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Podcast Episode 63: 60 minutes to a more successful freelance writing business

You can boost your freelance business in under an hour? Really?

Doing business development work can seem like yet another onerous task that gets in the way of the things you’re supposed to be doing. Like, well, writing. However if you want to run a sustainable and successful freelance business, it is essential. In this podcast episode, I have condensed your business development tasks into a simple 60-minute plan, to help you to get a load of bizdev under your belt without the need to sacrifice hours and hours of writing – or fun – time!

Show Notes

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

Relationship Marketing Basics for Freelance Professionals

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Transcript

Hello and welcome to episode 63 of A Little Bird Told Me, the podcast where freelance writers tell you all the tricks of the trade. We’re here to save you from mighty embarrassment and mortifying mistakes, and guide you to the very top of your chosen profession.

Freelancing is a funny old thing, so make sure you tune in to every episode of this podcast. If you go to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, you can subscribe to ensure you never miss an episode. You can do that via iTunes, RSS or Stitcher Smart Radio – we’ve made it really easy to sign up and be the first to hear our latest words of wisdom.

On that page, you’ll also find any links we mention, plus the links to my own websites and social media feeds.

I’m Philippa Willitts and today I’m doing a solo episode without my usual co-host Lorrie, who’ll be back in time for our next dual episode in two weeks’ time. Today I’m going to talk about things you can do in under an hour to boost your freelance writing business. Often if we feel we need to expand, get a few new clients, it can seem like a really big task.

There are all kinds of things you can do like designing some flyers or adding pages to your website. They might be helpful but they can take a long time and you might not just get round to them.  So what I’m going to talk about today instead is, if you set aside a period of one hour, then by the end of that hour, you’ll have made progress in several areas, all of which can help you make your freelance writing business more successful.

And so without further ado, let’s get started. The first task on the list of things you can do in 60 minutes is re-connect with an old client. It’s usually far easier to get repeat work from an existing client than it is to find a new client, build and develop that new working relationship.

So, chances are you have some clients you’ve worked for in the past but who have dropped off your radar a bit. This is a good time to make contact with them again. Now, you don’t have to send them a pitch for work – you don’t need to be too blatant about the fact that you’re wondering if there’s any work coming your way. Just making contact can be a good way of making sure they remember you exist and that you’ve done some good work for them in the past.

Making Contact

Making Contact (Photo credit: Thompson Rivers)

And there are a few ways you can do this – you can just drop them an email, saying, “Hi, I’m aware it’s been a while since we spoke. Hope everything’s going well for you – let me know if there’s anything I can help you with!”

I sent a very similar email to that to someone I used to get a lot of work from, and he’s since got back in touch with some work, so it’s paid off – and it only took me about three minutes to draft something that’s suited to him and his style. And just nothing hard-sell, nothing heavy, just a quick hello.

Alternatively, you can drop them a line on LinkedIn or say Hi on Twitter. Or, it’s coming up to that big December festival, so send them a Christmas card! Any way you can think of really to remind them that you exist and puts you back on their radar.

So that’s task number one. Task number two for how to boost your freelance business in an hour is to read a blog-post or watch a video about a topic you need to know more about.

Lorrie and I always talk a lot about keeping your training going. It doesn’t have to be formal training but make sure you’re always learning. So, maybe you’re aware that, say, there’s been a new Google algorithm called Hummingbird, but you don’t know what it is and you’re aware you probably should, given the nature of your work. So find a good blog-post about it on a reputable website and spend five or 10 minutes reading and absorbing the information.

Alternatively, it may be that you want to know more about how to use LinkedIn to market your business. Find a couple of good blog-posts on that, read those and see what information you can apply to your own situation.

Or if you have a specialist area you write in and you want to make sure you’re on top of the latest developments, spend five or 10 minutes looking up a good blog-post, or a video on YouTube or Vimeo. The only thing is that it has to be informative and it has to be from a reputable source so that you’re not reading something that’s actually not helpful to you and could damage the way you run your business. So that’s task number two: learning something new. It doesn’t have to take hours and hours.

Task number three is one a lot of us overlook, I think, and that’s to spend five minutes updating your Twitter bio – the profile information that appears when someone looks at your account. Now most of us probably set up a bio when we created the account and have done little to change it in the meantime. I know I’m guilty of this: I can go months and months without thinking about it, but then it’s a good thing to do once in a while because the services you offer might change, the language you use to describe them might change, or you might just have a look and think, “Well that suited me then but it doesn’t really represent what I’m doing nowadays.”

A lot of people will follow you – or not – based on your bio. If your bio consists of something you thought was funny six months ago but doesn’t really mean anything now because it was related to a TV programme, or you offer a wider range of services than you did six months ago,  have a look at your bio.

Try and look objectively and ask if it represents you now, shows you in the best light and is a successful and effective piece of profile information. This is what a lot of people will use to decide whether to follow you, or to get in touch with you with regards to some freelance writing work. It only takes a few minutes but it’s well worth your while.

Task number four is to ask one or more of your happy clients to write you a recommendation or a testimonial. I put this in partly because I’m really bad at doing it myself: I get self-conscious, it feels cheeky and I mean to do it but then don’t get round to it. So this is as much a prod to myself as it is to anyone listening.

If you have positive reviews on your website, your LinkedIn profile, this helps your business a lot. It reassures potential clients that you can do what you say you can do, and it provides social proof which is the phenomenon, where, if people see that other people like something, they’re more likely to go with it themselves as well.

Lorrie did a whole episode on social proof a while ago, so I’ll link to that in the show notes – it’s well worth a listen. If you think about it, if you’re on a website and you’re not sure whether to trust the claims made on it, if you read genuine customer reviews, it can sway you one way or the other.

There are different ways to ask for a recommendation or testimonial. A simple one is to email, say, three recent clients and ask them whether they’d mind sending you a few words about the work you’ve done for them that you can put on your website. Alternatively, you can approach people on LinkedIn and ask them for a recommendation on there.

Lorrie did this recently – I’m sure she won’t mind me saying this. She asked some clients if they’d write a few words about what she offered them. And because I know this is something I get stuck on myself, I asked her advice on how to go about it. And something I really liked about what Lorrie had done was that, in asking for these testimonials, she actually pointed out a few specifics that those people might like to mention.

So, she said something like, “If you could leave me a recommendation…if you’re not sure what to mention, perhaps you could talk about whether I submitted work on time, whether it was good quality, how useful it was to you – that kind of thing.”

What that meant that any recommendations she did get contained the kind of information that’s useful to prospects before they hire you.

You can use your recommendations in a variety of ways. I have a page on my website for reviews and recommendations that people have left me and I update that from time to time. If a person does it through LinkedIn, that will appear on your profile as soon as you approve it. Some people put them on flyers or postcards that they send out; others even put them on business-cards so if you can spare some space on there, that could be helpful.

There are lots of ways you can use recommendations and, as well as providing really good social proof, it can be a little boost to your confidence – and we all need one of those once in a while, let’s face it!

Point number five in how to improve your freelance writing business in 60 minutes is to make contact with a potential alliance colleague. Now, we’ve talked about this quite a lot in this podcast – there are other freelancers and small businesses you can make contact with who offer different services to you, but services that are related in some way.

handshake II

handshake II (Photo credit: oooh.oooh)

And these relationships can be really important because you can mutually refer clients to one another. If a client asks you to recommend, say, a web designer – if you have a client you’re writing a new website for, they might ask you to recommend someone. Similarly, there will be web designers whose clients say to them, “I don’t suppose you know a good copywriter, do you?” because they might as well have new text to go with their new design.

So making contact with people in that kind of profession can be really valuable for both of you. It’s the kind of thing that has to be mutually beneficial, so that you’re not asking a favour so much as coming up with an agreement that benefits for you both.

It leads to goodwill, which can only be a good thing, but also it can work both ways. In terms of how to make contact with these potential alliance colleagues, this will very much depend on whether you already have a relationship with these people or not. It might be that you already know a great team of web designers, or a printing company who sometimes needs to recommend someone to fill a brochure with content. Don’t just limit yourself to web designers, even though that’s the example we nearly always come up with!

There are all sorts of people who might need copywriters and who, equally, copywriters might need to refer to. So let’s have a look at printers then, for the sake of a change. These are people who print business cards, brochures, flyers, leaflets – anything you can think of. Maybe a client’s asked you to recommend a good print company. Now if you have a connection with a print company that you know is good quality, you can recommend them to your client.

Similarly, someone might contact that printing company and say, “We’re after new brochures – I don’t suppose you know someone who writes them?” Now if you already have a relationship with them, then they can refer to you.

So how do you go about this?  If you’re in a situation where you have no contact in that company, then making contact could be as simple as saying Hi on Twitter and saying, “Hey, it’s nice to make contact with another local business!” You might make contact on LinkedIn, which is a more professional based networking opportunity. And certainly, just for this 60-minute task that we’re doing today, just make contact, introduce yourself, say hello and make a good impression.

Alternatively, if you have already made contact with someone and you’ve been thinking, “Yeah, actually, that woman who works there could be a great mutual referral connection…” and if you feel you have a good enough relationship so that you know first of all that they offer great work, because you certainly don’t want to refer someone who doesn’t because that makes you look bad by proxy. But if you’ve thought about it, you like them, you think you can help each other and you know they do good work, this may be the time to make a suggestion about this.

Ask whether they fancy meeting for coffee if they’re local, or a chat on Skype – or you can even do it by email. Explain why you think it’d be beneficial for both parties. Make it clear that this isn’t a favour you’re asking for, this is a mutual referral – informal but it has the potential to bring you both some nice bits of work now and then. And present it in a positive way, explain why you think it might work, ask what they think.

Now if you spend 10 minutes identifying the right person and either making initial contact or, if you have a relationship with them, making a suggestion of a kind of alliance, then that could really blossom into something very positive for you both.

Now, task six – and this will take you two minutes maximum – is a very simple one: put a handful of business cards in your bag, purse or wallet. Whatever you tend to have with you most often, because you just never know when you’ll meet someone who wants your services. You might be having a haircut and the woman in the next chair gets chatting to you about how they’re looking for a writer. You can scribble your email address down but it looks so much better if you can hand them a well-designed, attractive business card. You might be in the post office queue with someone who needs a writer.

Planetshakers Queue

Queue (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some of my best clients have come to me through completely random scenarios – you can go to as many formal networking events as you like but, in my experience, I’ve got just as many clients from those chance meetings. And it’s a real shame if you have one of those conversations with someone in the post office queue, in the hairdresser’s chair, on the train and you can’t take it any further because you don’t have a business card with you. Just always make sure you have five or 10 in your purse and it’ll take you two minutes max at this stage and it’ll pay dividends in future. Keep them topped up and there you go.

