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Podcast Episode 40: What to do when you run out of ideas, AKA what Pippa Middleton’s bum can teach us about finding writing inspiration

Every writer, at some stage or another, gets hit by a sudden lack of ideas. It’s depressing and can even be frightening, but there are ways to jolt your mind back into thinking creatively again. In this podcast episode, Lorrie and I discuss several tips and tricks you can use to reboot your creative mind and shake writers’ block off for good.

Show Notes

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Transcript

LH: Hello and welcome to Episode 40 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 linksydinks 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. Today we are going to talk about what to do when you run out of ideas to write about. You may have a complete blank and have no ideas at all, or you may have decided on, or been given, a topic, but you just have no inspiration about how to approach it. If you do primarily commercial work, you might get given subjects and write to order, so think this doesn’t apply, but at some point you might well find yourself in a position where you can suggest things to write about to your clients. In this case, you will need a steady stream of ideas. Or you might write for magazines or newspapers, in which case you will need to generate constant ideas to pitch to them. Once you get known, editors might approach you with a story, but until then – and in most cases – you need to do all the legwork of planning stories yourself.

LH: Totally. And when you write for a living, it can be surprisingly easy to hit a wall. Writer’s block, creative burnout, whatever you want to call it, it affects every writer I know – as Pip says, no matter which subject they tackle and which area they work in. It’s a part of the job, which is why it’s important to have some go-to techniques when “uninspiration” strikes!

Writer's Block... Why bother...

Writer’s Block… Why bother… (Photo credit: Arnett Gill)

PW: Exactly. You will have times when you have so many ideas that you can’t write them down quickly enough, but you will invariably also have times when it seems there is nothing interesting in the world at all. We are going to look at some different situations that you might find yourself in, and go through some suggestions to get your creative juices flowing.

LH: If you’re writing for your own website or marketing activities – say, you’re blogging or fulfilling or searching out guest blogging opportunities, you’ve got a certain level of freedom when it comes to getting inspired. You can decide what’s appropriate and what isn’t, and if it gets to a point where you really need some content on your blog, you can feel free to mine the subjects you find interesting or easy to write about. If, on the other hand, you’re writing for a client or an external platform, you’ll need to bear in mind any limitations or conventions that will apply when you consider the tips we share in this episode.

PW: Yes, because you might know your general subject area really well but find it hard sometimes to find an angle that makes it worth writing about. If you write about a particular subject, you can quickly get to the end of your ideas for that subject. If you’re writing for a third party, the amount of flexibility you have in the subject will very much depend on who you are writing for, how much they trust you to provide good subject ideas, whether or not you’ll start sneaking in photos of hunks to otherwise innocuous news stories, and that kind of thing.

LH: One thing that you can get away with on your own platforms occasionally – although not too often – is the trusty opinion or commentary piece. Spotted something on social media that made you completely furious, or made you laugh out loud, why not write a short blog post on that – something quite flippant and humorous? You won’t need to research too heavily and you can be a little freer in terms of tone.

Obviously, this is something to consider doing when you’re writing under your own name, rather than if you’re ghost-writing. Of course, you can do an opinion piece for a client, but you’ll need to make absolutely sure that you have a good handle of the client’s official line on the subject you want to write about and full clearance – preferably in writing – to go ahead with anything that might be in the slightest bit controversial.

PW: Yeah. The frequency at which you can get away with opinion writing does depend very much on the niche you work in. If opinion writing is where you earn most of your money, then fill your blog up with it! If you are strictly a copywriter in the insurance industry, then probably not so much at all.

LH: Absolutely – if you’re a commercial copywriter in the B2B sector, for example, it’s going to be OK to have a few bits and pieces about writing, copywriting, marketing etc. but you’re going to want to showcase mostly informative pieces that will appeal to commercial clients and prospects.

PW: Yup. In terms of where to get ideas, Lorrie just mentioned social media, and that can be a great way to find topics to write about. The people you follow will probably already be posting about your areas of interest, which is why you follow them, so seeing what is being talked about today can give you that spark you need.

LH: Definitely – and that’s one more reason to be discerning with your social media following rather than falling into a trap that many businesses find themselves in: following as many people as possible in a bid to attract mutual followers. If you resist this urge and follow people who have something to say about the sectors you work in or the subjects that interest you, it’ll be such a valuable mine of information – both for general knowledge and, as Pip points out, for times like this when you need some inspiration rather than just a tweet-feed full of people going “Please follow me! Please retweet me!”.

PW: Long-term listeners will know that Twitter lists are one of my favourite things. They really help me manage the people I follow and they’re also a good way of getting ideas – I have lists for top social media, SEO and media people. So if I need to write a blog post about SEO, I go to my SEO list, which cuts out even the people who are generally relevant but who aren’t relevant right now.

LH: And Twitter lists are also a really good way to see exactly what people are talking about and to make sure you’re not selling old news.

PW: Oh yes, definitely.

LH: You can actually use a tool we’ve mentioned before, called Topsy. It’s something we’ve mentioned before so we won’t go into it here, but on Topsy, you can search for blog and social media posts across various platforms that cover a certain topic. Again, it’s pretty much what Pip’s just described with her Twitter lists – it’s just a good way of searching for topics of interest to you.

PW: Brilliant! And speaking of blogs, following the blogs of the industry leaders and the people you respect can also provide ideas ripe for the picking. Is everyone talking about a news story but there’s an angle that nobody’s covered? I know sometimes I’ll read four different reports about a new social media innovation and think, “But why has no one mentioned X, Y and Z?” Make yourself the person to do that.

LH: Yes, and that leads me on to thinking that, if you’re not the person to cover that angle but you spot someone else doing it, it’s another way to get a quick refresh on your blog – if you’ve had a post sitting there just a bit too long, for example – you can share material you’ve found elsewhere and make a comment on it. Obviously don’t share it if they’re your direct competitor! But say, for example, am not particularly au fait with technical writing. Say I spot a writer who’s done a brilliant job at writing about an industry development, I can share part of that post on my blog and link to the rest of it.

PW: Yes, round-up posts are really popular in every niche, really.

LH: Yes, and you have to be careful not to reproduce too much copyrighted content. Quote people, and a good way is to take a screenshot of what that person’s written and then link and attribute clearly and add your own thoughts. Say why you liked or didn’t like about it. And another thing that’s really great for this, that’s infographics.

Infographics are really quite new, they boomed in 2013. They’re full of interesting titbits, easily digestible information, and they’re colourful and attractive things to share on blogs. Every infographic will have information on it about the author and the site on which the graphic was originally featured – those things are there specifically because these types of media are supposed to be shared.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with posting something on your blog, saying, “Found this really interesting because A, B and C…” and then popping a link back to the site you got it from. It shows you’re reading widely, it gives visitors to your platforms material of value and it can actually be a helpful way to build contacts in your sector, particularly if you let people know via social media that you’ve shared the material.

PW: Yes, I got a tweet the other day, which said, “We’ve done a round-up of our favourite posts on a certain subject” and there was a list of posts, including one of mine. So I retweeted it because it’s good for people to know I’m being quoted elsewhere, but for them too – they get clicks, retweets and everyone benefits.

Often when businesses want you to write blog posts for them, or if you write your own blog, the best topics are answers to the questions that people are commonly asking. I know on my personal blog, which these days is rarely updated, I still get hits from people searching for particular answers. Years ago, I got a particular virus on my computer and I Googled how to fix it, but there was no information because I was one of the first people to get it – how exciting! – so when I solved it, I wrote a blog post on how to do it, and five years on, I still get hits for people for that search term.

And so, if you write about social media and you can answer something that people search for a lot – for example “how to get an RSS feed for a Twitter account since the latest update”

LH: And even include a date in there, as well.

PW: Yes! Something I do quite a lot is go to the places where people ask questions. The first place I check is Quora, which is a question and answer site where people really take time to give very in-depth responses to any manner of questions. It may be that somebody has just asked a question that I think would be perfect for my blog, so I instantly have an idea. The second place I look, to find out what people want to know, is discussion forums. Either general or subject specific ones, depending, but a look through the subject headings gives you a clear idea of what people really want to know.

LH: Brilliant set of ideas – if you answer key questions that people are searching for answers to, and you’ve not only come up with an engaging idea for a post, but you’re targeting really good keywords and phrases. And as you’ve pointed out, Pip, five years on, you’re still reaping the benefits.

Another point to add to that is that it’s not just the questions people are asking that make ripe content for blog posts, but also the stories people are talking about. I have subscriptions to the newsletters from all the major trade press publications in my clients’ industries – everything from property to plastics recycling to cosmetics to compliance schemes. And although it’s a lot of reading, I know as soon as something big happens and I can advise my clients to post something about it (or let me post something about it, more to the point!) so that it’s clear they have their finger on the pulse. Again, this is not just great for readers, but for SEO purposes as well.

One of my clients got a promotional back link from The Guardian this morning as a direct result from SEO copywriting that was done for them.

PW: Yes, because these kinds of posts are great for SEO is so many ways. I’ll try and give a quick summary, just because it’s come up so many times. Firstly, Google and other search engines like regular updates on a website. If a site isn’t updated, it loses its ranking, generally speaking. Also, you’re using long-tailed key words and phrases, which is when people search for a phrase or sentence, rather than a word. And if you can get those in, they have lower competition in the search results but tend to have higher conversions. However, with that in mind, something I learned the other day is that 17% of Google searches have never been searched for before.

LH: Oh wow, that’s really interesting! Surprisingly high. Another good way to keep your finger on the news pulse is to set up a whole load of Google Alerts for subjects of interest. Now if you haven’t done this already, do it – it’s content searching 101. Slap on the wrist for you, it’s one of the most simple things out there. For anyone that doesn’t know how to set up a Google alert, come out of your cave and into the beautiful age of internet.

Go to google.com/alerts, type in a search query and decide what kind of news you’d like to read about with that search term in it – you can go for just news, or anything, or blogs. It’s really simple and you’ll get a notification to your inbox (and you don’t have to be with Google Mail, you can do it with any email) every time something with that search term is published. If you chose a search term that’s very common, and have the news delivered immediately, or you can choose to get a digest of the news periodically so you’re not spammed. It’s just another good way to keep on top of all the latest current events.

