Category Archives: Podcast

Podcast Episode 72: Additional Income Streams for Freelance Writers

Graph With Stacks Of Coins

Graph With Stacks Of Coins (Photo credit: kenteegardin)

Freelancing can be a bit scary at times, and the lack of guaranteed income puts many people off even trying. Those who have already embarked on full-time self-employment will also find that their income can go up and down, and time off sick or a trip away can cause it all to grind to a dramatic halt. Because of this, it can be a good idea to have an extra income stream or two, but many writers have no idea what they could do to gain any kind of passive or residual income. Tune in to get some great ideas!

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PW: Hello, and welcome to episode 72 of ‘A Little Bird Told Me’, the podcast where two freelance writers tell you all the tricks of the trade. We are 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 world, and we want to help you along the way.

Tune into the podcast every two weeks, and if you go to you can subscribe to make sure you never miss an episode. So, whether iTunes and 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. On that site you’ll also any links we mention, and links to our own websites and social media feeds, as well as the A Little Bird Told Me Facebook page, too.

I am Philippa Willitts…

LH: And I am Lorrie Hartshorn, and this week we are going to be looking at some relatively quick and/or easy ways to boost your freelance income. Business development when you’re a freelancer can feel like a bit of slog sometimes, in fact most of the time. So it’s nice to have irons in a few fires just going on while you’re doing your usual work.

Now while these suggestions that we’re coming up with today aren’t necessarily passive income and residual income streams in the traditional sense of the terms, what we wanted to do is look at a few ways to give you inbound queries, a bit of a pick-me-up, without adding loads of extra work to your plate. Because of course we could say, “Do more work. Do more stuff. Do more expensive projects.”

But when you feel like you’ve got a full plate anyway, but you’re still not quite making enough for you – you’d like to just earn a bit more, or you’d like to build yourself a safety net – these are the kinds of ideas that we’re going to be looking at today. And because a lot of these streams can be set up and maintained when you’ve got a spare 15-20 minutes here and there, they are a good choice for freelancers who are struggling to get started and are looking for some quick action.

Because I hear this a lot from freelancers who are just getting into the swing of things, like “I’m doing stuff, but it’s just not quite happening enough yet.” So these kinds of things that you can tackle to get started and then forget about.

PW: Definitely. And also because of the kind of come-and-go nature of a lot of freelancing work. You will have times when the money’s rolling in, and times when it seems to go dry. So having some backup passive or residual income can really help you out on those occasions. Plus, there’ll be situations where you might get ill or you might want to take a holiday, and it’s nice to have a bit of extra coming in.

LH: Yeah, absolutely. And it’s one of the big things that understandably makes people hesitate about going freelance – it’s the potential lack of stability and the lack of a regular income. And I say understandably because it is. If you’re a freelancer you don’t have the regular salary, and you don’t have maternity pay or sick pay or holiday pay.

So these kinds of passive income streams and residual income streams and low-maintenance income streams are a very good thing for taking on some of that strain, especially if they can look after themselves most of the time. So it’s well-worth considering what you can do alongside your everyday work activities, just to create that little financial safety net or a little bit of a financial boost for yourself.

So these additional income streams don’t necessarily have to be writing work it’s the first thing that I’m going to say. You might be thinking that I write all day every day. And I do creative writing, not as a residual income stream, but just as a hobby, and I do get that thing of “I’ve written all day. And now I’m going to sit down and write something creative and wonderful and lovely.” And it can feel overwhelming sometime.

You might find that carrying out content writing work all day is just enough, and you fancy doing something a little bit different. Alternatively, you might go the other way and think, “Well, writing’s what I do. I don’t mind doing writing all day, so I’ll stick with what I’m good at.” And it’s up to you entirely, but you can consider all kinds, so don’t limit yourself. Have a good think about your skills, your hobbies, your pastimes, and try and come up with something that fits in with your life and your interests.

PW: In many of the ideas we suggest your writing skills will certainly come in handy.

LH: Absolutely. I mean, we do have to love up to the whole freelance writing podcast thing, so we’re not going to go too far off.

PW: That’s it. So don’t forget, in whatever additional projects you might decide to take on, you do know how to write persuasively or informatively or cattily or whatever it is you need. Another point to make at this stage is that this single episode is not enough to tell you how to do all the things we’re going to suggest.

LH: True. We probably don’t know how to do them all.

PW: What is true, though, is that the internet is full of detailed advice, so if we discuss an idea that you love the sound of, find some reputable sources online for step by step how-to guide.

LH: Absolutely. And you can always come and have a chat with us and the other freelance writers at our Facebook page, and that’s at We have lots of lovely people on there and they’re getting a little bit les quiet now, which is great.

PW: We love it.

LH: We love it. So do feel free with any questions or discussions.

PW: And so, without further ado, we’re going to start looking at some of the additional income streams that you can get as a freelance writer.

LH: Yeah. The first thing that I’m going to suggest is something called ‘hourlies’ and that’s on Now People Per Hour, like many freelancing sites, is mostly for people bidding on jobs. Potential clients go on there, post a job that they need doing – say they need that fence painting or they need a blog post writing – and then freelancers will come along and bid on that. Sometimes the client will put in place the suggested price, sometimes they won’t. And like any freelancing website, it can be quite brutal. It can be a little bit hunger games.

PW: I think it’s slightly better than some of the others, but not always, I would say.

LH: Yeah. I mean, the prices tend to start a little bit higher on People Per Hour. I’m not sure why. I don’t know if it’s because it is a UK site.

PW: Could be.

LH: I don’t know if it is a UK site, but it feels that way. It’s international, certainly. But for whatever reason, as Pip says rightly, prices are a little bit higher and it’s a little bit less brutal. But like anything, it’s getting that way more and more.

And I’ve spoken to freelancers in the past who said, “I just can’t be doing that. I can’t be doing, having to search for things and to apply for things, because it’s very much a number’s game if you act that way sometimes. If you source work that way, and you’re chasing projects that come up, you have to be on the go and ready to respond, and you have to tailor your response. So it can be very stressful, particularly as with it being a numbers’ game, you’re not going to get most of the work that you apply for.

PW: Yeah. That’s the kind of work for me that I can never be bothered really, because, like you say, if you put together a really detailed proposal…

LH: And you have to, don’t you?

PW: Yeah. Then you’re going to spend a lot of time doing that, and you’re going to get very little of the work because of the numbers of people applying, and because a lot of people will make a judgment on price regardless of the rest of the proposal.

LH: Well, this is a good point, as well. Even if you do get the work, you are going to have to be very competitive on price. Because – I think I said it in a previous episode – we’re all human. You go on a website like this looking for somebody to fulfil a project for you, and it’s hard to opt for a more expensive person. It’s counterintuitive, particularly when you see other people. Maybe you don’t understand freelance writing so much if you’re a client, and you see other people saying, “Well, I’ll do it for £5,” and then someone else just says, “Well, I’ll do it for £30,” it’s very hard to know why you should opt for that £30 person.

So back to PeoplePerHour – hourlies, then, what these are. These are set-fee project fees you can set up on your own profile. So if you go on PeoplePerHour and you set yourself up a profile as a freelance writer, you can establish these hourlies which, for example, if you were me and Pip, they might be say a 500-word SEO blog post for X pounds. And that way, if somebody sees your profile and you optimize your profile nicely, with lots of information and keywords and things like that, if people see that and they think, “Right, well, X pounds sounds good to me. I like the look of this person,” they have to buy that from you before you start the work.

PW: And the parameters are set. You know exactly what you’re getting, you know exactly what you’re offering.

LH: Yes. You don’t have to do anything. You can set up an hourly and you can leave it. People may come and buy, they may not come and buy, but you will fare – there’s no debate, there’s no discussion, there isn’t a negotiation stage, and if the client wants to buy that piece of work from you, the money has to go into an escrow account. They have to pay up before the thing happens. And of course, they could dispute at the end, but then you would get the PeoplePerHour customer service fee for getting involved. Generally, you don’t get ripped off if you’re providing somebody with an hourly, as long as you fulfil the job that you said you were going to fulfil within the time frame that you said you were going to fulfil it.

PW: I know you have a lot more PeoplePerHour experience than do, because I know you hired various people from there before, whereas I used it a couple of times and both times I bought an hourly. The first was that guy to migrate two of my websites. That was a PeoplePerHour hourly, so he had a set fee for migrating a website from one host to another. And so I bought two of his hourlies, gave him all the information he needed for my two websites, and he did it.

And there’s also a time limit, as well. You set your own time limit when you set up the hourly, so one of the things I liked about this guy was that he promised to do it within 24 hours.

LH: That’s really good.

PW: Whereas if it’s–. Say you’re offering “I will write an e-book for you,” and that’s a big project, you would put along the time limit. But I like that kind of clarity on both sides, really. The buyer and the seller are very clear about what’s being offered.

LH: Absolutely. And I think one thing you just brought up actually is a point worth making. Just because it’s called an hourly it doesn’t mean you need to do it in an hour, and it doesn’t mean that it needs to be a task that could be fulfilled within an hour. You could put a £500 project on there, and say “My hourly: for £500 I’ll build your website.” It’s just a set-fee project.

PW: The name ‘hourlie’ has always bugged me.

LH: But I like hourlies because you can set them up and just leave them, and then if you get people coming along and saying, “Yes, I’d like to buy that,” then great – you get an email to you your inbox. You don’t even need to go on PeoplePerHour to keep checking your hourlies and see if anybody’s interested. So it’s a good thing to have on there. It’s a good inboud marketing technique, I think.

And you can also embed graphics on your website, so if they’re in the sidebar of your website, you can have a little button that says, “Buy a press release from me now for X pounds.”

PW: And if I remember rightly, then if somebody buys through your link like that and then PeoplePerHour don’t take their commission…

LH: They don’t take commission if it’s an external link.

PW: So you get the full amount, as well, which is nice. And so that’s one option. Another option is affiliate websites. Now these aren’t as easy as they were perhaps a few years ago. Affiliate websites now have to be a lot better than they used to be.

LH: Thank goodness, frankly.

PW: Yeah. There was a time when somebody could throw up a five-page website about fridges, add to them Amazon affiliate links, or AdSense, add code and cash in, but no more. Google is a big decider these days, and after their Pandora and Penguin updates in particular, affiliate sites need to be bigger, they need to be well put together and they need to be well maintained.

However, that’s not to say it can’t be done. I have a few and they do okay. I’m never going to retire on that income, but considering this is work I did several years ago and have barely looked at since, it’s nice to get the odd check in the post as a result, really.

LH: Yeah, absolutely. And I think I’ll interject here – in case people don’t know what an affiliate website is…

PW: Yes, that’s a good point.

LH: An affiliate website is a website where you sell a product that has an affiliate program, and what that means is that somebody else will have developed a product – sometimes it’s software, sometimes it’s an e-book, sometimes it’s something else, something tangible.

It’s Time For Changes in Affiliate Marketing

It’s Time For Changes in Affiliate Marketing (Photo credit: Bob Massa)

And what you can do is you can set up a website singing the praises of this project and trying to encourage people to buy it. You use what is called an affiliate link, and if people click and they buy the product through that link you get a commission on the product. Now the commissions on products can be very, very generous, particularly if they’re not very exciting products. You’re looking at 60-70% commission on some, say the big financial trading products. For example, financial trading books, financial trading software because they’re hard to sell.

So this is something for writers who really love getting down and dirty with sales copy. You have to be persuasive in sales, and informative. And you have to take an angle when you’re writing content for an affiliate website, thinking, “How am I going to persuade people to buy this?” And it’s not always a question of “Come and have a look at the product X. It’s amazing. Do you want to buy it?” As Pips pointed out, really good content is super important to Google, and things like how-to lists, things like informative editorials.

People want more value from their content. They’re not going to be persuaded by just a little bit of sales speak anymore. You can’t just stick an ad up on a website and expect it to make money. You have to give people worthwhile content, and as Pip’s already said, affiliate websites now tend to need a bit more maintenance.

PW: For most people, if you’re thinking of setting up an affiliate website, first of all you need to fill it with great content. Say you want to make money using Amazon affiliates around a particular product. You need to create a decent website, all about that product, that mostly isn’t salesy, but that does it right. So most people starting with Amazon or AdSense is the best place to start.

With AdSense it’s a bit different. You don’t get commission when somebody buys something. You get commission when somebody clicks on an ad on your site. So they don’t have to go on to buy. All they have to do is click. Often people then move on to sites like Clickbank, which sells big money products, and these often have 50%, 75% or even 100% commission. So one sale by Clickbank can be worth several hundred AdSense clicks or dozens of Amazon purchases.

Other places to consider are E-junkie, Commission Junction, Affiliate Window – there are loads of them. We’ll link to all of those in the show notes. But there are lots and lots of options.

LH: Yeah. It’s well worth having a think about it, because if you can find something and you think, “Actually, I know loads about that really obscure product or service. I might definitely write about that in an informative way.” If Google doesn’t have much content on there at the moment about – come on, Pip, think of an obscure product for me. Singing fridges – fridges that sing when you open them – not sure they exist. They probably do because internet.

So if you’re an expert on singing fridges and you realize there’s not much content on Google, that’s going to make you more searchable. So if people are searching for singing fridges and they can’t find information about these singing fridges on Google, and you come up with a gorgeous website, write all about them and then pop your commission links on there, then you’re going to do quite well.

PW: Yeah. And if you like the idea of building a website around a single product like there is on E-Junkie or Clickbank, another opportunity would be to use all your best content writing skills to create your own products. You can build this similarly – very authoritative site like you would with an affiliate product, and you can use your best sales copy skills to promote the product. But it’s your product and so you’ve got ultimate control over what happens. You can even recruit your own affiliates who can then create websites all based around selling your product for you. And unlike selling other people’s stuff, you decide the price, you decide how it’s presented. You can make sure that it’s great quality, as well, which isn’t always guaranteed with certain Clickbank products.

So if you want to look at affiliate websites or at creating your own products, think about, as Lorrie suggested, what you already know about. And from there do some keyword research and some market research to work out precisely what angle to take. So perhaps you’re brilliant at gardening. Find out exactly what people want to know and create an e-book or a membership site or an online course about how to grow petunias or how to stop killing your roses or whatever other information people are looking for.

LH: Absolutely. And you can twist it around slightly, and create I suppose what you’d call a database site really, couldn’t you? If you could write about say how to grow petunias, you might find that you could interest garden centres and petunias specialists in having some space on your website and having their details on that. So if you’ve written a brilliant piece of informative copy about these petunias and about all these gardening things, think outside the box, to use a cliché. It’s not just that you can attract people who want to buy your product or who want to buy a membership to your tutorials or your e-book. You can also attract people from the other side, as well.

So the third option that we’re going to look at is selling ad space on your websites or blog. This you have to be a little bit careful about, because with affiliate websites, they’re generally anonymous-ish. I mean, your details have to be on there somewhere. But it’s not a question of it interfering with your brand, because generally your affiliate website will have nothing to do with your business, your freelance writing business. If you’re going to be selling ad space on your website or blog, then you need to be careful about whom you sell the ad space to, because you don’t want to end up damaging your own brand by having somebody spam you on there.

If you have a professional website, as in a work website, freelance writing business website that gets decent traffic, and you understand traffic and you know how to leverage traffic, then it’s also an option to sell that traffic to somebody else. So you can give people static ad space, you could have a header bar or a footer bar, or a site bar advertising spaces, and you could sell those, offer those at different prices.

Alternatively, what some prolific bloggers do – and some not so prolific bloggers, actually; I’ve seen this work for people who have medium-traffic websites – is to sell reviews or advertorials. They make it clear usually by something branded on their own website, like paid posts with a little picture, that they’re getting money for this, and that this isn’t a completely disinterested blog post that you’re reading. But a lot of the time people like indie authors will sometimes pay bloggers to give an honest review of their latest book. Now that could be something you could do.

PW: Yeah. I was just going to say there are legal issues. If you’re being paid for something you have to disclose it legally.

LH: Yeah. You see people and they make it quite attractive, don’t they? They come up with a little slogan or a little title, and then have a link to a page from that picture or from that title that takes you to a page to say, “Full disclosure – I’ve been paid for this,” or “This product was sent to me for free. This was a sample product.” I know mommy bloggers do it a lot, don’t they?

PW: Yes. And fashion bloggers, as well.

LH: Yes. You get a fashion house or a baby product company sending sample products just as you do with people sending review copies of books to bloggers and saying, “I’d really appreciate an honest review,” sometimes just in return for the product, sometimes there’s some pay on top of that.

PW: If you’re considering selling ad space on especially your professional website, you have to think very carefully about it, because on the one hand, as Lorrie said, it is some income and, depending on your traffic, if you’re getting in the tens of thousands a week, it could probably get some decent income from it. But the point of your website is to help persuade people to hire you. And once people are on your website you have to be really careful about actively encouraging them to leave it, which is what you’re doing if you put ads on there.

LH: True.

PW: And so it could be a goose that lays golden eggs situation, where you might get 15 quid for an ad, but then lose 500 quids’ worth of business, because the client that came onto your website got distracted by your side bar ad and went off elsewhere.

LH: True. If it’s so well written as an advert that they just hop off your website, I would say (and this doesn’t fully mitigate the situation!) become a master of putting in hyperlinks that open links in new tabs! There’s an option certainly with WordPress when you insert a hyperlink, and you can just – with the HTML coding, as well – where you insert a little tiny bit of extra code or you click on a button if you’re on the sort of non-HTML interface where it says, “Open link in new tab.” So that opens a link in new tab on the browser that the person is using, and it also keeps them on your website. So they’re not just pinging off to have a look at your advertising instead of your website, as Pip’s quite rightly pointed out.

PW: Another option to consider is a website called Constant Content. It’s a freelance writing website, but it’s quite different from the vast majority of others in that clients or customers can request articles. But the majority of what fills up Constant Content is its writers writing about anything and everything they want and adding it to the site, and then buyers can come, search through the site, find the article they want and buy it.

LH: It’s a bit like hourlies in that sense.

PW: Yeah, but you’re doing the work upfront.

LH: You do do the work upfront, which is why I have a love-hate relationship with Constant Content.

PW: Indeed. As do many people, because you could be working and never sell your piece. One of the positives about Constant Content is that you not only set your own prices, but that they encourage fairly high pricing strategies.

LH: Yeah. They have a minimum, don’t they?

PW: They have a minimum, and they pay quite a cut, but that’s because they edit things very, very carefully. And so yeah, they edit very scrupulously, but it means that the buyers come to know that the quality on the site is very good. They’re not going to buy stuff that’s full of mistakes, like they might from other freelancing sites. I think there’s a way to use Constant Content that helps with the fact that you’re doing spec work essentially.

LH: Yes. I know which point you’re going to make and I completely agree, for the record. [laughter]

PW: Thank you very much. [laughter] There are people who are pretty much constant content writers, and for me that wouldn’t suit me, to write that much on spec, although, obviously, they write a lot and therefore sell a lot. So it works for some people, but for me the most efficient way I find to write for Constant Content is if I’ve done a lot of research for paid projects… I’ll give an example from a few years ago, so that it’s not kind of sensitive.

I was hired to write an entire website about a particular health issue – man boobs. And so I had done all sorts of research about this, and so I’d written the pages of the website that the client wanted, like what causes man booms, how to get rid of man boobs. But in the process of the research I learned a lot more than what was needed for that website.

LH: You’re like a manboobologist, aren’t you?

PW: Yes, and so I knew by the end of that piece of work that I also had plenty of information about alternative remedies for man boobs and how to prevent man boobs rather than get rid of them, and that kind of thing. So I didn’t need to do extra research; my brain already knew these things. And so then it wasn’t too much extra work to knock out a few more articles and submit those to Constant Content.

Similarly, there are things like we mentioned earlier, if you know a lot about petunias or roses or anything that you just are interested in your daily life, that’s a great way of finding sources for things to write about, but without adding tons of work in case this work doesn’t sell.

LH: And monetizing that extra info, because I hear this from people a lot. I heard it recently, in fact, again – people complaining and saying, “I’ve done hours and hours and hours of research for this piece of work,” and they only needed 1,000 words, “and I’ve got all this extra info. All these notes – what am I going to do with them?” And if you have that stuff and it’s something that you, Pip, came up with – I had not really considered before – I thought it was brilliant and I can’t remember if you called it this or whether I just labelled it as this in my head. It’s like mirror-imaging an article, like flipping an article.

PW: Yeah.

LH: I mean, do you want to explain what it was?

PW: No, go ahead.

LH: I never thought of it before, but let me try and think of an example. If you’d written about – we’ll use the man boobs as an example, then, but this isn’t something that Pip did, this is just a theoretical example – but if you’d written about six ways to prevent getting man boobs what you could do is sort of come up with an article about five ways or five things that risk, inducing, I suppose, man boobs. It’s not the best example, but if you flip the information… If you’ve written about how you get man boobs, then maybe you can write about how you prevent man boobs or things that you shouldn’t do or else you risk getting man boobs.

You can reframe so that the content is entirely original, it doesn’t risk reducing the quality or the value of the work that you’ve produced for somebody else, or clashing with that in any way or plagiarizing or self-plagiarizing. That work is entirely original, and yet it’s just using the same information. You don’t even need to have done more research. You can simply utilize the research you’ve done in a different way and reframe that.

PW: Definitely. Because there are ethical issues around just recreating a piece of work that you’ve already done for somebody who’s paid. And so, as Lorrie says, that mirror imaging idea, or just identifying themes that you studied but that you didn’t need to write for the other person. And you then submit it and, like with a lot of the things we’re suggesting, you can then forget about it. And then periodically you get a lovely email from Constant Content –

LH: You often do forget, too. And then I’ll get an email and I’m going, “Hurray! I’m getting a cheque.”

PW: Yeah, that’s it. You get an email from Constant Content saying one of your articles is sold, and you go, “Yay!” And because they encourage decent pricing, and because I often like very long things which illicit higher prices, I’ll then get an email and I’ve suddenly got 100 quid that I haven’t expected, or 150 quid, or if it’s a short, quick thing even just the odd 40 quid. It’s nice, it’s always a nice surprise when it happens.

LH: Didn’t it happen to you recently, before you went on holiday?

PW: Yeah.

LH: You suddenly got some incoming work and was, “Aaaah!” Bonus holiday pay.

PW: Paid for my holiday, thank you very much.

LH: Hey, free calls, lovely. Can’t complain. So yeah, if you’ve got the ideas there and you’ve got a quick typing pace, I would say go for Constant Content. I’m personally not a fan because I spend a lot of my free time doing creative writing anyway. So the idea of writing all day, then doing creative writing and then writing more articles – it’s just too much for me.

PW: That’s it. And all the things we’re talking about, some of them you’ll think, “What? You want me to create a whole website?”

LH: A whole e-book?

PW: About fridges? What are you talking about? Whereas other people will go, “That sounds perfect.”

LH: Yeah, and it’s the kind of thing you can do in half a day.

PW: Exactly. And so all the ideas were suggesting, really…

LH: Just whatever takes your fancy, really, isn’t it?

My Kindle II

My Kindle II (Photo credit: Pavel P.)

PW: Yeah, definitely. Our next idea is one that does involve more work upfront, but has potentially much higher returns, and not just financial ones. Platforms like Kindle, Lulu, CreateSpace have made publishing your own book easy and accessible. And whereas self-publishing used to have an exclusively bad reputation, there is now enough good quality stuff that it’s considered to be worthwhile enough that The Guardian have now announced they’re going to have a self-published book prize.

LH: That’s good.

PW: Yeah. So it’s starting to be taken seriously. There is still a load of rubbish that’s self-published, but frankly there’s a load of rubbish that’s traditionally published.

LH: That’s true.

PW: And so I think its reputation is improving, anyway. You’d have to put a lot of work in it at the start into the book, followed by loads more marketing it. But that could lead to years of royalty payments.

LH: Imagine.

PW: Yeah. And it can also give you other benefits, as well. Some people describe writing a book as the best kind of business card you can have. And there’s some truth in that. People are instantly impressed, they get an impression of you as somebody who really knows what they’re talking about. And this is invaluable when you’re freelancing, and it’s all about convincing people you can do what you say you do.

LH: Yeah. It’s extra clout, isn’t it?

PW: So if you have a specialist subject or a particular interest, do some research and see if there’s a buck in it.

LH: Absolutely. And it’s such a personal achievement, as well, isn’t it? A lot of people are very, very pleased to have written a book.

PW: You know, of course. I’ve never written a full-length book simply because I haven’t got the patience for it. I tend to take the short fiction, but writing a book can be wonderful. And the same goes for membership sites or series of tutorials, series of blog posts. Webinars, actually, if we can just branch out a little bit from the writing. Online lectures, tutorials, teaching people how to do things. If you’ve got a specialist subject it’s worth –. Because, of course, if you were going to come up with a series of tutorials, you’d have to put in a lot of research and effectively make lesson plans, and then usually you ought to give people some backup material. So you might end up actually writing something the size of an e-book to give to people as additional material if you’re tutoring them with something.

But if you have really in-depth knowledge – a lot of freelance writers do. They come from like science backgrounds and then get predominantly into science writing. You could write an e-book on how to do science writing, how to write about science, how to become a medical writer. Because there are plenty, plenty things that you’ll be able to write about that others perhaps won’t. You’ve just got to have a little bit of a think about what kind of saleable knowledge you have.

The next type of additional income stream that we’re going to have a look at is something that we’ve touched on already with the affiliate marketing, but it’s something that I have a little bit more experience in, and that’s leveraged income.

Leveraged income is making money on other people’s products and services. It can sound quite mercenary, but at the end of the day, it’s how pretty much all business is done. I, for example, write for a number of clients who are agencies, as a lot of freelance writers do. Now what those agencies will do is they will have clients. They will pay me a certain fee for my writing work, and then they will charge their clients more.

PW: Yes. I have the same. Yeah.

LH: So you can do the same. There’s no reason you can’t operate as a freelance in an agency kind of way. If you can find a decent service or product available for a reasonable – and I mean reasonable for both you and the supplier – for a reasonable price, and you can find a market for that product or service, there’s nothing to stop you selling it on.

PW: Yeah. And so as we’ve talked about before, possibly teaming up with people whose work compl-E-ment that of a freelance writer.

LH: [laughter] You can’t help yourself, can you?

PW: I always have to say it like that! And so it may be that if you’re working with a client who wants a new – while you’re providing their website content, they actually want a new website design as well. If you decide you want to take this responsibility for liaising between the two, it’s not a matter of no work. This can end up being more work if you’re not careful. But if you decided to take this approach what you could do, rather than saying “My mate, Sarah, designs really good websites,” you could say, “I can sort that out for you. I work with a very good designer.” And then you can be the go-between. Rather than Sarah billing your clients, Sarah bills you and then you bill your client for that little bit more, and you get some extra money out of it. But it’s not as simple, is it, as just kind of say may be the equivalent of an affiliate site where you just leave it to it?

LH: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I do this with writing work, and I do it with other kinds of work. As Pip’s quite rightly pointed out – and she’s done quite right to point it out, because it’s a very pertinent point – you have to take responsibility if you are delivering a service. All your client knows is that that service is being fulfilled and that you are taking responsibility for it. So if, for example, my agency clients were to say to their clients, “Here’s the website content,” and it was no good, I’d written a load of rubbish, it would not be on my head, it would be on theirs.

And the same – I hire people to write blog posts for me. When I get those blog posts back I have to proofread them, I have to edit them, I have to format them, I provide images to go with them. I make sure that the SEO is up to scratch. I feed back to the writers. If there’s an error, if there’s a problem, if it’s just not quite up to scratch… So I do get to charge more, but you have to pay your suppliers a decent amount anyway.

So, as Pip’s quite rightly pointed out, it’s not a question of ha, ha, ha, I will just stick a mark-up on this and do no work, because that’s when you get bitten on the bum. If you send a piece of work over that you haven’t checked, it is Sod’s law that there will be a massive typo in the middle of it, or there’ll be something ridiculous and you have nobody to blame but yourself. And you cannot say, you cannot say that wasn’t you that wrote it.

PW: And the same – Lorrie does this as she says, a fair amount during her work, and she handles it really well.

LH: Ah, thank you.

PW: You do. I’ve done it on a very small scale with just kind of overflow work, really. And I find it incredibly stressful, I think because –.

LH: It’s very risky, isn’t it?

PW: It is, and I’m relying on somebody else to do something that I’m taking ultimate responsibility for. So if they don’t meet their deadline, well, I don’t meet mine. If they send me something that’s utterly awful…

LH: It happens a lot.

PW: Yeah. And that degree of relying on somebody else stresses me out.

LH: You have to know your own. And this isn’t aimed at you, this is for the listeners – you have to know your own processes. So as Pip’s, again, rightly pointed out, deadlines are a major risk with outsourcing. So if I send it, you have to be organized, you have to send over a piece of work with as much time to spare as you possibly can, and know that if it all goes to pot, that you have to find a solution for that, because otherwise you can end up losing the client.

The number of times – and this has happened to my agency’s clients, as well, when they’ve been looking for people. They’ll outsource a piece of work and then they’ll be expecting it back on the Friday – schoolboy error – and it will come due back to their client on the Monday. And they’ll get a load of rubbish on the Friday night or they just won’t get anything. So that leaves them – or, in fact, me – covering the piece of work over the weekend, in time for Monday morning. And now, if you’re outsourcing because you don’t have time to do the work, this can be a nightmare and it can lead to no sleep. But that’s your call. You have to opt for no sleep rather than letting your client down.

PW: And for me, although overflow work – I’m always going to need it at some point – but I think this way of working while it suits Lorrie really well, I just get so stressed that I just may as well have done it myself in most cases. And so I think there’s a personality thing. I’m a bit of a control freak. But if you can make it work, which Lorrie does, and which a lot of people do, and you’re happy to take that responsibility and realize it’s not as simple as just getting a 20-quid cut on the top of every piece of work. It does involve extra work. It can be a really good way to grow your business, almost exponentially really, if you can get it right.

LH: And it starts off organically, or at least it did for me. It wasn’t a conscious decision. As Pip’s pointed out, as with Pip’s experience, I started outsourcing work when one of my clients just needed too much from me. I could not fulfil – I think he needed about 40 blog posts a week. There’s no way I could fulfil that. So finding somebody decent to help me with that work was very, very difficult. You’ve got to go through kissing a lot of frogs.

PW: Oh, you do.

LH: So many frogs, and they’re really froggy frogs, as well.

PW: [laughter]

LH: Froggy awful frogs. No, they’re dreadful. You’ve got to kiss a lot of frogs. And sometimes it does cost you some money, because you have to pay people for test pieces of work and things like that. And you have to find somebody suitable. But then when that person’s on you have to brief that person, you have to send them the information that they need, proofread their work, edit their work, feed back to them, manage them, decide what you’re going to do if they go on holiday or if they can’t do the work anymore. There are so many things to consider, so…

PW: I was talking to someone the other day, completely different industry to us, and she was saying that she has two people that she can outsource work to. And one of them is very good, but charges her almost as much as she charges the client.

LH: Right. So an emergency case, then.

PW: And the other is pretty bad, but very cheap.

LH: Oh, no.

PW: So every time she needs to outsource work she has to decide – do I want to get very little of the money, but actually feel confident it’s being done well, or do I need more of the money, but know I’m going to have to go in and fix a lot of the problems? And a lot of outsourcers find themselves in that kind of position.

In all the ideas we’ve mentioned to far you can use your writing skills. But you might also have other skills that you could leverage for some passive or ongoing income. I mean, I design T-shirts, for example. And I put them for sale on sites where people could order them, and then I get a cut of the cost. So I don’t need to do anything once I’ve uploaded the designs. The site does all the work. And I can do really nicely for me, actually, especially run-up to Christmas is a big a one. And so sites like CafePress, Zazzle, Red Bubble – I’ll link to them all in the show notes. If you’ve got some decent Photoshop skills and some creative clever ideas, that’s the kind of thing you could perhaps think of. But there are tons of options.

LH: Yeah. This is good for people who are big fans of puns, isn’t it? Because you can do anything. It’s not just T-shirts. Obviously, you can do cups and mobile phone covers and posters, you know, artwork. People like prints at the moment, don’t they, so they’re over Instagram pictures, like inspirational quotes and stuff. Those can sell quite well on things like

PW: Yeah. I have some stuff on there. Not much actually, because it’s quite new.

LH: I love Society6, their creative writing prompts, actually. I go on there to get inspired.

PW: But yeah, I make a sale most days, for most of the year, and then, run-up to Christmas – numerous.

LH: Many, many, many.

PW: And these are T-shirts I designed several years ago. I do add the odd new one when I’ve got time, but, again, this is work that’s done and dusted a long time ago, that continues to buy me the odd beer.

LH: [laughter] Or a holiday, as we found out.

PW: Or a holiday. Or a beer on a holiday. I also have some photos up on Microstock Photography websites. The earnings can vary from decent to pretty low. Some people make a full-time living from it. Most people get pocket money from it, really. But if you already have some great quality shots, it’s something to try. Some Microstock sites also take video clips, so that’s something else you could look into if you’ve got those skills.

Obviously, T-shirt design and photography are particular skills. But look around if you’ve got other interests. Could you do some voice-over work? There’s all sorts of…

A little dexterity is helpful in working with ...

A little dexterity is helpful in working with knitting needles (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

LH: There’s Etsy, if you can knit wonderfully.

PW: Oh, I love Etsy.

LH: Yeah, collaging, beading, knitting, crocheting, anything really. Repurposing stuff, recycling stuff.

PW: Yeah, Folksy is a kind of Etsy equivalent based in the UK, as well.

LH: Watch out, though, that you don’t end up on regretsy. Because I love looking at that site sometimes. So funny. People sell the strangest things. I suppose, really, we should give a nod to eBay and Amazon at this point. People that I know go charity shop shopping. What’s that in American?

PW: Thrift shop.