So that’s six of the seven steps completed. Have a look at how long those have taken you. It may be half an hour; it may be 50 minutes but it’s likely to be somewhere between the two. So what I want you to do for the final task – this is more personal to you and your situation. This isn’t something I’m going to tell you specifically how to do, but I’ll tell you what you need to do and that’s to look at yourself honestly and ask yourself “What’s the task I know I need to do but that I’ve been putting off doing?”

There will be something – you know there is! Whether it’s sending out a dreaded pitch email, or some overdue invoices, adding a new blog post to your website – there’ll be at least one thing, so just choose one that you know you’re supposed to be doing. As you’ve given over an hour to follow the tasks in this podcast, use however long you have left to make a really good start on that task.

It might be that you’ve been putting it off so long that you imagine it’ll take you three hours whereas it’ll actually take you 10 minutes. Some tasks will take you longer, but once you’ve made a start, it’s a lot easier to carry on with. So all you need to do for the remainder of this hour is to make a start on whatever task you’ve identified. Just to make a start. Not necessarily finish it, although you may well – once you’ve started it, chances are it’ll just flow. So just make a start.

So those are my seven quick wins that will make a real difference to your freelance writing business and that you can do in under 60 minutes – let us know how you get on!

And so now it’s time for the Little Bird Recommendation of the Week, in which we recommend something we’ve seen, read, played with, thought about or learnt that might be of interest to our listeners.

My recommendation this week is an excellent blog post by Jennifer Mattern of All Indie Writers. It’s a great blog – if you don’t subscribe already, then do. And this post is called, “Relationship Marketing Basics for Freelance Professionals”.

Relationship marketing is really important for freelancers and I really enjoy this kind of thing. They describe it as, “Relationship marketing is simply the act of nurturing relationships with your clients and prospects, and emphasizing client retention. In other words, it’s everything you do to stay fresh in your clients’ minds and keep them coming back for more.”

Now, this is stuff that, if you’re a regular listener, you’ll know we talk about the importance of those things a lot. We probably don’t always frame them as relationship marketing, but that’s what it is. And this blog post is great – it gives five simple, easy tactics you can use to improve your relationship marketing and even if you just choose one or two, it can make a real difference to how you relate to your clients, how they relate to you and how they think of you when you pop up in their inbox, or indeed their mind.

So I’ll link to that post in the show notes as always, so head over to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com to find the link to Relationship Marketing Basics for Freelance Professionals on the All Indie Writers blog.

So that’s just about that for episode 63. Thank you so much for listening. Make sure you head over to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com. Find our Facebook page, say hello, find links to mine and Lorrie’s sites and social media stuff and we’ll see you next time.

Podcast Episode 62: How to meet – and exceed – your clients’ needs

Retaining existing freelance clients is generally much easier than constantly finding new ones, so it’s important to ensure that you are always seeking to meet, and exceed, their expectations. If someone hires you, make sure you are impressive! In this podcast episode, Lorrie and I recommend various ways to make sure that you correctly identify the needs of your clients, and how to go about meeting them.

Show Notes

There are several ways to make sure that you don’t miss out on A Little Bird Told Me. Subscribe via RSS Subscribe via iTunes Find us on Stitcher Smart Radio And finally, 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!  

Transcript

PW: Hello, and welcome to episode 62 of ‘A Little Bird Told Me,’ the podcast where two freelance writers tell you all the tricks of the trade. We’re here to save you from mighty embarrassment and mortifying mistakes, and guide you to the very top of your chosen profession. Freelancing is a funny old job, and we want to help you along the way. Tune into the podcast every week, and if you go to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, you can subscribe to ensure that you never miss an episode. Whether iTunes and RSS podcatcher, or Stitcher Smart Radio, or your platform of choice, we’ve made it super easy to sign up and to be the first to hear our latest words of wisdom. There you will also find any links we mention, and our own websites on social media feeds, as well as the A Little Bird Told Me Facebook page. I am Philippa Willitts…

LH: … And I’m Lorrie Hartshorn, and today we’re going to be talking about how to make sure that you’re meeting your clients’ needs. Building a freelance writing business, or any business for that matter really, is about finding and exploiting, or creating an exploiting demand for service that you can offer. And when I say ‘exploit’ I don’t mean anything untoward. I mean just making the most of something for the sake of your own benefit, and in this case, money to pay your bills.

Now in today’s climate, where clients can rightly or wrongly, especially wrongly, get what they think is the same work for much less that you probably want to charge them, and also where thousands and thousands and thousands of freelance writers are all vying for the attention of big business clients, meeting your clients’ needs will definitely be the difference between your business sinking or swimming.

PW: So what we’re going to do is go through various areas in which you can check what you’re doing, and maybe change the way you work a little bit, just to make sure that you are doing your best to really meet your clients’ needs. And the first area that we want to look at is listening. You should never assume that you know what your clients’ needs are. It’s easy to assume that if somebody contacts you wanting a blog you might think, ‘Oh, they want a blog because blogs are good for this, that and the other,’ and never say to them, ‘So what are your aims with this blog? What is it that you want to achieve with this blog? What do you want it to do for your business?’ Because it may actually be something entirely unrelated to what you think, and if you’ve guest and if you guest wrongly, then you’re not going to do a great job because if you think they’re aiming for SEO, but in fact they’re aiming for relationship building, then the blog’s going to be written in the wrong way.

And so while you can’t assume you know what their needs are, what you need to do is basically ask them. If you are having a first contact with a potential new client and they say, “We’re looking for press releases. We’re looking for news stories,” talk to them about not just what they want but why they want it. What are their goals for the piece of work? What do they hope is going to happen? Because without that information you’re not going to get anywhere.

LH: Definitely. And I think as well as actually getting useful information from them, you can really strengthen relationships, particularly with new clients, but as well with existing clients. There’s never too late a time to do this – letting them feel that they’re being listened to, and that you’re prioritizing what they want, even if they’re not quite sure what they want. If you give your clients the feeling that they’re being listened to, that is really, really valuable, and it’s something that will make them stay with you rather than going somewhere else.

PW: Yes, definitely, because I think we’ve all had to experience, even just as a — say you’re ringing up your gas company with a complaint. You know if you’re not being listened to, and it’s really frustrating. Or if something that drives me particularly up the wall is when you email a question to a customer service team, and you get what’s blatantly a form response.

LH: Oh, I hate those so much.

Most people do not listen with the intent to u...

PW: That is answering a different question to the one you asked, but it has some of the same keywords in it, for instance. There is nothing that makes me angrier, I don’t think. Because I can’t help myself but reply and go, “Well, if you could read what I actually said, and respond to that question, please, I would very much appreciate it.” And it’s so frustrating when someone assumes they know what you want, because it comes across as you don’t feel valued, you don’t feel heard, you don’t feel anything other than annoyance, I think.

LH: Yeah. You’ve wasted your time communicating with somebody that’s not listening to you. And time is really valuable. I think it’s a difficult balance to strike when you’re a freelance writer, because often your clients will need some level of guidance from you. They need your expertise. That’s why they need a freelance writer, they need somebody who’s got your skillset.

PW: Absolutely.

LH: So you do need to guide them, and sometimes… Say if you’re having a conversation with somebody for the first or second time, you do need to interject with suggestions of what they might be hoping to achieve and “Well, maybe, if we did this we could achieve such and such for you, or maybe we could increase website traffic by doing A, B and C.” But, as Pip just said, you don’t want to overstep the mark, and just make assumptions about what they need. Because you might be so busy trying to impress them with what your writing can achieve for them that you’re not actually hearing what they’re wanting to achieve.

So when you’re looking to take on new clients, market research is really important. You need to know who you’re dealing with, and consequently how you’re going to deal with them. So depending on how you’re making contact with these prospects, you might want to bear certain things in mind. One of the ways that you can make contact with people is via a networking event. And when you go along to these networking events active listening is really, really important, if you want them to pay attention to you or you at least want to get somebody’s interest, and get their business card off them. So, as Pip and I discussed before in our ‘Networking Like a Ninja’ episode we…

PW: [laughter]

LH: I know.

PH: I do feel we somewhat misrepresented that, but the title was so good that we couldn’t not use it, frankly.

LH: I disagree. I think it was absolutely accurate —

PW: [laughter]

LH: — that you will impact network like a ninja would. Who knows if ninjas network? They’re probably so sneaky you wouldn’t know even if they did.

PW: True.

LH: But when you’re networking you can’t simply tell people about your services. Although it’s good to have an elevator pitch, you can’t give people stock responses, because just as Pip said with that gas company, for example, people want to feel that you’ve tailored what you know to their needs. It’s not about you, it’s about them and how you can meet their needs. It’s quite different.

PW: I know at networking events the most success I’ve had tends to be when I’ve spoken the least, because if say I meet someone who runs their own small business, and they ask what I do, and I say, “I’m a freelance writer. I do this, that, the other -” which I may well introduce myself as. So if I then say, “So, if you need a new website, I’m the person to contact,” whereas they’ve actually already had a new website, and they would be interested in something completely different, I’ve probably lost them. Whereas if I say, “I’m a freelance writer. This is what I do. I do A, B and C,” and then pause, that’s when they will say, “Oh, I have been wondering about getting some help with press releases.” Whereas if I launched into why I’m great at websites or why I’m great at blog, then they would have thought this wasn’t something I could help them with. Listen, listen, listen.

you're not listening

you’re not listening (Photo credit: jessleecuizon)

LH: Absolutely. And if you leave a pause and they don’t come in with anything, you can ask them what do they do, because it’s a truth universally acknowledged, I’d say, that people like talking about themselves, even if they don’t, because it’s a bit uncomfortable at a networking event. But at a networking event you do have to talk, and the usual thing for people to talk about is what they do. And the more you know about them, the more you can tailor your speech in their direction.

PW: Yes, definitely. If you make an assumption about the kind of business they run, like if they say, “I run a small shop,” you might think, “Oh, there’s not much copywriting I can do for a small shop,” but they might… First of all, what “small” means to one person isn’t the same as it is to another. You don’t know if they’re running an online shop or a local shop. You don’t know what they’re selling and how much potential there is in that for content.

LH: You don’t know who they’re targeting, so how they reach people. They might reach people via the web, or they might reach people using printed literature.

PW: Yes. Or it might entirely be an email newsletter. If you make assumptions you’re going to miss opportunities.

LH: Absolutely. And being face to face with somebody is a really, really valuable opportunity, and it’s something you don’t want to waste. Now you might not be going to networking events. You might just be contacting people on the internet, and coming across people on social media, in which case it’s important to know which kind of social media you need to be on. The clue is in the name – social media is social – and you can learn a lot from listening to people that you would like to target as clients on social media feeds. But in order to be able to do that, you need to be on the right social media feed. Facebook, for example, is not all together the best social media feed for B2B businesses.

PW: Yeah. It can work, but it’s certainly a far less intuitive way of doing B2B networking, I think.

