you explain that you have photos to back up what you’re talking about, ending, of course, with a photo of you looking stunning in the wedding dress, then they might offer you £100, £200 for that.

The next thing to do, and this is very similar actually, and that’s to pitch stories on your topic of choice to industry magazines.  So your pottery story or your wedding dress story you might approach some crafty DIY magazines and see whether they want to feature a step by step approach to achieving a particular crafty task, be it a bowl, a wedding dress or whatever you love doing.

Similarly, if you have an amazing recipe for beetroot cake that everybody who tastes it loves then contact some bakery or cookery magazines.

Music magazines are always popular.  You know lots of people love music but if you can find the right magazine for your particular favourite then you’re on to a winner.  One of the real benefits of this kind of approach to freelance writing is that if you love live folk music, for instance, you already know which magazines are the best for this kind of story because chances are you read it yourself or you visit their website regularly.

So in the same way as you might approach an industry website, a website in that niche, then look at industry magazines as well and it doesn’t all have to be about you.  It doesn’t have to be you reviewing a gig or you making a bowl in pottery.  You can still use the information you’ve got to write in these ways but in a more objective, abstract way.  So if you love model railways you might not want to write, ‘My Model Railway Collection’, they probably wouldn’t want to publish it anyway, but you might want to interview somebody.  I know nothing about model railways.  I’m struggling a bit here.  You might want to interview, say, a manufacturer of a popular product in that niche and, again, the background information you already have due to your passion for model railways will make this a far easier task than if, like me, you don’t know the first thing about them.  Use the information you have.  Use the knowledge you have to make your own life easier to save you all that background research time.

The next idea is one that not everybody is into, and that’s fine, but there is a freelance writing website called Constant Content.  Now the way Constant Content works generally is that you write articles on spec and then buyers can purchase what you’ve written.  That’s the very short version.  There are real benefits and drawbacks to Constant Content.

On the positive you write whatever you want to write and you set your own prices.  You’re not in that ridiculous territory of most freelance writing websites where you pick up jobs that people are advertising and you write 500 words for $4, none of that.  They even have a minimum price that they allow you to set and you can write about anything you like.

They generally edit very, very strictly.  Constant Content is not a place to submit half-heartedly.  They will reject a piece famously for one wrong comma many times.  They’re quite renowned for it really.  It certainly made me get a bit stricter with myself sometimes because life’s much easier if they accept it first time.  The other real problem with Constant Content is that you’re writing on spec.  So you might write and write and write and not make any sales.

Now in reality, especially if you do take into account the kind of thing that people are looking for, the kind of subjects that do sell, and providing you write well about it chances are your things will sell but it can take a while.

What I love about Constant Content is that you just periodically get an email out of nowhere saying, “Your article’s sold.  You’ve earned £100.”  That’s a great feeling because if you did the work a few months ago it kind of feels like free money because it’s a while since you did it, so it’s great for that.

However, if you don’t like writing on spec you might not want to go this route, and that’s completely fine.  I totally understand why some writers avoid Constant Content.  I don’t spend tons of time on there because I do obviously prioritise work that is being paid for now rather than work that may sell in the future.  What I find it really good for is if I’ve done a piece of work that I’ve done a lot of research for but the client just wants one blog post about it I’ll sometimes then write a completely different article on the same topic for Constant Content.  I feel like I’m making use of the research I’ve already done.  Don’t even think about copying the work you’ve already done but if, for instance, you’ve just written about five things that can trigger a migraine and in the course of your research you learnt a lot about migraines you might then want to write how to cure a migraine and what medicines work best for migraine for Constant Content.  You’ve done the research so you don’t need to do a whole lot more and it just gives you that bit of content that at some point someone might buy and make you happy.

Seedlings from various seeds.

Seedlings from various seeds. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now using Constant Content to write about your hobbies and interests works in the same way.  You already know what temperature you should fire your kiln at; you already know what kind of thread you should use to sew your wedding dress; or what the rules of Rugby League are; or which plants are best planted in early May because you live this and you love it and it’s what you enjoy and it’s what you know a lot about.  So use that.  Spend an hour writing something about it and submit it there.  It might just earn you a few quid in the coming weeks or months.

However, like I say, if you don’t like the writing on spec model that’s completely fine.  So feel free to do that or ignore it, depending on your own preferences.

Now those ideas so far about how to make your hobbies pay have all been fairly short, quick ways of creating content from your own knowledge and information.  There are other things you can do that are a much bigger task but that actually have the potential to net you quite a bit more money.  So, again, it’s something to think about, something to consider as part of your freelance writing portfolio really.  So brace yourselves, these are big tasks but could really be a great way to indulge in your favourite hobby and combine that with your writing career.

Two main ideas.  One is build your own website.  Build a whole website around your hobby.  Fill it with tons and tons and tons of information that demonstrates how much you know your topic, that provides great information that people want to know and over time you build up traffic, you build up fans and you create yourself a reputation as a real authority in your field.

Now the initial bulk work of building your own website will take lots of hours, a little bit of investment in terms of buying yourself a web address and some hosting and it will earn you no money whatsoever.  This is definitely a long-term plan.  The thing to do to make it earn you money eventually is first of all you have to prioritise filling it up with really great content or the rest of the plan will not work at all.

So once you have your website and it’s full of everything you want it to be full of there are different ways into turning that into a way to earn you money.  The first most obvious one that most people think of for monetising a website is advertising.  You can either use pay per click advertising, so something like Google AdSense where they put up ads on your site that are relevant to what you’re talking about and then every time anybody clicks on one of those ads you earn money.  It’s usually not very much money.  It relies on you getting lots of visitors and lots of clicks for it to be a decent amount of money.

The other way of having advertising is rather than getting a deal where you earn every time somebody clicks is to deal with advertisers directly and charge them a set amount of money to advertise on your site.  That can be a more reliable way of getting some money in but it can be a bit trickier to negotiate but it’s an option.

However, what most bloggers will say, particularly those with this kind of authority website or niche website, you might hear it called those things, is that advertising doesn’t actually bring in a whole lot of money.  So another way of doing it is to sell what’s called affiliate products.  What this basically means is that if people click a link on your website to a product and then they buy that product you earn a percentage of what they spend.  Now this can vary from a couple of percent, say with the Amazon affiliate programme, right up to sometimes 75% of a product that’s hosted on a site like ClickBank, which is a platform for information products basically.  So you might write a whole detailed blog post about how you learnt a new type of cake decorating thanks to a new e-book that you bought.  You can write lots about how wonderful this e-book is and make sure that every time you link to it you use your own unique affiliate link and then any sales will be tracked and you will earn whatever the percentage is of the amount they spend.  Some people build websites entirely around Amazon affiliates, others entirely around specific affiliate products, whereas others, this may be more likely in this case, is if you spot a product that is really good quality that you feel happy recommending you might then check to see whether it has an affiliate programme and then recommend it.

People can earn an awful lot of money with affiliate marketing.  Not everybody.  There’re a lot of people who try it and fail but those who do succeed can do very well and often the rule really about how successful an affiliate website is will depend on how authentic the information is, how much trust the readers have in the author, the writer of the site.  If someone’s been following you for two years and they lap up everything you’ve got to say about basket weaving then when you recommend a basket weaving product they may well believe you and buy it.  If, on the other hand, you have a six page website that’s been hastily thrown together and two of those pages are dedicated to recommending an information product people won’t trust that and won’t buy through your links.

