Category Archives: Podcast

Podcast Episode 51: Essential Android Apps for Freelance Writers

I don’t know about you, but I find myself doing more and more work on my mobile phone when I’m out and about. Thankfully, there are plenty of apps designed to improve productivity, aid organisation and help you to take notes and produce work on the go. In this solo episode, I discuss the top apps for Android-using freelance writers, and most of them are available on iOS too!

Show Notes

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Subscribe via RSS

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

Transcript

Hello and welcome to episode 51 of A Little Bird Told Me, the freelance writing podcast about the highs, the lows and the no-nos of successful self-employment. You can find us on the web at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com. Do make sure you head over there because there are links to all our previous episodes and every link we mention on the podcast.

The other thing you can find at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com is the links to subscribe to the podcast. You know you never want to miss another episode, so whether your platform of choice is iTunes, RSS reader or Stitcher Smart Radio, you can find the links on our Podomatic page.

I’m Philippa Willitts and I’m doing a solo episode today. Some statistics caught my attention this week: in the States, 56% of adults have a smart phone and 34% have a tablet. A quarter of smart phone users say they can’t remember the last time their phone wasn’t next to them. And 29% of Americans say that their phone is the first and last thing they look at every day. I’m only laughing because I can relate to it so well – I’m one of those people who always has their phone on them, I’m always checking my email if there are 10 seconds to spare.

Now, as we use our phones more and more for checking social networks, doing a quick Google to find something out on the go, it gets to the point where you find yourself increasingly working via your smart phone or tablet as well, whether that’s something as simple as checking your email while you’re having a drink in a café or whether you’re doing more complicated work on your tablet or smart phone. The fact is that I think this will continue to increase and that we’ll find it more normal to work in this way. I know I’ve gone from checking my work email when I’m out to doing more and more involved things.

So what I want to look at today is apps that are really handy for freelance writers – apps you can download to your phone. Now, in these recent statistics, in the second quarter of this year, the Android operating system accounted for 75.5% of the smart phone market share. Apple operating system IOS dropped to 13.6%. Windows Phone is increasing but from a very low place to start with, and Blackberry is very low at the moment. So there are three quarters of the world’s smart phone users using the Android operating system, and almost a sixth using Apple. With tablets, so iPads or Android tablets, Android has 53% of the market share, while Apple has 43%. Apple’s number dropped and Android’s grew, so that’s a far more even split.

android

android (Photo credit: Saad Irfan)

Now, I’m an Android user. I use an HTC Android phone and I have an Android tablet. I like Android – I like how it is to use, I like how it integrates well with everything else, I like that you don’t have to have a particular brand of phone or tablet to use it – I like that kind of open nature of the coding. It’s a lot less control freaky than Apple can appear to be, so I’m a big Android fan. However, some of my best friends are iPhone users – I don’t object to it!

But, because I like it and because so many more phones are using Android including my own, the apps I’m talking about today are all Android apps. However, some of them do have IOS, iPhone, iPad versions of the same app. Even in the cases where there aren’t exactly the same apps, there will, I’m sure, be very similar apps. So even if you’re an iPhone user, don’t think this episode won’t be relevant – it’ll give you ideas about the kinds of apps to look for and a good number will have iPhone versions available.

So what I’m going to talk about today are the nine top apps that every freelance writer can benefit from. They can have numerous purposes from being handy if you’re out and about to actually serving a better purpose than something on your PC or laptop might.

And the first of these apps is called CamScanner, and it’s available for Android and IOS systems. It’s very simple and very effective. It enables you to take a photo of any document or object, say a receipt. It optimises it, makes it very clear and very contrasty, then turns it into a PDF for you. So when you buy something work-related, and especially if you’re worried you might lose the receipt, you just open up CamScanner, start a new document, take a picture of it and it turns into a PDF that you can then email to yourself or share with your Google Drive and you’ve got a record of that receipt that can then be filed.

Now, you can use the free version of CamScanner, which I use and is great. You can also upgrade to a paid version which has some benefits and that’s either $4.99 a month or $49.99 a year. If you use the free version, at the bottom of each document it says something like “powered by CamScanner”. Now I don’t mind that, as I just use the documents for my records so it makes no difference. If you get the paid version, there are no ads and no watermarks. You can also password protect your documents, extract text to edit later and you get a higher quality scan although the scans you get with the free version are, for my purposes, absolutely fine.

Now with this app, you can actually annotate the PDF documents you scan. You can do this 30 times with the free version; if you need to do this more, you then need to buy the paid version. And whether you get the free or paid version, you can share the PDFs with yourself in whatever way suits you whether that’s via Google Drive, emailing it to yourself, uploading it to Drop Box, whatever. It’s a really handy little app – it was one of the first things I downloaded when I got an Android phone for the first time a few years ago.

The next app I’m going to recommend won’t come to a big surprise to regular listeners of this podcast, and that’s the Google Drive app. Again this is available for both Android and IOS devices. It’s incredibly handy if you want to edit a document, create a document, anything like that that you can then get hold of on your computer or on another device. If I have a great idea for a podcast episode while I’m out, for example, I can open a Google Drive app, create a new document, make notes and save it, knowing that when I get back to my computer, it’ll be there waiting for me when I get back. Similarly, if I want to transfer some of the photos from my phone to my computer, I can upload those from my phone to my Google Drive and then access them from my computer. All you need is an internet connection and it’s all there.

You can share documents with people you’re in contact with. It doesn’t even have to be a word processing document; you can open a spreadsheet, format the text on it. If you’ve set out for a meeting but you’ve forgotten to bring the agenda – if you know you’ve saved it to Google Drive, you can quickly access that on your iPad. It’s so, so useful – we certainly couldn’t manage the podcast in the way that we do without it – so the fact that I use it so much on the computer makes it really handy to have it available on my phone and Android tablet.

The next app I’m going to recommend is another Google one – the Google Calendar app, which is available for Android and iPhone users. And there are also lots of other calendar apps that will sync with your Google Calendar so if you’re not enamoured with the Google Calendar app itself, do have a look at some of the others.

Now what this does is sync with your phone, so if there’s something in your Google Calendar that you’ve forgotten, but you’re not at your computer, you’ll still get a notification on your phone. I use a mix of Google Calendar and a paper diary to keep track of what I’m doing. It’s really reassuring to know that, if there’s an event coming up in your Google Calendar, you’ll get a notification on your phone.

And the fact that Android is run by Google means that Android and Google apps tend to work really well together. Within the app you can also – as well as seeing the events in there – add events using your phone or tablet. This is invaluable if you’re out with someone and want to arrange your next meeting, you can access your full calendar and then add the meeting using the app, and even invite the person you’re with using your phone. This means that you’re not having to write it down on a piece of paper and remember to add it to your Google Calendar later. And also you can set up within the app itself the kind of reminders you want.

The other handy thing with the Google Calendar Android app is that you can set up a widget. So rather than having to go to an app itself, you can choose to have something on display. So it might be that on the homepage of your phone that you have a little Google Calendar widget so you can see at a glance what your next event is and the details about it. I have one of those set up – looking at it now, it tells me that tomorrow is a friend’s birthday, that I have a meeting on Wednesday. I don’t even need to go into the app; it just displays automatically. So yes, give Google Calendar a go.

The next app I’m going to recommend is, as far as I can tell, only available on Android. It’s called Eduport, and it’s great for something that Lorrie and I bang on about all the time, and that’s ongoing training, study and learning. And what Eduport does is give you easy and quick access to loads of free lectures and talks.

When you enter the app, you can access different channels. So, there is the University College of Berkley, Stanford University, TED talks, and you can quickly and easily find courses and lectures based on subjects you’re looking for. They’re organised as playlists, really, with different playlist for different topics. And while you can find most of the same talks on YouTube, the joy of Eduport is that they’re all in one place. You don’t have to filter out all sorts of irrelevant things if you’re looking for something specific because it’s specialised and only gives you really reputable sources to work with.

I use this more on my tablet than on my phone, if only because I prefer to watch videos on a bigger screen. But looking at reviews, people love it on their phone – it depends on your preferences. But with this app you have no excuse to not check out different free university courses and other types of courses so you can carry on learning on an ongoing basis. There isn’t, for instance, necessarily a creative writing course on there – I haven’t found one, but there are so many videos on there that there may be! – but it doesn’t all have to be specifically about writing. You might want to do some business, health or maths courses, depending on what you write about. It doesn’t always have to be work related, either – you might want to know more about, say, physics, just as a hobby, and Eduport is a great way to do that as well.

App number 5 is called Voice Recorder. It also appears to only be available for Android – however, there will be very similar apps for IOS. It just does exactly what it says on the tin – there’s a big red record button on it, you press that and speak into it and it records your voice. Now what this is great for is if you have a sudden idea and you’re not near your computer but you really don’t want to forget it. Whether it’s something to add to your to-do list, or a great idea for a story or a good source for an eBook you’re writing. Rather than trying to find a bit of paper to write on, just open the app, hit record and say, “Don’t forget to email Jane about that landing page.” Then stop recording. In a matter of three seconds, you’ve made a record of something that you can easily check when you get home.

Another lovely thing about Voice Recorder is that you can send what you record directly through Gmail. So, you might want to email yourself but equally you might record a note for someone else and send it through to them if you use the Gmail app on your phone. There’s also a widget so you can also set it up so that you just hit record on the widget. So it’s a handy app. I will of course be linking to all of these apps in the show notes at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com so don’t worry about trying to remember what they’re all called; just make yourself a Voice Recorder note to go to our site and you’ll find all the direct links there!

Mind Mapping

Mind Mapping (Photo credit: sirwiseowl)

The next app I’m going to recommend is available for both Android and IOS. It’s called Mindjet Maps. Now this is a brilliant and simple way to create mind maps that you can store on your phone, share with Drop Box, whatever. And if you’re the kind of person who really likes a visual approach to planning and brainstorming, this is a really effective method. You can create a visual planning document or brainstorm with different boxes all linked together. They can contain photos, written notes or anything really that can help you organise your ideas. It can also be handy for taking notes at a meeting if you want to represent your ideas a bit differently – rather than just writing pages and pages of words. It may well make more sense to you afterwards – you can see immediately what you were getting at rather than having to re-read loads of quoted words.

Now, mind maps do seem to be the sort of thing you either love or hate, but if you’re the sort of person who finds them useful, then Mindjet Maps is a free app and I’d strongly recommend giving it a go.

The eighth app I’m going to recommend for freelance writers is the Feed.ly app. This is available on iTunes as well as the Google Play store. If you were a former user of Google Reader, you, like me, will probably have done a fair bit of research into a good alternative to switch to when Google Reader was closing. You may well have switched to Feed.ly. Now I miss Google Reader still – I always will.

However, the benefit of Feed.ly is that they’d anticipated that Google Reader was going to close. Several months in advance, they started preparing for that possibility. So they vastly increased their capacity and they really optimised imports from Google Reader and while I did try a couple of other services around that time, Feed.ly was the only one I found to be consistently good. Lots of people were raving about one called The Old Reader but every time I went on there, it said it was over capacity and I couldn’t be bothered with that, frankly.

So, yes, I went with Feed.ly like a lot of people. I access this partly via a Chrome extension but also via my phone and tablet. Now, what Feed.ly does is…if you’re not familiar with how RSS readers work, any blog or website that you want to keep up with, you can subscribe to in Feed.ly. Every time that site is updated, Feed.ly will update and you can scroll through your favourite sites and blogs in this one interface. So you don’t have to keep going and checking to see if your favourite blog has been updated – if it has, it’ll be in Feed.ly.

Now within Feed.ly, you categorise each site you want to keep up with. You might have a section for writing blogs, humour blogs, health information – whatever you want. So each website you subscribe to, you then subscribe to one or more categories. Then, when you want to catch up with your favourite sites and blogs, you to go your Feed.ly app on your browser, or phone or tablet, and you can choose to scroll through all the updates in a particular category or just all of the updates together.

I’m going to put a screenshot from my phone of a couple of these apps into the show notes, include one from Feed.ly. It’s really useful for keeping on top of the latest news. Looking at my own account, I have a category for writing advice, one about my local area, one about SEO and social media, another about PPC, another of photo blogs, one about people I know, one for marketing, one about environmental stuff, a humour one, a feminist one, Google Analytics, journalism etc.

So if I know I need to find a blog topic for an SEO client, I go straight to my SEO category. If I want to find something to recommend on this podcast, I might go to my writing category and see if anything great has been posted. Or, if I’m on the bus and want some down-time, I’ll open the humour blogs and have a giggle.

And it gathers everything you need. You input the RSS feed or URL of a website and it brings everything to you. I do also have some categories for some specific industries I write regular news stories for – they’re not the kinds of stories I’d normally read, but they’re there and waiting when I need them.

The app for the phone is nice, it’s intuitive, you can swipe to the left for the next story and quickly scroll past things you’re not interested in. You can also share directly from Feed.ly so you click the share button and share with Twitter or Facebook. So if you’re looking for a good RSS feed reader to manage your subscriptions, Feed.ly is one to look at. The phone and tablet apps really do make it easy to use.

So the ninth and final app I’m going to recommend is DropBox. DropBox is a really useful way of backing up and sharing your documents and information. If you’ve got DropBox on your phone and you have some pictures you want to share with your sister, you can create a shared folder for you both, upload the pictures and then, when she turns her phone on, those pictures are there, ready for her to download. If you’ve scanned a business receipt, using my first recommendation – CamScanner – then you can upload the file to a folder called “Receipts” and you know it’ll be there ready to file on your laptop when you get home.

Similarly, if you have a file already in your DropBox, you can open and amend it from your phone. It’s one of those services I didn’t realise was so useful until I started using it. At one point, I was working between two faulty machines. So when I was trying to work on a document I’d previously been working on on another computer, Drop Box made it so much easier – with Drop Box, it was just there. If you don’t have an account already, do check out our show notes and click through from there. It’s so handy and you get a certain amount of storage for free, although you may want to pay for more storage. And it might just make life that bit easier.

So those are my nine essential Android apps for freelance writers. They can all really help you with your productivity, organisation, planning and your work itself. They can help you learn, take notes, organise notes and access the information you need when you need it. Mobile technology is coming on so fast that we’re going to be using phones and tablets for more and more of our work over time. There’s no doubt – whereas freelancers might have used smart phones for social media, increasingly we’re using it for work and that’ll grow as the capabilities of the machines grow, and also as companies have bright ideas about how to make it easy to do and create apps that help.

So if you do have a smart phone and you’re not already using it for anything work related, then maybe give a few of those apps a go. If you’re already using your phone for some work stuff, then maybe some suggestions here can make things even easier. And if you’re just looking for something to keep your mind occupied, then Eduport or Feed.ly can provide you with endless information at the touch of a button. And so those are my top app recommendations for self-employed writers.

And now it’s time for the famous Little Bird Told Me Recommendation of the week – only one this week, of course, as there’s only me. My recommendation this week is something called Worldometers, which is a website of real time world statistics. It’s just quite fascinating if you want instant statistics, it’s the place to go – it has constantly updated stats.

So I’m watching at the moment about the world population; the numbers are rising several per second. I can see that there have been 223, 404 births today and 92,187 deaths today. If I go back to the main page, I can see there have been 221, 368,000 computers sold in the world this year. I can see that there have been 3,075,000 cell phones sold today. I can see that there has been $104,618,000 spent on video games today, 2,383,000 blog posts have been written today, 17,988 people who died of hunger today. How much water is being consumed, how much coal we have left, how many deaths by HIV and AIDs…it’s not just full of this really interesting and potentially very useful information, it’s also accountable because it gives its sources and they tend to be really reputable, like the World Health Organisation.

It’s fascinating to watch these numbers but if you’re writing about dieting, you can see that today alone, $110,340,000 has been spent on weight loss programmes in the USA. You can see how many emails have been sent today, how many newspapers have been sent today…so whether it’s something you find useful for work or just something to help you win a pub quiz, then my recommendation today is the Worldometers website, which I’ll link to from our show notes.

So that’s the end of episode 51 – thank you so much for listening. Let me know how you get on with your Android apps. All my contact details – and my co-host Lorrie’s – can be found at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, and there you can subscribe to the podcast and find a link to our Facebook page. Do come and say hi on there or Twitter. Thank you again for listening and I’ll see you next week.

 

Podcast Episode 50: Part 2 of How to stop your freelance business from wasting money

In episode 48 a couple of weeks ago, Lorrie and I began a two-part episode all about how freelancers can save money within their business, and hunt out and eliminate expensive, wasteful habits and patterns. In episode 50 (woohoo!) we carry on on that theme, with plenty more tips and tricks up our sleeves to share.

Show Notes

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

Subscribe via RSS

Subscribe via iTunes

Find us on Stitcher Smart Radio

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

Transcript

LH: Hello and welcome to episode 50 of ‘A Little Bird Told Me’ it’s a bit of a milestone.

PW: It certainly is.

LH: My co-host Pippa and I are two freelance writers who are here on a frankly heroic mission to help you avoid the pitfalls that plague your profession and become the most wonderful wordsmith you can be.

Now, the reason behind this podcast is that freelancing can be really tough and lonely. Our hope is that this recording will just be a little ray of sunshine in a world where you can find yourself, on your own, miserable and wondering what to do next. Without the support of colleagues it can be really, really tough.

So, we’ll be your colleagues; your podcast colleagues. So to make sure that you don’t miss out on our lovely wisdom and wit and marvelousness, we’ve made it super easy to subscribe, you can tune into the podcast via ITunes, RSS Feed, Stitch a Smart Radio or just on Podomatic.

So no matter how you want to listen, do make sure you stop by the Podomatic homepage and that’s at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com because there’s a whole range of links and resources on there to accompany each episode. You’ll have all the show notes, the transcripts, any videos, any recommendations that we make, there all there.

You’ll also find links to both mine and Philippa’s social media profiles and websites, so you can come and have a chat to us on Twitter, you can check out our websites, our Facebook pages and anything else you care to put on there. I’m Lorrie Hartshorn…

Saving Money

Saving Money (Photo credit: 401(K) 2013)

PW:…and I am Philippa Willitts and today we are completing the second half of a podcast that we started in Episode 48, in which were looking at how to prevent your freelance business from wasting money. The benefit of being a freelance writer is that there aren’t tons of outgoings, you don’t have to pay for premises and you don’t need a company car. However, there are still plenty of things that you actually have to spend out on. Whether its heat and lighting for wherever you work, to broadband to research materials, and so we started this in episode 48, so if you haven’t heard that episode yet we would recommend that you go there first.

So, another way to save money for things that you need to pay for but you can get cheaper is by buying things in bulk – paper, printer ink, business cards. You know car insurance even, and what I mean by that is, for example my car insurance is due every January and sadly this falls at pretty much exactly the same day, I thought I was being super organised one year. I realised the mistake afterwards because on the same day in January, just after Christmas (thanks) and New Year, my tax, my MOT and my insurance were all due. And if I need any repairs on the car, that’s also due. And my birthday is in January as well so it’s like ‘Happy Birthday to me’ ha ha! I’ll by myself a new tyre; it’s pretty miserable.

Now a couple of years back, I wasn’t able to pay my annual insurance in one go, it’s a lot of money insurance costs have gone up in the UK, particularly for women due to ages and legislation. Paying monthly is usually an option but paying monthly adds up to much, much more in the long run.

PW: Yeah, and we would both say that it’s better to pay monthly than to get yourself into financial difficulty, trying to pay all in one go.

LH: Every time, every time, however its worth keeping an eye on these things, don’t set up a direct debit and then just go ‘ah okay, I guess I’ll have to pay £300 more over the course of a year.’ Keep your peepers on it, stick it in your Google calendar, and keep an eye on your bank account because many companies will actually let you pay off the rest of the annual sum even when you’ve paid your monthly fees for a while, say 3 months, 6 months. So, what I did with my car insurance, it was a few months in, I phoned the insurance company, they had a look at what I’d already paid and what that added up, they subtracted that from the annual fee, and I just paid the rest of it. So I got to benefit from the annual cost after all.

PW: Yeah, yeah.

LH: Which is brilliant, I didn’t have to fork out more than I could at the start of the year, didn’t have to go for a loan, all it takes is a bit of organisation and a bit of activity on your part, and it can save you hundreds.

PW: Yeah and in terms of buying in bulk – back to printer cartridges – often there might be a kind of 3 for 2 type offer on and given that buying one set of ink, when you’re buying black and magenta and yellow, it can really add up and you think ‘oh I can’t double that’ you know, that’s just a ridiculous amount of money but, if you’re in a position where you can, then you get an awful lot more ink for your money. Last time I bought printer ink, this is what I did. I went for this online store, which had a 3-for-2 offer on all of their printer ink. It was a big outlay, we’re talking £80 or something, in one go on printer ink. But for a third more than I would of got for the same amount of money if I hadn’t taken up the offer, I literally have piles of printer ink, but its going to last me a long time so if you’re in a position where you can pay more to start with in order to pay less in the long term, then it’s a good thing to do.

LH: It’s so worth it, one thing I would say is to make sure you keep track of what you’ve bought, because if you put something away in the cupboard and then you think ‘Damn, I’ve ran out of printer ink’ and you’ve got this whole little store – my husband does it all the time.

Another way you can save money is by buying things second hand, now some people don’t like doing this – I think I was a bit of a snob at first, when I was younger I wanted to be super cool, I didn’t like anything second hand. Things like books – books are brilliant second hand! I buy so many novels, I buy so many books, so many novels – non-fiction as well, I buy all second hand and I do shop at Amazon, I’m sorry, I do.

PW: It’s no secret that I am a massive fan of charity shopping. People get to recycle things, charities benefit and I get cheap stuff. So it’s brilliant. I’m looking now at my work bookshelf, which is by my desk, and I’d say 80% of these books came from charity shops.

LH: Gems and you madam are a charity shop expert

PW: I am. I’ve got all sorts of books about marketing, we’re not just talking about the classics; people imagine charity shops to be mainly full of Charles Dickens. I’ve got tons of books about marketing, tons of books about freelancing, books about language. I was able to give LH a copy of this brilliant book called ‘The Handbook of Nonsense’ – its writing.

I bought it in a charity shop then realised I already had it. To buy a book in a charity shop you’re probably paying between 50p and £2 and you still put those receipts through the books as you would anything else. But, you’re paying £1 for something rather than £10/£15, you can’t argue with that.