LH: Definitely. Whereas, if you’re looking for B2C clients, Facebook is perfect. So for B2B clients Twitter, I’ve always found, is very good. You’ve got a lot of people on there talking about a lot of complex things, and if you can insinuate yourself into a conversation, or just be a bystander in a conversation, you can learn more about your prospects. And as we said, the more you know about these people, the more you can make sure that you’re meeting their needs.

PW: You can also set up very strategic searches, especially if you use a tool like TweetDeck or HootSuite. You can have a constant column open, so that anybody who mentions, I don’t know, “dressmaking Sheffield” will pop up on your screen in front of you whenever they do. Or you can do it manually. You can save searches on the Twitter website and then you can just set them up and watch for a few weeks and see what are people’s concerns, what are people wanting, what do people want to know, what’s missing from people’s lives. You talk about whatever your chosen subject is, and it’s a brilliant way. You don’t have to do any work, you just watch what people say publicly. Compared to setting up surveys and saying, ‘What do you want from a dressmaker in Sheffield?’ you can just let people tell you.

LH: Definitely. And it’s not just a good way to find perspective clients, either. It’s a good way to formulate your content if you’re for clients in that sector, because it’s what it says. If they’re asking questions about – oh, I don’t know, let’s stick with the dressmaker – where can I find a good dressmaker in Sheffield, there’s a blog post in that.

PW: Yeah. And if lots of people are saying, “I want a dressmaker in Sheffield, but nobody’s listing their prices,” for instance, then —

LH: You’ll know what their priorities are.

PW: Exactly. And what website needs to stand out. The listening tools available in the world of social networking are really mind blowing when you compare to even five or ten years ago.

LH: You’re basically able to eavesdrop on any conversation that’s taking place online, and it’s really amazing, because it can take a lot of the pain out of contacting new prospects, as well. If you were to get in touch with the dressmaker in Sheffield and say, “I’ve noticed on social media that there’s a lot of discussion about the fact that dressmakers in Sheffield don’t have very good websites and don’t list their prices clearly. I’ve noticed that your website is -” and then you can give a bit of insight into how the website is functioning. “Would you be interested in talking about A, B or C?” And that shows that you have your finger on the pulse, that you’re interested in that business, have a concrete way to improve their business, and that you’re in touch with prospective customers for them.

PW: And you can back it up with links, screenshots. You can say, “In the last week alone 15 people wanted to know this.” You could do graphs.

LH: [laughter]

PW: Everybody’s impressed by a graph.

LH: You go for something visual. You could do a pie chart.

PW: And that’s all ways of listening in a way that, again, it’s getting rid of those assumptions, and listening to the reality of what people want, so that you can meet the needs of your client.

LH: This is it. Because depending on how generalized or specialized you are, even if you’re the most specialized person, you can’t know any sector inside and out. You can’t know what everybody in that sector is thinking in all the associated industries. What you hear might not be what you’re expecting to hear a lot of the time. I think it’s good not to rest on your laurels and assume that you know a sector even if you’re a specialist in it, because sectors develop, don’t they? There’s always something changing and growing and evolving. I suppose particularly if you’re a specialist actually, you need to keep your finger on the pulse, and to really, really listen to what people have got to say.

Now another way to do this, staying on the same theme, is to subscribe to and read trade publications and trade blogs. Because it’s not just the value that you’re going to get from the articles themselves, but also from the comments below the line. So where you will have a trade publication about skip hire, for example, you will have people who are interested in skip hire. And where you have people who are interested in skip hire, you’ll have perspective customers and their perspective customers. So you’ve not just got the people who you can target, you have the people looking for skip hire companies, so you can learn not just about your prospective clients’ needs, but about their prospective clients’ needs. Again, it’s like a social media feed in your specific industry.

So it’s well-worth subscribing to popular high-traffic blogs and publications and e-newsletters, because that keeps a finger on the pulse without you having to do it. That’s a whole load of research, isn’t it, that you don’t have to do. You can go along and see what they’re researching because to stay popular, to stay high-traffic, they will have to keep their finger on the pulse.

PW: Another thing that’s important to do if you want to really focus on meeting your clients’ needs is to be flexible and responsive.

LH: This is always the tricky one, isn’t it?

PW: It is. There’s always a line to be drawn, and it’s sometimes not 100% clear where that line is, but basically you want to impress your clients, and you want to do the best by them. They are paying your bills, and you want them to feel thoroughly happy with what you’re doing. And this does mean sometimes maybe taking on an extra piece of work when you aren’t planning to, it means responding to your emails and phone calls fairly quickly, and keeping on top of keeping them happy, really, but not at the expense of the rest of your business and your life.

LH: I think this is it. When you start out as a freelancer I think it’s easy to go overboard trying to meet the needs of your clients. And given how eager people are when they start freelancing, it’s a bit of a perfect thorn, because you are likely to take on clients who don’t pay you enough, in my experience, and usually, in my experience, again, it’s the clients who don’t pay you enough who tend to be the most demanding.

PW: That is very true.

LH: So when you start out I’d put money on it that you’re likely to think, “Oh, I can’t do this. I can’t cope with this. I’m having to respond to emails at 11 o’clock at night,” and “Oh, this person’s not paying, and it’s costing me money, and I don’t know what I’m doing.” So as Pip says, there’s definitely a balance to be met. And as you carry on freelancing you’ll realize how far you can stretch yourself, and indeed how far you should stretch yourself to meet your clients’ needs and to be responsive with them without sacrificing your own wellbeing, and in some cases, not just your free time but the time you need for other clients.

PW: I think something’s that’s really important to bear in mind is that if the time you spend communicating with your clients or dealing with them in ways other than just writing stuff for them – if that’s taken over and losing you money, then you’re probably doing your pricing wrong. The fact is you’re a freelancer and a big part of that job is liaising with businesses. And that has to be incorporated within your overall pricing structure. And so if you think, “No, this is taking up too much time and it’s unpaid work,” then look at your pricing because you have to take into account that you’re not just going to write stuff. You do have to be dealing with people in their terms, as well as working to your own terms.

LH: Absolutely. And there are ways of doing that. It’s good to look at how long you’re spending, because if one client is on the phone all the time and on the email all the time, then it might be a problem with that particular client. But if you have a look across the board, and you find that you’re spending too much time across the board talking to people, then absolutely you need to look at trying to incorporate that into your pricing structure. And there are ways and means to do that. You can either increase the prices for say… I mean, something I’ve done – I increased the price of a case study or a blog post if I have to do a phone interview for it.

PW: Yeah. Other ways that you can be flexible and responsive are things like often it’s not unreasonable demands, it’s just things that you may have to just shift things around a bit. If a client needs to speak to you, and they’re only free at 4 o’clock, then do everything you can to make sure you can speak to them at 4 o’clock. It’s not a big deal, it shows them that you’re making the effort, and it keeps things easy. Similarly, a way of being responsive can be to set an out-of-office auto-responder if you’re away. Then your client won’t feel that you’re neglecting them if you don’t get straight back to them.

And things like if you’re a proof-reader and somebody wants you to work in the Open Office software suite rather than Microsoft Word it’s not a big deal. It’s easy to do, and it shows them that you’re willing to take steps to work with them.

LH: Absolutely. It’s good to keep in mind that you and your clients are on the same team, I think. Because sometimes you can feel quite resentful, especially if you’re chopping and changing what you’re doing. It can be easy to think, ‘Oh, for goodness sakes, I’ve just changed this, and I’ve just done that.’ And then now I need to do this, and he’s only free at 4:00 – it’s the nature of freelancing.

PW: It is.

LH: It really is. Things aren’t as structured as they would perhaps be in a salary position. You do have to chop and change, because it’s your business, and that’s just the way it is. I found myself at first getting really stressed out and thinking, “But I’ve just changed that. Now I have to swap this around…” If you just accept it, really, it’s less difficult.

PW: Yeah. The lack of structure in freelancing is one of the reasons a lot of freelancers get into it. So go with it.

LH: It is the other side of the coin that allows you to go out for lunches, or allows you to do your shopping in the morning if you need to, or go to doctor’s appointments in the afternoon. It’s the same coin. So in terms of being flexible and responsive, it doesn’t just go for looking after existing clients, either. It’s actually a good thing to bear in mind when you’re looking for new prospects, as well, because part of winning you business, people will say, “How did you find new business? How did you get new customers?” Part of it, and a large part is just being in the right place at the right time and saying the right things. You need to be seen to be doing the right things and seen to be being the suitable person for them. So there’s no point in saying the right thing if they’re not there. There’s no point in being there if they are, but not saying anything. You really do have to say the right thing at the right time in the right place.

PW: Yeah. And some of that will happen by very good planning, and some of it will happen by complete luck.

LH: Almost miracles. When I think how I found some of my clients I think, “Gosh, how did that happen?”

PW: Oh, I know. It’s ridiculous sometimes. You think, “I worked really hard for client X. I did everything and eventually snacked them.” And then client Y will just almost trip up and land at your feet. And you think, “How did that happen?” But go with it. It’s all good.

LH: Yeah. If you move in the right circles it’s far, far more likely to happen. So I think that’s a good time to interject with kind of the words on marketing. It’s really good to plan and streamline your marketing rather than having a scattergun approach, because you can put hours and hours and hours of effort into hitting every possible social media platform and trying every different thing. It’s far better to streamline your marketing activities and to respond to what works well. And to be able to respond you need to be able to measure your marketing activities, as well. So it’s really worth having a look at coming up with a marketing plan, and there’s so much online that will help you do that. And you can actually spend a lot less time just hitting the right target than spending a lot of time hitting all the targets, many of which won’t tick any boxes for your perspective clients.

PW: Now the next point which is really important in terms of meeting clients’ needs is about being proactive. But sometimes you can feel like you’re just sitting back and everything’s going swimmingly.

LH: [laughter] That’s always when things go wrong, isn’t it?

PW: Yeah, and you’re going with the flow and everything’s working perfectly. But if you get too comfortable in that situation you can suddenly find it all drops away. So being proactive is what we’re going to look at next.

LH: Definitely. I think the first point I want to make is that just because everything seems right doesn’t mean it is. That’s a really sad fact. It is, but it is a fact. It’s easier, as Pip says, to rest on your laurels and think, “Oh, everything’s good,” and just let things slide.

PW: Because there are times as a freelancer when that happens – you’ve got just the right amount of work, you’ve not got too much, you’ve not got too little. Everyone’s paying their invoices on time, and you just think, “I have mastered this now.”

LH: [laughter] Bravo.

PW: We fall for it many times. And it feels lovely, but what we don’t hear is the Jaws music in the background.

LH: [laughter] No, it’s definitely true. What I was going to say? Then you laugh just thinking about Jaws now.