LH: Thrift shopping. And then resell stuff. Again, a commission. If you find something lovely, if you know your antique, or if you know collectibles, you go around and have a look. You can sell books, things like that. And people sometimes just make a bit of commission on postage.

PW: Yeah. Or getting second-hand clothes and doing them up, adding a bit of embroidery or chopping them.

LH: Ooh, potato, prints. Potato prints – uh, how fun are they?

PW: [laughter] So yeah, if you’re still not thinking creatively there’s tons of options.

LH: I don’t want to be a writer anymore. I just want to print potato things all over everything, and sell them.

PW: Follow your bliss, Lorrie.

LH: [laughter] I’m going to make a fortune. I’m going to be Richard Branson of potato printing. So hopefully then that has given you a bit of a boost, because we know that business development can be a drag. We know it can be hard, trolling the net, looking for clients, thinking “I’m never going to get anybody else on board and I need some extra cash.” Hopefully, this’d just be a bit a bit of a boost, give you some ideas, give you a bit of inspiration, maybe help you see that actually you don’t have to limit yourself, because that’s one of the wonderful things about being a freelancer, isn’t it? That if you need to go out in the middle of the day and do an hour in a charity shop and then come home, wash the clothes and sell them on eBay. You can do that. You don’t have to stick rigidly to any one thing. You can just be a freelancer who does writing, as well.

PW: Yeah. Portfolio your career, that’s the thing, isn’t it?

LH: Absolutely. That’s such a nice term. I’ve not heard that.

PW: Yes, it’s growing in popularity for people who really do do a bit of this and a bit of that.

LH: It’s good for new moms and people who are getting back into work after having children, people who have been made redundant and they’re not too sure what they can be doing. It’s lovely to just try your hand a few things. And it’s a very modern way of working, because we don’t have jobs for life much anymore, do we?

PW: No. And if you have any other ways of generating additional income streams, then we want to know. So go to and tell us.

LH: That’s it. Tell us, because we’ve got some noisy people on there, but we would love some more noisy people and some more good ideas. So come and have a chinwag.

PW: And so now it is time for the much awaited and always loved Little Bird recommendation of the week, in which Lorrie and I share something we’ve seen or that’s caught our eye that we think might be of interest to all listeners. So, Lorrie, what is your recommendation this week?

LH: There is one blog post that I found, and I’m surprised, actually, one, that I found it, and two, that I liked it so much. Because it’s an ad agency in London. It’s in their business blog. So normally – I know that I do a lot of blogging for clients, including agency clients, but normally it’s the big sites like Copy Blogger and Mashable that have really interesting pieces of writing. But I thought this one was really, really good. And it’s called Ding Ding: 9 Knockout In-bound Marketing Tips to Help You Achieve Success. Now it’s a bit of a clunky title, but I liked the ‘Ding Ding’, so it got my attention.

What this looks at are, predictably, nine ways to boost your in-bound marketing. And there’s a wee in-bound marketing funnel infographic at the bottom which shows you kind of the path that people take from encountering you online the first time all the way down to acting on what they’ve read from you, which is hopefully hiring you or buying what you’re telling them to buy.

Aside from a really annoying typo in this, which I wonder if people will be able to spot it – I’m not going to mention it, but typos! Typos, they get us, don’t they?

PW: Oh, every time.

LH: It just has some really good standard tips that I still see a lot of freelance writers not following. They’re fairly basic, but they are all really good tips. The first one is “Keep landing pages simple.” And this are all the kinds of things – because it’s in-bound marketing it’s all kind of your content, your website, your blog, your videos, your social media feeds. So it’s a really good article for doing a bit of housekeeping, I think.

PW: Yeah. Checking that your systems are as good as they can be, really.

LH: This is it. Because people can be working and working and working, and finding that it’s just not working.

PW: Yeah. And you get stuck in a rut, don’t you?

LH: Of course you do. So things like this. I don’t exclude myself from this, at all.

PW: Oh, no, of course not.

LH: — very handy. The second point is “Educate them and they will come.” Does your content match or compliment…

PW: See?

LH: Ah, compliment with an I – compliment your consumer needs. The third is “Searchable content”, the fourth is “Your blog speaks volumes about you”, and it’s nice that they’ve actually acknowledged that the you on your blog – as the point we’ve made quite often – doesn’t necessarily need to be all of you, so yeah. Point six – pushing on – “Allow your audience to visualise you” – that was the typo that was annoying me. Seven – “E-books, white paper reports and webinars”. They’re talking about this authoritative content that we talked about earlier. “Infographics have unbelievable value”, and then they give you that in-bound marketing funnel infographic.

And it’s a really lovely spaced out article. It’s on a nice, clean background, and I just found it really accessible, really lovely. It’s got screenshots to show you what’s going on. It’s very accessible in terms of language. So I think the one point that would kind of finish on with this is that you and I have been freelancing for a while, haven’t we?

PW: We certainly have.

LH: And I think sometimes I hear from people – because we get a lot of emails from people who’ve listened or who’ve encountered us online, asking for information and advice and stuff – and I think sometimes we can forget how little you know when you start out, or you think you know. Because you actually do know it, you perhaps just don’t know the terms for it.

So something like this is very, very accessible, and it explains things like calls-to-action and explain the latest semantic indexing, making your content searchable – uses ‘searchable’ as a term. And that’s lovely because it tells you why you need to be doing these things you need to be considering. Because people can think, “I don’t know about SEO. I don’t know about optimization. I don’t know about social media.” But really a lot of it is common sense and just learning on the job. And I think this is a really good article for that.

PW: And presenting it accessibly is… I mean, as Lorrie said when she was introducing it, none of it is kind of vastly new information, but most of the information we read isn’t vastly new. So what makes something good is how it’s presented. Is it presented in a way that makes it feel new or that makes it really easy to understand? And maybe a term that you’ve been reading about for hours, you suddenly go, “Oh, I get it now.”

LH: I know what that is now.

PW: Yeah. And so yeah, it’s great.

LH: No, I thought it was fab. And I thought… Because, obviously – I say ‘obviously’ – obviously, having freelanced for yonks, I know the information in this article. So the fact that it caught my attention, that was enough for me to want to recommend it. Good. So, Philippa…

PW: I present my recommendation this week with some fiercety because of the earnesty with which I mean it. But don’t take that to mean that it’s a work of heavity, and don’t let that thought cause you any nervosity. Because I choose my recommendations with rigorosity, and so, with seriosity I want to recommend an excellent blog post on Mental Floss that follows some rather delightful abstract nouns that have somehow fallen out of fashion. And it’s our responsibility, little birds, to bring them back into use.

LH: Dear me!

PW: That took some rehearsal, I have to say.

LH: Oh, got it.

PW: I even had to write down the pronunciation in brackets after what I said.

LH: [laughter] I’ve got tears in my eyes. You got to rigorosity and that was it [laughter]. Okay, so let’s hear more about your rigorously researched recommendation.

PW: Well, it’s just lovely. It’s words that we haven’t seen for a long time, for many centuries in some cases, but have been identified as just having something about them, and it makes me want to get involved in some kind of preservation campaign to bring them back. Because they’re just lovely.

LH: I think some of them – I’ll just click through, looking at them – some of them are quite French aren’t they?

PW: Yes, indeed.

LH: Romance language-based, Latin-based.

PW: Yes, debonairity.

LH: That’s nice, isn’t it?

PW: It is. Outrageousty.

LH: Fabulous.

PW: So it’s so much more outrageous than outrageousness. Too bad it fell out of use after the 15th century.

LH: Gutted! Do you know this taps into something that I’ve been having fun with recently? And I genuinely think it makes me a bad person. But I have fun sometimes correcting people when they’re not wrong, and getting them to use really ridiculous nouns that don’t exist. And so somebody used the word “boringness” the other day, and I’m pretty sure that’s not actually a word. It probably is a word. I mean, I have to look that up. But I got him to use “boringitude” instead.

PW: Not boredom.

LH: Not boredom, no, “boringitude”, as in something being boring. And it was wonderful, and they corrected themselves. They were like, “Oh, I’m sorry, yeah, boringitude.” They make me so happy.

PW: You have such terribility, Lorrie.

LH: I’m dreadful. I’m admitting this with a certain level of nervosity, I have to say.

PW: Yeah. I’m not sure of the seemlity of this admission.

LH: It doesn’t show a very high level of graciosity, does it?

PW: [laughter] Listeners, we could do this for hours. We won’t.

LH: We probably will, after we finish recording this. I can see our emails changing.

PW: The hours we could do it with wouldn’t be fewty.

LH: For goodness sakes! [laughter]

PW: [laughter] It’s there, number four.

LH: I know, I know. It’s just the terribility of it all.

PW: [laughter]

LH: For goodness sake, we’re like a pair of drunks in the park.

PW: We’ve had some words.

LH: So silly. It’s like when children start learning languages at school, and they look at all the swear words. Only I think we’re less cool.

PW: Yes, indeed.

LH: Oh, dear. I like this recommendation. It’s really nice.

PW: It won’t help you in your work, that’s for sure, but it’s enjoyable. And to be honest, if any listeners manage to get one of these wonderful words legitimately into their copy, I will…

LH: Screenshot for us, screenshot a tiny bit of your piece of work, put a big red ring around it, and we will post that thing.

PW: It will get a special mention on our Facebook page.

LH: Absolutely. Lots of applause.

PW: And we will worship you.

LH: Yeah. We will love you for it. Fabulous.

PW: You can find the link at

LH: Just love it.

PW: Just love it.

LH: Just go, just click it, just love it.

PW: Do it!

LH: Ta da ta ta taa, I’m loving it! Beautiful.

PW: And so thank you so much for listening. Do head over to and subscribe. You know you want to be the first to hear next time. We have an episode out which will be Lorrie’s solo episode next time.

LH: It will. So do make sure you come along and subscribe. Any questions in the meantime, do come and have a chat with us –, and you can find all of our details at

PW: And so 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.


Podcast Episode 71: Content inspiration – 19 top ideas for when you run out of steam

What You Need To KnowSome days you will be bursting with ideas, ready to write about anything and everything. But we also all have those moments when the Word document is empty – and so is our internal bank of inspiration! This solo podcast episode is full of ways to get content inspiration, so have a listen, and enjoy!

Show Notes

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PW: Hello, and welcome to episode 71 of ‘A Little Bird Told Me,’ the freelance writing podcast that tells you all the tricks of the trade. You can find us on the web at, and from there you will find any links we mention in this episode and links to my websites and social media pages. From there you’ll also be able to subscribe to the podcast, and whether you prefer RSS, iTunes or Stitcher, it’s all easy to do from

I am Philippa Willitts and today I’m going to be talking about where to find content ideas when you get stuck. We’ve all been in that situation where we need to write a blog post or come up with an idea for an article and we just hit a complete blank. There are no ideas in our brain. It happens to everybody at some point or other, so I’m going to go through a list of many, many places and things that can help you to find new ideas and come up with something exciting to write about.


News (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, without further ado, number 1: look at real life news. What is topical? What are people talking about? And see if there’s something that you can tie in to the topic you need to write about. So if you write for a tech blog, for instance, there something that you could use at the moment is the Heartbleed security flaws that are going on at the moment. Everybody’s talking about them, everybody wants to know which passwords they have to change, what they need to do to stay safe, and that is an example of something topical that will just give you an idea of what to write about.

Alternatively, if you write about health, there’s always an international day of a particular disease or an international month of a particular body part, so things like that. Check in with what’s going on at the moment, look at newspapers online, follow the news and see what inspires you.

Idea number 2 is related but not the same, and that is to look at blogs. What are the blogs in your industry talking about at the moment? This isn’t to say you need to copy them, it’s to say that you can use them as something to bounce off, to develop your own ideas. I use Feedly to keep track of blogs in all different areas, some just that I enjoy reading, some that are relevant for different clients and different niches. So if I want to know what’s been going on in a particular field, I will use Feedly to look at all the different blogs in that field and scroll through what people are talking about, until I get a new idea to write about.

Idea number 3 is YouTube. There are YouTube videos about everything, so if you do a search on YouTube for key terms related to your topic, you’re bound to get some ideas and inspiration from the kind of things that people have made videos about.

Idea number 4 is online courses. As you will know if you’re a regular listener, Lorrie and I are both strong proponents of keeping up your skills and learning new things on an ongoing basis to keep yourself able to offer competitive services. And if you’re doing a course in one of your areas of expertise, maybe you’ll learn something new that would also be of use to the readers of your blog or your client’s blog.

So, as well as using online courses as a way to keep your own skills and knowledge up to date, you can also use them to get ideas. Again, you’re not copying here, but maybe you’ve just watched a video on a particular topic and you think there’s an angle I could take with that topic that would be of interest to my usual readers.

The next idea is to search on social media. You want to see what people are talking about in relation to your topic, search for some keywords and see if there’s something you’ve missed, if people have something to say about a particular topic. Maybe this is a good way to find out what that is and see whether that’s something you can expand into a blog post or an article or a white paper, or whatever it is you need to write.

Topsy is a tool that can be very good for helping you to search social media and see what people are really talking about and what people are really saying. The links to Topsy and Feedly and everything we mentioned will all be in the show notes at, so don’t worry about trying to memorize everything I say. Just head over there when you’re ready and then all the links will be there.

Now an alternative to doing social media searches is to browse your social media contacts’ updates. Often people won’t use the keywords you might search for. Rather than doing a search for particular keywords, make use of your Twitter lists or Google+ circles to see what relevant people are talking about, regardless of whether they are using the particular keywords you might search for or not. This, again, can give you some great ideas for not just what people are talking about, but also what people want to know, because really what you need to write is something that people want to know, because then they will click through and read it.

Idea number 7 for finding content ideas is to look on the website – in the literature of relevant organizations. Look at the press releases they send out, look at their news feeds, if they have a page of news updates, and see what they’re talking about. If they’re talking about a particular topic it may well be that your readers, as well, or your client’s readers, as well, want to know the same information. So keep an eye on what maybe industry leaders are talking about, or industry regulators, or bodies or government departments related to your topic – all of that kind of thing. What are they talking about? What questions are they answering? And can you use those as jumping off points for your own content writing.

English: Podcast or podcasting icon Français :...

English: Podcast or podcasting icon Français : Icône pour les podcasts ou la baladodiffusion (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Idea number 8 – podcasts. I listen to a lot of podcasts, and they’re great for giving me ideas for things to create content around. From a podcast you can get really specialist information from people who are the absolute experts. And so take advantage of that. The more you listen to, the more you will learn anyway. And so why not also use them as inspiration to give you some ideas and get your creative juices flowing.

The next suggestion is a bit different, and that is to stop trying so hard. You know how it is sometimes, you think and think and think and there is just nothing coming into your mind. And then the moment you stop trying you’re suddenly full of ideas, like when you get in the shower or you start doing the washing up or you get on a train. You suddenly got more ideas than you can deal with, and that’s because you can push it too far, and that’s because… You know, there are times when you just need to give yourself a break, and trying to force a new idea will just get you nowhere.

So if you’re really, really stuck, take a break. Have a change of scene, go for a walk around the block, go get yourself an apple to eat, go have a shower, do something completely different from searching your brain and searching the web for ideas, and see if anything comes to you naturally.

Idea number 10 for content ideas is brainstorming. You might want to do this using a mind map online or a big piece of paper and a pan, but write down in the middle what you need to write about, what your general topic is, and then start connecting ideas from that. Write down any keywords that come into your mind. Connect things that are connected and then write down what springs to mind when you think about those keywords. Write down whatever comes into your head, whether it seems relevant or not. Get it all down on paper, and soon you will start coming up with content ideas that make sense for the platform you’re creating for.

Idea number 11 is a great website called Quora, which is a question-and-answer website. But what makes it different to, say, Yahoo Answers, is the depth the responses go to, and the quality of the responses. There is some incredible information on Quora that people – there are real experts and real specialists will respond to. And often when you’re writing what you need to know is what your potential readers want to know. And so by looking at Quora you can see the exact questions that people are asking. And you can get some tips on how to answer them by the answers that are provided.

In a similar way online forums can be a great way to get ideas for content. Again, if you’re looking to find out what your potential readership wants to know, then go to forums where people are asking and answering questions. If you write about SEO then go to an SEO forum, look at the most recent 20 posts and see if there are any themes in what people are trying to find out.

Do people want to know how to build natural backlinks? Do people want to know how they need to sort out the rel=”author” tags on their site and take advantage of that insight into what people are looking for and provide that information yourself.

Idea number 13 – unlucky for some – is surveys. You can look for the results of surveys that people have carried out in your topic area to find out all sorts of information and to get plenty of ideas for blog posts, articles, social media content – all of those things. Alternatively or additionally, you can create your own surveys, especially if you’ve got a decent social media audience, then this can be a great way of getting really detailed information about what people want to know, about what they think blogs don’t cover well enough. All that kind of thing you can find out by setting up your own survey. You could do that using a site called SurveyMonkey, or you can do it using a Google form which will just drop all the results into a spreadsheet for you.

Idea number 14 is to use to a brilliant little site called Google Trends. Now through this you can find out exactly what people are talking about right now. You can break it down based on geography, on time, and you can look at the results in different visual ways. You can see basically what the trending topics are on the web and find out exactly what’s topical, exactly what people want to know, exactly what people are searching for and take advantage of that to give yourself some ideas to write about.

Suggestion number 15 is to use a keyword suggestion tool. Now I’m going to mention two here, and they’re both free. One is the Google Adwords Keyword Planner, which is the replacement for the Google Adwords Keyword tool that people used to use. Now with this what you can do is type in some keywords related to the industry you’re writing about, and then it will tell you what people are searching for and how many people are searching for that thing, plus how much competition there is for that search.

So if you’re looking to write a post that you have a chance of ranking well in the Google search results, this is a great way of finding topics that a decent number of people are searching for every month, but that isn’t already highly competitive to rank for. So you might think you’ve got a great topic but only 20 people a month search for it. So using the keyword planner it will give you alternatives, different phrases, different words, so you can find the best thing to write about.

The other tool I’m going to mention is called Ubersuggest. And what this does is you put in a keyword and it tells you for every letter of the alphabet different things that people search for alongside that keyword. So if you type, for instance, “health and safety”, then what it does is it gives you a long, long list of the other things that people search for along with those terms. So, for instance, it’s giving me “health and safety jobs”, “health and safety games”, “health and safety institute”, “health and safety engineer”, “health and safety plan”, “health and safety in the workplace.”

And then it goes through every letter of the alphabet. So for A, it gives me “health and safety at work”, “health and safety authority”, “health and safety articles.” For B, it’s “health and safety book”, “health and safety blog”, “health and safety benchmarking” and so on, and so on, going through the alphabet and then on to numbers, as well, if they’re all things that are being searched about that include numbers, which this doesn’t have any results for.

And then for each of these results you can click on those and it will give you even further ideas. So for Y it gives me “health and safety York”, so I clicked on that and from there I get “health and safety York University”, “health and safety jobs York”, “health and safety executive York”, “occupational health and safety York”, all these kinds of things. And so you can drill down and get more and more specific. And this tool really is great for giving you ideas to bounce off. You know you need to write about a particular topic, and you’re completely stuck for what to do with it. Then try out Ubbersuggest. Again, the link will be in the in the show notes.

Suggestion number 16 is to look at the trending topics on Twitter and Facebook. These won’t specifically relate to your industry area, usually, but it will tell you what people are talking about. So if everybody is tweeting about Britain’s Got Talent or everybody on Facebook is talking about some celebrity gossip, then see whether there’s a way you can tie in those topics to your suggested area. There are always, always blog posts doing the rounds about… They’re usually quite spurious, but it gives you somewhere to start. Something like “what Gwyneth Paltrow’s divorce can tell you about social policy” or “what such and such libel trial can teach us about SEO”. It’s a controversial approach but it often will get plenty of hits, even if it feels a bit icky to write about sometimes.

Idea number 17 of 19 – Google News Alerts. You can set up within Google – you just do a search for Google Alerts – you can set up a system where whenever something new is written about a particular topic, Google will email you. Now this can be news topics specifically, or it can be any search results at all. And the way it works is you can set up to receive instant email notifications or once a day, or whatever timing suits you. And you can set it up for just new sources, just blogs, or anything on the web. You can also ask it to tell you everything, or to make its own judgment and only give you better quality things. But this way you can get things direct to your inbox that will give you ideas to write about.

I get news alerts on various topics that I write about. Because I use Gmail, I’ve set up filters so they skip my inbox and go directly to their own particular folder, so that then, when I need some ideas I head over to that folder and see what the latest is.

This is icon for social networking website. Th...

This is icon for the StumbleUpon social networking website. This is part of Open Icon Library’s webpage icon package. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So the penultimate suggestion for finding content ideas is a service called StumbleUpon. This has been through various iterations in its life and, basically, it’s a way of finding new websites or new content without having to search for it. It can be entirely random or – and this is more relevant for finding content ideas – you can set it up in certain subject areas. So you might want health or technology or craft or whatever is relevant to you. And then, basically, there’s a button at the top of each page that says StumbleUpon. You hit it and it takes you to a random website in the area you specified. And then you can look at that site and then hit StumbleUpon again, and it will take you to another. Hit it again, it will take you to another, and so on, until you come up with something that inspires you.

As well as this, and there’s an alternative to hitting the StumbleUpon button, you can hit a Thumbs Up or a Thumbs Down button, depending on what you think of the sites it’s given you. And this is particularly good because StumbleUpon thing uses that information to try and only deliver sites to you that it thinks you will like. So you basically teach it what you like and what you don’t, and that can improve the results you get.

And my final suggestion for finding content ideas – number 19 – is your own website stats or your client’s website stats. You want to know how people are finding you. You want to know which pages are the most popular because then you know what people want, you know what they’re looking for. If a lot of people find you via a particular search query, then write a post responding specifically to that search query. If you’ve got particular pages that get far more visitors than your other. If you’ve got particular pages that get far more visitors than the rest of your site, then look at what’s on those pages and find out if there’s something, you could go into more detail to gather more of that kind of traffic.

You might get your stats through Google Analytics, in which case you get a lot of detailed information, or you might use a more simple plugin or third-party service. But whatever it is, you want something that gives you the ability to see how people find you, what’s the most popular part of your site so you can build from there and create more of the content that your specific readers are looking for.

And so that is my top 19 best ways to find content ideas. Do you have any others? Is there anything I’ve missed off? If so, head over to our Facebook page at and tell us. Comment on one of our updates, and let us know the places you find ideas for content when you’re running out of inspiration.

And so now it is time for the Little Bird recommendation of the week where I give a suggestion of something I’ve enjoyed, something that I think will be useful to listeners or just enjoyable or interesting. My recommendation this week is from Mashable and it’s an article called ‘How to Succeed in Business without Becoming an Alcoholic.’ And it’s got some really nice suggestions, and it’s really well written about different ways to keep your business a success without ending up in a position where you can’t do anything else, you can’t ever wind down.

And it’s quite simple. It’s not particularly necessarily new information, but it’s presented really nicely in a way that might give you some ideas if you find that you are working far more than you’re not, and you really need a break. And so, as ever, I will link to that in the show notes and I recommend that you go over and have a read from there.

And so that is the end of episode 71 of A Little Bird Told Me. Make sure you head over to and follow the links to all the places I’ve mentioned in today’s podcast. Make sure you also check out our Facebook page and feel free to check out my own social media feeds and websites, as well. From our Podomatic page you can also subscribe to make sure that you never miss an episode. Thank you very much for listening. I’ll be back with Lorrie next time for a dual episode, and we will see you then.


Podcast Episode 70: Google+ for Freelance Writers

Despite its reputation as the geeky cousin of Facebook and Twitter, Google+ actually has a lot to offer a freelance writer. It has powerful features, smart personalisation options and an ideal B2B marketplace. In this episode of our freelance writing podcast, Lorrie and I go through how to get started, how to set up Google Authorship for writers, Google+ dos and don’ts, best practice and handy hacks.

Google Plus - Plus Icon

Google Plus – Plus Icon (Photo credit: dolphinsdock)

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PW: Hello, and welcome to episode 70 of ‘A Little Bird Told Me,’ the podcast where two freelance writers tell you all the tricks of the trade. We are here to save you from mighty embarrassment and mortifying mistakes, and to guide you to the very top of your chosen profession. Freelancing is a funny old world, and we want to help you along the way.

Tune into this podcast every two weeks, and if you go to you can subscribe there to ensure that you never miss an episode. You can subscribe using iTunes, RSS or Stitcher, and we’ve made it really easy over there to sign up and be the first to hear our latest words of wisdom. On our page you will also find any links that we mention, our own website and social media feeds, and the A Little Bird Told Me Facebook page, too.

I am Philippa Willitts…

LH: And I am Lorrie Hartshorn, and today what we’re going to be talking about is possible the most benign social media platform of them all, and it’s not LinkedIn, it’s not our personal preferences, it’s Google+.

Google Plus Cheat Sheet

Google Plus Cheat Sheet (Photo credit: AJC1)

PW: Google+ is kind of a big deal, but it’s a slightly off-the-wall one, so we thought it actually deserved its own episode, because it’s quite a lot to consider about whether or not you would want to get involved, the benefits and drawbacks, and what it can do for your business.

LH: Yeah, it’s a funny old one, isn’t it? Because despite the fact that it’s very effective as a tool for optimizing the content that you put out there on the web, it can still be a bit of a chore, can’t it?

PW: It’s got quite a specific user base, and anyway, this is all stuff that we will cover. We could just meander around it at this stage, but we do actually, listeners, have a plan.

LH: So long as you have a master plan… So what we’re going to talk about first is basically the Google+ basics – what it is, when it flopped onto the internet, and what you can do with it really.

PW: Google has long been desperate to get decent competitor to Facebook and Twitter up and running. They had a weird failed attempt with a product called Google Wave, which had a lot of promise but was just too complicated. People like me, who can’t help being techy, really tried to love Wave, but it just wasn’t happening. It was released too early, so it was buggy, and it just didn’t catch on. And so Google Wave was cancelled, and later in 2011, Google+ arrived.

LH: Now in terms of its functionalities, Google+ does mirror some of what Facebook does and some of what Twitter does. It’s like they’ve tried to take the best of both of these platforms and merge them into one. It might not have been 100% successful in my view, but there is plenty that you can do with Google+.

PW: I was just going to say when it was first launched, for people like me, who get excited about such things, we were predominantly excited that it did seem like the good bits of Facebook and the good bits of Twitter, while getting rid of the annoying bits of both of those.

LH: Definitely. It’s a lot less spammy than Facebook can be. I think people get really cross about the amount of advertising on Facebook, and this is certainly a lot more streamlined as a platform. Like with Facebook, you do have a profile and you have a home feed where you can view the updates of people that you follow, for want of a better word. So in that sense it’s really quite similar to Facebook.

What makes it different to both Twitter and Facebook is that you can actually tailor your output to suit the audience you want to attract or indeed address.

PW: Yeah, you can be a lot more focused and Facebook now does this to some degree with lists. And I use Facebook lists, but they’re not intuitive at all, they’re a nightmare in many ways, whereas Google+ makes it really easy because when you add somebody on Google+ you add them to what they call a Circle. And so you can have different circles for different parts of your life. So you might have a circle called Friends, and you might have a circle called Fellow Freelancers, a circle called Clients, a circle called People Who Love CSI. You can have any number of circles and add whoever you want to them.

LH: Take pictures.

PW: Yes. And you can have people to different circles, like I have Lorrie in my Friends circle, and I also have her in my Writing circle. So you can add people to whatever suits, and then when you post an update you decide which circles it’s displayed to. So if you know that you’re a complete CSI geek and it will bore everybody or most people, then you post your CSI updates so that they’re only visible to your CSI circle.

LH: Absolutely. You don’t want to be live following CSI episode and have all your clients watching.

PW: Exactly. And so in that way it’s really nice for targeting, in the same way that I know Lorrie and I both have two Twitter accounts – one for personal stuff and one for professional stuff. You don’t need to do that on Google+ because you can post one update immediately after another and half of your followers will only see one of them.

LH: It’s quite nerve-wracking actually, isn’t it? At first, before you get used to it.

PW: Yeah. You don’t quite trust it’s going to happen.

LH: Absolutely. Because you can see everything on your home feed, and you can see everything that you’ve posted on your profile, so to you your profile might look like a mess of CSI comments, if you watch CSI, kitten pictures. I’ve never seen CSI actually. I’m thinking, I was like, ‘CIS? CIO? CSI?’

PW: Very good.

LH: I might give it a go. Kitten pictures, worky updates everyone else will find boring, pictures of your kids with the family, if you’ve got a family circle. But, as Pip said, these specific audiences will only see what’s attributed to their circles.

PW: Another thing that people liked initially was that it was like Twitter, and that you could follow somebody without them needing to follow you back. So on Facebook if you want to be friends with somebody, that’s a mutual agreement – you request it, and then they accept it. And that isn’t the case on Google+, as well. You can follow people that you really want to keep in touch with but if they’re not interested, you don’t require them to be interested in order to be able to see what they’re up to.

LH: Yeah. It’s a very good way of following people who are more high-profile, because I’ll face it, it can be quite embarrassing, at least initially – obviously now you can follow people on Facebook – but initially it would have been quite embarrassing to send a friend request to, for example, a famous copy writer or, I don’t know, a famous actor from CSI, maybe.

PW: Yeah. [laughter]

LH: I’m just guessing here, but I think I might have hit close to the mark, at least.

PW: This is the Google+ and CSI episode.

LH: It is. But on Google+ you can just follow who you like, and as Pip says, because you know, there’s no obligation to reciprocate. And if that person has public posts, then they will appear in your feed. And if that person doesn’t have public posts, then you’re not privy to any information they don’t want you to be privy to.

PW: Yeah. So you can look after your own privacy, as well.

LH: Yes, absolutely. Because you can’t control who follows you, but you can certainly control what’s public.

PW: Yeah. Now, as with any site like this, there are obviously pros and cons. We’ve listed there a few positives, really, a few things that people like, features that we use. But one problem with Google+ is just that it has a massive user base, but there are lots of people who aren’t there. Google+ has more than 540 million users a month, and that’s people who are active, people who are posting, responding, that kind of thing. It has more than 1 billion registered users, and so with that in mind you’d think everybody’s there, but in reality it’s a lot of techy people there and a lot of business people there. A lot of people’s friends aren’t.

LH: Absolutely. At the moment it feels sometimes more like a networking tool. A lot of the updates that I see from people in the industries that I’m interested in are using it as a broadcasting tool. And then it’s discussion going on. But it’s very business, very sales-centric discussion.

PW: Yeah. So the thing that makes it really social is just that people aren’t… I am one of many people who happily says, “If my Facebook friends were on Google+ I would not use Facebook.” I’d much prefer Google+. But when I want to chat with my mates about silly things or anything, I have to go to Facebook because they’re not on Google+.

LH: Absolutely. It’s exactly the same thing. It’s an impressive number of active users, but I think ‘active’ can cover a wide variety of things. And people try and show willing with Google+, don’t they? They’ll go on there and they’ll post an update occasionally or they’ll post a photo occasionally, but as you say, there’s only so much that you want to do. It doesn’t seem to be people’s primary social media platform simply because, as you pointed out, most people aren’t on there as much as on the other platforms.

PW: So is Google+ a worthwhile place for freelancers to be? Personally I would say absolutely. A figure to bear in mind that quite took me by surprise, actually, is that 70% of business grants have a Google+ presence. So as a social media resource it can be really, really useful.

LH: Yeah, that really does surprise, actually.

PW: And another really good positive about Google+ is that it can be really helpful for SEO. Now how much its SEO benefits exist is one of those constant debates on SEO blogs. So there’s no quantified, definitive answer to this. However, there’s a lot of evidence to show that posting things on Google+ helps them get indexed by Google quite quickly. It certainly spreads the word about your site, which is the main thing about social media, your main reason for posting about your site on social media. It spreads the word, but also just anything that might give Google a little nudge about your site can only be a good thing, really.

LH: Absolutely. Google is going to prioritize its own social media platform. Of course it is, there’s no doubt about it. And, as Pip said, you’ve got one billion registered users, which is a quarter of the planet. So promoting your website and your business and your freelance writing via this site – which got on board with hashtags much, much quicker than Facebook did – it can really be a good thing in terms of brand exposure.

PW: Yeah.

LH: So what we’re going to look at now is how to get started on Google+. If you’ve been listening so far, and you think, “Right, well, I’m not Google+, but it does sound like it could be quite useful,” we’re just going to run through really how you get started.

PW: Yeah. Now setting up an account… Google now – and this is annoying many people, but it’s just a fact – if you set up any kind of Google account now, say a Gmail account or a Google Docs account, it will automatically set you up on Google+ as well. You have to kind of activate it, but your account is basically automatically there.

LH: Sure. It always makes me laugh, because there are a lot of pictures going around the internet once this measure had been put in place with Google as the protective parent of Google+ saying, “You will invite my child to your birthday party.”

PW: Yes, it is very much like that. They are desperate to get new users. And it’s clearly effective. But yes, it’s also a bit like, “Oh, give me a choice!”

LH: As you say, at the end of the day, it’s your choice when it’s activated, it’s your choice whether to post anything, and it’s your choice whether to make anything public. So don’t be alarmed by the fact that, you know, Google will automatically set you up a Google+ account. It doesn’t suddenly mean that all your details are sitting there, bare on the internet, for everyone to have a look at.

PW: Speaking of which, I have an Android phone, and Android is Google-powered. If you have Google+ on your Android phone, be aware that – something that terrifies me – if you don’t tell it not to, then it will automatically upload all the photos in your phone’s Google+. Now it keeps them private.

LH: That is horrendous.

PW: I know, which I didn’t realise at first. So my initial reaction was aaagh! You know, all the daft photos you take on your phone, the stupid things…

LH: The arm-length selfie for when you check your makeup.