The next stage that a lot of people go to, especially after experimenting with affiliate marketing for a while, is creating your own product to sell.  This is usually an information product.  So it’s something that you can deliver entirely online, you don’t need to have boxes of stock in your kitchen ready to go to the Post Office when someone places an order.  Instead you might create, say, a video learning series for instance, or a training course so that you can teach others what you already know.  Like the website and like the other articles I’ve mentioned this will take some work but the benefit you’ve always got is that you have the basis of the information already in your brain.  Once you have your own product created you can sell that and you can even recruit other people to be affiliates for your product, which means that, sure, they’ll take some of the profits but they also act as marketers for your product.  They might create a whole website around selling your product and so, sure, you might lose some of the cash from the sale but what you’ve got is the potential for a lot more people to buy.

So if you do fancy building your own website but you do want to make it pay look at advertising, look at affiliate marketing and also often, once you have some experience with advertising and affiliate marketing, look into creating your own information product.  Is there a real gap in the market?  Do you find that people find your website because they’re looking for instructions or information about a particular thing?  Do some research.  Find out what’s already out there and see where there’s a gap and see whether you are the person to fill it and if so, do it with great quality work.  There’s no point building a whole site, setting everything up just to throw something together at the last minute to make a quick buck because that won’t keep the money flowing.  It’ll get you some initial sales, lots of refund requests and all your work will have been wasted.

Now the final way that you can make your hobby pay is another big project, bigger even than building your own website, and that is write a book about it.  You’re a freelance writer, you write for a living, you have this topic that you can talk about endlessly, that your friends get bored of you going on about, that you read everything there is to know about it, that you study all the latest information, you’re passionate about this.  If you can talk about it endlessly then you can write about it too.  Think big.  Can you get a book out of your knowledge and expertise?  If so, do you want to spend the time it takes to write it?  You can approach publishers or you can self-publish; self-publishing is so easy nowadays.

There are benefits and drawbacks to both traditional and self-publishing and this podcast episode isn’t the place for that discussion but briefly, if you get traditionally published that has something of a better reputation.  You get an amount of cash up front but it also takes a long time and you have less control over the final product.

If you self-publish you can make it happen more quickly.  You get more of the proportion of sales in the end but also if you’re going to do it well it’s going to cost you a bit because you’ll need a cover designer, you’ll need an editor, you’ll need a proofreader.

So certainly people are very passionate on both sides.  So think for yourself.  Would you rather traditionally publish or self-publish or, indeed, would you like to attempt to traditionally publish and then if that doesn’t work out, if nobody bites, then self-publish?

Writing a book is the ultimate way of demonstrating your knowledge and your passion in a subject.  It’s not something to approach half-heartedly.  It’s a big, big, big deal.  However, if you do it it could be a really nice way to earn from the things you love.  Make your hobbies pay.  You probably spend out a considerable amount of money on them so even if you just recoup some of that money surely it’s a good thing.

So those are some ways where you can earn cash from the hobbies that you’re already interested in, that you already know about and that you love thinking, talking, reading and writing about.

Let me know what you think.  Come over to our Facebook page, which you can find from alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, tell us if you’ve tried these things, tell us if you have been motivated to give something a go, let us know what you think.

And so now it is time for the A Little Bird recommendation of the week and my recommendation is a little piece of software which I’ve installed on my computer and which is turning out to be very handy.  It’s called Clipboard Magic and it’s only available for Windows computers.

Now this is a great little piece of software for if you have to cut and paste or copy and paste text again and again and again.  If, for instance, you are submitting some information into several forms and for each form you need to copy the title, and then you need to copy the link, and then you need to copy something else, rather than for each form having to go back and forth to your original document to copy it and paste it, then the next bit of information, copy and paste it, what it does instead is every time you click Ctrl C or every time you right click and click copy or cut then it stores what you’ve copied to your clipboard into Clipboard Magic.  So rather than having to keep going back to the original document all the time what you have is this little window that you can move to the top of all your windows that stores everything you’ve copied and pasted.  From there all you need to do is just click or drag and drop each line from Clipboard Magic into each new document.  So the title will be on Clipboard Magic.  You just need to drag it into the title box on the next form you’re filling in, ditto the URL, ditto whatever else the information is.  You can even save all your clipboard lists to external files.  If you need that same information again and again over long periods of time you can save it and just reload it next time you load the software.  You can edit the clips within the software, you can sort them, back them up.  It works in all the latest Windows operating systems and it’s really handy.  I downloaded it for one particular task where I was having to paste information into repetitive forms but it’s actually handy for all sorts of things.  It’s a completely free piece of software.  It takes up very little space on your computer.  So that’s my tip for listeners this week.

And so that’s the end of Episode 59 of A Little Bird Told Me.  Come find us at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com.  Subscribe to the podcasts so you don’t miss an episode.  Come and say hello to myself and Lorrie and make sure you tune in next week.

Thank you for listening.

 

Podcast Episode 58: Getting through #NANOWRIMO without tearing your hair out

As November rapidly approaches, thousands of people across the world are getting ready to spend the month undertaking the ridiculous but awesome task of writing an entire novel in 30 days. In this episode of the freelance writing podcast, we take listeners through tonnes of tips and advice for making it through unscathed, and winning the challenge with 50,000 words written by the end of the month.

With guidance for every week of the challenge, #NANOWRIMO participants can find ways to keep their creativity flowing, keep their motivation high and, if absolutely necessary, introduce an alien invasion into their period drama.

Show Notes

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

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

 

Podcast Episode 57: The lowdown on proofreading and editing

Like many freelance writers, I also offer proofreading services. It’s a part of my job that I love, and in this podcast episode, Lorrie and I go down and dirty into the world of proofreading and editing, looking at the difference between the two roles, how to explain to clients what you offer, and how to choose your own proofreader or editor if you need one in the course of your writing work.

Show Notes

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

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

Transcript

PW: Hello and welcome to a Little Bird Told Me, the podcast where two freelance writers tell you all the tricks of the trade. We talk about the highs, the lows, and the no-nos of successful self-employment, saving you from mighty embarrassment and mortifying mistakes, and guiding you to the very top of your chosen profession.

PW: Freelancing is amazing, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Tune in to the podcast every week, and if you go to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com you can subscribe to ensure you never miss an episode. Whether iTunes, an RSS podcatcher or Stitcher Smart Radio are your platform of choice, we’ve made it really easy to sign up and be the first to hear our latest words of wisdom. There, you will also find any links we mention, our own websites and social media feeds, and the A Little Bird Told Me Facebook Page, too. I am Philippa Willitts…

LH: And I’m Lorrie Hartshorn. Today we’re going to be talking about proofreading and editing. What they are, why they’re different and when you need to do them. We’ll be looking at offering them as services to clients, and also touching on what happens when you have work you need proofreading and editing. You might think that, because you’re a freelance writer – and possibly an editor and proof-reader – that you won’t need anyone else’s help when it comes to amending your own work. It’s not the case, though, so we’ll be talking about how to go about getting your work polished up.

Proofreading

PW: So what we’re going to look at first is the difference between proofreading and editing. They often get lumped together but they, in many circumstances, have a totally different role and involve very different skills.

LH: Absolutely – I proofread for an academic translation agency and the work I do comes after the articles have been translated and edited. There’s no way the work could be lumped together.

PW: Yes – I think the confusion comes when you’re proofreading and you suggest “edits” – it can be a linguistic issue.

LH: It’s important to know exactly what’s mean by proofreading and what’s meant by editing if for no other reason than that clients often don’t. Everyone’s definition of where the line between proofreading and editing lies can tend to vary, so it’s important to be very clear in your own mind – and with clients – about exactly where that is for you. As long as your definition fits somewhere in the generally accepted one – or near it – you should be fine.

Managing clients’ expectations is part of freelancing, no matter which services you’re offering. Verifying their expectations at the start of the project is a good way to ensure that neither party feels disappointed or ripped off with how things have gone. If you think you’re making sure all the commas and semi-colons are in the right place, but your client is hoping that you’ll turn their The Very Hungry Caterpillar into the next Tolstoy, someone’s going to get a shock.