PW: [laughter]

LH: That tickled me so much, the vision of you on a lie-low with a cocktail. And there’s a big danger in thinking that everything’s okay, and everything will always be okay, and sort of lay back on your lilo with your cocktail, just thinking about how marvellous freelancing is. Because as a freelancer you don’t have the security that you have in a salaried position. It’s sensible to put something in place when you start working with a client that says a month’s notice, for example. But unless you’re willing to really pursue that, depending on circumstances that might just not have any bearing. They might decide that they don’t need a copywriter anymore, effective immediately, and are you really going to try and force them to keep to that one month’s notice theory?

PW: A lot of businesses that hire copywriters, that hire freelancers do so because they don’t want to commit to a certain amount of work and a certain amount of time. It’s the very appeal of freelancers, that’s why they will go with the freelancer rather than hire someone who they’d have to provide a certain amount of work for.

LH: Absolutely. So while you might be able to persuade them to give you a notice period, unfortunately a lot of clients aren’t ideal clients, and when they won’t need you anymore they won’t need you, and that’s as far as it would go. So don’t assume that just because everything looks okay, and your client’s not saying that anything’s wrong, that there aren’t things going on in the background. It might be that the company is planning on downsizing, it might be that they’re planning on increasing their marketing capacity in-house, and they might be wanting to hire a copywriter in-house or a marketing exec. It might be that they’re not happy with your work. It might be that there’s something about your work that’s not suiting them. And I know it sounds obviously you might think, “Well, why wouldn’t they say something?” But some people just don’t.

PW: They’re too polite, so they’d rather just never deal with you again than actually say, “It’s not good enough.”

LH: Yeah, it’s completely true. So you need to be proactive in order to keep your clients happy. They might not even know that something’s wrong. But if you find that their responses to you are getting a little bit lukewarm or that they used to be in raptures about your blog posts, but now they’re just like, “Hmm, thanks, yeah, cool.” They might not even know what it is, but it is your job to find out, to be proactive, and to make sure that you give them as little reason as possible to become dissatisfied with your work.

PW: Yeah. Because also it impresses clients. If you come across as having thought something through beyond what they were respecting…

LH: Definitely. Actually, that’s a really good point. I was there with all the doom and gloom, but there’s a positive side, isn’t there?

PW: Say you provide regular blog posts for a plumbing service, a plumber. For them it’s a content marketing tool and it’s a lead generation tool. If you do your weekly post of whatever it is, but then if you once in a while get in touch with your client, the plumber, and say, “I’ve noticed that three of your competitors have done this particular thing recently, and it seems to be successful. So I did some keyword research, and I did some wider research in other plumbing blogs, and this is what I suggest.” We do just maybe as a one-off, see how it goes. They will be impressed that you’ve taken the time to do the extra research to compare with what their competitors are doing and to take the time to go ahead with it, basically.

LH: Absolutely, because it’s just adding value to what you do for them. It’s easy as a freelancer to, “Well, they’re only paying me for this. They’re only paying me for five blog posts a month, so why should I spend more time not being paid?” Particularly, you don’t have a salary. Why should I spend chargeable time doing work for nothing? But it’s ten times easier to keep a client than to get a new one. That will never stop being true.

PW: Definitely. Plus, back to what we said earlier, if doing anything extra like that is for nothing, then your billing is wrong. You’re not taking the right things into account when you set your fees.

LH: Definitely. And like I say, we’re reiterating things that we said earlier, but you and your clients are on the same team. If you find yourself resenting doing anything for them, and you don’t have at least something invested in their business, then there’s something amiss. You have to be able to invest your energies into your client’s business, because the better their business does, it may well be the better that your business does.

PW: Yeah. If you’re blogging for the plumber, and he starts to get twice the number of leads as before you were blogging for him, then he’s happy, so he keeps you on. And then, when his mate, the electrician, says, “Where have you suddenly got all your work from?” and the plumber says to the electrician, “Well, I found this woman who does blog posted and my leads have doubled.” Then the electrician will get in touch with you, so you’ve got extra work. And then you do matching things to her website, and then she doubles her leads, and then her mate, the bricklayer gets…

LH: [laughter]

PW: If it works it’s beneficial in so many ways, not least —

LH: It is starting to come out like a really bad joke – “and then the plumber said to the electrician.”

PW: [laughter] So yeah, so it does more than just impress the client that you’re taking the care. If it improves their results, then that will improve things for you, because they’ll keep you on, they’ll recommend you. You’ll have better case studies to give to potential new clients where you can say, “I doubled the plumber’s leads.” Some will hear this plumber is doing very well thanks to me. And so yeah, it has more than just that immediate gratification of someone saying, “Wow, that’s brilliant. Thank you.” It can go a lot further.

LH: And not just referrals. Although referrals are one of the best ways to get new work. I mean, they’re so amazing, aren’t they?

PW: Oh, definitely.

LH: Because it’s a real foot in the door, and it tends to be business owners talking to business owners.

PW: Yeah, it takes a layer of the process out, which is proving your credibility, I guess.

LH: Absolutely. But in terms of other benefits, it may be that if this fabled plumber does super well and that blog doubles the number of customers that they take on, it may be that they’ll need more content work from you. So the benefits really are numerous, and it’s worth it. Besides which, you should actually just care about doing a good job for people.

PW: Exactly. If I send off a piece of work that I know is really good – you know sometimes you just go, “I have mastered this. These 750 words are the perfect 750 words from this situation.” Sometimes you just know you’ve nailed it.

LH: You go above and beyond, don’t you? And it’s okay to go, “Do you know, that was a really good piece of work.”

PW: That’s it. Like Lorrie says, it can be great for business reasons, but also if somebody has gone out of their way to hire me, I really want them to feel good about that. So when I want them to be pleased it’s partly for all those strategic business reasons. But it’s also because I really enjoy what I do and I want them to be pleased with it. It can be just that.

LH: Absolutely. I’ve taken on quite a new client. They’re a marketing agency, and of course, with them being a marketing agency they have a number of clients of their own. So I’ve been doing the content for them. And one of these particular clients has a reputation for being quite difficult, and they’ve not been satisfied with some of the work that’s gone through before. They’ve not been super impressed with some of the content they’ve had before, so there’re already preconceptions with that particular client. So I was warned before I did a case study for this person. And I really put my back into it. I really put extra effort in, and I put a lot more time in than I charged for in the interests of building a stable base for future work.

And I didn’t hear anything back for a while and I thought, “Oh, maybe this person’s not impressed with this, either.” But then I got an email from the marketing agency saying, “Oh, we forgot to tell you, but they were really happy.” I was like,”Aaah! Amazing! ” I think it’s just pure smugness. It was pure smugness.

PW: Yeah, it feels good. And you’re in the wrong job if you don’t care what someone thinks of your writing.

LH: Absolutely. And I was so pleased, because it’s something that wasn’t just going to be pleased with anything, and wasn’t just going to go, “Yeah, that’s amazing.” This person had ideas of what they wanted, and I’ve met those needs, and it felt really good.

PW: Yes. Good, and with good reason.

LH: And it does all the world of good for me because this person wasn’t pleased with the content they were receiving previously, so now there’s something else underlining the fact that I am different from the content provider that they were using before, and that I am potentially better. It’s all brownie points, isn’t it?

PW: Yeah. And not only do they think highly of you, that gets passed on the marketing agency, who are all too aware that this is a demanding client, so that makes you look good in their eyes, as well. So that one time of putting a lot of extra working will pay off in lots of different ways.

LH: Absolutely. In the minute I had that feedback I thought, “Oh, I don’t mind I put the extra time in.” It’s very nice when something like that drops into your inbox, and you have to care about things like that, don’t you? And that real satisfaction drives you to be proactive for clients.

PW: Yes. I hired a guy earlier this week to migrate two of my websites to a new host. Now this was a very, very anxious 24 hours for me.

LH: It really was, listeners!.

PW: I was so frightened. Don’t break my sites, please, don’t break my sites. Please, don’t break my sites! Anyway, he didn’t break my sites, and he successfully migrated them. I had hired him from a freelancing website that I’d heard about from Lorrie called PeoplePerHour.

LH: Oh, very good.

PW: Yeah, which is a freelancing site that feels very different to the elance, freelancer.com-type ones to me.

LH: It’s the only one I’ve used. And I’m not quite keen on the others.

PW: Yeah, it feels like less of a meat market where everybody’s going for the bottom prices. It feels a bit more reasonable in terms of as a buyer, but also as a service provider. I didn’t feel like I was exploiting anybody to get the work done, which also helped. Anyway, and he did the work really well, he communicated with me throughout, and so I left him glowing feedback afterwards, because he had done a great job, and those kinds of sites live or die by the feedback that people leave. And that’s partly why you can hire someone you don’t know, because you can see what other people said about them.

But anyway, the point is I went out of my way to leave him very good feedback because he deserved it, and I hope it helps him get more work. And he got back to me and he was just, “Oh, thank you so much!” He was really pleased, and he was partly pleased that he’d got such great feedback, but he was also genuinely pleased that I was pleased with what he’d done. I could tell that he was proud of having done a good job, and I would hire him again without question if I needed to.

LH: And I asked you to pass his details on to, didn’t I?

PW: Yes, you said that you might need it, and would I pass the details on, and I would happily, and that’s partly because he did a good job, but it’s also partly because he really tried. You could tell he was proactive in doing what I needed, which included emailing me occasional reassurances. And it made a difference to me. So it makes him stick in my mind beyond someone who did a good job, but someone who did a good job and cared that he did a good job.

LH: That’s really, really good. And I think it all comes back, doesn’t it, to listening to your clients. And I mean active listening. And active listening includes three types of listening, which are verbal communication, non-verbal communication, which includes things like body language, tone of voice, facial expression, and intuition, which is just your gut instinct. Say that you’ve had a call with somebody, but you get the feeling that they’re not quite reassured or they’re not quite satisfied. So you find ways to add reassurance or satisfaction or extra value into that communication with them. And if you actively listen to your client, it will help you find ways to be proactive. So say that you’re the tech guy doing the migration – this is as far as I know about migrating websites – is that you are some kind of tech person. So this tech person doing Pip’s website migration – you have the impression that maybe this Miss Philippa Willitts is slightly nervous about —

PW: About this particular task, yes.

LH: Perhaps you’re slightly nervous. She doesn’t say as much, although I know she did —

PW: I think I did say, “Please, don’t break them.”

LH: [laughter]

PW: And he replies and says, “Please, do not worry. I won’t break anything.” [laughter] And then I felt guilty.

LH: [laughter] Yeah, fair to say you felt guilty. Not too guilty, though. She sounds so worried, honestly. So the verbal communication is her saying, “I’m worried. Please, don’t break my site,” and being proactive and responsive and saying, “Don’t worry. I won’t break your sites.” The non-verbal communication is perhaps the frequency of emails. Maybe you still get the impression they’re a bit worried, so you decide to be proactive by emailing them frequent updates, just to let you know. And I’ve done this with another client.