I’ve stuck a Google Mail filter on my Google Alerts – now this is specific to Gmail, so if you’re in Hotmail, thinking, “I DON’T HAVE A GMAIL FILTER!”, then this is why. So yes, my Google alerts are set to skip my inbox, be marked as read and be put into a little folder, so I can dip in and out when I want.

PW: Definitely! I had an experience with Google Alerts this week that really proved their use.  Because I write opinion pieces, you can come in for hassle and abuse, and I have a Google Alert set up for my name so I know if anyone says something nasty (or nice!). Earlier this week, I got a Google Alert telling me I’ve been named as one of the most influential disabled people in Great Britain.

LH: Hurrah!

PW: Hurrah! Without Google Alerts, I still wouldn’t know and it’s rather nice to know, however bewildering it is!

LH: I think that’s wonderful. Although this week, I’m not a big fan of Google Alerts! Because, listeners, Pip emaileme to say, “Ooh, I did this whole Google Alert thing and I’ve found out I’m one of the most influential people in Britain!” and because the words “Google Alert” were in the email, poor Pip got filtered away and I didn’t respond for about ten hours. So poor Pip was there, celebrating alone and not very influential in my inbox at all! So yes, be careful to check your Google Alerts!

PW: Yes, I’ve made sure to include the words Google Alerts only if they’re in the subject. But yes, my first few were quite dodgy as well, so don’t worry.

LH: It’s the first time it’s happened. I just kept thinking, “I’m sure I had an email from Pip, but it was nowhere to be found. And of course I wasn’t going to check Google Alerts for you, was I? But no, there you were! So sorry about that!

PW: Actually, if you are a freelancer, it’s a good idea to set up a Google Alert for your name. It may be that a client recommends you on a forum – that’s the kind of thing you might never know otherwise, but if you do find out it’s a lovely confidence boost.

LH: Or the other way round – if someone says, “Never hire this person, they did A, B, C” – it might be true, it might not, but at least you have the right to reply there.

PW: That’s it – or if someone tweets what you’ve written, you might not see that otherwise. It can be an ego thing sometimes, but often it just seems like a sensible thing to do if you’re running your own business.

LH: I don’t think many people out there who can say they don’t Google themselves – so why not set up a Google Alert and it’ll do it for you?

PW: A few years ago, there was a man desperately trying to find a job and failing. A lot of people have copied it since, but he was the first. He used the fact that everyone Googles themselves once in a while, and he created a pay-per-click ad that would only appear when the names of the top guys at Apple, Google, Facebook etc googled themselves. So it was a very low-cost ad, because not many people googled “Larry Page” for example, and certainly no one would click on it. So he created an ad saying, “Hey Larry – or whoever – hire me!”

And it led through to a job request and he was offered a job because of it. He got a bit of publicity for it, so I bet there are loads of ads doing the same. You want to be the first person doing something like that, because it worked incredibly well.

LH: Ground-breaking. And no wonder he did so well.

PW: It might be that you’ve done your Google Alerts, looked through your blog subscriptions and read every tweet for the last hour. Rather than desperately trying to find something new, there are other ways of getting a new story written.

LH: Definitely. For one of my clients, I produce a large number of stories every week on very specific industrial topics. And although I usually manage to find 30-40 news stories each week, sometimes I do need some help and I go in-house. And what I’ve done for that is created an article submission form for the client to fill out – it’s just a list of simple questions as though I were interviewing the client: what’s the story about, when did it happen, who was involved, who’s the target audience – that kind of thing.

PW: …quote from someone…

LH: Yes, and I do the same thing for press releases. And I’ll send that over to the client sometimes to try and get some internal news from them. It’s nice to have something that reflects their corporate social responsibility, their commitment to the environment, and charity – a bit of human interest, which is really important for B2B clients. OK, people want to talk about technology, industry developments etc, but they still want to know who’s behind it.

PW: Definitely, because even if it’s B2B, there’s still a person at that business who’s reading it. You might be trying to attract business from another business, so human interest is always good to incorporate! It’s easy to dismiss B2B as entirely technical or financial or whatever, but that’s a mistaken approach.

LH: One slightly sneaky way to find something to write about is to go through material that you’ve already written for the client and see if you can build on something you’ve already written or researched.

PW: Yeah, and as Lorrie says, that can be sneaky, but that’s only really if your aim is to minimise your workload, but if you do it correctly, and truly do provide a new story with that as a basis or inspiration, then it can be good practice. In a lot of commercial sectors, things are very repetitive! So a new angle can be just what is needed, even if it’s an old subject.

LH: Yes, you need to be very careful to make sure – as Pip says – that you’re not short-changing a client. If only because you won’t get away with it! As a copywriter, you can produce 40 beautiful original posts a week, and get nary a word, but when a client’s not happy, you’ll know immediately. Even if there’s just a comma out of place – which there never is in my writing, thank you very much! – they’ll let you know.

But yes, this particular tip is really for those times when, say, you need a blog post to be written and submitted by tomorrow and you’ve exhausted your other inspiration options. Have a think about how you can do it without producing something substandard.

For example, one subject that both Pip and I write about (and around) is health and safety. So say, for example, that I’ve written a blog post for a client on health and safety at work, with a focus on fork lift trucks. I might decide to do a similar piece on working on mobile elevated platforms. And there’s no need to be sneaky about it – you could make the posts into a series of informative features.

Building on that idea, this is another way to change things up a bit when you write regular content for a client: deviate slightly from the style of writing you normally produce for them. If you normally cover current industry events, write a news story about something that’s happening in-house. If you normally cover what’s happening in-house, go the other way and do a summary of a few big stories that are in the trade press currently. Do a comment piece, or a feature, or something light-hearted, or some tips from your client to customers in their sector: just think outside your normal parameters.

PW: Yes. I have a client I write a couple of posts for every week. Normally, they’re very technological – the ins and outs of pay-per-click, or a particular SEO technique, but once in a while, we’ll do something more like a news report. Mix it up a bit, have a story with a different tone. It brings a freshness to you and them, and their content.

LH: Yes, and showcase your client’s different sides. If your writing ends up being a bit paint-by-numbers, it can switch readers off. Changing things up is always a good thing, as long as your client’s OK with it!

When I’m feeling uninspired, one of the most intimidating things is a blank page. And while it’s not OK to self-plagiarise (and yes, rewording something ever-so-slightly and passing it off as original material is definitely self-plagiarising!), it’s OK to take inspiration from your previous work – or indeed, from the work of others.

Now, if you’re getting inspiration from other people, it’s important to be respectful and not get too close. Have a read through what’s there and summarise the key points or structure. Paste those notes into a new file and build from there – having a framework to support your poor tired mind as it struggles to write a blog post or news article can be just the prop you need.

 

crumpled paper - writers block

PW: Yes, I totally agree. I’m another one who finds blank pages intimidating, so if I can get down anything, it breaks the spell a bit and enables me to get going. Write notes, write ideas, write a plan, write about how awful it feels to not be able to write something, but get something down, some ink on the paper or some words on the screen, and you will start to flow.

LH: Yup. I find notes less intimidating than the first sentence of something. You’re more than likely to just delete that and end up with a blank page again. Bullet points are an absolute life-saver. As is the copy-and-paste function! And this is where you have to be careful not to be lazy, greedy or overly tired. If you copy and paste information from somewhere else, make sure it’s in a different font or colour, so you know exactly what’s yours and what isn’t.

But yes, get some information on that page – even if it’s just pasted from a website you’re looking at – and you might well feel far less intimidated.

PW: Yes, as long as you take precautions to make sure you don’t plagiarise…if you plagiarise even accidentally, it’s your client who’s liable – they’ll get in trouble, as will you, so be really careful.

LH: Absolutely. It can be so easy to delete loads of stuff and miss one paragraph and switch everything to Arial, you might not spot it.

PW: Yes, it’s easy to do, so take as many precautions as possible.

LH: Another way to take inspiration from previous work is to do what I’d call an inverse selection – bit of a Photoshop term, there! – with a piece you’ve already written. What I mean by that is using the negative space around something you’ve already written. I’ll explain that a bit more: if you’ve done loads of research for, and written a piece about  the top six rules for writing copy about stock exchange trading bots, why not write a post about the top six don’ts for stock exchange trading bots? That kind of thing – you have a lot of the work in place, but you’re producing entirely new material.

PW: Yes, this is something I’ve done too. If someone wants one in-depth article on a subject I need to do a lot of research for, you might as well get more use out of that. So if a client wants one article about getting rid of migraines, you will also know about migraine causes, myths and misconceptions, pros and cons of certain treatments, so pitch those ideas elsewhere.

LH: Good point!

PW: What I do, if no one at that point wants those stories, I write them up and submit them to Constant Content. It’s nothing like copying the original article – there’s no relation really – but I’m also not wasting all the work I’ve done.

LH: Yes, very good idea actually. And what that makes me think of really, is if you’ve done loads of research on, let’s say migraines again, but your client only wants a 500-word article on the subject, by the time you finish your post, it might be 1,100 words. That’s 600 words spare, and you can use that content elsewhere to build another article.

LH: If you do submit these kinds of similar topics to the same client, you’ll need to spread these things out, but you’re effectively producing a mirror image of the post you’ve already written without replicating the content itself.

Justin Bieber

Justin Bieber (Photo credit: cukuskumir)

PW: Yes, it’s really transparent if you have four blog posts in a row that are the same! But if you split them up and intersperse them, that works. A lot of the big blogs will take a really common subject and do a (quite often annoying!) topical angle on it. But say Justin Bieber does something, you just know that, the next day, there’ll be a blog post on “What Justin Bieber can teach us about Content Marketing!”

LH: Oh, I hate that so much!

PW: Me too, but it’s good for SEO and it’s basically link bait. Someone sees it on Twitter and they’ll click. It’s the same content but tenuously linked to something topical. “What Kim Kardashian’s latest pair of shoes can teach us about migraine treatment!” I think it’s clear that neither Lorrie nor I are particularly fond of this, but it is another option depending on your platform.

LH: I’m trying to imagine my clients faced with an article about what Kim Kardashian has to say about waste management, “What Kim Kardashian’s pregnancy fashion has to say about compliance!”