PW: Yeah, and it was invisible, and I changed the settings so it doesn’t do that automatically anymore.

LH: Oh, Google.

PW: Yes, speaking of Google and its automation, stay aware.

LH: Sometimes it’s like, “Go home, Google, you’re drunk. Bad choice.”

PW: [laughter]

LH: I actually had to mute my microphone just back, because I was laughing. I was having a glass of water and I was laughing really hard when you mentioned that your photos have been uploaded automatically. Not, listeners, that I know anything bad about Pip’s photos. I know nothing about what she chooses to photograph.

PW: In the privacy of my own home. [laughter]

LH: Quite a horrifying prospect. Not your photos, I mean Google+.

PW: [laughter]

LH: Oh, dear. Moving on.

PW: Moving on. Yes. The other thing that’s taken them years – your profile address, like your URL of your Google+ profile had a long, long list of capital letters, small letters and numbers, and it wasn’t at all easy to share it, really, in a memorable way.

LH: It was a very silly thing to do, wasn’t it? It wasn’t intuitive at all.

PW: It took them ages… It was one of the biggest complaints from the beginning, and it took them years to fix. But now you can personalize your URL so it can be something more than this. It will be and then something other than a massive stream of letters and numbers. So you do that, it makes it more memorable, more pretty, let’s face it. And yeah, it takes a minute.

LH: Yeah. Now, as we mentioned before, sharing your website and sharing content from your website on Google+ has been shown to be quite beneficial in terms of search engine optimization. Now, as Pip said, there’s no way of saying categorically yes or no, it’s brilliant for SEO. But one thing that Google+ does encourage users to do is to verify their website and to prove, therefore, that they are the owner of the content that’s coming from that site. And it’s very, very easy to do. You click into the backend of Google+. It will give you some code to pop on your website. And I am not a techy person, listeners, and I can do it absolutely fine. Not an issue at all. And there are loads of YouTube tutorials on how to do these kinds of things. So don’t panic. And it’s very worth verifying your website on Google because it helps you to verify your authorship.

PW: Yeah. Now authorship is something that, again, is the subject of a lot of SEO debate, but what we can give you is the gist of how it works. And it’s thought that because Google as a search engine is constantly on the lookout for ways to get rid of spammy websites from its listings, and it’s tried many things over the years that then invariably end up being abused by disreputable SEO people, and then Google outlaws them, and then it introduces something. Everything goes like that. And something that it’s doing – it’s called Google Authorship – it’s thought that what Google is trying to do is find a way to connect content on the website with the people who create it, and that ultimately that might be a good way of identifying what’s spam and what’s good quality. Because if it can see that you write for Mashable, then it probably knows that you’re a decent content producer, and therefore if you then write a blog post somewhere else, a guest post for another blog, it might be that if you can connect your authorship to that, as well, Google will know easily that is also a quality piece of content.

LH: Absolutely. And by prioritizing this kind of verified content what Google can do is deprioritize content that is churned out by content mills and synonym tools that people use, rewriting tools – you pop an article in one end and it comes out a jumble of synonyms from the other.

PW: Google Authorship is very linked to what Lorrie was just saying about verifying your website. It’s a very similar process. You manage your Google Authorship through your Google+ profile, and again you’ve got a bit of code that you put onto your website, and then another bit of code that you verify on the Google+ website. If you just search for how to set up Google Authorship, it’s easier to look at pictures of somebody doing it than for us to try and explain. But, like Lorrie says, it’s really easy. You just copy and paste a line of stuff into the place it tells you to copy and paste it into, and then Google can credit you wherever you post around the web.

The other point about Google Authorship is something you will have noticed in search results, which is that certain search results will show the picture of the author of a piece of writing.

LH: Oh, you beat me to this point.

PW: Yeah. And to credit in the search result itself, and so that is Google Authorship. It’s your Google+ profile picture and it credits you in search results. And that again can provide some kind of authority. And I think there’s quite a lot of evidence that those links get a lot more clicks than those without that authorship little tag. And so it’s worth doing.

LH: Absolutely. It just distinguishes your content from the rest of the content in those search results. Human faces attract interaction…

PW: Yeah, and it distinguishes it for humans and for Google, as well.

LH: Absolutely. So go ahead and do it. All these things seem very complicated simply because Google has such a big reach that sometimes you need to start adding code to your website and stuff. And you might think, well, it sounds a lot more complicated than Facebook, but Facebook is self-contained, whereas Google is obviously a lot broader. It owns a lot more in terms of internet shares, shall we say, and these things really aren’t hard, so they’re very worthwhile.

PW: Now Google+ is a social network, and the key point about any social network is that it’s about building and maintaining good relationships. Whether that’s with individuals, businesses, friends, colleagues, it’s all about the relationships. And so we’re going to look now at a few ways to focus on relationship building and what you can do on Google+ to help with that.

LH: Absolutely. I think because Google+ can seem like a deserted town sometimes, it’s easy to forget that it actually is a very valuable relationship marketing tool, and as such, you cannot simply broadcast into the ether, tempting though it may be, because sometimes it seems like there’s nobody there, you really do have to go about a few ways to interact with people, just as you would with any other social media platform. And one of the ways to do that is Google+’s version of liking something or favoriting something, whether you’re on Facebook or Twitter, and that’s +1-ing something. I don’t know how to say it. It’s not the most catchy term, but what you can do is basically just click to give a post a +1, and obviously, if somebody else clicks, then the post will be a +2, +3. It’s a way of showing your appreciation for a post, and also a way for a post to be measured on how popular it is, and how much interaction it’s gained.

PW: And as with the other things you mentioned before, this has an impact beyond Google+ itself. On the one hand, +1-ing somebody’s post gives them a little boost. They might think, “Oh, that’s nice. I’ll look that person up.” Or, “Oh, that’s very cool.”

LH: Yeah, it could be anything from a report you’ve written on SEO content to a picture of your friend’s baby.

PW: Exactly. Now the +1 button is clicked – have a guess Lorrie – how many times a day?

LH: Uh, don’t make me guess. I couldn’t even guess CSI right, or CIS.

PW: More than 5 billion times a day.

LH: You’re kidding me.

PW: I am not. And that’s partly because the +1 button appears on websites and in search results, as well as on Google+. It’s been shown that a higher number of +1 correlates really well with better search rankings, and so it’s good in those respects. But what we’re talking about in particular now is relationship building, and just like getting a like or a favour on Facebook, it’s nice if somebody clicks +1 on something you post on Google+. And also, it might — so if someone does that and it’s someone I haven’t come across before I’ll head over to their profile, see who they are, what they’re interested in, add them to a circle if they seem relevant. And if you do that on other people as well, cynically, it’s a way of maybe getting noticed, but in a broader sense, it’s one way, it’s that kind of community building, relationship building thing that social media is best at.

LH: Uh-huh. And likewise, commenting just as you would on somebody’s Facebook updates or you would on somebody’s blog – it’s important to leave insightful, thoughtful comments on people’s updates, particularly when we’re talking about business, which of course we are here. So if somebody’s posted an infographic or if they’ve posted a post – because you can post quite long pieces of text on Google+, it’s not limited in the same way that perhaps Facebook has been – it’s very good to get involved in a discussion, because like you say, this is a social network, and just as with your +1-ing, commenting on other people’s updates can help to build your brand exposure, it can help to build your authority.

PW: And because Google+ is used in business quite a lot, there’s a wide range of people you can interact with, so you can +1, comment, reshare people’s posts. And that can be everybody from your friend’s baby photos to thought leaders prospects, colleagues. Don’t just kind of – show a bit of balance in what you do, don’t storm in head first, so think it through. But make sure you interact with a really wide range of people on a wide range of topics.

LH: Absolutely. You’ve got to maximize the fact that Google+ allows you to have different circles, and allows you to tailor the content that’s visible to people. If you want to interact with friends of friends – that’s fine, and they come towards your profile, you can add them into the friends or the acquaintances circles. If you interact with thought leaders or perspective clients, you can comment insightfully, and then if they come towards you and they add you or they follow you, you can tailor what kind of content they see. So it’s important, really, to have a good look around and just see who you could attract to your profile, and from there to your website, to your other social media feeds.

PW: Now if you follow somebody on there who’s quite high profile, whether that’s because they’re an actor on CSI or whether it’s because they’re high-profiling your industry, it’s tempting to leave a daft comment onto everything they say to get their attention.

LH: You see this on Twitter a lot, don’t you?

PW: Yeah, and you just don’t. It’s embarrassing, everybody can see it because comments are like threaded underneath updates, so it’s worse than Twitter in that respect, if you post something embarrassing, it stays.

LH: Yeah, true, it doesn’t disappear.

PW: It’s good if you’re going to build genuine conversation, but if you see somebody you really like or somebody that impresses you, and you want to make an impression, don’t make a show of yourself, basically.

LH: Don’t run in like a puppy.

PW: Yeah. “Oh, my God!!!”

LH: “It’s you, from CSI!!” I can’t even name one of the actors. I just have to go with “you” – It’s you!!!

PW: That’ll do.

LH: I know. And that goes for any social media platform, doesn’t it? It’s just the thing with Google, isn’t it? Everything’s so neatly catalogued and stored away, but it will never go. So just as with Twitter things might disappear off down the bottom of the thread. It doesn’t on Google+, though. So yeah, take Pip’s advice.

PW: The next point we want to make is something we say all the time about social media, whether you’re talking LinkedIn, Twitter, whatever. Don’t just post your own stuff.

LH: Uh-hmm. It can be tempting to do it, can’t it, because a lot of the time, from my experience, even if you get a little bit of interaction going, people on Google+ as regularly as they are on other social media platforms.

PW: Definitely.

LH: So conversations, discussions can stall, and you think, “Oh, but I need to update it, but there’s nobody on there, and it’s hard to find people, and I can’t find anybody to talk to on there.” But you really do have to put the work in. It’s better, I would say, to post things relatively regularly, even if you don’t find that you’re having many discussions rather than having an empty profile, say. But it really, really is worth your time going seeking out discussions as often as you are posting.

PW: Because actually one of the potential drawbacks of Google+ can become a benefit. If you think of your Twitter timeline, I know mine – I can sit and watch TweetDeck, and it flies by, whereas the issue with not as many people seeming to post on Google+ actually can be a benefit in that there’s fewer distractions, so if somebody follows you and you post an update, it might be at the top of their timeline for hours rather than seconds.

LH: And if they have a Gmail account, it does notify them in there, as well.

PW: Yeah. And also, if there are fewer people there, then the conversations you can have can actually be more personal and more in depth, and have more of an impact rather than for thousands and thousands of tweets that go by every minute.

LH: Absolutely. It’s quite like LinkedIn groups in that sense, isn’t it? Where a lot of people are in there and a lot of people are spamming, but that really does just become white noise on the groups on LinkedIn. And I think it’s quite similar for Google+. I think if you’ve got something genuinely thoughtful and insightful to say, then it will stand out from the crowd.

PW: Yeah. So Google+ good practice. Part of it is as we’ve just said, don’t just post your own stuff, don’t just post and leave, post and leave, post and leave. You’ve got to put a bit of effort in. And a few of the pointers.

Firstly, as Lorrie mentioned earlier, longer posts can be really effective on Google+. Lately I’ve seen some people in the kind of internet marketing starting to use Google+ as a blog. So their profile – you check out their profile and it’s the equivalent of having a blog elsewhere, and I’m not 100% sure how I feel about it, but I can see the appeal. The people who are doing it can’t praise it enough, frankly.

LH: Certainly. And long form is something that people have taken to this year, isn’t it?

PW: Definitely.

LH: Weirdly. It’s not the sort of thing that you could have predicted because everything you’ve been told is keep your blog posts to 500 words. But actually there’s been quite a bit of evidence recently to suggest that around 1,600 words in terms of long-form posts and slightly more in-depth discussion posts can really be an optimum length.

PW: My opinion is that this is a kind of reaction against Twitter and the very short fast thing. People love that, as do we, but it also leaves people really wanting analyses, and really wanting a kind of counterpoint that does the opposite.

LH: Yeah, Twitter can be quite reductionist in terms of this argument, and it’s quite inevitable, given the nature of the platform.

PW: Of course, and that’s what makes it brilliant.

LH: Yeah, it’s wonderful. But the loudest shouts can often be quite jargony. People have to make a point in 150 characters, and often that can be the point being quite superficial, at least at first appearances.

PW: Yeah, you lose all nuance, and so people I think that, like Lorrie says, the fact that we’ve been trained to do snappy in blog posts and all bullet points, and that’s great. It’s still great, it’s still very valid for a lot of places, but I think that this new trend towards long form, which I love, I have to say – I love writing it, I love reading it – I think it is a reaction against that. So people saying, “No, give us painful detail, give us really in-depth analysis.”

LH: Yeah. And it’s everything from memoirs to reports, isn’t it?

PW: Oh, absolutely. I’ve read like 4,000-word blog posts on one tiny aspect of social media theory, whether adding ‘please re-tweet’ to a tweet – what difference that makes is that people… Oh, I love that sort of stuff

LH: Yeah, it’s really sort of – antithesis is the right word?

PW: Yeah, I think so.

LH: So, the antithesis to BuzzFeed, which like Twitter, has got its own place. And even BuzzFeed’s starting to hop on board with the long form stuff, although it’s not as popular as quizzes at the moment – getting really annoying to me, but it’s obviously working for BuzzFeed. But yeah, these long form posts can be a really good way of ensuring that you get SEO, good quality optimized content onto your Google profile. You can include links, you can include hashtags. It’s really a very, very good way of increasing your exposure, not just on the site, but in the search results as well.

PW: Yeah. Now another good practice thing you can do with Google+ is look at the types of media you can embed into a post, and make it nice and interactive, get people engaging with their YouTube videos. YouTube, of course, by Google, so they work very well together. YouTube videos embed very nice in Google+ posts. You can also now embed Google Docs into Google+ posts, so as long as the doc is public, if you put a link to the public URL, then it will embed in a post, which again can be a great way to share something.

LH: Absolutely. And it’s a fabulous way of encouraging people to engage with you. Because you can put anything that you want in that Google Doc, you can give people really good resources, whether it’s a database with some information, or it’s a white paper on something quite current and quite useful. It’s just another opportunity to snare those prospects, to snare people from industries that you are interested in building your authority in, and really hooking them with something. You can put calls to action in there – it’s just one more way of keeping people interested in what you’ve got to say.

PW: Yeah. An update that Google+ did maybe a year ago made images a lot more prominent. It changed its whole layout and kind of user interface, and it quickly became clear that… Images were suddenly huge as you’re scrolling down your timeline, and they’ve been made really prominent. And so sharing images, whether it’s a photo you took on holiday or an infographic, can be a really good way of being noticed and really of just making the most of what Google+ is offering.

LH: And what I would say or actually add to that is that when you share content from say your website and your blog on Google+, do make sure that you’ve got a featured image somewhere in that blog post, because one thing that Google+ does, as Pip said, is prioritize images. So if you have a featured image on your blog post or somewhere in your blog post, it’s not only good to break up the text on your blog, Google+ will actually preview that, whereas I found – I don’t know about you, Pip – but I found that Facebook can be a little bit glitchy when it chooses its preview images. Usually, for some reason, it pulls the image from my homepage on my website, and it’s a giant picture of my head. I’d like to add that it’s not giant in the picture on my website. My website doesn’t feature a giant picture of my head, but Facebook takes that image and zooms in on it, and it has the only image available, whereas on Google+ I do find that it’s quite reliable in choosing, giving you options for the images that you’ve embedded in the blog or that you’ve attributed to your blog post.

PW: Now the final bit of good practice we want to mention for the time being is something that we covered earlier, but it’s always worth reiterating.

LH: Always, always.

PW: And that is it offers so many options for privacy and categorizing people into circles. Use them. Use privacy options and use circles to keep things appropriate and relevant. And that’s not to say you can’t ever show a human side to your business circles. That’s not true at all, and that will actually do you no favours, if you’re just a robot. Occasionally, if I see my first daffodil of spring I will add a photo to Google+ to everybody, because everybody likes to see the first daffodil of spring.

LH: I don’t. I stomp on them.

PW: Or something like that. So it’s not to say you need to be robotic and entirely depersonalized in your business side of things, and that kind of thing, but think it through. Whenever you do a post think, “Do I want this to go to everybody? Do I want my prospects to see how drunk I was on Friday?” Think it through. And, similarly, do my friends want another content marketing post? They don’t.

LH: You tailor your content. Do tailor your content and follow Pip’s advice. Don’t turn into a robot, because businesses are people. There isn’t a business without a person behind it, at least one person per business.

PW: Yeah. It gives you the option to be really, really strategic.

LH: Absolutely. No baby albums on your work profile.

PW: No. One baby per photo a year, perhaps.

LH: Possibly. Look, I’ve had a baby. The end.

PW: That’s it.

LH: We like babies, just not on work profiles. So what we’re going to take a look at now are some of the extended features on Google+. We’ve had a look at some of the functionalities, but there are a few things that are very specific to Google. There really are quite positive additions to the platform.

PW: Yeah. The first thing we’re looking at is Communities – Google+ Communities. And these kind of equivalent to things like LinkedIn groups or Facebook groups. They are a way, as you’d expect, to start to interact with other people with a shared interest. So you might join this CSI fans group.

LH: For goodness sakes.

PW: For running with this, Lorrie. I am a member of a whole load of groups – communities, sorry – such as, Freelance Lifestyle, Writers Discussion Group, Content Strategy Group, Social Media Strategy Group, Podcast Technology Group.

LH: Oh, my God.

PW: I know. My communities are pretty much all professional ones rather than anything more personal. But there are communities available for everything.

LH: Yeah, I mean local ones, I mean feminist ones, as well as the work ones, you know, because they’re so accessible, and as with posts, they’ll drop into your Gmail.

PW: Yes, although, to be honest, whenever I join a community now the first thing I do is turn that off.

LH: I do.

PW: I can’t – just like everything is just a bit relentless. People can invite you to communities and Google will also suggest communities that it thinks you might be interested in.

LH: It’s not a hit-and-miss. It’s very much a case as finding somewhere where you feel comfortable, and where there’s really good discussion, because that tends to be whether discussion hides on Google+.

PW: Yeah, and you might have to kiss a few frogs, but you will find your prince of communities.

LH: [laughter]

PW: If you engage and if you contribute you can find it again or follow back.

LH: And they’re certainly not maxed out either, communities on Google+. It’s perfectly possible to create your own. There are plenty, plenty of niches that haven’t been taped out yet. Obviously, there are large communities for most subjects, but I suppose if Pip wanted to start a UK CSI fans group, I imagine that she wouldn’t have much of a problem attracting a large number of people to that.

PW: Yeah. One complaint that’s often levelled towards Google+ is that it’s all techies, and that is reflective of a fact that their biggest community is the Mashable community – although Mashable was an exquisitely techy site, it’s quite techy – but their second largest community is Epicurious, which is a foodie website. So there is something for everybody there, really. And if there isn’t, start your own. That’s a really good way of showing yourself as authoritative if you’re presenting yourself as an expert. If you start a community that then becomes popular, everybody knows your name.

LH: Absolutely. You have to keep it populated and you have to keep it going, but it’s a very worthwhile endeavour. I’ve started Facebook groups in the past that have become very high profile for the niche that they’re in.

PW: And also you need them to be high profile.

LH: Exactly. You know, we’re not talking hundreds of thousands of followers, but we’re not talking niches where you need to have hundreds of thousands of followers. If you are known in relevant communities somebody knows what they’re talking about, that can only ever be a good thing.

PW: Yeah. So, as well as joining say communities for freelancers, as well as joining communities for hobbies and interests, also think about your own niche. Where do you specialize in your writing? If you write about fashion, make sure you’re in some fashion communities. You don’t have to limit yourself. You can join as many as you like, and then leave the ones you don’t like, and then really put some effort into the ones you do.

LH: Definitely. So the next move we’re going to look up in terms of Google+ features is hashtags. Now we’ve talked about this a little bit already. Hashtags are a brilliant way of further targeting the audiences that you want to interest with what you’re saying.

PW: Yeah. Whenever you do an update you can add your own hashtags to it just as you would on Twitter, and just as you can on Facebook, although the functionality there isn’t that good. Now what they do is signal to people who see your update what you’re talking about. But what they also do is make you eminently searchable. So when someone else clicks on the same hashtag on another update, they will see all the posts that are public that use it. And so if you’re getting yourself out there, and there’s something interesting is that if you don’t add your own hashtags, Google+ will auto-generate hashtags based on what it thinks you’re talking about.

LH: It sounds risky.

PW: It does, but it does surprisingly well at getting it right in my experience.

LH: That’s reassuring.

PW: Yeah, and you know, if it adds a hashtag that you don’t like or that doesn’t fit you can just edit it away, that’s no problem.

LH: So it doesn’t do it secretly then, that you lose a hashtag once you post it.

PW: [laughter]

LH: ‘This person doesn’t know there’s a hashtag here’ hashtag.

PW: No. You can see it. As soon as you post your update it’s there and then you will mostly go, “Oh, well spotted!”

LH: That’s one good point, actually, that you reminded me to make. Before Facebook got on board with allowing you to edit posts, Google+ was there much, much sooner.

PW: So true.

LH: Posts are editable, which they’re not on things like Twitter. And I don’t believe they’re easily editable on LinkedIn, either, when you’re in groups there.

PW: Yeah. You know, I’ve never tried, and so I’m not sure.

LH: Post and forget on LinkedIn. You just post and run. How’s my update? Go.

PW: And so hashtags are a great way of also you finding other people. If you are writing about something and you can’t find anyone else who’s interested in Sara Sidle on CSI, then you hashtag Sara Sidle and click your own hashtag, and it will show anyone else who’s hashtagged her. That may be a little obscure, but you never know.

LH: It will show you the one other person out of 1 billion who’s used that hashtag.

PW: Yes. Now the other big feature that makes Google+ unique really, and really useful is Google+ Hangout, where you can have live a video chat on air with anybody.

LH: Yes. I know it’s really odd. They’re an excellent way of connecting with people quickly and intuitively, because just as blog posts have evolved to incorporate things like rich media, and I think that it’s really important to connect with people in a way that’s not just text discussion all the time. Hangouts allow you to have effectively conference calls on video with people, and they’re a brilliant way to have conference calls to have conversations with one person, and to host webinars and discussion groups, if you’re interested in branching out into things like that.

Google Hangouts On Air

Google Hangouts On Air (Photo credit: stevegarfield)

PW: Hangouts are automatically then uploaded to your YouTube account and so you can then have a pair and a record of it that you can refer people to if they couldn’t attend. Now the thing with webinars is most webinar hosting services are quite expensive. They’re a few options. I have a real habit of attending loads of webinars, so I know a few of them. And some are great, but if you’re hosting, they can be quite expensive. Google Hangouts are free. You can make them private, you can make them public. Lorrie and I could have a chat that nobody else could hear or we could have a massive webinar with thousands of people watching.

LH: Yeah, we can have a webcast.

PW: Yeah, it’s all available. And the other thing that’s nice about them actually – if you’re trying to explain something it can show your face or alternatively you can just click a button and instead shows your screen. So if you’re trying to demonstrate how to do something online, you can just switch the camera so that instead of seeing your face everybody can see your computer screen. So make sure anything embarrassing is out of the way. And then they can just watch you do something as you do it. And so that’s also a nice feature, just switching between either kind of face time and chatting and your screen if you want to demonstrate how to do something.

LH: Absolutely. And, and we’ve said before, YouTube is the second biggest search engine on the web. It is owned by Google, and the fact that this material is indexed by Google – everything on YouTube is now indexed – it means it’s just there, and it’s searchable and it’s easy to find. And, as I also said earlier, one of the quickest and easiest ways, and one of the most common ways for me now to learn how to do anything is not to find a text-based post, it’s to get on YouTube.

PW: Same, when I’m having a nightmare invariably with a spreadsheet trying to work out how to–, just going “Come on, you can add those things off and then minus that. How hard can it be?” I spent many hours trying to read through tutorials, and I quickly learned that somebody on YouTube can show me in 30 seconds…

LH: I remember one specific incident where you spent hours and hours and hours searching and reading and searching to find the right thing. And I think in about two minutes you found it on YouTube.

PW: Yes. It’s incredible, and I thank the people who are patient enough with spreadsheets to not only learn how to do it properly, but then show me. I’m like you, there are certain things that now if I want to know how to do it YouTube’s where I search, not Google.

LH: Uh-hmm. And it’s invaluable because if you think about it, as Pip’s just mentioned about the people who help her get out of her spreadsheet, and back into a more healthy frame of mind. If you know how to do something with SEO, or if you know how to do something with writing, or if you know how to solve somebody’s grandma conundrum, you can do a little tiny Hangout on there, you can upload that to YouTube, and if you use search terms in your description of that Hangout video, that’s easily findable. And again, it helps to build your brand authority.

PW: Yeah. When Facebook started hiding messages under a separate category, and it didn’t tell anybody that it was doing this, lots of people suddenly had a load of missing messages and didn’t know why. But actually they were hiding them in this weird section called ‘Other’.

LH: I hate Other.

PW: Yeah, under messages. It told nobody – nobody looks there, because you get no notification.

LH: It’s greyed out, isn’t it? The word ‘other’, as well. It’s really not very easy to spot.

PW: And so once I spotted that I made a quick screen cast video just going, you know, click here, click here, and it’s there. And I called it something like “How to find your hidden hack Facebook messages”. And until I don’t know how many thousand views from people doing what I do with spreadsheets, just going, “Where is this thing?” And then they watched my few seconds doing it, and there they are.

LH: Yeah, no, it’s perfect, and anything that drives traffic to your website is a good thing. And I think, as Pip said previously, they are certain things that drive traffic to her website that you wouldn’t necessarily think they’d be the big drivers, but you never do know what people are going to be searching for. So if you’ve got anything useful to say… I know one person I follow on social media, she posts like a three or four-minute hangout every week, and that’s her version of blogging. And it’s just her on her phone or on her webcam; she’s an accountant, and she’s talking about how to solve your financial problems and how to do certain things with your money, and how to manage it, so things like that. And it’s really very informative. It’s not expensive, it’s not hard to do, and it’s really a big change from just blog post, blog, blog post. It’s a little bit different and it captures your attention.

PW: I’m doing that through a Google+ Hangout. It saves you having to learn how to edit a video, record audios, stick them together, upload to YouTube. If you do through a Hangout that’s all just done. You don’t need to worry.

LH: It’s very flexible.

PW: Yeah. So if it takes you four minutes, it takes you four minutes, rather than three hours, which you might have done if you needed all those separate bits and bobs.

LH: Yeah, it’s well worth a go, and it really is quite unique.

PW: And so if you’re going to use Google+ and put a bit of time and effort into using it well, you want to make sure that you’re maximizing the reach of your Google+ activities.

LH: Yeah. One of the very, very easy ways to maximize the reach of your Google+ activities is to make content on your website and blog, Google+ sharable using buttons that you can embed on your website. And again, I’ll reiterate, I am not Pip. I am not a techy person. What Pip finds exciting and thrilling I find terrifying. I do not like tech stuff. I do it because it’s a necessary evil, but it is in fact evil. So adding a Google+ shareable button to your website, just as you would add something like a Twitter button or a Like this on Facebook button, it’s just a really good way of driving people to your content and to your Google+ profile, and just livening things up a little bit. And it enables people to give you a +1 if they like the blog post that they’re reading. It’s very, very quick and simple. They don’t actually need to go to Google+ to do it; they can just do it right there.

PW: Yeah. And if you use WordPress, there are I don’t know how many plug-ins that just make this easy, very easy.

LH: One more reason to use WordPress’s net. We love WordPress.

PW: If you want to, you can mess about with code and manually add your own button. However, there is no need to do that. If you do a search under plug-ins for social sharing–. Because I would recommend using, if you can, one plug-in for all your social sharing.

LH: Just so your buttons are all aligned and they’re all streamlined, and the branding is all the same.

PW: Exactly. So I would search for social sharing or something like that, and then choose a plug-in that you like the look of, the shares to the networks you want to share to. For me I think that’s like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest – because I’m quite a big Pinterester – Google+, but you know, whatever you want. But go for a plug-in. It makes it so easy. All you have to do is click which ones you want and there it is.

LH: And likewise you can add a follow button to your website, as well, so that people don’t just +1 the post that they have liked. They can come follow you. They can add you to their circles or they can just follow you.

PW: Yeah. And again, there are plug-ins that make that easy. If you’re using other platforms I’m sure there are equivalent ways of doing it, or if not, then you may have to head into your code, in which case we’d probably recommend finding a YouTube video to tell you how to do it.

LH: And don’t come near us. You can ask Pip, but don’t ask me.

PW: Shares and +1s, again, make it easy for people to share your content. The number of times, for instance – this is my pet hate – if I find a blog that I really like and I want to subscribe to it, and there is no RSS feed, there is no anything. And I want to say to them, “I am trying to follow your site in the long term.”

LH: Yeah. I’ve had the same thing. I’ve emailed people and got like, “I cannot follow your blog post like literary journals.” I’m like, “You come out monthly. I want to read you monthly.”

PW: Yeah. And it’s one of the reasons, because I listened to at least a thousand different podcasts, it’s one of the reasons I’ve always ensured with this one right from the start that we make it so easy to subscribe, because there are podcasts that I want to subscribe to that because I don’t use iTunes there’s often to other option, and I’m thinking, “I want to become a listener. Don’t make it so difficult.”

LH: I can hear rending your clothes.

PW: Oh, I can’t stand it. And this is the same. If somebody wants to share your stuff on Google+, make it easy, don’t make it difficult.

LH: 100% absolutely. And likewise, if you’re on Twitter, if you’re on Facebook, if you’re on Pinterest, make sure you cross-promote. Don’t forget to link to your Google+ updates, because if there’s any complaint about Google+ it’s what we mentioned earlier, that people don’t seem to be on there, so anything you can do to actually use, for our sake, as much as anything else – anything we can do to drive people over there and get people interested, and demonstrate to people that this is an active social media platform, and that you are posting useful things on it. It’s all the better. So link away from whenever you can.

PW: Definitely. I’m a big believer in that train of interlinking, you know, link to a specific update on Google+ on Twitter, and then chances are – I know when I see someone do that – chances are I might click. And I think, “Oh, I already followed them on Twitter. I may as well follow them on here, as well.” We’ve clearly got things in common, and it’s a great way to, like Lorrie says, attract more people to the platform, and also make more connections there.

LH: And also reminds me to post when I see someone else’s post and I go along and I give it a +1, I think I’m actually–. I have a postage for a few days I’ll post now.

PW: That’s it. Because as Lorrie said earlier it’s not really necessarily a place that you might go to hang out without thinking too much like Twitter might be or Facebook might be. And so, yeah, I am the same. I will periodically go, “Oh, I haven’t been on Google+ for a week. I’ll make an effort to go there.” So any kind of reminder is good.

Now another way to maximize the reach of your Google+ activities is a nice little feature they’ve added called Ripples. It’s a nice way of visualizing the reach that any post has. How it works is you look at any post, your own or other people’s, and in the top right corner there’s a little download arrow and when you click on that if this is something that has been shared or +1-ed or linked to elsewhere you will see an option in the drop-down box called View Ripples. And when you click on that you get this nice visualisation of big circles for people with a lot of influence, small circles for people with less influence and exactly how far that post is spread.

LH: Yeah, it’s really nice, and I think it is basically more an intuitive version of what Facebook has on their Pages, which is View Insights, which it’s handy, don’t get me wrong, but because things are so tied up on Facebook with paid advertising now, View Insights – I find it limited in its usefulness. You can’t view – as far as I know you can’t view public posts that your friends have posted or that you have posted. You can view the insights on those. It’s something that’s specifically for Pages and on page activity. Whereas Ripples, much like the name suggests, goes a lot further. Yeah, it can help you to identify people who are interested in the same things that you are. If you see there’s somebody with a big circle for influence has posted a shared version of a post that you like, then you might well go and have a nosy at that person, and you might follow that person. And it’s just good for tracking the effectiveness of post. If you see that something’s had loads and loads and loads of shares you can use that to inform your own posting in the future.

PW: Definitely. Now something to bear in mind that I discovered is that if you’ve posted something or someone’s posted something that has no interaction at all, then when you click the drop-down box View Ripples doesn’t appear. So don’t just think it’s not working. If the first thing you look at doesn’t have View Ripples. Try a few until you reach the one that’s got good exposure.

LH: I had a bit of confusion the first time I had to look, as well, because I had to look on my own profile at first, and I clicked on something and they had no option for viewing ripples. I thought, “What’s going on?” But then when I went down my timeline and had a look at some of the major influences, there’s a lot more activity, as well as the View Ripples option in the first place.

PW: That’s it. And the visualisation is also quite interactive, in that you can click on different circles and find out a little bit more about what’s going on. So it’s certainly interesting to have a play with and, as Lorrie says, if you can then use it to inform your future posting activity, then that’s extra good.

LH: Absolutely. Because, as we’ve said, Google+ for all its usefulness isn’t necessarily effortless in the same way that Facebook and Twitter can sometimes feel quite easy to use, and as Pip said, just quite easy to hang out on and chirp a little interaction here and there. So what you don’t want to be doing is going onto Google+ and posting stuff that is just not getting any interest. And it will take you a while to get used to it as a platform and to associate with people who are interested in the same things as you, and familiarize yourself with what tickles people’s fantasies and what doesn’t. And Google Ripple is just a really good way of speeding up that process, I think.

PW: Yeah, definitely. And it’s just another way of presenting the information, as well. It’s just that little bit. It’s nicer than looking at a list of percentages and…

LH: Absolutely. Things like Google Analytics get, I think quite deservedly, a bad rep. It’s a brilliant tool, but it’s not the easiest, and it’s maintained its reputation for being a bit of a pain in the bum. So Google Ripple is a nice departure from there. It’s lovely, and it taps into the usefulness of things like infographics.