LH: No you really can’t. I get a bit sentimental I don’t like the idea of sad old books being abandoned.

PW: I know. I’m the same.

LH: Once you’ve read a book, once you’ve read a book once, the spine is creased, the pages are a little bit worn – it’s not the same. There’s nothing more exciting than a shiny new book, don’t get me wrong, they are really exciting but, they are only brand new till you open them.

PW: When I’m finished with a book and I know I’m not going to read it again, I can’t imagine throwing it away. I sell the odd book on Amazon if it’s a bit rare or something. But, they mainly go to charity shops, and I’m glad to have that resource to mean I don’t have to be wasteful. I’m glad to help them out in a way that helps me out as well. Once you get me talking on charity shopping, we may never end. I will include in the show notes a photo of my workbooks and you’ll see there are some awesome books here, most of which cost me less than £2.

LH: Yeah, I very, very, rarely buy new books, occasionally – usually around Christmas, if I have a bit of spending money I’ll go and buy the brand new books from Amazon that I want. But most of my books are pre-loved and they are just bloody lovely.

PW: I like them when they’ve got creases and there a bit yellow, it gives them character.

LH: I do, I like them. I’d never hear a word against my books. They’re all creased, and I adore them and I don’t care. I buy pre-loved books from Amazon because you can get them for 99p. There’s no shame in it at all. Do shop around and see if you can buy even good quality ones, because they have like excellent, new quality, as new, nearly new. Even acceptable is fine by me, you’ll pay a lot less, so if you need reference books or if you need novels or anything really, have a look!

PW: What I was just thinking about actually was back to Amazon, and selling your books, that is an option. I’ve got the Amazon app on my android phone and what it’s really good for is, if you scan the bar code of your book, the page for that book immediately comes up. If you have a look then, at what people are selling their copies for. If you have 200 people selling it for 1p then don’t bother. You know, it’s going to the charity shop, then that’s that. Even if you put it up for 1p, why would someone buy yours over someone else’s? But if the lowest price that someone is selling it for say £2.50, £6.50 or £15, it’s worth listing it and selling it yourself. I got rid of quite a few books recently and I did bar code scan a lot of them, it takes seconds and I could just instantly sell whether it was worth listing them on Amazon. I’ve sold a few, and what I tend to do is I just go about 5p lower than the lowest price. Someone else may then list one lower than yours but you’re there and it’s an option and if you can get £6 back after paying £6 for a book then that’s brilliant.

LH: Absolutely. If you have a number of books by the same author or a number of books on the same topic, package them up as a batch. That works. There are all sorts of ways to scrape a little bit of money back and it all does add up.

Now another way to reduce your costs, if you know fellow freelancers or indeed not fellow freelancers because there is sometimes a business personal overlap and you have big expenditures coming up, see if somebody you know wants to split the costs.

PW: I like that idea.

LH: Well items like printer paper can take up a lot of space in your home, now if you don’t have the space or indeed you don’t have the money to go and buy say five boxes of printer paper, why not see if there’s a fellow freelancer who can split the costs with you?

PW: Yeah, I think that’s a really good idea because you’re more able then to take advantage of offers like buy 2 get 1 free or whatever’s going on without ending up with 18 boxes of printer paper stacked in your living room.

LH: No its brilliant and this kind of freelance buddy system can really help you out when you want to travel to events. So if you find yourself going to the same places as another freelancer and one of you or both of you have a car then why not share the travel, because Petrol costs split between two, and you do have to pay petrol costs when someone gives you a lift, that’s a rule. It may well come to less than trains and taxis for example.

PW: And also there are other options like; I have a disabled person’s railcard and what that entitles me to is a third of train journeys but it also entitles somebody travelling with me to a third of train journeys.
So if I was travelling to an event on a train along with someone else, if we thought about it, we could get them a third of their fare as well as me. That can make a big difference.

LH: Things like student cards.

PW: Exactly. Always look to see whether there are things like that, before you book. For instance, before you book a train if you’re travelling with someone say, ‘do you have any discount, railcards or do you have anything relevant?’ because you might be surprised of the things you don’t think of.

LH: Absolutely, and people generally don’t mind sharing – don’t ask a complete stranger obviously – if you spot somebody using a wheelchair don’t you know. But no, I have a good friend whose little sister has a student card and when we go shopping together, we give her the money and she buys things.

PW: Yes, yes. The people serving are often just in their own little world and don’t really care.

LH: And they know you do it anyway.

PW: Well quite, you see people in queues pooling cash and you see people handing size eighteen clothes to a girl who’s size six, you know everybody knows it’s done. Another thing worth doing that I discovered recently is that a local coffee shop offers a 10% discount card to local businesses. I asked what qualified as a local business and they said, oh just anyone really in the area who has a small business or works. There’s a big building nearby that’s houses a lot of charity organisations, he was very laidback just like ‘oh well you know if you run a business you can have one, if you work for any of the independent businesses nearby you can have one’ so I said ‘oh I’m a freelancer and I work nearby’ and he said ‘oh right’ and gave me a 10% discount card. Just because I saw them and asked and if you don’t ask you don’t get frankly.

LH: Another thing that’s a very good idea to do is to keep an eye out in shops to see whether there are money off options available for signing over your contact details. You have to be very careful, and I would certainly not advocate store credit cards.

PW: Never. They tend to be a very bad deal.

LH: They really do, I’ve never had one and I would suggest seriously that people don’t have them. So if someone says would you like to save 10% today, always say to them, what does it involve?

PW: I have ended up getting them before and there messy and their percentage interest rate is pretty high.

LH: There really terrible think about it, why would you want to bank with a clothes shop. There not finance experts there not a good idea but, when you go into some shops you can sign over your email address and your name in return for discounts. Now what this does mean is they’ll probably send you a load of spam but, if you use a Gmail account, this is something I mentioned in previous solo episode, you can set up filters to make sure that any spam never even hits your inbox.

PW: Or you can just have an entirely separate email address that you just use for spam and never even open. Now when you’re looking at finances for your business, something that’s really important is thinking about tax. Now you might start yawning at this stage but if you don’t keep receipts, invoices and records then you can’t put business expenditures through the books. That means that you will pay tax on money that you’re entitled to not pay tax on. Now, neither LH nor I are advocates of any kind of tax avoidance. I’m a big supporter of tax and that fireman’s wages are paid however, if you’re entitled to not pay tax on business expenditure then you’re entitled to not pay tax on business expenditure.

So keep every receipt, I keep essentially doubles because I scan every receipt and also keep the paper copy in a file. Once you have the receipt and it’s logged in your spread sheets, your profit and loss sheets, then that money is then tax deductible which leaves you then with a small tax bill at the end of the year.

LH: Its fab, and I think you’re far more organised than me because I tend to not keep the paper copies but what I do is, as soon as I get a receipt for something that I know is tax deductible, and usually after a while you get to learn what is and what isn’t, but if you’re unsure keep it in your handbag and have a look later. What I do is, I just take a nice clear picture of the receipt on my phone as soon as I get it, if it’s a paper receipt, obviously if it’s online I just email it to myself, but if I get a paper receipt I put it on a white background or a black background, lay it out flat and take a picture of it on my mobile phone. Once a month when I’m getting ready to do my accounts and what have you and send things off to the accountant, I download them off my phone to my email and I just forward them to my accountant. Now what this means is that combined with an overview of your bank account, you can claim tax back on all of those items when you do your end of year account and with VAT at the moment at 20% in the UK, that’s really big savings, that’s a fifth of the cost. Even just train tickets, bus tickets, café receipts, keep them all because they add up.

PW: If you’re not sure about whether you can put something through the books or not, first of all, you don’t want to mess around with tax. You don’t want to put things through the books that you’re not entitled to because if you start being investigated it can get really messy, and you certainly don’t want to be charged with tax fraud. So if you do your own accounting but there’s something you’re unsure about, check out the Directgov website, I will put a link in the show notes, which has quite a lot of helpful information actually. Or a lot of accountants offer a free hour for instance, for a new client so if you use somebody’s free hour and ask them ‘can I use this, this and this?’ because it can be really worth it, you can save some cash in the long run and also you can be confident that you’re not going to get into trouble.

LH: Absolutely. Going back to one of the recommendations you made earlier, go on Quora for example, if you’ve got questions but you don’t feel comfortable actually going to an accountant, have a look online. Make sure you’re getting reputable advice, be really, really careful that whoever’s answering your question is reputable and they know what they’re talking about. But if it’s just something like looking for novels when I do literary editing, then you know something like that is easy to answer.

PW: And specify the country you’re in because it will vary.

LH: Oh yes, good point. Another way and we’re going to sound like your parents when we say this but another way to save money is to avoid wasting energy. Moving on from that, its sort of a joint thing, wasting food. Now, as we say we’re freelance writers so technically food isn’t a business expense but, when you work from home, when you work for yourself, its easier to save food and to not waste food, you can have your leftovers for lunch, you can use up food more easily, you can grab cheap deals at the supermarket if you nip there during the day or first thing on the morning.

PW: The fact that you work from home means that you can have what remains of yesterday’s tea for lunch. Now something we’ve touched on is not sticking your head in the sand – if you’re late with a library book I think is what we mentioned before – don’t get so embarrassed that it’s so late you can never show your face in a library again because you still have that book from 8 years ago

LH: They’ve got your face on a poster.

PW: Yes, wanted Jane Austen book back, last seen with this woman. I think everyone can relate to sometimes seeing an envelope coming through the door and thinking that’s a bill, and just ignoring it for a while. I think even if not everybody does it, most people can probably see the temptation of it. But, you do know on a rational level that it not only doesn’t help, it will make things worse if you stick your head in the sand over financial issues.

LH: You never forget them do you, there always there, it’s like having a maggot at the back of your brain, it’s always, always there, and you won’t sleep well worrying about things.

PW: Yeah sometimes what’s in the envelope is better than what you expect anyway

LH: True, I got a cheque for like £600 the other day; I was like oh, that was better than what I thought it was going to be.

PW: Yeah and also sometimes with freelancers if you’re not getting enough work over a period of time, I’ve known freelancers be a bit head in the sand then as well. Think it’s fine, it’s fine, it’s fine and before they know it their income is dropping to quite bad levels because they don’t want to address the fact their business is in a bit of trouble.

LH: Yeah and it’s not fine, you know you need to make sure you keep an eye on things regularly. So bills that come in, levels of work, mobile phone costs, bank accounts, unexpected letters. As we said, sometimes stress can win out and you can want to hide away from it all, and it’s a surprisingly common feeling just as we’ve said that starting out with some financial trouble as you’re starting out with freelancing, is surprisingly common. Being stressed and afraid of facing things is surprisingly common, we all, all do it.

PW: Something I learnt as a student, when I was a very typical student with no money is we get in a shared house say a gas bill, that we knew we couldn’t pay, if you ring them up straight away, basically they want to get their money and if that means getting it in weekly payments of £2, they would rather that than not get their money. And so for that reason, often, even if you know you can’t make a payment, ring them, because what they want is for you to eventually make the payment, and if you can agree a repayment plan of £5 a week, then they will go with that because they would rather have £5 a week than nothing at all. Go to the citizen’s advice bureau, you can sign a piece of paper authorizing them to speak on your behalf and they will make these calls for you if you’re too scared to, or too anxious.

LH: Yeah and there’s no shame, just get it sorted honestly, really, really, just do. When you know about something you can deal with it, it might not be something quite so scary, it might just be that you’re using say 700 minutes a month on your mobile phone but your contract only covers 500 minutes. Many, many, providers will charge you extortionate fees, really high fees for every minute that you go over, so its sensible to have a look at and if needs be change your monthly contract to a couple of pounds more each month for something that will save you huge savings overall. On a related note, if you do find that you’re going over on your mobile phone contract but you can’t afford a higher monthly fee or even if you can for that matter, consider free apps like ‘WhatsApp’ you can send free texts anywhere in the world, no roaming charges, no nothing to any phones. You’ve also got online things like ‘Skype’ – which is what we used for this podcast – for long distant calls or just long calls.

PW: Absolutely, its always worth looking at the options, especially online options like ‘Skype’ you know, if you have customers/clients all over the world, I couldn’t be making international phone calls to chat to them but on Skype its free.

LH: Of course it is and you can have conference calls and what have you, it’s well worth it because it’s exactly the same.

PW: Also Google hangouts are getting more and more used in these situations and they are very, very good.
So now we’re going to look at false economies that might arise in your freelance business. Now according to good old Wikipedia, a false economy is an action that saves money at the beginning but which over a longer period of time results in more money being spent or wasted, than being saved. It goes on to give an example of the city government that decides to purchase the least expensive cars for use by city workers. Now that might be seen as false economy because the cheap cars have a record of using more frequent repairs in the long term and the additional repair costs would eradicate any additional savings. Other examples in freelancing might be getting a really cheap laptop for instance and quickly finding out that when it’s switched on for 10 hours a day and it needs several programmes to be running at once it just can’t cope so you end up having to buy another laptop anyway.

LH: There are times when unfortunately false economies do seem like a bit of a necessity. If you don’t have the money in the bank for an expensive laptop or a more expensive laptop, then a cheap laptop will have to do. There’s no avoiding that and that’s fine, you know, we were chatting a few episodes back and the first half of it was about not beating yourself up if you can’t afford something at first, if you can’t afford to take advantage of multi buy deals or money off deals, say if you buy 2 for 3 or 3 for 2.

PW: You don’t want 2 for 3 that’s a really bad deal.

LH: That’s a bad deal, that’s a very false economy. It’s all about what you can afford but the false economies that were going to look at I think there most things that people can apply to their businesses to try and stop wasting money, basically. But the examples that we are going to look at can be applied to most people to stop their businesses wasting money

PW: Yeah definitely, you sometimes just have to apply a bit of creative thinking and don’t forget to look long term when you’re making purchases both large and small.

LH: Yeah I think that’s a sensible thing, look long term, have a look at what you’ve got in your account now, don’t spend loads and loads of money because its going to be cheaper in the long term if it’s going to bankrupt you in the short term. That’s one thing that does need to be said but, if you buy something and there are 6 monthly payments and they add up to much, much, more than one whole one-off payment then you’re going to end up spending that money anyway, so if you have that money available and you have the disposable income, its worth thinking about, its worth making that expense.

PW: One example in my working life is that I have to buy magazines to research because if you’re going to pitch to a magazine you really need to have a good understanding of the kind of material they publish, what they’ve written about recently because you don’t want to pitch the story that was there front page last time because first of all they won’t want it and secondly that just tells them that you don’t even read the magazine you’re pitching to. So I have to say I buy magazines quite often, at the beginning of this year I identified a few particular magazines that I wanted to be published in by the end of the year as a goal setting exercise. So what I did with those magazines was then take out a subscription because to buy it in WHSmith might cost me £5 whereas if I buy a 12 months subscription often each issue would cost me £2.50 so if you need magazines and you know which ones you want then taking out a subscription can save you a considerable amount of money.

LH: Absolutely. I mean for a saving of £2.50 per magazine it’s well worthwhile.

PW: Yeah and like many of the costs we’ve referred to in this topic it’s not all a matter of saving £800 here and £350 there. Often it is these small savings that add up.

LH: It definitely is, you know its quite the same as we were saying in episode 48 about saving receipts for bus tickets, coffees and little books that you buy in charity shops, they might only be little savings, that’ll be for us 20% of say £3. So not huge savings at all but in the long term, well worth it, and it’s the same in many false economies.

Now one of the false economies, I think it would be good to look at it is doing things yourself when it would actually cost less to get someone else to do it. Now it can be a bit of an uncomfortable situation for many freelancers because when we start out I think it’s fair to say that many of us don’t have much money to play around with.

PW: Yeah I would imagine that’s very much the case.

LH: So we do everything ourselves, we take every job that we can get, we do every piece of work that we can

PW: We do our own marketing, we do our own accounting, we do our own networking, we do our own everything its all about bootstrapping when you start out and that’s good actually because it means you learn those skills because if you go onto passing something on to someone else its good if you already know how it works.

LH: Very much and I think it builds a certain sense of self-reliance and confidence as well when you have to master already mysterious tasks, that you didn’t know how to do or otherwise didn’t want to do. It’s a good exercise. You know, me having to do my tax return, I hated it. I hated having to do it but it was an achievement when I’d done it.

PW: Oh yeah.

LH: And having a sense of achievement when you’ve got your own business, that can really boast you and let you know that actually this is my business, I do own my business and it’s a confidence thing, that’s what I’m trying to say.

PW: Yeah definitely, I agree.

LH: But there comes a time in many freelancers lives I would say when its silly to keep on work that someone else could do for less. Now it’s probably not everybody’s view, it’s just my view, if you don’t agree that’s completely fine – you’re wrong, but you know, that’s fine.

At busy times in my working life there are certain tasks that I’ll pass over to a virtual assistant. Now a virtual assistant is very much like a P.A – a personal assistant but virtual, so you’ve got people working as virtual assistants, they’re online they’re not there in your office but they’ll take on the same kind of administrative, sometimes finance, sometimes transcription, research tasks that a personal assistant would be able to take on for you. Now the tasks that I tend to pass over, tend to be fiddly, time consuming tasks like data collation, excel files of data, transcription, admin, marketing, business development, cold course and things like that. So while outsourcing certain tasks can take some getting used to, you do need to ask what your time’s worth, genuinely, because it can be really hard, as we’ve just said to pass over tasks that you’ve been so used to doing for yourself. You do everything for yourself and then suddenly one job is out of your control.

PW: And if you’re anything like me and a bit of a control freak that can be weird to adapt to, it can be difficult, you can find that you’re one of those awful micro managers for a while.

LH: Not that you are, I don’t think you are.

PW: I try not to be, I do try and reign in my anxieties and just trust the other person to do what their doing.

LH: Yeah, if you’ve been used to doing everything yourself it can be a bit scary to hand some things over. But, and it’s a big but, if your hourly rate is £20 an hour and you’re absolutely rushed off your feet and you can pay a virtual assistant £12 an hour to do a job for you, it’s a reasonable rate. That to me is a reasonable wage. You might find that it’s worth your while. Now if you haven’t worked out what your hourly fee is yet, Philippa did a really good solo episode on how to work that out and how to work out what hourly fees you need, so we’ll link you to that in the show notes and make sure you have a listen to that. Once you know what your billable time is worth you can decide more easily whether its worth you handing work over to a V.A or somebody else depending on what you need doing and how much time it would take you to do the work yourself and how much it would actually cost you in your billable time.

PW: Yeah, I’ve only used a V.A once myself and I was doing a quite wide ranging marketing plan, I got to a stage of it that was really repetitive, really tedious where I was making a spread sheet of companies to approach. I had particular perimeters that were very important. I was also quite busy at the time and I realised it wasn’t a good use of my time. So I hired a V.A basically and just said this is the information I need, I need UK companies in this sector and the information I need is their name, address, their work address, do they have a blog, how many blog posts have they published in the last month, the name of the contact person and that persons contact details. I basically needed all that information for every website in that sector that this woman could find. So I then hired her for four hours and just left her to it and just said find as many as you can in 4 hours and fill out the spread sheet, and so she did. She came back to me the next day with a bursting spread sheet that served me for months, I had months worth of prospects there all with the information I needed on how to approach them or whether to approach them at all. In that case I was looking at blogging opportunities, so if they had a blog that was already updated 6 times a month then they weren’t worth approaching for me for that particular marketing campaign I was doing. It saved me doing it myself when it was quite boring but more importantly because you do have to do some tasks that are quite boring you can’t avoid them altogether, more importantly it freed me up to do the actual writing that I needed to be doing, while I paid someone else, I would totally do it again in that situation.

LH: This is it, you know, not speculating about what your hourly fee would be but, when it’s a V.A’s job, it’s a V.A’s job to do something like this, its what V.A’s do that’s why people are virtual assistants. This is the kind of administrative work they’ve chosen to do; now the rate for that tends to be lower than the rate for copyrighting or SEO marketing, that kind of stuff. So, if Philippa was going to spend 4 hours or 6 hours maybe, because it’s not her area of expertise and she’s not quite as fast as a V.A would be then that’s 6 times Philippa’s hourly rate. It’s not worth Philippa doing it herself if she’s got other things to be getting on with and it might take somebody 4 hours to do it.

PW: Yeah that’s it and the woman I hired was in America so I deliberately wanted to avoid those super low wages because I don’t want to be part of that really, I don’t want to encourage it by hiring someone myself for those wages. It was a woman in America who offered what was simultaneously a good amount for herself but also further enough down from my own hourly rate in general that I wasn’t losing money and that it would actually benefit me to have someone else do that task.

LH: Absolutely and you know, it is important the point you’ve just made that you need to make sure the time you free up by outsourcing you need to maximise that. There’s no point paying somebody to do a job for you and sitting around for hours on the internet doing a bit of tweeting, I mean if you have spare money and that’s what you want to spend it on, by all means… Genuinely, no sarcasm, if you need a break, if you need some time, if you’ve been up to your eyeballs in work and you need an afternoon off and your afternoon consists of admin tasks, finance tasks and some tax stuff. If you have a trusted V.A or if you know somebody who could do a really good job on that and you think okay, well I’m going to take the afternoon off, I’m not going to do any work but, it’s worthwhile for me to do this, then go ahead. As we said before you are your business.

PW: There are an increasing number of people, marketers mainly I think, and online businesses who actually take a V.A on long term; they may even be full time or 8 hours a week for instance. Now, that’s something that I certainly wouldn’t have a need for at this stage. I can imagine most of you wouldn’t have a need for but it’s also possible, as I did, to hire someone for 4 hours or for 8 hours as a one off. So, when you’re looking for a V.A, don’t be put off if everything you’re seeing is people bidding for long term contracts because you don’t have to. It’s up to each individual V.A some are happy to do one off work others avoid it, which is the same as writers and anything else. But, what I’m trying to say is there are a multitude of options in how you hire a V.A, where they live, how much you pay them, the work they do and that’s all just worked out by negotiating with them.

LH: Yeah, you have to find somebody who’s happy to work with you in the way that you want them to work. You know, because it’s about 2 people not just one person, just as you expect your clients when you arrive, you expect your clients to treat you with respect and to ensure that your needs are being met. You have to do the same when you become the client of a V.A.