PW: “What Pippa Middleton’s bum tells us about working at height on a ladder!”

LH: She’d probably bounce!

PW: You know, the day of the royal wedding, I was on Twitter and I spent the whole day watching people say, “Wow, isn’t Pippa’s bum wonderful?” and I’d respond and say, “Oh, thank you!”

Now, quite often, however, finding inspiration is nothing to do with getting Google Alerts on your core topics, or analysing discussion forums. Sometimes it’s more about injecting some creativity into your life, or taking your mind off work altogether. People don’t envisage professional writers sitting at a desk at a computer all day, filling out spreadsheets, and it’s really not a natural state to be in, especially if you’re creatively mind as most writers are. It can kind of sap your soul, and sometimes the reason you can’t think of anything is because you need an injection of something really inspirational, not more of the same.

LH: Definitely. As you say, it can be soul-sapping to sit there facing the same wall, writing the same things – often complex things – over and over. You need to concentrate and be fresh in your mind to make sure you don’t make silly mistakes.

PW: Something like reading a novel, going to an art gallery, or going for a walk in a park might seem unrelated to a lot of the reality of writing for a living, but sometimes it’s just what we need. There’s a well-known phenomenon where people have their best ideas in the shower, and that’s because their mind is away from work, they are thinking about random things, and suddenly inspiration will strike. Sitting and trying to force an idea can be a really pointless task, whereas taking yourself away from it, even for an hour, can replenish your mind and leave you full of ideas.

LH: Yes, even if it’s not for hours – if it’s just a 15-minute stomp around the block. It’s nice to get out and get some inspiration, or just some fresh air. You feel a bit more alive, really.

PW: Definitely. So, sure, the Picasso exhibition isn’t directly related to your copy for a packaging company, and your press release for a local butchers doesn’t have any direct connections to your favourite author’s latest novel, but something in them can spark the ideas you need. It can be the tiniest thing that gives you the angle or the topic you have been looking for, but if you really feel drained and tired and uninspired, then do something totally different for a few hours. You need an element of creativity even in the most mundane of writing tasks, so don’t neglect that need for the sake of corporate staying at your desk attitude.

LH: That’s a really good point to finish on, really. We’re freelancers, and our working style can be very different. For most of us, a guilt-free embrace of freelance working style is a really good thing. Breakfasts, brunches and lunches with friends. I like working in cafes, going to the library, being out and about. And it’s part of being a freelancer. I work evenings sometimes, admin on weekends, finance tasks… So if you find you’re uninspired a lot of the time, do something about it – you’re in charge. Just because you’re out and about doesn’t mean you’re not working. You’re your company and you have to keep happy and healthy!

PW: Yes! I used to go to a co-working space for half a day a week. I liked the change of scene, but sadly that closed last year. By about February, I was really feeling the lack of it. Periodically now, I book half a day or so and go and work in a café or bar. And I do exactly the same work on the same computer, but there’s something about working in a new environment that just refreshes me a bit.

So yes, much as there are many practical ways to find new inspiration, don’t limit yourself. We’re creative people. Even if much of what we write is commercial, you still need creativity to make it good. Don’t dismiss the need for creative outlets and creative inlets to give your brain a boost!

LH: So, really hope you’ve found this episode helpful and useful. If you have any thoughts, come and have a chat to us on Facebook or social media –all the links are on alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com. We’re friendly and receptive – for the most part! – so come and have a chinwag.

So, now it’s time for that weekly joy-fest that is the Little Bird Recommendations of the Week! Philippa, over to you!

PW: Thank you, Lorrie in the studio! A couple of months ago, I wrote some really in-depth articles on internet security, particularly passwords. And what I learned during my research scared me to death. The speed and efficiency with which people can crack passwords is really frightening – a tech writer basically had his whole life deleted in about 15 minutes, which made me totally neurotic. And then, last week, I couldn’t get access to the back end of my own website, which scared me because I knew there were bot attacks happening on WordPress sites.

Fortunately, what had happened is that my host had seen a lot of these bot attacks happening and they’d limited everyone’s access to everything. Because what these bots were doing was trying to log in under every possible username and password combination, so my host had taken precautions. All I needed to do was let them know my IP address and they unblocked me.

There have been a lot of WordPress hacks recently – not because there’s anything wrong with the platform, just because a lot of people use it. I did some more research and what I found is my recommendation this week: a free plugin for WordPress, called Limit Log-in Attempts. What these bots are doing is just automating passwords and try, and try, and try to log in to your account. By default, they get into some.

What this plugin does is limit the number of retries. You can customise it and decide how many attempts you want to have. The default settings are that, after four failed attempts, it blocks for 20 minutes and after four blocks, it locks for 24 hours. So this is a free plugin, called Limit Log-in Attempts, and, amongst other general security measures, it looks to me like a really good way to protect yourself. I’ve seen it recommended on other blogs, too.

LH: Definitely, it sounds brilliant. And it’s something I’ll be installing.

PW: The technology and effort people put into breaking into accounts is phenomenal.

LH: And often for no good reason – sometimes just to be malicious. So even if you think, “My website’s small and uninmportant.” it doesn’t matter.

PW: Yes, they’re not choosing big sites to target – it’s a blanket attack. Even if they can get onto a tiny website and add links to their site from it, they’ll do it.

LH: Brilliant recommendation, and as I say, one I’ll take on. I feel quite frivolous now! “After that shocking report from Philippa, on to the weather!” There’s Pip keeping the world safe, and here’s my story on a cat getting stuck in a tree!

PW: You’re the “And now, finally…!”

LH: My recommendation for this week build on what we’ve been talking about this week. Here in England, it’s often quite rainy and horrible. So getting out and about can be tough – my recommendations are to help you get out and about when you can’t. These are inspiration tools for fiction writing. Now they’re not specifically designed as fiction writing tools, but I use them for that and I know a lot of people who do the same.

The first is called “the secret door” and, weirdly, it’s on a double-glazing website called SafeStyle UK. It’s a cute little white door that, when you click on it, takes you to a random view from somewhere in the world – you could be in the middle of a rainforest, you could be in the Antarctic, in a fairground, a sweetshop, and you can click until you feel inspired.

PW: To give SafeStyle Windows their due, this is content marketing – I can see this being handy if you just like having a five minute break.

LH: Yes, and another site I use is MapCrunch.com, which provides you with a random Google Maps street view. You can explore – it has the same functionality as Google Maps – and I’ve used it as inspiration for short stories. It’s brilliant when you’re stuck in the same room and you’re not inspired by the bed, or the wardrobe, or the desk, or your desk chair…and much as you can try going out and find something new, it’s not always feasible, so these are my recommendations this week.

PW: It reminds me of those live feeds in enclosures in zoos – I had a phase where any free moment was spent watching penguins – watching these little things bumble around was lovely. And it takes you somewhere else if you’re stuck at your desk. Sometimes, you don’t have time for a walk. These things can just take you somewhere else.

LH: Yes, they’re a bit of a hack when it comes to ‘getting out’, but it’s OK to be a baby sometimes. It’s OK to watch a panda falling off a log. It’s nice and it’s good de-stress time.

PW: Definitely, that’s a great idea Lorrie! So, that concludes episode 40 – wow!

LH: Phwoar!

PW: We hope you’ve enjoyed it. If you want to see any of the links we’ve talked about, go to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, everything’s linked there. Come and say hi, subscribe and tell all your friends. I’ve been Philippa Willitts…

LH: And I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn, and we’ll catch you next time!

Podcast Episode 39: How to turn one-off clients into repeat business

Keeping and nurturing existing clients is a more reliable and less time-consuming way to conduct your freelance writing business, when compared to doing lots of one-off pieces of work for all and sundry. You don’t need to spend as much time marketing yourself, and you can build on existing good relationships rather than constantly starting new ones.

In this podcast, I talk about the 13 top tips to turn one-off clients into repeat business and there is, of course, the Little Bird Recommendation of the Week too.

Show Notes

Episode 8: Essential Software and Online Apps for Freelance Writers

Twitter Law

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Subscribe via RSS

Subscribe via iTunes

Find us on Stitcher Smart Radio

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Transcript

Hello and welcome to episode 39 of A Little Bird Told Me: the freelance writing podcast about the highs, the lows and the no-nos of successful self-employment.

I am Philippa Willitts and today I’m going to be talking about how freelance writers can turn one-off clients into repeat business. I am here without my usual co-host Lorrie, who’ll be back next week for our next dual episode; today, you’ve just got me.

If you want to make sure you never miss another episode, the thing to do is subscribe. And we make it really easy: there are several ways to do that via alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com. If you use an RSS feed to subscribe to podcasts, which I do, you can find the RSS feed there. If you’re more of an iTunes person, there’s a link too. And if you like Stitcher Smart Radio, which I also use on my Android tablet, you can listen to us there, too.

You can also leave us thumbs-up and feedback on your preferred mode of listening, or you can subscribe to us directly to us on Podomatic. You’ll get an email notification as soon as we have a new episode. On that page, you’ll also find links to our Facebook page and we love it when people come and say hi, ask questions and give us suggestions. You can also find the links to my websites and social media fees. So with that out of the way, let’s get down to business!

When you’re a freelancer, you spend a lot of time marketing yourself, finding new clients, approaching people and persuading them that you’re the writer for them. It’s a lot of work. What becomes clear over time is that it’s easier to get repeat business from a client than to find a new one. You’ve already built a relationship with them, so don’t let it drop too easily. It also takes a lot less of your time than finding new people to approach, taking the time to get to know their business,  taking the time to get to know what they do – that kind of thing.

Some clients genuinely just do need one piece of work doing. They may have an in-house person who was off-sick, so they hired you as a one-off. However often, if you scratch the surface, you will find that they need more. Another benefit of repeat customers is that it’s also a good confidence boost – if they come back to you, it means they were really pleased with what you did. They liked the way you worked, they found you reliable, talented and found you understood the work they do. So getting repeat clients is just really nice; you know they’re pleased with what you’ve done for them.

