I also wrote a long-form article for the exciting new online magazine Disability Intersections about food snobbery and how many people judge what others eat, without taking into account the many different personal circumstances and societal oppressions that can make this difficult, in March of the Food Snobs.
I’ve also been working on some large editing projects: two very different full-length books, which has been a great experience and it feels great to whip a piece of work into shape and have the privilege of being a trusted second pair of eyes for a client’s hard work.
I have, as always, been busy with ghostwritten blogging and content work for regular clients, and I have proofread and edited lots of CVs and job applications. The insecure job market means that people are really keen to make sure they put themselves in the best possible position when they apply for work, so they are sending their work to me in record numbers to make sure their documents are error free and present them in the best possible light.
The podcast is going from strength to strength, and I also blogged about the benefits for small businesses of offering things for free. I have finally got round to updating the list of work I have had published online in the last 12 months, too, including commissions for Access Magazine and my posts at The F-Word. This is always quite a skewed representation of my work because so much of what I do is ghost writing that I can’t claim as “mine”, so the work that goes onto this page is just a small proportion of my actual published writing.
Finally, I did my dreaded tax returns via the HMRC’s self-assessment site. Ugh! There’s a reason I’m a writer, not a numbers person!
So the first month of 2014 is pretty much over and done with, and it’s been a good one! Here’s to a fabulous February.
Everybody loves crossing things off a list, right? A to-do list is not the only list freelance writers can use to help their marketing and self-promotion, so tune in to this podcast episode where we talk you through five and a half types of lists that can help you to transform your business.
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!
PW: Hello, and welcome to episode 66 of ‘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 a funny old job, and we want to help you along the way. Tune in to this podcast every two weeks. And if you go to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, you can subscribe to assure 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 so you can be the first to hear our latest words of wisdom. There you will also find any links we mention, links to our own websites and social media feeds and a link to the ridiculously impressive ‘A Little Bird Told Me’ Facebook page. I am Philippa Willitts…
LH: …And I’m Lorrie Hartshorn, and today is another dual episode of your favourite freelance writing podcast. The lovely Philippa has joined us once again for the first time in 2014.
PW: This is true. And before we get started on the episode proper, it is time for us to wish you a happy new year, of course. As it’s the start of a new year, I have actually had a look at our podcast download stats for the last 12 months. So I thought it would be good to start by, first of all, thanking listeners for supporting us and listening and sharing our content. Looking at the ten most downloaded podcasts from 2013, number one was a bit of a surprise. So I thought we could go through the top ten most popular downloads from 2013.
LH: Oh, very cunning.
PW: Indeed. Lorrie, would you like to count down and I will list the episode titles?
LH: Okay. So in at number ten…
Top Ten Records (Photo credit: Thomas Hawk)
PW: It’s episode number two, ‘Setting up as a freelance writer: website, social media and brand management best practice’.
LH: Okay. That was a good—I liked that one.
LH: Okay, number nine.
PW: Number nine was episode three, ‘Setting up as a freelance writer part 2’.
LH: Oh, I hope this isn’t going to be a pattern.
PW: It’s not. It doesn’t just go up in number from there.
LH: Numbers one to ten and then the rest. Number eight.
PW: Number eight was episode 18, ‘How to network like a ninja’.
LH: Oh, I liked that title.
LH: Number 7.
PW: Episode 7, ‘Freelance Writing: To specialise or not to specialise?’.
LH: Oh, I remember that, which is good because it wasn’t that long ago.
LH: Okay, well not that much. Okay, and at number six.
PW: Was episode 55, ‘Coping with rejection’.
LH: Aw, that makes me a little bit sad. And at number five.
PW: Number five was episode 30, ‘It’s not about you: the art and science of commercial copyrighting’.
LH: Okay. And at number four.
PW: Episode 38, ‘How to break into new freelance writing markets’.
LH: And then we’re in the top three. Number three.
PW: Number three is randomly the second part of a pair. Okay. Episode 50, “Part 2 of How to stop your freelance business from wasting money’.
LH: Oh, they were good episodes, weren’t they? I like those.
PW: They were, but only part two ranked. I have no idea why.
LH: And number two.
PW: Unsurprising favourite, episode 24, ‘The art of getting paid’.
LH: Oh, yeah. I like that one, favourite kind of episode. So number one.
PW: I don’t really know what this says about our listeners.
LH: That’s underwhelming. Number one.
PW: Number one, episode 26, ‘How to turn down or disconnect from a client or supplier without losing your professionalism or gaining an enemy’.
PW: Yes, I had a similar reaction. I mean it was a good episode. We put a lot of research into it, but I thought it was an odd favourite, to be honest.
LH: That is slightly odd. Either we have a lot of unfriendly listeners, or they’ve got a lot of annoying clients.
PW: I suspect it’s the latter.
LH: I would suspect so, too.
PW: And maybe it’s more of an issue than we gave it credit for at that time.
LH: I wonder if it’s worth doing another episode on that, too.
PW: Yeah, it could be.
LH: Well, stay tuned listeners, because we often take calls or suggested subjects on our Facebook page. So if you would like to hear more on that subject, do come and have a chat with us and that’s at facebook.com/freelancewritingpodcast.
PW: And this applies all the time. If you tune in every fortnight and think, “Oh, I hope this time they’re talking about such and such,” and we never, ever do, just tell us. We may be brilliant, frankly, but even we miss things once in a while.
LH: True, true. So going back to the topic at hand today, I don’t know about anybody else, but when it comes to activities, and that can be anything from breathing to moving to running my own business, in sort of January, February time, I like things to be simple. I like wearing leggings and a poncho at my desk because, frankly, it replicates a duvet.
LH: I like bullet points. I like life hack blogs. I like pre-packaged couscous, and I like Subway sandwiches for lunch. So basically, I’m recovering from December, which is cold and dark and miserable. And January does seem to be doing its best to mimic December at the moment, what with it being cold and dark and wet or miserable, at least here. So half of my brain is going, “Oh, new year, new ideas. Let’s get going.” The other half is always going, “Nope. No, not doing that.” So thinking about that struggle between productivity and lethargy and thinking about how awesome it is when people present you with some step-by-step simplicity, Pip and I thought it would be a fine high time to take a look at lists, because it can’t get much simpler than a list. So we’re going to be talking you through a few kinds of lists and discussing how you can use them to streamline your marketing.
PW: Now the obvious place to start with lists is a to-do list. Some people live by their to-do lists, and other people can’t abide them. I have phases. Sometimes my entire life is run by a scrap of paper with 84 things to do written down. Other times, it’s all in the recesses of my brain. But mostly, though, when I do have a written to-do list, it helps me to manage my time and my workload. And it can reduce my anxiety as well, because it frees up that space in my mind and I’m not constantly worried that I’m going to forget something important.
LH: Yeah, I think that’s a really important point, because sometimes, when I feel like I have too much to do and I feel really stressed and anxious, my brain goes, “We don’t have time to write a list. Just do something. Do something.” But actually, if you take that sort of, I don’t know, between 5 and 15 minutes at the start of the day or halfway through your day or whenever you need to get started with a to-do list, it really does kind of just really brings things down a little bit, calm everything down. So if your brain is saying, “No, no, no. We don’t have time for this,” I find that it’s good to override that.
PW: Definitely. Definitely. And years ago, my dad, who was a university lecturer, he was given a secretary. And initially, he was like, “I don’t have time to brief a secretary about the things that need doing.” But he quickly learned that actually, it meant approaching each day with a clear plan of what he was going to do so that he could brief her, and he ended up far more organized having taken 20 minutes at the start of the day to plan what needed doing.
PW: Yeah. If I’m trying to remember everything I have to do, I fret I’m going to forget something. I can’t concentrate, because I’m trying to keep it all in my head and it’s just more difficult, frankly.
PW: So to-do lists can be as detailed or as vague as you want. For some people, just writing down the odd word will remind them of what they need to do, whereas people like me, I tend to find that the more detailed I get, the better. If I wrote down everything I need to do, then my next step is to break down each task into its component parts and write those down as well. So my list wouldn’t say write a blog post for client x. It would say — it would have that as a title maybe, as a heading but then it would say choose blog post topic, research, write outline, take screenshots, fill out the introduction, write the — you know and so on and so on, from start to finish. And there are a few benefits of more detailed to-do lists. You free up more brain space because you’re not worrying about having to remember different parts of an overall task. But also, if you’re the kind of person who enjoys the satisfaction of crossing items off a list, which a lot of people do, you get that sense of achievement many more times, frankly, if you write down relatively small tasks.