PW: Oh, definitely. Like when I was dealing with this woman I wouldn’t of dreamt of just saying do this, this and this. You say this is what I’m looking for, is this the kind of thing you can do? Would you be happy doing this as well? She said yes to everything, I wasn’t making any unreasonable requests but it felt more of an equal power relationship. Just like I try to manage with my own clients as well.

LH: Absolutely. I hire freelancers very regularly. Now, I am one of those freelancers who hire other freelancers – virtual assistants and others, on a very regular basis.

PW: Yeah you’ve got writers, proof readers and all sorts haven’t you?

LH: Yeah I’ve got a whole little Noah’s ark of freelancers. I have people whom I hire weekly, for a good number of hours, per week. It can be seen as a part time job for those people, though it’s still freelancing. I have a number of people who I have had once. I have a number of people who I have maybe twice, three times. It all depends on what I need, if they’re happy to work and how well they do with the jobs. If someone doesn’t do particularly well I won’t hire them again, of course! Things like transcription, I’ll need it occasionally. Now transcription, normally I do it myself but, when the work piles up, it’s a long and something task, if you don’t have transcription software for example. So when it gets to a busy, busy, week I’ll get a transcriptionist on but it’s not something I need every day, every 2 days, whatever.

PW: And that is one of the joys of outsourcing – is that you don’t have to employ somebody with a contract for 12 hours a week work.

LH: Yeah, exactly. There’s no contract per say. Now with my regular freelancers I have put contracts in place. They’re more agreements though they don’t oblige anybody to work for anybody else, for a certain amount of time.

PW: That’s it and that’s what I’m talking about, kind of formal employment contracts. You’re not becoming an employer.

LH: No, I’m their client. I’m not their employer at all, in any way, shape or form.

PW: And that frees you up to be more flexible.

LH: Absolutely but at the same time, as you said earlier, I’m respectful to them and I understand that they need to know what’s going on. They need to have a clear idea so that their needs can be met and they can plan their work. I wouldn’t be very happy if I had a client who disappeared off the radar and then popped back up and suddenly said right I need X, Y, Z and I need it now.

When I get in touch with my freelancers its like ‘Hi, how are you?’ if I’ve not dealt with them for a while its ‘hope everything’s going well, wondered if you had any availability for this task, my deadline would be this and I would need this doing, is that okay with you? If not can you let me know, no problem!’ And that’s what you do; you check somebody’s availability and it saves me a lot of time. I wouldn’t be able to deliver all this work that I deliver without the help of other freelancers and that’s just the way I’ve built up my business model.

Now, tipping all this on its head, paying someone else to do stuff when it would cost you less to do it yourself can also be false economy. So we’ve just talked about doing things yourself when you could pay someone else to do it to save you some billable time. Sometimes paying someone else to do stuff when you could do it yourself is a false economy

PW: You can get a bit lazy. You can hire a virtual assistant for a particular task and it goes really well then you think, well actually, I also hate doing X, Y and Z. I’ll rehire her for that but, you’re not replacing that time with actual work on your part. So you could look at it as earning less per hour, say, like I think LH’s example was if a writer earns £20 an hour and pays their V.A £12 an hour, then you could look at that as working for £8 an hour which you might be able to live with, knowing that this extra work is being done. However, if you’re just hiring someone for £12 an hour but bringing nothing in as a result then it starts being a cost that isn’t justified.

LH: Absolutely and you know, if you’re consistently too busy to take on a task then that’s fine, that’s completely fine. It’s all fine but, as were talking about saving money that’s the type we’re focusing on. So if you’re consistently too busy to do a piece of work then it’s fine to have a regular freelancer to do that for you. But, if you’re not, I would suggest being really careful with just outsourcing stuff ‘willy-nilly’ as you feel like it. As Philippa and I have mentioned in many previous episodes, freelance writing isn’t just writing. If you think oh, I like writing I can be a freelance writer. Wrong. Honestly, wrong. I’ve seen so many people get into freelance writing then get out again and very, very, quickly. They realise that the writing is only quite a small part of it. Having a freelance writing business is marketing, its business development, its admin, its finance, its customer care, its project management, its research, its networking, its writing, its all of those things and the writing comes finally, at the end, when you’ve got your business set up and you’ve worked out where in your week the writing’s going to happen. All of those things need to happen and you’ll do them all. Now there are always going to be some tasks on that list or on your own particular list, they will vary, that you’re not super keen on, usually tax, everyone hates tax. You could hate these tasks until the cows come home but think very, very, carefully about outsourcing them if you’re looking to save money.

PW: Similarly, there might be, say a regular writing job that is good and consistent and pays your bills but that you really hate doing for some reason. It might just be a topic that you have no interest in or it could be any number of things. If you’re going to outsource some writing work of your own assignment, it might make sense, if you’re super busy, to outsource that one that you always hate. The trick is that when you’re less busy, tempting though it is to carry on outsourcing it because you hate doing it, you do have to take it back yourself – if your goal is saving money! Just get back into the saddle of whatever it is that bores you to tears and write it yourself again.

LH: This is the thing, because outsourcing should be, I’m not going to say your final option you shouldn’t wait till you’re run ragged and exhausted and at the end of your tether before you outsource, its not worth getting to that point. But, you should think very, very, carefully about outsourcing before you do it because often, with just a bit of time-management, a bit of a re-jig, a few late nights and early mornings – these aren’t going to kill you! If you just do a few late nights at work, say maybe work till 7 one night or start at 8am in the morning or even 7am in the morning you can win back time in any week, of course you can.

An extra hour as we all well know can be a complete lifesaver in the life of a freelancer. If you need to ban yourself from social media for a day, 2 days, 3 days to resist the urge to get tweeting or check someone’s Facebook, do it. If you need to use a website blocker, I mean we’ve discussed these before and I’ll post a link to an article in the show notes.

PW: Yeah I use this occasionally; I’ve got one that’s a Chrome add-on, which I’ll also link you to. I can just pick particular sites, which tend for me to be things like Gmail and Facebook. I then put a time in and I don’t want to be able to access these for sixty minutes for instance. The fact that you set it up yourself means that you can break it down yourself but, it does actually help with the mindless checking of those sites that you don’t even realise you’re doing. If you want to go into the back end of the software and re-allow yourself permission, you can do that. I never do, even though I know I can. What it does protect me from is those thoughtless, switches to Gmail. It’s only off for an hour so I’m not going to miss anything massive but it’s handy.

LH: It’s super handy. I think there are certain website blockers where you can’t deactivate it once it’s started.

PW: To be honest, if you know what you’re doing, you can. But, some make it a lot harder than others.

LH: Right, okay. See you’re ‘techy’ I’m not. So for me, it’d be like Alcatraz, there’d be no getting out, at all.

PW: There’s one that’s supposed to be quite difficult to find your way out of and what that does, rather than the one I use, I just set it going now and it blocks it from now but there’s another one that’s very popular that limits your time on a site to something like sixty minutes, a day. You set it up in advance that you don’t want to be allowed on Facebook for more than thirty minutes every day. You don’t want to be on Twitter for more than thirty minutes a day, you don’t want to be on YouTube for whatever your own personal places that you go to procrastinate. I’ll try and find a link to that one as well.

LH: No that’s a nice take on it actually, that’s slightly creative isn’t it.

PW: It’s kind of an overall philosophy isn’t it? So that in general, I know I waste time on Facebook and I can’t justify any more than an hour a day or half an hour a day or whatever it is.

LH: No you’re completely right and they sound fab. Same goes for productivity towards sort of like, stay focused and focus booster, all that kind of stuff. You set a timer and you work to that timer and then you take a break. All these kinds of things can help you win time when the temptation is there to go ‘oh I’m too busy I need to outsource this’ when you really can’t afford to. As we said earlier, if you find yourself super, super, stretched every single week with a particular task, then yes, it’s probably worth outsourcing that, if you can afford to.

PW: If you can’t afford to when you’re overworked every week it may be time to look at your pricing structures.

LH: Yes, very good point because, either you can price yourself out of lower paying clients reach…

PW: Which automatically reduces your workload.

LH: It does. Or you can get clients who are already on your books to pay you more which will facilitate you higher in freelancers help you out. So either way it’s a win, win. But yes, if you find that you’re wasting time but that you’re still tempted to hire a freelancer and you’re wanting to save money, think carefully and have a look at productivity tools and website blockers and time management training as well. If you can take maybe one of your weekend days and do a little course on managing your time better and managing your projects better or if you can have a look for software that helps you streamline certain tasks that you do, maybe you’re taking the long way round on a task that shouldn’t really take you more than 5-10 minutes. There are always ways and ways and ways to try and snip a little bit more time out and if you can save just fifteen minutes here and there that quickly adds up because with just four fifteen minute slots over the course of a morning, you’ve got an extra hour. You could equate that either to your hourly rate and you could say well I’ve just got this extra hour to be doing this billable work. Or you could equate it to the money you would of spent on a freelancer, well I’ve just saved X amount of money.

PW: Indeed. So we hope that some of those ideas will help you to save a few pennies or cents, depending on where you live, in your business to help you become more profitable and just live a bit more comfortably. We do understand that especially for freelance start-ups it can be a bit overwhelming at times and so there sort of the ideas we’ve had in mind basically, just things to try, you might think you can’t possibly do without something, cups of tea but it might be fine.

Coffee cup

Coffee cup (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

LH: That actually reminds me if you do buy a cup of coffee every day from Starbucks or Costa or Nero, or your coffee company of choice, maybe add up what that costs you, if you’re talking £3 for a cup of coffee, five times a week, £15 a week, £60 a month – a lot of money every year. So thank you Philippa for reminding me of that. But, basically we wanted to share tips that would help you save money without having to compromise too far into your equality of life. Because remember as a freelancer your job and your life are slightly more interwoven than they would be if you had a salaried position that you could leave at the office.

PW: Yeah definitely, and we’re also not saying that you can’t ever have any fun or spend any money. One of the joys of being a professional writer is that you can buy pretty stationery from Paperchase and it can be put through the books, because you’re a writer, you therefore need pretty pens and beautiful notebooks – it’s just part of the job. So don’t you know, never give yourself a treat, just be careful and use some of the techniques we’ve mentioned in order to give yourself more treats really.

LH: Well this is exactly it. This is the point I was going to make, is that by saving you can stop spending money on things that you don’t have to like bank charges, overdue library book charges and paying tax that you don’t have to. These aren’t treats, these aren’t little treats that you’re going to be depriving yourself of, and these are things that you’re throwing money away on. There’s no point paying extra money when you don’t have to, especially if you’re not getting anything for that money. You can save your pounds, your dollars and really afford yourselves something lovely, maybe a holiday, maybe a new car eventually, maybe some Christmas presents for the kids, whatever you want to spend your money on. Don’t spend it on pointless things that you don’t even notice. Library book charges, there not anything good, paying for a bank account that you don’t need to, spending extra on your mobile phone contract, none of these things are fun, so don’t get stung and pay more than you have to.

PW: Absolutely. And now it is time for our little bird recommendation of the week in which Lorrie and I pick something to share with you that we think some of our listeners might like, now this might be a web press plug in, a blog post, a twitter account or a website, or anything else indeed. And so Lorrie, what is your recommendation this week.

LH: This week I wanted to come up with a recommendation that would feed into what we’ve been saying about quality of life. During episode 48 and this episode 50, we’ve been talking about how to save money but also how to balance saving money with having a decent quality of life. Now I spotted a blog post on freelancefolder.com, which is one of my preferred freelancing sites, and its called ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff’ and just as you can save money sort of snipping out bits of wastage here and there, you can also snip out stress and I think that’s a really important thing to do when you’re a freelancer, is not just cut out unnecessary waste issues in terms of money but cut out unnecessary stress

PW: Oh, of course. Who wouldn’t enjoy a bit less stress?

LH: Well, I think some people thrive on it, but in the end it’s not very helpful for you.

PW: It’s very easy to burn out, isn’t it?

LH: It is, and I don’t know about you Philippa but I imagine it’s the same for a lot of us, the more stressed I am the more mistakes I make.

PW: Oh yes

LH: so again, false economy, working your fingers to the bone and staying up late for seven days in a row, and getting up early and working, working, working causes the quality of your work to go down. You need to take care of yourself because as we said throughout these episodes, there’s a cross-over. You and your business are one and the same, and if you’re not healthy and you’re not happy and your mind is full of stress and tangled wool, then your work is likely to resemble that, and that’s no good thing. You will end up not having happy times, and if past clients disappear then so does the money they bring in.

PW: Definitely, there’s not much more, you can’t argue with that really.

LH: I thought that was pretty water tight, and this is how it is. Well it is, so don’t stress yourself, I’ve sorted it for you. So what I like about this article is that its just a small, little tiny weenie blog post and it’s the sort of thing you can read if you’ve got two minutes to spare so don’t flop over to Facebook and do some mindless checking of someone’s Facebook page and don’t go onto Twitter, read this instead. Its five small problems that freelancers worry about and it says ‘Do you fell stressed out and overwhelmed by freelancing problems? It’s possible you’re worrying too much about the small stuff and it’s that saying, don’t sweat the small stuff. It says, give yourself a break and reduce worries. Here are some common occurrences that you should cross-off your worry list right away’.

And I agree with them, and its stuff that we’ve said previously.

Number 1 is the ‘lost’ prospect. Now the author and it’s by Laura Spencer and she’s a freelance writer from Texas.

Philippa: Oh, I follow her on Twitter, she’s lovely.

LH: She said, ‘I used to really stress when a perspective client didn’t agree to do business with me. I felt that by losing the deal I might have done something wrong, now I realise that some prospects will never become my clients. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I did something wrong, freelancers shouldn’t waste a lot of time and energy when there trying their best but still can’t close the deal. And she’s right, you can’t win every client in the world, you can’t, it’s not possible. Even if you could, you couldn’t cope with all the clients in the world. Some clients will just not hire you, it might be a personality thing, it may be a timing thing. Somebody better suited to their needs might have cropped up on their horizon, whatever it is.

Philippa: Yeah, pricing. You don’t get every contract you go for. It’s just how it works.

LH: It reminds me of people who go on quiz shows where there are large money prizes. As much as you might want that $20,000, as much as you want that £1,000,000, that money is not yours. It’s not yours, just the same as a prospect it not a client. Don’t get too attached to a prospect, it can be exciting when a prospect gets in touch and you can think ‘oh I really, really, really want this job’, we all do it. But when a prospect doesn’t decide to work with you, you haven’t lost anything. Don’t let yourself, try not to let yourself feel like you’ve lost something, you’ve let something go and it’s slipped between your fingers. They were never your client.

Philippa: And sometimes it is really difficult, if it’s a job you really wanted. If you’ve done a proposal that you thought was really spot on, if it was totally in your area and you think it would have been the perfect job, then sometimes it can be really disheartening to have put all that work in and to have had some great ideas and to not get the work. Other times, of course you’re not too bothered, you’re busy already, it was a random one off article that didn’t mean very much too you, then you might let that flow over you. But what you have to learn is how to let the harder ones flow over you as well.

LH: Yep, absolutely just let them go. They weren’t your clients and you know be quite realistic about it, as long as you’re sure that your proposals are up to scratch, there’s no harm in periodically checking how you to propose to a client. If you think your proposals are fine and they’ve worked before and they’ve worked with you for a large number of prospects, let them go. Let the ones that don’t want you go, because there’s nothing you can do anyway. Even if you have messed it up, even if you send over a proposal with a mistake in it, there is nothing you can do. There is nothing you can do, they’re not your client, they were a prospect, they are no longer – move on, learn from it if there is anything to learn from it otherwise dust your hands off and carry on.

The second one feeds into what we were saying a couple of weeks back about unkind comments. Now Philippa and I recorded a podcast recently about how to deal with criticism and it can really knock your confidence, it can make you feel like the smallest person in the world. If somebody criticizes you or somebody says something unkind about work, especially work you’ve worked hard on, again, it doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t mean anything at all.

Tip three: small typos in Tweets and other places. And I think this is a very good point. People who pick up on typos in Tweets are quite small-minded; everybody knows that Twitter and social media are very fast moving media. And you don’t have to be the next Tolstoy.

Philippa: Yeah, I’ve always said that why I try to glance over tweets once I’ve written them, I don’t apply the same degree of standard to my writing in a tweet as I do to my writing in an article. And, I know that mean once in a while I’ll make a mistake but I can live with that, rather than spare the time it would take to triple check every tweet before going out. When it is a fast moving media. Having said that, the other day I did post a tweet where I used ‘and I, LH and I’ instead of ‘me and LH’ and I wrote it and posted it and then noticed and I did re-write it and delete the original. That’s not a step I would normally go though, I wouldn’t bother for a mistake on a tweet. But for some reason that one bugged me a bit more than a little typo, but, if you’re fretting to much about typos in tweets then you’re kind of doing Twitter wrong.

LH: Absolutely and somebody will pull you up occasionally, I’ve had smart-alecs pull me up and say, ‘you wrote this’, ‘you didn’t put an apostrophe’ and generally if I’ve left an apostrophe out its because I’ve hit the 140 character limit.

Philippa: And looking at it from a slightly different angle, insults given to a particular, atheist intellectual has become a complete meme on Twitter purely because of a grammatical mistake. Where someone tweeted ‘Your a’ – and then an insult I won’t say’. He spelt your, y-o-u-r and for some reason this captured Twitters imagination.

LH: I’ve seen this everywhere and I really didn’t realize it was a meme. I thought oh gosh people really hate Richard Dawkins.

Philippa: So this then became a thing where whenever Richard Dawkins popped up on Twitter, people in there thousands would tweet him ‘your a’ with you’re spelt wrong. It’s getting even wider now. People are tweeting it to other people. Whereas if you’ve written it in a grammatically correct way it wouldn’t have taken off. There was just something weirdly comical about the error, and so you might be subject to a meme, even if it is one that makes you cringe every time you see it.

LH: Its weird, you can’t predict what’s going to take off can you?

Philippa: Not at all, before we started recording, LH and I were talking about this in relation to something else that – it’s like all the planets have to all be aligned really, so many different factors have to be in place for something to take off on Twitter.

LH: Yeah, you can rarely predict it, it’s just weird. Going back to the typo and the tweets, if somebody pulls you up on a typo in a tweet, what I generally find is that it is somebody who either wouldn’t of worked with you anyway, some smart alec whose got 10 followers n Twitter and isn’t looking for a freelance writer anyway, who is just looking to point score. Or it is somebody that you wouldn’t want to hire. I had somebody get in touch with me on Twitter and they said ‘My friend is looking for a freelance writer’ so I said’ Okay, what kind of writing is your friend looking for, I am a freelance writer thanks for getting in touch’ that kind of jazz. And he said, not your kind because there’s a typo on your website, he was going to hire you but now he isn’t. and this person pointed out where the typo was and it was clear that it kind of a WordPress issue, half a sentence had got stuck somewhere, I’d not seen it, so for people who don’t use WordPress, when you amend a page or a post on there, you can edit either in HTML format or you can edit in a format that’s more readable or suitable for people who don’t know HTML, so you can click insert picture and all your text is nicely formatted you don’t have any of the coding visible.

Philippa: Yeah, you see how it’s going to appear.

LH: Sometimes very rarely between the two formats, between these two interfaces stuff can get lost. You can stick stuff on the end of coding accidentally and it won’t show up in the formatted version, so when you click publish you don’t realise but there is half a sentence stuck at the end of the page.

Philippa: I often, one of the things I find quite often between the two is that it messes up my line breaks, so in the HTML version it will look fine and I switch over and suddenly I’ve got about six inches between each paragraph.

LH: To be fair to this guy, I should have checked, to be fair my whole website. But the fact he was looking for a freelance writer he could see all my experience, all my expertise, everything else was working perfect and there was one typo glitch on the website.

Philippa: That’s a formatting glitch anyway, that’s not even a typo really.

LH: No, I should of check it but, I don’t think its necessary to get in touch with me to say I was going to hire you, not even I, my friend was going to hire you but now he isn’t, just thought you should know.

Philippa: And there are times to tell people they have made a typo. If I spotted a spelling mistake on Lorrie’s website, I’d tell her because I know she would want to know. And similarly I saw someone on Twitter with a typo on their website and they were someone I followed already or someone seemed nice again I would let them know. But what this guy was doing with you wasn’t that. He wasn’t being kind: “I thought you would want to know this page is a bit wonky.” What he was actually doing was trying…he was using that as an excuse to get at you.

LH: Yeah, to make me feel small, and I did feel a bit, but I don’t want someone like that as a client.

Philippa: And when it happens, you were quite upset by it, I think I did have to say to you ‘yeah, but if he’s like that would you want him as a client anyway’.

LH: Exactly, it wasn’t the fact that I had made a typo or lost a prospect. He was never a prospect, I was never aware of this guy. It’s the fact that somebody had been kind of small hearted enough to get in touch with me and you know, if he knew that his friend was going to hire me but then decided, not to on the basis of that, he could of kept that to himself.

Philippa: Exactly, why tell you. If I was buying a new radio and I looked at six different electronic websites and chose one, I wouldn’t then email all the other websites and say, I was going to buy a radio off you but in the end I bought it off Currys why on earth would you, there’s no need, it was only for the purposes of spite really.

LH: Yeah, so that really feeds into point two and three of this small stuff sweating article, people being mean and people noticing small typos in Tweets and other places it doesn’t matter. Anybody who matters really, it’s not going to matter to them.

Philippa: Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.

LH: That’s what I meant, but nicer!

Philippa: It took me a minute to work it out, but yes.

LH: Don’t worry me think it’s worthwhile.

Philippa: Thank you

LH: Now tips four and five are the occasional overtime and skipping a post on your own freelance writing blog, and they both relate to being busy which we have discussed a bit this episode. Now overtime is a reality of freelancing, it is, there’s no cut off point really between freelance work and home life. Now there should be, you should implement some kind of cut off point. Whether you choose not o work Monday mornings you choose to work Sunday afternoons or whether you work Monday to Friday 9 till 5. Choose the times that work for you and try to keep your free time at least a little bit sacred, but not to the extent that you won’t do overtime.

Philippa: Yes, you can get kind of precious to the point of being negative. That is will have a negative effect on your business where as doing two hours in the evening that you wouldn’t normally do as a one off isn’t going to do you any harm.