PW: This is it. It’s important to make sure that you and your client are on the same page – if they hire you to proofread, be clear about what that means. It’s more important that you both know what you’re offering and what they’re getting rather than what you’re calling it.

LH: Quite right. If your ‘proofread’ is someone else’s ‘minor edits’, that’s fine. As long as your client knows what’s what with you, that’s fine.

Now, for the sake of this podcast, we’ve looked through some popular definitions of proofreading and editing. You might be new to freelancing, so it’s helpful to know generally what’s involved in what.
With proofreading, the aim is to check for basic errors. Think of the kind of corrections your teachers used to make on your work at school – this is basically proofreading. You need to scan for grammar, syntax and spelling mistakes. What it’s not up to you to check is the document’s success as a whole, the overall content, logical fallacies and so on. You need to look at the correctness of the text on a word-for-word basis and that’s all.

PW: Sure. You might spot a blatant factual error, or something contradictory, for instance, in which case your client will be glad you’ve pointed it out, but it’s not your main role when proofreading.

There are all sorts of documents that need proofreading. From epic novels to blog posts, any document can benefit from someone looking at it with fresh eyes and an in-depth knowledge of grammatical rules. Personally, I love proofreading. It allows me to geek out on grammar for a while, and whereas normally when I spot an errant apostrophe or a horrible typo I just have to suck it up and live with it, when I’m proofreading somebody is paying me to fix these things that really bug me. It’s brilliant!

LH: Listeners, this is totally true – Pip loves getting her teeth into a good semi-colon, as it were! So, when it comes to editing, there are two main kinds of basic editing, really – copyediting and substantive editing. When you edit a text, you’re trying to make sure it fulfils its purpose as a whole, rather than just being correct and consistent on a word-by-word basis.

PW: Exactly. Editing a non-fiction extended essay, for instance, might involve pointing out where the author has made an illogical point, or is assuming their audience will have an understanding of an obscure topic. Similarly, you might be responsible for ensuring that all the points in their argument are properly backed up with evidence, and are written convincingly. All of these things are out of the remit of the proof-reader, and are the responsibility of an editor.

Editing and proofreading

PW: In fiction editing, your job can be to tell the author where the story moves too slowly, or where there are contradictions in the text. If a character suddenly ages four years or is described as having long, flowing locks of jet black hair when they were previously introduced as a short-haired ginger dude, the editor has to spot that. Editors also have to look at the text in a wider way: does chapter 7 really contribute anything to the narrative? Is the ending convincing enough? Does it really make sense that the killer would be an evil twin sister who nobody had known about until the last chapter?

LH: This is quite vivid – I feel like you have some secret novel somewhere!

PW: And I’ve given away the evil sister! Oh no!

LH: As a literary editor, I have to advise you against the evil sister. Sorry! Now, what you’ve described there to me is more substantive editing. Copy-editing for me would be all the proofreading stuff – spelling, grammar, punctuation, syntax, and all that, paragraphing, making sure that people’s names are the same all the way through. In terms of substantive editing, it’d be looking at the document as a whole, its narrative style, characterisation, narrative voice – that kind of thing. And then of course you get towards ghost writing.

PW: And something I know just from working closely with Lorrie, doing that kind of editing – as well as requiring all those kinds of skills – also requires an immense amount of tact. You’re not just saying to a robot “Chapter seven offers nothing”, you’re saying to someone that they might as well chop their “baby’s” arm off! It takes a lot of tact to deal sensitively and effectively, and you need to be quite brutal.

LH: Yes, it’s not about what they like, it’s about their reader, so you have to be quite harsh. I remember editing a novella for someone and about a third of it was written from the perspective of one character, then suddenly you were privy to another character’s thoughts in a way that would only be possible if the protagonist were psychic.

PW: Yes, I enjoy books written from multiple perspectives but I always think how hard that must be.

LH: Which brings us back to why it’s so important to have someone professionally proofread your work – whether that’s fiction or non-fiction. It is hard to have someone saying, “I don’t like that, it doesn’t work, it doesn’t make sense and it needs to go.”

PW: Yes, I know that Lorrie and I have both edited each other’s work and there’s always that scary moment – if you’re the one editing it, there’s a real level of responsibility and if you’re the one being edited, it’s nerve-wracking – if you’re at the point of asking someone to edit it, you think it’s alright. Nothing we’ve handed over to one another has been awful, but it’s always scary!

LH: As Pip well knows, I received a request last week from someone asking if I’d take a look at some web content they’d written…

PW: Hahaha!

LH: Oh Pip!

PW: Sorry!

LH: So yes, this person is a very competent writer, but for whatever reason, they’d lost the plot a bit. Normally, their writing is fine but this was just a disaster.

PW: They’d tried something new and it’d gone wrong.

LH: Yes, they’d overcooked the noodles by quite a long stretch on this occasion. So I sent some very gentle feedback back to that person and made some constructive criticisms. The minute I’d sent those back, they got back in touch with me saying, “I’m so sorry – I’m so embarrassed because I’ve looked at it again and it’s terrible.”

PW: Much as that’s mortifying, I’d always rather have someone say gently to me “That page on your site is really off-tone” rather than having the content online for three months.

LH: And I said that to this person – the only way you can work out if something is a good fit is to try it on and see what people think. And I’m telling you from my perspective that I don’t think that’s a good fit for you.

PW: Yes, and if you think about it, in terms of being the one who’s being edited, much as I’d be embarrassed to have something awful on my website for three months, I’d be even more embarrassed to put a novel out there that was full of things that needed fixing. So much as it’s horrible to be edited, the alternative is to publish a book that really needs more work.

LH: And taking things back to the corporate side of things, if a client gets in touch with you for some content that they want to use to, say, attract a new contract, and you don’t proofread that properly, you can really damage that brand. And proofreading and editing are things where you absolutely have to tell the truth – sometimes there isn’t much you can do to be tactful, because there’s nothing much good about a document. So to do your job properly, you have to find a way to really tell the truth without causing more offence than you have to!
PW: There was a study a few weeks ago – and I’ll try and find the links for the show notes – and someone had asked British consumers what put them off businesses’ social media messages. The number one thing that put them off was spelling and grammar mistakes – even in the 16-25 age group, that was the second most damaging thing. And much as we think we live in a world of “text speak”, the fact is that it’s the number one off-putting point for British consumers.

I know that if I wanted to hire a business for something, and I got one brochure with a spelling mistake and one without, I’d look badly on the company with the mistake. And I thought it was just me, but it’s clearly a bigger issue than we thought.

LH: Definitely. And it’d be worth letting your clients know about that when you try to explain why editing and proofreading are both necessary. One point I want to make is that a lot of my regular clients use ‘proofreading’ and ‘editing’ interchangeably, so I just charge my hourly fee for looking at work that’s already been written.

So, now we’ve looked at the differences between proofreading and editing, we’re going to move on and look at some of the tools you can use for both of these tasks.

PW: The most used tool, I would guess, for proofreading and editing work is Microsoft Word and its Track Changes function. If you haven’t used this, it’s a way to mark up other people’s work so that they can look at each suggestion you’ve made and either approve it or not. You can also add notes alongside the text if you want to explain why you’ve made a particular change or question something.

There are other options – I know Open Office has a similar function, but in my experience, Word is used so much more often, so it makes sense to do most of your work there. A client may request that you use a certain word processor’s editing features, in which case go with that – as long as the software doesn’t cost you hundreds of pounds! – I imagine they all work in a similar way.

LH: It’s so worthwhile using Track Changes. The number of times I’ve had work back from clients that’s covered in yellow highlighter, or italics, or bold text. Track Changes isn’t optional, in my opinion, so get online and have a look online for some training materials if you’re a bit iffy.