LH: And I think as well — I’ll be honest. It’s something that I’ve been guilty of as well. When you write down tasks just as an overview of a task, so say write blog post for client x, it’s easy to ignore that task either because it’s not specific enough or because it seems too huge.
PW: Yes. Yeah.
LH: So if you’re a bit writer’s block-y or you’re stressed out with the amount of writing that you’ve got, lists of lots and lots and lots of tiny, tiny tasks which are actually components of bigger tasks can be a good way to just ease yourself into it and make sure you’re not so frozen by the prospect of doing these tasks that you don’t actually do anything.
PW: Yeah, because a longer list might initially sound like it’s more overwhelming. But actually, if you look at your list and rather than ‘write blog post,’ you have ‘write title for blog post,’ it’s much, much more manageable. It’s much easier to kind of face head on.
LH: Yeah, definitely. So the second type of list that we’re going to look at in this episode of the podcast is Twitter lists. Now Twitter lists are an invaluable way — I really don’t exaggerate when I say that. They’re an invaluable way of dealing with large volumes of people, which is basically what epitomizes Twitter. It’s fast moving, and to get a good breadth of information, particularly if you’re interested in a number of different subjects, you do need to follow or at least have a large number of people on your radar. Now this is one of the things about being a freelance writer, is that you need to keep up to date with not just the sector or the sectors that you write about but also with copywriting, content marketing, digital marketing strategy. And even if you’re relatively specialised in terms of the topic that you do write about, there’ll be loads of experts that you need to keep tab of. Even in just one industry, you might need to keep your eye on trade press publications, the journalists that write for them, a client’s competitors, up and coming companies, tag experts, your competitors, associated industries or their publications or experts or companies or journalists and the list goes on and on and on.
PW: Yeah. I’m a big fan of Twitter lists. They really help me to manage my Twitter account. It used to be that I think you could only have 20 lists and each could only have 200 people on, but they’ve opened that out massively now, which means…Because I was getting to a point where I had so many lists, I was having to pick and choose. But what they help as well is just kind of deal with the Twitter noise. They do help me to focus my marketing and my self-promotion as well.
I’ve got lists of different focuses of my business, like Lorrie was saying. So I’ve got one of local business people. I’ve got lists of influential people, lists of thought leaders in my various specialisms. It helps me to focus because often, I might think from a business point of view, “Okay, for the next few weeks, I’m going to really focus on outreaching to business owners in my city.” And so then, I’ll spend a few weeks really focused on my Sheffield business owner list. And then after I’ve done a bit of that, I might think, “Right, I don’t seem to be getting as much as your work. Let’s focus on that.” And it’s brilliant for managing that kind of thing.
LH: I think you bring up an interesting point there. It’s easy, generally and on social media because it’s so fast moving, to go with — kind of go on a whim. I think, “Right. I’ve just written something about, oh, SEO writing. I’m going to look at SEO.” And then the next hour, you think, “Oh, actually, that’s quite interesting. I’d like to do something about charity.” So you write about charity, and then you think, “Actually, there’s something coming up trade and technical, so you hop on that. And while it’s tempting and you don’t want to miss the boat, what I think Twitter lists help you to realize is that you cannot target everything at once.
PW: Yeah, yeah.
LH: You can’t do it and it makes no sense to do it, because you get no depth and you get no consistency in what you’re doing. And if you use Twitter lists to help you focus, as Pip just said, on different aspects of your business and different target audiences and different prospects, you can target markets, you’re far more likely to build meaningful connections with them. Because it’s not just content marketing, it’s relationship marketing.
PW: Definitely. So if, for instance, I’m saying, “Right. I’m having a few weeks focused on local business,” and so I’m chatting to Sheffield people, I’m retweeting Sheffield things. Then if they look me up, say they haven’t come across m before, and they look at my most recent tweets, they’ll think, “Oh, she tweets about Sheffield. I’ll follow her back, because that’s her interest as well.” Whereas if, as Lorrie was saying, I was doing an hour on this and an hour on that, they would just look at my account and think, “No, that isn’t relevant.”
LH: Yeah, absolutely. And I mean you can look at it from the opposite perspective. You can look at it and say, well, you know, say a trade industrial person comes and has a look at Pip’s feed and they’re based in Wigan, for example. They’re going to look at that and think, “Oh, she’s only tweeting about Sheffield. That’s of no interest to me.” But you can’t win all the business of the world.
PW: Yeah. Yeah, you need to think it through. But yeah, it’s impossible, with one Twitter account, to be everything with every person. And so…
LH: Yeah. And also, if you try, you’ll exhaust yourself.
PW: Yeah, that’s it. And so if you can accept that that’s the case and don’t be afraid of targeting at times, it can really pay dividends.
LH: Completely agree, because I think a week or a few weeks can seem like a scarily long time when you’re marketing your own business. You think, “I’m not marketing,” you know. And if for example you do academic proofreading, you do quite a lot of that. So there will be times when you focus on academic proofreading, and you could focus on that and say, “Right. I’m winning loads of business. It’s great. I’ve targeted this. I’ve upped my SEO. I’ve got lots of different happenings for academic proofreading. It’s all great.” Or you could say, “I’m not targeting copywriting,” and that’s where the mistake comes in. And you have to have — just calm yourself down and have the courage to focus on one thing at a time. And even though you’re thinking, “Oh, it’s been a week. I’ve not tweeted about SEO blog posts,” but you’re actually focusing on something else at a time, and that’s okay. It’s okay, as we say, not to focus on everything at once.
So Twitter lists are great. I mean, they sort of enable you to keep track of all the people. So, just as you don’t want to be chaotically tweeting about everything, you probably also don’t want to be tweeted at about everything. You know, there’ll be times when you want to focus on one thing or want to know more about one thing than another. And that’s what Twitter lists are brilliant for, because they will help you to keep track of loads and loads of people without clogging your feed up to the point where you can’t keep track of anything or anyone. Now using in conjunction with a platform like TweetDeck, they are a brilliant way of creating personalized feeds of information that’s relevant to you at any one time.
PW: Definitely. TweetDeck, for me, makes lists 100% more viewable than if I was managing it on the site. HootSuite is good as well, but I think often for people, the difference between favouring HootSuite or TweetDeck is just a matter of taste. And there are other tools as well, but there aren’t tools I’d recommend starting with if you really want to make a serious go with Twitter lists.
LH: Definitely. And I think — no, I think I’m going to come to that point in a minute. Definitely, and there are a number of ways that you can use Twitter lists to boost your marketing, as we say. Whether you use private lists to sort information that only you should see, so that could be companies that you’re planning on pitching to or companies that you think might be in a bit of financial trouble and could do with some content marketing to help them out, or you use public lists where you can kind of boost people’s egos and attract their attention by giving them a label to be proud of, say you call them social media experts or top copywriters, you know, you can use lists to just increase your exposure on Twitter and to grow your following and build your brand and just keep a closer eye on the things that you need to.
PW: This is a really good point, because nowadays, when you add someone to your Twitter list, it shows up in their mentions. As long as the list is public, they will get a little notification. And I was at a Twitter list the other day called Thought Leaders, and I was really flattered and followed the person back. You know, I’m easy to please.
LH: Why were you surprised?
PW: Yeah, it caught my attention. And yeah, it’s a good little tactic.
LH: Definitely. And then if somebody wants to — you know, say somebody’s already following 2,000 people, they don’t necessarily need to follow you to add you to that list. But if they want to view what the thought leaders have got to say, say they’re — you know, maybe planning they’re planning a podcast that Friday or they’re planning a blog post, and they want to do a weekly roundup of what people are saying about SEO writing and you’re on their thought leaders list, they can just tune in to that list via the platforms like TweetDeck or HootSuite.
PW: And as Lorrie says, you don’t need to follow someone to add them to a list, so you can also add people whose updates you don’t generally want to see, maybe competitors, maybe just people you’re not keen on but that you know you should keep an eye on once in a while. And so you can add people, especially to private lists called…
LH: Boring buggers.
PW: Boring people, competitors, and people I hate but I should probably check their feeds once in a while.