LH: It can save your skin, can’t it? If you super busy or you’ve got an extra piece of work on that really needs doing and its time that your client knows that you wouldn’t normally work, say if you don’t normally work weekends and your client gets in touch, I really need this work can you rush it through for me you can sometimes charge extra for that.

Philippa: And if it’s a very lucrative client who asks you for extra work, then two hours on a Thursday evening is well worth it for another six months of there custom.

LH: Of course, and it’s your business. Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.

Philippa: Exactly, exactly.

LH: And by skipping a post on your freelancing blog and this, I’m going to extrapolate that really, what Laura says is ‘Like many freelancers I have my own blog, I try to post stuff several times a month but sometimes due to my work load I fall behind and this feels like a failure but it really isn’t. And she’s completely right, sometimes when I’m super busy ill fall behind on updating my blog, updating social media and I really don’t consider it falling behind, I consider it letting stuff go that isn’t essential.

Philippa: A few weeks ago, we skipped a podcast episode. Now we could have really stressed about that and in the past we have really stressed about it. But what we’ve both said to each other is that we both over run with paid work We weren’t willing to compromise out paid work just to get an episode out on time because we can’t do that it’s not responsible so actually we both agreed that paid work always has to come first. And so we missed a week, and we were disappointed and we would rather not have done, however, it’s certainly not something to be really hard on yourself about.

LH: The world is still turning, the podcast as you can well hear, is still recording and life goes on. We have got the work in. Philippa was ridiculously busy on the week where we skipped the podcast I as ridiculously busy the week before and we were both super busy when we weren’t ridiculously busy. It wasn’t going to happen.

Philippa: And had we given in to a massive amount of guilt and stress and worrying about would it affect our listenership, and would it affect our stats. We would of just slowed ourselves down in everything else we were rapidly trying to do, so not only is it less stressful to give yourself a break, it also won’t have a negative impact on the rest of your work if you can take it with a bit more relaxation.

LH: Of course, and so that is why I recommended this handy freelance folder article because I just think that’s it’s important, It’s an important point to make especially after such a hard topic, saving money can be really stressful, for some people saving money might well be just a case of streamlining your finances and cutting out stuff you just don’t have to pay. No matter how much money you’ve got you don’t want to throw it away. You don’t want to walk around with a pocket full of money and just have it dropping out of your pockets as you walk, there’s no reason to do that. But for other people finance can be a really stressful topic, it can be something that keeps you awake at night, as you try and work out where to get the extra £5 you need to meet your gas bill or the extra £10 you need to pay for your child’s school trip. It can be a really, really stressful thing. So it’s important that you stress about what you need to stress about and you chop out stress you just don’t need. I think all of these five recommendations here are really good recommendations for things you should just let go.

Philippa: Yes, she ends with three signs that what you are dealing with is small stuff and I really like them

1. It’s beyond your control
2. It won’t make a difference in the long run
3. It’s a common problem that normal people would understand

And especially if you are very stressed, it’s hard to see things rationally and you can start to stress over the weirdest things. So you could almost use that as a checklist: “Is it beyond my control? If so there’s no point stressing because there nothing I can do.” Will it make a difference in the long haul run? Missing one podcast episode won’t make a difference in the long run. Is it a common problem that normal people would understand? If we said to friends we are so busy and we’ve got to fit the podcast in I think that most normal people would understand that it was perfectly fine to skip one.

LH: I said that to somebody else, If someone said that to me, I’ve got this commission I’ve got all this work and I need to do a podcast, can’t you skip it. There is no point getting up at 1am to record an early morning podcast and then working through, and being absolutely exhausted and having to transcribe it and edit it and upload it and do all the writing around it, I would just say skip it for this week, do one next week, problem solved. So, Philippa: your recommendation this week.

Philippa: My recommendation this week is a combination of a website and a little piece of software. It is called Work Timer and can be found at worktimer.co.uk and I will put a link to that in the show notes so you don’t need to remember it. And it is very much what it sounds like, it is a way of tracking the amount of time it takes you to do various tasks that are involved in your work. Now there is the website which links to this piece of software which you can download called WorkTimer desktop and through this software and the website you can manage what you’re doing and keep reports on how long you spend doing different things.

The way it works is that you specify projects and you set up a project, which might be Podcast, for instance, or it might be blog post and if you want to know how long it takes you to do those things then that is your project and then you go into the project and set up tasks. Under tasks for the project we might have episode planning, recording, editing and transcribing. And then with those, with the software you just click start and then you click stop when you have finished. Or you can stop/ start depending on how you work. Now it syncs regularly with the website which also then keeps a record of all your projects and all your tasks.

Now it’s a completely free piece of software, first of all.

LH: I like it much better now, I liked it a lot but now, how in keeping with our money saving episode.

Philippa: And also what’s good, despite is that despite it being free there are no limits to, for instance how many projects you can have on the go because of a lot of these things might be free for three projects but anymore than that you have to pay. So that’s good about it. Now if you’re doing work that’s paid by the hour rather than by the project, which isn’t my favourite way of working it does do some tasks better and it’s a great way of keeping a record of how long you’re working, so you know how much to bill, but also it’s a great way of making sure that if you’ve agreed to do two hours work on something, making sure that you’re not ripping yourself off by doing three and a half instead.

Now you can then, you do all that on the software and you can then head over to the website which will produce reports for you, you can invoice via the website based on the hours you’ve reported per project, you can export data in numerous different formats f you want to analyse it on you own, and I think I mentioned before, it’s all backed up. So that’s all really good features, buts what also can’t be overstated is that it’s really simple to use as well. I’ve tried various of these types of software an a lot of them are big pieces of software first of all so they take up a lot of memory and also a lot of your computer juice, so you slow down when you’re using it. Given that you’re timing your work, you don’t really want to be running a slow system at the same time. Its simple, it does exactly what I’ve described it doesn’t do more clever things that you don’t need that make it bloated, its very, very simple and straight forward. And, what I also do with it, especially with new clients, if I’m doing work based on an hourly rate I will screen shot my project break down so I can show the client how long I spent researching there blog posts, how long I spent writing it, how long I spent proof reading it for instance. And it gives them I find a bit more confidence in the amount you then invoice them, because other wise they might look at a four hour invoice and think what was that four hours made of, but if you show that you spent three quarters of an hour researching and an hour and a half writing then they can see where there money is going.

LH: Especially if you work for them on a number of occasions and they see that the figures generally stay on a level, and relate to the length and complexity of the work that you’re doing for them.

Philippa: And its really easy to start and stop, so if you do half an hours work, then have a break, just click stop when you come back to it, its there again. The other thing you can do is, input your hourly rate at which point it then how much you’ve earned on a project as well. So yes it is called Work Timer and Work Timer desktop and I only tend to use it on timed work, although sometimes it can be a good productivity tool. It can keep me focused, if I’m struggling to find my focus, then I might get it out then as well just to keep myself working.

LH: Especially if you know that time is ticking away.

Philippa: Exactly, there’s nothing like looking at an empty page and then checking your timer that 25 minutes have passed, to make you realise that you really should be typing by now. So, it’s handy for literally what it does, for keeping time for your billing but it can also be used as a productivity tool and accountability tool as well.

LH: I really like the fact, as well, that it’s easy on your computer system, because everything is exported to the website and its something I’ve been looking at recently. I go through hundreds of news articles and blog posts a week for my clients because of the way my business has built up, because of the fact I’ve worked with other writers to deliver this, I go through hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of news stories every week, now I keep a copy of all these documents on my computer, now that’s quickly been slowing my computer down. So what I’ve been doing is zipping up 2011 documents, zipping up 2012 documents and uploading them to Google drive, removing them from my system. So that they are there if I need them, nobody is realistically going to ask me for a news article from 2011 but…

Philippa: Yeah I do the same, not necessarily the same way, but I keep copies of things.

LH: So, the reason I chose Google Drive for it, if you convert your word documents or your Open Office word processor documents, whatever software you use, if you convert that to Google Drives own format of a word processing document it takes up zero storage on your Google Drive. So, you can put as many word processing documents on your Google Drive and it just won’t take up any space and you can free up, you know, because word processing documents are not huge at all, in terms of memory on your computer but when you’ve got hundreds and then thousands.

Philippa: Even just the scrolling

LH: Yes, so yeah going back to your recommendation Work Timer its fab. Its fab that you’ve got such a brilliant tool that doesn’t even cost anything, it doesn’t take up space on your computer and you can’t really fault it for that.It’s streamlined and it’s not going to slow you down its only going to help things.

Philippa: To coin one of LHs phrases, it does what it says on the tin.

LH: It does do what it says on the tin and I like that phrase.

Philippa: I know you do, and it’s not trying to be everything to all people.

LH: That’s usually when things start to fail.

Philippa: Exactly, it’s trying to do a specific thing and it does that specific thing very well. I don’t use the functionality of sending an invoice from the work panel website, but that’s because I have my own invoicing system. If this was something you used on most of your work then, that could be an incredible time saver as well.

LH: Absolutely its fab. Whether, you choose to use it for that or not. I only think its going to help streamline you work method.

PW: Yep

LH: Fab recommendation.

Philippa: Thank you very much

LH: And so that brings us to the end of episode 50, we have reached quite the milestone.

Philippa: We certainly have.

LH: And we hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as we have, because we really have had a fabulous time, researching, planning and recording all of these lovely podcasts for you.

Philippa: Yes, we have. It’s hard to describe just quite how much of a good time, playing you our outtakes but that’s just never going to happen.

LH: It’s never going to happen, well it depends. If you have millions to offer us

Philippa: Then maybe

LH: Then maybe it could happen, but probably not. So if you would like to subscribe to the podcast which of course you would, go to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com and you can subscribe from there. You can zip through to ITunes, Stitcher smart radio and subscribe from there. You can subscribe through RSS feed; there is no excuse to miss another episode, so go ahead. Go and have a chat to us, out Facebook page is also listed on the Podomatic page, our twitter feeds are also there and out websites are too. Any questions, any queries, any comments, reviews, feedback, anything at all as long as it’s nice, come and have a chat.

Philippa: Absolutely, we love hearing form you and getting new ideas and feedback on what we’ve already done. So don’t be shy, we’re both mostly friendly but I’d avoid us pre 8am, to be honest.

LH: Yes, pre coffee. Avoid us pre coffee we’ll be fine, you’ll be fine we’ll have a nice time. And here’s to another 50 episodes.

Philippa: Indeed.

LH: I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn

Philippa: And I have been Philippa Willitts and we will see you next time.

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Podcast Episode 49: How to Make Creative Marketing Ideas Work

Many new freelance writers are surprised by the amount of marketing that they need to do. Because these activities need to be pursued relentlessly it is easy to run out of ideas and feel uninspired. In this solo episode, Lorrie looks at some creative and unusual marketing approaches that freelance writers can adopt.

Show Notes

Roses are red pub sign

Amnesty hanging people flyers

ESPN Brasil interactive advert

Rock FM air guitars

Accountancy terms glossary

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

Transcript

LH: Hello and welcome to Episode 49 of A Little Bird Told Me: the freelance writing podcast that’s here to help you through the highs, the lows, as well as the absolutely brilliants and the unbelievably awfuls of running your own business.

Our home on the web is at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, so head on over if you’re not there already and subscribe to the podcast in whichever way suits you best – there’s an RSS feed, as well as iTunes, Stitcher Smart Radio and Podomatic subscription options, so pick whatever you fancy. Make sure you do it, though, because you’ll get a notification as soon as our new episodes are out.

On the Podomatic page you’ll also find the links to our Facebook page where you can come and have a chat to me and my co-host Philippa. You can post your most pressing freelance questions, make suggestions about future episodes and give feedback on the episodes you’ve listened to so far.

You’ll also find links to our websites and our social media feeds, as well as to other episodes, transcripts and show notes, many of which are actually handy links to resources for freelancers, so come and have a nosy!

I’m Lorrie Hartshorn and this week, I’m here without my usual co-host – the lovely Pip. She’ll be back next week as usual, though, when we’ll be recording another dual episode, so stay tuned for now with me and the time will fly by.

This week, I’m going to be looking at how to come up with some marketing ideas that will help you boost your freelance business. While we all know that creative marketing ideas are the ideal weapon for grabbing your target market’s attention, it can be hard to know where to start. In this episode, I’ll be looking at a few of the key components to help you get your creative ideas off the ground but not too far off the ground!

Intro

So, as Pip and I have said a thousand times (and it might actually be a thousand now we’re nearly at episode 50!), freelance writing isn’t just writing. If you get into this business because you like nothing better than putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), that’s only a small part of the battle won. A huge part of running a successful freelance writing business is marketing yourself and your services, getting business development down to a tee.

If you can do this in a way that grabs the attention of your target audience, and makes you memorable to them, you’re already a huge step ahead of the competition. Marketing isn’t just about you – it’s about your customer. So the key to developing some creative marketing ideas, even before you decide which fabulously inspiring thing you’re going to try, is to start with some preparation. And yes, I know that’s not as fun as getting stuck in, but you know what they say: “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” And it’s true, so suck it up.

Firstly, what are you trying to achieve? Maybe you want more clients in a particular sector. Maybe you want to promote a certain type of work – your blogging services, for example. Perhaps you’re trying to establish yourself as an authority in a certain sub-sector of freelance writing – technical writing, scientific writing, academic proof-reading. Whatever you’re trying to achieve, keep that central in your mind as you brainstorm marketing ideas. There’s no point catching people’s attention with a marketing campaign if they don’t know what they’re supposed to think or do once they’ve spotted you.

Jot down the core ideas behind your marketing. Really get it clear in your own mind what you want to achieve – pop it down on a piece of paper, pin it up on a notice board, start an Excel file, get coloured post-it notes and write your objectives on those. Put them somewhere you can view them with a clear mind.

target market

target market (Photo credit: yelahneb)

Secondly, decide who your target market is. What are their motivations? If you’re looking to attract small business clients, it’s likely that cost is going to be a huge factor in their decision to hire you, or not. If you’re looking to grab the attention of huge blue-chip firms or exclusive consultancy firms with a lot of disposable income, for example, cost won’t be such a key issue. They might be more concerned with hiring someone who’s known to be the best of the best.

Put yourself to one side for a moment and think about things that will push your ideal client’s buttons. What do they want? What do they really not want? What motivates them? What will make them hire you?

Brainstorm everything you can think of. Surf the net, get on social media and see what they’re talking about. Read newspapers and magazines for inspiration. Keep an eye on that client’s sector – maybe there’s some legislation that they might be a bit worried about; can you tap into that?

Copy, paste, snip and collect anything that fits with your idea of what your ideal client thinks, feels, needs and wants. This will help you to get inspired, and come up with ideas that will really attract the kind of target audience you’re after.

So, now you’ve done your research and your planning, we come to the fun stuff. Or do we? Well, not quite. Almost, but no. Sorry, it was a trick!

Now, the reason we haven’t quite come to the fun stuff is this: during my research for this podcast, I’ve come across a lot of suggestions for creative marketing ideas for small businesses that, to me, seem either legally or at least ethically questionable. So I want to talk briefly about that, and how, in my opinion at least (and I know I speak for Pip), it’s best to steer clear of anything dodgy, even if it might get you some short-term gain.

One suggestion was to hire a number of interns to do your marketing work for you. While the cheery suggestion was, “Interns Make Dollars and Sense!”, there was no indication that the interns should be paid. Anything. At all.

This is something that both Philippa and I feel quite strongly about – in my view, at least, if you can’t afford staff for your business but you need staff for your business to succeed, there’s a serious problem with your business plan. It’s not acceptable for your business to be dependent on free labour. Free labour isn’t a solution, so let’s knock that idea on the head right now. If you’re thinking that you need to do some business development and you think, “Hmm, I can get some graduates or people who are looking for work to do this for me.”, be careful. If you run a freelance business, it’s not like you’re likely to be in a position to offer people realistic job opportunities afterwards, so I would suggest you just steer clear.

fly posting

fly posting (Photo credit: Belfegore)

I’ve also seen suggestions that fly-posting and glueing your flyers to the front of newspapers is a good idea. It’s not – it’s probably illegal; it’s definitely annoying and I can’t see it winning your business any real brownie points.

For this podcast, we’re going to be focusing on ideas that are creative without being spammy. In terms of long-term benefits, I do always find that ethical and professional work best even if it might take a little bit longer.

So, moving on to the creative side of things, while only you will know what’s suitable for you, your business, your objectives and your target market., there are certain things you can do to try and ensure you come up with some good, actionable ideas. The key to a creative marketing idea is that it’s unique and captures the imagination. For that reason, I can’t come up with one for you now – of course – but what I will do is go through some of the criteria that you can bear in mind when you’re looking to come up with a creative marketing idea. And a lot of these feed into one another – hopefully you’ll be able to sit down, juggle them around in your own mind – keeping in mind your own needs – and come up with something that works for you and your target audience.

First off, emotional marketing campaigns work a treat. If you can make your prospects laugh from their belly up, you’re probably on to a winner. From where I’m standing, intelligent, topical, relatable humour is one way to get into your prospects’ heads where you want them to be.

Now, while toilet or crude humour might be the easy option, try to avoid that – remember that whatever you do has to fit your brand. Unless you’r brand is normally controversial, rude, cheeky, potentially offensive, say if you’re a funny blogger by trade, I’d suggest you steer clear.

If you’re not looking for wit and you want to be a bit sillier, surreal and absurdist humour is a good option. Things that make you laugh but you don’t know why.

There’s a picture floating round the internet of a sign outside a pub that reads, “Roses are red, violets are blue, poems are hard, BACON.” and I always think that would have made some really good flyer copy for a copywriter, for example. You could finish up with something like, “Need help finding the right words? Get in touch.” You will have made people laugh without resorting to being crude.

You might decide not to go with humour – other strong emotions can work just as well, so use your imagination. Depending on what you’re trying to achieve and who you’re trying to target, making people feel sad or envious or worried can all help you achieve your goals. As long as you move someone emotionally, you’ve got a better chance of getting through to them rationally.

One emotive campaign that really caught my attention was by Amnesty International, which, if you don’t know it, is a global human rights organisation that campaigns against the death penalty, torture, rape and other abuses. They ran a campaign using public transport – in each of the little straps that bus passengers can hold on to, they inserted a flyer in the shape of a person with their hands tied behind their back. And on the front of the flyers were photos of people who are blind-folded and they have bruises on their faces – they look like torture victims, basically.

What passengers on that bus saw were people being hanged. Shocking, yes; powerful, yes. When you look at photos of people responding to the campaign, they’re holding the flyers and reading what’s on the back, and that’s exactly what you want. A rectangular leaflet probably wouldn’t have had the same effect. It definitely wouldn’t be being talked about long afterwards.

You might be thinking, “Oh, but I don’t have the resources for something like that.” but the point is that the power of the campaign came from the shape of the flyer, the positioning of the flyer, the content, the message, and not the money behind the organisation. In the grand scheme of things, a flyer’s not a high-expenditure piece of marketing, so it’s not difficult to take and adapt for your own needs if this sparks your imagination.

Secondly, and it kind of follows on, interactive campaigns. If you can get your prospects to interact with your marketing campaign, then you’re over the first hurdle. You can talk at your prospects but if you can get them to interact with you, you’re opening a positive, two-way channel.

People don’t like to feel like they’re being targeted and sold to all the time. If prospects can have some kind of meaningful relationship (and I’m not talking a house, car and two kids – I’m talking however long you need them to pay attention to you) , that eases some of the pressure.

The way you get someone to interact with something is to tempt them into it by connecting with them emotionally. You make something fun, funny, shocking or cute, and often people won’t be able to resist interacting. Humans can be horrible, but we can actually be pretty nice too, and we like to feel connected – which is why these creative kinds of marketing – work so well.

So, if you give your prospects a toy, something edible, a photo opportunity, something that they want to fill out, or colour in, or draw on, or anything else you can think of, you’ve captured their imagination. And if your marketing message is strong enough – that’s a matter of offering and content combined – you should be well on your way to winning new business.

Air Guitar Championship

Air Guitar Championship (Photo credit: AxsDeny)

One of my favourite examples of this was by Rock Radio, who put an empty guitar stand out on the street, along with a big sign offering people a free air guitar. There aren’t many people who can resist a freebie – even an imaginary one! – and there are loads of folk who would leap at the chance to do something a bit silly and get playing a free air guitar – either for their friends, for YouTube, for Instagram, whatever. It’s a brilliant idea. It’s fun and nice without being rude or crude.

One of the real benefits of this kind of marketing now is that people will share things that they find unique, clever, funny or interesting across social media platforms, even if they weren’t the person in direct contact with the marketing material itself. If you can come up with something arresting enough, you could find yourself reaching more prospects than you’d originally planned!

The third point to bear in mind is that your marketing should be relatable. Whether you tap into something like observational humour (for example, the funny little things we all seem to do) or nostalgia to grab people’s attention, or you use clever analogies and metaphors to make something more specific relatable, it’s important that your prospects feel that your material is aimed at them. While it’s not good to have people feel like you’re targeting them purely as a sales exercise (which, usually, you are – you’re looking for clients, not friends, right?), it’s good for them to feel that your material is speaking to them, that you understand them and that you can therefore meet whatever needs they have.

Another way to be a bit more creative about your marketing is to avoid the same old flyers, posters, advertorials etc. and produce something that’s of real value to your prospects. This could be something content marketing-related, such as a blog post, an eBook, or a YouTube tutorial on how to, say, get the most out of press releases.

English: A Swedish box of chocolates called &q...

English: A Swedish box of chocolates called “Aladdin” (top layer, identical to the bottom layer). Svenska: Den svenska chokladasken “Aladdin” (övre lagret, identiskt med undre lagret). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Or, it could be a freebie – you can get branded-up products from some business suppliers; choose something good quality and useful to send to your prospects (this could be something typical like a mug, a pen, a calendar etc. or it could be something more unusual – I remember when I was working as a secretary, a company was really cheeky and sent us in a tiny little box of chocolates. We were thrilled – way better than the usual invoices. But when we opened the box, it was empty apart from a note saying, “If you’d taken our call last month and arranged a meeting with us, we’d have sent you chocolates.” To soften the blow, they did send us chocolates the next week – it caught our attention and we did have a meeting with them. It’s stuck in my head so it obviously worked!