PW: Yeah, I had to practise and play around with tracked changes for a bit because I was worried and didn’t want to mess up. But actually, it takes no time to get the hang of it and it’s brilliant. It saves you having to make changes and then note them down in another document, or an email, which is when mistakes happen.

LH: Yes, with tracked changes, you have to actively click and approve on things, so it’s impossible to miss things. That’s the good thing.

PW: Talking about software and tools, it’s also time for a warning. You can find tools that scan documents for you, for spelling and grammatical errors. Many word processors will also automatically highlight errors it spots.

And these have their place – spellcheck has saved us all many a time, I don’t doubt, but you can’t rely on these products and services to create perfect documents because they do not have the intricate understanding of grammar and punctuation that a proof-reader should have. If Word spots a glaring error, be glad it helped you out. But just because software doesn’t identify any mistakes does not mean you can do a half-hearted job at proofreading it yourself.

LH: Absolutely. So if you’re proofreading someone else’s work, you can tackle that with fresh eyes. But when you’re proofreading your own work, I think it’s fair to say you have to be doubly careful. You can think you’re proofreading but you’re actually just remembering.

PW: Yes, you think you’re reading what you wrote, but you’re actually reading what you thought you wrote.

LH: Pip recorded a solo episode – episode 19 – on this very subject. And there were all kinds of tips on how to stop mistakes slipping into your own writing, so go back and have a listen. Most of us have to proofread our own work before we send it back to clients, so do go and pick up some of those tips.

PW: Yes, some of them are really helpful, such as changing the font or font size, which makes the writing look different to when you wrote it. We’ll link to that episode in the show notes.

Now, when you’re proofreading or editing professionally, there’s always the matter of fees to consider. And it can be complicated sometimes giving the variety of work that can be encompassed.

LH: Absolutely. And with copywriting, for example, I’d never charge on a per-word fee – I might say, “OK, let’s talk set fees for blog posts of around 500 words” whereas with proofreading and editing, I’d offer a pence-per-word cost.

Now if you deliver proofreading and editing as paid services to clients, you need to bear in mind the depth of detail and the extent of amends you’re willing to go to for what kind of fee. It’s entirely normal to have differing fees for basic proofreading, basic copyediting, and substantive editing, which doesn’t just look at grammar, punctuation, syntax and vocab, but also takes into account a document’s concept and intended use, its content, the organisation, structure and style.

The Importance of Proofreading

The Importance of Proofreading (Photo credit: spaceninja)

The difference might only be a few pence per word, but scale it up to a feasible document length and see what the difference is there. Maybe even work it backwards, say, from a 1000-word document. I think your previous episode, Pip, on how to work out your fees could come in really handy here.

PW: Definitely, I’ll link to it in the show notes. In this case, like with a lot of freelance work, you essentially have a choice between charging on an hourly basis and charging per word, or per thousand words, for instance. Ultimately this is a decision between you and your client, but it’s important – as always – to make sure that you give yourself a fair deal that recognises the skills and value you are offering.

If these are new services to you, you might well get it wrong. And you’ll just have to take the hits on those underpaid projects. But always look to get yourself a fair deal. If you can get a look at the document you will be working with, this can be useful in helping you to decide on a fee.

I proofread quite a lot of CVs – or résumés, if you’re American – and sometimes they require four or five edits in total, other times there are mistakes on every single line. Because of the length of a CV it all tends to balance out and I don’t worry about it. But if you think of that in terms of a full-length novel, the amount of time your task can vary considerably depending on how much work it will involve.

So one important factor in pricing your work, especially with larger pieces of work, is how many corrections, suggestions and rewrites a piece of work will require – if you can have a look at even a short sample before you set your price, you will have a much clearer idea of the work involved and you’re less likely to find yourself angry and resentful at turning out to be paid far too little.

LH: Yes, never go into a long proofreading or editing job without at least having a look at the document. I remember a certain 65, 000 word project that I did for an EU proposal on civil engineering. I quoted a certain price and I got it horribly wrong – this thing was my nemesis and I ended up not sleeping for about a week. The document included segments by agencies in different countries, so the English in parts was dreadful and also talking about ecology and water filtration. And I really wanted a big project, particularly one with an EU connection. I lived on coffee for a week, and now I know that you should have a much closer look! We’ve all done it.

PW: Yes, we have. We all do it. We should get a certificate for the massive underpaid project award. Mine wasn’t a proofreading one, it was a writing one, and it was awful.

Now, looking at proofreading from the other side, there are times when you’ll need to hire someone to proofread for you. You might be about to self-publish a book or you might just need someone to make sure your work is up to scratch. And so it can be a small or large project but if the time comes to hire a proof-reader, there are some things to bear in mind.

LH: Absolutely. You have to be really, really careful when you’re hiring someone to proofread your work. Particularly when you’re a writer. I think this might become Lorrie’s Weekly Moaning Section. I might actually make this formal. But as I seem to be saying most episodes, I do hire other freelancers. And touch wood, most of my proof-readers have been spot on. But, I’ve hired writers who’ve sent back work riddled with grammatical, linguistic, content and factual errors. Imagine you’d written that work and sent it over to a proof-reader because you needed it spot on, but that proof-reader is a bit shoddy. You’ll end up losing a client.

PW: Absolutely. The whole point of hiring a proof-reader is that they’re going to be meticulous – that’s their job. As a professional writer, you have to make a good impression. If you can find a proof-reader who’s been recommended, that’s a good place to start.

LH: If you aren’t able to find someone who’s been recommended, I’d suggest looking around for someone who’s specifically a proof-reader, rather than someone who’s tacked it on the end of a list of skills. LinkedIn has introduced these new ‘endorsement’ things which, while they can be really handy for endorsing your genuine skills, can also allow (as has happened to me) randomers to endorse you for the weirdest things! If proofreading is the last thing in a big long list of skills that someone has, be a little aware and look for someone who’s prioritising proofreading as a skill.

Now, once you’ve found this person, you can test them. If you have a bit of spare cash, you can try them out on a smaller piece. But don’t tell them you’re testing them. As the sometimes very embittered employer of other freelancers, I know from experience that if you tell someone you’re testing them, they’ll go all out to try and impress. If you don’t let them know you’re testing them, even if it’s the first piece of work for you, people will often do a shoddy job.

PW: The other reason I’d suggest not saying, “If you do this well, I’ve got a lot more work for you.” is that freelancers hear this so often from people trying to get cheap work.

LH: Good point, and it can be quite patronising as well. At this point, I’m feeling very cross with a lot of freelancers and as though you, I and our listeners are the only decent freelancers out there. But of course it’s not the case. You have to give people the benefit of the doubt, so saying to someone, “I’d like to test your skills as a freelancer and if I am satisfied with the work, then maybe I will honour you with more.”

But, you have to protect your interests, so try the new person out on something short. And I would also say, on the understanding that you should try not to be condescending, that you should feel free to chat to the person beforehand to make sure you’re getting the right person.

PW: Yes, because proofreading can be a very stylistic thing – it’s good to find someone who’s likely to make amends in a similar way to you. Lorrie and I might proofread things and amend one thing very differently.

LH: There’s one thing that sticks in my mind – there was an occasion when one of us had a very, very naughty client who needed a telling off. Now, Pip and I got our heads together – the person with the naughty client sent the other person an email saying, “What do you think of this?”. And we worked together to come up with a response that we would both be happy to send off. But the point stands, that Pip has just made, that if only one of us had been responsible for the text, the other one perhaps wouldn’t have been satisfied in sending it off.

PW: One point I want to make is that if you’re looking for a proof-reader, you should check their websites. The number of proofreading websites I’ve come across that had loads of mistakes was unbelievable. Proofreading websites!

LH: We sat down and had a proper rant about this, didn’t we?

PW: Yes, because it angers me that these people are offering proofreading services while there are several mistakes on each page of their website. And I’m trying to be generous here but I’d accept maybe one or two…no, I wouldn’t even accept two mistakes on a proofreading website.