PW: Yeah. So you make sure they’re private.
LH: Well, there’s always room for the hated people among friends. You know, everyone loves a villain. So if you want to be a villain, go ahead, but don’t say we didn’t warn you. So one final really good thing about Twitter lists is that again, using something like TweetDeck or HootSuite, you can create and follow feeds of other people’s public lists.
LH: Now that’s other people’s, not just your own. You don’t need to subscribe to lists and you don’t need to be on the list. So if you know that someone else has a really up-to-date list of, say, digital marketing experts in the South East and that sounds right up your street because that’s who you’re wanting to pitch to, you can always sneakily go along. And using your TweetDeck or your HootSuite, you can create a feed, just like you would do your normal Twitter feed, and you can create a feed from another person’s public list. So all you will see is tweets from that list.
PW: That’s a really important point. And you can use that same functionality to benefit yourself as well. If you create a public list that is genuinely useful to a group of people, then you can publicize it and say, “If you want an up-to-date list of Sheffield business people or recycling companies or industry experts in fashion, follow my list here.” And that just gives you a little bit of exposure among the people who are interested in that area, especially if you use like the most relevant hash tag or something like that. That can be…
LH: That was exactly what I was going to say, hashtags.
PW: Yes. That could be just a great way of getting your name out there a bit.
LH: Yeah. So as Pip’s just said, don’t — you know, don’t underestimate the importance for hashtag. You can use it to title your lists. You can use it in list information. You can also use it to build your lists. Now over here in the U.K., there are lots and lots of hashtags that go out at a certain time every week or twice a week or a half year around Manchester. There’s North West hour, and that happens a few times a week.
PW: Yes. Same as Yorkshire hour, Sheffield hour.
LH: There are a lot of them. And what you can do is you can simply go down that hashtag feed, and you can add people on that feed to your lists, which is perfect. And you will get a lot of movers and shakers using your lists. Don’t think that you’ll be able to keep it exclusive, but your aim isn’t to keep that list to yourself. You are giving away this information, but it will build your brand exposure and it will show you’ve got a finger on the pulse when it comes to Twitter.
PW: Yeah. Last year, I went to the Content Marketing Show in London, and one of the first things I did afterwards was add everybody who live tweeted about it to a list called Content Marketing Show, which then, so the people — obviously, there were a few hundred people there. I haven’t met most of them, and yet, what that did was make them aware of me and make them aware of me as a content marketing person, somebody who was proactive and had attended the event. And we — I got quite a lot of mutual follows out of it, which is good in business terms but also means I’ve got useful — more useful contact marketing people on my feed. So it’s good in — you can be quite strategic with lists.
LH: Absolutely. I mean you can use a list like that in a couple of ways. You can use it in a way that you’ve used it, which was to get personal value from it. Or if you weren’t particularly bothered for some reason about getting followers, it just wasn’t your area of focus and you just wanted to kind of maybe build your profile as somebody who is an expert in content marketing rather than pursuing any of the leads that were on that list, you could simply promote that list in itself.
PW: Yes, on the Content Marketing Show hashtag.
LH: Exactly. You could say, right, if anybody else wants to connect with the people who were at the Content Marketing Show, you could promote the list as a resource as opposed to using it as your own resource.
PW: Yeah. And I think I did that, and I think I also said, “If you were there and I’ve not added you, let me know,” which is kind of inviting people to engage. So it was a really…
LH: Really good talking point.
LH: And very good tool as well, because it’s easy to be cagey about information, but sometimes you have to weight it up and think, “Right. Can they keep this secret? No, not particularly. So is it worth me giving it away?”
PW: Showing people that you’re useful makes you a valuable resource, and people want valuable resources.
LH: Of course, they want to follow valuable resources. So yes, Twitter lists, we love them as I think you can tell.
PW: Now the third type of list is where — is the reason why the title of this episode is ‘Five and a bit ways’ because we’re looking at email lists in two different ways. We’re looking at having your own email list and also subscribing to other people’s. Now I’m trying to make an active effort this year to neglect my own email mailing list less. It can be a really useful thing to have, and I’m aware, personally, that I just don’t leverage my list to get the results I could. Because the fact is if somebody gives you that email address along with permission for you to email them, you’ve got some power there and you’ve got to use that carefully.
LH: You make it sound like a horcrux or something.
PW: You’ve got this ability to contact them, promote your services, build relationships, build your brands, start conversations, all those things that we need to do to get work. And so having your email list of your own can be an incredibly valuable thing. So if you’ve got one and you don’t use it much, guilty as charged, then now might be a time to create a proper plan for how you can best make use of it. And if you don’t have one, maybe consider starting one.
LH: Absolutely. And I mean it’s very much like we’re saying about Twitter. Don’t try and do everything at once. Sit and have a proper think about the data that you’ve got and how best to leverage that. You know, don’t just blast everybody with the first thing that comes off the top of your head. You know, a mailing list is an inherently valuable thing. It’s something that you should really take care of. Think of it like an orchid, really. Think of it as something that you need to nurture and you need to look after very carefully. You can’t just throw crap into the soil, you know. You need to feed it good quality content, and you need to treat it with care and respect.
PW: While also saying that I internalized that so much previously that I just didn’t send anything. So there has to also be a balance between saying, “I have to do this so right, I just won’t do it this week.” I mean, I’m not planning on doing weekly ones. I’m planning on doing roughly monthly ones. But Lorrie is absolutely right. You can’t mess about with your email mailing list. But if that kind of responsibility is weighing so heavy that you’re not doing anything at all with it, you can also give yourself a break.
LH: True. Pip is completely right. And it reminds me of a conversation I was having this morning actually with somebody. And this somebody has been a client of mine, and they’ve been so worried about blogging and getting it wrong. They’ve not blogged for six months.
PW: Yeah, that’s it, and people do this. It’s a perfectionist’s trait, and it’s an annoying one from the point of view of someone who is very afflicted.
LH: Yeah. No, it’s true. I think the things to remember — because Pip, like me, like we always are, is completely right when she says that you shouldn’t get frozen with uncertainty. I think the important things to remember are tone, quality and authenticity.
PW: Yeah. People don’t sign up to a mailing list so that you can tell them how marvellous you are.
PW: They sign up because they think you’re going to give them something useful, and that may be discounts. I mean, include some information about how marvellous you are, but it just can’t be that.
LH: Of course, absolutely. And in terms of tone of voice, use a natural one. Be yourself. Be your best self. And this is what I said in previous podcast. Be yourself. Be your best self. Don’t make up some fake persona. If you’re naturally a quiet and quite serious person, have a few dry bits of humour in there, but just be yourself. Be friendly and warm but quite quiet. If you’re naturally exuberant and funny, then go with that. Just tap into what you’re best at.
PW: I listened to a podcast a while ago which I won’t name, mainly because I can’t remember which one it was. But there was a woman being interviewed who has clearly created a persona for herself as a bit kind of brash and daring and I don’t care what people think but actually, it came across as somebody who did have valuable information to share but who is peppering it with f words.
LH: I think we might actually be thinking about the same person.
PW: For the sake of fulfilling a persona and it didn’t sound natural. And I — Lorrie can tell you I am not offended in the least by the f words. I use it regularly. So it wasn’t that I found it offensive, because I don’t. It was that it felt like she was stepping into a persona that didn’t sit that naturally but that was quite created in a false, unpleasant way, actually.
LH: Yeah. A lack of authenticity can be problematic in two ways, really. One, if it’s a bit of a jarring personality that they person’s created, you get this feeling that this isn’t real. And I think it taps into your subconscious where you think the information might not be real either. Even if the personality that you create or the persona you create isn’t a jarring one, if it slips at all and people end up doubting your authenticity, they’re less — in fact, there are three points. They’re less likely to believe what you’ve got to say. And they’re more likely — this is the third sort of semi point. They’re more likely to feel like they’re being sold to and most feel like they’re being duped.
PW: As Lorrie very rightly said, be yourself. Be your professional and best self, but just don’t come up with some kind of contrived persona for effect because people see through it. Whatever you’re trying to be, it doesn’t — it just doesn’t work. And yeah, it creates an atmosphere where people don’t know if they can believe the rest of what you say. Now the other kind of email list that can be important is other people’s email lists. And just as you hope that your own will provide great value to its readers, there are times when subscribing to other people’s email lists will also provide you with invaluable information and inspiration sometimes. Now admittedly, I spend an awful lot of time removing myself from email lists that I once enthusiastically signed up for.