If you send your prospect something physical, you’ll capture their attention (plus, as a bonus, there’ll be a reminder of you, your services and your contact details floating around their premises if they decide to keep whatever you’ve sent them). If your prospects feel that they’re getting something of good quality for nothing, they’re more likely to be receptive to a pitch from you. They will already be in a position where they’ve benefitted from interacting with you, even just via your marketing material or content, which gives you a talking point to open up discussions with and an opportunity to discuss with them how you could be even more useful (ie. if they hire you!).

Another way to approach this particular technique is to deliver the value in person so you can get straight into your pitch to your targets. Giving a talk at a networking events, offering free tutorials on social media to local business groups, hosting a Google Hang-out – these are all ways to offer something of value to people. Send out your invites and prepare your pitch – you’ve already got a foot in the door.

So there we are: a few pointers when it comes to thinking up creative marketing techniques. While it can be a bit of a brain-fry trying to come up with something unique that will capture the imaginations of your targets, keep aligned with your branding, help you meet your objectives, one good thing about creative marketing is that anyone can do it, regardless of how tight your budget is. Social media, in particular, makes this kind of marketing so much easier.

Make your ideas unique; make them apply to the target audience, make sure they’re in-keeping with your brand, give them value of some kind (whether they’re informative or entertaining) and make them easy to share – whether it’s because they’re so imaginative and attention grabbing that people want to or because they’re easily passed on via social media or other channels. Give your prospects every reason to get in touch.

The various ideas themselves are infinite, so I’m not going to go into them here. What I will do, however, is post a list of different kinds of marketing activities on my website, which you can find the link to on our podcast page at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com. I’ve split marketing activities into various categories, such as marketing materials, email marketing, relationship building, so you can come and grab that list and start popping ideas into each different section. It’s just a way of helping you to organise your potential marketing plans and deciding which one’s right for your objectives and your target audience.

So, I hope that’s been a helpful introduction to making sure you come up with the right kind of creative marketing ideas. Freelancers depend on being to attract new business, but we also need to attract the right kind of business – and without spending a fortune. Use the list on my website to devise the kind of creative marketing strategy that will work for your business, your objectives and your target audience. Step outside of the ordinary with your marketing, and you’re more likely to stand out from the crowd when prospects are looking to hire.

Recommendation

My recommendation this week comes on the back of Pip and I being in the middle of a two-part series about economising. Episode 48, if you haven’t already listened to it, was all about how not to waste money, and how to make savings, and we’ll be finishing off on that topic next week for episode 50.

But, while I was floating around on social media this week, I spotted something that fits in quite nicely with a point that Pip made as we were recording the episode last week – and that it’s good to know about finances, even if – like me – you’re not naturally a particularly number/tax/finance savvy person. The better you understand figures – and all things finance-y, the better you can look after those pennies. And even if you get an accountant on to help you, say, do your monthly accounts and tax returns, it’s important for you to be able to 1) understand what they tell you and 2) know what that means for your bank balance and your business.

For that reason, my recommendation this week is something I spotted on a website called FreelanceAdvisor.co.uk. Now, it’s a UK-centric site so the advice might not be completely right for other listeners, but they’ve published a glossary of accountancy terms. It’s a brilliant A to Z of all those words and phrases your tax advisor or accountant might trot out while you nod and smile and try to work out what they’re talking about, and it’s broken down into easy-to-understand language for easy reference. As well as the more complicated stuff, there are some quite basic terms on there – well, I say basic; they are if you know them! – and some specific kinds of financial and tax legislation that you may need to know about.

Bookmark the page, copy and paste the information into a Word document and save it in your admin folder – whatever, just make sure you keep this list handy and look over it when you get five minutes. Just as marketing is part of freelance writing, so is managing your money – you’re running your own business and it’s unfortunately not something you can avoid. So yes, get your nose out of whatever book it’s in, sit down and have a thorough look at all these terms. Once you know them, life will be a lot easier to manage, and who doesn’t want that?

So, that brings us neatly to the end of episode 49 of the A Little Bird Told Me freelance writing podcast. Fabulous podcast. As ever, I really hope you’ve enjoyed this episode – come and give us some feedback at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com – try and be kind! You can find all the links to our social media feeds there so if you want to tweet us, tweet us; if you prefer to Facebook us, Facebook us! However you get in touch, don’t forget to subscribe while you’re there – you’ll get every new episode delivered straight to your inbox, which will make tuning in easier than ever.

Pip and I will be back next week, thank the Lord, with the second in our series on how to stop your small business wasting money. In the meantime, I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn, and thank you so much for listening!

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

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

Show Notes

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

Transcript

LH: Hello and welcome to Episode 48 of A Little Bird Told Me. My co-host Pippa and I are two freelance writers on a mission: we’re here to help you avoid the pitfalls that plague our profession and become the most wonderful wordsmiths you can be.

Freelancing is tough, and it can be a really lonely old world out there, so our hope is that this podcast will be a little ray of sunshine in a world where you can find yourself  working from bed, eating cornflakes from the packet for lunch and not seeing another living soul for four years straight.

To make sure that you don’t miss this lovely podcast, we’ve made it super easy to subscribe – you can tune in via iTunes, RSS feed, Stitcher smart radio or Podomatic.

No matter how you want to listen, make sure you stop by our Podomatic homepage at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com because there’s a whole range of links and resources on there to accompany the episodes. Blog posts, transcripts, funny videos and websites – they’re all there. You’ll also find links to both my and Pip’s social media profiles and websites so you can come and chat to us. I’m Lorrie Hartshorn….

PW: And I’m Philippa Willitts and we want to start by apologising for the lack of podcast last week. Once in a while, we just can’t fit it in – we both sometimes have a week with an incredibly busy schedule and last week was one of those. So we hope you didn’t miss us too much – actually, we hope you did! – but there’s always our archives if you’re missing us too much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look after the pennies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PW: And you don’t pay tax on an ISA!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LH: Haha, while you starve away at home!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PW: Yeah, you can find some lovely journeys.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PW: That. Is. Ingenious.

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

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

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

PW: It’s a no brainer, isn’t it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PW: I always use both, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Show Notes

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

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

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

5 ways writers kill their credibility online

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

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Transcript

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

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

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

7:2 :: writing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WRITE

WRITE (Photo credit: karindalziel)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Show Notes

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Subscribe via RSS

Subscribe via iTunes

Find us on Stitcher Smart Radio

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

Transcript

LH: Hello and welcome to Episode 46 of A Little Bird Told Me. My co-host Pippa and I are two freelance writers on a frankly heroic mission: we’re here to help you avoid the pitfalls that plague our profession and become the most wonderful wordsmiths you can be.

Freelancing is tough, and it can be a really lonely old world out there, so our hope is that this podcast will be a little ray of sunshine in a world where you can find yourself working from bed, eating cornflakes from the packet for lunch and not seeing another living soul for four years straight.

To make sure that you don’t miss this little sunbeam of writerly wisdom, we’ve made it super easy to subscribe – you can tune in via iTunes, RSS feed, Stitcher smart radio or Podomatic. No matter how you want to listen, make sure you stop by our Podomatic homepage at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com because there’s a whole range of links and resources on there to accompany the episodes. Blog posts, transcripts, funny videos and websites – they’re all there. You’ll also find links to both my and Pip’s social media profiles and websites so you can come and chat to us. I’m Lorrie Hartshorn….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PW: Oops!

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

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

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

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

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

PW: Yes, how receptive they are.

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

The Argument

The Argument (Photo credit: roeyahram)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LH: Yes, like tech writing.

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

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

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

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

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

LH: Hahaha!

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

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

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

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

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

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

PW: Ohhhhh dear!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Angry Talk (Comic Style)

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

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

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

PW: Especially if they think you’re new.

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

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

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

PW: There’s nothing worse!

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

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

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

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

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

PW: We’re supposed to be right!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LH: Are you sure?

PW: Positive?

LH: Have you checked?

PW: Yup.

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

PW: Still no novel.

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

PW: I’m not one of those either.

LH: Are you sure?

PW: Hahaha, yes!

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

PW: Mmmmm.

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

PW: They’re bread and butter.

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

PW: Anyone with internet access has no excuse.

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

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

PW: Yup, from UCLA online.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PW: Yes, we can all learn.

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

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

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

PW: Hahaha!

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

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

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

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

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

PW: Ahhh, that’s fantastic!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LH: Ooh, link-bait title!

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

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

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

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

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

LH: Haha, sounds nice!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Show Notes

 

Text Fixer: http://www.textfixer.com/

 

Rapportive: http://www.rapportive.com

 

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

 

Gmelius: http://gmelius.com/

 

Boomerang for Android:

 

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

 

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

 

Subscribe via RSS

 

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Find us on Stitcher Smart Radio

 

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

 

Transcript

 

LH: Hello and welcome to Episode 45 of A Little Bird Told Me: the podcast about the highs, the lows, and the no-nos of successful freelance writing. You can find us on the web at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com and there you can subscribe to the podcast via RSS feed, iTunes, Stitcher Smart Radio or just there on the Podomatic page itself. It’s worth clicking the subscribe button because you’ll get a notification as soon as our new episodes are out.

 

On the Podomatic page itself you’ll also find the links to our Facebook page where you can come and have a chat to me and Pip and ask us any questions you might have and give feedback on the episodes you’ve listened to so far, and you’ll also find links to our websites and our social media feeds, as well as to other episodes, transcripts and show notes, many of which are actually handy links to resources for freelancers, so come and have a nosy!
I’m Lorrie Hartshorn and this week, I’m here without my usual co-host – the lovely Philippa. She’ll be back next week as usual, though, when we’ll be recording another dual episode, so stay tuned for now and your patience will be rewarded.

 

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

 

Image representing Gmail as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

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

 

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

 

1) Undo send

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

2) Rapportive

 

Rapportive

Rapportive (Photo credit: Bill Handy)

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

 

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

 

3) Canned responses 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

4) Gmail mute

 

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

 

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

 

5) Boomerang

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

6. Gmail aliases – dots and plus signs!

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

7) Send and Archive

 

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

 

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

 

8: The basics

 

Gmail's log-in page (September 2011)

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Podcast Episode 44: Writing for different audiences – experts vs beginners

Writers must always keep the reader in mind when they are composing a piece of work, and one factor that should always inform how and what you write is the level of expertise that your audience will have. In this podcast episode, Lorrie and I talk about different issues to factor in when writing for beginners, lay people, novices or experts, including a detailed look at the language, structure and formatting to use.

Show Notes

Mayfield Handbook of Technical and Scientific Writing

Creative people say NO!

30 easy ways to organize your work space

IKEA Hackers

Lonely Goatherd lyrics

12 Old Words that Survived by Getting Fossilized in Idioms

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

Transcript

LH: Hello and welcome to Episode 44 of A Little Bird Told Me. My co-host Pippa and I are two freelance writers on a frankly heroic mission: we’re here to help you avoid the pitfalls that plague our profession and become the most wonderful wordsmiths you can be.

Freelancing is tough, and it can be a really lonely old world out there, so our hope is that this podcast will be a little ray of sunshine in a world where you can find yourself  working from bed, eating cornflakes from the packet for lunch and not seeing another living soul for four years straight.

To make sure that you don’t miss this little sunbeam of writerly wisdom, we’ve made it easy to subscribe – you can tune in via iTunes, RSS feed, Stitcher smart radio or Podomatic. No matter how you want to listen, make sure you stop by our Podomatic homepage at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com because there’s a whole range of links and resources on there to accompany the episodes. Blog posts, transcripts, funny videos and websites – they’re all there. You’ll also find links to both my and Pip’s social media profiles and websites so you can come and chat to us. I’m Lorrie Hartshorn….

PW And I’m Philippa Willitts. Today we’re going to be looking at the different ways you might finding yourself using language as a writer depending on whether your audience are beginners or experts. This can include the words and sentence structures you use, the layout and format of your writing, and the overall pitch and approach you take. It’s easy to make the assumption that writing for beginners involves using baby language and for experts you should use multi syllabic compounds at every opportunity, but that’s not how it works – it’s not a good or even an effective way to do it! In the first case you’ll come across as patronising, and in the latter as pretentious or like you’re trying too hard.

So, we’re going to start off by talking about, first of all, how you know who’s an expert and who’s a beginner.

LH: Yeah, we thought we’d get started straight away, but then we realised that it was a good idea to actually define who’s an expert and who isn’t. Now, if you have a look at any good dictionary, you’ll find that an expert can be defined simply as someone who has a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of or skill in a particular area. So no surprises there.

L

L (Photo credit: duncan)

A lay person is, quite simply, someone who isn’t an expert. We’re all laypersons to a large extent – there’s no way any of us can be real experts in more than a few things at most – so knowing how to write for a lay audience, as well as an expert audience, is hugely important because you’re targeting most readers out there.

PW Sometimes, the level of expertise of the audience you are writing for is obvious from your brief. If, as part of a content marketing plan, your soft furnishings client wants a series of blog posts or video scripts with titles like,  “How to choose the right curtains for a small room” or “What colour schemes are best for south-facing bedrooms” then you’re almost certainly writing for beginners – people who may know all sorts about all sorts,  but who are seeking information about soft furnishings because they know very little about it.

Similarly, if you have a B2B client who sells to plumbers, then articles about how to change a washer will be entirely redundant – these readers are experts who want to know about the latest technologies, innovations and legal changes, not the basics they’ve been successfully doing all day every day for years.

LH: Yes, sometimes you can tell if you’re going to be writing for an expert of layperson depending on the kind of content you’re writing. There are trends, I would say, on which types of content go towards which reader but, at the same time, you can’t always say definitively “This is for an expert, and this is for a layperson.”

Now, the things that strike me as more appropriate for experts are: journals, academic reports, business reports, case studies, funding proposals. Now, lay person audiences (although not always) might be news stories for client websites – communicating news to a general audience – customer brochures, although B2C ones are more likely to be for lay audiences, press releases for non-specialist publications. So if a dairy farm client has some new technology and they want people to know about to because their production is going to go up, you could just send that to a newspaper and focus, maybe, on jobs being created.

PW: What’s interesting about press releases is that one piece of news might need to be re-written twice – you might need a press release for specialists and one for laypeople. So, as well as the “Yay, new jobs, more milk” press release, you could send one to Dairy Farmers’ Monthly, focusing on the implication for the market, litres per animal etc. Whatever dairy specialists want to know. So yes, one kind of writing can still need to be re-written depending on your audience and their expertise level.

LH: Very good point. And that’s why it’s so important to know the differences between writing for experts and laypersons – if you need to re-write something for a client and you don’t, you’re in a pickle.

PW: So we’re going to look first at writing for beginners, and as we’ve said, everyone is a beginner in a lot of areas. You’ll have your own expertise in areas you do or enjoy, but you’ll be a layperson in a lot of areas. So it’s quite easy to relate to what beginners can need. But there are some really good guidelines and advice that come from various sources that we’re going to talk about that will help you pitch it just right.

LH: Yes, one of my favourite sources for information on writing for experts and beginners is the Mayfield Handbook of Technical and Scientific Writing (sounds like the kind of thing you’d get at Hogwarts!), published by the famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology (AKA. MIT!), has some really handy information on how to write for laypersons and experts, as you would expect. Now, most of the focus of a lot of the content is for scientific and technical writing, as it says in the title, but you can apply what’s in there more generally.

Now, a lot of what we’ll be advising here is quite similar to what’s suggested in there, so I’d recommend going and having a read of the handbook if you feel like you want to become a bit more of an expert, so to speak! You can find PDF copies all over the place or your can get hold of a copy on Amazon.

PW: And we’ll link to it in the show notes.

LH: The first thing to bear in mind when writing for a lay audience is that the audience may have absolutely no prior knowledge of the topic you’re presenting to them.

As a writer, it’s your job to provide your audience with something they can read without having to open a dictionary or dive on Google in order to understand. But, at the same time, you have to be careful, as Pip’s pointed out, not to patronise your readers. It’s a tough balancing act sometimes.

PW: When I write for beginners, a big part of my job is diving about on Google and doing research so other people don’t have to.

LH: Yes, they always do say that the best way to learn a subject is to teach it, or in this case, teach something via writing.

PW: Yes, if I can read 10 websites about something complicated and condense that into 500 words that people who’ve never come across the subject before can understand, then I’ve done a good job.

Experts Only

Experts Only (Photo credit: Joe Shlabotnik)

One trick that is quite easy to fall into is that when you have become something of an expert in an industry, because you’ve been writing about it for a while, is to forget that others don’t know what certain acronyms or buzz words mean. The same thing can happen with references to good practice guides, governing bodies or laws. When you first start writing about a particular industry you will be fine, because what is unfamiliar to the lay person will also be unfamiliar to you. As you progress, and start to understand it all, don’t lose sight of how confusing the jargon was to you at first.

LH: Absolutely. The example that always springs to mind for me is the website for the UK tax body, HMRC. It’s a total nightmare. You’ll look up one thing on there and you’ll end up having to look up 10 more things just to understand what you’re being told. And the pages they have explaining complicated terms on there, but I end up more confused. It’s a really bad example of writing for beginners.

PW: And the worst thing about it is that it thinks it’s user-friendly, and it really isn’t. As Lorrie says, an explanation of one word involves looking up one word.

LH: Yes, and it’s even worse because their TV ads are so friendly and informative. They use news readers who were on TV when we were young, and you think, “Oh, I trusted that person for years! It’s all going to be OK!” and it never is!

PW: Haha!

LH: So yeah. Your laypersons might be absolute beginners, or what the Mayfield Handbook of Technical and Scientific Writing terms it, “novices” – “persons who do not yet possess technical expertise in a field but are in the process of acquiring it.” But, because we’re not limiting this to specifically technical or scientific writing, you might well be dealing with a mixture of both, in which case, you have to cater for the beginners without sending the novices on a one-way trip to Yawnsville.

PW: So as well as looking at the level of specialism that your readers have, whether it’s absolute beginners with no previous knowledge or novices with a little bit of information, the other thing to consider is why your readers are reading the content.

LH: When it comes to informative content, laypersons tend to read in order to   expand their general knowledge, inform their decisions – say, researching products before buying them, reading up on current affairs and politics, to  learn how to use a device or perform a procedure (hello microwave oven instruction manual and DIY build-your-own-bookcase manual!), or simply to help them in becoming an expert.

PW: Yes, the joy of the net is that so much information is at the tip of your fingers. You might wonder how something got its name and within 10 seconds, you’re on Wikipedia. You can find yourself getting a lot of basic information on a lot of topics, so you need to make sure you tailor your text to those people as well as others, who want to become experts in the subject you’re writing about and are using your text as a starting point.

LH: Absolutely. When writing for laypersons, it’s best to introduce your topic in a wider context. Give your reader thorough background  information, either in your introduction – if you’re writing a formally structured piece of work like an essay or report – or at appropriate points throughout the text.

Don’t launch into the complex stuff. As I said, start off with a wider context where possible and visualise yourself zooming in, bit by bit.

A widely published press release for a technical client, for example, should start off with a few lines summarising the overall story, because that’s what press releases start with, before leading into general information about the subject at hand. Once you’re, say, half or two thirds of the way down the page if your text is about a page long, you can start delving into the details of the technological development or government legislation you’re discussing. You’re baby-stepping your reader into it without making a baby of them.

PW: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Reference Guide: technical detail sketches

Reference Guide: technical detail sketches (Photo credit: windysean)

LH: When deciding exactly which technical information to include, it’ll depend very much on your client and their sector, but consider your audience and ask yourself what they need to know. Say you’re discussing recycling technologies – what will your reader be interested in? Probably the basics – how much the complicated doo-dah costs. How big it is. How much waste material it can process in a day. Why are you writing a press release on it. What makes it ground-breaking or note-worthy. Cover topics such as these briefly but don’t go too far unless your piece is a strictly informative one, teaching people about said gadget.

PW: Yes, if it’s a “How are new gadget works…” that’s very different from “Hey, we have a new gadget!”

Now, as we’ve said, it’s important to look at why your reader is reading what you write. If they need to buy a new, say, washing machine, there’s a fairly good chance that they only want the information they absolutely need to make their decision. You need to be able to make them understand why they have to care about litres per wash or energy ratings, even if they only need to care for the 45 minutes it will take them to choose what to buy. Your job is pretty clear: work out what the consumer wants and needs to know; you also need to work out what your client wants them to know and that can be things like…if 10 different e-commerce sites are selling the same washing machine, it might be that your client offers next day delivery or particularly good customer service. Your jobs is to present that information in a way that is pitched correctly,  informative,  clear,  and neither unnecessarily detailed nor patronisingly lacking in substance.

LH: Haha!

PW: Hey, I said your job was clear, not that it was easy!

LH: No, it’s certainly not easy. And, you know, it’s a bit off-topic but it’s relevant as we’re freelance writers. Clients may want you to include information that they think their audience needs to know but that you feel shouldn’t be included.

PW: Yes, you’re a step away from your client’s business and can sometimes see that something they feel passionately about isn’t of real importance to consumers. It can be hard to handle. If they want to highlight that they *only* charge £200 to deliver your washing machine, you may have to do what they want or you may be able to raise the issue with them. And that’s something to look at on a case-by-case basis.

LH: Absolutely, and you have to be really careful. On a really mercenary level, if you do something your client wants but that you don’t think is right, your client might get bad results, then turn round and  say, “Your writing didn’t work.” But there’s nothing to prove that it was their preference and not your writing that was the problem.

PW: Something I’ve been known to do is to say to the client, “I understand why you would want that but I’d recommend against it.” I’ve then sent two versions of the work over: one with their suggestion and one without. I suggest that they use my version, but it’s up to them. Now, obviously I wouldn’t do this if I was being paid strictly for one piece of work only, but if it’s just something like the same email with two different subject lines, or a slight change in the opening paragraph, then it’s OK.

LH: Really good solution. Because then you can prove that the issue isn’t your writing. Unless you’re working on a strict payment term,  or the difference is very big, very good solution.

Now, going back to the topic, hopefully this next point should be obvious, but when using technical terms, make sure you explain them the first time you use them. Now, it can be tricky to remember it if you’ve been writing about that subject for a long time, and it can also be easy to miss these things if you end up rejigging the article after you’ve written it.