PW: I’ve done that, too, yeah.

LH: Just to let you know, as of this morning I’ve spoken to such and such, I’ve interviewed this person. The first blog post is written, the second one is halfway done, and the case study’s got the framework in place. I just need to write that up. ETA is going to be tomorrow at lunch time. And nothing needed to be said, I didn’t need to send that email to those clients, but if you can be proactive and respond to something that is nonverbal from your client, then all the better for it, you’re being proactive. And if you go with your gut instinct that there’s nothing there, but you just think, “Hmm, if I were one of my clients, I might be nervous about this or I might be concerned about that, or I might want to know about A, B or C.” You can be proactive again or, for example, I had a client who needed a press release, but I got from their Communications that they’ve not really sent out a press release before, so I sent a whole load of extra information on what to do with your press release.

PW: Yes, this is something that I do. I created a PDF document on how to get the most of a press release, and whenever I send a press release, particularly to a new client, I attach this document, and I know Lorrie liked this idea and does it, as well.

LH: I loved that.

PW: And it took me half an hour to research it, write it and make it look a little pretty, and also brand it, so that it was clearly mine, and so maybe an hour’s work in total. And yet each new client that receives it feels like they’ve got – this goes into the next point we’re making, but they feel like they’ve got something extra. They’ve got a freebee; everybody loves a freebee. And it can also – which is also the point – help them get the most out of your press release, which then makes them think, “Wow, she writes really good press releases.”

LH: Definitely. So just a little bit of proactivity has gone such a long way in all of the places. So what we’re going to talk about now is how and when to go the extra mile in a bid to meet your client’s needs, and indeed to exceed your client’s expectations. That’s always a nice thing to aim for – meeting their need, and going a little bit beyond.

PW: If you exceed your client’s expectations more often than not, you have a very happy client who will stick with you. I always try to exceed expectations in one way or another, and it’s really worthwhile. So sometimes it might be that you will take on, for instance, some occasional rush work for a client who is very valuable to you. All these points link to each other, and so this is also connected to being flexible and responsive, and being proactive. But it might be that once in a while you say yes to some weekend work when you’re planning to have a weekend off, because the client is genuinely — they’re suddenly going to a trade show next week that they didn’t think they had a place at, and they suddenly need leaflets and brochures. And once in a while you can say, “I will work this weekend because I really value this client’s existence in my business.” And that, although it will annoy you over the weekend, or you’re thinking, “This is my time off,” in the spirit of keeping a good client, can be worthwhile.

There are also times when you can offer something to a client that doesn’t really have any direct benefit to you whatsoever. I recently had a situation where one of my clients asked if I could recommend somebody who could do a particular task, and another of my clients specialized in that particular task.

LH: That’s so fortunate, isn’t it?

PW: I know. It was unbelievably lucky.

LH: It’s one of those moments where you will like, “Yes, the Universe is aligned.”

PW: Exactly. And so I could direct client A to client B. Client A loved me because I had found the solution to his problem. Client B loved me because I had sent him some extra business. Now none of that got me any work directly, but what it did get me is goodwill from both of them that will be repaid over time. I know it will. There’s no direct – you sent me that work, so I’m sending you this work – but what it does is put you in a good place, a happy place in their mind that will pay dividends.

LH: Yeah, absolutely. And were we not close friends, we’ve certainly done things in the past that would really build up goodwill between the two of us. You’ve sent me work in the past; I’ve sent you work in the past. There’s no direct benefit there, so were we not close friends, it might be the kind of thing where you think, “Oh, well, she sent me work in the past; I could refer this work to her. I’m too busy to take this on. She’s a good person to refer that to.” Now there’s no benefit to pick really directly for saying to somebody, “I’m afraid I’m a little bit too busy to take that on at the moment. However, if you’d like me to recommend somebody, I can recommend someone who’s a good proof-reader, who’s a good copywriter, who’s a good copy editor.” And then yours truly gets recommended. What that means is that Pip has been able to recommend something to a fellow freelancer, and she’s also been able to not disappoint a customer.

PW: That’s very true. If you just go back to them and say, “Sorry, I’m too busy,” they’ll think you’re really obnoxious, and that you’ll never hear from them again, whereas if I could say, “I’m so sorry, I’m overrun. I can 100% recommend this woman. Here’s the details,” then they will have a much better feeling about the whole interaction.

LH: As you say, it’s a goodwill, isn’t it?

PW: Yeah, definitely. And also, like Lorrie says, we’re all friends, and we do help each other out in numerous ways, work-related or not. But even if we were just colleagues and not particularly close, it presents a goodwill between us that if I sent you work, you might then be more inclined to send me work.

LH: Absolutely. Because as freelancers you don’t get paid holiday, for example. You don’t get paid leave, or you don’t get paid sick leave. But sometimes you need a holiday, and sometimes you need to go off sick, and it’s something that Pip and I have discussed that potentially we could look after each other’s businesses, if the other person needed that. And it’s something that offers you extra value and extra security, and it’s something that you wouldn’t otherwise have. So goodwill – it was my old boss that used to say, “You have to have money in the bank to take out money.”

PW: It’s so true. Yeah, it would be unreasonable of me to suddenly expect a favour from Lorrie if I had never done anything at all that showed that I was happy to do a favour for her. That’s just a rule of life.

LH: It’s true, isn’t it? That’s all it is. It’s just true. And another way that I’ve been proactive for clients, sort of talking about your referring, another way that I’ve done something similar is that I upload blog posts for one particular client. Now it would take me just as much time really to upload – I work with them via Basecamp – and it takes me just as much time really to upload a blog post to Basecamp and email it to them as it does – it takes me perhaps five minutes more – to upload the blog post and add in a metadata or add in a picture and to click “Send.”

But it’s so much extra value for the client, because it’s a plug-and-play blogging service. I find the subject, I write it, and I upload it. And there’s a trust there now that they don’t even need to see the blog post. I just upload it for them. So I’m basically keeping their blog going for them. And it’s not that much extra work for me. As I say, it’s another five minutes, but I’m not going to quibble over for five minutes when it keeps my client so happy.

PW: Yeah. Similarly, if I’m writing – I’ve got a particular client who runs an SEO business, and I write blog posts for him. Sometimes they’re kind of instructional step-by-step how to do A, B or C. And I will often include screenshots in that. And he initially, the first time I sent the processed screenshots said, “Should I pay you more for the processed screenshots because it’s taken you an extra time and…?” But for me it made far more sense to say, “No, it’s the same price.” First, because I don’t want him to feel like I’m chancing it, but also if I’m writing a step-by-step, it makes my job easier if I can include a screenshot that points to the thing you have to click on, but also for the extra work, which is maybe five minutes’ extra work on a two-hour piece of work, then it’s not worth adding anything to the fee, because it’s not that much time, and the client feels like he’s getting an extra.

LH: This is an interesting point, isn’t it? Because often going the extra mile it takes more imagination than it does effort.

PW: Yes, that’s so true.

LH: You can think, “Oh, going the extra mile – but that leads to a slippery slope, and I’ll end up working for free.” But really with Pip’s screenshots, for example, and with my uploading things to WordPress rather than just emailing them across, all it took was a bit of thought. All it took was a bit of thought, thinking “How can I make life easier for this client?” It doesn’t take as long. It does not take as long. If it took me a long time, I wouldn’t do it, because it wouldn’t be the extra mile, it would be the extra marathon. It would be an extra piece of work.

PW: There’s another benefit to going the extra mile, which is that it may be that you’ll learn a new skill. For instance – this isn’t true, but looking at Lorrie’s example of uploading to WordPress rather than emailing – say Lorrie had no WordPress experience, and she felt like she was learning how to use it, then there can be a real benefit in offering that client to do it. You will upload it to WordPress yourself – that’s no problem, you won’t charge any extra, because that will also teach you how to upload to WordPress.

LH: Well, this has actually been true with Basecamp. I didn’t know how to use Basecamp.

PW: That’s it. And so you can almost – you can offer this free service while using it as a way to learn how to do it. And then in the future maybe expand it into something more substantial, and then it’s a whole new service you offer.

LH: Absolutely. Like I said, it’s the perfect example, because while I am familiar with WordPress, I wasn’t familiar with Basecamp at all.

PW: That’s it.

LH: And I panicked. I thought, “Oh, my goodness!” This client said, “I’m going to set up a Basecamp. We’ll use that.” “Oh, dear.” I loved it. So simple.

PW: The first time I used Basecamp I was the same. He was like, “You’re okay with dealing with it all on Basecamp?” But of course I was like, “Yeah…”

LH: Like uh-huh… [laughter]

PW: And it’s actually, I think we both agree it’s more intuitive than it might sound.

LH: It’s so, so easy. But now I can proactively say to new clients, “It’s fine to deal with me by email. I’m fine to upload things to Basecamp, and I’m also happy to upload things to WordPress.”

PW: Exactly. And so doing it for free for one person can become a proactive service offering for another.

LH: Absolutely. And you can readjust your fees for new clients.

PW: Oh, yeah. [laughter]

LH: So while you can say to your existing client, “No, don’t be daft. It takes me five minutes extra,” the fact that you can package it more intuitively in the future for new clients… You can say, “I offer just the text for x pounds. If you’d like it uploaded to WordPress, complete with metadata and an image, then I can do that for say 5 pounds more.” There are ways and means to do that. Because it will start adding up if you start doing 10 minutes extra for every single client.

PW: Yeah, or all your little extras for one client. Then it’s an hour.

LH: Yeah, of course. So there are ways and means to really make it work for you.

PW: And what we touched upon just then is also really important. Everything we said about being proactive, being flexible, being responsive, going the extra mile, is very important, but that’s not the same as saying you should do anything and everything a client demands regardless of how reasonable it is.

LH: Absolutely. Because at the end of the day your time is chargeable, so you need to keep a handle on the extras, and make sure that, one, there is a return on investment and that there is a benefit, and that you don’t have a client who’s all take-take-take. And sadly, they gimmick this sometimes. And you need to make sure that they’re not adding up, even if your client’s the loveliest client in the world, that they’re not adding up to what’s significant chargeable time.

PW: Yeah. If you were in a salary job and your boss is constantly asking you to do things for them. It doesn’t really matter because they’re paying you regardless of what you do. As a freelancer, it is different. And so if somebody is expecting loads of extras, then it’s not reasonable.

LH: Absolutely. And there are certain warning finds that you can look out for. Because when you start out you really want to meet everybody’s needs. And as we said at the start of this episode, meeting people’s needs is good. That’s what this whole thing is about. But, but, but there are some people who will take advantage of that, either once or twice or consistently. And you need to be able to know what’s reasonable and what’s not. And it’s not always straightforward at the start to know what’s —

PW: Oh, definitely.