PW: And so I hope that what we’ve said today will at least keep your interest in Google+. Some people will hate it as a tool, undoubtedly, but it’s definitely worth spending some time, and messing about and trying different things. Join up, join some communities, put some people in circles and look at what different people are talking about. Both of our Google+ profiles are listed on, so you can add us to your favourite podcasters circle or best freelance writers in the world circle. We’re both quite open to that, I think.

LH: Yeah, but don’t add anyone else, because that’s just offensive.

PW: Well, yes. And then come to our Facebook page at and tell us how you get on. Post a link there to your Google+ profile and we will take a look, and let us know what you think.

LH: So that brings us very neatly to the end of that part of episode 70, which can only mean only one thing. It’s the A Little Bird Told Me recommendation of the week.

PW: Cha-ching!

LH: Cha-ching!

PW: And so my recommendation this week is a phone app. Now Lorrie and I are both big fans of a little service called Boomerang for Gmail.

LH: It’s great!

PW: Now what Boomerang does is – there are two main features. One is it allows you to schedule emails for the future. The other great thing that Boomerang does is if you send an email, you can ask Boomerang to Boomerang it back into your inbox if you haven’t had a reply within a particular amount of time. And so say you’re sending a picture off to a company. And you send them a great email about why they need to hire you. What you want to do is then boomerang it so that if you haven’t heard back within say two weeks, that email will appear at the top of your inbox again, which can be a nice little reminder to do a follow-up.

LH: Uh-hmm. Like with the email scheduling it just takes it off your play and off your mind so you can focus on other things.

PW: Exactly. And so we both used Boomerang, and Boomerang has free service, and then if you use it more than a certain amount, a paid service. And I think we both use the paid service now.

LH: Oh, have you switched?

PW: I have switched.

LH: It’s great.

PW: Yeah.

LH: It’s such good value, isn’t it? I think it’s what…

PW: Oh, it’s incredible. It’s definitely worth it.

LH: But yeah, no, for the amount that I use it and the amount of the usefulness that it has it’s super, super good value.

PW: Anyway, my recommendation isn’t Boomerang itself. My recommendation is the Boomerang phone app. Now I downloaded it some time ago, and it was buggy and slow and not pretty, and so I never used it again. And then I read a blog post recently about how they’ve updated it and how it’s now amazing. And so I went back into my phone, I updated the app, and this blog post was right, basically. What Boomerang does on your phone is it offers you your Gmail inbox and an easy way to use it for scheduling your emails and for boomeranging your emails exactly as you can on your desktop. But you can also use it just for your general Gmail activity. So you can use it to send immediate emails or, you know, whatever you might normally do. And actually it’s so streamlined, and the user experience is so good that I’m actually now preferring it to Android’s own Gmail app, even when I’m not scheduling messages. If I’m just checking my email I’m doing it with the Boomerang app rather than the Gmail app at the moment.

LH: That’s fine. I think we need to make one particular point now, don’t we? About the signatures and the usernames.

PW: Oh, yes. This is true. Thanks to Lorrie I found out that it was–. It used the beginning of my email address as my username, rather than what I normally have set up. So that was embarrassing. I mean, if I was using it to contact clients it would use the beginning of my professional email address, at least, which is more suitable, but it would still be lower case with a full stop in the middle rather than normal. So yes. And also it has a kind of cheeky cutie little signature that says, “Typed with my phone and sent with love with Boomerang,” or something. And you can alter that in the settings and so, yes, so do.

LH: So yes, just keep an eye on these settings. Maybe send yourself a test email. But it sounds like a fab app, doesn’t it? I might well add that, as well, because I’m not super happy with Android’s own Gmail.

PW: It’s not great. It’s functional, but it’s not…

LH: It’s slow and blobby and clunky. No, it’s certainly worth having a nosy, because I’m spending a lot more time on my phone now.

PW: Same, yeah.

LH: Than I thought I would. So fab recommendation.

PW: And it’s a free app, so have a play with it and see what you like. Lorrie what is yours?

LH: My recommendation is an article from Mashable, actually. Funny that we mentioned Mashable earlier, because I am not a tacky person, but I do like Mashable. So if you haven’t subscribed, listeners, it’s well worth it, and now you see it’s very accessible.

PW: Mashable is great.

LH: Yeah, it took me a weirdly long time to get to subscribe to Mashable. I think because I’ve got the impression that it was just for techies, but no, it is very, very accessible, and the website’s very easy to kind of… You can go around and have a look at stuff that interests you, especially now that it’s got the magazine layout going on.

So this article by Mashable is the 5-step editing process for a perfect resume. Now, obviously, here, in the UK, we call resumes CVs. They’re different conventions, but what got me thinking that this might be a good article is that I know that both Pip and I, particularly recently, have worked on quite a number of CVs and covering letters. And I can’t speak for Pip, but the ones that I’ve seen have missed the mark by quite a way, while still not being actually badly written. That’s been the weird thing about them.

The grammar’s been fine, the language’s been fine, the person’s clearly got a lot of skills. I’ve dealt with quite a few people that are going for quite higher-level roles, but for whatever reason, CV and the covering letter turned into this big schmush of – I don’t know what you call it – rhetoric, I suppose. It’s like the CV-resume rhetoric. And there have been some silly mistakes. I’ve had somebody post that they work for a certain company, but actually that company’s gone bust and been bought up by another company.

So it would have been better to say what the company’s current name was. And this article goes over a lot of different tips. It’s five steps, so it’s really easy to go through and follow as a process, if you are doing your own resume or CV or covering letter. And it talks about all the kinds of things that you need to do. And it kind of zooms in, and I really liked that. That’s an approach to tech that I really like, that you look at the big picture, which is step one – considered the big picture here – but then you zoom in and you have a closer look and a closer look, so you have to look at your document. Then you have a look at the structure and your paragraphs, and then your lines, and then your words. I found that a very helpful approach when it comes to tech analysis, and self editing.

So if you’ve written up your CV, this is a really good article. It covers things like, “Does this sell you as the perfect candidate for the types of roles you’re seeking? Are there any gaps in the experience? So really resume/CV specific stuff.

But then it moves on to things like, “Can anything be quantified? Could anything benefit from examples?” And it’s things that people don’t think about. You tend to find that CVs and more usually covering letters are populated by things like, “I’m a passionate communicator.” Or “I work well in a team or independently.”

PW: And this is particularly interesting to me at the moment, because as Lorrie mentioned, I proofread an awful lot of CVs. But what’s particularly interesting to me at the moment is that I’m currently recruiting somebody. I’m in the process of hiring a member of staff, so I’m seeing them from that point of view, as well, where people are sending me their CV because they want the job. And the difference in quality and the difference in approach are just astounding. I had one exceptional application form that I couldn’t have written it better myself. Then I had someone who rather than bother with the application form sent me their civil engineering CV.

LH: Of course, because you’re advertising for a civil engineer, I’m sure.

PW: Quite. And there is everything in between those kind of extremes. And so I have hired, I have recruited before, but never for myself, always for whoever I was working for. And it’s really quite an interesting thing. And I think it will inform my future CV editing actually, as well as being an interesting process for this corrupt recruitment. But yeah, so many people need this kind of advice.

LH: They really do. As Pip says, the quality varies enormously. It’s absolutely enormous. And step four in this article is actually proofreading. So it really zooms in all the way from looking at context, looking at your facts, all the way to proofreading those words, making sure that you–. This is something that people really don’t do much anymore – making sure that your punctuation is consistent. If you’ve got bullet points, making sure that you don’t put full stops at the end of some of the points, and not at the ends of others.

PW: I had to do them on and on. It’s consistency… The CVs – so much of it is consistency. If you’re going to capitalize your job title in one job, do it for them all. If you’re going to bold it, bold them all.

LH: Yes. Absolutely. I had somebody a little while ago, and for some reason they capitalized half of their job title and then left the final word in the job title in lower case. And it was just really strange.

Step five in this post is to make sure it looks nice, so ti takes you all the way back to zooming out and having a look. Does the page look officially appealing? Is the page overly cluttered? Is the font too small? Is it difficult to read? Again, I had somebody send me a CV in Cursive – you know, like a scrolly font.

PW: Right, yeah, yeah.

LH: I don’t know, as though it was hand-written calligraphy? Obviously, needless to say, it did not get read. It went straight in the trash. But this is something that is crucial to you, if you want to apply for a job. And this is absolutely crucial, as well. A lot of this information is transferrable. When you’re sending pitch emails often, if you’ve been invited to pitch for something, or if you’ve been invited to apply for something, including a project. People might ask you for your CV or from a covering letter. I do very regularly, I recruit and I ask people to send me a covering letter telling me why they think they’d be a suitable person for you to outsource you. And the number of times I’ve had a covering letter that is just atrocious, it’s ridiculous. And these are from freelance writers. It’s outrageous.

PW: The first time I was asked for a writing CV I had been in the business fulltime for 18 months by then. And I think I’ve only been asked one of the time in my entire career, whereas the kind of outsourcing you do, you’ll see them a lot more often. The fact that I had to create then a writing CV was because sending my general job CV would have been entirely wrong. This person specifically wanted a writing CV, and that’s a very different deal to a general resume, a general CV.

LH: Absolutely. It completely needs to be tailored because otherwise, if you’re not addressing the points that were made you’re saying something about your own comprehension of the text, even if it’s just a job advert.

PW: Yeah, exactly. So for hiring a PI my applicants, some of them, had clearly filled in a job application form for a PA position, and others had gone through the motions and said nothing relevant whatsoever.

LH: And it’s quite insulting because you’re taking the time to read those applications. You’ve taken the time to write a job description or a brief, whether it’s for a job or a project. And then I think to people, “Why are you sending me this? Why do you actually think I’m going to hire you above somebody who’s made the effort?” And I think in some cases it’s a lack of effort, but I think in some cases it’s just silly mistakes.

And there’s a lot of information in this post. It’s really very detailed, and has very transferable skills. You’ll know it’s a bugbear of mine, Pip, and listeners, if you’ve been regularly listeners. Even up to the last podcast episode I’ve been talking about how angry, so angry it makes me when I get pieces of writing, no matter what they are, where silly little mistakes rule the roost, where punctuation and grammar and sentence structure and capitalization are all inconsistent. That’s all stuff that you will notice.

PW: If you get a piece of work that’s like the top half is in one font and the bottom half is in a different font, and they’re only slightly different, but one’s dark grey and one’s black and…

LH: That’s very common, isn’t it?

PW: Yeah. Part of it is justified and part of it is left aligned. You’re just thinking, “Oh, come on!”

LH: Yeah. Because freelance writing – it can look really easy. You’ve got to be careful not to get on a big ram here, so you just have to stop me. But it can look really easy, but it’s the devil really is in the details.

PW: So much. You know, I proofread a CV recently where the woman had spelled her own name wrong,

LH: Oh, no.

PW: And it’s easy, actually, when you’re proofreading a CV to almost skip the titles and the headings and things. I have to really rely on myself to double check those, because it’s easy for your eye to skip by them.

LH: On my own CV my name is in the header section, so it greys out, and it’s even easier to miss.

PW: That’s it. And so this woman had one of those names that has various spellings, and so there were already three or four options. And I was looking at the CV and I thought – because I have a name that nobody can spell, I’m really aware of how people spell their names. My brain just clocks that information. And I was looking at her name on the CV and thinking, “That’s not what her email said.” So I opened her email again, and the sender name and the name at the bottom had spelt in one way, and so I doubled check the CV again, and…

LH: Ahh, how embarrassing.

PW: So I send her an email and I said, “Do you spell that with an E or without?” And she was just like, “Oh, my God! I can’t believe I spelled my own name wrong.” It was actually a typo, but it was a legitimate spelling of the name at the same time. So yeah, that’s a great recommendation. You never know what stage in your career you might need a resume or a CV, even if you’re self-employed.

LH: Absolutely. It’s a very good, easy-to-follow process that, in my opinion, covers most if not all of the basics.

PW: Brilliant.

LH: So that, I think, brings us firmly to the end of A Little Bird Told Me, episode 70.

PW: Wow! 7-0! We’re doing good!

LH: I know. It’s quite frightening. I think we should have a little party when we get to 100, although if our Facebook page – this is my rant – is anything to go by, nobody will come to my party.

PW: That’s true. People, we know you listen. We see the figures. We get emails from you. You say hi on Twitter and LinkedIn. Why do you not talk to us on Facebook? With the exception of a few people…

LH: Yeah, we get likes on Facebook.

PW: We get likes and then…

LH: The brave Annie Kontor is soldiering on.

PW: And my friend Claire comments, she’s a loyal listener. Hello, Claire!

LH: Hello, Claire!

PW: But the rest of you, why are you so shy?

LH: Yeah. What we’ve decided actually – I think should end on this. What Pip and I have decided – and, of course, what it means is what I’ve decided, and dragged Pip into – is that…

PW: [laughter]

LH: Well, it’s true, come on. I’ll take the hit on that one. …is that Pip and I are not going to respond to any more private emails. What we’re going to do instead – of course, with your permission – is share your queries on the Facebook page and respond to them publicly so that other people can benefit. Because we get a lot of the same questions.

PW: Yeah. And we take out any identifying information or anything like that.

LH: Of course.

PW: But as Lorrie says, we often answer the same questions again and again, and that’s not only kind of – it takes up a lot of time sometimes, but also…

LH: Because we do both respond.

PW: We do. But also, if we’re getting asked a question, you’re probably not the only person who’s wondering it. So yeah, we thought if we posted responses on Facebook, or as Lorrie did last time – made her solo episode based on a question we’ve been asked – then it just benefits more people, really.

LH: It’s lovely. We do record this podcast for fun, and we do record it for the benefits that we get from doing all the research and having chats about topics that affect freelance writers. But we also do it to be useful, so if there’s any topic that you think you’d like to hear us cover, we’re all the happier to hear them.

PW: Absolutely.

LH: And so that’s about everything, I think.

PW: I think so. It brings us to the end of episode 70. Go to, subscribe, come to Facebook and say hi.

LH: Do it.

PW: Do it. You know you want to.

LH: You do. Until a fortnight’s time when the lovely Pip will be back with her next solo episode, I have been Lorrie Hartshorn.

PW: … and I have been Philippa Willitts, and we will see you then.


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Episode 69: How to hire a decent writer or editor, the dos and don’ts you need to know

Lorrie outsources some of her work to other freelance writers, and writers all over the world hire proofreaders and editors to help them to perfect their masterpieces. But how on earth do you go about finding the right person for the job? It can be a big decision, and a big responsibility, so in this episode of the podcast, Lorrie gives you the dos and don’ts you need to know.

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Podcast Episode 68: Working for free and the myth of ‘exposure’

Writers, stop working for free, and certainly never pay for the privilege!

if your business plan includes free content

We see it all the time, and it seems to be getting worse: business owners and media outlets put pressure on writers to work for free. Is there any benefit to this, or is the fabled ‘exposure’ they promise not worth a thing? In this episode, Lorrie and I look at the facts and share some rather strong opinions on the topic!

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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 68 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 world, but that doesn’t make it easy. Tune in to the podcast every week, and if you go to, you can subscribe from links on that page to ensure that you never miss an episode. We’ve made it really easy to sign up, whatever your favourite podcast technology is, and you will also find there any links we mention in the podcast, our own websites on social media feeds, and the frankly awesome A Little Bird Told Me Facebook page, too. I am Philippa Willitts…

LH: … and I am Lorrie Hartshorn, and today Philippa and I are going to be tackling one of our most loved and loathed topics. I think that’s fair to say, isn’t it?

PW: I think so.

LH: Today we are going to be talking again about working for free, because this is something that just won’t die. It’s getting worse almost, I would say.

PW: Yes. One of earliest episodes – was it episode 4?

LH: I think so.

PW: I will link to it in the show notes.

LH: All the way back.

PW: — was about working for free. And sadly, it’s not only not disappeared from freelancers’ radars, it’s if anything becoming more of an expectation.


PAY (Photo credit: tind)

LH: Yeah. And we are not happy about it, so brace yourselves for our latest episode in which we are going to cover all the things that we’ve noticed recently, all the trends that are going on in which sneaky people are trying to get you to work for free, and our thoughts on the situation, and how you can avoid getting sucked into that kind of exploitative working relationship.

PW: That’s it – how to handle it, really, how to handle these requests. And the idea for this episode’s topic came from an email that I received last week. Now I won’t name the company in question, but for the sake of this podcast Lorrie has helpfully named it Keith. And what Keith did is exemplify something that I’ve been seeing increasingly lately and it’s a worrying trend. The culprit – Keith – were a website that is pretty high-profile in its field, and its niche is one that I’ve been writing in a lot recently. So I’m on their email list, and I got an email from them entitled ‘Would you like to write for us – Keith?’ And I thought, “Well, yes, actually. Yes, I would. So I opened it.” And rather than it being full of details of how to apply or how to pitch, I found myself instead looking at a quite disheartening message. It says, “I’m looking out for talented writers who can contribute to our website. Contribution is free of charge –”

LH: [laughter] Wow.

PW: “We do ask for the article to be audience-focused, centred on fundraising, and not directly promoting your organization.”

LH: That’s generous.

PW: How kind of them. They don’t charge people.

LH: I know, wow. You don’t have to pay.

PW: Yeah.

LH: Amazing. I mean, I can understand why they said it in a way… There were still loads and loads, and way too many writers out there who will knock out rubbish guest posts in some desperate attempt to gather backlinks. I mean, you and I receive guest posts offers all the time, don’t we? You know, “I can write an amazing article for your website on – subject.” That’s like, “Wow, no thanks.”

PW: All I want in return is two do-follow links.

LH: Yeah. So I can understand trying to tell people that it shouldn’t just be promotional, but then to act like they’re doing you a favour by not charging you, that crosses the line by quite some distance, I’d say.

PW: Yeah. They want you to write for them. They’re not going to pay you.

LH: Already a bit of a warning sign.

PW: Well, yes. And they’re going to make it clear that while you’re not going to have to pay them for the privilege of providing them with free content, [laughter] we’re all very much to see that as a favour on their part.

LH: That’s lacking in self-awareness, I’d say, is about the kindest thing I could say. You know… No, it’s just silly. I mean, I had another incident of this recently. It was a for-profit company that I followed on Twitter. They put out a tweet asking for professional bloggers to get in touch urgently. Now being a professional blogger I did so, and I got an immediate and really enthusiastic, very cheerful email from them chirping about what a life-saver I was, and how they desperately needed content for their website straight away. And I said I’ll sign absolutely, but when I asked what the rate of pay was I was told that, ‘Unfortunately…’

PW: [laughter]

LH: It’s always unfortunate, isn’t it? The work wasn’t paid, but that I’d get great exposure, because they get a lot of traffic to their website – I didn’t get any figures – and they could tweet about me – Pip, brace yourself – to their 3,000 Twitter followers. Yeah, that’s just…

PW: Yeah. We, at the A Little Bird Told Me nest have long warned people against doing work for free if it’s going to be exploitative, and, sadly, writers and other freelancers being asked to do this is still incredibly common. And then this extra idea of paying others to publish you – if that becomes a sign of a new pattern emerging, then it’s one we’ve got to look out really carefully so that we can be armoured if it comes towards our general direction.

There’s a famous internet marketing forum that I occasionally check up on to keep an eye on what the latest is, and there’s a long thread recently where someone had explained his plan to set up a website that anyone could contribute to, and he was asking on the forum how much the readers would be willing to pay to have an article published on his site that, bear in mind, at this stage didn’t even exist.

LH: That’s ridiculous.

PW: And the awful thing was that people were responding to his question suggesting the different amounts of money they’d be willing to pay in order to get the backlinks associated with writing for him. So I responded that, you know, I don’t pay to write for people’s websites, I get paid to write for them. But the general discussion carried on. And while that site wasn’t planning to target writers, it was still promoting the idea that populating other people’s websites with something that we should be grateful for…

LH: I don’t understand it. I really, really, don’t. Because I don’t know if it’s wilful ignorance or what – backlinks from a website, they’re okay, they’re helpful, and they’re a good part of your content marketing strategy, but it’s not a one-way ticket to the top of Google.

PW: Well, no. And paid backlinks are against Google rules, so if they spot you, you’ll be banned.

LH: Awesome. Page 134 on Google.

PW: Exactly. And it will be clearly a site designed to put backlinks on rather than anything that Google will —

LH: How would it be good for your site?

PW: Yeah. Another situation that I came across a few weeks ago is similar, if not worse. I saw a tweet that said something like – I wonder how this conversation went. Client: “We want you to design us a logo.” Designer: “Great. What’s your budget?” Client: “Well, actually, we thought you might pay us.” Now, obviously, I was intrigued, so I clicked the link, and sure enough this was a company who had opened a competition that designers could enter, and they would use the winner’s design as their company logo.

LH: Okay. [laughter]

PW: Now many freelancers would object to this already. Designers in particularly are often under a lot of pressure to do this kind of spec work, where they create a complete design as an entry to a competition, and so it’s very much spec work on the off chance of a very small chance of eventually getting work. And so many designers see that in a similar way that Lorrie and I regard writing for free or blogging for free. It’s rough.

LH: You’re creating a finished piece of work. It’s like one of us writing a report.

PW: Exactly. It’s rough on the writer and the designer, but it’s also rough on the people trying to get money for what they’re doing, as well. But it got worse than that, the competition has an entry fee.

LH: [laughter]

PW: Designers have to pay them $25 for the privilege of having their work considered to be the logo for the Centre for Architecture and Urban Design in Los Angeles. Just everything is wrong with that.

LH: Yeah. There’s nothing right with that at all anywhere in this situation. That’s ridiculous.

PW: And despite a big Twitter backlash, I checked the site this morning and it’s all still the same.

LH: That’s outrageous. And the sad thing is you get a lot of people entering that competition.

PW: You will, because everybody wants their big break, and you just think, “Well, if I could spend a few hours and then get a really big gig, like being able to say that yeah, I designed the logo for the Centre for Urban Design and Architecture, that’d look great on my CV.” But the reality is there are other sites, like 99Designs, which work on a similar basis. You post a budget – they at least don’t pay to do the work – you post a budget and say what you want, and then as many designers as you want can submit an idea and then you pay the one you like best. And it’s the same thing with that. You can work full time submitting complete ideas and never getting paid for any of them because yours is not chosen.

"Your logo here"

“Your logo here” (Photo credit: jystewart)

LH: It just seems like pure laziness and just exploitation on the part of the client, really, because when you get in touch with somebody you talk to them about what you need and then you have discussions, you have initial discussions about how you’ll get a logo or an article or whatever you want to get.

PW: Exactly. Because I used to think – with a site like 99Designs I used to see the appeal of saying what you want, and then getting, say, 50 logos, and you could choose the very best one. And I used to really see the appeal of that. But now, like you say, I see it very differently, where actually the way to get exactly what you want is to work with somebody who can give you exactly what you want rather than —

LH: And to actually put some hard work in, rather than just sit on your butt and get other people to spend their time for free. I think it’s this kind of ‘if I can’t see it it’s not a problem’ attitude.

PW: Yeah. That’s it. And so we’re fully aware that it’s not just writers suffering this. The last time we talked about this on the podcast we’d mentioned it on Twitter, this topic, and we’d even heard from a woman who was a professional cake decorator.

LH: Oh, I remember her, yeah.

PW: Do you remember? And someone said to her, “Well, if we bring you flour and eggs and sugar, will you do it for free?” And that really highlighted how unreasonable a request this is.

LH: Yeah. I mean, when you put it in those terms rather than words and sentences and paragraphs, but cakes?

PW: Yes. And you instantly go, “Well, clearly there’s more to this than flour.” She’s clearly very artistic and this takes skill. But actually that’s the case will all of us.

LH: That’s outrageous, honestly. It makes me so cross. I’m struggling to stay not crossed right now.

PW: That’s one aspect of working for free that we’re aware of as a potentially rising trend, which is being expected to work for free and pay for the privilege. Now in a while we’re also going to talk about your more common-or-garden working for free, where at least it doesn’t cost you. But we also want to look at this ongoing issue of writers being expected to write for incredibly low pay. We’re not talking about being argued down by a couple of pounds. We’re talking about someone wanting 1,000 words for $7 – very low pay.

LH: Yeah. I was doing some research when we were planning this episode, and I came across something that I found really quite shocking. It’s a forum called Absolute Write Watercooler. It’s Absolute W-R-I-T-E.

PW: Of course.

LH: And on this forum there is actually a ban on criticizing unpaid or poorly paid work. It’s a writers’ forum.

PW: Now if that’s not defensive behaviour I don’t know what it is.

LH: Yeah. Now on one particular thread that I had a read of is a couple of years old now, but one poster on there is actually told off by a moderator for questioning a roll that’s described as part-time or full-time, has a turnaround of 24 hours for 3-4 500-word blog posts, and pays $5 per article. So the commenter is a user called Shadow Ferret comment —

PW: Obviously. [laughter]

LH: Obviously, of course it would be. It wouldn’t be something like Dave Smith for the sake of the podcast. No, it’s called Shadow Ferret. He comments, “I’m always intrigued by people who want something written but won’t pay professionally to get it.” $5 per a 500-word article and expecting 3-5 articles a day. That’s nearly full time work, and all you can expect to make is $25 a day. So it’s basically the same point that we’ve just made. Now the reply from the moderator is swift and in my opinion really shocking. It features excerpts from previous posts from the then owner of the site. And it reads, “I can understand your point, Shadow Ferret, but discussions like this one are the reason the Paying Markets Board was closed to comments for almost two years, and why we now have a rule against such discussions.” They’re really engaging with the topic then.

The post continues. There’s a really predictable history on this board, and these are the excerpts. Someone posts a low-paying job. Lots and lots of people post complaints about the low pay. It’s tiring. Now you’d think they’d take the hint instead of assuming that lots and lots and lots of writers are just stingy arseholes. But I suppose not. Instead, they’re besieging writers who are offended by low pay to just not apply and not say anything, because it obviously solves the problem of prices being driven down to a level way below living wage.

PW: Yeah. The problem isn’t people complaining about rubbish pay. The problem is rubbish pay.

LH: Exactly.

PW: And this whole thing about “Well, if you don’t like it, don’t apply” is the same argument as if you complain about racism in a TV programme and then someone says, “Well, if you don’t like it, don’t watch.” But it’s bigger than that. It doesn’t solve – there’s a bigger problem.

LH: Yeah. It doesn’t solve anything. And now the person that I’m quoting in these excerpts is the former owner of Absolute Write, and this is a ghost writer named Jenna Glatzer. And I did a little bit of looking around. On her Twitter profile Miss Glatzer claims to have written Celine Dion’s authorised biography.

PW: Wow.

LH: On her website she also states that she writes regularly for celebrities, and she states in her FAQs that “I charge a flat fee for ghost writing proposals, and I warn you that I’m not cheap.”

PW: Right.

LH: And not only does she actually charge for her ghost writing services quite rightly, she charges for proposals. And if you can bet your ass it’s not a $5-fee.

PW: No, she seems very clear that she doesn’t work for low prices.

LH: Funny that, yeah.

PW: Isn’t it.

LH: And back to Jenna’s comments on Absolute Write, she continues, “Please, if a job doesn’t pay enough to make it worth it for you, just don’t apply. There’s no need to post a complaint about it. If there’s something dishonest about the job, or if you want to raise other questions, that’s fine. But please, enough with the posts just to say, ‘Wow, that pay stinks.’ That almost never changes anything.”

PW: To be honest, if I run that forum it might change something because it might change my opinion of posting jobs like that in the first place.

LH: Yeah, especially if you’re a self-proclaimed not a cheap writer working for a variety of multi-millionaire clients.

PW: That’s it. Other circumstances you’d want to say, “Good for her. She’s made it. She’s doing very well.” But it’s just that enthusiasm’s dampened, isn’t it?

LH: Well, it’s like climbing up the ladder and standing on the heads of other freelance writers, because this forum that she owned has now been sold to somebody else, and I’m pretty sure that she didn’t sell it for $5.

PW: That seems unlikely.

LH: So Jenna goes on. “Complaining about pay rates only serves a few purposes. It scares off others who would post jobs here, and it makes hobbyists and new writers feel bad if they take low paying jobs, and it makes me grumpy.” Apparently, writers still weren’t happy with that, which prompted —

PW: Fairly enough.

LH: Weirdly enough – prompting Glatzer to ban what she called “snooty writers” from complaining about low rates. Because she deleted their posts and changed the commenting options on the job boards to announcement-only with responses only allowed by moderators. Now fast forward by two years and she comments, “We’re giving you all another chance. Please don’t abuse it and make us go back to announcements only.” So complaining about unfairly low pay rates, which the founder of the forum won’t personally accept is abuse. And what really sums this up for me, what really is the cherry on the cake, on the free cake.

PW: [laughter] Freely decorated.

LH: I know. What really sums it up for me is this tiny little comment in the middle of all of it, which reads, “Note: Absolute Write is a low-paying market. I’d really rather not feel like I can’t post our needs on our own board.” So Absolute Write can’t protect the writers that use the forum from exploitative employers because they are one.

PW: It’s so bad, because I know freelancers when they’re starting out really seek out blogs and websites and forums, to give them confidence and to learn about the trade.

LH: To reduce isolation of the job, because this is a very isolating job, and I think a lot of confidence issues with freelance writers come from the fact that you’re on your own and you’re handling it all on your own.

PW: Yeah. And so I lucky, many people were lucky in that they found actually the great blogs to be reading in that niche, and things that told me and know in certain terms I was entitled to decent money for what I was doing, that I was entitled to not be earning £4/hour when I broke it all down. And with that expectation and belief I was able to negotiate good deals for myself. I hate the thought of someone instead finding a site like that and thinking, “Oh, this site is about freelancing and they pay. Let’s have a look. Oh, they pay $5 an article.” But then thinking, “Well, this is obviously how it works.”

LH: Yeah, because she’s a freelance writer. This one is a successful ghost writer. Apparently this must be how you do it. And ordinarily I would feel torn about criticizing another writer so openly, and I’ll be honest, especially a woman, because it’s not easy. But I’m pretty much getting to snapping point with the attitude that writers are unreasonable and greedy and snooty for wanting to be paid for their work. I cannot see any reason that anybody that expects decent money for their own services to encourage other people to work for pennies or even nothing. It’s not acceptable.

PW: Yeah. And one of the ways that people often try to get people to work for nothing is the suggestion that if you write for us for free you’ll get great exposure. Hurrah! Now there will be the very, very odd occasion when it might actually be worth writing for free to get exposure to a particular audience. However, what you need to remember is that despite what people tell you in the vast, vast, vast majority of cases it is not worth it. Most of these opportunities won’t give you any exposure at all, and even those that do… Exposure isn’t the same as money in the bank.

LH: No. And if you get exposure for writing on a well-known platform that doesn’t pay all you’re doing is exposing yourself to people who go, “Oh, they write for free.”

PW: Very true.

LH: Awesome. More free clients, yes!

PW: Carol Tice, who runs the blog ‘Make A Living Writing’ —

LH: She’s great, isn’t she?

PW: She is. And that’s actually one of the blogs I was talking about earlier, one of the ones that set me up to demand decent prices for myself. — wrote a blog post recently that I linked to. She looked at the websites of three different people who had approached her offering her the exciting chance to write for them for free.

LH: [laughter]

PW: Now Carol Tice is, amongst other things, a very successful journalist who writes for Forbes magazine. She knows what she’s doing.

LH: She’s like one of the most popular online freelance writers out there. Every article she writes has hundreds and hundreds of comments.

PW: Yeah. She’s got the magic.

LH: She has. She’s great.

PW: Yeah. So she’s looked at these three different people that approached in different ways – I think one on Facebook, one by email. And she found that each of the sites that they were offering her the exciting chance to write on got not traffic, whereas she has a mega-successful website. They don’t, and yet they think they’re doing her a favour.

LH: Is this short-sightedness, isn’t it? Because with a lot of these free opportunities for exposure is part of the business plan, isn’t it? I will have lots of free content and then my site will make lots of money, and then I will get lots of advertisers and hurray, ching-ching all the way to the bank.

PW: And this whole thing of putting you in a business plan has got to such a ridiculous degree that I pitched the magazine and they liked my pitch and wanted my feature, and I asked about the fee, and they said, “Oh, you know what it’s like. We’re start-up. We didn’t budget for it.” Do you remember this?

LH: Yes. You’d just been to that content marketing show, haven’t you?

PW: Yes, exactly. And this was a magazine! And the magazine’s business plan hadn’t budgeted for writers.

LH: Amazing. [laughter]

PW: So no surprise that other businesses don’t budget for them if the magazine thinks that, obviously you try to then persuade me to do it for exposure, and then eventually ask my fees, interestingly.

LH: What a joker.

PW: Yeah. But there’s this thing of not putting email in your business plan. If you’re going to need something on your website or on your brochure, or on a leaflet, then it doesn’t come out of the air.

LH: Yeah. If your business plan doesn’t work without free content, your business plan doesn’t work. It’s a rubbish business plan. If you need content – I’m pretty sure you do, if you’re going to have an online business – and you don’t budget for it, then you might as well just upload an empty website – ridiculous.

PW: Yeah. You’ve messed up your planning, you need to start again.

LH: Yeah. Plan fail. Go and find yourself some funding from somewhere. Go and work a job somewhere for a while, dip into your savings and fund some bloody content rather than expecting content for free.

PW: And the content is what’s going to bring people to your website, is what’s going to persuade people to buy from you.

LH: It’s everything. It’s what’s going to appear on Google.

PW: It’s not incidental. Yeah, it’s not incidental to your success or failure. It’s business.