LH: Oh, yeah.
PW: Yeah. But there are still certain people whose updates I generally look forward to and I always open, I always read and I always really gain from. If you’ve got a list of your own, you won’t be that person. But if like me, your list subscriptions have got a bit out of control, there are some ways to deal with this so that you can get the updates you want and filter out the crap.
PW: Oh, it’s true though.
LH: Oh, it’s completely true.
PW: Now firstly, and this is something I’m trying to apply to myself currently, if there is any mailing list that you’re on and you, without fail, delete the email without opening it, just unsubscribe now.
PW: Do it. Life is too short to keep deleting this stuff every week when you could, with a few clicks, get rid of it. Alternatively, if you’re on a subscription list that sometimes you sort but not always and you use Gmail, you can make use of their very smart functionality to ensure they’re not quite as annoying as they currently are. The best thing to do is to set up a filter so that every time these emails arrive, they skip your inbox but you direct it to a good descriptive label that means you’ll be able to find it when you want it. So it won’t bother you when it arrives, but when you need it, it’s there. And all you do is when you have one of these messages and it’s open, you click More on the top right of the screen and then filter the messages like these. Then what I do is I select Skip Inbox and then choose what label should be applied to it and Bob’s your uncle.
LH: Yeah. No, it’s really good advice. And I think if you’re worried about unsubscribing from things that are sometimes useful but mostly not, have a look at what in particular is useful. And you can always set up a Google Alert.
PW: Good thinking.
LH: So rather than — say if you get a marketing from someone, but you’re really only interested in knowing what they’ve got to say on print media, then you can set up — having a look at the phrases that they use, set up a Google Alert for whichever phrases they’re applying when it comes to print media and then select maybe a daily digest.
PW: That’s a very good tip.
LH: Thank you very much.
PW: Now another point to remember is a lot of marketers have caught on to the fact that people will sign up to an email list if they’ll get a decent freebie. Lorrie and I were talking before we started recording about the appeal of freebies, and it’s true. And this is how lots of people end up on lists they obviously don’t want to be on. There’s a handy service called Guerrilla Mail, which is guerrilla like warfare rather than the animal.
PW: In terms of spelling I mean. I’m not being judgmental. And basically, it provides you with a temporary email address. So you can sign up to an email list through Guerrilla Mail and download whatever it is you want and then the email address disappears. Now this is a good service if you don’t trust the list owner to not spam you afterwards. But normally, I’d recommend subscribing and unsubscribing. But if it’s something that you’re not sure you — they’re trustworthy, then Guerrilla Mail is handy.
LH: Oh, yeah. Loads of the big, big internet marketing product sellers are just — it’s hell trying to get off their lists, and they’ll move you from one list to another.
PW: They’ll sell your name and address.
LH: But Guerrilla Mail is a godsend.
PW: It is indeed.
LH: Or indeed, a Pip-send. So the next type of list that we’re going to look at — oh, love to hate it. Love to hate it, is LinkedIn mailing lists. LinkedIn — now I think LinkedIn either tuned in to our podcast or somehow finally got the memo about everybody hating it.
PW: They’re bound to have tuned in to our podcast. Who wouldn’t?
LH: I think so. I think Mr. LinkedIn subscribed. Now LinkedIn has finally upped its game a little bit. Let’s not give it too much credit, because I still hate it but I love to hate it. And it’s made life a little bit easier for people who want to network and do a bit of relationship marketing via the website. Now let’s be clear. We all do still have LinkedIn, and if you’re wondering what to think of LinkedIn, wonder no more. You hate it.
PW: I do have to say, in the last few weeks…
LH: No. No, you don’t.
PW: No, listen though. I snuck into LinkedIn because it has helped me find two people from my past who I genuinely, genuinely cared about and genuinely missed. And for years and these two different people I managed to get back in touch with. So LinkedIn to me currently is a bit, aw. However, its practicality will soon hit home again.
PW: But currently, I’m a bit — if you’re listening Mr. LinkedIn, thank you.
LH: So anyway, Pip’s going a bit maudlin here. Let’s go back to hating LinkedIn. So we all do still, apart from Pip, hate LinkedIn.
PW: Normal service will be resumed.
LH: At least it’s giving a bit of a good impression of being vaguely sort of time being. Well, you know, it’s got to try.
LH: One big improvement to the site recently is the increased functionality when it comes to managing your contacts. Now previously, I’ve spent hours and hours with two windows or two tabs open selecting people, writing the names down by hand and then going to the Remove Connection page.
PW: They don’t make it easy, do they?
LH: They do not, do they? You still can’t bulk unfollow people easily. You have to click on something that says Remove or Delete Connections. There’s no little tick box. At least, there wasn’t last time I checked. But you can now delete people on the same page that you can just view their general connection information.
PW: Oh, that’s handy.
LH: So in terms of managing your contacts now, what you can do when — either when you add somebody or when you get to someone’s profile and you’ve already added them, is that you can add relationship information to each of your contact. There’s like a wee section on everybody’s profile down where the contact information is. You know that little tab?
PW: I do.
LH: Under that picture and that basic information. Well, there’s a new relationship section in there. And what you could do is have tags.
LH: Because you might be thinking, “Hmm, what’s the point of having tags if it’s just extra information that LinkedIn is probably going to use to, I don’t know, sell my connections to alien overlords from the last 20 years or something.” Say you’ve connected with professionals in the farming industry, but you’re also a writer with interest in textile manufacturing. You can add different texts to help you separate your contacts accordingly. And obviously, you might be wondering what the point of that is, but the fact is that you can now email tagged groups via LinkedIn rather than spamming all your connections. So this is a final much needed triumph from the social media platform that everybody, Pip, everybody loves to hate.
PW: So if you want to promote, say, a local event, you can send it to your Manchester tag and I can send it to my Sheffield one. But yeah, that’s handy.
LH: Yeah. Or you know, if you wanted to send something about some farming legislation that has come through and they will change their website to let their clients know that this legislation is going to be in place and there’ going to be changes in the way they work, you don’t want to send that to people in the textiles industry, because they’re going to think that you’ve lost the plot.
PW: And that’s very reminiscent of what Google+ does with Circles. And that — I was — nobody will be surprised to hear that I was an early adopter of Google+, I’m a chronic early adopter. Circles was one of its first features, and it was one of the things that made it potentially very exciting because it meant that I could post something about concept marketing and my friend from school, who is a P.E. teacher, would never have to see it. And that made it stand out against Facebook and Twitter, which were its main, well still are really, its main competitors because you could filter things according to how you classify each person. And it sounds like LinkedIn have set up a similar functionality.
LH: At least in their emails. I’m not too sure what the tags are also useful for. I don’t think they’re just there with potential.
PW: Yes. I was just going to say even if that’s all it can do now, I would imagine that if they see people using them, then they would expand the functionality.
LH: Well, the number of emails I’ve gotten via my LinkedIn has increased over the last three or four months.
PW: Oh, tell me about it.
LH: It’s okay. I mean at the end of the day, I’m quite ruthless when it comes to emails. If somebody’s spamming me, I don’t care who they are, I will click Spam.
PW: I click Spam and disconnect from them.
LH: Yeah. I’ll do exactly the same.
PW: I have no time for spammy links and emails.
LH: Now in this fifth and final section, we’re going to look at one of the most obvious kinds of lists. And in fact, it’s right after your nose or in your ears as we speak.
PW: We are talking about those lists that we can’t resist clicking on when they fly by through our timelines: ‘The top ten marketing tips of freelancers’, ‘Eight social media marketing tips you’ve never heard of before’, ’12 ways to impress a client without even trying’, ‘Five and a bit ways of lists to transform your marketing’. Oh, that one’s us. You know the type. Some blogs rely on them constantly, usually combining them with the ‘What Justin Bieber can teach us about could teach us about PPC advertising’, ‘Twelve things Kim Kardashian does that SEO experts should learn from them’ style link baits. Many people understand, but they take a sceptical view of this.
LH: Why? Just why?