If you’re still unsure, have a think about the lifetime value of the customer. If you get £250 worth of work from them, that’s brilliant. But if you can get £250 a month from that client, then that’s £3,000 coming your way every year. It all adds up, even regular small jobs – it doesn’t even have to be worth that much; your income will often come from a variety of places.

So in this episode, I’ll talk about the 13 top ways to turn one-off clients into repeat customers. The first one is very simple and very complicated, and that’s to be amazing! Often, a client will say they just want one piece of work because they want to test you out. They might be nervous and want to test out your writing, skills and reliability before committing to more regular work. Can you submit work to a deadline or are you chaotic? Are you pleasant to work with? So what you have to do is prove yourself. Prove you can write in the style they need; prove that you are easy to work with; prove that you meet deadlines. Make a great impression and do the best you can.

The second tip is to be consistent. If as a one-off piece of work, they wanted four blog posts and you give them two great ones and two that are just so-so, you will not seduce your customers into coming back. They want consistency as well as quality.

First Meeting

First Meeting (Photo credit: lhl)

Tip number three is to talk to clients about their needs. Sometimes all it takes is a discussion about where they want their business to go, and from that you can identify from that the services you are able to offer that will help them to reach their goals. They may not know that you can write a wicked press release that will get their business in the local paper. They may not have thought about the benefits of a case study in their annual report. Don’t be pushy but chat to them about they need. Be pro-active and come forward and say, “Actually, I think you’d benefit from these blog posts being weekly.” If they don’t know you provide a service, or they don’t know that the service will be helpful to them, they won’t think to hire you for that. So, as is so often the case, communication can really open doors. When you find out their business goals, identify yourself as  a key way to reach those goals.

The next point is to stay in touch, and follow up regularly. Check in periodically, see how they are, see if they need any extra work. Sometimes a courtesy call can be good – two weeks after you’ve submitted the one-off piece of work to them, give them a call. See if they got good results and if they need anything else.

This can be helped by having an email mailing list – encourage clients to join, then send out regular reminders that you exist, and tempt them back for more work from you. Remind them that you exist and increase the likelihood that they’ll come back to you when they need something else.

The next tip, I’m offering warily, but there is a place for it, and that’s special offers. Be careful with this one, because you don’t want to put yourself in a position where you are working at a loss, or aren’t getting the fees you deserve, but it’s something to consider if you can make it work on both sides. An idea that Lorrie gave me was to bundle services together. Now this can be a good way to do this, especially if you can offer a package that will involve only one set of base research to produce several documents. I think Lorrie’s idea was to offer a press release with a case study on the same subject – so she’d so the research and the interviews, then do the case study and offer a press release at a reduced price, but without having to do a whole load of extra work, just the writing.

It’s important that you don’t offer discounts that will make you feel bitter at how little you are working for! You don’t want to resent your clients or yourself for suggesting it! But times when work is slow to come in can sometimes be a good time to compromise a bit on fees if you receive a decent amount of work from the agreement you come to. So don’t sell out but think about whether you can offer a good amount of work at a price that makes the customer feel that they’re getting a good deal without short-changing you.

Tip number six is to make sure they are aware of the services you offer.  Say if they hired you to write a case study, they might not know that you also write annual reports, press releases, website copy etc. They won’t consider rehiring you if they don’t know you can do what they need. They may think they need a special PR firm for press releases; let them know they don’t. Show them results you’ve had in the past, be persuasive, be clear and sell yourself.

Point number seven is to make the client feel appreciated. You can make sure you always send them a thank you email with every invoice, or thank them publicly on social media. Make it something that sets them apart and lets them see how much you value their loyalty. Make sure you thank them; treat them with courtesy. Courtesy is really important in business, so don’t just work for them then drop them. If they feel you value your custom, they’ll remember you in a positive way and it could bring them back to you.

Tip number eight is to ask for feedback when you’ve submitted your first piece of work. Check that they are happy, offer edits if they need them. Most freelance writers, I think, agree to a certain number of edits – often one or two. Be very clear – you don’t want to be in a position that you’re on your twelfth edit because you didn’t specify a limit! But if they need them, be pro-active in offering to rework parts of what you’ve written, if they’re not happy.

Similarly, requesting feedback can be a good way to find out if customers are pleased. And if they are pleased with what you did, this can be a good time to suggest other work. This opens up a dialogue where you can find out what else they might need. But even if you don’t do that at this stage, they will appreciate you making sure they are happy, and this will make a good impression that will stick with them. They’ll remember those kinds of touches.

Tip number nine is to go the extra mile. Always over-deliver when you can. For instance when I send a client a press release, I also send them general pieces of advice on how to get the best results from press releases. Now, this is very little extra work for me, it’s a document I’ve prepared to go with the press releases I do, and it’s 10 seconds extra work to attach it to the email. This took me about an hour to prepare originally – I did research on the best tips, compiled them, rewrote it and now clients appreciate it. It doesn’t matter that I send it to everyone – it just helps any client to have better results with their press releases.

Point number 10 is to remind the client – tactfully – of the benefits to them of working with a writer they already know. Prompt them and point out that they know the kind of work you produce, they know that they can rely on you to meet deadlines, and they know your fees, they know how flexible you are. No negotiations need to take place, no more leaps of faith because they know what they are getting. And as long as the work you’ve already done for them means they do know you are reliable, and write well, and can follow a brief, then this may help to sway them.

Tip number 11 is: don’t leave contact so long that they’ve forgotten who you are. It’s important to follow up with past clients if you want them to become regular or future clients. If you follow up six months after you write their website copy, they might not remember you. Act within a week or two of finishing the piece of work you’ve done for them.

Tip number 12 is to keep records. It can feel a bit tedious – in my experience! – to keep a database or spreadsheet of client information, but it’s invaluable if you want to remind yourself of who you have worked with who might be good to approach with the suggestion of new work. Make a note of the named person or people you worked with, their contact details, what you did for them so you can bring that up, and that kind of thing. I have a database for this purpose, which also has a notes section to remind myself about that client. If you remember that they’d just had a baby, or that they were considering expanding their business, if you can contact them again and ask how their new daughter is getting on or how their expansion is going, it makes a good impression. If you don’t keep up-to-date records, you’re relying on your memory and once you’ve worked with more than, say, a dozen clients, you may start to forget about people – especially if you just did a small piece of work for them. It doesn’t take long to update a spreadsheet when you hear from someone new, and it helps you approach them appropriately in future.

The final tip is about practicalities – if you change your email address or your phone number, let all your previous clients know. It can be a good way to pop up in your inbox and remind them you exist. But also, if they try and get hold of you and can’t, they’ll quickly move onto somebody else. I also try to remember to add clients on LinkedIn or Twitter while I work with them, so my updates there will remind them that I exist, and so I can easily contact them if their details change. They may move to a different company or get a new number and if I want to approach them but can’t get hold of them, I can find them on LinkedIn or Twitter.

One of the ways I do that is through a little Gmail extension called Rapportive. Now, Lorrie and I did an episode (I’ll link to it in the shownotes) on essential tools to freelancers, and Rapportive is one of my favourites. As I say, it’s a little add-on to Gmail and, whenever you open an email from/to someone, you get a little box on the right-hand side of the screen with lots of information on that person. It’s nothing creepy – it’s all publicly available stuff. It gives you their LinkedIn profile, their Twitter account, their most recent emails to you, and I find it really helpful to make the LinkedIn connection that way. You can request a connection from Gmail – you don’t even need to leave your Gmail.

So those are 13 ways that can be really effective, and they can be used together although even doing one or two is better than nothing. They’re really good for persuading clients that they want more work from you than just the one piece you’ve done. You know that you do good work; make sure they know as well, partly through the work you submit and partly through gentle appropriate marketing that you do for them. If you value them and their custom, and do things on a timely basis, you can give them a better feeling about working with you.

And now it’s time for the Little Bird Recommendation of the Week. And, as there’s just me today, there’s only one recommendation. Now, my recommendation is an article on a legal website and what it’s about is the laws surrounding Twitter. Now, this is particularly timely in the UK because we have some quite high profile people on trial for libel at the moment because of things they said on Twitter, including the wife of the speaker of the House of Commons. And she said something that may or may not have been libellous, and she said that on Twitter. And so what this blogpost is (it’s UK specific, although some of it’s just good advice even if you’re outside the UK) and it goes through some of the different laws that can be broken, basically – libel and slander, for example. But it also looks at the fact that, if you say that you work for an organisation but don’t say “These views are my own”, your employer can be liable for anything you say on Twitter.

It also looks at promotion, copyright law, trademark law, cyber-bullying. It even looks at the contract you signed – i.e. ticked a box for – with Twitter itself. And also looks at regulations in certain professions, what happens if you have sub-contractors tweeting for you, and it’s the kind of thing that myself and a lot of people have wondered about over the years as Twitter gets bigger and as these things get to court more and more often.  So if you want to know about how copyright law, trademark law affects what you say on Twitter, or the legality of sponsored tweets, or what to do if you’re in a profession that’s regulated by an external body, this is the article for you. I’ll link to this in the show notes so you can have a read – it’s very interesting and slightly alarming!

So, that is the end of episode 39 of A Little Bird Told Me.  I really hope you’ve found some value in the things you’ve learned today. Do check us out online: go to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com and subscribe. Follow the links I’ve mentioned in the show notes and share the page with your friends – any freelance writer would love to hear about it, I’m sure! Thank you very much for listening – I’ve been Philippa Willitts and we’ll catch you next week.

 

Podcast Episode 38: How to break into new freelance writing markets

It’s easy to get into a rut with freelance writing, especially if your career has drifted rather than been planned out and focused. So if you have found yourself mainly working in an area of writing that doesn’t thrill you, or if you have ambitions that you aren’t sure how to reach, this episode of the podcast is just what you need. We talk about how to transition from one freelance writing market to another, so listen on and enjoy.

Show Notes

Episode 7: Freelance Writing – To Specialise or Not to Specialise

Episode 33: How to deal with a crisis of faith

Source Bottle

The Women’s Room

Ian McMillan and Stephen Fry talk Yorkshire accents

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Subscribe via RSS

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Transcript

LH: Hello and welcome to Episode 38 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.

PW: And who wouldn’t want to be the first to know?