LH: No. it’s not just optional. Well, I’m going to talk about an example that happened to me recently. And one point that I wanted to make before that, though, is that when people offer to publish you for exposure – and that sounds like a good thing to you – what comes into my mind is that the best way for a freelance writer to become well-known and get real exposure is for them to market themselves properly. You don’t need to appear on some chump’s website for free, It’s ridiculous. Don’t bother wasting your time making money for somebody else.

PW: Yeah. Marketing is all about getting yourself out there.

LH: Absolutely. So get yourself out there. Promote your work properly, have a decent website, have an active, engaging social media feed or two, and you will have absolutely no trouble getting plenty of exposure.

PW: And if you decide that part of your marketing plan is to do some strategic guest posting, then do that on the basis of making your own choices about where to approach. Don’t do it on the basis of some chancer dropping in your email box and saying, “Do you want to write for our factory seconds shop?”

LH: Yeah. I mean, have a look at popular sites that match your interests and your expertise.

PW: And where your potential clients hang out. That’s the thing.

LH: Yeah. Absolutely. So if you’re a trade and industrial writer like me, you might go in and have a look at the trade and industrial publications, and see if they’re taking any guest posts, or see if they welcome features from people.

PW: Because they’re not going to be checking out Mr Factory Seconds’ website, just in case there was a good writer on there once.

LH: No, it’s bloody ridiculous. It’s completely stupid. Plus, most of these start-up businesses, they’re not going to get anywhere, especially if they’ve got a rubbish business plan. So you’re just going to throw your writing into the ether, sit there on some rubbish website that’s possibly going to get blacklisted.

PW: And it’s certainly less popular than your own if you’re doing something right.

LH: Yeah, absolutely. And this is what made me laugh about that stupid printing company telling me that they’d tweet about me to their 3,000 followers on Twitter. I’ve got 2,700 followers on my own account, plus another hundred or so on my Facebook. Plus we have this podcast, plus we have the Facebook page for it, plus I promote myself via newsletter and other means. There’s no way I need some random chancer with a load of bots following him to tweet about me like it’s going to transform my business into a FTSE 100 Company. Naïve at best.

PW: Exactly. I mean, we’re doing alright. The key is all Twitter followers of which we both have a good number, they’re interested in what we do, whereas your printing guy had Twitter followers interested in printing, presumably, which is hardly your target audience. We’ve got podcast listeners, Facebook friends, LinkedIn connections. And the key to that is that we worked hard to maintain the relationships on all of those platforms. So in order for work for exposure to be significant enough to take our time out of doing that someone would need to offer significantly more than a few tweets.

LH: Way more.

PW: There was one instance when I did write for free. I think I’ve talked about it on the podcast before, and it doesn’t sit well with me because it was for a profit-making company, whereas my free writing is almost exclusively for non-profit. But I made a decision in that instant that it was worth it, and it was for a national newspaper with a very good readership. And even with that audience I didn’t do it for this mythical exposure thing, because even with that volume of audience it didn’t lead directly to any work or even any contact. However, I decided for myself that it was worth it so that I could add that newspaper to my list of places I’ve written for. A one-off piece of writing to improve my quotes indefinitely, that’s all it was. And for me it was a tough choice, but it was one that’s worked, although it still doesn’t sit comfortably with me as I said. I fundamentally object to writing for free for anyone who makes a profit. However, there will be times when it seems like more of a tempting offer, and for me that was one, but do bear in mind I wrote for a national newspaper and the exposure didn’t do anything.

LH: And I think a key point it to remember, as well, is that you wrote about something you’re passionate about.

PW: Yes.

LH: You led on the subject. You weren’t dictated to. It wasn’t please write X, Y and Z. And you wrote about something that you write about for free for non-profits, as well, so it’s really an area of expertise for you. I mean, it is a tough line. I wouldn’t necessarily criticise you for it. I can see why it doesn’t sit well. But in an ideal world, which should be a fairer one for writers, it wouldn’t have been a choice that you had to make, because a national newspaper which comprises all necessarily content would actually pay for content.

PW: That’s it. And I made that decision knowingly, and I am still glad to be able to list a paper in my quotes, but I do also feel resentful that they don’t pay their blog writers, and I hate having contributed to that. Plus, it bears repeating. Even writing on that platform didn’t expose me to more work. So if it’s jumped-up fellow with an empty website and a vague idea for a business it’s really, really not going to get you any work.

LH: Yeah, I think, you know, like I said before, I think the topic is an important one to you, and I think it was good for you, as well. You know, one of the benefits that you got with being able to express those thoughts and opinions to a wider audience and raise awareness of that. So I don’t think it was an entirely cynical thing, knowing you as well, but… It’s difficult, isn’t it? And it’s a slightly different thing, but again, one more reason to laugh at this printing mogul – I was asked by the owner of Bizitalk – and that’s one of the most popular business hashtags on Twitter – whether they could re-share one of the blog posts that I published on my website. So I said fine. I had already posted the work, so it was really no effort for me. I just had to say, “Yeah, that’s fine.” So they tweeted it numerous times an hour to an interested audience of business owner. And I write for business owners – that’s who my clients are. And they’ve got about 150,000 followers, so it’s slightly more than 3,000, and that’s not counting their smaller satellite accounts. And they posted a link to that blog for days on end. I’m talking numerous times an hour because this is what they do, they’re advertisers.

PW: If it’s one thing Busy Talk are very good that it’s self-promotion.

LH: Exactly. And they prefaced the link with the fact that I’m their top blogger. They got record traffic for my article, and basically the bee’s knees. And they even gave me a mention in their monthly newsletter. I got literally no work from it. And I’ve got an active social media profile, I’ve got an updated very nice neat website, I was interacting with people. I interact regularly on Twitter, Facebook, whatever. I got nothing. I go a few new followers, but that doesn’t count for anything.

PW: Exactly. And we both offered that work for free, we both made a considered decision to do so, and while I don’t regret it, and Lorrie doesn’t regret it, it does go to show that you’re just not going to persuade of the exposure will pay the bills. It may serve other purposes for you and you’re always entitled to make your own decisions on this stuff. And as we said, they’re not always easy decisions, but don’t be seduced by the idea without thinking it through realistically.

English: University of Cambridge. University Hall

English: University of Cambridge. University Hall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

LH: No, absolutely not. There was a case, too, at the end of last year here, in the UK, and there’s a novelist, critic and journalist called Philip Hensher, and he was shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize a couple of years ago, so he’s a pretty decent writer. And he was asked by an academic at Cambridge University – and it’s fair to say it’s one of the wealthiest educational establishments in the country. He was asked to write a preface for this academics book for free or, as it later transpired, in return for books. Because we all know that books can completely be used to pay the gas bill. But when Hensher refused to do that he was dubbed “priggish and ungracious” by this professor of German, Andrew Weber.

PW: Because, of course, think of the exposure he’d have got having written a preface to someone else’s book.

LH: I know. Obviously. When I’m looking to hire a writer what I do is I go and look at books, and then check who wrote the preface…

PW: Unless they haven’t written any prefaces, then off the list.

LH: Yeah. It’s no good, is it? But going back it, it smacks of pure sulkiness to me, it smacks of infantile sulkiness. If you want a Man Booker Prize shortlisted novelist and write a preface for your book because, frankly, who wouldn’t? It’s because it’ll look awesome to have someone introducing you, but what a cheek! What a pure cheek to suggest that you should get something that you really want and something that will really benefit you for free, just because you want to. I mean, it makes no sense.

PW: And it’s not even just that they expected him to do it for free. It was that when he refused, which is fully within his right to, they insulted him for it.

LH: I mean, talk about a lack of self-awareness. He must have been so… It’s Andrew Weber, I think, professor of German. He must have been so comfortable in his position so his entitlement to this free work from somebody he’d never communicated with before, who had nothing to gain from it, except a few books. He was so comfortable with that he called him “priggish and ungracious.”

PW: So rude.

LH: That is so rude. And again, it’s worth noting at this point – let’s go back to Jenna Glatzer – that according to The Times Higher Education the average Cambridge professor can you guess what they earned in 2011-2012?

PW: Well, it wouldn’t be fair if I did, because I can see it on our notes in front of us.

LH: Got it. Wow, listeners, they earned £79,022 on average.

PW: They’re not typical starving academics, then.

LH: No, I’d say not. And I’m guessing they’re not paid in books, as it’s quite common for everybody else than writers, it seems, in the currency of the realm, i.e. cash.

PW: There was a brilliant blog post that did the rounds years ago, where a man wrote to British Gas and said that he couldn’t afford to pay his bill for £62.67, and so would they please instead accept his drawing of a spider which he had valued to be worth £62.67, and they refused and sent it back.

LH: That’s so ungracious and priggish.

PW: And it was all – I will link to it if I can find it, because it’s a long ongoing interaction that ended up very funny.

LH: It’s good that they sent the spider back, though. That’s fair, I suppose, rather than just keeping the spider.

PW: We’re going to look now at a few reasons why you shouldn’t work for free. We’ve looked at why it’s not especially healthy to your business, but there’s plenty more reasons why actually it’s something you should avoid, and the most obvious reason that you shouldn’t work for free is that you presumably have bills and you need to eat and clothe yourself and keep a roof over your head. It’s the same reason that anybody with a job has a job.

LH: Yeah. I mean, you wouldn’t just get up at 7:00 AM on a Saturday and go into the office for nothing.

PW: That’s it.

LH: Yeah. I mean, one thing that gets me about working for free and allowing businesses to maintain this idea that there are people who deserve to be paid and people who don’t deserve to be paid, and that writers are firmly in the second category, is that it means that writing is only a profession for people who are already well-off. I resented it when I read it on the Absolute Write forum when it said “hobbyist writers.”

PW: Yes. That’s such a demeaning term, isn’t it? It just dismisses any professionalism you may think you have.

LH: And let’s be honest, it’s bollocks. I’m getting really cross, but it’s complete bollocks. Who for a hobby writes up to 5 500-word articles a day for $5 each on topics like software and the healthcare system, which is what this random – it was basically an article distribution service. So you’re looking at all kinds of industrial, commercial, you know, topics that people don’t write about as a hobby.

PW: Yeah. So all of which need research and writing and checking.

LH: Yeah, it’s not a hobby. It’s such bullshit. And basically saying “hobbyist writers” is the same as writers who work for free. You know, a hobbyist, my God! It makes me so cross. And we’ve all seen those magazine internships in the US being auctioned off, and I think there was one that was unpaid, obviously. It was an editorial internship at Teen Vogue, and it went for $85,000.

PW: And these unpaid internships are ruining it for everybody, frankly. I know people trying to break into various aspects of TV and radio broadcasting, and even if you’re not having to pay to get an internship, you still need to be in a position where for 3 months or 6 months you can cope with no income.

LH: Usually it’s people who’ve got mommy or daddy on the end of the phone, and that’s not their fault.

PW: Yeah. They move back home or their parents will pay for it, but most people don’t have that, and so they are automatically excluding a massive number of people because they don’t have 6 months of living expenses in the bank.

LH: Absolutely. If you can’t live for free and just get say your sandwich and then your travel paid for, then apparently you’re not committed enough. And there are plenty now of professions where, unless you’ve done unpaid internships or just internships – I forget to mention the unpaid generally.

PW: It’s always the same.

LH: Yeah, those are completely the same. They don’t care whether you were paid or not. Unless you’ve done internships, you’re no good. So things like fashion, broadcasting, as Pip said, radio, things like that, editorial, publication, you know, things like that. It’s ridiculous.

PW: Actually thinking about that thing of whether internship meant the same as unpaid internship – I think it must do now because I’ve seen on Twitter recently a few charities and non-profits saying “apply for our paid internship.”

LH: Oh yeah, they specify the other way around.

PW: And “paid” is in capital letters, with big exclamation marks, because it’s such a novelty.

LH: I always retweet those.

PW: I do, too. And I refuse to retweet unpaid internships, no matter how good the opportunity or no matter how good a charity. If it’s a charity…

LH: Do you know who is offering an unpaid internship recently?

PW: Go on.

LH: Simon Cowell.

PW: [laughter] ‘Cause he’s skint.

LH: Isn’t he a billionaire?

PW: Oh, at least.

LH: At least. What is he, a trillionaire?

PW: [laughter] Gazillionaire. Another reason that writing for free causes problems is that it devalues what you do, devalues what we all do. If you’ve got somebody who has a gang of writers happy to write whatever they want, just in case they get a mention on a website, then why should any of those people, be it the commissioning person or the writers, actually value what writers do? There’s no motivation in there at all to take what we do seriously, and to ever get in a position where you can earn a decent wage from it.

LH: Yeah. The number of times I’ve gone on these websites and seen something that appear to have been written by a five-year old with an access to a keyboard is ridiculous. You’re looking at work that’s been hammered out in ten minutes. It makes no sense, half of it has been ripped from somewhere else, it’s plagiarised and… To be honest, I get really cross, and I mean really cross when I see so-called professional writers on business forums say, or social media platforms, snapping up or even creating and offering opportunities where they will work for free for business.

PW: She’s not lying, because she then emails them to me. She is incredibly cross and I join her.

LH: I’m so cross because I want to shake these people. Honestly, if you were a writer and you are out there thinking, “Yeah, I’ll write for some company or some for-profit company for free” I’m cross with you. And all the business owners I see swarming around them like flies – it’s nauseating, and it shows off the worst of human nature, to my mind, expecting something for nothing and being sulky and rude about other people wanting to pay their bills.

PW: Yeah. I use an Android phone app all the time called Bus Scout. I will give it a little promo because it’s marvellous. Wherever I am in the country it uses my GPS to find me and it shows me the nearest bus stops, shows me which buses go there, where they go to, when it’s due. And I use this app all the time.

LH: That’s brilliant.

PW: If I’m in a part of town I don’t know, or a place I don’t know, I use it to find out how to get from A to B. If I’m getting my usual bus home I use it how far away that bus is, because it will say “3 minutes away” or “8 minutes away”, whatever, so it’s brilliant. And I use it several times a week and have done for a long while. And then a few months ago a popup came up when I used it. And it said, “Service is guaranteed to remain free, but one aspect of it, which is if you want to click through to the timetable of each bus that we list, we’re going to have to start charging for because the server costs are too high.”

So I thought, “Okay. Well, I’ll see how much it is and then make a decision.” So I click through and this guy wanted $2.99 a year.

LH: [laughter] Steady…

PW: And I thought, “Well, I use this app all the time. I do use the timetable function, and $2.99 a year – I can do that, that’s fine.” So I instantly subscribed. I was happy to, and I felt good that I could support presumably some lad in his bedroom who’s created this thing.

LH: Brilliant app.

PW: Yeah. That I use all the time. And so I thought, “I value the app. I’m happy to pay that amount.” But then next time I looked at it in the Play Store it suddenly got a load of negative reviews from people going, “I can’t believe you have to pay for this. It’s outrageous, it’s disgusting. I used to think this app was great, but I’m uninstalling it now.”

LH: Scumbags.

PW: And I’m thinking, well, first of all, most of the app is still free. It’s fully functional. You just can’t access specific timetables, but also he wants $2.99 a year. Now if you really think it used to be a great app, then it’s still a great app… And so I made a point of leaving positive feedback for the guy, in particular mentioning what a great bargain it was that actually, too. And this is the same entitlement, isn’t it?

LH: Yeah.

PW: People want it, they want it now, and they want it free.

LH: It’s outrageous. It’s so disappointing, honestly. You kind of feel betrayed by other writers doing it. I remember I was on a business forum, and I was there working hard and stuff, and talking to people, and doing all this relationship marketing that I don’t enjoy it. I like being with my books and my words, and my writing. I don’t particularly like chin-wagging to people about business. It’s just part of the job that I have to do. And there was this writer on there, and he started this thread saying, “Who wants free articles?” And basically he was offering free articles on any subject to business owners in return for backlink. And the business owners – honestly, it’s pathetic – they were all awed.

PW: I can imagine – scrambling for the scraps.

LH: It was so nauseating. I can’t express how disgusting I found it. They were all like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. DM me, DM me. Email me, email me, email me.” And I’m like, “You people are advertising the fact that you have no idea about content marketing.” Not the businesses, not the writers. And that’s the writer who one day will feel ashamed of being such sell-out.

PW: If I was looking for a writer, an online writer – these days online writers need some SEO basic knowledge. Even if you’re not looking for an SEO writer, you still need to know the basics. And so if you’re thinking, “I need a writer who knows the basics of SEO,” this guy clearly doesn’t. So he’s doing himself no favours. He’s going to give out a lot of work that’s going to be half-hearted because he’s not getting paid for it.

LH: Probably badly written.

PW: Probably the people who receive it aren’t going to value it because all they had to do was reply to a forum post.

LH: What are they going to do with it? Just bang it up on their website? That’s going to look awesome.

PW: Yeah, they’ll throw up somewhere on their site that doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a waste of everybody’s time. And then he’s not going to get any of those businesses come back to him and say, “That was so good. We’d like to pay you now.”

LH: Why would they? It makes no sense.

PW: Exactly.

LH: But what they’re also not going to do is come to me and pay thousands of times more for the writing that I’m going to do for them than the £0-writing that he’s going to do.

PW: Yeah. I have a regular client that I do a few blog posts for a week, and when I was first negotiating with them – or not negotiating even, you know, just talking with them about —

LH: Bashing things out.

PW: Yeah, what they wanted and what I could offer. And Andy, who I was speaking to on the phone said, “Well, ideally what we’d like is a few kind of test articles”, which if you’ve done freelancing for any amount of time, that pulled alarm bells, isn’t it? It’s like, “Oh, test articles…” Because there are businesses who will go around getting two test articles off every writer they find, and then they have a complete website. It’s inconsistent and it makes no sense, but it’s complete. And so, of course, my alarm bells instantly went off. But he said, “Obviously, we’ll pay you for the test articles, and then we can see how they go.”

LH: And an angel started to sing around you.

PW: I know. Exactly. But I didn’t even have to say, “I don’t do test articles for free.” The fact that it was him that suggested that he would pay me for them – I knew from the start that he considered what I did valuable. I knew that he respected what I did and so it was the start… And it worked. They liked my test articles which they paid for.

LH: Yeah. And I bet you put a lot of effort into those test articles, as well.

PW: Of course I did.

LH: I mean, knowing you, you put effort into everything.

PW: But yeah, it continues to be a very respectful and equal relationship, whereas if it had started off with me offering a freebie in return for a backlink, how could that ever be a proper professional relationship?

LH: No, it’s ridiculous. I had an email from a freelance writer and editor who wrote – I’ve kind of mentored her a little bit. She got into it after I did, and I did my best to look out for her, because, like I said, it’s an isolating career and…

PW: We’ve all been there.

LH: So anyway, she emailed me the other day, and she said, “Can I just get your opinion on the below?” And there was an email thread below. And, of course, I didn’t mind. And I looked down. To her credit, actually, because I’ve never known this to work for anybody else, she had contacted a guy, an owner of a small publishing independent publishing house, and said, “I’m a professional proof-reader. I’ve had a look at your website, and I’ve noticed it’s full of mistakes. Would you be interested in my proofreading services?” And he got back to her – and that’s where I’m saying, “Wow! It’s never worked for anyone else I know.”

PW: Yes. I know we’ve both done that, and it’s never happened.

LH: It’s never worked. So he got back to her, and they had a little to-and-fro and he said, “Actually, I’m just trying to get the website up at the moment, so I would just stuck whatever on there.” And she said, “Well, you know, that’s not going to do your reputation any favours, because people are going to read that content. It’s badly written.” And they got talking, and he basically said, “Do you do book editing, as well?” And she said, “Yeah. Absolutely.” And she has some brilliant experience. And she said, “Yes, I do do book editing.” And he sent her over a chapter of some stupid sci-fi novel to do as a test edit. This is when she got in touch with me and said, “What do I do? Because he wants me to edit this for free, to see whether I’m any good.”

And I said, “Well, I wouldn’t edit it for free. I think he’s a complete chancer, and if he wants his book editing, he can bloody well pay for it.”

PW: Yeah. I remember you had a situation a year or two ago with some translations. And you did some test translations, because it’s kind of – with editing and translation it’s kind of hard to show what you can do because it involves a before and after and that kind of thing. And yeah, I remember you did some test translations, and then they never got back to you, because they never got back to anybody.

LH: No.

PW: Because they had got everything done as a test. And it’s so easy to fall into.

LH: Yeah. And immediately I advised this woman to get back to him and say, “I’m happy to edit it. This is what it will cost you.” I was like, “Don’t make a big thing of it. Just work out the fee, and tell him you’d be happy to do that. I’ve got some space next week, and this is what it will cost. If you have to go ahead, I’ll do that for you, and you can see what you think.” And all of a sudden the project was on hold. That was it. Immediately she got response: The project’s on hold. Thanks very much.

PW: I got an inquiry a week or two ago by someone who should have been a really good fit. I should have been a really good fit for them. They should have been a really got fit for me. The site was health related, which is one of my areas, and it was all looking really promising until I mentioned my fees, at which point – and this is what-, they just disappeared.

LH: No.

PW: That’s what makes me angry. They didn’t even say, “Sorry. It’s out of our price range at the moment”, which I’d have some respect for. They just disappeared, and it’s clearly the fees. My fees, listeners, aren’t extortionate. They’re also not cheap. They’re right place.

LH: They’re reasonable.

PW: They’re where they should be.

LH: Yeah, absolutely, completely reasonable for a woman of your skills, experience and expertise.

PW: That’s it. And I have much more respect for another who got in touch with me last week asking about press releases, and I said how long a press release takes me, and therefore I explained the price. He got back to me and said, “I fully understand your workings out. It makes a lot of sense to me. However, for my clients at the moment that’s not a fee I can work with.” And he wasn’t expecting me to drop my fee. He was just letting me know…

LH: It’s just not a problem, is it?

PW: Yeah. And that’s absolutely fine. You’ll get several inquiries for every client you end up landing. Part of the job is just dealing with inquiries, and you know that most of them or at least some of them won’t go anywhere. But be straight with somebody. If it’s too expensive don’t try and talk them down. Just say, “Sorry, at the moment, I can’t stretch to that.” It’s not hard.

LH: Yeah. I mean, just as you’ve experienced this, I’ve had prospective clients basically smack down perfectly reasonable fees suggested by me for being far too high. And again, it’s this entitlement thing. I’m like, “No. I know what a reasonable fee is.” And you work out, and they want a writer with a degree and a masters, and 12 years’ experience in freelance writing to work for something like £5 an hour. It’s utterly ludicrous. When I see other writers pandering to this it really does get my goat. Because we both know it’s hard, we both know it’s hard to get started as a freelance writer, but I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, and I will keep saying it – I never had to work for free to get my business going, nor did I land on my feet, nor did I have mommy and daddy paying, nor did I have a safety net. I went out and I found paying opportunities, and okay, I earned less than I do now, but it was still paid work that helped me to live.

PW: And we’ve both been in the business for long enough to have tales of when we frankly screwed ourselves over.

LH: Yeah, of course. Especially with like long manuscripts and things.

PW: That’s it. By miscalculating or not appreciating how much a piece of work was worth, or even just not having to —

LH: I think we’ve all done that, haven’t we?

PW: Yeah. Just not having the confidence. We’ve been there, we’ve done it. And we know it can be really hard, especially if you get established. If you’re in a position where you’re doing very, very low-paid work, you’re in a cycle that’s hard to break out of.

LH: Of course.

PW: Because you have to do such a volume of it in order to get your rent paid that you don’t have time to do the stuff that would build your business ordinarily.

LH: Yeah. You don’t have time for the marketing, and you don’t have time just to actually put real thought into the work that you’re doing, and take considerations like SEO seriously.

PW: Exactly.

LH: And to really work well because spending time on a piece of writing helps you to improve your skills.

PW: Definitely.

LH: You know, the better you get, the more you can charge, obviously.

PW: Yeah. And so it’s not that we don’t appreciate that it’s a real trap if you’re in it. If all your clients are from Elance, and you’re just bidding your lowest cost for every piece of work, we’re not underestimating how rough that is. However, you need to break out of that consciously, and with care and with determination, because if a client’s paying you $5 today, it’s not going to up it to $50 tomorrow.

LH: No. Knock your cheapest clients on the head and spend that time doing something better.

PW: Yeah. Finding 50 other ones.

LH: Yeah. Because a lot of writers that we see who are reaching that, “Oh, my God. This is never going to work,” and they’re thinking about letting for-profit companies take advantage, they haven’t even done everything they can to try and make a go at things. This is what’s frustrating: you’ll find that they’ve got an infrequently updated Twitter account with no calls to action and no real oomph to it at all; you’ll find that they’re not on Linked In, and they’ve not tried things like uploading an hourly, like a fixed-price job to people per hour. And I think it must be the culture of freelance writing and the forces that we’re exposed to, like those greedy businesses. Because there seems to be this real defeated attitude sometimes, like this real, “Ooh, no!” when it comes to charging a fair rate that you can actually live on. And if you stick to your guns people will have no choice but to pay you or bugger off.

PW: Yeah. Your $5 client isn’t going to pay you $50. You need an entirely new client base. And then you’re not going to find them in the same place, and so you need to expand and, like Lorrie says, spend some time – set yourself up in a position where it’s possible to leap from and get the better stuff.

LH: Keep your eyes focused on the fact that is not a reasonable rate. And when it comes to setting your freelance writing rates, a lot of writers I see make the mistake of basing their fees on what suits their clients. And it’s the wrong way around, isn’t it? It’s 100% the wrong way around.

PW: Yeah. If you’re having to write three blog posts an hour to break even, then your writing’s not going to be very good.

LH: No.

PW: And so you’re not going to entice people.

LH: Absolutely. And if you are finding you are working your ass off and you’re earning very little, it’s not you that’s the issue. Pip and I did a series of three episodes on money issues quite a while back now, where we discussed how to set your rates properly rather than just plucking figures from the sky, how to calculate rates based on your needs, your living expenses, your costs, and how to increase them if necessary. Because think about it. I mean, if you went into a shop and everything was too expensive – say you went into a nice independent boutique on a high street, everything was too expensive – you wouldn’t expect the shopper to lower the prices for you.

PW: Well, I want a cardigan and I have a 20p. It would be really good exposure for your shop if I’m seen wearing it.

LH: [laughter] I’ll tell people where I got it. You’d leave, wouldn’t you? You wouldn’t do something so stupid. You’d leave and you’d go somewhere you can afford. And while it’s okay to be flexible with your pricing, say if you’ve got a client that’s very long-term, or they give you loads of regular work, or you have pay rates where you’re having complete dry spell, then dropping them to something ridiculous isn’t going to work. But being flexible is okay, but being ridiculous isn’t going to do you or your client or your fellow freelance writers any favours at all.

PW: And this relates very closely to our next reason why you shouldn’t write for free, and that is that the time you spend writing for free could have been spent attracting lucrative work. If you spend two hours on a blog post for free, just think how many companies you could have researched and emailed in that time? Think how much more information you could have added to your website or your Linked In profile. Think how many phone calls you could have made to local businesses. It’s almost always going to be the case that that amount of time will be better spent being proactive about your business than writing for free. Because when you think of it in those terms you can get a lot done in two hours.

LH: You can set up a website in two hours. So at the end of the day it is absolutely possible to get paid and get paid well for freelance writing. It is. Pip and I are fitting here – other sides of a mountain range, but we’re both fitting, I imagine. And we both make a full-time living out of writing for money, and we tackle a variety of topics from the relatively boring to the not so boring. And I know writers who get paid very well for blog posts on feminism, women’s rights. They review novels, they make commentary on sport, and there’s a wealth of other interesting and sought-after jobs that are perfectly achievable and attainable. And while a certain level of commitment and determination of flexibility is needed to achieve success in these more competitive markets particularly, that doesn’t extend to hocking your skills for free.

PW: I think hopefully what you’ll have got from this episode is that not only do you not have to work for free to make it as a freelancer, it can actually be downright detrimental to your progress.

LH: Yeah. It doesn’t work. And, as Pips just said, it’s not only that it doesn’t work, it prevents you from doing things that do.

PW: Yeah, exactly. And so we would love to hear what you think. Head over to our Facebook page and tell us – do you work for free? Do you think it’s useful for you? Is it something you wish you could go like a bad habit about? Or do you thoroughly refuse? And how does that go down? We want to know.

LH: We do. So come over to – we’re easy to remember – and come have a chat with us, because one of us is always there. Not always, obviously. If you catch us overnight we’ll probably be sleeping, but we’ll get back to you. We do like having a chat. We’ve got some good links going on there, so come and have a nosey because it’s all extra good stuff. Because freelance writing, as we say, it can be isolating and it can be hard. And it can be hard when you get yourself caught in a situation, and you might be setting their thinking, “Well, they’re really harsh. I don’t want to work for free, but I kind of have to because of my situation.” You, come and talk to us about it, because we don’t it, so there must be a way out.

PW: And if you comment on posts we put up on our Facebook page, you can also interact with other freelance writers who comment, and so it’s not even just like come talk to Lorrie and I, but come and post —

LH: No, we’ve got some lovely listeners.

PW: Yeah. And other listeners will see your comments and so it could be a really useful little forum.

LH: Definitely. And we will not encourage you to work for free.

PW: We’ll actively discourage it.

LH: Definitely. So if you’ve got any questions at all, come and have a chat with us, and you can find all the links to our social media feeds and websites and things, at if you don’t fancy Facebook.

PW: And so now it is time for the Little Bird Recommendation of the Week.

LH: Ta-da-da!

PW: In which Lorrie and I share something we’ve spotted that we think you might enjoy. And so my recommendation this week is kind of in the spirit of the topic of this episode. It is a blog post from a website called Success Works – all about SEO copywriting. And it’s a recent post, only a few days ago, called ‘Freelance writers: how to tame the client from hell.’

LH: [laughter]

PW: And much as Lorrie and I are always advocates for being flexible, being responsive, dealing with your clients professionally and respectfully, sometimes we don’t get that back in return.

LH: Nope.

PW: And this post has some very good advice about dealing with those clients that are frankly making your life a misery. They don’t show up for meetings, they change everything at the last minute; they want you to do things that you don’t normally do, that you didn’t agree to. It’s a short post, but it’s just got some frank talking, basically, and some advice about what to do.

LH: It looks really good because it looks like it tackles the kind of negative aspects that your clients can display, even when you’ve been in the business stages. It’s the kind of stuff that will never go away, unfortunately.

PW: Sadly, yes. So some ideas about charging for meeting time, and though this is something that Lorrie and I have discussed perhaps not on the podcast but amongst ourselves.

LH: It’s a difficult one, isn’t it? Because I’ve considered it, and sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t, because it’s rarely well-received.

PW: I think something that both of us have semi-decided on is that to a degree anything should be free, but if it’s getting pushed and pushed, then there is certainly a case for charging.

LH: Yeah. If it’s regular meetings I’ll charge. If it’s an introductory meeting I won’t charge.

PW: That’s it. And so, like with everything else, it’s not a simple yes/no, but this post just gives you suggestions, sings like that, and almost gives you permission really that this is something you can consider – you can charge for meeting clients, you can ask for more money for a rush job, and that kind of thing. So it’s a great little read, and it’s a site that I’m not very familiar with, but just from looking at their post titles, I think I’ll definitely be subscribing myself.

LH: No, it looks really – apart from one thing on it. Can you guess the one thing that’s putting me off the website?

PW: Is it going to ask for free posts?

LH: No. I’ve not actually checked that. It’s the sexy cartoon woman.

PW: Yes.

LH: At the top, with her legs crossed. Ugh!

PW: Yeah. That could be better.

LH: It could definitely be better. But apart from that, the joking aside, the blog post looks great. And, like I say, it’s the kind of stuff that – because we’ll always take on new clients. We’ll never always just have the same old clients again and again and again. And each time – especially with this culture of entitlement at the moment – each time we take on a client, you do often have to tackle these things. And the best way really is to be quite firm.

PW: And it’s so much easier to be clear from the outset than it is to try and change the parameters when you’re in it.

LH: Brilliant recommendation.

PW: Well, thank you very much. And what is your recommendation, Lorrie?

LH: My recommendation, Philippa, is from, which I like for small business advice. And it kind of goes – it counters the opposite tack to yours, because we all know you can have clients from hell and exploitative clients and stuff. But you can also be a bit of a chump yourself. We’ve all done that. We’ve all been a bit of chump sometimes.

PW: We certainly have. Probably several times today already.

LH: [laughter] Well, speak for yourself. I don’t think you’re a chump. And it is an article from – alright, maybe I do.

PW: [laughter]

LH: It’s an article from Inc. and it’s about productivity, and it’s called ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Ineffective People.’ You know me, you can tell what sort of mood I’m in, and I’m in that kind of…

PW: Take no nonsense.

LH: Take no nonsense; tell it like it is, lay-it-out kind of mood. Because I feel frustrated with writers when they insist on working for free and working for pennies. Often, when people ask for advice – “Oh, I just don’t have time. Oh, I don’t know about this, or I don’t know about that.” – often I’ll find that there should have been much, much more thought put into building that business from the start and running a business. And that that business isn’t being treated like a career, it’s being treated like a hobby, and that’s where the problem is. So I feel cross. And this is a good post because it goes through seven habits that you might think will make you more effective, but actually, according to this author, won’t.

At first I was kind of surprised. I thought they were quite useful, but it does go down some very interesting points, and it talks about things like always making sure that you finish your task list and always answering the phone when it rings, and doing things immediately – answering an email as soon as it’s there, or signing some papers as soon as they arrive, or posting something as soon as you need to.

PW: I like this because I feel less inept for the fact that I never finish my task list.

LH: [laughter]

PW: I don’t always answer the phone. And yes, it’s quite nice to get a little boost for the fact that it’s not always efficient to do everything on the list, and it’s not always efficient to do everything straight away. I like that because, as Lorrie suggested, it’s constantly being drummed into us that this is what we should be doing.