LH: Particularly if you don’t have colleagues to discuss it with. It’s not easy to work these things out on your own, which is why things like this podcast and blogs for freelancers are very useful resources to have. Because you can sound off and you can say to people, “Oh, my client keeps expecting me to do this or my client’s expecting me to do that.” So the first warning sign that you need to look out for really is if the activity is costing you money.

PW: And this can be based on the client’s unreasonable demands, or it can be based on you having priced your services naively, and not taking into account the fact that in freelancing you do need to pay for time that isn’t writing. But if you’re confident you’ve priced your services well, perhaps it’s just one client’s — or if all your clients you feel are costing you extra money, then you’ve priced yourself wrong. If most you feel it’s very fair, and then there’s one that is actively costing you money because you’re having to spend time doing something when you could be doing something that you’re being paid for, then this is definitely a warning sign to look out for.

LH: Absolutely. And there are certain things you can do to protect yourself varying from just cutting down the little freebees, and maybe starting to add a few more to your invoice. I mean, you’ll have to behave in a way that suits this client, so not all of this advice will suit. Putting a writing agreement in place – for example, if they want five or six rounds of amends to every blog post from you, it might be… Obviously, if it’s mistakes that you’ve made, then there’s a problem with your writing, but if they just decide that, “Oh, I forgot to tell you this. Can we add this in? Oh, I forgot to mention that, and it would be really good to talk about this. And I just spotted this in the paper. Can you add that in, as well?” That’s the kind of stuff where you might think you may need to make an agreement with this person that one round of amends is included, anything else is chargeable as per my hourly rate afterwards.

PW: And there are some of these things that often once you’ve been through them once or twice with clients, then you just begin to insist on them from the beginning. If you’ve had a few clients that have tested your patience wanting amend after amend, then, like most freelancers, you’ll quickly start being clear from the beginning how many rounds of edits are included in your fee. So often you just need to go through it once or twice before you then just put it as part of your general work agreement.

LH: And then you can decide when you want to be flexible with that.

PW: Yes, with everything we’ve said before.

LH: Yeah, even if I’ve put in place fixed prices agreements that say that I include one round of amends, but if they need a couple more amends making, and you really value them as a client, and they’re normally ace, don’t be like, “Whoa, well, according to our contract…”

PW: Yeah, especially if you’re in a situation where you’re aware you may not have done the best job in that particular case, then…

LH: Absolutely.

PW: So it can be a close call, but you’ll also have instincts about it.

LH: Yeah, just strengthen your position and be aware of a few things. The second point is if it’s stressing you out consistently.

PW: Yes. Everybody has days where everything feels stressful, and every client feels unreasonable. And sometimes, that said, you just have one of those days. But if a particular client is stressing you out day after day or week after week, then this is something to look at, as well.

LH: True. If you start to dread hearing from them because their demands are getting so excessive – I think we’ve all had clients like that, haven’t we?

PW: Yeah, yeah.

LH: I had one client who wanted me to go round for lunch rather than paying for meetings. And there are certain things that get really, really silly, and you start dreading hearing from that person because they’re always finding ways to try and push you the extra mile.

PW: Yeah. I read a blog post, I can’t remember where, but it was on a freelance writing blog. The title intrigued me because it was something about why the writer was going to refuse to write guest posts anymore. And this wasn’t a guest post on their own behalf; it was a guest post on their client’s behalf. And I thought that’s odd because I sometimes have clients who want me to write posts that they can then guest post on another blog. It’s the same as writing them a blog post.

LH: Yeah. It doesn’t really matter where they put it in the end, doesn’t it?

PW: That was my thinking, but then when I read the article, it turned out that there are clients who expect their writers to not only write the post, but to approach every blog in the industry —

LH: No!

PW: — to try and negotiate terms about how many links you can get in your guest post, and then write the post and give it to that third-party site. And that writers are finding – nobody is shocked surely at this – but writers were finding that they could write that post in an hour and a half, as usual, but then they might spend five or six hours trying to find a blog that would host it, And that’s when I thought, “Of course they’re refusing to do it from now on.”

So I commented and said, “I’m perfectly happy to write guest posts, but I’ve only ever done it in a way where my client or their marketing agency or whatever has found somewhere to host it, has done all the negotiations and all I’m doing is writing a post as I would be writing it anywhere.” That I can totally understand why writers are stressed if they’re having to do all that when it’s not really their role. So that is a sign of being exploited, I think.

LH: Yeah. I mean, I had something similar, and it’s from one of my favourite clients, so it absolutely wasn’t exploitative. It was just them not really knowing about the process. I had written them a press release and they said, “Right. When are you going to send it out?” And I said, “Well, I’m not going to. I’m not going to send it out,” because when you send out a press release you have to not only send it out, but you have to follow up. You have to deal with any of the responses that come back in, you have to negotiate terms. And aside from that, it doesn’t look very good coming from a random freelance writer’s address.

PW: Yeah. I was thinking if nothing else, it has to come from one of their email addresses.

LH: Absolutely. So instead of saying to them as I might have done when I started out, “Oh, okay. I’ll send it forward,” I said to them, “I’m sorry if there’s been a miscommunication. That’s not actually part of what I do. I’m just the content production side of things. However,” – and this is where Pip’s marvellous idea came in – “I’ve attached something here that tells you step by step how to send out a press release, how to follow up, and how to get the best chance at being included in your chosen publication. If you need anything else from me please don’t hesitate. I’m available on the phone, as well, so if there’s anything you’re not sure about give me a call.”

PW: Yeah, absolutely. And that resolves…

LH: They were happy. They were super happy. They were like, “Oh, sorry. I didn’t realize. Oops, my bad.”

PW: Well, that’s it. Sometimes it is naivety on the part of the client rather than desire to take you for everything you’ve got.

LH: Yeah. No, absolutely. And it’s always good to work off that premise, as well, because it stops you becoming better. It can be really easy, because some people are taking the proverbial; some people will do what they can to get what they can from anybody they can. But some people don’t realize – and it’s easy. I think we’ve discussed this before, when you said if you’ve had the busiest Saturday out in town and people have been knocking into you and elbowing you in shops, the first person who bumps into you on the street when you go home you let fly, and you have a huge go at them, and you can’t do this with clients. You have to just treat them all as though they were just naïve as opposed to really annoying. And then if it keeps happening consistently that’s when you start to deal with things more firmly.

PW: And another sign to look out for, rather than necessarily what they’re doing is how it’s making you feel. We’ve mentioned if you’re feeling stressed, but also if you’re feeling resentful, if you’re feeling angry, if you’re actually starting to hate their name showing up in your inbox – it might be signs that you’re not happy in other ways. Everybody has a bad day where they don’t want to hear from anybody, frankly. But if it’s more consistent, if it’s more long-lasting, look at how it’s making you feel. Do you really hate hearing from them? Do you feel like you’re being taken advantage of? Do you feel like it’s affecting your ability to do what you’re supposed to be doing?

LH: Yeah, it might well be that the more you resent somebody, the less willing you are to do a good job to them. And while that might be fair, that might be the most awful exploitative client in the world, and they might be doing it completely deliberately, you’d be better off getting rid of them than doing a bad job for them.

PW: Definitely, because then if you did a bad job half deliberately or because you didn’t care, you’re then compromising your own integrity. You’re making yourself look as unprofessional and as bad as they’re being, and that’s not a position you want to be in.

LH: You need to be able to be in a position where you’re doing the best for your clients. And if you’re feeling exploited you’re not going to be meeting your clients’ needs but also your career isn’t going to be meeting your needs, and your work isn’t going to be meeting your business needs. So it’s a whole kettle of fish, really.

PW: And so really we’ve been looking at meeting client needs, but not at the expense of your own needs. If you feel you’re being compromised, if you feel you’re being exploited, then that’s a situation you need to get out of. If, however, you have clients who are respectful, who appreciate what you do, then you will find yourself wanting to go the extra mile. You’ll want to do a bit more for them and make them happy. And you will start thinking of creative, proactive ideas that can really build on the relationship you’ve already got and create an even better situation for you and for your clients.

LH: That’s so true, because as copywriters, we don’t just write what we want. We don’t, do we?

PW: That’s so true.

LH: I don’t want to write about waste management half the time, but half the time it’s what I do.

PW: And even if it’s the topic we want to write about, we may have to write from an angle that we don’t want to write from.

LH: Absolutely. And you can inject a level of pleasure into your business by finding creative ways to really meet your customer’s needs. It’s a nice feeling to know that you have a business that is invaluable to people. It’s a really, really nice feeling.

PW: And that that’s you.

LH: Yes. Yeah, absolutely, that you are your business. And it’s just a nice thing to have done. Try and embrace the ups and downs of a freelance business, and really make sure that you’re not stuck in a salaried mind set. So if you hear from a client on a Saturday morning and they say, “I’m so sorry to contact you on the weekend. We’ve just been invited to a trade show. There’s this spare stand. We’d love to go, but we need a press release, and we need it by Monday morning. Could you help us?” Instead of thinking, “Oh, my God, what the hell? Contacting me on the weekend? This is my weekend. Monday to Friday, that’s when I work.” And it is when I work. I do work Monday to Friday, 9-to-5-ish, but it’s not a salary job.

Freelancing is partly about being flexible. So just bring yourself back down and think, “Come on. I go for long lunches, I do brunching, I have appointments, I go to networking events.” You’re flexible in the week when it suits you. We all love a bit of flexibility when we fancy a long lunch or a cup of tea in the afternoon. So when it doesn’t perhaps suit you as much try not to take it too much to heart. It’s just part and parcel of the job, isn’t?

PW: Yeah. There’s an example I think I’ve mentioned before on the podcast, but it highlights that quite well, which is I was having a busy week, and there was one client that was pushing my limits a bit, demanding a lot more than we had agreed in a very urgent way, which is very stressful.

LH: Because my panic is your panic.

PW: That’s it. And then right in the middle of it one of my very regular, very valued, very nice clients said, “I don’t suppose you could do an extra blog post for this week, could you?” And I remember emailing Lorrie and going, “I can’t believe he wants some extra work tomorrow. When am I supposed to do work before tomorrow?” And Lorrie just thankfully said, “I don’t think he was really being that demanding. I think he’s –”

LH: I think he’s just asking.

PW: — just wondering, and that’s okay. But because I was in this state of stress, and I was in quite a state of defensiveness because somebody else was pushing my limits, my quick immediate reaction to a very polite request – thankfully, this reaction went to Lorrie rather than the client. It was like, “How could people want even more from me?”

LH: And God, haven’t I got enough on my plate?

PW: As soon as read her response I instantly knew she was right. It kind of tricked me back I was like, “Oh, of course.” So I could get back to this client and said, “I’m really full, but I could do it in two days. Would that be okay?”

LH: Yeah. I think you said you could do it by Friday rather than Thursday.

PW: That’s it.