LH: Very true! So, 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 liked or not liked, and let us know if there are any episodes you’d like to hear us record in future. You’ll also find links to our websites, so you can and admire us in our general splendour, and links to our social media feeds so you can come and tweet or Facebook us. And, there are also – in this bag of tricks – loads of transcripts and show notes, many of which are actually handy links to resources for freelancers.

PW: Definitely – any link or website or article that we mention in the podcast, we do list and provide links for in the show notes, so if you’re listening to the podcast through a subscription on your iPad or something, do make sure to visit the site once in a while as well so you can click through to the links we mention.

LH: Yes, it’s a veritable goody-bag. I’m Lorrie Hartshorn…

Audit4

Audit4 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

PW: And I am Philippa Willitts, and today we’re looking at what writers can do if they want to break into a new market. You might be a copywriter who wants to be a novelist; you might be a newspaper journalist wanting to be a copywriter. We’re going to look at some general ideas on how that might work, why you might want to change, and what to do if you do!

LH: Now, unfortunately, given that we try to keep the podcast under an hour, we’re not going to be able to look at all the aspects of different markets you might want to break into. What we’re going to look at is the transition between markets. How to prepare yourself and move from one market to another.

PW: Yes, like Lorrie says, there are so many permutations of where you are now, where you want to be, where you might go in between that it would be impossible to go through every option. But like Lorrie says, it’s more about the transition – learning how to use the skills you already have to apply to a new market – that kind of thing. So first of all, we’re going to look at why you might want to change markets.

LH: Yes. There are a number of reasons you might want to break into a new writing market. You might want to earn more. You want to write something different – and that might be writing on a different subject or providing a different kind of writing service. You want to work with a different type of client, or work in a different way with your clients. Yeah, you want a different kind of working style.

PW: Absolutely. You might just find that you’ve just got bored with the type of writing you are doing, or that you’ve kind of let your career develop in its own way without much direction…

LH: And that’s fine (I know you weren’t saying it wasn’t!). Most writers I know kind of just wandered into it, decided we liked it, and stayed in it and developed the skills from there. They’re happy enough to do that, but what I’m saying is that life happens.

PW: Absolutely. And so, if you don’t start out with a clear plan, you might find yourself in a bit of a wilderness now, thinking, “What do I really want to do?” But you might now be finding that there’s a particular area that you’ve been working in – maybe accidentally – that you’re loving: a particular topic, or maybe you’ve discovered you’re brilliant at press releases or screen writing, for example. So if you’ve started off as a generalist but now realise you really want to specialise in one area you are fascinated with, that can be a reason to break into new markets. Also, I’ll link in the show notes because I did a solo episode about whether or not to specialise and some of the info in there will back up what we say today.

LH: Yes, I remember that episode and it was really good. In terms of specialising vs. generalising, we’re both generalists with specialists in different areas, so it was interesting for me to hear how you got into your specialist areas. So yes, listeners, it’s well worth tuning in.

So, going back to areas we’ve fallen into a bit by accident, I remember the first time I was asked if I did book editing. I’d done loads of editing in an academic setting before and knew I had the right skill set for book editing, so I went for it and loved it. I offered a discount because it was my first time doing it; I explained to the client that I was new to the sector but laid out my skills. I was happy; they were happy and it’s now a big service area for me, and it helps dilute the more technical, industrial stuff I do.

PW: It’s important to remember that, if you’re a freelancer and you find you are getting bored with what you’re doing, it doesn’t have to mean that being a writer is wrong for you, it might just be that type of writing or the markets you’re working in that are getting on your nerves, basically.

LH: Yeah, I did a solo episode recently about what to do if your freelance careers is in crisis and, although you might not consider boredom a crisis, it can be if you let it go on too long. So I’d recommend having a listen to that – there are some good tips on how to ddecide whether you’re just having a blip, for example, if you’re bored, or if writing’s just not for you.

PW: And I’ll link to that in the show notes!

LH: Thank you very much! So, if you’re considering a transition from one area to another or you’re just considering breaking into an additional new area, you need to work out what’s important to you in terms of your day-to-day working style in order to know whether you’re trying to break into the right niche – and whether you’ll be able to hack it.

PW: Yes, when you’re going to try and make a change with the markets you work in, I’d strongly recommend not just abandoning all your regular clients and trusted editors in a bid to crack a new area. Unless you have a trust fund to support you for three months, it’ll take a while to build up and there’s no guarantee it’ll work. Assuming you need regular income, the key is reduce your work in one area gradually while building up work in a new area.

LH: Yeah, that makes me think of two things. First, when you say “Don’t just abandon people”, that’s something I mentioned in that solo episode too. It’s not professional to dump people and it also means there’s no going back. You can dump people – there’s nothing your clients can do about it unless you’ve signed a contract with them – but it’s just not very good.

PW: Looking at it from a selfish perspective, they might know someone who could be key to your new career. If they’re best mates with the editor of the magazine you want to work for, and you treat them unprofessionally…

LH: You can kiss that one goodbye!

PW: Yes! It’s the wrong thing to do anyway, but you’re not helping your own chances. In these kinds of markets, it’s surprising how many people know one another.

LH: Yes, I’m often amazed to find that I’m one or two connections away from someone who’s huge in a particular industry, often via a really small client or someone really unassuming. I’m not someone to exploit a contact, but I certainly wouldn’t want to ruin my reputation via that person.

PW: No, you just never know how far ripples go.

LH: Yes, people do talk and it’s not something you can repair because there are so many copywriters, journalists and editors out there vying to take your place.

PW: Yes, so when you start to cut down your current work, be respectful to these people who may have provided a large part of your income for the last five years.

LH: Yes, these people have probably helped you on the way up, so just because you’re planning a transition, doesn’t mean you can just go, “Oh bye!”. The second point I wanted to make is that I know copywriters in the hard-sell sales market, and they make an absolute fortune, charging thousands of pounds for a single piece of writing. It’s an extremely high pressure market.

PW: Yup, results, results, results.

LH: Yes, you need to be able to quantify the results your writing is going to get.

PW: And you can spend two months on one sales letter.

LH: Yes, and the contact between the client and writer is a lot more high pressure. You have to be able to schmooze, you have to be on call, things can be urgent; you have to love the high-pressure sales environment. So if you go bumbling into sales writing thinking it’s going to be marvellous and getting rid of all your clients, you’ll be in shark-infested waters if you hate it. You wouldn’t necessarily know, before you got into sales writing, that the day-to-day life of a sales writer is so different.

PW: Yes, so if you just dip a toe in the water rather than getting rid of all your copywriting jobs, you haven’t burnt your bridges.

LH: Yes, and I imagine that journalism is the same. I don’t do media writing, but Pip does, and I imagine that, Pip, there are a lot of differences in the skills and tendencies in journalism than in other areas.
PW: Definitely. The process is different, you can get very strictly edited, you can get a lot more criticism – including from people you don’t know – and yet the exposure being bigger means that when my local radio station wanted someone to talk about disability hate crime, they’d seen enough of my work to know I’d written for some big publications on the subject. The exposure can be good, but it can also be quite brutal.

LH: I imagine the skill set it quite different, too. As a copywriter, you don’t need to interview people very often, but as a journalist, you need to interview people.

PW: Yes, and you need to back up your points meticulously. If you make a factual error, everyone will know about it…

LH: And you’ll possibly get sued for libel. It’s just not my cup of tea – I think you can tell by the way I’m speaking that it’s not, and that’s really what we’re talking about, isn’t it?

PW: Yes, I absolutely love media writing. So, looking at writers who want to make a transition from one market to another, what’s really important is to make a plan for the transition from one market to another. If you’ve got a path you’ve identified in advanced, it’ll help you to follow a particular path, and you will know at each stage what still needs to be done to get you to the place you want to be.

English: iPad with on display keyboard

English: iPad with on display keyboard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

LH: Yes, definitely. And I think we can take for granted the weird little coincidences that have brought us to where we are now. I got into writing about recycling because I decided not to do more academic work and to get into marketing. I ended up as a marketing executive in the recycling sector. If I’d gone for a company in a different sector, I perhaps wouldn’t have so many trade and industrial clients as I do now. I couldn’t have planned it if I’d tried.

PW: No, absolutely. Freelancing can take such unexpected turns. You can become an expert in an industry you’d never have thought of. I know something that’s important for both me and Lorrie is to work for ethical firms, which is how Lorrie got into recycling. As a result, she’s ended up developing quite in-depth technical knowledge but still retained that ethical base.

So what we’re going to do is look at someone who might want to transition to a new market in their career. Don’t think that just because this specific example doesn’t fit your experience exactly that it doesn’t apply to you. It’s all the same thing.

Say you write for magazines at the moment about arts and crafts but over time the topic that you used to love has just got a bit dull for you. However you have developed a love of cooking and want to get a cookbook published. There are many paths to make this transition, but one that is available to you is based on a theme that will come up again and again in this podcast episode (and has done in many episodes), and it’s to work with what you’ve already got as a way to get to where you want to be.

So say you have plenty of experience getting published in magazines, you’re familiar with various magazine and newspaper editors, and these are valuable contacts. I would suggest that the best first step would be to start trying to get published in cookery magazines. This uses your magazine writing experience, you can explain to the cookery magazine editors that you have lots of experience with lots of sub-editors, you know how to follow style guidelines, and you even have good experience photographing a process and a finished product – before it was craft projects, now it’s recipes, but be aware of how many skills you already have that will help you in your new move.

LH: And going back to the point about contacts we made earlier, people in publishing talk to one another. So if you’ve done well, people might find out about it.

PW: Yes, and bear in mind that publishing houses might own like 20 magazines. So if you make this transition over time, sure, you will still have to do arts and crafts writing until your new commissions start coming in, but you’re on your way to where you want to be. Once you are familiar with cookery writing editors, and they are familiar with you, you then have a much higher chance of getting your book idea accepted and taken on by agents and publishers and voila, book deal. It’s not an overnight move, but nothing that’s worth it is, really. But if you can approach a book publisher with clips from eight different well-respected cookery magazines, you have a much better chance.