LH: I don’t want to send off work with one typo in it, so why would you accept it from a proof-reader?

PW: Exactly. The second point I want to make is about proofreading qualifications – some of which are worthwhile and some of which are worthless. Now, if someone mentions on their site that they have an unnamed proofreading diploma, for instance…

LH: Snap them up!

PW:…that’s probably meaningless. If they have an accredited qualification with a reputable organisation, that could work in their favour but don’t automatically go for someone just because they have a proofreading certificate if you don’t know where it’s from or what it involves. There are people with fake doctorates, so you can certainly fake a proofreading certificate. If you’re going to look for someone with a proofreading qualification, then research beforehand which of those you’re going to take seriously.

LH: Good advice. And I’d add that if you can find someone who has previous experience and testimonials. The thing with diplomas is that they don’t say anything about that person’s working style.

PW: Yeah, there are still a lot of questions to ask.

LH: So look at their qualifications if that matters to you, their testimonials, previous experience, recommendations, and build a whole picture. The point I’d finish off on is that when you decide to hire a proof-reader or editor, it’s not the time to cut costs. Hiring someone is an investment, whether for your novel or a brochure to win new business. It’s the final touch on your piece of work. If you need someone regular, maybe try and come to some kind of arrangement. But if the proof-reader isn’t happy to offer you a discount, I wouldn’t get rid of them on that basis. People expect proof-readers to be really cheap…

PW: But we experience that every day as writers, don’t we?

LH: I still think back to episode four on not working for free, and I remember that indie author trying to pay proof-readers in chocolate. And this was for a novel for which he was going to be paid.

PW: And he apparently had several successful novels published. This guy was earning money and wanted proof-readers to be satisfied to have their name listed somewhere and get some chocolate.

LH: And it’s not like he was charging 99p for a book – they were £15 each! So while it can be tempting to cut costs, you’re more than likely to regret it.

PW: Yes, it’s not something to scrimp on. So if you hire someone who’s no good because they’re cheap, then you’re wasting your money – you’re not getting the meticulous work you need. You might think you have a good deal, but you haven’t because you’ve wasted money on nothing.

LH: Of course. So hopefully this has just been a handy little insight into proofreading and editing, the differences between them, how to do them and how to get them done.

PW: And so now it’s time for the Little Bird Recommendations of the Week, in which Lorrie and I mention something that’s caught our eye. So Lorrie, what is your recommendation this week?

LH: My recommendation this week is possibly the biggest infographic I’ve ever seen and I think it needs recommending just on that basis, even though I think they could sensibly have stretched the information out over several graphics to get more for their money.

Anyway, the infographic is 120 Marketing Tactics For Your Blog and it’s from the Business2Community website. Now, this infographic comes with a bonus intro which is Five Steps To Creating A Successful Blog, which talks about creating a blog, deciding on your audience and tone, and how to get going with the basics. But once you have, it covers all sorts – social media, content marketing, Pinterest, outreach, interaction, syndication and even design and user experience. It’s brilliant – how to make sure people visiting your site have a really good experience and don’t click away. There’s email marketing and one particularly nice section about providing naked links to your visitors. And then there’s a miscellaneous bit – it’s so useful, and when we talk about educating yourself, this is the kind of stuff you can use.

PW: This is really good – I hadn’t looked at it until now but it’s absolutely packed with useful information.

LH: And it’s not guff, either – it’s all solid stuff.

PW: And what strikes me as well is that if you have your own blog and website to promote your business, that’s great. But also, as a freelance writer who does commercial copywriting, there’s a good chance that you’ll do blog for businesses. And this kind of information can help you blog well. And you can also pick up a few tips here and suggest it to your clients – they’ll be impressed because you’re being proactive in making their blog a success.

LH: As we often mention, added value at no cost to yourself is so easy and useful. It won’t cost you anything to tell your clients that you’ve read a study or seen an article and that you’ve found out X. It makes sure you don’t have clients who look elsewhere.

PW: Well, I heartily recommend this – I’ll definitely have a proper read later on. My recommendation this week is from a site called the Columbia Journalism Review. It’s a great website – first of all if you’re a journalist, but also if you’re any kind of professional writer.

Anyway, this article is called The Art of the Interview. And interviews tend to be something I dread but enjoy when I’m doing them. But this article gives some really good tips on how to prepare for an interview and how to go about it once you’re doing it, and it’s written by someone called Ann Friedman, who’s quite well known. And although it’s aimed at journalists, you can use a lot of the advice even if you’re not a journalist. You might need to interview someone for a case study or a blog post, so it can apply to all kinds of writing.

There are so many uses for the information and it’s a well-researched and well-written article that covers a lot – it’s really worth a read.

LH: It’s surprising as you diversify how many clients will just turn around and say, “Oh, we need a case study” or “Oh, can you write us a press release” and you’ll need to just phone someone up to get the information. So you really have to know what you’re doing – once you’ve got someone on the phone, the pressure’s on. You really have to pack the questions in without machine-gunning someone’s brain.

PW: Yeah, because you want to get really good information but if you alienate someone by asking them the wrong questions or the right questions in the wrong order…One thing I learned in my first serious media interview, which was face-to-face and recorded. When I transcribed it later, I found that the interviewee would start answering a question and I would say “Mm.” in what I thought was an encouraging way, but then the interviewee would stop, and it made getting quotable sentences really difficult!

LH: Oh, so you’d chopped them with your “Mm”s!

PW: Yes! And I thought I was saying “Yes, tell me more” and that’s the kind of thing that varies from person to person, but that I’d always be aware of in future. And so, also this is the kind of thing you may do without actually thinking about it as an interview – you might just be phoning someone up and asking them about their product.

LH: Brilliant recommendation. Sourcing information verbally can be a big part of the job. We think of ourselves as writers, but you have to be a good talker as well.

PW: Yes, and pitch it just right. It’s different every time and you have to build relationships quickly. But yes, it’s something most people could improve on, so yes, that’s my recommendation this week.

LH: I’ll definitely check it out. I’m so much more comfortable communicating in writing simply because we do it so much more.

PW: Yes, I interviewed someone for an article recently – actually a friend of mine. And I was commissioned to write a piece about a particular health problem, which my friend has. And even that, I did so much preparation and research and I had to talk to her differently because I needed quotes. I had to talk to her as though she were a stranger. It’s different every time so the more hints and tips you absorb the better.

LH: Brilliant recommendation, and that brings us firmly to the end of A Little Bird Told Me 57. Pip is here – she’s hale, she’s hearty and she’s back.

PW: Yes, I meant to say that at the start – thank you, Lorrie, for valiantly swapping this week’s dual episode with her solo one. I’ve been so ill with the flu’ for the last few weeks, so thank you Lorrie for stepping up – I really appreciate it.

LH: Ahh, my first public declaration. But no, seriously listeners, it was like talking to Swamp Beast on the phone – cough cough, gurgle gurgle. So yeah, it wasn’t going to work for a podcast, entertaining though it might have been! On that note, I wish all our lovely listeners a very happy week. Do go and tune in to our past episodes and subscribe at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com. I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn…

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

Podcast Episode 56: Seven reasons to fire a freelance writer

What, as a freelance writer, should you never, ever do? What reasons would a client be justified in firing you? In this solo episode, Lorrie gets tough and outlines the seven top reasons she will fire a freelancer.

Show Notes

Episode 19: How to Proofread Your Own Work

Episode 55: How to Deal with Rejection

The 45 Inbound Marketing Terms You Should Know (HubSpot)

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Transcript

Hello and welcome to episode 56 of A Little Bird Told Me: the freelance writing podcast about the highs, the lows and the absolute no-nos of successful self-employment.
You can find us on the web at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, which is not only our Podomatic HQ but a hive of handy resources and past episodes. Every link and recommendation we ever give in the podcast – ever! – is listed right there, along with all the links to our websites, social media feeds and subscription options so it’s worth having a nosy!