LH: And they were super happy, weren’t they? They were like, “Oh, thank goodness.”

PW: That’s it. We’ve all ended up happy. But yeah, there’s always a line, and sometimes it’s difficult to recognize.

LH: Absolutely. At the end of the day it’s all about being human, isn’t it?

PW: Of course.

LH: Because when we run off our feet and we feel exploited and we feel like we’re not getting things done, somewhere inside we feel like we’re failing. And when you feel like you’re failing you get defensive, and it all spirals from there. But really it’s just about juggling plates and just squeezing a little bit of extra value out where you can. And if you can’t, you can’t. If it would take you an extra 20 minutes to form out a blog post in a way that a client would like ideally, then don’t offer it for free. If you can do it in extra five minutes, then maybe consider offering it for free if they’re a regular client.

PW: Yeah. If you’ve already written the article and they suddenly say, “Can we change it to something else?” it’s reasonable to say, “Well, I’ve already done it. I’ll do that one for you next time, maybe.” If you haven’t started it yet, then say, “Yeah, absolutely. I’ll do the new topic. That’s totally fine.”

LH: Yeah, why not? It’s no odds to you, is it?

PW: That’s it. And so do offer — you’re not expected to go the extra mile every day necessarily, every week. But when something occurs to you or if you’re thinking, like what we said earlier, somebody just seems a bit less enthusiastic than they used to be, that might be a good time to try and think of extra things you could do or ways you could just over deliver a little bit, and it will make you feel good, and it will be good for your business, as well as pleasing the client.

LH: Absolutely. And as Pip mentioned earlier, there are ways to see why you’re going the extra mile and to incorporate that into your business in the future. Because your business isn’t static. It grows and evolves just as the needs of your clients grow and evolve. And if you decide that, for example – going back to the WordPress thing – if you decide that you can offer that as another service, that makes you look really good. That makes you look really good, because you’re taking weight off your client’s shoulders, and you’re making yourself invaluable to them. And really, what more do you want? To be paid for doing something that you enjoy, and for delivering a really good service to your clients?

PW: Well, exactly.

LH: So now I think that neatly brings us to the A Little Bird Told Me Recommendations of the Week.

PW: It does, indeed.

LH: So this is the section where Philippa and I discuss something that we spotted over the course of the last week that we think might be funny or interesting, or useful to you. In some way it’s just our extra value to you.

PW: Yes. We’re just going the extra mile and over-delivering.

LH: Sticking with the theme. So Philippa, darling Philippa.

PW: Yes.

LH: Your recommendation this week?

PW: Well, something that Lorrie and I have touched upon numerous times doing this podcast is if you’re self-publishing there are certain things you can do for yourself, and there are certain things that are almost always best outsourced. And my recommendation this week is the humorous look at of those very things. It is a blog that shows – it’s called lousybookcovers.com.

LH: Oh, good. I think I’m going to like this.

PW: Its subtitle is “Just because you can design your own cover, it doesn’t mean you should.”

LH: Oh, I’ve just clicked the link.

PW: And people submit the things they’ve spotted, lousy book covers, basically, all self-published e-books that have just…

LH: This is amazing.

PW: Isn’t it? I spent a good two hours going through the archives when I first found it. The blog host does – it’s got various tags. He tags things – bad font choice, pixilation. Art for a Refrigerator is my favourite. There’s MS Paint Reborn.

LH: Oh, I love it.

PW: They are brilliant in their awfulness, frankly.

LH: So funny.

PW: Readability is another one. The number of these that I’ve seen where you cannot read the title because it’s like red on a red background or perhaps it’s really… It’s a very funny blog and it also does give a very clear message, that these people presumably thought they’ve done an okay job.

LH: Oh, so often the case.

PW: And yet they are like unbelievable, some of them.

LH: You’re running out of words just in pure shock.

PW: I know. I’m scrolling through it again, and it does leave you quite speechless, isn’t it?

LH: I love this.

PW: And I think we ought both to choose our favourite lousy book cover off the site.

LH: I think we should.

PW: And I will link to those, as well, because we then need to hear your favourite —

LH: I think we should put them on our Facebook page.

PW: Oh, that’s a good idea.

LH: If you come and a have a look at facebook.com/FreelanceWritingPodcast you can submit your favourites to us. We will mark them together, because they deserve it.

PW: So this blog is first of all hilarious. It will make you laugh and it will make you cringe more than you knew you could cringe. But it also does give a valuable lesson to self-publishers, I think.

LH: Oh, if only they would listen.

PW: [laughter]

LH: Oh, dear me.

PW: And so that is my recommendation. I think we can both safely say that give yourself a good hour when you click this link.

LH: I think I might just quit my business, just spend the rest of my life looking at that link. It’s amazing this is, honestly. I think I’m going to post this a lot.

PW: [laughter]

LH: So my recommendation is comparatively boring. It’s this whole business thing. Rather than looking at lousy book covers, it’s something useful. So I thought, “Right, rather than getting frivolous I’ll go with something useful.” But now I look like the boring aunt. But my link is a HubSpot freebee.

PW: We love HubSpot.

LH: We love HubSpot and we love freebees. In this instance it is a free download. It’s 50 customizable – that was what got me – call-to-action templates. And the reason this caught my eye so much is not just that it’s free and it’s customizable so you can adapt it to meet your own need, it was brought to mind after I was asked for some advice on an article that somebody had written. And the thing that struck me immediately, and it’s something that this person isn’t by any means alone in doing, is that the article didn’t have a clear call-to-action.

Now it can be easy to get carried away as a freelance writer and think, “Oh, I must make this perfect, and get the keywords in there, and really make it very readable and wonderful. And my language is great, and that analogy in paragraph four is marvellous.” If there’s no clear purpose to your writing, there is no purpose to you writing. There’s no point.

PW: Yeah. There’s study after study after study that shows that writing something as simple as “Tell us what you think in the comments” will make people tell you what they think in the comments. It’s weirdly powerful, whether it’s “Sign up for my mailing list” and “Tweet this article,” telling people to do something has a surprisingly high success rate in making them do it.

LH: Definitely. And you need to know how to do that. And in terms of articles, that’s often language at the bottom, so written calls to action, but when it comes to your website it has to be quite visual. And things from the font to the size of the font, to the colour of the button, to everything, the wording – that will all have a massive effect. There are people who make a career out of split testing the results of this.

PW: Indeed, conversion rate optimization.

LH: Yes. You see this, Pip, not just with the lousy book covers, but with the perfect phrases. It’s conversion rate optimization, and you need to be able to measure how effective your marketing is going to be if you want to have any chance of making your website a success. And this free download from HubSpot – HubSpot is brilliant. For inbound marketing, particularly, it’s superb. And the article says, “Redesigning your call-to-action buttons can improve click-through rates by 1,300% or more.”

PW: Yeah. It’s mind-blowing, isn’t it? You can always read a case study somewhere on the web of someone who changed their buy-now button from blue to green and got 12 times the number of sales. It seems to make no sense, but there’s a lot of evidence of this stuff.

What I really like about HubSpot is that they practice what they preach, because they’re a company that is based on offering inbound marketing services to businesses. And so you can hire them to do a lot of different inbound marketing things, but the way they get their business is entirely inbound marketing. They provide brilliant content. If you don’t subscribe to them, then do. If you do any amount of content marketing you need to keep on top of HubSpot. Because they do it. They provide great information about it, and by doing that provide themselves with leads, which is what inbound marketing is.

LH: Definitely. And this is the important thing about a call-to-action, is that people feel that you’re talking to them, that they have a say, that you’re interacting with them, and not that you’re just words on a page. So if you can download this – it’s 50 customizable call-to-action templates. They’re colourful – knowing HubSpot, they are all beautiful and marvellous, and they are visually arresting, and that is exactly what you need. You need to catch people’s attention, because, as we said, if you’re in the right place at the right time saying the right things, and likewise, if your perspective clients are in the right place at the right time namely on your website, you need to be saying the right things in the right way to catch their attention, and a perfect way to do that is to have a customized call-to-action button.

So I’d say that brings to the end of episode 62.

PW: I think you’re right. We also want to mention at this stage that, for a while at least, we’re going to trial doing these podcasts fortnightly rather than weekly. We really enjoy doing them, but we take so much time that is getting a bit unsustainable at times. And so what we’re going to do, just give it a go, see how we get on doing them fortnightly. There are still tons of archives you can listen to if you really miss us, and we will be back with you in two weeks’ time.

LH: Absolutely. And we’re always available on the Facebook page. We’re still busy bees there, which is at facebook.com/FreelanceWritingPodcasts, as well as at allittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com homepage.

PW: So come over and say hello. Let us know what you think of what we’re doing, as long as it’s nice.

LH: [laughter]

PW: And I have been Philippa Willitts…

LH: … and I have been Lorrie Hartshorn, and we will catch you in a fortnight’s time.

Podcast Episode 61: How To Start Freelancing In 2014

Sometimes the hardest thing is to just get started, so if you are really committed to making freelance writing your full-time business, in this solo episode Lorrie outlines her freelance business planning blueprint. Follow her suggestions to be up and running as a freelance writer in just six weeks.

Show Notes

ALBTM 17 – How To Create An Editorial Calendar

ALBTM 18 – How To Network Like A Ninja

ALBTM 20 – Goalplanning: your freelance writing aims for 2013

ALBTM 23 – How to decide what to charge for your freelance writing services

ALBTM 24 – The art of getting paid

ALBTM 25 – why and How to Charge More For Your Freelance Writing

Monthly budget template

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Transcript

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.

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’m Lorrie Hartshorn and this week, it’s time for my solo episode. Philippa will be back next week, though, so make sure you subscribe at our homepage so you don’t miss her victorious return.

English: blueprint

So, this week I’m going to talk about something a lot of people have asked me about recently. And I mean – A LOT.  I’ve had emails, phone-calls, LinkedIn messages and long sessions with lots of coffee – all based around the same thing: “How to get into freelancing”

Over the last year and a bit, Pip and I have talked about lots of the different things you need to master when you’re a freelance writer. If you want to make a success of being self-employed, you have to work hard. But what we’ve not really looked at specifically – at least not for a good while – is how you go about getting started.

For a number of reasons – some of them more transient than others – a lot of people seem to be wanting to make a move toward freelancing at the moment.  Whether you’ve been made redundant, can’t find a job, just want to work for yourself, or make some extra money to supplement an existing job, you’ll have your reasons for wanting to go solo.

What I want to make clear, though, is that freelancing isn’t easy – particularly if you’re wanting to make it your sole income. Above all things, you’ll need to be persistent and consistent – if you’re easily disheartened, you’re lacking in drive and confidence (even if it’s fake!), or you’re not 100% sold on the idea, it’s going to be a very steep uphill struggle.