LH: Yeah, definitely. And it’s not just kind of, “You muppet, you’re not being very effective.” There’s plenty of tips in there and plenty of reasons behind, and they’ve got quotes from people like Marissa Mayer talking about why this kind of thing doesn’t work for them. I really think, honestly, sometimes I want to shake people when they’re like, “Oh, do you have any tips for new freelance writers? Not going very well.” And you can spot like 50 things immediately that they’re doing that are completely daft, and you’re like, “Oh, God, I wish that we didn’t work in a sector where we’re encouraged to screw ourselves over.”

PW: And what I like about this post is that it’s not being 100% prescriptive. It’s not saying “never answer the phone.”

LH: That would be nice, wouldn’t it?

PW: Yeah, never finish your to-do list. But what it’s doing is kind of countering almost the popular wisdom.

LH: Yes, the myths, isn’t it?

PW: Yeah, with some facts. Like one of the things they suggest is a sign of being inefficient is blocking all interruptions. And that’s the kind of thing that some days I really need there to be nothing other than my work. Otherwise I can’t make progress. But other days having a radio on in the background or staring out the window for a few minutes —

LH: Hours.

PW: Yeah. – can give me a boost. And it says interruptions can work like fuel for your brain, and that’s exactly it. And so it’s not saying “never do these things” or “always do these things.” It’s just presenting an alternative view point so that you could question the authority of these rules.

LH: Definitely. And I think it’s helpful, as well, to have a list like this for people who might be running around like scalded cats because they’re working too much for too little. Because if you’re in that situation you do need to be as effective as possible in order to carve out a bit of time in which to reform your business as a profitable fair endeavour for yourself. And if you’re being ineffective as well as overworked and underpaid, you’ve no chance, of course. So that is my recommendation.

PW: I like it very much.

LH: Thank you very much. I like you, too.

PW: [laughter]

LH: So that, listeners, brings us firmly to the end of A Little Bird Told Me episode 68. I really hope you’ve enjoyed this episode. I’m genuinely hoping that the advice that we’ve given will be taken in the right vein, because it’s a very emotive topic, and it’s frustrating not only to see businesses exploiting writers but to see writers being complicit in that, either wilfully or just through desperation.

PW: And this conversation that we’ve had on the podcast is a conversation that we’ve touched on at least once a week between us, isn’t it?

LH: It is, isn’t it?

PW: And so this is – I think it’s about 18 months since we first did an episode on working for free.

LH: 64 episodes have gone past between. So we’ve limited ourselves.

PW: And so this has been brewing for a long time. So if we sounded more scathing than you might expect, do take it in the spirit in which it was intended, which is that we don’t like people getting screwed over, and we don’t like people being exploited because we think that if you can write well, then that should be recognised and that can include monetary recompense. And there’s nothing to be ashamed of.

LH: No, it isn’t. And I think that’s one thing that we do want to say, is that you can feel guilty for charging fairly for your work, and you absolutely shouldn’t. You absolutely should not.

PW: And so 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.

Podcast Episode 67: An interview with Lucy Hay from @Bang2Write about screenwriting, script editing, social media and other Ss besides


Podcast interview with @Bang2Write #scriptchat #amwriting 


0ae00e10-a654-44f2-9f8c-cfea0c0e9cb6 (1)Lucy Hay is an expert in all things screenwriting. A published writer, script reader and organiser of the London Screenwriting Festival, she also runs the massively successful Bang2Write website. In this podcast episode, I interview Lucy and we cover everything from her work with J.K. Amalou to helping to give women opportunities through London Screenwriting Festival, funding and investment for films, why some films work and some don’t, how much to disclose on social media, Twitter hashtags, cyber bullying and teenage pregnancy.

During the discussion, I also inadvertently came out as gay. It was so thoroughly underwhelming that it was only on editing it that I even noticed I’d done it.

A must-listen for anyone interested in making it in the film and television industry as a screenwriter, and anybody who just wants to know more about different types of writing career.

"The very fact that anyone gets their creative work down is kind of miraculous, really"Show Notes

Find Lucy Hay on Facebook and on Twitter. Her writers groups are Bang2Writers on Facebook and on LinkedIn. Lucy is also on Quora and Pinterest.


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PW: Hello, and welcome to episode 67 of ‘A Little Bird Told Me,’ the freelance writing podcast that tells you all the tricks of the trade. You can find us on the web at, and from there you can find links to subscribe, whether you are a fan of iTunes, RSS feeds, or Stitcher. In that way you can make sure that you’re the first to hear when we have a new episode come out. On that page you can also find the link to our Facebook page. You definitely want to like us on there. We share all of sorts of interesting and relevant news and blog posts, and just helpful pointers for freelance writers.

I am Philippa Willitts, and today I am bringing you a very exciting interview with an amazing woman called Lucy Hay, who is the expert in all things screenwriting. So listen in to find out everything you’ve ever wanted to know about writing for films, why some films work and some don’t, how films are funded, how much to disclose on social media – that’s always, always an important issue, whatever kind of writer you are – how to use Twitter hashtags, and everything else from cyber bullying to teenage pregnancy, and giving women more opportunities to be heard. So, without further ado, here is the interview. Enjoy!

So, I am here with Lucy Hay, who is a script editor, script reader, and she runs the amazing website Bang2Write. She is also one of the organizers of the London Screenwriters Festival, and she has a wealth of experience in all areas of screenwriting. She has written two non-fiction books and writes young adults fiction. And as if all of that wasn’t enough, she also runs writing workshops and schools addressing social issues, as well as writing skills. So, Lucy, thank you for talking to me.

LH: Thank you for having me.

PW: I’m really aware that screenwriting is something that we haven’t covered at all on the podcast, and so I’m really glad to have the opportunity to chat to you, really.

LH: [laughter] Well, thanks very much.

PW: So, could you tell us a bit about your own career, how you got into the area you’re in?

LH: Absolutely! Well, basically, I always wanted to be a writer, and when I was much younger I wanted to be a novelist. And then I — basically, a long story short was I became a teenage mother, and I became absolutely convinced that all of those dreams were all over for me, and I was going to do the normal kind of things that you’re supposed to do. And, basically, a friend of my mother’s gave me £20.

PW: All right.

LH: And I was really not well-off at all at the time, but she said to me I have to spend that £20 not on the baby, not on foods, not on nappies. I’d just spend it on myself. And I went into a bookshop, and there were two books in there, and one was called, “Teach Yourself Novel Writing”, and the other was called “Teach Yourself Screenwriting.” And I bought both of them. And I read them both.

My baby was extremely grizzly, and all it did was cry. [laughter] Literally, all he did was cry for about first six months of his life. So I remember reading these two books, baby crying 24/7. I lived in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of a field, so I didn’t see anyone. I didn’t have any friends, I only ever saw my parents. So I read these books really, really quickly, and I thought, “Oh, I want to be a screenwriter.”

And I looked in the UCAS handbooks. Of course, it wasn’t even really the internet in those days, given this was the ‘90s. And I saw the Bournemouth University had a Screenwriting for Film and Television BA. “Oh, I’ll go for that.” And so I did and I got on the course, and I just got really into screenwriting in general.

I thought, “Oh, I still can’t really make a career of this,” because, of course, you can’t make a lot of money a lot of time, and I thought, “Do I want to be a literary agent or something like that?” But I didn’t really want to move to London. And anyway, I ended up on a work placement with a literary agent, and he took me to BAFTA.

PW: Oh!

LH: No! It wasn’t the actual BAFTA Awards, but it was the BAFTA place. And there was this big thing going on, and people were coming up to me and saying, “What do you do?” And I didn’t want to say, “Oh, I’m a student and a single mother.” [laughter] I said, “Oh, I read screenplays.” Because, I mean, it wasn’t untrue. I was reading these screenplays for the literary agent. And they said, “Oh, will you read my screenplay? I’ll pay you.”

PW: Oh!

LH: That was like, “Oh, okay.” So I kind of fell into it very randomly, really. And from there I started doing other work placements with various initiatives and screen agencies and things like that. And then I got paid jobs at screen agencies, and for production companies, and things. And I was reading these scripts from home. By this point I had graduated, and I was working at a supermarket at one stage.

And I knew I wanted to set up my own business, so I built that into the ethos of the company whilst I was doing my production company work or working for the literary agents, and then reading for private clients on the side. Because in those days — there’s a lot of script reading companies around now, but I suppose this was, what, 2004, something like that, and before Twitter, before Facebook, before the blogs. All the screenwriting blogs were really getting going. And I realized that, you know, most script reading companies were extremely expensive. You’re looking at about £100 for a report – 10 years ago, by those standards, that’s even more than it is now.

PW: Sure.

LH: And I thought, well, I could actually do a no-frills kind of script reading service, and as a result got a very loyal fan base of clients, to begin with, and then it got bigger and bigger. And I got a lot of the blog, as well, and things just kind of spiralled from there, really, in a very organic way. And I was very fortunate that people wanted to kind of get on board with me. And I think it’s because I didn’t bullshit them. I said, “This is what’s wrong with your screen play,” or “This is how you can improve it, but it is up to you.” it’s about you and about what you want to do with your work. I’m not going to give you some kind of magic formula and you’re going to be so successful. It’s all about, you know, personal growth as a writer, as well. And I think people appreciated that. They liked my honesty, and they liked the fact that I wasn’t going to bullshit them. But equally, I wasn’t going to be nasty to them, either. Because in those days the script reading services were very, “This is crap, whatever,” and as a result would be very demotivating. And I’m not about demotivating. The very fact that anyone gets their creative work down is quite miraculous, really, to be honest.

PW: And then to send it off to somebody else.

LH: Exactly! I mean, it takes a lot of guts. You’re kind of putting all your dreams on paper, and you’re kind of offering it up to someone to potentially rip to pieces. I think that’s brave, and I think that always needs to be remembered, I think so. I’m always about —

PW: Yeah, definitely.

LH: very careful to kind of support my writers. And I think the vast majority of my writers like that, and that’s why they come back to me so much.

PW: So what’s the role of a script reader? Is it to kind of just give a general assessment of — a third-party view of a script? Or tell me more about what it is you actually do when you receive a script, say.

LH: Okay. Well, I mean, it depends what a writer wants me to actually do. I mean, if they want me to just literally read their screenplay, then they’ll probably hire me to do like an overview report, which is basically an assessment of how that script works on the page. And so I’ll look at its story, I’ll look at its characters, its dialogue, its arena, which is like the story world. It’s not just the location, but also how all the bits within it work maybe you’re using mythical allusion or motifs, and things like that.

And then there’ll be a miscellaneous section where I may look at things like script format, because scripts have to be laid out a very specific way. Or spelling, punctuation, typos turn up quite regularly under the miscellanea section. Titles – a lot of the time writers choose titles that are just completely inappropriate or just really boring, or whatever. So just all the random things that are part of the package.

So that’s an assessment, basically, as a script reader. My post popular service is probably the development notes there, and that’s more of a script editing function. And that’s less to do with assessment, and more to do with development in terms of actually making it better, looking at big issues, and saying, “Well, have you considered this way of looking at this character? Or have you considered this way of changing the structure, so it reflects the theme better?” And just really delving in much more detail into the screenplay. So yeah, script reading is about assessment, script editing is about facilitating the story, making sure that it is the best that it can be.

PW: Yes. And it’s interesting, because although I don’t do anything like that, I do do a fair amount of non-fiction editing in various forms. That can be kind of on a very — just like proofreading for commas level. Or it can be on a ‘Do you think this well-structured? Do you think this needs more…?’ And something I find interesting relates to what you were saying earlier about you being pretty honest, and not sugar-coating things, but also not being unnecessarily cruel. That can be interesting from an editing point of view in general, because, yeah, some people feel almost fragile, and some people feel very…

LH: Yeah. Some clients will be more needy than others, and that’s always the case. And I hesitate to make generalizations, but very often female writers will need a lot more kind of counselling than male writers. I do find that an awful lot. And I think it’s something to do with the fact that women are told from being very little girls, that if they do certain things they may be showing off, perhaps.

PW: That is a real — yes.

LH: So I think that sometimes I do spend a lot of time kind of counselling female writers to say, “You are good. You can do this. You can get out there and do that.” It happens you kind of, you know, I’m a bit like her life coach for someone who’s — I mean, a lot of male writers can be like that, as well. But I just found it really striking that writers do it so much more. Also, there’s not as many women writers. At London Screenwriters Festival we probably have around about 50-50 now, because we work very hard to kind of be as inclusive of female writers as possible. But I have been very struck by in the past going to events that it’s been 80% make, 20% female at best, so part of Bang2Write is we’ve got to make sure that the female writers feel confident and able to share their work, and not vulnerable, if you like.

PW: Yeah. I also find there are people who send me their work saying, “I really want this to be as good as it can be. Just do what you need to do.” And there are other people who are a lot harder to deal with, who kind of send it for validation that it’s great. And they don’t want actually criticism or feedback really. They want you to say, “There’s nothing I can do. This is perfect already.”

LH: Yes, that’s definitely the case. In the olden days, when I first started, I would say most writers were probably like that. I’d say since the internet has come about, and since there’re so many writing forums and so many writing websites all saying you’ve got to be able to take feedback, you’ve got to be able to deal with it, writers have gone a lot better in recent years. They know that they can’t just write something and send it out, and they’re all just getting laid by Steven Spielberg. [laughter] They’re a lot more realistic these days. I mean, when I used to send notes back, they’d be great notes, and I’d work really hard on all of them. But like, “What the hell is this?” So they can take it a lot better than they used to for the majority.

Occasionally I’ll come across someone who goes absolutely nuts when I send notes back to them, and in which case I just kind of let them run themselves out. “Sorry you feel that way,” all that kind of stuff. And most of the time you don’t know why they’ve reacted so badly. It could be because they feel – what’s the word? They feel let down because they believed that this was the draft that would work. Or maybe they’ve made lots of sacrifices that you don’t know about in terms of family time to get it done. And they feel just very disappointed, not so much in your notes, but in the way that it’s not worked out the way that they want it to, and in which case you’re just going to let them get on with it. And if they really, really don’t like your notes or whatever…

Sometimes you’ll send some notes through, and it won’t be what they expect. So I had a guy a couple of weeks ago who hired me for an overview report, and I think he thought he was going to get development notes. And he kept asking loads and loads of questions, and it’s like, “Why didn’t you hire me to do the development notes, because it’s all laid out on the website, what you get for your money?” But a lot of new writers, they just don’t kind of process these things, and in which case you’re just going to chalk it up to experience, and just let it go and move on.

PW: Sure. So, from your point of view, what would be the ideal point at which a writer would send you a script? Is there a good point in the process?

LH: It’s hard to answer that one, to be honest, because different writers work in different ways. I mean, my main collaborator is J.K. Amalou, and he made Deviation in 2012. We made Assassin at the moment.

PW: Yeah.

LH: And he will basically send me a logline. And a logline is like a one or two-sentence pitch of the story, and we’ll throw the logline back and forth, and start flashing out some characters, turn it into a one-pager, turn it into a short treatment, turn it into a longer treatment. A treatment’s like a plan, if you like, of the whole screenplay. Then it’ll go to draft, when we’re happy with that, and we’ll start going through the draft. So I’m literally with him every step of the way, though the really drafting process. I mean, one project of his I was reading today is now on like the 18th draft.

PW: Right.

LH: Yes. Today I read a screenplay of his that’s on the 23rd draft. He really drafts things.

PW: Yeah.

LH: Because he’s a professional writer. He’s been doing this a long time. With new writers, most of them haven’t got the money to put 23 drafts through a script reader. And on that basis, I would say they need to do a lot more peer review before they probably show it to a paid-for reader. I mean, there’s loads of ways to actually facilitate peer review now.

PW: You just mentioned forums, and I see lots of forums where people do that for each other.

LH: Absolutely, yeah. And a lot of them, they get actors involved and do read-throughs.

PW: Wow.

LH: That’s a really bright idea, because actors are always happy to do that because they like to know the writers, and if you know more actors then you can do plays all together and read-throughs and stuff like that. The more people you know, and the more people who are involved in the industry, and the more favours you can do for each other, then the more of a place you have in the industry.

Because, I mean, what we say ‘the industry’ – there isn’t really any such thing. It’s just a bunch of people who are working together. So I think it’s crazy that some writers will literally lock themselves away and not try and work with other people as much as possible. You have to make a team wherever possible, I think, because it’s all about making the chain, and then you find more people, and more people on top of that.

PW: Yeah. Are you always hired by a writer? Or are there occasions when, I don’t know, a production company or someone might hire you to read through a script?

LH: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I’ve read for screen agencies. Screen agencies are like lottery funding people, and they have to give money out of like the lottery pot. And I read for Scottish Screen for years, right up until they became Creative Scotland and like – I think that was 2010 or 2011. I read at the moment for an investment company called Premiere Picture that’s down in Brighton. They are a private investment company. Basically, they award money to various films for various things that might be for poster campaigns, or it might be to finish the film, or various things. I’m never told what the money is for. I’m just literally given the screenplay and I’m told to write a synopsis and my thoughts on whether it’s got commercial viability, as well as retailing viability.

PW: Yeah. I read an article recently about this, just about investors investing in films, which is a slightly risky thing to do, but can be incredibly lucrative if it goes well from their point of view.

LH: It absolutely can. I mean, there’s lots of really great business models and tax things that producers can take full advantage of to make a lot of money for investors. And so it’s something that people can make stacks of cash on, absolutely. And it’s not something that I really understand in massive detail because I’m not about the business; I’m more about the story telling aspect, but it’s a really interesting thing. It’s something that I personally want to learn more about because I think it’s really interesting because banks do it, as well.

Banks will actually have a film on. They will actually offer money to film makers. I mean, this is how I understand it. They offer like a loan to the film maker. The film maker takes up the loan. The film then belongs to the bank, and then the producer has a certain amount of time which they agree to pay the money back, and if they can’t, then the film belongs to the bank forever, so it’s like a mortgage, but it isn’t for a house, it’s for a film.

PW: That’s the strangest thing.

LH: Yeah, yeah. And all of the big banks, apparently, have these film arms for film makers. I think you have to be quite a big company to be able to access these things. I don’t think it’s something that any indie film maker can access, but certainly all the worthy titles and guys like that may do this kind of thing.

And then, of course, there’s just the private investors, who are individuals. Some of these guys, these investors, they’re rich as Croesus. They really are. And they know a good deal when they see one, and they know what’s going to work well, and they will just throw money at stuff, massively. Sometimes they haven’t even read the screenplay, they’ve just read the treatment, and they’re like, “Yeah, no problem.” Or they’ve read the package, which is who’s in it, who’s directing, those things, and who’s the sales agent, that kind of thing. Some of these guys, they just know. They’re such good businessmen; they just know whether they’ll ever get a return or not. And it’s really, really interesting stuff.

PW: In terms of banks, I’d far rather my bank invested in films than like the arms trade.

LH: Yes, definitely. It would be preferable.

PW: I think they should publicise this more.

LH: Yeah, absolutely. I remember some bank guy coming in to talk to us at the university here, and I was like, “Why don’t we know about this?”

PW: So had you always been interested in films, even before you found out really about screenwriting?

LH: Yeah, yeah, I always loved films. I remember that for my 13th birthday I was given a director’s chair.

PW: Oh, fantastic!

LH: Alien, and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. And I saw this documentary about Ridley Scott, the director of Alien. And I remember I’d loved to be a film director. I didn’t know what went into it, being a 13-year old girl, and certainly knowing what goes into the role now, I don’t think it would be for me, after all. I mean, script editor is just the perfect job for me, because I get to arse around with stories. And I write crazy notes to self. I found one the other day while I was cleaning up that said, “Whites, why not ferrets?” What the hell was that about? I’ve got no clue, but there you go.

PW: Are you ever able to watch a film without analysing the script?

Westwood Movie Theaters - Los Angeles, Califor...

Westwood Movie Theaters – Los Angeles, California (October 31, 2013) (Photo credit: cseeman)

LH: It’s quite difficult. It must be really good, then I won’t analyse it. And certainly, 2013 movies – one was Gravity. Absolutely, 100% involved in Gravity. I absolutely adored it. And also Frozen, which I really liked, as well. And also Rush, as well, the racing one. And what I loved about all three of them was they were all so different. I mean, Rush was absolutely unapologetically masculine. It was like super, super masculine. It was like a Lynx advert, but to the power of a million. It was great. I adored it. And of course, you get to see — it thaws off all the way through, which for me was a big thrill.

And Frozen – I loved Frozen. It was about teenage realizations and sexuality, and coming of age, and all that kind of stuff – all the things that are predominantly girly. And I loved that, because it was really nice to see a story that dealt with what it was like to be a girl. Because even films for little girls with female protagonists don’t always deal with that kind of stuff.

PW: No, absolutely.

LH: So that was really nice. And Gravity I just loved, because the threat to her life was so great and so massive, you just weren’t sure she was going to make it, which hardly ever happens, because you’re going, ‘Oh, yeah, she’ll be all right. She’ll be all right.’ But right up to the last minute I was thinking I don’t know if she’s going to make it. The threat, the jeopardy was just fantastic. And what I loved about it was it wouldn’t have mattered whether she was male or whether she was female. Everything that she had to go through she had to go through and she had to deal with, no matter — it transcended gender, it transcended everything.

It was just about, “Do I want to live?” or “Am I going to die? Am I going to literally lay down and die, or am I going to fight for my life?” And I loved that, because the great metaphor for what so many people go through on a small basis on their everyday lives – if you’ve been through something like cancer or a terrible illness or something like that, and you’re having to fight that battle within yourself to actually see it projected in a massive 3D way – I just really appreciated. It was a great metaphor for the human endurance, and I just loved it.

PW: That’s interesting, actually, because we recently had a brief discussion about a film that I was watching at the time, which technically should have had some of those same dilemmas and issues, which was called The Ledge.

LH: Right.

PW: And on paper to me it sounded like, “Oh, this should be interesting.” It’s essentially a man standing on a ledge, and he’s been told that if he doesn’t jump off the ledge at a certain time, somebody else will die. So he’s got about an hour and a half to decide whether or not he’s going to jump to save this other person’s life, or whether he’s not, and this other person’s going to die. And I thought, “Oh, that sounds quite — I could get into that.” But in reality it wasn’t engaging at all.

LH: Yes, it was a real shame, that movie. It was an indie film. I believe it might have been a Canadian film, I’m not sure, but it starred – what’s his name?

PW: The guy who was on Queer as Folk in the UK.

LH: Charlie Hunnam.

PW: That’s the one.

LH: Yes. The Ledge starred Charlie Hunnam, who, of course, is a big hunk at the moment from Sons of Anarchy and from Pacific Rim. And I actually really enjoyed Pacific Rim. I mean, it was your classic kind of ‘the Americans are going to save the word’ and all that kind of nonsense. But it reminded me very much so of Independence Day, those kind of movies – great fun, but also with a human element to it that was actually very appealing. There was lots about it that was quite unusual in the same way that Independence Day was way back, in 1994. So it was a bit like being 15-years old again, and watching those kinds of movies in the ‘90s with army, and Will Smith, and all those kind of guys. I really enjoyed Pacific Rim, and it was really good. He put on a good performance in that, and of course, he’s ace in Sons of Anarchy. And I liked him in Queer as Folk, as well. He’s a good actor, Charlie Hunnam, so I got the movie out, because, like you, I like the concept, and I like him, as well. And I thought this was going to be good stuff. I had also just recently seen another film that was very similar, called Man on a Ledge. Have you seen that one?

PW: No, I haven’t.

LH: That one stars Sam Worthington as the guy on the ledge. And then we’ve got Jamie Bell – Billy Elliot. And basically, in that Sam Worthington’s on the ledge. He’s going to jump because basically it’s all a big ruse because he’s actually drawing attention away from Jamie Bell, who’s trying to rob a massive jewel, basically. And it’s a big jewel heist, and it’s to do with revenge. And as you watch it though the movie, it gets bigger and bigger, and it gets more and more out of control, and it was very exciting. It was absolute nonsense, but it was very exciting.

So I thought, “Oh, okay. The Ledge should be quite good, then.” And as you say, it simply was not, because they basically took a great concept – basically we’ve got Charlie Hunnam on the ledge, and he’s talking to the cop, the guy from The Brave One who, again, put in an amazing performance in The Brave One. He was fantastic in that. I can’t remember his name, either.

PW: I’m useless with names.

LH: I can never remember anyone’s name. But yeah, the guy who plays the cop who was in The Ledge, he was also The Brave One. He was fantastic in that film. I loved The Brave One. I thought that that was great, but unfortunately in The Ledge what let the entire premise down was two things. The first thing was the fact that he’s on the ledge, and then we get out of that by him telling his story, and it all goes back in flashback. That immediately sapped the jeopardy, because all the time you’re going backwards. It lacks forward-looking momentum.

PW: Oh, of course, yeah.

LH: So it totally undermines everything. And the whole deadline of an hour and a half, boom, it’s all gone. And it’s just a nightmare. So that’s a real shame for starters. And that would have been bad enough if it wasn’t for the fact that the premise doesn’t stand up, because if he’s got an hour and a half before the husband shoots the wife in the head, and he’s telling his story to the cop…

PW: For an hour and a half.

LH: Then it’s obvious what the problem is.

PW: I know.

LH: And it’s like what the hell was that all about? Who thought that was a good idea?

PW: After I watched it I read lots of discussion online about it, and people were coming up with reasons why he didn’t, but they really just wanted to not be so annoyed with it, so were forcing reasons out of nowhere, really, just in order to feel less like, ‘Oh, what? This is so obvious.’

LH: Yeah, yeah. But I mean, they might have gone away with it if they had provided us with really great characters, but unfortunately they didn’t. We’ve got Charlie Hunnam’s character, who’s so bitter and twisted about the death of his wife and child. He’s just always going on about God and life not being fair, and all these kinds of other things. And we’ve got the husband, who’s such a homophobic wanker, and he’s so hateful, and he’s so much older than the girlfriend, who’s such an unbelievable sap. I mean, bloody hell!

PW: She’s awful.

LH: Liv Tyler just spends her entire career playing these really sappy women. I mean, it’s like for goodness sake! And then we’ve got the gay roommate, who’s such a stereotype, as well. He’s only there just to actually facilitate the husband’s phobia…

PW: Homophobia, yes.

LH: Yes. It’s just crazy. Everybody was a cardboard cut-out, and I could —

PW: And also, I initially heard about some – it was when it came out, really – and it was through talking the kind of sceptic atheist communities around it, because it was being built as this atheism-versus-belief thing.

LH: Yes, yes.

PW: But actually that was so overegged.

LH: It really was. And it’s a tragedy. I love the idea.

PW: Yes. That could have been an interesting extra angle, but in reality it was just like ‘oh, stop whipping that now.’

LH: I know, definitely. I mean, this is the problem with so many spec screenplays that I read is that a writer will have a personal soapbox of some kind, whether it’s atheism or religion or feminism or anti-bullying, or whatever, and they will just keep whipping it, like you say, just over and over. It’s like, ah, you’re hitting me in the head with a brick. Stop it!

PW: We don’t need everything pointing out.

LH: No. I mean, this is the thing with theme. Theme of any creative work is essentially read into by the audience member and their response anyway, so you can put whatever you like into something. They’re going to see it their own way anyway. I mean, I was having a conversation with one of my Bang2Writers the other day. We were talking about Frozen, and she thought that the song ‘Let It Go’ was about being gay. And she had some really great reasons for why it was about being gay, and certainly when she said that I thought, “Oh, yeah, it could be, actually.”

But then I’m not gay, so I wasn’t thinking that at all. I saw it as actually letting go of the past, letting go of mental health issues, changing your response, all these things that I personally have been through. I then put on the movie, and then she had put on this notion of being gay, because that was experience. Somebody else would have a different experience and a different response to that song. And that’s good. Variety is a part of life. To actually say, “They must get it! They must get this theme! They must get the theme the way I want them to!” That actually kills off your creative work’s power.

PW: Yes. My sister, many years ago, did theatre studies at university. We went to watch a play that she’d been in, and afterwards I remember my dad saying to her, “Did the audience laugh in the right places?” And she said, “Well, wherever they laughed, that was the right place.”

LH: Exactly.

PW: Because it was obviously funny, and that kind of blew my 13-year old mind.

LH: She’s absolutely right. You can’t be too precious as the creator of a creative work. People will have the response that they have to whatever it is. That said, if they tell you what your response is supposed to be, or what you intended, then that’s wrong. At the same time, you can’t push it too far the either way, either. At the end of the day it’s a very finely tuned balance.

I don’t believe that — in this age of the internet often you’ll find people really slagging off, and screenwriters saying, “Well, he or she is clearly a misogynist because of blah” or whatever. And it’s like, no, stop right there. What you are not factoring in there is the fact that you’re seeing fiction. That is not reality. And just because somebody creates a creative work that maybe you don’t agree with the theme, that doesn’t give you the right to actually tell the author of that that they’re a bad person, or that that’s what they meant.

I was reading on Facebook this morning – somebody was having a really big rant about how people with mental health issues are always misrepresented on the screen, and the film makers say that they’re trying to raise awareness, and how this is all bullshit, and they’re really just ignorant and blah, blah, blah. And it’s like, well, this is your response. Maybe that’s more actually what they meant. At the same time, obviously, some people are blatantly trolling. They’re trying to be controversial, and they’re being a pain in the ass. But most people have got good intentions. Most people want to actually create something of worth and of value, so that it makes people happy. They don’t want to actually be horrible to people. They don’t want to be ignorant.

PW: Yeah. The troubling thing is a really interesting relatively new phenomenon that writers are doing. I blog partly as my job, and partly voluntarily for a feminist website, a disability website, that kind of thing. And it’s got to the point now where you know when you write any opinionated blog post. There’ll be people who agree, and there’ll be people who disagree, and that’s fine. But you know that there’ll be another subset of people who will look specifically to find something to misrepresent.

LH: Oh, God, yes.

PW: And will then fight you on that. And you can’t defend yourself there, because they’re arguing something that you didn’t even say. The F-Word, the feminist website I write for, so it’s quite big, a lot of readers and so we get quite a lot of this. And it’s at a point now where I’ll write posts, and I’ll reread it as I normally do, and rework it, but then I have to rework it again to try and find the bits that could be deliberately misrepresented. This is a real thing that we’re dealing with on an increasing basis, I think all kinds of writers really.

LH: Absolutely. I mean, I actually write one long blog post a week now on Bang2Write, and I’ll usually put it up on a Sunday. But it’s usually written for a whole week before it goes up online, because I will write it, and then I will add to it. And then I would look through, and then I would check it, and then I’ll get somebody else to read it, because, as you say, I’m looking for ways that people will try and stick the boots in, because that’s what they’re trying to do, because that’s actually what they want to do. It’s not got anything to do with me, it’s nothing to do with the writing craft; it’s nothing to do with any of that. It’s to do with the fact that they just want to kick back, because they do, and all because —

PW: And that’s not the same as just disagreeing. I think you and I would both be completely fine with somebody saying, “I’ve read this. I disagree because of A, B and C.” That’s fine.

LH: Yeah, people disagree with me all the time, and that’s absolutely fine because I’ve got very strong opinions, and I’ve got very — I pride myself on being the voice of dissent [laughter]. You may have noticed this. So I always try not to be one step ahead, because that sounds too wanky, but I try and actually look ahead to what is the next big discussion that we need to have, because I think just going the whole time – back in 2008-2009 I was talking about female protagonists, and there weren’t any around. So I stopped talking about it, and then last year we ended up with loads of female protagonists, which is great.

Things are actually moving on, so now I’m talking about masculinity and representations of masculinity. Because they need an overhaul, as well, and the people are often telling me, “Oh, you know, it’s a male privilege. We don’t need to talk about that.” It’s like yeah, we do, because you can’t just have one without the other. We’ve got women, got men – why would you say that the characterization of men is fine, when it’s clearly not? We’ve got lots of stereotypes here. We’ve got lots of bullshit here. There’s loads of boys walking around with the same kind of problems that young girls have about the feelings of their self-esteem to do with their bodies, because they’re not really buff and ripped like Thor.

PW: Yeah, and it’s not like the imposed masculinities are great for women, either.

LH: Yeah, exactly.

PW: Even if you look at it from still a woman’s point of view. You could still go ‘let’s look at masculinity because it’s a mess.’

LH: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, a lot of websites for men have started talking about the notion of ‘toxic masculinity’. I think that’s great. I think that’s a really, really interesting phrase, because it is. There’s lots of mixed messages about what it means to be a man, and what it means to be a hero, and what it means to be a father, or equally missing messages about what it means to be a father, especially in the black community – this notion of automatically a black [0:41:24] just disappears from his kid’s life. I mean, how fucking hideous is that? That’s so insidious. We should be addressing these things, and yet it’s strangely silent. And I’m not going to apologize for wanting to talk about those things.

PW: Quite. Now you mentioned your website – this is, and that’s a number two. What made you start it in the first place? Was it a business decision, or just something you wanted to write?

LH: Well, as I said, I’ve got loads of opinions. So I love the internet. I love to just talk, talk, talk all day. In the last three or four years I’ve sent nearly 100,000 tweets for starters [laughter]. I just love going on and on. When I found out about blogs – it was 2005 – I thought, “Fantastic! I can write about stuff on there.”

PW: I need one of those.

LH: Yes, definitely. It was an AOL Hometown blog. Do you remember those?

PW: Yes. My first website was a GeoCities.

LH: Yeah [laughter]. And you could only write in Comic Sans. Oh, my God!

PW: I used to be really excited when I could make a text change colour.

LH: Yeah. I used to write blue Comic Sans with pink links. Oh, my God! I look back now…

PW: I was trying to teach myself HTML years and years ago, and I found this website at the time that I just thought it was the best thing in the world. It was a website where you could just copy bits of code into your site, and it would make these things like snow on the screen over —

LH: Oh, God, snow! Yes, I remember snow, too.