PW: Haha, yes! You end up clarifying it the third time you mention it!

LH: So yeah, same goes for acronyms – a common one I use is “WEEE”, which everyone finds super amusing, but that stands for waste electrical and electronic equipment. I always write it in full first, placing “WEEE” in brackets afterwards. From then on, I just write ‘WEEE’.

PW: That’s best practice, I think – write it in full first time, then just use the letters. And that’s got me thinking, sometimes when you write for a client regularly and you find yourself clarifying an acronym for the fifteenth time, you can start to wonder whether you need to. Say, in blog posts. But, you have to bear in mind that people rarely start at the beginning of a blog and read through, so it’s good practice to do it every time.

LH: And another point is that you can make use of the terms for SEO purposes – you can link them internally and externally. And just going back to what you said about best practice, I’ve seen some people writing the acronym, then putting the full term in brackets afterwards. I wouldn’t do that – I would do it the other way round, with the full term first, then the acronym in brackets.

PW: yes, I’ve seen the same and I agree with you!

LH: That’s always gratifying! Now, a handy way of explaining technical information if it contains too many tricky words or concepts is to use metaphors, similes and analogies. That might sound a bit abstract and complex, and I’m kind of tempted to explain what all those things are, but if you’re a write, you should really know.

PW: Yes, I’ve been watching a TV series called Numb3rs recently on Netflix. It’s a show about the FBI and a maths geek, and whenever something really mathematically complicated needs to be explained, the maths geek creates an elaborate story to explain it. While I have to admit that he comes across as quite smug and annoying when he does this, it does genuinely help to make it clear what on earth he’s talking about. It makes these complex things quite accessible to someone like me, who hasn’t studied maths since they were 16.

LH: Yes, if you can come up with a useful analogy or metaphor, then all the better for it.

In informative posts, where the key is to get the reader to understand a certain concept, the analogy might be clearly highlighted, introduced by a phrase like, “Imagine that you’re…”, helping to guide the reader through the unfamiliar concept. In other informative posts, such as press releases, it might be a little more discrete. A couple of examples I’ve found on the ‘net: “Glycogen acts as a kind of energy bank in the body…” or “An unreleased movie is like a commodity, whose value goes up and down depending on circumstances.”

PW: Absolutely. Now when you’re considering the expertise of your audience, another thing to consider is the structure of what you’re writing. Things like carefully placed headings, the size of your paragraphs can all make a difference to how easy to understand – or in-depth – a piece of writing is.

If you’re writing for beginners, then regular paragraph headings and small-ish paragraphs can be helpful. They provide information in bitesize chunks and make it clear about what you’re talking about right now. They’re easier to digest. On the other hand, if you’re writing in an academic journal and each paragraph has two sentences, people wouldn’t like that. And they might not want a heading for every paragraph – they might want one for every third page. They’re obviously extreme ends of the spectrum, but it’s worth considering: structure plays an important part in how comprehensible writing is.

LH: Absolutely, and the same goes for bullet points as well. They’re brilliant, and if you’re writing something particularly long, bullet points are a good way to sum up and drive home to your reader what’s gone on.

And to go back to headings for a second, the type of heading you use for beginners and experts will vary. When writing for experts, you can have infrequent, quite dense headings. When writing for beginners, headings can summarise or somehow explain what’s to follow so the reader knows what to expect.

PW: Yes, so if you’ve got an article on how to choose a lampshade, then you might have headings for colour, size, position in the room, for example.

Another thing you can make use of if you’re doing a very informative post is a numbered list. I think people often find it easier to follow instructions if there’s a number 1, 2, 3. It can be more accessible even than just bullet points on their own.

LH: Absolutely, and it won’t suit for every kind of writing. We’re just trying to give tips for loads of types of writing; be discerning when choosing which to follow!

PW: Yes, absolutely. We’ve looked quite a lot at how to write for beginners, laypeople, novices etc. So what we’re going to look at now is the different kinds of experts you might find yourself writing for and what kind of context this might be in.

LH: Now, experts often have different reasons for reading content than lay people. These reasons might include: to maintain and expand their own general expertise – to build on what they know and keep their level of learning quite high, to obtain specific answers to their own research and writing – so they might be writing a dissertation or report or theses, or even – and this is quite different to beginners – to evaluate a document’s technical or scientific content. And that sends shivers down my spine!

PW: Yes, it’s like peer reviews, isn’t it? And even if it’s not formal, a lot of experts can’t help themselves!

PW: There are other reasons that experts might read your content. One of these is that a lot of specialist fields are always developing. There might be new technology, new research, or new laws and best practice to keep on top of. Somebody who is already an expert in their own niche or industry will still need up to date information so they stay on top of industry standards or keep abreast of the competition.

LH: The handbook that we mentioned earlier helpfully splits experts into two camps and this can help you decide how you’re going to write for experts. Firstly, there are General Experts, who the book says “possess extensive knowledge about a field in general, but might be unfamiliar with particular technical terms, specific equipment, or recent advances in your document’s subject matter.” So basically, they’re experts but not in that particular niche.

PW: Yes, it might be someone who’s a general scientist, but someone who doesn’t know details about microbiology, for example.

LH: Yes. And then, there are the “Specific Experts”, who have either “equal or superior knowledge to you on a particular subject”. Now, if your audience includes general experts, the advice is to provide sufficient your readers with a bit of background information – an intelligent overview of your topic – and then to define any technical terms, acronyms and such like that they might be unfamiliar with. When writing just for specific experts, on the other hand (and it’s important to note that ‘just’) you’re as well omitting extensive background details, and you won’t usually need to define key technical terms or acronyms.

PW: No. And the thing about writing for experts is that they can tell when you don’t know what you’re talking about. And just as we said earlier than baby language is inappropriate when writing for beginners, using long, complex words for the sake of it when writing for experts is equally inappropriate.

LH: Absolutely.

PW: And there are times when you might be an expert in something yourself. Lorrie and I both have languages degrees, for instance, so can write pretty well on languages. And there are times when you can learn enough to write well on a subject, but there are also times when you have to admit that a subject is not just out of your comfort zone but really out of your capability.

LH: As we mentioned earlier, you can’t be an expert in more than a few fields. I had this discussion with someone recently – he’s a client with whom I’m quite friendly – and he was saying that writers could maybe price their work on three levels: super easy stuff, medium stuff and really complicated stuff.

I had to tell him, of course, that it doesn’t work like that. Writing for beginners can be just as tough as writing complex stuff for experts.

PW: Yeah.

LH: Plus, as I said to him with no shame, I wouldn’t be able to write something in-depth on finance, tax, law, astrophysics. Sometimes, you can’t learn enough to do a decent job, and it’s your duty as a freelance writer to say that, “I’m sorry, this isn’t within my capabilities.”

PW: Yes, you have an absolute responsibility to do that. A couple of months ago, an agency approached me to ask if I could write about computer viruses, so I replied very honestly to say, “I can write about consumer and business protection against computer viruses. I can’t write about the anatomy of a computer virus, or how to build a computer virus.” As it was, they needed something about consumer protection, so they hired me. But it would have been entirely irresponsible of me to say, “Yeah, sure!” and be allocated an in-depth, 4,000 long-form article about how to build the ultimate, self-replicating computer virus. I’d have done an awful job and while it feels wrong to turn down work, but there are times when you should for both your sake and the client’s sake.

LH: Absolutely. A lot of scientific writers actually have the scientific background.

PW: Yes, a lot of medical writers are qualified doctors or nurses. And it’s one of the reasons why specialising can be good – you can do more expert technical stuff.

So, it’s important when writing a piece of work to consider who your audience is. And one of the things to consider is their degree of expertise. That includes your client’s goals and targets for the writing, as well as your reader’s aims and goals in reading it. Now, writing isn’t all clearly delineated by either “expert” or “beginner writing”, so there are many things that you’ll need to do the same regardless of your reader’s level of expertise.

LH: Absolutely. To start with, both experts and lay people need engaging, well-written content that is easy to read, and as clear as possible. And it harks back to what Pip was just saying about not baby talking or slotting in as many big words as possible. Keep things on a level and target the reader.

PW: And there’s a belief, often, that writing for experts can be dull. But they’re just as human as anyone else. It might not need to jump out of the page, but an expert still doesn’t want to be bored.

LH: Yes. Complex writing will be denser, but it can still be engaging.

PW: Obviously the differences are the technicalities, the approach, the details of how you write. But like Lorrie says, keeping in mind your goals, and your client’s goals and target audience, are the same no matter whether you are writing for academicians or outright beginners.

LH: Yes, no matter who your audience is, you need it to fulfil its aims – whether that’s to inform, persuade, entertain or – as is often the case – a mixture.

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

LH: I’m being frivolous again this week, so my recommendation is a cute and crafty one – it’s an article from Buzzfeed, which I love…

PW: Oh, we’re all loving Buzzfeed! I saw the CEO talk at the Content Marketing Show and they’re just genius. Even if you don’t like the site, you have to be impressed.

LH: If you don’t like the site, you have no soul. Not that I’m judging. I’m on it EVERY day!

PW: Hahaha! Every fourth link I click is a Buzzfeed link. Their content is amazing and if you want to know how to do catchy headlines, they’re a real help.

LH: So my recommendation is 30 Easy Ways to Organize Your Workspace. Now some of the suggestions are completely daft and seem to be more trouble than they’re worth – there seems to be a lot of stacking of plastic cups and covering things in wallpaper, for example – and I think they’ll only appeal to crafters – but others actually look really handy. Using a dish-rack as a desk-top filing system, for instance, is a fab idea, as is the idea of using tags from your bread to label cables so you can identify them in a tangle.

But, useful or not, one thing that all these little hacks have in common is that they’re intended to make life a little bit easier, a bit more handy and, in many cases, a bit more easy on the eye. And I just think that’s lovely. There doesn’t always have to be a serious point to something – sometimes, we all just need a bit of pretty in our lives.

I was reading an article by Kevin Ashton this week, entitled, Creative People Say No, and he makes an interesting point, which is that if you “Wipe away the magic and myth of creating and all that remains is work” And I agree. While the article is about freeing up your time so you have room to be creative, I really do agree with the point that you shouldn’t lose all the myth and magic from life. If you want to stack cups and put pencils in them, or you want to cover something in wallpaper, do it.

PW: Yeah, absolutely! You don’t want everything just to be functional, do you?

LH: No, completely. What’s the point of being a freelancer if you get no enjoyment from it? Don’t think that, just because you have a business and clients that you can’t be a bit silly and fun. When I logged into the Google Drive file that Pip and I were using to plan this podcast, I noticed that someone, who shall remain nameless, had pasted the lyrics to “High on a hill lives a lonely goatherd” into it. Now, that may or may not have been Pip, and I still have no idea quite why that happened, or what was going through Pip’s mind at the time, but it made me laugh.

PW: That was the whole point. And yes, I don’t quite know what I was thinking either. I had that song in my head and I thought, “I need to share this!” It was the obvious thing to do! Lorrie and I are very silly much of the time. If you heard the out-takes for this recording, you’d be shocked at best. And we also play tricks on one another, sneaking things into the other person’s text, sending each other daft pictures on our phones – and all because things shouldn’t be grey tedium. It doesn’t have any negative impact on our work because we’re totally serious when we need to be. It’s all good.

LH: Yes, it’s really important. Little bits of loveliness everywhere – from your work space to your Google Drive – are part of what make life worth living, I think. It’s why I take singing lessons, it’s why I do creative writing, it’s just – for no other reason – a way to nurture your creativity.

PW: Yes, we did an episode on what to do if you’re out of inspiration and we suggested going out and getting inspired.

LH: Yes, having a laugh, having fun, it’s all perfect.

PW: Brilliant recommendation – I’ll definitely take a look at those life hacks, because making life a bit nicer will help you through the day. Now, my recommendation this week is something I think will apply to 100% of the listeners of this podcast, and anyone with an interest in language and words. It’s a post at the Mental Floss website, which is often very good, and it’s called 12 Old Words That Survived By Getting Fossilised In Idioms. There’s a paragraph on 12 words, explaining the words and what they means, before looking at the single idiom that’s probably the only reason you know them. So, things like roughshod, sleight, dint. I get really sad about lost language and the words we stop using.

LH: There was a sad article I read a couple of years back, about the fact that there’s only one person left in Wales who only speaks Welsh. It’s tragic!

PW: When I lived in France, I used to know a man who was Swedish, had studied French and Spanish in Wales, and studied endangered languages as a hobby!

LH: Aww, I like him!

PW: I know, I did too. So yes, if you want to know more about ‘eke’ as in ‘eking out a living’ or leaving someone in the lurch, go to our show notes at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com and the links will be there.

LH: Brilliant recommendation! And so that just about wraps up episode 44! We’re getting old now! Can you imagine when we get to episode 100?

PW: It’s amazing. We both love that people are listening. Our download stats are impressive, so thanks for supporting us. We love the comments, likes, reviews, so do keep it up. Come and say hello, recommend us, send us reviews, embed the podcast in your blog…

LH: And tell your friends!

PW: All of them!

LH: and send us chocolate! So that wraps this up! I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn

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

Podcast Episode 42: Project creep: how to cope with clients who want to stretch your good will.

In this episode, Lorrie and I discuss what to do when a client project starts to grow and grow but annoyingly your pay cheque doesn’t. We talk about different situations where this can occur and how to extricate yourself from it, as it can develop into a really tricky situation. We also look at whether prevention is better than a cure, how to cope with clients who want to socialise with you, and where to find 37 free ebooks about journalistic writing.

Show Notes

Let me google that for you

Episode 24: The Art of Getting Paid

Writers: How not to suck at marketing

37 free e-books on journalism

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Transcript

LH: Hello and welcome to Episode 42 of A Little Bird Told Me. My co-host Pippa and I are two freelance writers on a frankly heroic mission: we’re here to help you avoid the pitfalls that plague our profession and become the most wonderful wordsmiths you can be.

Freelancing is tough, and it can be a lonely old world out there, so our hope is that this podcast will be a little ray of sunshine in a world where you can find yourself  working from bed, eating cornflakes from the packet for lunch and not seeing another living soul for four years on the trot.

To make sure that you don’t miss this little sunbeam of writerly wisdom, we’ve made it easy to subscribe – you can tune in via iTunes, RSS feed, Stitcher smart radio or Podomatic. No matter how you want to listen, make sure you stop by our Podomatic homepage at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com because there’s a whole range of linksydinks and resources on there to accompany the episodes. Blog posts, transcripts, funny videos and websites – they’re all there. The whole internet’s there. You’ll also find links to both my and Pip’s social media profiles and websites so you can come and chat to us. I’m Lorrie Hartshorn….

PW: And I am Philippa Willitts and today we are going to talk about what you can do if a project you are working on with a client starts to grow and grow, but annoyingly your pay cheque doesn’t. Clients can sometimes get pushy and expect lots of “little” extras, little revisions, little rewrites and so on, and at some point you have to extricate yourself from the situation.

LH: Absolutely, it tends to be “little” things and “can you just…?”s.

PW: They all add up!

LH: Yep! I read a tweet by another freelancer on this subject quite recently, actually, that said, “I don’t have “difficult” clients, but “dynamic” individuals that feed my children, support my agency and life long learning” And leaving aside the fact that that makes no sense whatsoever, I’m here to tell you that’s not only nauseating, it’s also total rubbish. It’s true! Clients are people like anyone else, and you can get good ones, bad ones and downright ugly clients. What’s more, add money into the mix and the sense of entitlement some clients can have sky-rockets.

PW: This is so true – as soon as they’re paying you for something, some clients think they can expect the world.

LH: Absolutely. It’s by no means all clients – far from it – but don’t be fooled into thinking that there are no difficult clients and that you must be the issue.

PW:  Yes, absolutely. I know Lorrie and I often check things out with one another, like, “Someone’s just sent me this – is this reasonable? Am I being reasonable?” It’s good to have someone outside the situation to talk to.

LH: So if you have someone like that, check things with them and if you don’t, come and chat to me and Pip.

PW: Oh yes – we’ll tell you in no uncertain terms if we think someone’s trying to take advantage of you!

PW: So what we’re going to do today is look at some ways of managing this kind of situation, often known as “project creep”, and – although this might not help if you’re slap bang in the middle of it right now – prevention is better than a cure.

PW: if you can be as clear as possible before you start work about exactly what is and isn’t included – how many revisions, how much consultancy and advice, how often you have to respond to emails, even – and make sure you and the client have signed off an agreed plan, because then you are in a much stronger position to nip it in the bud before it gets really difficult. If you can point to an original agreement and say, “We agreed 15 articles and I’m now on the 17th” – it’s a lot easier to deal with.

LH:  Yes, definitely. It’s by no means a guarantee, unfortunately, that clients won’t be difficult…

PW: Oh no!

LH: And, as you might discover from what we say later on in this podcast, they might well carry on being pains in the proverbial but, as with all things, being clear from the outset is the best option. Explain your working methods as clearly as possible from the word get-go. On longer projects, identify project goals and milestones where each party (that’s you and the client) will check in and contribute.

PW: Yes, if you’ve got a three-month project, say, you might want to put a weekly or fortnightly check-in in place.

LH: Or more – take your lead from the client as long as it’s not excessively.

PW: Absolutely.

LH: If your client knows what to expect – and you deliver the information with confidence – there’s less room for sneaking in extra bits and bobs here and there. If extra work is very clearly extra, you’re more likely to at least be in a position where you can highlight it as such and either veto it or get paid for it.

PW: Yeah, for instance, you might say at the start “I don’t tend to reply to emails at the weekend.”.  And then you’re in a much better position if you check in on a Monday morning to find six frantic emails from Saturday night saying, “Where are you? We need you! This is broken!” and another angry one on Sunday, saying, “Where were you?”

There’s a website called Clients From Hell and while it’s mainly designers, it’s all freelancers who are relating the various outrageous demands from clients. A lot of them are unreasonable expectations of availability. And so that can be one of the points you want to make. I know followers of the four-hour work week and all that…

LH: [sniggers]

PW: Haha, I know! They’ll answer emails perhaps only once a day, which I couldn’t cope with, but it’s what works for you. You have to be reasonable – don’t put so many rules up that you’re actually blocking access that your client needs. But at the same time, if you’re not going to check emails at the weekend, make that clear from the start. If you do one or two revisions for a piece of writing, make it clear so you don’t find yourself on your eighth with no recourse, really.

LH: Yeah, I think it’s also important to have a strict time-billing policy for emailing, phonecalls and meetings, as well. If you know how much time you’re happy to spend communicating and what you want to get paid for it, you’re less likely to resent the little interactions that keep happening. Set up catch-up points in long projects, regular catch-ups in long working relationships where you’re working on various or repeated projects, like blog posts, and then you’ll know what’s extra.

PW: Yes – because all people, and all freelancers, work differently and your clients might have worked with someone who works very differently from you. And similarly, often with repeat clients, you get to know them. Some are talkative, others just send you an email with a list of article titles. You want to pre-empt problems but make sure you’re flexible and responsive. There’s a balance, so make sure that balance isn’t to your cost.

LH: Yes, I think it depends what kind of ‘zone’ you’re in. I think, if you’ve had clients taking the proverbial for a while and you’re feeling a bit used and exploited, you can start to see clients as the enemy.

PW: Yes – you can get very defensive.

LH: And pre-emptively defensive, as well. “Right, well I’m not answering on evenings and weekends, and I’m not doing this, and I’m not doing that.” You need to make decisions like this when you’re in a good place in your own head.

PW: Yes! If someone’s just messed you about, you’ll imagine for a while that everyone’s messing you about. But sometimes, if it’s 7pm and there’s an email you can respond to in 20 seconds, just do it.

LH: Use your judgement. I don’t tend to work evenings and weekends, and I had one client who contacted me at 8am on a Saturday.

John Longanecker talking on a phone after eati...

John Longanecker talking on a phone after eating at Denny’s. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now, I didn’t take that call. I wasn’t in a position where I was going to be free – I had to get up and go out – and the client could have left me a message or sent me an email if it was important. The fact is, though, that if I worked in an office, I wouldn’t be available. That said, I had a quiet Friday evening recently, and I had a client get in touch at 4.45pm and say, “Can you do this for me…now?!” and I said yes, of course. I don’t normally work Friday nights, but I had nothing better to do, I valued that client and I had the time free so I did it. It’s good will – credit in the bank, literally and metaphorically – so why not? Use your judgement and don’t see clients as the enemies. You should be on the same team.

PW: Yeah. I often work Sundays and I enjoy it because it’s quite quiet. I find Sundays quite boring generally, I like having time off in the week, so if a client contacted me on Sunday morning, that would be OK. And, like Lorrie says, you sometimes make an exception because it’s a good client, you don’t have anything else to do or they’re offering a very good rush fee – say if they triple your rate.

LH: Yes, it’s amazing how you can find time when someone triples your rate!

PW: Haha, yes! So what we’re advising today isn’t about cancelling out everything we’ve said before about being responsive and flexible.

LH: Yes, it’s not about sticking to your principles so hard that no one can get past your wall!

PW: Yes, exactly. It’s work for you – there’s no point not being messed about when you have no clients at all! So yes, there’s a balance to be struck.

LH: Of course. Of course there is. So as we were saying, it’s best to set out ground-rules before you get started. But sadly, even with the strongest will in the world, it might not always be possible to set formal ground-rules before you start. And, even if you do, there’s no saying your client – or even you – will stick to them. Part of being a freelancer is being responsive and flexible. When a client has an urgent project, for example, or there’s a sudden change of circumstances, you might find yourself taking on more than you initially thought you would. It can seem churlish and awkward to stop everything in its tracks in the middle of a massive crisis at your client’s company and say, “Just to be clear, I’m only doing one amend on this – you’ll have to pay for more for the extras!”.

PW: Yes, absolutely. I know I have long-term clients to whom I was clear at the start that I wanted to be paid in advance, but when you’ve worked with them for 12-18 months, you stop demanding because you develop a level of trust.

LH: It’s give and take isn’t it?

PW: Yes. And also, the thing with client urgency is that it can be difficult sometimes because there are genuinely urgent situations, and others that just seem important to the client in the moment because they’re stressed.

LH: Definitely. I think that’s where the difference between short- and long-term clients comes in. With short-term clients, it’s best to stick to the rules. You don’t know when well enough to know what’s urgent and what’s just them panicking.