LH: Absolutely. Another example would be a copywriter who wants to move into sales writing, as we mentioned earlier. If you think you can hack sales writing, there’s lots of money to be made. You have to be the best, you have to have a really salesy website, and that;s something you can set up and let sit on Google for a while – it’s a good chance to practise your sales copy actually…

PW: That’s true – if someone checks out your website and they’re not convinced, they won’t hire you to convince their customers.

LH: Exactly, so have a look around, find out who the big sales copywriters are and see what they’re doing. But in terms of tapping into your own experience and moving over gradually, suggestion number one would be to see who your own clients are and to see if they need any sales writing.

PW: They might have a website full of information you’ve written for them, but you might be able to suggest to them that they might benefit from a landing page, which is basically the page that people land on when they come from a particular link. Some people will set up a particular landing page for people who click on a certain Google ad, for example.

LH: Yes, if your client has a product launch or a particular service or event that they’re trying to push, that would be the time to have a landing page.

PW: Absolutely, and they tend to be very focused, so if it’s a page specifically for people who come from Google and then that landing page will be all about that thing, to keep people’s interest and then start selling. So if you feel your clients have a great information-filled website but that they could benefit from a landing page or sales page, or better product description and you know that client well, suggest it to them.

LH: Yes it’s similar to something I’ve done recently. I have a client in the industrial sector that wanted to promote a particular service that they have, so we redid their pages for those. Another client is a life and career coach with an event coming up so, again, a landing page was needed to get people to invest in this event. So it’s a good way to go.

If you do tap your clients but no one wants any sales writing, the next thing to do is to see if they know anyone else who needs sales writing. People know people and it’s difficult to tap your contacts, and their contacts, and not find anyone who needs something salesy. Whether you can convince them they need something salesy is really a test of your persuasiveness, and if you can manage it, then great – you’ve got a foot in the door with that word of mouth, which is really important as I mentioned in my last solo episode about social proof.

If you’re struggling to do that, my next suggestion would be to check out online marketplaces like ClickBank and E-Junkie and find products with affiliate programmes. What this means is that you’re free to advertise and sell the products on there for a certain percentage commission, say 60 or 70%. So what you need in order to sell products are sales pages.

PW: It’s a really good way to practise sales copywriting, actually. When I was starting out, I really liked the idea of having a little bit of passive income. It was a god way for me to get my head around how the whole process works, too, and it’s lovely to get a cheque from ClickBank every now and again, even if the dollars confuse my bank! If you do it well, you can start making an income from it, and you might even decide you don’t want to work for anyone else at all.

LH: Certainly. But then if you decide that you do, you’re in a better position to go to someone and say, “Look, I’m the best of the best.” And you have to be.

PW: And you have to say you’re the best of the best without blushing or laughing.

LH: And, you have to be able to get other people to say it too. I don’t know a sector where social proof is more important. If you can get someone to say, “I hired this person and I made a million.”, you’re in.

PW: Yeah, I think you might be right. And a lot of the top money-makers are so interconnected. They’re often in mastermind groups together; they promote one another, so it can be hard to break into that circle. It takes a lot of work. You have to be able to go in with, “I built this website, made $2,000 in the first month and have made $5,000 a month ever since.”

LH: And again, you say such good things that I have a couple of points to make again. Firstly, you have to be an expert. You might be able to cover a couple of similar topics, but you can’t do sales writing at a very high level for several completely different subjects. You can’t just know a bit and then ask for clarification; you have to know what you’re talking about and it’s a full-time job. Second point, based on what Pip’s just said about interconnected affiliate marketers, you have to be quite political. Don’t target the wrong people, don’t play people off against one another, and make sure that there are no conflicts of interest in your work. You have to know your sector, your subject and your people.

PW: So these kind of processes of transition will be similar whatever new market you want to break into. If you are already a freelance writer then bear in mind that you are experienced and skilled in things like:

research
producing good quality work to deadline
liaising with many different professionals
writing in different styles and formats to suit clients or editors

All of these will be just as necessary in your new area, so you are not starting from scratch, even if it sometimes feels like it.

LH: No, you definitely have a good foot in the door and the same goes for other services as we briefly mentioned earlier. We’ll cover this in a future episode – how to move into services that complement writing, such as proof-reading, editing, substantive editing…

PW: Yes, and we could also look at things like building affiliate websites, so if you’re interested in that, let us know.

LH: Absolutely. But yes, as a writer, you’ll have skills that will help you get into your chosen market. Don’t lose heart if things feel different – things will be different if you’re trying to move from one area to another; it’s a career change so, as Pip said earlier, it’s important to plan.

PW: Another point it’s important to mention is that you might also need to increase your knowledge in a subject in order to break into a new market. If you have always fantasised about writing historical fiction then your knowledge of history has to be spot on. If you write inaccurate historical fiction, well, Amazon reviewers will spot your mistakes and will not let you off lightly! Get onto a history course which has a curriculum based on the era you want to write about – do this at your local college, or find one online, and really take it seriously. Similarly if you want to be a science writer, or a copywriter focused specifically on medical equipment, you absolutely have to know what you are talking about. Part of your transition planning should include learning things that fill your knowledge gaps.

LH: What I find it helpful to do sometimes, when I’m thinking about my freelance career, is to imagine that I’m in a salaried position. In a salaried position, you’d have the support – and pressure – of an external framework, with a wider company that you worked for. You’d be more able to view your career progress in linear fashion, a more upward-trajectory kind of way. The reason I find this helpful is that it doesn’t let you slack off. Freelancing can feel like you’re floating around and not really going anywhere. But the fact is, the longer you freelance, the more responsibilities you should be able to take on, and the more you should be able to demand of yourself. And that’s not to say you need to do more hours or charge more, but you do need to get better and push yourself. Allowing yourself to get away without doing research or prep won’t wash after a while.

PW: No, Lorrie knows – from the accountability days – that I spend so long preparing and researching and planning, and that’s because I can’t risk my reputation by letting something drop. I hate the idea sending poor quality work to a client; I would lose sleep. If you want to get beyond bidding for things on Freelancer.com, you really need to take this stuff seriously.

LH: This is it; it’s far, far wiser to take things a bit more seriously and to bide your time and tackle things with more prep.

PW: It’s really interesting how you’ve presented that, actually. I think that’s a really good point, looking at your freelance career in its equivalence as a salaried job could really help you focus on moving up the ladder so to speak.
LH: Yes, it does with me. As I say, I’m not trying to push people into doing more, but I’m just saying, don’t stagnate. If you are making a career transition, that’s a business development decision so you need to make sure you have all the skills in place with no skill gaps because the only person who’ll fall into those is you.

PW: Yes. So, I hope what we’ve done is cover some ideas on how to transition into a new freelance writing market. Like we said earlier, we can’t look at every variant, but what we have done is look at how to plan, why plans are important and the different stages you can go through to change your career a bit at a time, promoting the skills you’ve got an getting on top of the skills you might need.

LH: Absolutely. And if you have any questions, Pip and I are there on social media. Come and have a chat and we’ll try and give you any help you might need.

PW: So now it’s time for the Little Bird Recommendations of the Week. In this segment, we both suggest something that might be interesting or useful. So Lorrie, what’s your recommendation for this week?

LH: I kind of have two! And they’re kind of inspired by you, Pip. As we said earlier, Pip does a lot of media writing. I don’t. I don’t like it at all – I like staying in my little cave, doing ghost-writing. My recommendation this week is a couple of websites, actually. First one: Sourcebottle.com.au – it’s a resource for interviewers and journalists can use to find experts (journalists, bloggers etc.). You can go on there as a writer or a source, or both.

And that got me thinking, in a feministy sort of way, about a resource we have here in the UK – The Women’s Room. It’s the same kind of thing, but it’s for women. It was set up in response to some absolute bobbins by the BBC. There were two instances on the radio in which subjects that affect women were covered by male experts. When challenged on this, the BBC commented that they weren’t able to find female experts on breast cancer or contraceptive injections. Which is obviously total bobbins, so the immediate response was The Women’s Room, which is full of women experts.

So if you’d like to find a source, or you’d like to be quoted as an expert and you’re a woman, then The Women’s Room is for you.

PW: Another nice thing about The Women’s Room is that you can be an expert by study, having a PhD in something, or you can also list yourself as an expert by experience. So if you’ve brought up twins, for example, you can put yourself down as an expert in parenting and parenting twins.

LH: That is good, I think, especially as women’s experiences are still being ignored.

PW: Definitely. And I’d second the recommendation of The Women’s Room. My recommendation this week is a bit of a cheeky one. There’s a poet known as the Bard of Barnsley. He’s called Ian McMillan and I love him. Anyway, he made a video with Stephen Fry talking about the different regional accents in Yorkshire. Which is part of the UK, for people who aren’t here – and also where I live. I love regional accents and I love Ian McMillan, so everything about this was going to go well. The video is only a few minutes long and it’s brilliant. And I loved it and I put it on my website, which is why this recommendation is cheeky, because it’s a link to my own blog. So if you like regional accents, I’ll pop the link in the show notes and you can check it out. It’s really interesting. So yes, that’s my recommendation.

LH: You’re cheeky, but it’s good. So, really hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of A Little Bird Told Me and that the subject and recommendations are really helpful. If you want to chat to us at all or pitch a new episode idea to us, do come and have a look for our links at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com. I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn…

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

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

Wiki[pedia describes social proof as, “a psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior for a given situation”. Basically, we are tempted to replicate whatever we see people around us doing.

Social proof can play an important role in marketing and self-promotion for a freelance writer, and in this solo episode, Lorrie looks in more detail at what it is, why it’s important, and how you can harness it to win, and keep, more work.

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 37 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. She’ll be back next week as usual, though, so put your hankies away and keep listening for what I hope will be another really helpful solo episode.

Wordle Cloud of the Internet Marketing Blog - ...

Wordle Cloud of the Internet Marketing Blog – 08/15/08 (Photo credit: DavidErickson)

This episode is all about social proof – what it is, why it’s important when you’re marketing your business and the services you offer, and how you can get more of it.

So first up:

What is social proof?

Social proof  – also known as “informational social influence” – is basically herd mentality applied to marketing. The idea is that people conform to actions they perceive as being correct according to societal rules. In short: if other people are

doing something, they’ll do it too. Laughing at risqué jokes, jumping to the front of the queue, dropping litter, screaming at boybands and claiming you totally love that new single even though you’ve never heard of the person who sings it. All these things are evidence of the power of social proof.