PW: Or fireworks when you clicked your mouse or something. And I thought this was the best thing ever. And so my GeoCities site, every page of it, all of it was hand-coded very badly, had some kind of exploding text or wobbly lines.

LH: Yes. Flying ones, as well. Oh, God! But yeah, I loved my blog at first. And I was just writing randomly at first. I was just writing all kinds of crap on that. Then I started getting fan mail.

PW: Oh!

LH: From a lady called Mary. And she lived in Alabama [laughter]. And that’s when I realized that I wasn’t just talking to myself. The people are actually reading this stuff. And she wanted to ask about – I would write about my son, and stuff like that. And I was just using it as a diary at first. And I wrote a couple of stories and I stuck them on there. And she liked these stories, and I suddenly realized, “Oh, these things are quite powerful.” And I just started the script reading on a kind of more – what’s the word?

PW: Formal?

LH: Yes. So I had started in a more formal way, and I was advertising on various bulletin boards and stuff, and getting two or three clients a week by this point. And I noticed that I was writing the same sort of things to them all the time. Lots and lots of screenplays essentially got the same problems, problems of things like structure and character – the two big things. So rather than write the same thing to all three clients, I’d write an article on the blog, and then direct them to that, so that they could see the main kind of problem. And then I would write the specific notes to their screenplay with that in mind. And that worked really well. And people really got bored with that, and they liked the extra value from there. And so for a long time I was just writing articles on that blog, thinking only my clients would be reading it.

And then about a year after I had started this blog I started getting lots of comments and emails from people saying, “Oh, can you write an article about this screenwriting problem or that screenwriting problem?” And I thought, “Oh, okay.” So I started taking questions – this was before Twitter and Facebook, and all that stuff. And it became very interactive.

And I discovered other screenwriters were writing their own blogs. Most of their blogs were online diaries of whether they were going to make it or not, or they’ve just started writing a project for a producer, and they were doing diaries of that and things like that. And somebody came along and they made this – I suppose it’s like a library aggregator thing of all the blogs about writing and stuff like that. It just became what was known back then as the Scriboshpere [laughter].

PW: That’s excellent.

LH: And we all called ourselves the Scribes of the Scribosphere, and I think there was about 50 of us. And some of them were quite big, like John August, who wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Go, and Ken Levine, who wrote M*A*S*H and things. And then there were tiny little people like me. And then there was like the middle kind of TV writers from this country, as well. It just got bigger and bigger, and then Twitter came along, and Facebook came along. And people started to integrate their blogs into their Facebook, and then, weirdly, all the commentary, all went over to Facebook and Twitter, and now you don’t see a lot of comments on blogs.

PW: It’s true. And it’s interesting hearing how your site developed, because in modern-day internet marketing type speak, what you were doing was positioning yourself as an authority, which then makes people respect you and think, “She clearly knows what she’s doing,” and so they’ll say it to someone else, “She knows what she’s doing,” and they’ll think, “Oh, she knows what she’s doing.” And then the more people think well of you, the more they think, “Oh, I’ll hire her.” This is what a lot of modern [0:47:30] actors try to create in a bit too much of a planned way, whereas when it happens organically, like yours did — this wasn’t you setting out saying, “I’m going to write useful things, and so people will think I’m useful.” You were just writing what occurred to you, and then a few patterns started emerging, but the result was that you were writing things that were useful to enough people that you began to be recognized as someone who actually did know what they were talking about.

LH: Yes, which is pretty random, because I probably didn’t [laughter]. It just seemed common sense to me, and I think that’s probably the key behind good social media marketing, is it’s common sense. I mean, you don’t whine on social media about how hard everything is every five minutes, and you don’t slag everybody off, and you try and help other people, and you try and be pleasant, and you have a laugh, and whatever. And people will like you and pass your content on. It seems obvious to me, but very often it can’t be that obvious because I see loads of people —

PW: They’re really wrong.

LH: Oh, God, so wrong! I mean, I write social media posts on Bang2Write now because so many people ask me about it now. “What do I do? How do I set myself up on Twitter? How do I create a blog? How do I do a good digital footprint?” and all that bloody jargon.

PW: Yeah. People want to ultimate the process so much, and lose sight of the common-sense side of things, I think.

LH: Yes. It’s about human interaction and common sense. That’s all it is.

PW: I mean, we met on Twitter initially.

LH: Yes.

PW: We chat embarrassingly a lot [laughter] on Facebook. Not that either of us are there all the time.

LH: Oh, I am [laughter].

PW: But we both use both mediums a lot. And it’s interesting to see how writers are using them. I saw – it was a few weeks ago, and obviously, I won’t name who, but it was a copywriter who normally tweets just fairly sensible copywriting things, and then ended up live tweeting – I’m embarrassed for her just thinking about it – this kind of five hours following her husband telling her that he was leaving her.

LH: Oh, blimey!

PW: And she fell apart, not unreasonably.

LH: Yeah, of course.

PW: But spent five hours of tweet after tweet after tweet of kind of rage, then despair, then rage, then despair. And it was painful to watch.

LH: It can be.

PW: And if it’s a personal account then do what you will, frankly. But you do have to be a bit more careful with professional accounts.

LH: Yes, I think so. I mean, I tweet personal things sometimes, especially if I’m upset. I have been known to kind of rage a little bit, but I try and allow myself only three tweets maximum.

PW: That’s it.

LH: And then I’ll have to walk around the block a few times. Occasionally I might get drawn into a dog pile or whatever. There was one only last week where a certain keyboard warrior came after me because apparently I’m racist and classist, and all the usual -ists, based on a single tweet I made in November. So rather than ask me about the context of the tweet – which by the way was Storified – they start slagging me off. It’s like whatever. They were looking for ruck, basically.

PW: Yes, I know this phenomenon.

LH: Yes. So to protect my brand I just kept throwing back, kept throwing it back. And they kept coming back with the same nonsense over and over again. It’s like, “Oh, my God!” And then I wrote a nice long post about the issue on Bang2Write without naming her. If anybody ever takes it wrong again, they can see, because you’ll – what’s the word? The trail of tweet, and the trail of content to show that actually that’s just bullshit. So I think it’s useful that if somebody does launch an unprovoked attack like that, then you should protect your brand, I think. I could have got really personal and all that kind of stuff, but I didn’t see the point of that, because she was the one that ended up looking like an idiot.

PW: Yeah. And you do have to – you are a person that – it is the brand, but you are a person behind it, and you can’t be entirely robotic, and nor would you be an interesting person to follow if you were, frankly. It’s a difficult balance.

LH: Yes, it is.

PW: The kind of personality —

LH: It is. It can be.

PW: How much to come into it. But it’s an interesting one that evolves, I think.

LH: Yeah. I think that’s really key is this notion of evolution. I didn’t tell people that I was ill on social media. I didn’t tell anyone that I had cancer on social media when it was all going on. I didn’t want to be the one with cancer. It wasn’t what I wanted to do. But the people that I actually knew in real life, all knew about it. And the people that I worked with on a regular basis all knew about it. And, again, people were really nice to me on social media. They knew that I didn’t want to talk about in public, but they were always there all the time. They’d know that I would be in the hospital every three weeks or whatever for chemo, and they’d be on my phone with me the whole time, which was great.

And that was really helpful, as well, especially because when you’re on chemo, as well, you can’t sleep a lot of the time, so I’d literally be awake 21-22 hours out of 24, and I’d be on Twitter most of it. It was really great that people were always there, which was nice. It does stop you from feeling lonely, which is great. And that’s a brilliant aspect of social media, because you can feel like you’ve got moral support. But equally it can work the other way, and you can feel kind of harangued, as well.

PW: Yeah. There’s been an interesting story that’s blown up in the last day or two about an article that someone wrote in The Guardian. Now I first came across this because someone pointed out the quite exceptional statement that this article has now been replaced with. What was the full article now says, “This post has been deleted with the agreement of the subject because it is inconsistent with The Guardian editorial code.” Nothing would make me search the internet more, frankly, to find out what on earth was going on here, because I’ve never seen a statement like that.

I could still see the title to the piece, which was “Forget funeral selfies. What are the ethics of tweeting a terminal illness?” And I could still see all the comments to the piece, which thought it was horrific. And so I, of course, had to find out what it was. Google Cache wasn’t giving me anything, and all the obvious things, so I had to search further and further and further. Anyway, I eventually found it because when I get determined I get determined.

LH: Right. Fair enough.

PW: And basically there’s a woman who has terminal cancer, and has been tweeting a lot. Now I know and tweet with a lot of disabled people, and so somebody tweeting about their body or their pain or their treatment doesn’t really stand out to me.

This woman’s tweet – she’s not somebody I know on Twitter. She’s called Lisa Adams, and she’s tweeting very honestly about this last stage that she’s in, and the pain she’s in, and just how hard it is, which I will say I think is fully within her rights. It’s her Twitter account. She can tweet what she likes. What The Guardian journalist did was write an article, a really horrific article criticizing this woman for tweeting about this saying it’s basically too much information. I don’t know why I can’t stop reading it, but I can’t stop reading it. Some people just share too much, and do we have no limits anymore? And this Guardian journalist compares the tweets, at one point, to a grim equivalent of deathbed selfies.

LH: Oh, gosh!

PW: Yeah. Why are you saying this? If you don’t want to see this, don’t follow her. She’s very open that this is what she’s tweeting about. And I saw lots of article criticizing the original article, and then finally found a kind of cache of a cache of a cache from the article itself. And it is bad. And I’m not surprised The Guardian have taken it down. But for me that’s very much — she’s got exactly the same choice that you had. You chose that for you tweeting about this very openly wasn’t what you wanted to be doing, and that’s entirely within your right. And this woman had exactly the same choice, and for her tweeting openly was what she wanted to do about it, and that is also entirely within her rights.

LH: Absolutely. Yeah. Anyway, screenwriting.

PW: Yes, right. Yeah, Twitter. I don’t know whether you started this or whether you participate in it, but the #scriptchat…

LH: Yes.

PW: Tell me about that, because I like hashtags.

LH: Yes. Hashtags are brilliant. I love hashtags. I didn’t start scriptchats. As far as I know, it came into being around 2009, something like that. It’s been around for ages. It was one of the first things on Twitter that got me over there in the first place. And three people in America started scriptchat, and then they did a Euro scriptchat, as well. And they got three people in the UK to do that. I don’t know if they do it in any other country, as well, but there’s two main ones – Euro scriptchat on a Sunday, which is at 8:00 PM GMT, and then they’ve got a US scriptchat, which is about 10 o’clock our time. And basically they moderate a chat every week for an hour, 8:00 until 9:00 on a Sunday Euro, and then 10:00 until 11:00 US.

The three moderators for the US chat will usually have some sort of guest coming in to talk about various things. They nearly always have a guest. The UK moderators don’t have a guest quite as often, I’ve noticed. But they have a blog and they kind of facilitate questions and stuff through there, and suggestions for topics and stuff. Organically, other people who are talking about writing on Twitter will use a hashtag throughout the week, as well.

And I take full advantage of that, and all my musings about screenwriting or script reading I’ll hashtag with scriptchat, and also all my blog posts and things like that, as well. And scriptchat is a really good way of finding mostly screenwriters, but in the last year also novelists have started using it, as well, especially the people who publish to the Kindle, as well. So that’s a really good thing – more novel writers on there, as well. It does get taken over a bit by promo.

PW: A lot of the hashtags do now, and it’s a real shame. But if you can see through that they can be really – I used to participate in a monthly writers chat with a hashtag that I still never quite get it in the right order. I think it’s WCLW, which is Writers Chat Last Wednesday, and it’s just the last Wednesday of the month. And it’s for an hour. And I got out of the habit because it’s US time, and it doesn’t always translate to the same time here. But that’s started by a freelance writer called Michelle Rafter, who’s got a website. She will set a theme and certain questions. And sometimes there’ll be a guest answering questions. Other times it’s just a general discussion.

But I see so many hashtags now. There’s like #SheffieldHour and #YorkshireHour and there’s #UKFreelance. There’s just so many – every issue, every job. I think they’re a really good thing, although now there are more of them. I pay a bit less attention sometimes, whereas I think when there were fewer of them I probably focused a bit more on them, whereas they just pass me by a bit now. But they can be just a really good way of organizing Twitter into a topic.

LH: Definitely. And I probably use scriptchat the most followed by #Amwriting.

PW: Yes. I use that one.

LH: Also #Novels, as well, is an obvious one. I use the #fem2 a lot to get representation of women out a bit more. Also [1:02:07] about pregnancy, because obviously that’s a personal interest of mine, but also something that I write about quite a lot. I’ll use #fem2, #teenpreg, #teens quite a lot. I try and do some outreach work for our Twitter and ask fems with teenagers to answer their questions, especially about teenage pregnancy, but also about other issues, as well.

So I talk quite a lot on Facebook to a few teens about cyberbullying. Oh, some of the shit they put each other through, it’s just horrible. It’s really bad, all the memes that they do, and setting up pages to mock someone, and things like that. It’s just really nasty shit. I’m so glad it wasn’t around when I was this —

PW: Yes, I often think that when I see a documentary or something about cyberbullying. I just think I had some rough times at school, but I’m so glad now that when I got home I wasn’t then having that.

LH: Yeah, right. Because kids 10 years ago had mobile phones to worry about, you know, text message hassle.

PW: I’m too old to have even had that.

LH: Yeah, me too [laughter]. At least when you got home —

PW: We got bullied through the Post. [laughter]

LH: — you could close the door on it. [laughter]

PW: Royal Mail bullying, good old fashioned. [laughter]

LH: We could get home, close the door on it. They can’t even do that now. It’s just horrible. It’s really horrible. And also it’s another way of actually taking the Mickey even more out of people who’ve got problems or disability or an issue like teen pregnancy or whatever. That said, at least there is the feeling, as well, that you can actually bandy together with people who are being hassled, as well. You cannot say no. It’s a kind of a double-edged sword. One hand you can be harangued, but on the other hand you can —

PW: You can communicate.

LH: — actually find out you’re not the only one.

PW: Yeah. You can communicate with all sorts of people.

LH: When I was growing up I literally thought I was the only one that thought the way I did. I really, really believed that, 100%, until I was quite old, actually. I was about 22-23 before I realized that actually other people felt the same way about certain things as I did.

PW: I mean, for me, growing up gay, I would never have called it that when I was a kid, because it terrified me. I had no frame of reference other than it being a bad thing. And in so many ways the internet would have made for me that progression to ‘actually this is fine, and it’s me’, would have made it a million times easier. Because there was nothing then. There was the odd article in a teenage magazine, but very rare, and so, yeah, in that way, the internet would have made things far more accessible to me.

LH: Yep, definitely, and it would have been the same for me as a teen mother, especially living in a rural area. I just didn’t know anyone with a baby that was my age, nobody at all. And I was horribly lonely because I didn’t get to see anyone or do anything in a place that was so remote. I couldn’t even go into town or anything. I was literally just in the middle of a field, basically, and if I had just had Twitter on my phone even – just Twitter – life would have been a bit more bearable. But, as a result, I was having to read six books in a fortnight to say I had any kind of relief.

PW: One of the very good things about hashtags is that it’s an easy way of zoning in on the right people.

LH: Absolutely.

PW: Whether that’s about a personal issue like #teenpreg or whether it’s a professional thing like I want to talk to the UK freelancers, then if you’ve just joined the site you’ve got instant access to that community. And also anyone else who checks those hashtags will see you pop up. And so relationships start to be built, which is the beginning of all good things really.

LH: Yeah. No, it’s brilliant. I think Twitter is absolutely fantastic. I adore it. A couple of times a year I get sick of it and go, “I’m never going on Twitter again,” but I’m literally back on it within about five hours [laughter].

PW: So, Lucy, thank you so much for coming and talking on the podcast. It’s been really interesting to find out more about screenwriting and script editing. Good to talk social media with someone else who I know is really into social media. If people want to say hi to you, Lucy, or have a read of your blog, perhaps your social media feeds, how would they get in touch with you?

LH: Well, all you have to do is you can find me via Google, because I’m the only Bang2Write online, which is B-A-N-G-2-W-R-I-T-E, and you can find my website, which is or I’m bang2write on Twitter. On Facebook there’s a writers’ group called Bang2Writers, and there’s another one on the LinkedIn. You can also find me on various other platforms like Quora and Pinterest, and I think I’m even on FourSquare, as well, though I don’t really understand what that is. But occasionally people add me on there. So find me there if you want.

PW: And I’m going to also put links to all those places in the show notes at If you listen to this and then by the time you get home you’ve forgotten, just come to the podcast website and there’ll be links directly to all of Lucy’s online stuff.

LH: Brilliant. Thank you.

PW: Thanks very much.

And so before we finish up there is now just time for a quick Recommendation of the Week. And my recommendation this week is a blog post by Carol Tice on, and it’s called ‘Can You Spot These Three Different Freelance Writing Scams?’ And we always all have to be on the lookout for people trying to exploit our frankly good nature, and get work out of us for nothing, or indeed charge us for work, which is more common than you might expect. And so, what Carol does in this post is go through three examples from her own experience, but really they apply to so many of us. Any writer with any kind of platform gets approached with this stuff all the time, and you have to know what to look for and what the warning signs are. And so I will, of course, link to that in the show notes. That’s just a quick recommendation for this week.

Now we will be back for a dual episode in two weeks’ time, so come back then to hear me and Lorrie talking shop. I hope you’ve enjoyed this interview with Lucy. Head over to and as well as all the links, too. Subscribe to the podcast and to my websites in social media feeds. You will also find links to all the films we’ve talked about, all of Lucy’s own websites and social media stuff, and plenty more. So thank you very much for listening, and we will see you next time.

Podcast Episode 66: Five (and a half) ways lists can transform your marketing

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.

Show Notes

10 most popular episodes of 2013:

drumroll – and I don’t really know what this says about our listeners, but at number one is…

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!


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, 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

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.

PW: Yes.

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.

PW: Yes.

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.

PW: Okay.

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’.

LH: Oh.

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

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.

PW: Yeah.

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.

LH: Yeah.

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.

LH: Yeah.

to do list

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.

LH: Dullsville.

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.

PW: Yeah.

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.

PW: Yeah.

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.

LH: No.

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.

LH: Harsh.

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.

LH: Yeah.

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.

LH: Shame.

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.

LH: Yeah.

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.

PW: Yes.

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.

PW: Handy.

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

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

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.

PW: Yeah.

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.

LH: Wow.

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 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

PW: And so that brings us to the end of episode 66. Tune in next week for an interview with screenwriting expert.

LH: Oh.

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.


Episode 65: How to blog about boring topics without sending your audience to sleep

While it would be wonderful if every piece of work we undertake, as freelance writers, was thrilling and enthralling, in reality we do, at times, get assignments which are terribly boring. In this podcast episode, Lorrie provides six ideas to help you create fascinating content when the topic you are writing about is deathly dull.

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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.

Freelancing is amazing, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Tune in to the podcast every week, and if you go to, you can subscribe to ensure you never miss an episode.

Whether iTunes, an RSS podcatcher or Stitcher Smart Radio is your platform of choice, we’ve made it really easy to sign up and be the first to hear our latest words of – again, hopefully! – 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 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 Tr...

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.

Imagination - HNBD

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 or you can come and have a chat with us at – 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 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.

Podcast Episode 64: Measuring the effectiveness of your content

As content creators, we freelance writers have a responsibility to not just carefully craft words into content, but also to pay attention to what we write that works, and what falls flat. Whether it is content for a client or for our own websites, if we forget about what we have created, we have no idea how effective our content is, which means we risk wasting our time and our clients’ money by writing articles, ebooks or presentations that don’t make an impact. If, instead, we measure how effective our content is, we can quickly learn what works and what doesn’t, what readers can relate to and what they ignore, and when we pay attention to what we find out, and apply it to future work, we learn to tailor our writing to our audience, and considerably improve its effectiveness.

Measure your content to maximise your success! 

Show Notes

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


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PW: Hello and welcome to episode 64 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 world so make sure you tune into every episode of this podcast. If you go to you can subscribe to ensure that you never miss an episode. We’ve made it really easy to sign up so make sure you subscribe via iTunes RSS or just heart radio and be the first to hear our new words of wisdom every fortnight. On that page you’ll also find links to any websites we mention and also links to mine and Lorrie’s website and social media feeds, so it’s well worth coming along and having a look. You’ll also find a link to our Facebook page and we want you to come and say, “Hello,” on Facebook. I am Philippa Willitts…


LH: …and I’m Lorrie Hartshorn and today we’re going to be looking at something that a lot of people seem to forget and thus fall down on when it comes to content. Now it’s my personal suspicion based on perhaps my own feelings that people deliberately forget to do this because it’s not my favourite task but it’s one that’s super important. Now it’s easy to put your heart and soul into a piece of work and just be so relieved once it’s done and out of your hair and published that you never want to see it or think about it again. Or you might just find that you’re snowed under with other pieces of work and that this task is just one too many on your to do list or so you think but it’s really, really important when you’re a freelance writer to keep an eye on the effectiveness of your content and one way to do this is to actively measuring it’s effectiveness. So that’s what we’re going to be chatting about today.


PW: First of all though we want to send out a massive congratulations to Annie Kontor who’s one of our listeners who completed NaNoWriMo!


LH: Oohhh.


PW: Yeah, we said when we did our big episode on NaNoWriMo that we’d do a shout out to any listeners who completed the challenge. So let us know if you are one of them too.


LH: Yes, do come and let us know because we will cheer you on, we will throw confetti bombs and we will be super, super pleased for you.


English: A typical Deutsche Bahn railway stati...

English: A typical Deutsche Bahn railway station clock (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

PW: This is true. And so to the topic at hand, we’re going to be looking at how to measure the effectiveness of your content basically and this is really important because otherwise you might be wasting your time and your energy on potentially pointless tasks. If you’re writing three blog posts a week but you don’t realise that only one of them is getting any clicks and the other two are boring people stupid…


LH: Yeah.


PW: You’re wasting a lot of time every week and energy that you could be putting somewhere else in your business.


LH: And it’s one thing to be wasting time when you’re writing for your own blog and you’re not getting any click throughs. Sure, you know, it’s a complete waste of time and that’s chargeable time when you’re a freelancer but it’s not quite as bad as if you’re writing for an external client. Because if somebody’s come to you thinking that you are the perfect person to write SEO blog posts for them, to stick with the example at hand, and you write blog posts that are getting no social media shares, they are getting no clicks, nobody’s interested, and people are coming to the page and bouncing straight off them, your client will be silly to stick with you as a copywriter. It’s up to you to work with your client to create content that’s worth their while and their customer’s while and their target market’s while.


PW: Definitely and there are so many benefits really. I mean, we could do a whole episode of the benefits of effectively measuring your content marketing because even things like if you’re tracking how people find your website for instance, you might discover things that you would never have realised otherwise but say, for instance, you offer a certain kind of content creation service but then through tracking your stats you discover that lots of people are finding you while looking for something even more specific or something slightly different. Then you can tailor your offerings and create a new page on your site or a new blog post and so you’ve actually got an insight into your potential client’s minds there. If you don’t check your stats you don’t know how people are finding you, you don’t know what people are looking for, you don’t know what’s popular and you’re going to lose out.


LH: Absolutely, because I think you’ve touched on something really interesting there in terms of how people get to a website and the terms that people search for when they find you and the terms that people use to describe your website, all of these things have a bearing and all of these things you can measure using some of the tools that we’re going to look at today.


PW: Yeah, there’s recently… Google has provoked controversy to say the least by limiting, severely limiting the ability of website owners to see what search term has lead to their site. It used to be that you could see everything. If anybody clicked from a search to your site you could see everything that you needed to know but they’ve been limiting and limiting and limiting. So now the number of search terms you can actually see from Google searches is minute and this is obviously you know, causing, people aren’t happy. If you pay for Google clicks you can still see your search terms…


LH: That’s kind of handy.


PW: Yes, so there’s a bit of a motive there but that’s not to say you’ll lose all your search term input data because as long as you’re getting visits from Bing and Yahoo!, you’ll still get an insight and there are other ways as well which – there are plenty of links online if you have a search – but if you’ve noticed recently that the search terms you’re seeing have dropped dramatically that’s why.


LH: You see Philippa is so good with all the tech news.


PW: [laughs]


LH: It’s like a little tech news tracker.


PW: [laughs]


LH: Which is very handy.


PW: Thank you very much.


LH: Yeah but true, if you have a look at some of the factors that Philippa’s just described it will help you to, I think it will help you to position yourself online it lets you see your own website and your own media activity in the context of a wider area and that’s always handy, it’s always handy to know which niche you’ve cornered if you’ve managed to corner one. Which niche you perhaps are trying to edge into but not quite making it and by positioning yourself in a wider context you can start to look at things like that your competitors, what people in the same niche as you are doing really well, what they’re doing not so well, what people in that niche are actually looking for and while you might not have access to the direct incoming data as Pip’s just mentioned you can do your own research, you know.


PW: Oh yeah.


LH: It’s not beyond you to do some research on that so all of the information you get you can certainly go and do some research around that and really use that to shape your own brand.


PW: Definitely.


LH: So basically measuring the effectiveness of your content marketing and your copywriting is, is just so important because if you don’t do that if you don’t measure what’s working well and what’s working not so well there’s no way to build on what you learnt this week, this month or this year as a whole precisely because you won’t have a clue what you actually learnt. So sure you will have picked up some knowledge here and there and you will have grown as a freelance writer and a content marketer hopefully by reading a lot and watching videos and doing online training and things like that and keeping your skills current.


But if you measure your effectiveness systematically and you’ve collected information related to yourself  and your content and your client’s content on say, a monthly basis or a weekly basis or even every two months just as often or as regularly as you can it will just give you something to go off when you need to look back over the year because a lot can happen in a year when you look back over the year you’ll be able to see what worked well, what didn’t and really start to pick up on patterns and trends.


If you’re the sort of person that doesn’t measure the effectiveness of their copywriting, their content marketing you’ll end up shooting in the dark when it comes to deciding where your content marketing strategy goes in the future or where your client’s content marketing strategy is going to go in the future. You won’t be able to forecast what you’re going to need to do next because you won’t have a clue what’s happened in the past and not only that being able to show that you’re an effective content marketer also gives you a lot more leverage when it comes to winning new business and commanding higher fees because you can say to people, “Look you’ve hired me in February, the year previously your website traffic was down here, after you hired me you experienced a massive peak in traffic and that continued over the next month. When you didn’t want any content from me in August your website traffic dropped off but when you took me on again in October it shot back up, I’m clearly the right copywriter for you.” I have…


PW: Yeah and that gives you kind of solid evidence doesn’t it? You’re not saying, “Let me write your blog posts because it will be good for you.” You can say, “Let me write your blog posts because you get an increase in traffic of 60% and an increase in conversions of 30%,” and you know it’s, it puts you in a stronger position.


Important Statistics

LH: Absolutely I was randomly enough, I was writing about how to write a good press release last night and one of the key factors is including hard stats and hard facts and hard figures and people are just more convinced by things like that. So as Pip says, precisely as Pip says if you can go to somebody and say, “Look these are the figures, these are figures that you can’t argue with this is what I do for your business.” It puts you in a much stronger position because you’re not being subjective anymore, you’re not saying, “I’m really good, people like me,” you’re not being persuasive in that sense you’re being persuasive by laying it on the line for them and saying, “This is my value to you, this is your return on investment.”


PW: Definitely and as Lorrie says that also helps with getting new clients as well. You have to…you wouldn’t be able to give direct stats but you could anonymise things with a new…with a potential new client and say, “Of my three main clients in the last three months I have increased social shares by 80%,” and you know, whatever are your most convincing stats basically.


LH: Absolutely.


PW: But if you anonymise them and generalise them. It doesn’t just help with your existing clients it helps you grab new ones as well.


LH: Absolutely, or you can average them out if you’ve got very strong, if you’ve really strong figures across the board you could say, “Look on average my client’s website traffic increased by such and such you know, the click through rate increased by this, the bounce rate decreased by such and such,” you know and you can use that information wherever you like, you can use that in your conversations, you can use it in your email marketing, you can use it in your newsletters, you can use it on your website content.


PW: Absolutely.


LH: It’s all very useful information. And there might be occasions too where your clients want you to track the effectiveness of the blogs that you write for them. So you might even end up having content strategy onto your list of service offerings, you know if you have such an understanding of what works and what doesn’t in terms of that client’s blog or that client’s email newsletters or their direct marketing campaigns. You can start to project into the future and decide what would be a good idea for them to tackle next. You can look at industry trends, you can decide where they should position themselves in the next six months for example and that’s a very valuable skill. So learning to measure the effectiveness of your content and of the content that you write for other people really is very worthwhile.


PW: And so when you’re measuring content you can measure these days anything, anything, every aspect of everything, from where site visitors, mouse trails or to which exact colour is the most effective for a link. But the thing is whilst it’s possible to measure every possible data for a solo worker like a freelancer this is unrealistic and that’s generally more suited for big companies with huge budgets. So instead what you need to do is establish for yourself what your most important market is going to be and what will make the biggest difference to your business. Some examples that could make a real difference to you are things like measuring the open rate on your email newsletters. Perhaps testing one subject line against another and seeing which is most effective because the more opens you get on your email newsletter the more effective it will be obviously.


Measuring how many people click different links on your site. If you write a blog post promoting a particular service and you’re linked to that service twice in that blog post. If you can measure which of the two links get the most clicks you will have a better idea of where in the post people are more likely click when you write things like how many people who visit your site go onto contact you, how many of those end up hiring you, where you appear in search results, the keywords, all those kind of things are things that might be useful for a freelancer. It’s up to you to choose your own priorities and they’re going to be different for everybody.


LH: And it’s a good idea as well to make sure that all your content areas say, your newsletter, your website, your emails, your blog are all pulling their weight, perhaps at least once a year I would say give it a good spring clean.


PW: Yeah, if you have an email newsletter but you also have other ways to reaching out to customers then measuring the relative success of them all can mean that if you discover that literally nobody opens your email and newsletter, nobody cares.


LH: Oh dear.


PW: Nobody subscribes and even those that do send it straight to spam then you know that that’s not an effective way of reaching your own clients. So you can put all your energy into your other ways of doing it. Choose your priorities they may change over time and that’s fine, getting a good baseline to start with is the only way to tell if you can improve or not or if you are improving or not. And measuring different things from different areas will give you a wide overview.


LH: Definitely and it’s…you know it’s tough being a freelancer we only have a limited amount of time as anybody does really. I think we can be kind to ourselves here and say I think we juggle a lot of plates and a lot of very different plates. You know we do external work, we do our admin, we do our business developments sales, finances, we’re everything to our own businesses so you don’t have time to work your bum off on your email newsletter and your blog and your website and everything else that you do to try and attract business. So as Pip says it’s good to be able to know what really doesn’t have a chance of working for you and what does because while it’s good to target areas for improvement it’s also good to know which areas are really going well and which areas are returning your investment basically because you don’t have all the time in the world as I say. You can’t spend hours and hours and hours trying to squeeze three followers out of that email newsletter that really is not working for you. Instead it might be well more worth your while in writing another blog post.


PW: Yeah, so we’ve looked at why you might want to track data, and we’ve looked at the kind of data you might want to track so obviously the big question is how to go about measuring your effectiveness. Now this in many ways can be complicated or as simple as you want it to be, often all it takes is a spreadsheet or a paper notebook or a word processor file in which on the left hand side be it in a spreadsheet column or a margin of a piece of paper you write down the things you want to track and then maybe a list of months and so you can say, “I want to know where I appear in the Google search results for the search term ‘freelance writing’,” and so you’ll have that in your left column. And then in January, 1st January, 1st February, 1st March, etc. you just write down or type out your results each month. It can be that simple.


LH: Yeah, I think for people who aren’t naturally statistic savvy and I count myself in your number comrades it really can seem like a daunting task but the good thing about measuring your contents effectiveness is that I know we’re saying this a lot today but as Pip says, like we’re really on the same page with this, even just checking whether your monthly numbers went up or down is better than nothing, it’s much better than nothing.


PW: Yeah, there are also fairly easy tools like ways you can measure your traffic for instance and if you are doing that then something you might want to measure is for instance what time of day new posts are more effective at. So in terms of how to measure that, if you have a spreadsheet with different post, different times of day you just write down literally how many views you got, it can be that easy, at different times of day and then if you notice that your 4pm posts gets loads more than your 9am or your 10pm posts then go with it. So you can just in terms of how to measure write down numbers. There are other things that make it ridiculously easy like if you want, if you’ve put a promotional YouTube video up, it’s so easy to measure the views you got because it just tells you underneath the video. So some things are very simple.


LH: Absolutely and going back to the point that you made about different times of day, that can also be widened out and have a look at different days of the week as well. And what’s nice about things like that is that so many people have trod the path before you, you can easily go on Google and have a look, have a look, have a look at people similar to you, have a look at the copywriting blog because they’ll be a lot of information and a lot of visual information, what we’re talking graphs, pie charts, line charts, whatever showing when people are most likely to click on, on entertainment blog posts or informative blog posts or when people are most likely to be on Twitter and therefore around to see your link and click on that. You don’t have to start from scratch so you can do your research beforehand and think, ‘Okay, well 10am on Wednesday it looks like it’s a good time, I’ll try that and also 4pm on a Friday looks like it’s good so I’ll try those two times.’ You know stand on the shoulders of people who’ve done more than you because that’s why they put the information online it’s so people will read it and find it useful.


PW: Yeah, and as we will go on to talk about shortly there are plenty of tools of around that can help you do this you don’t have to start from scratch anywhere really because there’s always somebody who also want to see stats, who then built a website or a piece of software that could do it easily for them.