Subscribing is so worthwhile, although of course I’d say that, because there’s a new episode out every week, with new advice and topics covered in every single one.

I’m Lorrie Hartshorn and this week, it’s another solo episode. Sadly, my lovely co-host Philippa has been struck down by a particularly persistent flu’, so I’m holding the fort while she coughs and sniffles her way back to wellness.

Pip will hopefully be hale and hearty again next week, though, so stay tuned and subscribe for a dual episode then.

This week, I’m going to be tackling a topic that kind of makes me the bad cop sometimes. While Pip comes to you with lovely supportive episodes about overcoming rejection, I’m here to discuss something that is far less friendly but equally important.

Despite the best efforts of many of us, the myth that freelance writing is an easy – or easier – ride than a salaried position is one that persists. What this can lead to is a lack of professionalism on the part of some self-identified freelance writers, often to quite extraordinary levels.

As many of our regular listeners know, I operate my business like a mini agency and I hire writers, editors and proof-readers to help me deliver some of my work.

Fired red stamp

And, I’m going to go through 7 things that would cause me – and have caused me – to fire a freelancer. I’ve fired plenty of people in my time and, while it’s not as dramatic as if you were firing an employee rather than a contractor, it’s still not great. I don’t like doing it any more than some people like me doing it to them. So listen up for the top reasons freelance writers fail to secure more work.

1) Lateness

I’m putting this first not only because it’s one of my biggest bugbears – and I can’t tell you how much I hate it – but because it’s something that I’ve experienced very regularly with the writers I’ve hired and freelancers my clients have hired, either before me or in a different field to me, such as photographers, project managers, that kind of thing.

In a lot of businesses, mine included, lateness on the part of one person has a massive knock-on effect. If one of my writers is late with work, I have to communicate the reason for that delay to the client. I have rearrange what I’m doing because the work I was expecting to proof-read, edit and send off in the early afternoon, isn’t there until 6pm.

Or, in one case, the work I wanted to upload on a Friday wasn’t there until the following Friday – when I received a bit of a hash-job with an email about how the person had been so busy that they hadn’t been able to email me. And no, I’m not hiring them again!

I would go as far as to venture that about 50% of the people I’ve hired have been late with work at some point – crucially, without letting me know. And that’s huge – it’s something that Pip and I have had lengthy, frustrated phone chats about as we try and work out how so many people think that unexplained lateness is par for the course.

Sometimes, lateness happens. You really can’t help it: maybe you get really poorly, maybe – as happened to poor Pip last month – your internet access disappears in the middle of a hugely busy afternoon. And in those cases, lateness can’t be helped.

What you do in those instances, though, isn’t to just carry on in silence. You contact your client as soon as you know you’re going to be late. You give a short explanation of the reasons, you apologise and you offer them a new ETA. I’m not sure what it is with some freelancers – the excuses I’ve had after the fact are that they forgot the deadline, they lost track of time, they thought I’d said Wednesday in general, not Wednesday at 10am, say…

Delayed

Delayed (Photo credit: Aquila)

The point is, though, as a freelancer, you check the deadline. You make sure you note it down, you put a reminder in your Google calendar, you get the work done before the last minute. It’s your job and you should be ashamed to take a rubbish excuse to someone you’ve let down. Not only that, but you need to realise that it will absolutely jeopardise your chances of making a success of your freelance writing career if you don’t get it sorted.

I put the word out on social media about what freelancers thought about people handing work in late. The responses were more closely aligned with my own feelings than I’d expected.

Author, @J_Wisewoman wrote:

“Agreed. If you set a deadline, you can say that you will go elsewhere. You have deadlines to meet too.”

and Miss_KristyB, a freelance proofreader and copy-editor added:

“I’d ask why they hadn’t told me sooner so I could give the work to someone else. Then I’d ensure I never used them again.”

It’s worth noting that the majority of people who responded are successful freelancers, and so are familiar with the kind of chaos that can pop up behind the scenes when you’re working from home. And not one of them said that lateness was OK. On the contrary, many responded in a “one strike and you’re out” fashion. So bear it firmly in mind!

So, moving on to our second point, which is closely connected:

2) Blurring the lines between the professional and personal.

Working from home can mean that the lines between your personal life and your business are less easily defined. You might start early, finish late, and catch up with work on weekends. Often, as a freelance writer, you are your brand – your name is above the door, so to speak, and people deal with you whatever their query. It can be hard to know where your business ends and you begin.

The mistake I’ve found a lot of freelancers seem to make is thinking that these blurred lines are anyone else’s concern. From people on Twitter sending out tweets from their personal accounts, reading, “Please, someone employ me!” (this has happened to me – A LOT – and it’s never once worked because it’s so inappropriate) to writers handing in work late – or not at all – because their children didn’t nap at the right time or got a tummy bug over the weekend (both real examples!), I’ve seen a lot of stuff that kind of just makes me shake my head.

At this point, I should add a caveat – and it’s one I’m not going to repeat because I think this topic really does deserve a stern talking about (!) – I understand that having children is a commitment. This is in no way an attempt to demonise parents and, more particularly, Mums, who often bear the brunt of criticism.

I understand that children are teeny humans who need looking after and who sometimes – even often – get ill or need more care. And all that’s fine. The same goes for having a partner, having a pet, having personal issues – whatever it is that’s having an effect.

What isn’t is allowing your personal life to impact on your client. I have to be really objective in these cases – I don’t hire freelancers to be my friends; I hire them to deliver work to me because I need that work delivered.

So, back to my point: on several occasions, I’ve had to chase writers to find out where work is – the deadline’s passed and I’ve had no word from them. Only when I checked in did I find that child-care issues were a problem and that the work was either going to be even more late than it already was or, in one case, not delivered at all.

Another tweet out, asking people whether they thought the issues I’ve just mentioned were a valid excuse for lateness brought responses in thick and fast.

Professional editor @WhoDoesSheThinkShe commented:

“Oh God. I’d be pretty cross – I mean, that makes it harder for all of us who have kids but ARE responsible about deadlines. But I’d prob just say, “regardless of reason, I need you to let me know in advance if you can’t meet an agreed deadline.””

Journalist and web editor, @Black_Kettle tweeted:

“Pay them late. Genuine emergencies are the only valid excuse for missing a deadline.”

And that’s about the harshest response I had to the question, although it’s one I can fully sympathise with. I’ll hold my hands up and admit that, recently, when the aforementioned freelancer I hired was a week late with work for no discernible reason, I considered not paying. I still think I would have been well within my rights not to. As it was, I paid and left it at that.

And all of the other responses followed the same vein, which gives a glimpse into how people react to freelancers claiming that home life has prevented them from doing a job.

Even the most sympathetic, by children’s clothing company Love it, Love it, Love it (@loveitloveit), read:

“I have some sympathy for childcare issues, but not contacting you to warn work would be late & say when it’ll be done isn’t on.”

The point I’m really trying to make is that I know life can be tough. That’s the whole reason Pip and I record this podcast: because freelance writing can be a total slog and you’re on your own, juggling home-life, work-life, clients, kids, chores, fluctuating work flow, accounts, admin, invoicing and isolation. It’s not an easy job by any means, so our aim is to just be a little bit of an island in all those rough seas. It’s always nice to know you’re not alone out there, isn’t it?

But, while I genuinely do have sympathy – and plenty of experiences of my own where I’ve ended up pulling an all-nighter to get work in, or chirped happily down the phone to clients that, “Of course I can take on that extra piece of work that’s super urgent!” when I’ve just been crying my eyes out about being tired and stressed – my sympathy can’t excuse a lack of a professionalism. It isn’t your client’s job to fill in the gaps where you fall short.