PW: The fact is that better or worse, it is undoubtedly an effective way of getting to click through to your posts. I would suggest limiting their use, because they lose the impact and they get annoying. But once in a while, it can be a good approach to get some positive attention to your blog and a boost in your visitor stats. Way back in May last year, we did an episode about finding inspiration for blog posts when you run out of ideas. And we talked about this very phenomenon and which we jokingly tagged ‘Or what Pippa Middleton’s bum can teach us about finding writing inspiration’ onto the end of the planned title. Now I still get a stupid number of hits from people searching Google for Pippa Middleton’s bum. They’re not targeted to freelance writers, so they’re not useful, but it does still make me giggle a bit.
LH: It makes me happy that they’re not getting Pippa Middleton’s bum.
PW: They’re getting Pippa Willitts’s website.
LH: True, ha ha ha. If you get a picture of a peach on the page or something.
PW: I should. I should set up a landing page for that search, shouldn’t I? Pippa Middleton’s bum has nothing to do with this page. That would work. That would work for me, and it would make me happy knowing that people having surreptitious searches for the sister-in-law of the Prince — I’ve lost track of the royals.
LH: I have no idea.
PW: I don’t know. Some kind of rich person’s bum, just — yeah, they deserve to get a bad link, frankly. I watched the royal wedding with Twitter going and just people constantly all day saying, “Oh, Pippa looks nice.” And I would just constantly reply, “Thank you. So kind of you. I don’t know how you could see me, but yes I do, rather.” It was fun.
LH: I’m sure it was great for the royalists. Who is this woman? Why is she tweeting me? What’s going on?
Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II X (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
PW: I learned the other day that it is against the law in Britain, under treason laws…
LH: I think I learned the same thing. Sorry.
PW: To imagine Great Britain without a monarchy.
LH: Yes. Oh no, I read the same thing. I can’t believe you would even think about it.
PW: I am in big trouble.
LH: I think I’m going to the tower. I’m gone.
PW: So yes, what we’re saying, back to list posts which I believe we were talking about. They can be handy. They can get you clicks, but use them in moderation. And also, don’t let them be disappointing. That’s the worst thing, is when you click on a title, it sounds promising. And you get to a post just full of recycled rubbish that we’ve seen a hundred times already. If you’re going to use a link bait-y title, make it at least worth people’s while to click through.
LH: Well, just to say even like content marketing giant BuzzFeed doesn’t get away with it, because they’ve got those tags that users can generate at the bottom of every post. And if anything’s hackneyed or contrived or recycled content, you get loads of people just sticking “Fail”, “Oh my God”, “Ew” on the bottom of it. And that’s BuzzFeed, so you know, if it’s you, I mean if it’s good, you don’t have to be cynical about using numbers in lists. I mean I posted something the other day on my blog that was like three steps to doing something with posts on Facebook, and that’s because people want a simple, easy way to do things. So that was a legitimate three-step process just learning to do something.
PW: Yeah. If you want to optimize your Facebook posts or whatever it is and you just think, “I don’t know how. It might be hard,” or whatever, it can certainly be more appealing to see a three-step process. And you think, “Oh, surely I can do that.”
LH: Yeah, exactly. So if you can think of a legitimate way, whether it’s like a three-step process tutorial or as we’ve just been discussing, you know, say eight things I have something in common, just make sure that it is, as Pip says, it’s actually legitimate and that you’re not shoehorning everything in there. Because as we said with email lists, people don’t like feeling that they’re being duped or sold to. I don’t like it. Pip doesn’t like it. And if we catch you doing it, we will disown you. No more podcast. That’s it. People don’t like it. So that’s five and a bit ways a list could transform your marketing, which leaves us with one thing to do.
PW: The Little Bird recommendations of the week.
LH: My favourite bit. I love it so. I love it so I got to come up with one, and I enjoy it every time.
PW: She never complains when we get to this section, never.
LH: No, sir.
PW: And she’s never pleaded with me to just skip it this time.
LH: Oh, god, Pip.
PW: My recommendation this week is a blog post from Search Engine Watch, which is a very well established, well respected blog about — roughly about SEO, but it actually covers a lot of ground. And the post is called ‘How to Create Content Strategy for a B2B Business’.
LH: Very good.
PW: Yes. Now this — the reason I like this post is it will be relevant to finance writers in two ways. First of all, we are B2B businesses ourselves. And so — and we are content creators, so we need some kind of content strategy ourselves. And so the fact is that creating content and particularly an overall content marketing plan, is quite different between B2B and B2C businesses. And a lot of the stuff you’ll read about content marketing is aimed at B2C or e-commerce type sites, and there can be some different strategies and different things you need to bear in mind with B2B content strategy. And this post is very detailed and goes into a lot of that.
Now the other reason it will be beneficial to finance writers is that you’re probably part of somebody else’s content creation strategy. And if they are a B2B business as well, then it will help you with that kind of thing as well. It goes through different types of content not just in terms of, “Oh, let’s have list of things we could do,” but looking specifically at why you would use a particular kind of content for a particular client with a particular target audience because these are the things you have to bear in mind. You can’t just create a great YouTube video if your client demographic is retired people who have very little computer experience. Instead, you might want a paper transfer or magazine or something. Similarly, you don’t want to send out direct mail to a young student who is fully digital. That’s obviously kind of almost a stereotypically extreme example, but in fact, looking — if you’re going to have successful content, it needs to be targeted in a way that the target demographic can relate to, will be able to access.
And like one of the best content marketing move of last year was Red Bull sponsoring the guy who jumped out of the plane from the edge of space. Now on first glance, that seemed like a weird thing. How on earth is that content marketing? But actually, Red Bull target — I looked this up the other day. The target audience is young men, 18 to 35, who are into kind of action and adventure. Red Bull’s slogan is “Red Bull gives you wings.” They sponsored a man who was breaking a world record, so literally millions of people watched live, and their name was all over it. And the people that were most interested in watching this were young men who were into adventurous things. And it was actually perfect as a way…
LH: It’s genius, but it makes me laugh just thinking about all these guys looking at it and subconsciously going, “I like Red Bull. I’m watching this guy jump off the moon. I could jump off the moon if I just buy Red Bull. Yes.” And then their sales rocketed.
PW: Yes, exactly. Yeah, and their brand name got out to places where they don’t even sell Red Bull.
LH: Yeah. It will never, never be forgotten with it, because that was such a ground-breaking thing to do.
PW: Yeah. It was actually a work of genius from the Red Bull marketing department. Red Bull marketing department, I salute you. You need to think along those terms, as well as looking up what to write about, you know, how frequently to write, all those kinds of things. You need to really think this through.
LH: And if you’ve kind the kind of clients who’d like you to be pushed out a plane.
PW: If they fell with wings.
LH: Honestly, if you see wings, just tell them, “You’ll be fine.”
PW: So yes, if you want a really in depth look at B2B marketing, then the link is in our show notes at alittlebirdtoldme.podmatic.com.
LH: I think that’s a really good recommendation as well, because what I was thinking before I got the giggles about Red Bull — it’s just a bit silly. Young men, so funny as a demographic. Basically, a lot of my business is with B2B customers.
PW: Yeah, same. Yeah.
LH: And I prefer it that way, actually. I’ve recently gotten more involved with B2C.
LH: I secretly don’t like it as much. You’re just not my B2B clients though, are you? They’re nice, but you’re not B2B.
PW: I think it’s a really different approach, isn’t it? Even if you’re just blogging, even if that’s the content you’re producing, if it’s just blog posts and news stories and you’re not doing any of the kind of really out there or really creative stuff, you’re still — it’s a very different mind-set.
LH: It’s completely different. When I get in touch with any of my clients or you know, an existing client, what tends to happen is they’ll have some idea of a marketing plan or strategy even if they’re not calling it that. Because a lot of my B2B clients kind of trade in industrial, and they’re the kind of people that go, “In my day, we didn’t have marketing.” That kind of thing. So they’ll be doing marketing without realizing that’s what they’re doing. So what you have to do is fit into a content marketing strategy that they don’t know they’ve got but also advise them on a content marketing strategy of which you will deliver only part. So if you’re a copywriter, as we are, your client may say, “Right. I want leaflets, and I want a website, and I want a blog.” But you know, you’re going to have to help them come up with a wider content marketing strategy in which to embed those channels. So there’s no point coming up with a blog and new website content and leaflets for an event if you don’t know which even they’re going to go to, if you don’t which sectors they’re targeting, if you don’t know where their target audience is found or which media their target audience prefers.