LH: Absolutely and you know if you’re looking to check whether the figures on your website or your social media views went up or down check things like website traffic on a week where you don’t post anything on your blog and then check it a week again after regular posts or compare the before or after figures you know from a re-vamp on one of your major web pages because no matter how scary you think statistics are and trust me they are terrifying seeing where the numbers, like the number of visitors, the time they spent, the pages they visited, the links they clicked went up or down that’s within even most people’s reach.


PW: Mm, mm, definitely.


LH: Even we can manage that dissonance, just about.


PW: And so a lot of what we’re talking there is understandable about measuring your digital reach because that is the majority of what most copywriters do now. However you will still do some print type work. With something printed it’s not quite as clear cut you can’t track where somebody’s mouse moved across a page because they’re not using a mouse. And unless you’re going to go install iTrackers on people it’s not going to happen. So what we’re going to look at briefly now is also some of the ways you can measure how effective something that goes out on paper is for you.


LH: Yeah, and no worries we’re not going to be talking about sticking iTrackers on people or chasing people down the street and watching which bit of your leaflet they read first.


PW: That’s probably unethical and it’s certainly bit too energy intensive.


LH: I was going to say forget ethics I’m just tired, it’s cold, it’s dark I’m not running after anyone. So in terms of measuring the effectiveness of your print media and this tends to be particularly advertisement copy, things are as Pip says a little trick here but it is still worth bringing in a bit of digital and a bit of tech to help with matters. So don’t think just because your words ended up getting printed out that you’ve got to start keeping a big paper notebook full of receipts and you’ve got to start tracking people down and using a biro to scribble down on a piece of paper what’s going on. Say you’ve written an advert for a company and it’s gone in the local paper or you’ve drafted them a flyer and that’s been handed out in the local area there are certain ways to deal with the incoming data that will help you to demonstrate that you’re print media is having positive effects.


So firstly  you can use a dedicated sub-domain on your website and what I mean by that is that you can designate a certain page for recipients or viewers of your print media to visit so say for example you have a lawnmower sales person who has a leaflet handed out, you can create a page on their website with lawnmower promo as the sub-domain so and pop that on your leaflet so that you know that any clicks to that or the vast majority of clicks to that are going to be generated from the interest in your print media.


Second idea you can use a coupon code, everyone loves a coupon so you can actively track who’s been attracted by your media. So if you say to people come to the website and fill in such and such for access to our special promos or access for our latest information, anybody who enters the coupon code has undoubtedly got it from your print media.


PW: Yeah, there’s…if you offer something special really for using that coupon code it’s going to have a far greater chance of success. If you just say, “Use this coupon code for our information,” then they won’t really have any motivation to do that but if you say, “Use this coupon code for £10 off.”


LH: Yeah.


PW: Or, “Use this coupon code for a free…” what were we doing lawnmowers for a free, I don’t know…”


LH: A mower blades.


PW: Yes.


LH: Green mower blades.


PW: Then people are far more likely to use it and as long as you have tracked which coupon codes are connected to which leaflet then you’re alright. If they come in with coupon codes and you can’t remember which one went with which then it’s a waste of time. But yes offering some kind of incentive makes it much more likely that somebody will bother finding the coupon code on the piece of paper.


LH: Definitely and sometimes it can be difficult from experience it can be difficult to convince your company client to give sign offs on freebies. So what’s sometimes easier to get a sign off on is giving people a chance to win a freebie but you’re not using giving everybody a discount or a freebie.


PW: Yeah and also something to bear in mind is that you can do that as a test. If you send out three different flyers each with a different coupon code and you find that the vast majority of your orders come from flyer number one then the discount code you’ve offered for that run will cost you some money but from the next run of flyers onwards you just know to print exclusively flyer number one and you don’t necessarily need to offer a discount code then because you’ve already done your testing to see which is the most effective leaflet.


LH: Definitely so there are ways and means. And people as we said previously people will give you a lot more information if you offer them something in a way of an incentive. So never underestimate that option. And the third option in terms of measuring the effectiveness of your print media is simply to ask people where they’ve heard of you, to instil that in people at your client company or in yourself, to instil it as good practice to ask people where they came across you and it’s not so difficult you don’t have to act like it’s a massive survey. You can simply say to people. “Oh thanks very much for getting in touch can I ask where you’ve heard of me?”


PW: Yeah and you know what we’ve been talking about codes and tracking domains and this can just be you know, a really easy alternative to that. Just say, “Did you get our flyer? Was it the red one or the blue one?” You know, “Was it…did you see our ad in the paper? I don’t suppose you remember which paper it was?” You know that’s it problem solved.


LH: That’s it, keep it human you know, and in the next excel file will go a long way in helping you with this. If you have, I have one big excel file and I use it for all sorts. I’ve got lots and lots of different tabs in it, lots of different sheets. And if your phone goes and it’s a new client simply click through to the right sheet, take their details down which is great for future business opportunities anyway because you can always get back in touch with them and say, “Do you remember we were in touch in September, just wondered if there was anything I can help you with now?” which kind of feeds back into Pip’s last podcast episode about boosting your business development. That you can simply take down where they came across you.


PW: Identify initially what the most important stats are that you could gather don’t waste your time tracking everything go for the key things that will match up with what you need to know and in a way that can build your business.


LH: Definitely.


PW: Now we’ve mentioned spreadsheets and even just a big piece of paper to keep track of these things. But also as we mentioned earlier there were some tasks where they are incredibly useful tools that take all the hard work out of it for you. You might want to I don’t know write down every day how many people visited your website. Whereas in fact there are plenty of tools that will just tell you and you can click on, you know you install them and then you click on any day and you can look at a graph over a period of time and actually doing it by hand creates extra work for you. So what we’re going to look at now is some of those tools that take the hard work out of it for you.


Now one that has improved considerably in recent times is if you have a Facebook page because Facebook page analytics used to be quite difficult to access and quite complicated.


LH: Yes, it was quite clunky wasn’t it?


PW: Yeah it’s called ‘Insights’ and ‘Page insights’, and if you go into your Facebook page you can click through to the page insights and see quite easily a lot of information so for instance you might want to see what type…you might be wondering what type of posts are the most effective and whether you know perhaps posting a video gets three times the number of views as posting just a status update or posting a link might get a lot more click throughs than posting an image for instance. You can look at all of this, what you know, you can look at the kind of posts that lead people to unlike your page for instance. If you know somebody just saw your 18th image in a row and hit a wall and left.


You can look at which posts have the most reach, so perhaps have the most shares appear on people’s timelines the most. There is a lot of information and there is now relatively easy it’s quite well presented these days. So looking at our A Little Bird Told Me Facebook page, now I can see that certain posts have much higher engagements than others. If we took even just 20 minutes to properly analyse this we can use that to shape what we did in the future to maximise engagement with the page, so Facebook page insights is well worth a look. On your website itself you should have social sharing buttons so that people can… you want to make it as easy as possible for somebody to share your site or your blog on Twitter, Facebook wherever and if you’re going to install those buttons what is worth doing is making sure that the ones you install incorporate information about the number of clicks they get. So if you use WordPress which I know both of us do, there are a million different social sharing plugins, have a look through and find one that tells you how many times a post has been tweeted, this can tell you a lot.


LH: You got me thinking with what you said about measuring your Facebook page effectiveness. You got me thinking about a recommendation that you gave a couple of weeks back I think, maybe about a month back and that was for ShareGrab.


PW: Oh yes.


LH: ShareGrab listeners, ShareGrab is basically a tool that allows you to emulate the Facebook activity of a successful organisation. So say you have a look at a competitor freelance writer or you have a look at say a copy blogger who obviously do the most amazing content and have super number of click throughs and brilliant engagement and you think, ‘I need some of that because my Facebook page is rubbish’, what ShareGrab will allow you to do is to have a look, it will give you a snapshot of the effectiveness of that Facebook page and allow you to analyse what works and what doesn’t work quite as well and what was successful and what wasn’t and use that kind of information to shape your own Facebook page activity.


PW: Yeah, yeah well remembered.


LH: Well thank you.


PW: Now another really effective thing to measure is how many people are clicking on links. Now there are lots and lots of different URL trackers available. My saver is one called ‘Pretty Link’ where you can create custom URL’s and then the number of times they are used is tracked. And so if for instance we, say Lorrie and I had made some kind of podcast promo that was going out, what I could do is create three different URL’s, one could be, one could be and one could be /writingpodcast for instance and if during the different promos we use a different one each time what we could look at afterwards is how many clicks each of those got and therefore which was most likely to be the most effective of the three promos. This is really useful. The Pretty Link is also useful because you can create those pretty links which is why it’s called that. So say you have a really long affiliate link that’s just a series of letters and numbers that looks funny and horrible then you can easily and quickly turn that into whatever you want that to be really.


LH: Yeah, visually appealing links is so much more important. I mean look at Google+ and the vanoity URLs at the moment; that’s going down really, really well isn’t it, because instead of a random collection of numbers and letters.


PW: Yeah.


LH: You’ve got something that is just easy to remember, it’s nice to look at.


PW: Yeah.


LH: You can easily see what it says and just type it in and people, this will make a massive, massive difference to your click through rates.


PW: They really held up, held out a long time before giving those. People have been demanding them for years. So we’re…


LH: Have you noticed small print as well?


PW: I’m not sure.


LH: They’ve put in the small print that you don’t own your vanity URL.


PW: They, well you don’t own anything if it’s on a third party site, so. The final tool I want to mention for the time being is one, again one of several that allows you to measure your position in search engines, certain key words. Now there’s a lot trickier these days because searches are personalised a lot so if I search for restaurants chances are Google will give me a good number of restaurants in Sheffield, whereas if Lorrie searched for restaurants it will give her a good number of restaurants in Manchester. So it’s not easy to say these days, “I am number one in the search results for restaurants,” because everybody gets different results based on their location, based on their previous searches, based on the things they search for a lot. However it’s still a good thing to have a general idea of, you know, are you on the first page of Google. And so if you want to see where you’re ranked for you know, for particular key words around what you do, you know, I wouldn’t bother for most people to try and be on page 1 for ‘freelance writer’, for instance.


LH: No, it’s going to take you a while I think.


PW: Incredibly competitive but if you can go more specific perhaps you region or a particular topic you specialise in then it’s good to have a general idea about whether you’re on page 1 of the search result or page 25. You know even though results are personalised these days there are still trends that you want to keep an eye on are you generally going up or down in the rankings. Rankerizer is one of the tools available to help you measure this and what you can do is input a series of key words or key phrases and then choose whether you want it to check Google, Bing or Yahoo or all three and then you just hit run and tells you where your position for each of those, for each of the key words. And it’s good to get a general picture of how you’re doing in terms of your SEO.


LH: That sounds brilliant, very, very handy tool. And as Pip says, it’s good to have a general idea, don’t get obsessed that you know, don’t stay awake at night going, “Ah I was number three and now I’m number four.”


PW: Yeah.


LH: You know because it’s, things change and as Pip says with Google being more and more intuitive nowadays results are personalised so what is number three for you is going to be number four for someone else is going to be number ten for someone else.


PW: Exactly.


LH: You know there are ways and means it’s just good to know so that relative to your own previous results you were doing well. So have you gone up the rankings have you gone down the rankings. Obviously if you’re on paid work 35 for freelance copywriter in Manchester then it’s probably a bit fishy.


PW: Yeah.


LH: But as we say just keep an eye on it. Now one method that I really like, what with me being a stat phobe sometimes as we said Pip and I both use WordPress as our base for our website and I use the WordPress stats plugin and what that does is it adds a nice little page to your dashboard which is your control centre really in WordPress and shows you nice lots of pretty graphs and bar charts and numbers and it highlights the important ones for you, it is so friendly. And it tricked me back in the day when I was new in having a website, it tricked me into thinking that I had a good handle on things. You know it’s handy, it’s really handy because you can see what your best day was for views and where people came from. It will tell you where in the world you are having the most clicks from, it’ll tell you what pages they visited, inbound clicks, outbound clicks, all that kind of jazz. And if you do nothing else then at least get that installed on your WordPress website because it’s a nice, friendly introduction and it just, speaking from my own experience it let me see that alright maybe stats aren’t evil and maybe I can possibly bear to look at some more.


PW: Yeah, when I first set up my website I studiously set up Google analytics because it was what everybody was doing and Google analytics is a kind of thing where you can see how many people visited your site or you can see the most ridiculous detail you can imagine. And Google analytics is quite an imposing, intimidating interface if you don’t know what you’re doing. So I switched to a plugin that sounds very similar to the one that Lorrie’s described it’s called ‘New Stat Press’, and what that gives me is actually the information that I realistically need rather than whether the person visited my site was drinking tea or coffee at the time they were there, which Google analytics is pretty much capable of. New Stat Press yes, it gives me numbers, it gives me referrals which is how people find the site and my favourite bit of it is a little thing called ‘Spy’.


LH: Ooh.


PW: Where you can follow how people navigated your website. So for each visitor it will show you which page they arrived on, which links they then clicked, so which page they went to next.


LH: Aah.


PW: Which page they went to after that and then which page they left your site from.


LH: You see I might be ready to graduate with that.


PW: Yeah, I quite like that it’s called ‘Spy’, because that is what you’re doing, you are spying and it’s fascinating, it’s a…I could use it for a lot more useful things but as it is it mainly just makes me feel, you know…


LH: Powerful. You might be on my site but I know what you’re doing.


PW: That’s it and so if you want, if you’re using Google analytics and you like it that is great go with it.


LH: It is fab isn’t it?


PW: Oh it is.


LH: It is it’s handy.


PW: It’s so powerful but if you find that you’re avoiding it because it intimidates you it’s not actually the only option.


LH: And it’s not an excuse not to have anything either.


PW: No.


LH: Because as we said all the way back at the start of this, even if you just measure the basics it’s better than nothing it’s so much better than nothing.


PW: And all of these things we’re mentioning we will link to in the show notes so go to for a link to the WP stats plugin that Lorrie’s mentioned to you know, everything that we’re talking about basically. So there are more stats options for your sites than just Google analytics, you may well be relieved to know.


LH: Yes absolutely go for what you can handle, you know as I say when I started out with just a wee tiny blog WP stats was perfect because it wasn’t scary and I don’t even remember downloading it, I didn’t even know what a plugin was at the time, it was years ago. So it’s just a part of it, I was like “Aah look that blog post has so much love,” and I didn’t realise that was measuring the effectiveness. I didn’t realise that’s what it was doing. I was just like, “Aah I have so many clicks, this is brilliant,” but as I’ve gone on obviously I’ve started to realise that I can use the information in a more intuitive way and to build on my own content marketing strategy and as Pip says, you can graduate from tool to tool. And incorporate more information as you are able to handle there’s no point having thousands and thousands and thousands of stats if you don’t know what to do with them or if you don’t have time to do anything with them so just do what you can handle.


PW: Yeah because it’s better, despite what analytic snobs may say, it’s better to have a simple tool that you use than an incredibly complex tool that you get so scared of that you never even look at.


LH: Absolutely, we’re not about being snobs are we, we’re just about improving things in a way that you can manage. Measuring things shouldn’t be a whole new terror and fear and horror to add to your business it should just be something that helps you to stream line your business and make things easier and stop you wasting time. So if you find that you’re spending hours weeping over Google analytics going, “I don’t know what I’m doing,” then don’t do it. Quite simple, so to finish I thought we’ll touch a little bit more on some on the major social media platforms.


Now Google+ has becoming more and more important in terms of SEO but one of the tricky things about Google+ is that it has the same functionality as Facebook in the sense of you can have a profile for an individual or you can set up a page for a company but what a lot of companies are actually doing particularly freelance writers and people similar to that, they are actually just using profiles because you can tailor your output on Google+ so that different post and different updates are only visible to different audiences. So I think a lot of companies, correct me if I’m wrong Pip but a lot of companies are finding that there’s not really much point in having a separate page where they can just tailor their profile output.


PW: Yeah, Google gets determined about pages and then starts limiting access to things and it’s good to get because Google+ interface and permissions and all of that changes so often because they’re trying to optimise it themselves that it can be quite confusing to keep track of what you’re allowed to do on a profile versus a page and you’re right a page, a profile, are generally much easier to manage and so businesses are tending to stick with those.


LH: Absolutely but the thing with having a profile is that you can’t quite measure the return in investment as well as you might be able to from a page. So it’s all very simple it’s definitely worth being on Google+, it’s absolutely worth being on there and it’s worth linking your website to your Google+ account. However the way to measure the effectiveness really would be via other tools so using URL tracker, using, you know, putting outbound links from your Google+ profile to your website and then tracking the inbound links to see what’s come from there.


PW: Exactly, yeah.


LH: Because in terms of tracking things that are based in Google+ I think really the only way you could do that would be to see how many people have added you to circles and how many plus ones you’ve had. So Twitter, Twitter is the one that remains, there are lots and lots of ways to track your activity on Twitter. I use something called ‘’ and it’s not the most intuitive but it’s just something that I found handy when wanting to build my followers organically because I don’t know people do still do this, they still buy 30,000 Twitter followers.


And it looks so natural, listeners, totally it looks so, so natural you know, when I see somebody who is in the same kind of line of business as me and they’ve Tweeted six times and they have 35,000 followers I hit the spam button, just a slight note of warning there. I will not engage with somebody who has 30,000 followers most of whom are eggs. I just won’t it’s annoying.


So what Tweepi will allow you to do and it’s nothing particularly useful but you can see when people that you’re following have last tweeted so somebody who’s not tweeted for three months you can just get rid of them and just follow somebody who’s more worth your while. It will let you see who’s following you back, it will set, let you see who’s following you but you’re not following, you know sort of allow you to reciprocate; you can emulate the followers and followees of certain people who have influence. Although you do need to do your own research and see who’s doing well on Twitter and who isn’t, it can really allow you to shape your Twitter activity and to position yourself in a particularly useful sphere. And I think one word of warning that I want to give regarding Twitter and I think Pip knows what this is going to be.


PW: Go ahead.


LH: Is tracking your un-followers.


PW: I know what this is going to be.


LH: Now there is a tool, I think, I’m going to check while I’m recording this actually, I think it’s called ‘Un-follower me’, ‘’, I don’t for the life of me know why people use this, it is beyond me.


PW: There are a few aren’t there that do the same kind of thing?


LH: Yeah, I’ve just ‘’ into the search bar and the predicted results have come up, “Un-followers tracker Tumblr, un-follower checker, un-follower Instagram and un-follower hater,” and that is exactly what it is actually, you are…oh this thing, listeners if you’ve not come across them it will…


PW: Where have you been?


LH: Well yes, one, where have you been? And two what they do they allow you to see who’s un-followed you say in the last week on Twitter.


PW: And that is fine, that is something you may want to keep an eye on.


LH: That’s fine as long as you’re not obsessive about it.


PW: However…yes.


LH: Indeed, however… what these tools tend to do, I think there must be a check box somewhere that people don’t un-check. What they do they send out automated Tweets saying, “Ice checked how many people have un-followed me this week, it’s ten and I know who they are,” and it’s outrageous, I mean you’re basically telling people that I got un-followed because I was boring and I’m potentially going to threaten those people. It’s just dreadful it’s completely dreadful, you can easily use something like Tweepi to see quietly who un-followed you.


PW: Without the passive aggressive tweeting about it.


LH: So you can easily check who’s un-followed you using tools like Tweepi, you know you can have a subtle look. And if you find that somebody important has un-followed you, say a client or somebody you were hoping was going to become a client, you can maybe subtly Tweet them in a few days, “I just…”


PW: Don’t ever say to them, “I’ve seen you’ve un-followed me, why?”


LH: No, God forbid, no never.


PW: People do.


LH: I know it’s just, oh it breaks my heart every time I see it and it also causes me to un-follow people, I un-follow anybody who has automated ‘I got un-followed’ messages. I do, it’s ridiculous, it’s dreadful, dreadful, dreadful, dreadful. So you can easily track whose un-followed you on Tweepi and what you can do is just re-engage with that person subtle. You know send them something of use. Don’t try and you know, openly get them to re-follow you again but just indicate to them that you’re useful, if it’s worth your while, if it’s not, if it’s just some randomer who’s un-followed you then people get bored they want to know about different things, it may just be that you’re not their cup of tea for now.


PW: Another very useful tool that, well it’s not so much about measuring your efficiency it’s a good way of being more efficient quickly through stats. There’s a tool called ‘Tweriod’ kind of…


LH: They keep pushing these words on.


PW: Yeah, I know it’s pushing it isn’t it? But what this does it’s a very simple tool, you sign in with your Twitter account and it analyses your Tweets and your followers Tweets and simply tells you the best time of day for you to Tweet.


LH: That’s really good.


PW: And in terms of doing it when most of your followers are online and the most responsive and that’s a kind of great use of Twitter stats really. It’s very simple it does just what it says it’s going to do, it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles but if you want to know when the most effective time is for Tweeting your latest blog post or your latest opinion, Tweriod is the kind of thing that can help you work that out.


LH: Absolutely and I think to sum up it’s important to say that these tools are the most effective only use them in conjunction with other tools.


PW: So much, I was thinking that when you were talking about using like your URL trackers with Air Google+ the same applies to Twitter, the same applies to Facebook.


LH: Yeah, email marketing as well.


PW: Exactly all of these tools are best used if combined with each other really.


LH: Absolutely and what you need to do is come up with a package of tools really that suits you. So if you find that you use Tweepi and you hate it, don’t use Tweepi. If you find that you go for Pretty Link but you don’t like it, have a look at Bitly or, is it


PW: Yeah, yeah.


LH: Have a look at those see if that suits your needs. You know have a look at WP stats if that doesn’t work for you have a look at what was yours? Was it News Stats Press?


PW: Stats Press, yeah.


LH: Stats Press there are ways and means and if you build up a suite of effectiveness measuring tools you can start to just integrate that into your daily activity, you can start to really build up a picture of yourself online. And as Pip mentioned earlier there’s no point looking at Google analytics in all its glory if you only need to see a corner of what it does. There’s no point having a look at…it’s the same when we talk about social media isn’t it? There’s point being in Pinterest if you’re not going to update it, there’s no point being on Vimeo if you’re not going to upload anything.


So don’t go and think I need to measure everything, you literally just need to work out where you go and what you do online and offline occasionally and then work out how better to track information and keep in mind why you want to know that information, and how it’s going to be useful to you. Don’t just start collecting facts and figures for the sake of it but find stuff that’s useful to you.


PW: Yeah and if you’re metric measurement routine takes you four hours a week you’re not going to keep it up. So much as we were saying use simple analytics tools if they help, you know if they make it more accessible to you. Similarly don’t set up a procedure that’s so onerous that you’ve not got time to do anything else, be realistic, find out the things you really need to know that will really benefit you.


LH: Now the New Year is coming up fast and we will be doing another podcast episode just as we did last year. I can’t believe it’s a year ago on setting goals and setting yourself targets and objectives and realistic aims for 2014, just to get your business into the swing of things. So this has really been a bit of an introduction to that. If you can get a good handle on how your business is doing and whereabouts you’re positioned online and what you could do better with and what’s going okay, you’ll be in a much, much stronger position when you come to setting your goals for next year.


PW: Absolutely, and so now it is time for the Little Bird recommendations of the week in which Lorrie and I pick something to share that have caught our eye that we think our listeners might enjoy. And so Lorrie what is your recommendation this week?


LH: My recommendation this week is a lovely little tool called ‘Pay with a tweet’, and I was thinking about it because I’ve been re-doing my website but I’m having a big, big overhaul and it just seems like website content is never done doesn’t it?


PW:  Yeah I added a few pages a few weeks ago and my plan was to add a few pages a week and it’s, oh it’s such a job.


LH: It is, it’s a huge, huge job and because…


PW: Especially considering we’re writers and this is what we do for a living, it’s surprisingly hard to get it done on your own site.


LH: Oh God yeah, you know if I let my clients know how onerous this has been for me, oh my God I can’t write anymore web content and yet when I do it for other people it’s fine. It’s just I think talking about it yourself is quite hard.


PW: Yes, it is. Like I’m sure if Lorrie and I swopped and I did hers and she did mine we’d get on much better actually.


LH: Absolutely why haven’t we done that?


PW: I don’t know it’s only just occurred to me.


LH: Give us a break, I was sitting there at eleven o’clock last night going, “I must finish this page.”


PW: Yeah, it’s like if you’re at somebody else’s house you don’t mind washing up after a meal but at home it’s a really horrible job.


LH: Yeah, I did that I went to the in-laws the other day and I washed all the dishes then I came home and there were some pans to wash and I was really angry with my husband and he hadn’t done them, I have to wash pans. So when I was busy tootling away on my own website I was starting to think that I wanted to build up my mailing list a little bit more in the coming year and a good way to do that, listeners, is to offer people a freebie.


As we’ve said earlier people love a freebie so it can be a free guide to something, it can be a white paper, it could be a mini e-book, you know something that makes them want to give you their email address. So that’s a really good way to build up your mailing list but then I thought well actually it’s not all about getting people on your mailing list because email marketing is only one side of things and I quite like what’s happening with my social media feeds, I’m doing quite alright with my social media. So it seems sensible to maybe put some eggs in that basket as well which brings me to my recommendation which is ‘Pay with a Tweet’, now what Pay with a Tweet will allow you to do is to give people access to something on your website if they tweet about it.


PW: Ah ha.


LH: Or also if they update it on Facebook for example you can also pay with another social media post. So if people share the link to and the information about the object that they’re wanting to get their hands on they can get access to a download link.


PW: And I believe you can set your own text for what that’s going to say?


LH: You can, they can alter it of course. If you can’t set, you can’t set text that they can’t alter. But you know you can set text that includes SEO content and your, say your Tweeter handle and a link to whatever they were wanting to download from your website.


PW: Yeah or a good hash tag.


LH: Definitely so…


PW: I think like Lorrie said people will be able to alter it but a lot of people won’t bother.


LH: I know.


PW: So it’s worth thinking about crafting that message quite carefully.


LH: Definitely, so yes, once they’ve clicked send on that Tweet it will start the download for them and they will get whatever white paper or guide or report or freebie that you’re offering them and you will have a nice fact social media share.


PW: Which, you know, is great, it’s social proof but it’s also just it expands your reach a bit. If 50 people want to get hold of Lorrie’s white paper and 30 of them Tweet it and 20 of the post it on Facebook then all of their followers and all of their friends, you know, get a glimpse of what Lorrie has got to offer and a number of them will click through and will also go, “Oh I quite fancy reading that,” and will do the same it’s kind of potential for virality isn’t it really?


LH: Absolutely and if you make sure to include your Tweeter handle in the Tweet you’re going to get a notification every time somebody does that and that means you can build up your following, you can start to interact with people who’ve actually come to your website so potentially interested people. You know they’re on your website, they’ve spent enough time on there to be interested enough to download what you have to say, that’s a warm lead.


PW: Oh definitely, definitely, it’s so much easier to interact with somebody who’s actively interested than to build up a cold lead. So I just really liked the idea of ‘Pay with a Tweet’ and although it seems at first okay Tweets maybe not as valuable as somebody’s data, you know, their name, their email address, I do think it can be quite valuable so that is my recommendation this week.


PW: I like it very much.


LH: Thank you I thought you would. So Philippa, Philippa my love, my lamb what is your recommendation this week?


PW: My recommendation this week is a great article about a weird, new little feature that we’re seeing in grammar.


LH: Why do you always find the weird things? You’re like Queen Weird.


PW: This is brilliant, right it’s about…and you’ll recognise this as I say it but it’s about the fact that ‘because’ has become a preposition.


LH: Oooh.


PW: And you will, you might, it might sound like “What?” but you’ll recognise it, people will say something especially on Tweeter, like “Turning off my alarm clock because weekend!” or “I’ve got three jumpers on because winter” and this is catching on I see it more and more and more and I’ve used it myself I have to admit it just seems a little bit quirky and a bit kind of implies a sense of urgency or importance.


LH: Yeah because hipster.


PW: It’s just quite cute and anyway and so this is something that anybody with an interest in language will have noticed once and a while, you know that usage but what this article is just a brilliant and in-depth and long look at why this has happened, how it’s happened the kind of way it’s being used and there’s a…


LH: I love these kinds of cultural linguistic things.


PW: Absolutely and it’s, he has listed a load of Tweets things like, “Not in the UK yet because aaah,” “Falls on bed and cuddles pillows because tired,” and “Guy closes a record hive for 35th time this year because Obama,” and so it’s something…


LH: It doesn’t stop being funny for some reason…


PW: No it doesn’t, that’s it will at some point get tiresome but at this stage it hasn’t. And this is a really nice writer of how it’s working, why, you know why it’s happening, what…the implications are and yeah, it’s…I should give, it’s on a blog called ‘Sentence first’ and Irishman’s blog about the English language. The blog post I got is because it’s become a preposition, because grammar and of course I will link to it in the share notes but if you’re interested in words which you are because you’re listening to this you will want to read this post.


LH: Absolutely I love that.


PW: I Tweeted the guy who wrote and I said something like, “Everybody’s got to read this because awesomeness” and then one of his friends went, replied to me and said, “It’s great that people keep tweeting because traffic,” and then he, the author replied to me and this just went on and on and on it can run and run and run.


LH: Brilliant, no I really like it and I, like I say want to hate it but I can’t.


PW: I know because we know…


LH: Because what?!


PW: Because we know as you know as linguists or people interested in language, that language is constantly changing and evolving. And we also know as writers and proof readers that that can be really annoying. There are things that change in language due to decades of errors that eventually just become assimilated and become correct, even though originally they were errors and this is incredibly frustrating.


LH: Oh yeah the earth was decimated, ooh.


PW: Exactly, so people like Lorrie and myself that is a really annoying thing to come to terms with. However this is another example of grammar constantly changing and evolving and it seems directly informed by the internet as well which makes it doubly interesting in my…


LH: It’s true isn’t it?


PW: …in my geeky brain. But we do, the fact that language is evolving it always does it’s, so it’s doing so now and this is one example of it that, that it’s more interesting than just the…like things like ‘decimated’ like Lorrie says, that gets people very annoyed because it’s used in a way that isn’t what it originally meant. The point that now it’s usage has essentially changed but this is just a bit more quirky and a bit, a bit more, I don’t know…


LH: You know I think it’s interesting I had my dad round for a chat the other day and for some reason we were talking about, oh it was dad jokes of course, of course it was. My dad like most other dad’s in the universe can tell really, really bad jokes and I’m kind of scarily kind of turning into him as I get older. But we were talking about humour and there are certain things that are funny because internet basically.


PW: Oh yeah definitely.


LH: Hash tags there are certain, you know somebody using a self-effacing or witty hash tag. My dad will never understand why that’s funny, memes they are specific…


PW: Oh yes.


LH: …internet humour and then jokes…


PW: Yeah when somebody says, “Ain’t nobody got time for that,” that makes no sense out of Tweeter really.


LH: Absolutely, you know and if people speak in lol caps speak, you know that can be quite funny or people will add like an ironic hash tag onto the end of something then you can “oh lols,” that’s so funny. It would be funny to you because you know the context almost without knowing that you know context. You simply have acclimatised to an online world.


PW: Yeah and I mean on a much more basic level there are people now who will say, “Lol,” instead of laughing, you know and that, I hate that, like if it’s funny either laugh, you know, if it’s funny laugh don’t say, “Lol.” And yeah the thing, yeah means it’s spread outside of the internet like Lorrie says, if we met up and we would laugh at those things but if my mum and Lorrie’s dad were involved they wouldn’t have the first idea what we were laughing at.


LH: No because there are so many references, I mean things ‘like a boss’, I love ‘like a boss’.


PW: She does, she uses it in every email she sends me and that’s not an exaggeration.


LH: Let it be said I do not use it with clients. Honestly hire me and I will write your website copy like a boss, like a boss, like a boss. But I don’t know why I find it funny, I don’t even really know where it’s from but I’ve seen so many uses of it that are so funny and so many stupid pictures of seagulls standing on other seagulls heads captured with ‘Like a boss’, that it’s just embedded in me that this is funny. So it’s really strange isn’t it how language evolves, I really like that recommendation because it’s nice to go back to roots sometimes and get a bit of pleasure in language again.


PW: And you know, it’s one of the reasons we’re writers, it’s because we really like words and we really like the way words are used.


LH: Yeah because it’s a creative job at the end of the day, you know, we can talk all we want about stats and metrics and things but inherently it’s a creative job and you need to stay creative and you need to be able to keep track of what’s going on because as we say we’re mostly digital copy writers and if you can keep your finger on the pulse of what’s funny and what’s current on the net, you can turn it to your advantage because I mean look at the at blog post title, ‘Because has become a preposition because grammar’,  that caught your attention immediately.


PW: Yes absolutely and it was…


LH: So just…


PW: …it was incredibly widely said, so it wasn’t just me being geeky this is something people could relate to, you know, languagey people because words and you know if you’re not sure what a preposition is then read it and you’ll find out what a preposition is.


LH: Oh God yeah.


PW: Yeah it’s good because it’s detailed and it’s very geeky grammatical but it is also humorous and something that makes you nod a bit and think I know what he’s talking about.


LH: Perfect recommendation.


PW: Thank you very much. Now if you’d only given access to it by Paying with a Tweet it would have brought both our recommendations together perfectly.


LH: Could you imagine the perfect storm. And so there we are it’s the end of episode 64 of A Little Bird Told Me. Now what we want you to do is head over to and subscribe. We know we say this a lot but it’s because we know you’d be terribly sad if you miss one without realising, it’s for your own good.


LH: Yes we’re saving you from yourself.


PW: Yeah.


LH: Come and have a look at our Facebook page too, we are on there we chat, we talk, we offer advice, we offer support and we confetti bomb people who do well and tell us about it, so come and have a nosey, we’re at so we’re nice and easy to find, vanity URL for the win because it’s easy to share. So that brings us like a boss very much to the end of a little bird told me, have a wonderful day, thank you so much for listening, I have been Lorrie Hartshorn.


PW: And I have been Philippa Willitts and we will see you next time.

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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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, 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 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 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.