If you’re sure you have the time, commitment and basic skills needed to become a freelance writer (and a knowledge of SEO is definitely included in that – had way too many people recently thinking that SEO’s optional!), this podcast will hopefully give you a check-list of essentials to work to, so that you’ll be able to hit the ground running in the new year, safe in the knowledge that you’ve got the basics sorted.

So, with the end of the year coming up fast, I’m going to look at how to set up as a freelance writer in six weeks. With exactly eight weeks left until 2014, that gives you six weeks of hard work (and you’ll need to do work around all the suggestions in this podcast) and two to recover/be festive.

Even if you’re already a successful sole trader, stay tuned – with 2013 almost at an end, it’s a really good time to make sure you’re doing everything you need to, to make a real success of your business over the next year.

I’ve assigned four tasks to each week, assuming that, like me, you enjoy having a couple of days off. If you’re doing this part-time, or you’re not bothered about having full days off, you can obviously redistribute the work across more or fewer days.

Week 1

So, week one. It’s time to decide exactly what you can and do offer – and how you’re going to communicate that to your clients.

1.Make a list of your freelancing skills.

Grab a big piece of paper and brainstorm everything you *can* do on to that. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it’s related to freelancing, writing, words, editing, marketing.

Once you’ve got a load of stuff down on paper, you need to work out what could feasibly become part of your freelance writing career. Draw three columns to the side of that list and title them “enjoy”, “good at” and “demand” – namely, whether you enjoy the task, whether you’re good at it, and whether there’s any real demand for that service on the part of clients.

Work your way down the list and tick the boxes that apply. It’s really important to be honest, though, otherwise this is a pointless exercise. Don’t panic if you’re not sure there’s a demand for something – pop a question mark in there if you really don’t know, but don’t let yourself pop question marks in when you know there isn’t a demand but you wish there was!

For stuff you enjoy doing and there’s a demand for, make a separate list and start looking around online for training that can help you improve your skills in these areas. Start scheduling in some training bit by bit – this is really important and something you will have to keep on with forever.

2. Space and equipment

  • the office equipment, software and materials you already have

  • how much money you have at your disposal to invest in your freelancing business

  • where will you work? How much of the house will you use? This is important for tax purposes

3. Journal your day-to-day activities – find out when you get up, go to sleep, eat lunch, exercise, slump, socialise – everything.

4. Time and resources

  • people who can give you support

  • how much time you can devote to freelancing

  • co working spaces?

Week 2

Smart goals

Smart goals (Photo credit: shaggy359)

5. Set Your Freelancing Goals – SMART Goals. Episode 20. Specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-sensitive. It’s a good idea to set monthly goals so you can set aside time each month to see if you’re hitting those targets.

6. Get Inside Your Client’s Head – who are they? What do they want? Which social media platforms are they on? How do they like to communicate? What are their values?

7. Check out the competition

Quick Check on Your Competitors – are you charging the right amount? What do they do well? What are they doing poorly? Are people interacting with them? Learn what you can!

8. What you’re offering- time to set those services. If you don’t know what you’re offering, your clients won’t either. Know what you’re selling, how long it’ll take you, how much of it you want to do, and what the benefits are. Know your services.

Week 3

9: What to charge and how? Episodes 23-25. What you want to charge, how much you need/expect to make, whether you’re going to charge hourly, by the job or use a combined approach. Very complicated, and not something you want to get wrong – most freelancers charge way too little, some charge way too much, so please check out our three episode series on this!

10: All about money. Setting your budgets – marketing, training, office equipment etc., deciding how you want to be paid, setting up a Paypal account if necessary, checking you’re happy with your bank account, deciding how to invoice, setting up an invoice template

Keeping track of your money

11. What makes you special? USP and elevator pitch – base this on what you know about your target markets and keep it in mind as you start to promote yourself. You can also use this information to help you with your next task, which is setting up a website. Think carefully about your company or brand name, and your website URL. Three important things to remember

  1. Easy to remember. Really long domains can be confusing, as can ones with odd acronyms or letters in them

  2. Easy to spell. If you have to say your web or email address over the phone it’s always better if you don’t have to say it letter by letter with things like dashes or underscores mixed in.

  3. Appropriately descriptive. A name that says something or ties in with your name or business name is best. Its easy to remember and immediately identifies you

12. Set up a WordPress website – time to get ranking. Choose a nice, neutral theme. Don’t worry about being too exciting, just keep it professional. This might take you a while, but trust me – as a former tech-phobe (and still not the techy-est person in the world) WordPress is really easy to use. It’s way easier than some other CMSs.

Week 4 – extra content

13. Pick up some plug-ins: do some research into plugins that will help your site run faster and more securely (Akismet is a lifesaver, screening out spam comments, and Limit Logins helps protect you from automated attacks http://wordpress.org/plugins/limit-login-attempts/), and help you to promote the things you post across social media. It’s also a really good idea to add a contact form to your site – they capture emails a lot more effectively than just putting an email address in there.

14. Putting pages on your website: Home, about, services, FAQs, testimonials, training, contact me.  Get some testimonials ready for your site – ask anyone and everyone you can think of. And don’t panic if you don’t have any writing testimonials just yet – it’s also important to let clients know how you work, so if you’ve got people who’re willing to say that you get work done on time, always pitch in as part of a team, have brilliant creative ideas or are just lovely to work with, it’s far better than nothing.

15: Check in with your organisation. Are you keeping to the hours or are you slacking off already? Are you getting up when you need to? Are you working where you’re supposed to or vegging in front of the TV? How’s the training coming on?

16. BLOG. Content marketing important – social media and evidence of your ability to write. Think about setting up an editorial calendar (ep 17) so you can drop in ideas when the mood strikes and keep on top of what needs publishing and when.

Week 5

17. Prep some test pieces ready for your portfolio. You might want to upload these, you might not, but it’s good to have them on hand.

18: Client communications:  be prepared to communicate with your clients like a business. Forget the whole “Who, little old me?” attitude and get ready to talk shop.

  • project proposal/bid/quotation

  • terms of agreement or a contract

  • submission of completed project

  • invoice

  • receipt

  • request for feedback

19: Get social – set yourself up with, at the very least, a Twitter and LinkedIn account. Facebook can also be worth it, particularly if you’re looking to engage with B2C clients – but go with what you can manage. Make a plan to engage daily with these platforms, and/or schedule some updates, including links to your site and blog. Start to subscribe to – and comment on – popular blogs or business sites, so you can start to get your name out there and your voice heard. Make sure what you contribute is quality, and not spam.

20.  Brainstorm some marketing activities you could carry out

Here are some activities of marketing activities:

  • Publish a blog post weekly about a topic your target clients are interested in.

  • Submit articles in article directories.

  • Network on Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn

  • Join an online forum.

  • Send a pitch email to a prospect

  • Cold call a company

  • Attend a live conference.

  • Give away a white paper or special report and start to build up your database of contacts

Week 6

21: Make a marketing plan

Here’s what your marketing plan should have:

  • Your freelancing goals and objectives – Simply take this out of your assignment on Day 3, when you set your freelancing goals.

  • An analysis of your target clients – Don’t panic; you’ve done this! Go back to the assignment on Day 4, when you got inside your target clients’ heads.

  • Marketing activities

  • Schedule of implementation

  • Monitoring and evaluation

22. Identify some prospects – blogs, social media, business sites, networking events…use your imagination to identify a number of clients to approach over the coming months. Start an excel file of clients and sectors you’d like to target and set yourself a goal – depending on how much time you have – to start pitching regularly.

Elevator Pitch for Katie

Elevator Pitch for Katie (Photo credit: Marco Wessel)

23. Prepare to get networking – look for events, decide whether to go to one-off events or regular ones, be aware of the pros and cons of both. Make sure you have your elevator pitch down pat and a smart suit ready to wear. If you can, get yourself a small batch of business cards and get used to carrying those – I keep a few in my wallet, a few in my diary and a few more in a pocket in my handbag so whether I’m out shopping, sitting in a meeting or just out and about, I’m likely to have one to hand. Don’t go bad and buy 500 – 100 will do for a start, even 50 if you’re a bit skint.

24. Learn your pitch. It doesn’t matter how you prefer to pitch – whether you’re naturally an emailer, a cold-caller, a networker or a combination of the three. Research how to effectively pitch to clients – both in general and specifically to certain markets. Say you want to target clients in the B2C professional services sector, like insurance and law, consultants, architects, engineers, doctors and dentists. But you also want to target B2B customers in the nuclear sector, because you did a degree in engineering. What do clients in these two sectors need? What are their concerns? What do they want? How do they communicate? What are their values, missions, priorities. If you focus on these things, you’re far more likely to convince companies in those sectors that you can adequately meet their requirements.

NaNoWriMo, NaBloPoMo, NaWhat?

English: Beibin Park, Bad weather. ‪中文(繁體)‬:...

English: Beibin Park, Bad weather. ‪中文(繁體)‬: 天候不佳的北濱公園。 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a bid to get some work done on my own sites, I have decided to undertake the NaBloPoMo challenge this November, which involves publishing a blog post a day for the entire month. I spend so much of my time doing paid writing for other people’s websites that my own can get sadly neglected at times, so I am using this challenge as a way to start populating my own web properties, too.

Other writers are embarking on NaNoWriMo, a challenge that captures the imagination of thousands of people across the world as they try to write a 50,000 word novel in a month, and although I don’t have the time or energy to do that this year, we did publish a podcast episode about how to go about it, and I suspect I will be taking some of my own advice from that when it comes to sticking to the NaBloPoMo challenge, too.

November seems to be the month when a lot of these types of challenges kick in, and they are not just related to writing. Plenty of men use the month to grow a ‘tache, for instance, and my hatred of the hairy facial features is not eased by their proliferation during this month each year. However, it’s not for me to say how others present their faces, so I just try to be tolerant.

Thinking about it, November is a good choice for this kind of thing. Spending every day writing thousands of words of a novel or finding a topic for a blog post would be considerably less attractive if it was preventing us from chilling on the beach on a summer’s day. However, the weather here today makes me happy to be inside, typing away: the blustery, freezing wind and soggy clouds are foul, and I am not at all aggrieved at being indoors, writing this instead.

A month-long challenge seems, to me, to be the perfect length of time. If it went on much longer, I would lose any impetus I had to keep going, and if it was shorter it wouldn’t feel like much of an achievement. If I can blog or add a page to one of my websites every day for 30 days, that will be a whole lot more new web content and when I start flagging I can remind myself that 30 days really isn’t a big deal. I am hosting my NaBloPoMo blog at 21 Day Challenges, where I will post every day to highlight what I have published that day. It was a site set up with great intentions a few years ago, and then entirely ignored as full-time freelance writing has kept me incredibly busy.

So, feel free to head over there and subscribe to keep an eye on how I get on with my daily blogging challenge. The more people I have keeping an eye on my progress, the less likely I am to give up halfway through!