PW: Context, context, context.
LH: Exactly. And you have to work this out for your B2B customer in order to be able to sell your services to them, because if it doesn’t work, then a lot of B2B customers will come back and go, “Your writing didn’t work.” So sometimes, it’s not the easiest thing, because they don’t — like I said, they don’t realize they’re doing content marketing or that they’re doing any kind of marketing or, “We don’t do marketing in this industry.” You know, you get a lot of those. So this is the kind of thing, I think, in this blog post that will come in really handy when it comes to talking to clients about what they need to do.
PW: And why.
LH: Yes, and the context around the stuff that you do for them. And when you say to them, “But I need to know who you’re target audience is,” and they say, “Well, why?”, this is the kind of thing that will back you up.
PW: I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a few times I said, “Who’s your target audience?”, and they’ll say “Other businesses.”
LH: Yes, everyone.
PW: Another interesting — I’ve been writing a lot about content marketing for various clients in the last few weeks, which is why I’ve got all these examples in my head. But Sainsbury’s supermarket has magazine. I think it’s just called Sainsbury’s Magazine, which they sell and which I refuse to buy on the basis that it’s a magazine that’s essentially all built around them.
LH: Yeah, it’s that type of literature.
PW: And so they have lifestyle stories and they have recipes, but it’s all based around their clothes and their food. And I don’t want to pay to be marketed to, basically. But what I learned the other day is that Sainsbury’s Magazine is the U.K.’s leading lifestyle and food magazine.
LH: What? That’s incredible.
PW: It’s incredible. And the Sainsbury’s Magazine is content marketing. That’s exactly what it is, and they are the leading lifestyle and food magazine in the country.
PW: Now if you’re wanting potential for content marketing, start there. That’s amazing.
LH: That is really impressive. Wow. It’s stuck in my thoughts.
PW: Yes. I’ve had a few days to process this. Lorrie hasn’t, but yeah, this is what at its real heart and at its biggest. You’re unlikely to be editing Sainsbury’s Magazine. However, on a smaller basis, you as a copywriter will be working within other people’s content marketing plans or you may be advising them on it. Or you may even be structuring it if you’re expanding your kind of job description. But this is the kind of thing that the big companies are doing, and it can give you all sorts of ideas.
LH: Definitely. And in terms of sort of expanding your offerings, I tend to find that content marketing strategy, it’s kind of copywriting in a way that to a lot of my B2B clients, proofreading and editing are the same. It’s like, “Oh, could you proofread this for me,” and what they mean really is edit/rewrite but for them, it’s the same thing. And when it comes to copywriting, because your copywriting needs to be delivered within, as Pip said, a wider context and it needs to make sense as possible wide a strategy, sometimes you just have to throw some content marketing strategy in there with it and say, “Look, you need to do — like here’s a blog post, but this needs to happen twice a week or twice a month. And here’s an editorial calendar that needs to go in…
PW: Yeah. And it needs to be promoted in these ways.
LH: Yeah. And it needs to be cascaded out to social media. And before you know it, you’ve done their content marketing strategy for them.
PW: Yeah. And then you link back to this and then you put internal — yeah, it’s all…
LH: Yeah. And then it all unravels when they don’t do it, and they go, “That writing you did for me, it didn’t work.”
PW: You’ve done two blog posts. We don’t have any new customers.
LH: Why not? It’s just like — so yeah, great recommendation.
PW: Thank you very much.
LH: But I kind of hate you for it.
PW: And why is that?
LH: Because it was so huge and useful.
PW: Well, I’m huge and useful. And Lorrie, what is your recommendation this week?
LH: And Lorrie, are you huge and useful? Relatively.
PW: You’re small and useful.
LH: Thank you. Aw, I like being useful. So well my relatively underwhelming recommendation — every week, Pip, every week. And I don’t want a pity win. I don’t want you to come up with a rubbish recommendation so I’ll look good.
PW: Next week, Google.
LH: Honestly. I know…
PW: It’s a search engine, and if you put something in it, it will find it for you.
LH: I feel like I can’t just jump off a slide and pass that guy that jumped out of a plane on the edge of space. I was like, “Wow, I’m jumping so high.” And then Pip comes in from space.
PW: I’m sure your recommendation is marvellous.
LH: I don’t want to do it now.
PW: Well, you have to.
LH: Okay. Well, my recommendation, seeing as you’re all dying to know, it kind of keeps — it kind of fits into what we’re saying about click bait-y and link bait-y stuff, and I was talking about that in my last solo episode as well. And it’s a post from the Guardian Small Business Network. Even if you’re not U.K. based, I’d recommend signing up, because they send out newsletters on all kinds of things and there’s everything from marketing to your finances to innovation. They’re really quite useful. And that post is called ‘Four ways,’ so you’ve got a number in there, ‘to step up your marketing campaign in January.’ And this doesn’t sound particularly impressive and indeed, it’s not now. Thanks, Pip.
But basically, there’s a picture, a very blurry picture, of two women jogging. And you see, step up your marketing campaign, and I just thought it was a nice example of being click bait-y without pushing it too far. Because what they’ve done is they’ve tapped into kind of the consciousness that people have got around January about getting fit and New Year’s resolutions and exercising more and doing all this, and the Guardian’s got a hugely popular running blog. And what they’ve done is they’ve taken the format of like a health and exercise art school, and they’ve used it to kind of come up with text for business owners that want to improve their marketing over January. And they’ve used the theme and it’s gone all the way through ‘Go on a healthy diet of the right kind of work,’ ‘Go for a mixed routine,’ ‘Go for little and often’, ‘Picture and plan’. And it really — I found it really helpful, actually. I found it really well written and quite imaginative and quite helpful in terms of visualizing how to — I hate the word revitalize, but that’s the word I’m kind of going to use, revitalize your marketing because I think a lot of us in January are a bit overwhelmed.
PW: It’s a sunny time of year, isn’t it?
LH: It is. And I think you can feel a bit overwhelmed with everything and a bit for where to go with your marketing, especially since you’ve got a whole year looming ahead and you think, “What am I going to do? What do I need to do? What do I need to focus on?” And there are just loads and loads of tips in there. It says if marketing is like fitness, that customers that you take on board are like your diet. So it’s torturing an extended metaphor. It’s really going for it. It’s got in on the rack and it’s stretching it.
PW: We’ve all done it.
LH: We’ve all done it, but it does it quite well so that is my recommendation for this week.
PW: It looks good, and it also is good because it’s a time of year when everybody’s full of resolutions and this year I’m going to do this and that and the other. And it can still — you can kind of start to spot signs that your own marketing might be getting a bit stale. And yeah, it is good to update these things and make a few changes and test things out and see if you’ve got any new ideas. And this article has some really good kind of pointers in it, so it can help you, you know, just get some new ideas, maybe put a few new things in place. And I also second Lorrie’s recommendation to the Guardian Small Business Network, which I actually only discovered recently but is — yeah, I’m liking it so far.
LH: No, it’s really good. And I suppose I’m being a little bit more realistic when it comes to this article, because it’s not actually about diet and exercise. But when it comes to diet and exercise articles, it’s all about stupid thin, stupid quick. I think it was something that you, Pip, had posted, Weight Watchers recipe cards from the 1970s.
PW: Oh, I will link to the listeners, because they are astounding.
LH: They’re stunning, but did you see the diet drink that was beef stock cubes, water, celery and sherry. And the website added in that there was also a healthy dose of self-loathing. And then the other drink was orange pulp and skimmed milk.
PW: Oh, gross.
LH: And it’s just — you’ve imagined, haven’t you? There are so many people going, “And I only ate an orange and a banana every day for the whole of January, and now I am super skinny and amazing.”
PW: And her various nutritional deficiencies.
LH: My brain no longer works, but that’s okay. And what I like about this article, just finishing my weird rambling point, is that it builds in self-care. It talks about the greasy fast food equivalent of basically getting on every client, because they’re there and you’re desperate for work. It tells you about sort of waiting a little bit and valuing your time and really building your business will lead you to long-term satisfaction and not short-term gain.