And with long-term clients, it isn’t always good to grab for the short-term benefits – say, getting paid for five minutes of amends. I normally offer one round of amends on work before charging extra. However, I’ve been known to chuck in a couple of freebies here and there, very frequently actually, for long-term regular clients, simply because I don’t want to charge them extra for ten or 15 minutes. I prefer to do them the favour of amending a date or a title here and there. I’m not going to charge them my minimum fee, which is normally half an hour.

PW: Goodwill is always important as a freelancer. You do someone a favour, you never know when it’ll get paid back. I critiqued a guy’s website for free, once, and when he needed a freelancer six months later, he came straight to me. That’s not why I did it, but goodwill goes a long way.

LH: Yes, people remember when you do them a favour. As long as you’re in control of the favours, when you give them and what they are, that’s fine. If a client wants a paragraph adding to something, I might not charge for it. If it’s every single time that I’m doing an extra 5-10 minutes, I’ll add an extra 30 minutes on to the end of another piece of work. Because it does add up.

PW: Some clients, rather than a particular project growing in size, find themselves relying on you for anything and everything, and we’re talking beyond things like amends and edits now. This is things that really aren’t in your remit in any respect.

LH: Yes, I think we’ve both had experience of that, haven’t we? It is problematic – you might not think it is if you’re technically able to do what they want, but a needy client can not only take up inbox or answerphone space; they often take up head-space as well. You find yourself getting caught up in their worries, their life in general, and their panic, even if it’s not logical, and you can find yourself dropping everything to respond to their every little query instantly.

PW: Yes, sometimes they’re so stressed, it can be contagious. Something Lorrie and I remind each other quite regularly is that “their urgent isn’t necessarily our urgent”. Being a step away can help you make a clearer judgement. It’s so easy to get drawn into someone else’s panic that sometimes it takes someone on the outside to put things back into perspective!

LH: Absolutely. You have to be a bit hard sometimes. Because you’re a freelancer, and a person not a faceless company, clients can come to expect the human reaction to their every drama. They sometimes expect you to invest emotionally in their dramas in the same way as them. While it’s good to help your clients out and respond to their needs, if your client is constantly panicking, you can’t let that become your problem.

PW: Yeah, the client I’m thinking of – one of mine – was technically and financially a small part of my week, but you wouldn’t have known that from the number of emails. Very nice guy, but we both agreed that it wasn’t working in the end – I felt like a full-time consultant by the end of it.

LH: No, I know the one you mean. I had a similar one – they started asking me about every little thing, CCIng me in on emails, asking me to do all sorts, asking my opinion on everything. It was as thought I’d become their life coach, and it’s nice to have someone think you’re super capable and marvellous, but that’s not my job and I don’t want to do that.

LH: So trying out the clingy client version of controlled crying can be a really good idea! With some needy clients, the more you give, the more they’ll take.

PW: Yes, the more responsive you are, the more they’ll see you as their go-to person.

LH: Yes, and if your client gets used to being instantly advised or reassured by you, they’ll start to expect it as standard. While that might be OK in quiet periods, as soon as your workload picks up, you’ll find yourself on the receiving end of panicky emails and messages, with your client feeling as though s/he is getting treated pretty badly.

PW: And we’ve almost trained them into that by being so helpful. And again, we’re not saying be rude or obstructive, but it’s that balance again.

LH: Bear in mind they’re not your responsibility; they’re your client.

PW: Yes. They’re running their business; you’re helping them by writing for them or advising them, but you’re not their managing director.

LH: So, delaying your responses to a clingy client can be uncomfortable at first, particularly if you’re used to dealing with them immediately. As you say, you can train yourself to get caught up in their panic. You can see an email and think, “I must respond now, now, now!”

LH: But it’s better to do it sooner rather than later, as you’re establishing boundaries. Set a time in the morning, say, and another time in the afternoon to deal with your client’s queries all in one go. That’s one way to control how much you contact them and how often they hear from you. Second point is, don’t apologise!

PW: Yes, you’re not doing anything wrong.

LH: Yes. I went through a stressed-out stage fairly recently where I ended up putting an “Out of office” message on every time I was away from my desk. And then I thought, “Hang on, I don’t expect this of other people!”. I don’t take offence if someone’s away from their desk. And if I don’t pick up the phone, someone can email me. And if I don’t read an email, they can phone me. And if I don’t respond for a while, it’s because I’m busy doing something else. And that’s fine. I’d got into the habit of responding to email from an hour before with, “Sorry for the late response.” Because I’d got caught up in panic from other clients.

LH: So delaying your responses, and being confident and unapologetic, to clingy clients is an unspoken way to let your client know that instant responses are not to be expected. So be friendly, offer an explanation if one is requested – “I’ve been out and about today” or “I’ve been busy working on something for another client this morning” should do – and then carry on in a polite and friendly way as usual. If you behave as though there’s no problem – and there isn’t a problem – your client is more likely to take it on board.

PW: Yes, in my experience of this it’s important to not make a big song and dance about this. Just implement longer gaps between responses, and stay calm, positive and reasonable. This can be a strange experience if you’re used to replying to emails as quickly as possible – having unanswered questions that you know you could sort out in two minutes feels just WRONG at first, but it’s important to start putting something of a distance in place.

LH: Definitely, because 20 second here and there is fine but it can start to cut into your lunch-break or interrupt your work for other clients.

LH: Sometimes, sadly, a small amount of distance won’t do the job. A step up from this is to distance yourself from the client for a longer period of time. If your client isn’t getting the message and is, for example, starting to try and contact you on evenings and weekends, you may well feel it’s best to distance yourself from them for longer than a morning or afternoon, just to try and break the habit. A good way to do this is to help your client to help her/himself. As we’ve said, it’s not about leaving your client out in the cold. They might be sad and do puppy-dog eyes if they’re used to relying on you for everything, so help them to help themselves. Bear in mind that you may be limiting your own usefulness to the client in this case, but if they’re particularly clingy, this may be no bad thing. I’ve not seen it happen, but consider yourself warned!

The first thing to do if you find yourself in a similar position is to limit the assistance you give to the client, and to allow them to help themselves. Respond to their inevitably long and panicky communications with short, friendly, informative posts – as I say, not instantly, but in your own time. Include limited information including, where appropriate, links for the client to read up in her/his own time.

PW: Something that can be really helpful in this kind of situation is saying something like “a good place to find answers to questions like this is here.”. There’s a less tactful version of this – a website called “Let me Google that for you!” – it’s very sarcastic and passive aggressive, so I wouldn’t suggest it, but it’s quite fun so I’ll pop it in the show notes for you. But yes, point them gently in the direction of where you can find that information and they might not only start to find their own feet, they might also get the very gentle hint that it’s not your job!

LH: I’ve had clients come straight out and respond with, “I’d rather you did it.” Or “It’d be quicker if you did it.” And I’m like, “Yes, because I spent hours learning how to do it!”

If this is the case, you need to establish whether you want to do the work but get paid for it, or you don’t want to do the work full stop. One thing about freelancing is, because you’re an individual service provider who deals directly with clients, rather than a big faceless company, clients may start to see you as a bit of a go-to option for everything. You need to decide which services you’re willing to offer and how much of an attachment to one client you really want to have.

PW: This is very true. You might work with people who you genuinely don’t mind helping out a bit, or people whose work is so lucrative to you overall that it’s worth going the extra mile for. The key is to be conscious of this and actually make that decision, rather than just meandering into a situation where you find yourself inadvertently being someone’s on-call pa!

LH: I think that’s a really good way to put it – mindfulness in these situations is really important. You may not mind the client or the work, but if the work creeps to such an extent that there’s an expectation that you’ll do anything and everything, that can feel quite uncomfortable – it starts to remove the autonomy that’s a big part of freelancing

PW: yes, definitely. You became a freelance *writer*, that’s because you didn’t particularly want to be a general advisory-good-at-Google-searching person.

LH: Haha, yes! Clingy clients in my experience often do just want you to Google search for them!

PW: It’s incredible. And as a writer, you have to research a lot and you can get incredible Google results. But just because you’re good at it, doesn’t mean you want to do it all the time.

LH: I imagine clients would soon lose patience if you invoiced them on a Friday for all the Google searches.

PW: Or if they sent you a piece of work and you emailed them back and said, “Sure, but could you just Google “How to write a press release” for me.

LH: You’re right – you end up being that person’s PA.

PW: Sometimes the client is just lacking a bit in confidence and, because you are generally a very useful person, they start to over-rely on you. In these cases, being encouraging – actively so – about their skills can work miracles very quickly.

Something we’ve talked about before is looking at whether you should friend your client on Facebook, and both of us were unequivocal in saying no.  So we’re going to talk about what to do if a client is blurring the lines between business and friendship.

LH: It can be a whole can of worms. A worm factory, in fact. Don’t get me wrong, it’s genuinely lovely to have a friendly working relationship with your clients but it’s your responsibility to ensure that you and your clients don’t cross any boundaries. And it’s not just for the sake of it that I say this: experience tells me that clients who try to blur the lines between business and friendship will often try to blur the lines between work and “a favour”, as they’ll call it.

PW: Yes.

LH: Poor Pip! That was such a knowing “YES!”

LH: Now, the problem with this kind of situation is that, while none of us mind doing the odd favour for our loyal clients, odd favours have a habit of creeping when your client tries to blur the lines. And when the situation with favours creeps out of your control, it becomes a problem.

PW: Yes. It’s like in any aspect of life, there’s always that guy who’s a bit pushy, or that woman who gets into your personal space; this is just the business extension of that. If your boundaries aren’t clear, and haven’t been clear from the start, perhaps, then that kind of person in particular – someone who isn’t the best at reading subtexts – that can be when it starts to spiral. You can feel a bit trapped, as though it’s gone beyond an easy fix, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fixable.

LH: Yes, let’s be kind to them: they might not even realise they’re doing it.

PW: I like to think very few people actively seek to exploit your goodwill but some people do it. They may just be incredibly busy and just think, “Oh, Lorrie will do that”. It’s not automatically someone trying to take advantage.

LH: Yes, with my friendly clients, I’ll ask how their wife’s doing, or how the kids are doing, or how the house move is going. But it’s superficial chat, and it’s chat that tops and tails work-related discussion.

PW: A client of mine recently had a baby and I sent her a congratulations card. I’d heard a lot about her pregnancy, and it seemed appropriate.

LH: That’s nice. If you’d have turned up at her house with a bunch of flowers, that wouldn’t have been ok.

PW: Likewise, if she’d asked me to babysit, that also wouldn’t have been OK! Haha!

LH: Yeah, a closed communication like a Best Wishes card is perfect. And like we say about superficial comments, it’s nice to show some interest in your client as a person.

PW: Definitely – they generally appreciate the personal touch.

LH: And a client might genuinely really enjoy chatting with you, and I have clients who are so lovely, I sometimes wish I’d met them elsewhere. But – and this is where the but comes in – when they start calling you every other day to “get your opinion” on something or “just ask you a quick question”, it can really start to cut into your time.

LH: This can also be the case for clients who you’ve got to know through family, friends or other clients. You’d be surprised at what little excuse some people need in order to expect special treatment or “Mates’ rates” and it can leave you feeling really awkward and unsure of what to do.

Wedding dress of Grace Kelly

Wedding dress of Grace Kelly (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

PW: Yeah, I’ve done work for various friends. One of my friends was setting up a dress-making business and I wrote her website for her, so mates’ rates applied. I’m not dead keen on that kind of work – it’s not the fees that bother me, because if that were the case, I wouldn’t have done it – but it’s that the lines can get more blurred. If your friend calls you in the evening, you don’t know if it’s work or chat about her boyfriend troubles. So I do work for friends if they ask and it fits, but it’s not something I seek out, really because it can be so tricky to navigate.

LH: In terms of friends, friends-of-friends and people like that, how you want to deal with a client like this depends on how well you know them, how far over the line between business and friendship you’ve got, and how much you value your relationship with them.

PW: Yes, because you do want referrals on the one hand – it’s the best way to get new business, because someone’s directly recommended you, and that’s brilliant. But if someone goes, “Well, I’m your mate and he’s my mate…” My barriers go right up, then.

LH: “I told him you’d cut him a deal!”

PW “Where did you get that idea?!”

LH: Yes! “You told him wrong!” So you have to really think about how much you really value the relationship because, as you can probably tell, listeners, it can be tricky to weasel your way out of this one.

As always, it’s best not to get yourself into these situations in the first place. But, as ever, hindsight is 20/20, and it’s easy to find yourself in a situation that’s more than a little uncomfortable when you’re trying to be a friendly freelancer, especially when you start out as well.

PW: I think it’s safe to say that a lot of the advice we give is based on experience rather than on having taken the best action in the first place…

LH: God, we wouldn’t have a podcast, otherwise!

PW: Haha, yes! So don’t go thinking “those two handle it all brilliantly”. Mostly, we know how to handle it because we’ve done it wrong before.

LH: Yes, and the experience I’m going to share will clearly illustrate that. While I don’t have personal experience of a client blurring the lines between friendship and business, that’s only because, unfortunately, I’ve had my fingers burnt early on by friends who’ve effectively become clients. Over the years, I’ve had a number of friends – I hesitate to call them friends now – and friendly acquaintances, people I used to work with, say, and they’ve asked me to do a piece of work for them – be it some copywriting or a translation – on the understanding that they’ll pay me for my time. Now mates’ rates or not mates’ rates, the expectation has been that it’s work. Now invariable – and I mean literally invariably – once the work is done, all mention of money is forgotten, and it’s never mentioned again.

PW: My friend whose website I wrote – the dress-maker – needed website. She had a friend who was a web designer and they came to an agreement. He was getting married, so she agreed to make his wife’s wedding dress if he would design and build her website.

LH: I think he comes off better in that deal.

PW: Especially as she made his wife’s wedding dress and he never designed her website.

LH: [Gasps]

PW: And he was full of good intentions, kept saying he was sorry and still would…

LH: That’s so disgraceful.

PW:…he was just really busy. But this was a wedding dress. She couldn’t live with herself if she didn’t make the dress of this women’s dreams. And yet the web designer did nothing. And he didn’t go into it to trick her, I’m sure of that – and she’s sure of that – but she became really low down on his list of priorities.

LH: That’s a shame isn’t it? Because if that was a paying client…which it was, actually, just because you pay with a wedding dress…

PW: Exactly. Her wedding dresses take weeks to make, and she’s very specialised in what she does – she’s very sought after. And that’s the kind of situation where it seems like a good idea, because she was a bit skint and couldn’t afford a web designer from start to finish.

LH: Likewise, I don’t know if the people I dealt with went into it to trick me – I don’t know whether they had any intention of paying or whether they thought it was just a platitude to trot out, “Oh yah, yah, I’ll pay you.” because people have funny ideas about freelancing – they don’t really see it as proper work.

PW: And especially writing – they think, “Well, I can write.”

LH: But it’s really weird. Because as I say, when the work was done, it was like, “Oh thanks very much…” then silence. And in some cases, towards the end, when it was getting towards invoicing time, I was treated to a side-eyed spiel about how tight money is at the moment, and “God, I’m so broke at the moment…” and…

PW: “In a couple of weeks, it’ll be fine!”

LH: Not even that! Just sad puppy-dog eyes, “I’m really broke at the moment…my husband’s not got much work on at the moment…I don’t know where I’m going to find the money from…thanks for doing this for me…I’m really grateful…”

And in other cases, the so-called friend I’ve done the work for has literally dropped off the radar once the work is complete. I’ve got one person I’ve never heard from again.

PW: And that’s horrible. On the one hand, you’re going, “I spent ten hours on that and it’d be worth X amount of money” but on the other hand, you’re going, “I thought this person liked me!”

LH: Yeah, I sat next to that person for 18 months – we worked together for a year and a half. Heard from them never again.

PW: And for the sake of a friendship, if I were on the other side, I’d think, “I can either give her £300 or I can lose a friendship.” And you’ve got to wonder.

LH: Yeah, in my case, I decided not to pursue the matter of money. It was too horrible and I felt stupid, and I think that’s what they were relying on: the embarrassment.

PW: Yes, we don’t like to push it, especially about money, especially if you’re British.

LH: Yes, we don’t like to push it and beg for money. But the invoices in my case varied from about £50 to about £300. And while that’s not a big thing anymore in terms of money, it absolutely has soured both my relationships with the people involved and taught me never to work for friends unless they understand entirely that this is my job. Even then, I’d be loath to work for someone who wasn’t another freelancer, to be honest. I’d happily work for you, Pip, and we’ve done that. We invoice one another professionally and the invoices are paid immediately.

PW: Same as we would with any client or contractor, because that’s the appropriate thing to do.

LH: And I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t. It’s a pet hate, honestly. And as we’ve said, this podcast is based on our experiences. And I’ve been taken for a mug on several occasions. So now, there have been times when other friends have asked me to do some work for them, I’ve said no. I’m sure I might come across as a bit harsh to them at the time, but the fact is, I don’t want to lose respect for any more people I know! My advice would be never mix business and pleasure unless you’re more than happy to work for free.

PW: And earlier, we mentioned the fact that if you do get stung, you can get a bit defensive. That happened to me the other week, when a regular client got in touch wanting some extra work. Now I emailed Lorrie immediately and said, “Ugh, can’t believe it, look what this client is asking! So unreasonable!” and Lorrie quite rightly pointed out that he wasn’t pushing it, he was actually just asking. But I was so snowed under that it felt like a cheek. So yes, you can get overly sensitive, and it’s good to check it out with someone else. So yeah, you can find yourself a bit militant.

LH: Yes, you have to remember that, just because you’ve had your fingers burnt, doesn’t mean you should start to stick to your guns at the expense of other things.

LH: So yes, if your client is starting to blur the lines a little bit, my advice would be to pull back. It can sometimes be a shame – you might wish you knew them in other circumstances – but the fact is that sooner or later, mixing business and friendship gets messy. Don’t add clients on personal social media accounts, as we said in our last dual episode. Make sure that dinner or drinks with your client are professional – don’t get drunk or overshare information about your personal life: the terrible partner you had.

PW: Keep TMI for your actual friends. I’m a big fan of TMI, but not at work. And this isn’t to say you can’t have semi-formal semi-social business meetings. I went to the Content Marketing Show in London last week, and I emailed my regular London clients to see if they wanted to meet up for a drink.

LH: And I’d do the same thing.

PW: Yeah. And that’s fine – it’s when it goes beyond that.

LH: Think carefully, really, is what we’re trying to say. You don’t have to be specific about the fact that you’re pulling back. Maybe take longer to respond to emails and phone calls. Be a bit less available. Be busy next time an informal lunch comes up. Generally, there are ways to reset the boundaries without having to have The Chat although, of course, it’s not always that simple.

PW: Yeah, sometimes The Chat has to happen, and you have to uncompromisingly outline your boundaries. Other times, it needs to be more than that, though. It needs to be The Final Chat.

LH: Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you clingy client just won’t get the message and take the hint. Maybe they’re deliberately trying to squeeze as much work from you as possible, maybe they’re just over-reliant on your skills that they’re terrified to do anything without you, despite your encouragement and distancing techniques. Maybe they just think you’re brilliant and they don’t want to spend a minute without you.

PW: Yes, and you mustn’t let yourself get taken for a mug. Most clients are genuinely respectful and great, but there will always be the odd one who sets out deliberately to take advantage and get as much from you as they can. Or who’ll be so thoughtless and unable to see your point that you can’t rescue the situation.

LH: Yes, as you say, it might not be malicious, but it comes to the point where their convenience is more important to them than your convenience. In my experience, this final straw moment can be a real turning point for finding out which kind of person you’re dealing with – the evil client or the really clueless client. I’ve had clients who’ve stomped off in a huff when I tell them, “No, sorry, we’re not going to be working like this.” and I’ve had others who’ve respected me for it and stopped trying to push the boundaries (at least, as often!).

PW: I had a massive turn-around, as Lorrie knows, where I was treated badly repeatedly, then I was firm, firm, and firmer – as firm as I could be. And finally, when I was ready to end it entirely…I’ve never seen a U-turn like it. They can’t do enough to keep me happy. So you can be surprised sometimes.

LH: I’ve had a similar experience recently with a client who went off in a huff. As I advised with my episode of Professional Courtesy, I ignored the rudeness. A couple of months later, they’re back with an apology. And I feel vindicate – quite right that they should apologise; they were very rude.

PW: taking decisive action at this stage is vital, but can be hard. It’s safe to say that both lorrie and I have found ourselves – recently – having to be very firm with a client and, complex and scary as it was, we both felt a million times better once we’d done it.

LH: 100% – you start to feel a bit daft about letting it bother you so much – I get it from friends or my husband.

PW: Yes, it’s easier for someone outside the situation to see it more clearly.

LH: Yes, you often only realise once the clingy client is gone what an unhealthy relationship it had become; once your head is free from their clinginess and whininess. In the event that you dump a long-term or repeat client, it might be as simple as explaining that the situation isn’t working for you anymore and going your separate ways once all work is complete for them. Alternatively, tell the client you don’t have the time to give them the support they need; I’ve advised previous clingy clients to invest in a virtual assistant rather than a copywriter. You might have to be pretty insistent if the client has got pretty reliant on you, and maybe expect some huffy emails or phonecalls!

LH: In the case of a one-off project, it’s really important to have put an agreement in place to protect both you and the client in the event of issues like these.

PW: Yes, you don’t have to make a big song and dance about it, either – just pop the agreement in with your email and it’s generally fine.

LH: Yes, I send agreements after clients have decided that they’re happy with my proposal. If you don’t panic, clients don’t panic.

PW: Yes, and I always make sure to include terms that protect my clients. There are ways to do this without it being a massively awkward encounter.

LH: You may find yourself having to refund a deposit to the client, for example, or having to refund part of the price.  If you’ve got it down in writing who gets what and under what circumstances so that there’s no room for argument if the relationship ends or turns sour.

PW: this might sound like arguing over who gets the sofa during a divorce but if things are already difficult, you don’t want to make it any more complicated or open to misinterpretation than it needs to be.

LH: Yes, if you try and negotiate with someone who’s cross, you’ll get nothing.

PW: And you’ll be angry, they’ll be angry and the whole thing will leave you both with a bad taste in your mouth.