They shouldn’t get to hear about your homelife crises – they’re your clients, not your friends. Try to imagine yourself in a company. That level of accountability is really helpful to bear in mind when you’re tempted to bury your head in the sand or flake on a commitment.

If you’re stressed out and up to your eyes, text a mate or come and have a tantrum on the A Little Bird Told Me Facebook page. Don’t take it to your clients and don’t let it affect your work. Deadlines aren’t optional unless you’ve got an emergency on your plate. And no, being tired isn’t an emergency.

Most importantly, if you keep missing your deadlines, you need to have a look at solving the problem. Take a look through our back catalogue of episodes – we’ve got loads in there about planning your time, organising your week, optimising your client base so you can earn more without running yourself into the ground… while it’s not your client’s job to hear about all your woes, it’s important that you get the underlying issues sorted and keep yourself as happy and healthy as possible.

3) Lack of proof-reading

On to something a bit different now – proof-reading! I’m not quite sure why so many writers fall down on this, given that it’s a crucial part of our job, but not proof-reading is something that really lets writers and their clients down.

Spelling mistake: freelanceres

Spelling mistake: freelanceres (Photo credit: engineroomblog)

I’ve had work back from professional writers that is badly structured, makes no sense, contains typos, grammar errors, unfinished sentences and duplicate lines. Even more frustrating, when I open the file, Microsoft Word’s spelling and grammar check highlights the issues immediately!

On other occasions, I’ve had people misread the information in the brief and make silly mistakes such as spelling crucial people’s names wrong, typing the wrong figures into a finance report and even getting a company’s name wrong. There’s just no excuse. None at all. Same goes for leaving the formatting all to pot. Why would you think that kind of poor presentation is acceptable?

Freelance writing isn’t just about writing something and then pinging it off for better or worse once you’ve done it or you’re too tired or bored of it to proof-read it. It’s about delivering the whole package to your clients so that the content is ready to go. Never think, “Oh, it’ll be OK!” and leave the proof-reading stage out – even if it is OK some of the time, that might just be because there are mistakes in there that your client doesn’t happen to spot. And on the occasions when it isn’t OK? It’s usually really not OK.

Poorly written work doesn’t just reflect badly on you (and often, if it does reflect on you, it’s just to that client and anyone they mention the issue to because it’s not your name on the bottom of that page), it reflects badly on your client. You’re actively damaging their brand.

Equally to the point, what you’re also saying, when you don’t proof-read, is that you’re happy to take your client’s money in return for sub-standard work. You’re telling your client that that’s what they’re worth to you – a half-hearted job that’s not as good as it could be. And who wants a freelancer who thinks that way?

Proof-reading is a bore but it’s your job to get as close to word perfect as you can. And when it comes to factual errors, like mistaken company names and incorrect figures, you risk causing serious trouble or offence.

Pip recorded a solo episode on how to proof-read your own work, which contains loads of tips on how to make the task a lot easier and more effective. Be honest with yourself and, if you’re one of those people who really should proof-read better, go and have a listen. This job isn’t about being just good enough – that’s no way to build a business, aside from anything else – it’s about being excellent. So make sure you are.

4) Lack of communication

Now this is a funny one. Freelance writing is a pretty isolated thing. And, as I’ve just pointed out, your clients are your clients, not your friends. But, while I’m not saying you should be pinging into your clients’ inbox every hour, I want to make a few points about communication.

It’s a bit of an unfair thing, this, because clients can be terrible at communicating. Many’s the time that your client will disappear into the ether – either for a while, or for good. Numerous are the times that we send off pitches to prospects, magazines, organisations, and hear nothing but the gentle hush of the Internet in response. You can often hear nothing from a client for three months on the trot and then suddenly, they’re there in your inbox, needing a few days’ worth of urgent work – now, now, now!

The bad news is that you have to suck it up. Bad communication being the norm with clients doesn’t mean that it can be the norm with you. You have to have high standards, and you have to stick to them.

There are times when it’s more crucial than usual to communicate – mostly when there’s a problem. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve had a lot (way too much!) of experience with writers waiting until the deadline on a project has passed and, worse, waiting until I’ve emailed them, going, “Uh, hello?” before letting me know there’s an issue. This gives me nothing to work with. And, in an age of social media, I can often see that the writer’s been tweeting or Facebooking away while treating me to a nice big slice of radio silence pie. It’s so rude, and it’s so unprofessional, so while it can be weirdly tempting to just duck and cover, and deny there’s an issue, you owe it to your client and yourself – if you ever want to be employed again – to let your client know if you’ve hit a stumbling block.

The same goes if you’re not clear on a brief. If you’re not 100% – and I mean 100% – sure of what you’re supposed to be doing, you need to check with your client before you start the work or, worse, complete it. Handing over a piece of work that’s totally wrong is as bad as not handing it over at all.

As you become more experienced at freelance writing, and you learn to be more assertive, you can start to see what kind of information you need from a client in order to fulfil the brief they’ve given you. It can be a good idea for things like news articles and press releases, for example, to come up with a form for clients to fill in. That way, they know what you need, you know what to expect and you have room to come back to them if the information isn’t sufficient. If they don’t fill the form in, you can say, “Look, I don’t have enough info from you.” It’s harder to do that when you’ve had a quick phone chat with them and then hang up to find that you’re missing huge chunks of info.

When you’re a freelancer, it’s your responsibility to be pro-active and professional in your communications. You need to let clients know where you’re up to with work, if there’s a problem and what you need from them. If you’re phased by pinging off an email or picking up the phone – enough that you’d rather not do it – there’s a definite issue.

5) Lack of availability

The next point I want to touch on is that of availability. Now, although freelance writers do often have to be flexible with their working hours, I’m certainly not advocating being at the beck and call of your clients. As regularly listeners will know, I tend not to work evenings and weekends. When I have to, I charge extra according to the rule that “my client’s panic is not my panic”. If a client needs something done from Friday to Monday, it needs to be worth my while too. I take evenings and weekends for the sake of my own health and personal life and, while I do sometimes privately catch up on work then – say, invoicing, admin, business development, I’m careful not to let work spill over.

The kind of availability I’m talking about, though, is working day availability. Being around when your clients are around. Responding to them within a reasonable length of time. Not starting a project with them and then disappearing off for three days while they desperately try and get hold of you to give you more info on the work they need doing. While it’s not your job to sit around waiting for clients to get in touch, you do need to be reasonably available during regular working hours.

I hired a freelance writer to assist me on one of the accounts I work on. We’d just got underway with a project that was on quite a tight deadline, when I had an email from them saying, “Oh, I’ve decided to go away for a long weekend, so I won’t be here Friday or Monday. Is that OK?”

Given that the project was running from the Thursday to the Tuesday, this was less than ideal. However, I got back to them and said, “It’s fine, but I need you to make sure you send me this, as previously agreed, by Friday at 11am.”

I got no response: they’d already gone. Friday morning at 8.15am, they sent me the first part of the work, which was absolutely terrible and didn’t even nearly meet the brief. Worse, I couldn’t do anything with it because I needed more info from the writer on the sources they’d used. I emailed back before 8.30am and got no response. 11am came and went, and that’s when I’d been due to send the work over to the client. I’d got different parts of the project coming in from different freelancers, so all of the work was held up while I was waiting for this one person. I texted them and got a response saying that they were on the motorway, on their way to this weekend away, but that they’d send me the work shortly.

Cut to Tuesday – I’d heard nothing from them. A quick look at Twitter showed that they were responding to other people about cheery things, but I’d had no update. I emailed and got a lengthy response about why they hadn’t been back in touch, finishing up with, “I’ve decided I’m not going to do the work.”