In terms of marketing for your business, social proof can consist of testimonials, letters of recommendation, LinkedIn endorsements, quoting percentage success rates, positive case studies, Facebook ‘likes’, Twitter followers and so much more.

In an article about social proof , TechCrunch outlines five different categories of social proof:

  1. Expert Social Proof: Approval from a credible expert, such as an industry blogger or other authority.

  1. Celebrity Social Proof – not something I think will apply to many of us! Approval or endorsements from celebrities, especially those that are unpaid.

  1. User Social Proof: Approval from current users of the product/service, such as customer testimonials, case studies, and those all-powerful reviews.

  2. ‘Wisdom of the Crowds’ Social Proof: Approval from large groups of other people (Our traditional examples above would fit nicely into this category of social proof.)

  1. ‘Wisdom of Your Friends’ Social Proof: Approval from your friends or people you know – traditional word-of-mouth.

Social proof is everywhere. It’s why we have a Top 40 chart. It’s why we have bestseller lists. It’s why Oprah’s book club in the States, and Richard and Judy’s book club here in the UK, and all manner of celebrity endorsements do so well. It’s the reason actors are “Oscar nominated” and the reason sit-coms have canned laughter tracks. If everyone else is laughing, you should too – it’s proof that it’s funny!

Why is social proof important?

So why is social proof so important? Surely if you’re selling a decent product or service, clients can make their own minds up. Well, yes, and no. Social proof helps your hard work go further. It means that the positive ripples from one good deed, or brilliant project or whatever, reach beyond your client.

Social proof is a powerful way of telling prospective customers and clients that you are a trusted service provider who’s done a good job for others; which means that they can be reassured that you’re more likely to do a good job for them. The path has already been trodden, and it’s safer for new customers to follow.

Now, with social media’s continuing ascent, social proof is now more visible and easier to leverage than ever. Why else would so many businesses spend so much time trying to gain public approval across these marketing channels? Social proof can help you win new and repeat business, increase sales by a phenomenal amount, build up your reputation as an expert (for more information on how to do that, btw, have a listen to Pip’s solo episode on the subject – I’ll link to it in the show-notes) and generally enjoy a better level of trust with your target market – if you have the right social proof.

According to Google , 70% of  US consumers state that they examine product reviews before making a purchase. And which of us can’t say the same? I check TripAdvisor before booking any hotels, for example, to see what others are saying. I don’t know the reviewers. They could be compulsive liars for all I know, but it doesn’t matter – I feel more comfortable booking a hotel that 80% of people have recommended than one which only has 40% positive reviews.

What’s more, a study by CompUSA and iPerceptions showed that 63% of consumers say they are more likely to purchase from a site if it has product ratings and reviews. A good reason, if you needed one more, to display and share testimonials on your business website and social media profiles.

Where Do You Get Social Proof?

The nice thing about social proof is that, most of the time, it’s really easy to get. You can simply ask for it, a lot of the time, or just straight out get it! It makes me question why people don’t shout about their positive reviews.

You can ask existing clients to recommend you – either with a testimonial, a thumbs-up on your social media platform of choice, a LinkedIn endorsement or simply by word-of-mouth.

You can post recommendations on your website, tell people what percentage of your clients were happy with the work you did for them, write case studies about the improvements your work made to someone else’s business…although make sure your client doesn’t want to remain anonymous because otherwise negative social proof will be coming your way!

Webtreats 3d Glossy Blue Orbs Social Media Icons

Webtreats 3d Glossy Blue Orbs Social Media Icons (Photo credit: webtreats)

As I mentioned earlier, social media mentions – particularly by people with a lot of influence – celebrities, experts etc. –will help to establish you as someone worth talking to and following. People will feel reassured if they see someone they know following you.

You can also piggy-back of someone else’s social proof. Post brilliant content on your social media feeds and wait for the RTs to come flooding in. If lots of people are following you and effectively endorsing your social media activity, you can expect others to see this and do the same.

Guest-blogging is another way to piggy-back social proof (and again, we’ve done an episode on how to make guest-blogging work for you, so check the show-notes for the link). If you can wow the owner of a popular, high traffic website with a proposal for a guest post, you’ve got yourself a brilliant social proof opportunity. Your appearance on that blog will be tantamount to an endorsement and will help to raise your profile.

Authors gain social proof by sending copies of their books to people in the hope that positive reviews will be forth-coming. Likewise, bloggers send links to publications they think might be interested in their work – retweets, comments, discussion: all of these things help lift the writer into a position of trust and importance.

A couple of warnings about social proof:

Social proof is hugely valuable and it can be frustrating when you don’t have any, particularly when you’re starting out.  It’s quite like the whole getting experience without experience business – it can be a bit of an uphill struggle at first. But don’t lose heart.

With the advent of sites like Fiverr.com, you can actually buy social proof. For $5, you can get one, three, five, ten thousand followers for your Twitter feed, Facebook page, blog, whatever – but really, don’t do it: being greedy rarely does you any good.

If I’m followed by someone on Twitter with tens of thousands of followers, I simply report and block. That person clearly isn’t on social media to be sociable – how can you socialise with 10,000 people? I know that person is just following me to get me to follow them back and I object to it.

It’s also pretty obvious when someone has bought followers online. While hard-sell companies can get away with it sometimes, why would a B2B freelance copywriter, for example, have 50,000 followers? If you’ve only just started out on social media, too, and you’re there waving hello to 10,000 new followers despite having tweeted only three times, people are going to smell a rat. And just as positive social proof is hugely valuable, a ruined reputation or the whiff of misbehaviour will do you no good in business at all.

My second warning is this: there’s no clearer indication that you’re a social media amateur than begging for follows and retweets (see my solo episode – quite early on – about the sad smell of desperation for more on this!). The whole idea behind social proof is that you demonstrate your value to your audience, and they recommend you organically.

Legitimate, although not totally organic ways, to boost your social proof include:

– Running a give-away from your website or social media feed (say, customers can get entered into a prize draw by sharing or liking a post from your Facebook)

– Incentivising purchases or reviews by offering discounts, prize-draws, etc.

– Incentivise ‘introducing a friend’ with discounts or other benefits

Leverage social proof wherever you can

So now that we’ve talked about social proof, what it is, why it’s important and how you can get it, I hope that you’ll feel more able to go out there and leverage this valuable marketing tool for your brand.

Get into the habit of collecting social proof. Ask your clients if they mind you quoting them – even anonymously – when they give good feedback. If they don’t offer feedback but were happy with the work you gave them, ask if they’d mind proving a short testimonial. The worst they’ll say is no.

Another thing to remember is to deal efficiently and effectively with complaints, so you have the chance to turn negative experiences into positive ones – customers want to feel like they’re being listened to and taken seriously. Good customer service gets people talking just as much, so make sure you’re exemplary.

If you want to offer discounts in return for reviews of your work and testimonials, let customers and prospective customers know. Pop a note on your website; promote it across social media, you can even stick it in your email signature.

Rewrite your marketing material and website content to show readers just how good a job you do. Get those stats working for you. Never had an unhappy customer? Tell people! Been told you were instrumental in turning a client’s fortune around? Shout about it!

After all, there’s no point having social proof if you keep it secret!

So, now it’s time for the A Little Bird Told Me Recommendation of the week. And this week, my recommendation is a lovely little online tool called ThingLink. Thinglink gives you the chance to offer added value from the images you use online.

Images are a great way to pep up blog articles and news stories on your site. ThingLink allows you to tag images with other links to other kinds of media – music videos, other articles, subscription links, event invites, ecommerce links, social media platforms and more.

You can upload your own images and use those or, by adding the ThingLink plugin to Google Chrome, you can tag any image you find online (I will say at this point that you should only ever use images you have permission to work with – don’t go stealing someone else’s work).

The anatomy of an article is really important, and I think ThingLink is brilliant for adding even more rich content value to the content you post online. Images you tag can be embedded not only on sites and blogs, but on social media feeds, meaning that your interactive image will get around and – hopefully – get shared. Social proof again.

So there we are. I really hope you’ve enjoyed listening to this episode of the ALBTM freelance writing podcast. If you have any feedback, why not come and chat to me and Pip on Facebook or Twitter?

To make sure you don’t miss next week’s episode, head over to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com and hit that subscribe button. Until next week, I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn – thanks so much for listening.

Podcast Episode 36: Visual clues to professionalism

 

Working from home might feel like an endless opportunity to work in your pyjamas, but there are times when it is really important to think about your visual appearance – including the appearance of your website and social media profile pages. In this episode, Lorrie and I talk about lots of aspects of your visual presentation, including how you need to prepare for Skype conversations, and how to choose a business name.

 

 

 

 

Show Notes

 

How to name your business: Facebook discussion

 

The top 50 most embarrassing domain names ever purchased

 

Clients from Hell

 

The Essentials of Reuters sourcing

 

Coursera

 

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 36 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 so worth clicking the subscribe button because you’ll get a notification as soon as our new episodes are out. Don’t miss it.

 

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.

 

PW: And I am Philippa Willitts and today we’re talking about visual clues to professionalism. As a freelancer, you are your brand, so – for better or worse – how you present yourself, and what your web presence looks like, will be judged. And while we all know that you might don a suit for an important client meeting, there are actually a lot more factors to consider. So today we are going to cover these different issues of visual presentation, and we are going to start by looking at what you call your business.

 

LH: Yes, one of the biggest decisions you make when you’re starting out as a freelancer is whether to trade under your own name or to create a company brand that customers will use instead.

 

Spelling Challenges and More!

Spelling Challenges and More! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

PW: Yes, this can be a really big decision, and somebody actually asked our advice about this on our Facebook Page a few weeks ago. What I said then still stands actually: my advice was that first of all you should start by thinking about your real name – is it common or unusual? If you’re called Jane Smith, then calling your business JaneSmith means you will never be easy to find in the search engines. People might have to scroll through pages and pages to find you, which they just won’t do. On the other hand, having a name like mine – Philippa Willitts – where nobody can spell EITHER of my names, never mind both of them, leads to problems with web addresses.