LH: So, hope that’s been a really helpful introduction to coping with Project Creep. Sorry if you thought we were going to be talking about creepy clients…

PW: That’s a whoooole other episode!

LH: That is a whole other episode! So yes, if you need any advice on dealing with clingy clients or project creep, come and have a chat to us. Google “A Little Bird Told Me freelance writing podcast” and all our links are there.

PW: So now it’s time for the legendary – no less! – A Little Bird Told Me Recommendations of the week. So Lorrie, what’s your recommendation?

LH: I’ve done it again – I’ve gone and found a recommendation that’s really old. My recommendation this week is a blog post from 2007 from Freelance Folder, entitled, Writers: How Not To Suck At Marketing. Now, I’m not naming any names this week, but it’s been a baaaaad week for marketing in my little circle. I’ve seen marketing faux pas after marketing faux pas and it seems like no one is taking our advice!

PW: Some people still suck at marketing, Lorrie!

LH: They do! They suck! If you’re listening to this, maybe you suck too! But we’re not giving up on you. So, number one in this article is, Treat It Like A Real Business. An example given by the author is that he received an application from someone with the email address “PrettyMissy456@aol.com”

PW: Hahaha!

LH: Now it says, “Would you hire an account or lawyer with an email address like this?” And it’s true you wouldn’t. But yeah, there are some really good tips. Tip number two is “Get a real website”, tip number three is “But act like a real person.” Tip four is “Spend some money”. And at first I was like, “Hmmm…” about that, but there are some really good points in there about the outlays that you really do need to make to set up as a freelancer. It’s why we suggest having some money behind you when you set up.

PW: Yeah, and it might only be small things like web hosting and getting a URL – those are the kinds of things I wouldn’t recommend compromising on. Don’t use a free blog to promote yourself as a professional. Even if you don’t want to go and put an ad in a magazine, there are some outlays that people go to ridiculous lengths to avoid. You can avoid them but sometimes the compromise you make…like, having a proper website with its own URL will probably make you more money than you spend, whereas if you go for a free one, you might well lose money.

LH: Yes, I mean, I like what the author’s written: “Is it your basic human right to be paid for doing what you love without spending a dime of your own cash? No.” He’s all for boot-strapping, but yes, it’s a good point: the world doesn’t owe you a living; some things cost money.

LH: Tip number five, the final one, is “Figure out what you’re good at and tell people about it.” And it’s just about promoting yourself properly and realistically, talking about any specialities you have. And what really swung it for me was the bonus tip, which is “For God’s sake, proof-read!”

PW: Hahaha!

LH: And it says, “I really wish I didn’t have to say this, but I clearly do. We got 68 applications for our most recent job posting and 51 of those had major errors. I’m not talking about using a semi-colon when I would’ve preferred a dash, I’m talking about starting an email with ‘Hello, my Lisa!’. And always check your attachments because you never know what you’re sending!”

PW: I always, always quadruple check my attachments.

LH: Me too. I’m laughing just thinking now about a specific example that’s famous on the ‘net. A girl applied for a job and said, “Please find attached my CV”, and instead of her CV, she attached a picture of Nicholas Cage!

PW: Hahahahaha! I once got an email related to a website I do the social media for. And someone had contacted me to ask if I’d promote this particular event they were doing. So she emailed me and said, “Here’s the link”. And then pasted a recipe and emailed it to me!

LH: Hahaha!

PW: So I replied with, “Um…did you mean to send me a recipe?” And she was mortified, and it was easily fixed, but yes, you do have to be careful.

LH: Aww. So Philippa, can you trump that recommendation?

PW: Well, rather than seeing it as a competition, I’d like to see it as compl-e-menting…

LH: Hahaha!

PW: I was trying to get across that it was compl-e-menting!

LH: I wondered why you suddenly went “Compleeeeementing!” Is it a compeeeetition?!

PW: Yes, I realised it sounded ridiculous! Hahaha! So, my recommendation this week is a post from the Online Journalism Blog and it’s 37 Free E-books on Journalism. It looks great and even if you don’t specifically do journalism, any kind of writer could find something relevant here. So, there’s one by Adam Westbrook called, “Ideas on digital story-telling and publishing” for example. So again, could be good for writers, editors, all sorts of people.

PW: The post is divided into segments: computer-assisted reporting, community management, staying savvy in the information war – because there’s so much information around that we need to know how to get it right – and there’s also an investigative journalism section that looks brilliant. There’s an investigative journalism manual from an African perspective, which is really interesting – we in the West might often overlook that. There’s a security guide for people who work in dangerous environments or have sources who need to be protected. So even if you’re not a journalist, learning about whether or not to download books illegally…this is all stuff that applies to many kinds of writers.

LH: Definitely. It’s widely applicable.

PW: The post is originally from January last year and the author is also updating it, so it’s a good one to keep an eye on.

LH: Brilliant. We were just bemoaning, like grumpy old freelance ladies, that it can sometimes feel like writing standards are dropping a bit. So yes, anything that will encourage people to good quality writing standards can only be a good thing.

PW: Definitely – to report more responsibly and legally, too. And more people like me and doing journalism without the formal training. So it looks great. And once you’ve absorbed this information, it’ll improve your work from then on.

LH: Brilliant recommendation!

PW: Thank you very much! So we really hope some of what we’ve said today will prove useful to you. Even if you’re in a brilliant position now, bear it in mind when working with people long term, and when taking on new business.

LH: Definitely – because starting off on the right foot is always easier than getting out of a pickle! So that brings us to the end of A Little Bird Told Me 42!

PW: Impressive numbers we’re at now!

LH: Hugely impressive! If there’s anything you’d like us to talk about, let us know. All our links are at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com. I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn…

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

Podcast Episode 41: The Importance of Professional Courtesy

We all grew up being told that manners cost nothing, and it’s never more true than when you are running your own freelance writing business. Treating your clients and fellow freelancers with courtesy is a must, and it is not unreasonable to expect the same in return. In this solo episode Lorrie talks about the importance of professional courtesy for freelancers and gives some handy hints and tips about achieving it, even in trying situations!

Show Notes

How to format an e-book. http://freelanceswitch.com/freelance-writing/format-an-ebook-for-kindle/

The sad smell of desperation: http://lorriehartshorn.com/episode-nine-of-a-little-bird-told-me-the-sad-smell-of-desperation/

Turning one-off clients into repeat business: http://www.philippawrites.co.uk/podcast-episode-39-how-to-turn-one-off-clients-into-repeat-business/

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Transcript

LH: Hello and welcome to Episode 41 of A Little Bird Told Me: the podcast about the highs, the lows, and the no-nos of successful freelance writing.  You can find us on the web at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com and there you can subscribe to the podcast via RSS feed, iTunes, Stitcher Smart Radio or just there on the Podomatic page itself.  It’s worth clicking the subscribe button, it really is because you’ll get a notification as soon as our new episodes are out.

On the Podomatic page itself you’ll also find the links to our Facebook page where you can come and chat to me and Pip and ask us any questions you might have and give feedback on the episodes you’ve listened to so far, and you’ll also find links to our websites and our social media feeds, as well as to other episodes, transcripts and show notes, many of which are actually handy links to resources for freelancers.

I’m Lorrie Hartshorn and this week, I’m here without my usual co-host Pip, who has been off down South, gallivanting at this year’s Content Marketing Show in London. She’ll be back next week as usual, though, so stay tuned for what will hopefully be another really helpful solo episode.

English: Table Manners

English: Table Manners (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This episode is all about professional courtesy. When you’re your own business, and you’re all that stands between you and oodles of work – or bankruptcy for that matter – it’s important that you keep your standards up and your interactions courteous. So here I am with a few dos and don’ts about dealing with people courteously. And, because in my world, the client isn’t always right, I’ll also be talking about what I think is acceptable – and unacceptable – behaviour on the part of your clients.

Whenever I chat to clients and other freelancers, one thing that most people can agree on is that they think professional courtesy is an important part of a working relationship. And yet, everyone I speak to has some kind of horror story they can tell about discourteous clients, churlish designers and grumpy, off-hand writers. The only thing I can really conclude is that most people think manners are really important but not everyone agrees on what constitutes polite and what doesn’t.

For that reason, I’ll be sharing my own opinions and those of other people I’ve chatted to. If you get to the end of this episode and find there’s something you think should have been included – either as a hallmark of manners or the height of rudeness, please do come and let me know on our Facebook page or on my social media feeds – the links to all those are at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com.

So first off, why is professional courtesy so important for freelancers? When you start out as a freelancer, it can be easy to get carried away and think “Haha! Now I answer to no one!”. There’s no gruff manager breathing down your neck, you don’t have to suck up to that evil woman in accounts who wields your payslip with an iron fist, and you’re not representing another company. Plus, you can’t get fired.

But, since I began freelancing, I’ve realised that it’s more important than ever to be really polite and show professional courtesy on a consistent basis. In person, over the phone, by email – you’re the sole representative of your own business, so first, second, third and 100th impressions count for a lot.

When clients work with freelancers, the relationship can actually become quite intimate. They’re dealing with one person for the work itself, the business relationship, the invoicing, the admin, and they need to find you approachable in all of those roles. To my clients, I’m a marketer, a writer, an editor, an advisor, someone to chat to when they don’t know what to do with a piece of work or a press release or a marketing campaign, someone to laugh with when a frantic last-minute project lands in their lap and they can’t handle it, and someone to talk seriously with when it’s all gone to pot and they need a hand fixing it. I have to be respectful, approachable, available, appropriate and courteous through it all.

Likewise, if you’re a client – and lots of us freelancers are clients as well as service providers – it’s important to treat your freelancer with respect and manners. I for one know that a rude, disrespectful client is almost never worth the hassle, and while I’ll never be rude in return, I might well not be available next time some work is needed!

A rude client really can be the bane of a freelancer’s life, even if they’re not relying on the income from that person. From personal experience – my own and other freelancers I know – rude clients can make you question yourself. They can ruin an otherwise really nice day or week, cause sleepless nights and wear away at a freelancer’s self-confidence, self-assurance and general enjoyment of their career. You don’t want to be the person whose thoughtlessness or actual discourtesy contributes to someone having a really rubbish time of it, so listen up.

These are my top six rules for professional courtesy – a lot of these apply to both freelancers and clients.

1) Do what you say you’re going to do. From the moment you get in touch with your client or freelancer, it’s important to do what you say you’re going to do. If you meet someone at a networking event and say you’ll drop them a line when you get back, do it. If someone’s expecting a phone-call or an email from you, make sure they get it – or let them know if you’re not going to be able to keep your word. If work’s due in on Monday, get it in on Monday. If you quote a client £200 for a project, charge them £200.

There are times, particularly with quotes and deadlines, where you face a choice between being inconvenienced and inconveniencing your client or service provider. In my books, it’s better to take one for the team if you’ve under-quoted or given a tough deadline. You might lose out on a bit of money or sleep, but it’s better than putting your mistake on the other person for the sake of an easy life.

2) Communicate. In the case of things not panning out how they’re supposed to, as well as other situations, I never usually mind so much as long as I know what’s going on. The same thing goes for clients. If, for some unavoidable reason, you’re not going to be able to stick with number one and do what you say you were going to do, let them know as soon as possible. Don’t give them rubbish excuses, or your life story, and acknowledge the inconvenience you might be causing them rather than taking a “like it or lump it” approach. Most importantly, don’t let them down more than you absolutely have to.

Likewise, even if there’s nothing wrong, make sure you check in often enough with your clients. This can be a difficult one to master – when I started out, I was wary of getting in touch with clients too often – besides which, it just wasn’t my preferred MO: with a predominantly academic background, I was used to burying myself in books and dictionaries and emerging only when I’d done a project. But clients like to hear how you’re getting on. Sure, they don’t want a minute by minute update, but if you’re working on a project that runs over more than two days, it’s best to check in with them and let them know that everything’s running smoothly. I’ll admit, this is still something I slip up with occasionally – I get so focused on my work that I find myself forgetting to drop a quick “Everything’s coming on fine!” message to clients sometimes, but they do worry, so it’s something I try really hard not to fall down on.

3) Don’t be clingy. This is one a friend suggested, actually. Although he works for himself, my friend – and fellow freelancer –  doesn’t really have clients that he deals with directly. What he does have, though, is a wide range of freelancers who work for him on a regular basis. And one thing that really gets up his nose is people harassing him for work. As Pip mentioned in her last solo episode, which was about how to turn one-off clients into repeat business, it’s great to check in with clients and see if there’s anything you can do to help them – any more work they might need doing, any advice they might need and any chance of repeat business in future. What it’s not good to do, though, is bug clients for extra work when you’re having a quiet period. As I’ve mentioned before, desperation is never attractive, and it’s not good to be interrupting your client to beg extra work from them. Likewise, if you’re a client and you have a regular arrangement with a freelancer, it’s fine to get in touch with them to see if they have any extra capacity to help you out, but don’t guilt-trip or penalise someone if they just don’t have time to help you. I’ve had this before and it’s really awkward when clients take it personally that you have other clients and commitments. If your freelancer is consistently not available as much as you need them to be, that’s one thing. But if you contact them on a Friday afternoon needing something by Monday morning and find that the answer is “Really sorry but that’s not do-able”, don’t take it out on the other person.

4) Ignoring someone is rude. This has to be personal pet peeve. Although it’s similar to tip two, which was of course to communicate with people, I felt this one deserved its own category, simply because of the number of people – both freelancers and people who hire freelancers – who go, “YES!” when you mention it. Not to mention (and of course I will – you know I will!) my own experience.

Many is the time, sadly, where I’ve had my emails and phonecalls ignored by clients. Whether it’s repeated requests for clarification on work they want doing, invoices that need paying or work that’s been completed, emails and phonecalls are commonly ignored by people for whom politeness is not high up on the list. What’s more, it always seems to be the most demanding clients – the ones who want to pay the least and give the shortest deadlines – who suddenly ignore you when they’ve got what they want. Now, forgetting to answer someone’s email is easy. I have lovely clients who are scatterbrained, and that’s different – I expect it from them and I’ll usually get an email or phone call a while later saying, “OMG, I’m so sorry”. And I do the same – say if a client tries to call me while I’m out and about for the afternoon, or emails me while I’m busy with something else, I do have to put off responding to the query, but I answer it eventually! What is really not acceptable is people for whom radio silence is a standard response.

Manners Count

Manners Count (Photo credit: jessamyn)

If someone’s sent you a query, answer it. If someone wants to know where they’re up to with you, let them know. If someone invoices you, pay them or let them know when you’ll be paying them. If someone pays you, email them to say thank you. A two-line email only takes a few seconds, but it pays dividends to acknowledge people. A recent client of mine – a one-off client – took to ignoring me once I’d completed the work they wanted from me. I asked for feedback on the final piece of work in the project and got nothing. I asked if the project was complete as agreed: got nothing. I waited a few days, sent the invoice and got nothing. I was fully expecting them to pay me late as well. As it was, they didn’t, but given that they’d ignored three emails from me, I was left really underwhelmed and frankly unimpressed. When you can see someone merrily tweeting away and updating their LinkedIn, all the while ignoring you after you’ve put some real effort into working for them, it’s a kick in the teeth. I wouldn’t work for that person again – although I’ve obviously got no idea whether they’d want me to!

5) Don’t run rough-shod over your client or freelancer’s feelings. As a freelance writer, you’re being hired because you’re good at writing and everything that entails. No big newsflash there. You’re supposed to be good at what you do, and have confidence in what you do. Confidence, when well-placed, can be a reassuring thing to demonstrate to a client. What it’s important to avoid doing, though, is being arrogant and high-handed with a client.

As a freelance writer, I am often surprised at how many people struggle with what I would consider quite basic literacy. Grammar, spelling, punctuation – all of these things can prove a struggle for even the most successful business people and executives. Unsurprisingly, then, more complex aspects of commercial writing and editing – anything from SEO copywriting to narrative voice in literary editing, can be a minefield. Every freelance writer I know has experience of being questioned by a client. Whether it’s “Are you sure those commas should be there? They look funny…” or “I think that should be a semi-colon. Why? Um…” or “This email subject line needs to be something like, “WE CAN SAVE YOU MILLIONS TODAY!” because everyone loves money…” everyone’s had a client who thinks they know best.

Other times, you might have an endearingly helpful client, who’s full of great ideas and wants you to love them. I find a lot of this with literary editing clients – creative writing is a hugely personal thing, so characters or scenes will often be based on an idea or experience that the author holds dear, so the idea of chopping or changing anything can hit really hard.

Alternatively, you might be a client – say, you’re a writer who’s hired a designer for a project. Your designer comes back with work that you hate. In all of these cases, it’s important to be courteous.

Firstly, avoid arrogance. Avoid the temptation to pull rank and wax on about what an expert you are. “Trust me, I’m an expert” is obnoxious, and absolutely not the same thing as reassuring someone that you’ve done your research and have lots of experience in A, B or C “so try not to worry”. It can be really frustrating to explain yourself to a client who might know absolutely nothing about writing, and who might be being aggressive or defensive or clingy, but slapping someone down with a “Please, you know nothing!” is never going to be appropriate. It takes more effort to send someone a rant by email than it does to send them a quick email saying, “Have checked the commas” or whatever it is, “and it’s all fine.”

In the event of a well-meaning but perhaps a bit inept client, be careful with their person’s feelings. If someone’s come up with a really bad idea, it’s your professional duty to voice your concerns, but it’s never OK to ridicule someone, talk them down, ignore them or go ahead and do something they haven’t OKed simply because you know – or think you know – it’ll be better.

At the end of the day, the client often has the final say. What they want might be plain wrong or it might just really not be to your taste, but if they’re insistent on having it, there’s not much you can do. Sometimes all you can do is voice your concerns, say, “Personally, I would advise against that because A, B and C” and let them make the final decision. If you need to be clear that you don’t want your name going on that piece of work, then so be it, but try to be sensitive about it. Same goes for hiring people. I’ve ended up cutting short projects with designers simply because I’ve felt that the work is so bad or unsuitable that it’s unusable. What I don’t do is insult people, start blanking them, or bad-mouth them.

6) My sixth and final tip is one that I always hope is obvious but that never seems to be and that’s Don’t get into flame wars! If you get an angry phone-call, email, website, social media or blog comment, don’t respond in kind. Stay professional, no matter how wrong the client might be and try and take the discussion private if it isn’t already. If you can talk the other person round, so much the better. If you’ve done something wrong, apologise, outline how you’ll resolve the situation and try to move forward. If you haven’t done anything wrong, explain yourself politely but firmly and take your lead from the other party. If they’re being abusive, you’re well within your rights to step away from the conversation. I’ve had to do it once or twice and I’ve never regretted it – being polite doesn’t mean being a pushover. But, no matter what they say or do, and no matter where they say or do it, don’t be rude or abusive. If you handle a situation with dignity and class, you’ll not only be remembered by anyone who’s privvy to the situation as a professional, you’ll be minimising stress for your own self by being safe in the knowledge that you did nothing to make the situation any worse than it already was.

So I hope you’ve found these tips a helpful reminder of the different kinds of courtesy you can show to your clients and suppliers. As someone said to me on Twitter the other day, “Manners at work, as in life, are vital. They grease the wheels and make everyone feel better about themselves.” And it’s true. You don’t technically need to be polite to anyone. Sure, clients might not come back if you’re rude to them (some might!) but you can always find more, even if it is less energy efficient. But being courteous to people is about more than just fulfilling a necessary duty. It’s about being the best kind of freelancer. It’s about making other people’s lives more pleasant, and it’s about not being one of those horrible people whose emails and phonecalls other people dread. Being courteous puts you in a league above, sadly, as there are still plenty of people who aren’t. And if you stick to your standards, clients and suppliers will thank you for it.

I know without a doubt that I’m willing to go one further and one better for clients who treat me with respect. I’ll hit tough deadlines for clients who have the manners to give me the time of day and say, “Hi, hope you’re well…” before they launch into a request. I’ll throw in bits of advice and consulting here and there for clients who pay me on time, thank me for getting work to them and keep me up to date with what they need from me. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the people I hire – usually writers and designers – do a brilliant job for time and time again. I try to treat them as I’d like to be treated and, while I’m not the perfect client or freelancer, a little bit of effort and courtesy usually goes a very long way.

So now it’s time for this week’s Little Bird Told Me Recommendation of the week. This week’s recommendation is a little bit different to most of our previous ones, which often focus on commercial copywriting, SEO and things like that. Recently, on our Facebook page, a listened asked us about self-publishing on the digital market – ie. publishing an e-book. And while the query was about publishing in general, it got me thinking about a big bug bear of mine when I purchase Kindle books by independent authors: formatting. I bet you thought it was going to be editing, didn’t you? And you’d be right, usually, but not this time!

Poorly formatted e-books are a total pain. Bad formatting ruins the reading experience which, for me personally, is already compromised by the book being in digital format. I’m a traditionalist – what can I say?

Bad formatting seems to happen for the same reason as bad editing: through sheer laziness. It’s easy to focus on the content of your book and think, “Oof, finished it – now time to publish and make millions!” but there are boring things like proof-reading and yes, formatting, to be perfected before your book is suitable for sale.

Be courteous to your readers by making sure that they can enjoy what they’ve just purchased from you. If the spacing, margins, headers and pages are all to pot, you’re on to a loser.

A recent article on Freelance Switch offers a really in-depth tutorial on how to format an ebook. While the author, David Masters, is clear that he’d recommend using paid-for tool Scrivener, he goes through all the steps you need to go through if you decide to format your book using Microsoft Word or other free software.

The article has really clear guidelines, screenshots and links, and is the perfect go-to guide for anyone planning to self-publish online, whether you’re a blogger, marketer, copywriter or fiction author. I’ll pop the link to the article in the show-notes and I’d encourage anyone who’s thinking of writing an e-book to have a look. If you’ve got the time, inclination and talent, an e-book can be a brilliant way to promote your services, as long as you do it the right way.

So, there we have it – episode 41 of A Little Bird Told Me. If you’ve got any comments, queries or questions, or you just fancy getting in touch, go to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com and follow the links to my and Pip’s social media feeds and websites.

Pip and I will be recording another dual episode next week, and you can subscribe to that and all future episodes right there on Podomatic. Until then, though, I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn – thanks so much for listening.