I can’t for the life of me think why you would 1) do this to someone and 2) think that it was OK. I’ve actually rarely been so shocked in my – well, it’s more than ten years now, as a freelancer. I would never, never do something like that to a client and, while it’s an extreme example, it’s not entirely removed from the actions I’ve seen with a lot of freelancers. One writer delivered three pieces of work in a row late. The third piece was so poor that I had to rewrite it, which I mentioned to the writer, who – after a week of silence – insisted that I should tell them next time, as they would do the amends. Next time work was needed, I got in touch immediately after the writer emailed to say that some amends were needed. 24 hours later, and still with no response, I emailed again to ask what was going on. The writer then quit.

The main issue with not communicating is that it’s worse than just emailing to say, “Do you know what? I can’t do the work.” because you’re leaving people hanging. The knock-on effect to my business of waiting around to find out what’s happening is huge. I have to hang off making decisions because I’m waiting for someone to email me back and, in my opinion, it isn’t OK to send off a piece of work and then disappear for more than a day leaving your client to sit and wait for your response. Work often needs slightly amending – being available for that is par for the course.

6) Basic skill gaps

This one is pretty obvious and you’d think it wouldn’t need saying. Sadly, it does. Too often, I’ve come across writers (and you must think I’m making this up – I’m really not!) who don’t know how to optimise their content, or write a press release, or invoice properly. If you’re advertising yourself as a freelance writer, and you’re taking money for the work you do (quite right!) it’s your responsibility to know the tools of your trade.

If you don’t know how to do something basic and you tell your client as much, that’s inconvenient enough – no one’s saying you have to know everything; we all have our own areas of expertise but things like at least a basic knowledge of up-to-date SEO conventions aren’t optional. What’s worse, though, is when writers don’t know how to do something but give it a go anyway.

With all the online training material available for free (and Pip and I have done a number of past episodes on improving your skills, so get looking through the back catalogue if you think you’ve got gaps!), there’s no excuse for doing a hash-job because you don’t know how to do something. 1) If it’s something simple like a press release, for goodness’ sakes, get yourself on Google and look at some examples. 2) if it’s something more complicated, like creating SEO web content, having a pop at it will leave your client paying for rubbish work. You can’t just guess at these things and accept money for your efforts – it’s so not on. I’ve caught people out on this on a number of occasions (that sounds like I enjoy hunting out these kind of messes – I really don’t) when they’ve sent over work that isn’t even nearly what it’s supposed to be. I’ve had to say, “You’ve never done this before, have you?” and then there’s been that awkward, “Um, no, sorry.” moment, where I’m left with a rubbish piece of work, a looming deadline and a decision as to whether to pay for the work and re-hire that writer or not. It’s an all-round mess, so don’t put your clients in that position.

7) Being dismissive of corrections and amends

This last freelance writing fail was suggested to me by a successful journalist on Twitter, @TauriqMoosa and it’s something that resonated with me immediately.

When you’re working for a client, it’s important to recognise that every business, every company, and every brief is different. You’ve got things like subject, style, tone of voice, brand, conventions and personal preferences to bear in mind.

So, when your client comes back to you with amends, what you shouldn’t do is throw a tantrum. I’ve always gone out of my way to offer a lot of training and feedback to the writers I hire, particularly if they’re less experienced than me in certain areas.

What’s shocked me is when I’ve had to go back to a writer with less than fantastic feedback and have got attitude in response. If, after ten years, I don’t have the guts to dismiss what a client says to me about my freelance writing before at least checking up on what they’re saying, I’m kind of at a loss to see why someone who started out say, six months ago, would think it was a good idea to talk down to someone who’s 1) more experienced and 2) paying them for work.

Sadly, it seems like it’s not just me that this happens to. Tauriq states that his pet peeve is when journalists and writers are rude, unresponsive and dismissive – without good reason – of editorial changes.

Now, with publications like io9, New Statesman, the Guardian, New York Times, New Yorker, Forbes, TheBrowser.com, and the BBC on his resumé, someone like this knows exactly what they’re talking about. The idea that freelance writers are giving attitude to anyone, let alone someone like this, about suggested amends is something that is totally outrageous to me.

Being a freelance writer doesn’t mean being a doormat. But while you might often work in isolation, you have to accept that you’re not writing for you. Your content needs to be suitable for a wider, and often specific audience. If you want to write what you want to write and you don’t want any feedback, or any guidance, write for yourself.

Freelance writing – particularly corporate content – is about your clients, not you. If nothing else, the less receptive you are to feedback, the less likely you are to be a good fit with that client. No one likes being told that their work isn’t up to scratch, but if you think you’re 100% right and your clients are just being annoying by daring to request amends, you’re in the wrong job.

This kind of self-absorption is a fatal flaw in a freelancer for me. It can manifest itself in different ways – not just in refusing to tailor your writing to a client or publication’s preferences.

In the past, I’ve seen people moaning about the fact that publications don’t approach them to pitch, about the fact that companies approach them with work that they don’t find interesting, that they only want to write about very niche, very interesting topics, and that they don’t enjoy marketing.

These are all the kinds of warning signals that make me think freelance writing isn’t the job for everyone. In a salaried role, you can slump and moan your way through the boring bits to a certain extent, and you still get paid for every hour you spend. And, again, to a certain extent, you leave some of the menial stuff behind as you progress. With freelancing, while you should be able to become more choosy about the work you take on as you become more experienced, you will always have to put your own preferences on one side when it comes to accommodating client preferences. That’s what makes us different to authors, say.

So, those are just seven of the reasons I’d fire a freelance writer! While it’s not nice to think you could lose your clients, it’s far better to think about it in advance than to actually have it happen because of a silly, avoidable mistake on your part.

Freelance writing is hard enough without shooting yourself in the foot and leaving clients looking elsewhere for their future content writing needs.

If you’ve listened to this and you think it all sounds a bit scary, take heart. The fact is that these are basic things that really need sorting out. Take it from me that a lot of freelance writers I’ve encountered muck up in these ways, not just once but again and again. While that’s bad news for them, it’s good news for you. When a lot of freelancers are failing at things like basic courtesy and professionalism, you can take that chance to get right ahead and scoop up all that business they’re losing. It’s a competitive world out there, so if you can boost your skills, market yourself well and deliver work that, while it won’t always be perfect, always meets a good standard in terms of quality, you’re already well ahead in the game. Pip and I are always here to offer guidance if you’re stuck with anything, so do come and have a chat to us on Facebook, Twitter or by email – you’ll find all of our details at our Podomatic homepage at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com.

Little Bird Recommendation of the week

http://blog.hubspot.com/inbound-marketing-glossary-list

My recommendation this week is a handy post from Hubspot, which lists a whole load of marketing terms that you’ll need to know and understand at some point to be as successful a freelance writer as you can be.

As I said earlier, writing isn’t done in a vacuum – content is an integral part of a content marketing strategy, whether formal or informal, in most cases and it’s important to be able to have discussions using professional terms.

Saying, “But I’m just a copywriter!” won’t cut the mustard. Neither will an awkward silence while your client tries to work out if you have any clue what she or he is talking about.

By understanding these terms, you’ll be able to widen your awareness of how content affects marketing and talk the talk, as well as writing the words. Getting to grips with terms and concepts like ‘closed loop marketing’, ‘sales funnel’, A/B testing and many others will not only help to give you the tools to talk with confidence (and who knows, win more business?) it’ll broaden your understanding of the marketing that surrounds your writing.

It’s worth sitting down a few times this next week and highlighting any of the phrases you don’t know in this glossary, and giving them a good look over. There were a couple in there that I hadn’t come across before (I’m not admitting which ones!) and even just knowing them now means that I can address issues I wouldn’t have been aware of before. Dropping a few well chosen buzzwords into your interactions with clients and prospects can really impress, so take a good look!