PW: And this is particularly hard for solo workers, I think, because you’ve not got other people to check in with so much. So yeah, definitely, those Weight Watchers recipe cards and also a link to the BuzzFeed list that then made somebody send me the link to those Weight Watchers recipe cards. And if you have any doubt that there is no food that you can’t suspend in jelly…
LH: Wow, what a loaf.
PW: It’s just salad after salad that’s in Aspic. And so like you slice it, it’s the weirdest thing.
LH: I mean there was one. It was mayonnaise, cottage cheese and seafood mixed in with lime-flavoured jelly.
PW: Oh. And there are various examples of fish dishes where the fish isn’t whole, but then the dish is made to look like a fish. So they kind of break up fish and then reform it into a fish shape.
LH: Using jelly or mayonnaise usually, usually one of the two, something greasy.
PW: It’s really quite astounding, so yes.
LH: What they can do with a banana, oh, my lord.
PW: Yes. The show is worth it if for those alone, so head over to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com to be horrified by food.
LH: I think for the next week, I might post one of the recipe cards on the Facebook every day.
PW: I think I might do this this year.
LH: I think I might start with the banana candle.
PW: Although listeners, given when we’re recording this, she actually means this week.
LH: So there we are. You’ll have all those lovely things to look forward to at facebook.com/freelancewritingpodcast.
PW: And so that brings us to the end of episode 66. Tune in next week for an interview with screenwriting expert.
PW: Yes, and until then, thank you very much for listening. I have been Philippa Willitts…
LH: …And I have been Lorrie Hartshorn, and we will catch you next time.
There is a lot to be said for providing valuable content, skills or expertise online for free. Offering useful information demonstrates that you know what you are talking about, it helps to show people you can be trusted, and it gives you an opportunity to get your name ‘out there’.
It’s one of the reasons I make a freelance writing podcast – it helps to establish in potential clients’ minds that I’m knowledgeable and skilled in my field. Similarly, the writing I have volunteered for non-profit websites shows editors and clients my writing style and the topics I specialise in writing about. It has also increased my profile, all of which contributes to me getting work on a daily and weekly basis.
Giving things away is not the same as working for free – something that should, in most cases, be avoided at all costs. You don’t want to put yourself in a position where you are being exploited or taken advantage of. Instead, giving things away puts the power in your hands: you choose the information, or the value, that you will provide and you offer it openly.
In this TEDx video, Simon Wheatley talks about how he got web design work from the likes of Stephen Fry and the Rolling Stones based on his reputation as someone who was “good at WordPress”. That reputation came from having developed plug-ins and contributed to the overall open source nature of the WordPress project. It’s a great talk to listen to and could provide some great ideas for freelancers who are considering adding more content to their sites or service offerings.
In the interests of full disclosure, Simon is my brother-in-law as well as being a top WordPress dude.
And finally, ‘like’ us on Facebook to be the first to hear our news and to talk with us about what you hear on the podcast!
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 absolute no-nos of successful self-employment, saving you from mighty embarrassment and mortifying mistakes, and guiding you – hopefully! – to the very top of your chosen profession.
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I’m Lorrie Hartshorn and today, I’m going to be getting you into the swing of 2014 with a solo episode. The lovely Pip, my usual co-host, is squirrelled away and working hard, so this is a solo gig. But fear not, she’ll be back in a fortnight’s time to share her words of wisdom and filthy laugh with you all again.
So, this week, I was thinking about talking about New Year’s resolutions – new starts, business plans and all that, but the Internet has it all pretty well covered. Plus, I don’t know about you, but I’m a bit of sick of it already.
So, I’ve decided to steer away from all the New Year’s Resolution stuff (apparently 88% of them fail in the first month anyway) and talk instead about something that no freelance writer I’ve ever met has managed to quit – and that’s writing about boring, boring topics.
Now you’ll probably already have wondered about how to write about boring topics, and if you go on the net, you’ll find loads of worthy posts about how there are no boring topics, only tricky topics, or boring people, or bad writers, or whatever. It’s not true – it’s a complete lie.
English: Traffic cones Part of the Deanside Transit railway yard beside Makro at Hillington is now being used to store traffic cones and roadworks related signs. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
There are boring things in the world; my boring isn’t the same as yours, and yours isn’t the same as someone else’s but we all get bored – we’re all human. If you have to write about something you find boring, it can be really hard, so it’s no good pretending that everything is sunshine and roses and unicorns, and that you think everything is super interesting because nobody does. So I’ve come up with six ways to write about a boring topic without sending your audience to sleep.
So tip one is to be clued up. Now, we all know what it’s like, sitting there, trying our best to absorb a topic that Just. Won’t. Get. Interesting. And whether you’re cowering on the back row of your year 11 chemistry lesson or you’re slouched in front of a computer trying to read the latest news about algorithms and metrics and measurements – sigh, Pip loves those – the feeling is always the same: painful, impending death.
On the other hand, we all know what it’s like to be engrossed in a topic that, while it might be complex or unpopular, just never fails to be fascinating. For me, it’s grammar. I love grammar – how it works, the rhythm of it – I think grammar is beautiful – how it develops, the patterns that spiral out and out from parts of a word to parts of a sentence to parts of a paragraph like some gorgeous grammatical galaxy. I really do like grammar.
But why do I love grammar but not chemistry? Well, part of this is down to natural abilities – I’m a linguist, not a chemist. I have a natural affinity – and ease of understanding – with words that I don’t have with chemical compounds. The enjoyment comes from the understanding. Grammar is one of the most hated topics I know, especially here in the UK, but because I understand it, it fascinates me. And while you can’t choose your natural talents, you can improve your knowledge and use that knowledge to open the door to others.
Now, writing about boring topics requires relatability, and the only way people are going to be able to relate to a boring or complicated topic is if you bring it to them in a form they can understand and relate to.
So, I could talk about grammar as building blocks, if I wanted to be really simple – and, let’s face it, a bit hackneyed. Or, I could use my imagination and use an analogy like my earlier one – grammar as a galaxy. With imagery like this, I could talk about the connections between parts of speech, and use the idea of orbits to discuss how certain words act as an anchor for others in a sentence…you get my point.
But if I didn’t understand grammar, I couldn’t do that. And the same goes for any topic – this is my point. You don’t have to be an expert in something to write engagingly about it, but the deeper your understanding, the more chance you stand of being able to reframe the topic in a way that will spark your readers’ imaginations.
Not only that, and this is the good news for you, the more research you do on a topic, the deeper your understanding becomes. And the deeper your understanding becomes, the more you enjoy the topic and want to learn about it. It’s a beautiful thing.
Tip two: be human
You have to really try to be human when you’re writing. Removing the human element from an article on a potentially boring topic can often be the kiss of death.
Your readers are human (we hope), so you need to appeal to them on that level. People are generally group animals – we like communicating with one another and learning from each other and connecting with one another, so stay present in the content you write.
You don’t need to be “you”, necessarily – you’ll need to be the voice of whoever you’re writing for, and there may be tone or brand guidelines to follow if you’re writing for a client – but you do need to be human and engaging.
The human touch has another benefit when it comes to topics that risk becoming boring due to their complexity – it helps to build trust.
If you – or the client you’re writing for – have a consistent voice throughout your body of content, your clients and prospects are far more likely to engage with the material you present to them and trust what you’re telling them – very helpful when you’re dealing with facts, figures, explanations and things like that.
Build a relationship with your readership over time, and you’ll find that they invest a little more in reading what you have to say – they’ll want to read you and they’re more likely to seek you out again. This is exactly why social media is so effective – when people have an engaging voice, others are drawn to that.
Now, blogging can be a writer’s playground, as long as you have clearance to go ahead with the tone you’re choosing to use.
And remember, if you’re blogging for yourself, it’s important to use your best self for your brand, but not a fake self. Choose and consistently use the funniest, wittiest, most intelligent, most engaging parts of yourself – maybe you wield a great sense of irony, maybe you can spot and shoot a cliché down from 10 paces away. Maybe you’ve got a chaotic family full of hilarious members and there’s always a lesson in whatever your grandma says or does.
Whatever topic you’re writing about, be yourself but be your best self. And, as people get to know you, they start to listen more closely to what you have to say.
Tip three is “Be relatable”. Following on from being human and understanding your topic, we’ve got being relatable. And while this could realistically (and easily) have been included under those two headings, I think it’s important because of the emphasis it places on your target audience.
Being human and well clued-up on your topic is all very important, but you have to aim your writing square at the reader you’re hoping to enthral. Otherwise, all that wit and wisdom is going to do no good at all.
You need to write in a way that touches the target audience, and encourages the reader to create images in her or his own head. And to do that, you can’t always be informing the reader about things she or he has never heard of – although you may need to do that plenty, especially with informative blog posts – you need to tap into things they already know, understand and find compelling.
Now this might be general human truths or it might be sector-specific. So when you’re looking for analogies to liven up your writing, look for the kinds of things that – when you tell someone about them – they interrupt you and go, “Ohhhhh yeahhh…”; the kinds of things that we – or your target audience – have all got a story about.
Showerhead (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Looking at general stuff, it could be the embarrassment of falling flat on your face in public; or the inevitable fact that, if you ask someone to look in the fridge for the jam that you know is at the front of the top shelf, they won’t find it and you’ll have to get it yourself, or the fact that 97% of your time in the shower is spent staring into space and coming up with things you should have said in an argument you’ve already had.
Being relatable is a way of building a strong connection with your reader. All you have to do is find out how it fits with your topic!
Tip four: be relevant. Now I know a lot of people say bad things about click bait and it’s true – patent click-bait without substance is rubbish.
But, you do need to be relevant. It’s worth coming up with ways to link your content to relevant topics but make the content evergreen content as well. So situate your content in a wider context – tap into things that people are reading about, and understand about, and care about. Situate your topic relevantly and people are more likely to want to go and read it – you have to hook them in.
If your boring garden machinery topic comes out of nowhere, then it’s only going to appeal to people who are impassioned by garden machinery.
But if you can link this to something in a wider context – say, there’s some new legislation that says that people can’t use this particular equipment any more, or you can find a political or even celebrity topic that could link to your topic with more than just a bare thread, then that will help you to be found on search engines, it’ll encourage people to click through.
So don’t be mercenary but don’t be afraid to be relevant and get a few more click-throughs on that content.
Tip Five: be creative. So imagine that you weren’t listening to a podcast right now. Instead, you’re reading a dry as toast study about the various factors involved in creating compelling content for blogs.
The text is small, the text is grey and the sentences are looong and unwieldy and boring. There are no pictures, no examples, it’s just corporate boredom hell. You probably wouldn’t get to the end of the article.
Now blog posts about boring topics can’t be boring – that’s the rule: they can’t be boring, not if you want your content to succeed. So instead of lecturing people via the written word, you have to engage them. So, ok, maybe you can’t record a podcast every time, but you can perk up your blog posts with a bit of creativity.
Boost reader engagement with rich media content – it’s all out there: images, videos, infographics, you can create your own web graphics. Even bullet points and tables are a good way to break up text. Appeal to the eye, ear and senses as well as the shrivelled, minging little dry bit at the back of your reader’s brain that enjoys reading about this boring topic.
So find interesting images – steer clear of stock photos as far as possible (no more blonde women in headsets!). Find creative additions to your text – you’re never too old to enjoy text being broken up by something interesting. It doesn’t matter what your topic is – nobody minds a bit of rich media.
Tip six: be sneaky. OK, so as I said at the start of this podcast, when you read what people have had to say about writing about boring topics, most of what you’ll find is a bunch of right-on, faux profound “Nothing is boring, except the writer!” rubbish.
It’s not true – some stuff really is boring. Not for everyone: there’s a topic for everyone, and there’s a person for every topic, but I believe Philippa had an encounter with someone who had to write about traffic cones the other day. And while that might be alright for one or two blog posts, I can imagine that a whole blog on the topic would start to wear you down.
So, here’s a tip: don’t write about the boring subject. Sounds sneaky? Well, it kind of is, but it’s also an intelligent approach.
You can apply this advice on a micro or macro level: either inject different subjects into a blog post about the boring topic, or inject whole blog posts on different subject into your blog about the boring topic.
Now, I always wondered, at school, why they kept making us draw spider diagrams. I couldn’t come up with many possible adult uses for them, but we did so many – it was always, “OK kids, it’s spider diagram time!”.
But this is the time of the spider diagram – its hour is nigh! Take your boring topic, stick it in the middle of a massive spider diagram.
Then think about your target audience, and what they might like to read about. Say, let’s talk about traffic cones again. You could talk about roads, town-planning, people wearing traffic cones on their heads after a night out (weirdly, this seems to happen a lot when people are drunk), different colour cones…I’m being a bit ridiculous, but if I had a spider diagram, I’d come up with much better ideas.
So think about your audience, their interests, the topics that relate to them, or your topic, or the sector, or the current news…and keep doing this until you’ve got a whole range of topics you can write about around the boring one. And you might find you can categorise these topics.
I’ve come up with a few editorial calendars for clients in the last few weeks, and while I wouldn’t say that my clients’ sectors are boring (of course I wouldn’t; they pay my bills), they’re not necessarily topics I’d want to write about all the time. But I found myself becoming more interested as I worked on finding topics around the topics I normally write about.
Use your imagination: if you’re writing for yourself, go wild. If you’re writing for someone else, I think they’ll appreciate the fact that you’re using your imagination.
At the end of the day, they don’t want the next Tolstoy novel, they just want a blog that people want to read. And if you can show that you’re coming up with new ways to tempt people in and that you can still link the content to their product or service, you’re spot on in what you’re doing.
So to sum up, what it comes down to it, this is actually good advice whether you’ve got a boring topic or a fascinating one: you can’t write endless things on the same subject from the same angle forever. Well, you can but it’ll bore everyone’s socks off.
You need to find new, relevant, current, imaginative ways to write, whether it’s a topic you enjoy or not. So remember:
– Be clued up – do your research, read, learn. It might hurt at first, but the only way to uncover interesting bits is to go digging.
– Be human – make sure people know they’re not just reading a bit of corporate spiel.
– Be relatable – come up with analogies people can relate to, even if you’re informing them about something new.
– Be creative – don’t think in black and white; bring in some colour, some sound, bullet points, shading, borders, different fonts – although not Comic Sans, obviously.
– Be sneaky – if you have to write about traffic cones, write around traffic cones. As long as it all ties in, gets the message across and still works, go for it.
It’s the mark of a really good writer if you can bring a really dry topic to life, so put your back into learning how to liven up those tricky topics and I promise it’ll pay off in the long-term.
That sums up episode 65: Six Ways To Write About A Boring Topic Without Sending Your Audience To Sleep. What remains is the Little Bird Recommendation Of The Week.
Now, HubSpot’s on the money again this week – I might as well just call this my “HubSpot recommendation of the week” at this point, but it’s really good.
So, my recommendation is for a wee slideshare – it’s nothing too taxing; we’re all tired. I don’t want a big blog post and I don’t think you do either – that they’ve created to help you find out where to get really tweetable information.
Now, Christmas and New Year is always a funny time on social media – a lot of people do wind down and just tweet tired, Christmassy/New Year’s Resolution-y things. But, give it a week or two, and by January, everyone’s revitalised again.
Things go from 0-60 and if you’re not sharing interesting content, you’re unlikely to keep up with the pack and there’s nothing worse than starting the year off and feeling like you’re failing.
Finding shareable content can be a drag, particularly when it’s dark and cold, and you’re feeling overworked and underpaid. So use this little slideshare to help you come up with some new ideas – I actually found it really helpful, and I hope you will too. It has some really good ideas, both about finding topics and about automation. It’s not heavy or in-depth but it did spark my imagination.
So that really does bring us to the end of A Little Bird Told Me Episode 65: Six Ways To Write About A Boring Topic Without Sending Your Audience To Sleep. Really hope you’ve found this helpful – I’d love to hear any feedback.
If you want to see where Pip and I reside on social media, just go to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com or you can come and have a chat with us at facebook.com/freelancewritingpodcast – tell us about the most boring topic you’ve ever written on.
We may give you a round of applause; we probably won’t give you anything else but you can still share the pain.
So stay tuned; we’ll be back in about two weeks with another dual episode. In the meantime, make sure you subscribe at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com via iTunes, Stitcher Smart Radio or one of those fancy podcatcher things that Pip understands better than me. Subscribe and you’ll be the first to hear when we have another episode out.
I’ll leave you to it for now, and wish you a very Happy New Year – I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn, and Pip and I will catch you next time.