 

 

LH: Yes, I have a friend who’s just making the transition from salaried to freelance and she’s facing the same issue – her surname is of Czech origin which leads to all kinds of mispronunciations and spelling issues. I bet you get issues with the ‘l’s and ‘p’s in Philippa as well, don’t you? And maybe even ‘f’s?!

 

PW: The number of spellings of my name I’ve seen throughout my life is really quite outstanding. When I was a teenager, I started going, “One ‘l’, two ‘p’s, two ‘l’s, two ‘t’s, four ‘i’s.” It’s the bane of my life in many ways, and it is one of the reasons I went with PhilippaWrites – it’s so that people would only have to spell one of the two names right, and it was also clear what I did.

 

PW: Now, if I was starting again I might not choose it though. At the time I chose it, I hadn’t really researched, and wasn’t aware of the sheer number of people who use the “firstname + writes” as their business name! Going in the area of specialism, if you have one, can definitely work – I’m also Social Media Writer which says a lot more.

 

LH: No, I’d back you up on the difficulties that come from using your name as your business name – Lorrie Hartshorn is a nightmare to spell.

 

PW: Of course because there are two…three immediate ways that I can think of to spell your name!

 

LH: I was going to say, keep counting!

 

PW: Yes, I said, ‘two’ and then immediately came up with more!

 

LH: Yeah, I’ve been referred to as Larry Hawthorn before. But people generally call me Lorraine. There’s no indication anywhere that my name is Lorraine – and indeed it isn’t – but no, that’s what I get called.

 

As for whether I’d stick with my own…I don’t know whether to call it my business name or not. I tend to refer to myself as ‘That Wordy Bird’ on social media and that’s had some really good feedback – people find it cute, fun, memorable, but the problem is that I’ve taken on some writers to help me. So I’m struggling to know whether I’m misrepresenting my business. I don’t think it is, and I think I’d like to keep ‘That Wordy Bird’ on, but it’s something I have to think of – and it’s another thing to bear in mind I suppose.

 

PW: Yes. In terms of the woman who approached us on Facebook, Lorrie: you had some other suggestions about trying to find a business name…

 

LH: I did because what we struggled with…we’ve spoken to this woman a few times and she’s lovely but, much as you’d like to help someone, you can’t name someone else’s business. And I think we were keen not to do that.
PW: Yes, I think we wanted to give her some starting points to bounce off so she could come up with names for herself.

 

LH: Yeah, and although it might seem obvious objectively that there will be problems with certain approaches to coming up with a business name, it can be a minefield when you’re in the ‘trying to come up with a business name’ phase.

 

So when it comes to thinking of a name for your business, the things I would say you should take into account are:

 

– Firstly, your personality and your way of working. So if you’re super serious, maybe a fun frivolous name isn’t for you; maybe Firstname Surname Consulting is for you. But if you’re bubbly and you find yourself chatting about random stuff, maybe something a bit fun and catchy. Whatever works for you.

 

– Do you want to be a sole trader or a company? Will your brand voice be an ‘I’ or a ‘we’? As I say, I’m having trouble with my name now that I’ve taken on writers to help me and moved into an agency set-up. I’m still a sole trader but I work with other people. How visible do I want that to be to clients?

 

PW: And I think in legal terms, we’re both sole traders although this isn’t going to be an episode where we look into the benefits of sole trader vs. company, but sole trader is generally an easier status to manage. The accounting is simpler and that kind of thing. But it’s worth thinking about – we’re not the people to advise you but there’s plenty of information about that. And it’s different in different countries, of course.

 

LH: The advice I was given by my accountant is that unless you’re earning an awful lot of money when you’re starting out, there’s no real tax benefits to being a company, at least here in the UK.

 

PW: Yes, that’s similar to the advice I read everywhere. Unless you’re setting up something complicated, then be a sole trader. You can always upgrade, as it were, to a different status if necessary.

 

LH: And this is the thing – you don’t have to. Someone I know who’s been freelancing for nigh on 35 years is still a sole trader. You don’t have to. I suppose ‘upgrade’ wasn’t the word for it – it’s not a case of sole trader not being as good as a company; there’s no cap on earnings as a sole trader, as far as I’m aware. So yeah, I’d recommend starting out and going from there.

 

PW: Yes, don’t complicate things for yourself.

 

LH: Yes, not unless you really like tax, in which case, help yourself!
LH: So the next thing I’d say to bear in mind is your target audience. Will you be B2C or B2B? Obviously as a writer, you’re likely to be B2B, but I mean will your clients be B2C or B2B. Will you be specialising in a certain sector? If so, maybe your name needs to reflect that. If your clients are in the fashion and cosmetics sector, then your name should be different than if your clients are in the financial and legal sector.

 

PW: Yes, I mean, my Social Media Writer ID is very specific. Possibly too specific because I also do tech writing, but it gives people an immediate idea of what I do, which is helpful.

 

LH: Yeah. Definitely – your branding is straightforward, clean lines, social media writing, does what it says on the tin. And yeah, to me, that’s good branding. But if you were targeting magazines to write about food and travel, it wouldn’t work at all.

 

PW: Definitely, and this is why I have the two different identities. It does work because I love the tech writing but I do also do magazine journalism and opinion writing, which can be on all sorts of subjects.

 

LH: Which takes us on to the next point, I suppose, which is what services are you offering? I see certain freelancers marketing themselves as, say, “[Name] Media”, while others go with the more simple, “[Name] Copywriting Services” or “[Name] Content Marketing Services” Be aware that your name needs to suit you as you grow – don’t limit your service offerings if you think you’ll be able to train up and expand your service offerings. If Pip had started out as Philippa Willitts Blog Writer, then she’d be a bit stuck now.

 

LH: Another thing to consider is: do you have a whimsical story behind your transition into freelancing? Maybe there’s a theme you could use that represents something important to you. For some reason, I see stock photography of a little unfurling seedling on lots of copywriting websites, and that plant gets everywhere! The point I’m trying to make is that that seems to represent how they feel about moving into freelancing.

 

PW: And sometimes having a slightly unusual name will provoke conversation. If you give someone a business card and it says your name is Seed Copywriting, that can be a talking point.

 

LH: Yes, I’ve also seen things like “Cherry Red Marketing” which sound lovely and could be a nice tack to take if you fancy a more abstract name. If you do go with something fun, make sure it’s not something you’d be embarrassed to announce to friends and clients alike!

 

PW: Yes, and there are a few things to check, also: try saying the name out loud and make sure it can’t be mistaken for something rude. Check how it looks as a URL, and make sure it doesn’t contain inadvertently rude words. Lorrie and I have worked as receptionists and secretaries. So with a business name, you have to imagine picking up the phone and saying it. So do check!

 

LH: True, and I suppose one thing to consider is how does it work with social media?

 

PW: True! Is it already taken? Is the URL available?

 

LH: Getting the giggles here thinking about some of those terrible URLs, like Pen Island (penisland.com!). And did you see the hashtag for Susan Boyle’s album launch (#susanalbumparty).

 

PW: Recently, when Margaret Thatcher died, the hashtag #NowThatchersDead and that provoked a big reaction, “Oh my God, Cher’s dead!” and Cher had to come out and say, “I’m not dead!” So that’s the kind of thing you have to be careful about.

 

LH: Yes, it’s a tough choice, and I’d definitely recommend running your ideas in list form by a few trusted people, just to make sure there are no unfortunate connotations with any of them! Check their reaction – read out a whimsical and amazing name and see what happens. I know that here in the UK, Moonpig has done really well, but I wouldn’t want to call a copywriting firm Moonpig. Or Cloud Hippo!

 

PW: You’d have to have a very good story behind it.

 

LH: That’s a good point actually. If you went to a networking event and someone said, “So why are you called Cloud Hippo?” and you said, “Dunno, just sounded cool.”…

 

PW: “Me and my friends were really drunk and we were putting words together and we liked that one!”

 

LH: Hahaha! Yes, so be a bit sensible and don’t embarrass yourself.

 

PW: Now, the name of your business is important, but it’s actually not the most vital part of your identity. There are some really successful freelance businesses with frankly embarrassing names, and there are others whose names I wished I had thought of myself but that have very little success. The name is important but it has to be part of an overall package.

 

PW: Another important piece of the visual puzzle you create is the photos you use, and this can be your Twitter and LinkedIn headshots, the photo you send to places you are writing for to put in your profile, your Facebook cover photo and any pics of yourself on your website. So, smiley? Serious? Or light-hearted?

 

LH: It’s a difficult one, isn’t it? When you’re in a salaried position, having your picture taken for the office website can be embarrassing; when you have to have one done for yourself, it can be mortifying. I think the thing to remember is that it’s not about pretending you’re someone different, so if you’ve got a nice picture of yourself smiling, that’s fine. What it is about is deciding what’s appropriate. If you have a nice picture of yourself smiling over the fourth pitcher of pina colada, maybe don’t use that picture, or use it on your personal Facebook and check that those privacy settings are up.

 

A half-drunk glass of beer

A half-drunk glass of beer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

PW: Yes, it might feel like you’re being “injecting personality” by showing yourself downing a pint in one go, surrounded by cheering friends, that’s not necessarily the kind of personality a client wants to see when they are considering working with you!

 

LH: Definitely not! A pet hate for me is cheesy head-shots. And particularly – people have social media pages now, and I’ve seen people have a little head-shot as a profile picture and a giant head-shot behind as a background image.

 

LH: There’s a social media expert I’ve seen who has *the cheesiest* headshots ever – pure cheddar. In one, they’re bursting through a bit of paper and making a really weird “Argh!” face, and it’s just odd. They’re looking to one side, mouth wide open, teeth showing. And while I can’t deny it’s caught my attention, the attempt to make something so contrived – it’s clearly a studio shot because who has a candid shot of them coming through a piece of paper?! – look natural and spontaneous (they’re not even looking at the camera!) wouldn’t make me want to hire that person. To me, it’s not fun or cute; it’s just kind of unprofessional.

 

PW: Another important thing is that your public pictures are of decent quality. I see sooooo many pictures that are pixellated or blurry, or with a background full of conflicting colours or a big crowd of people, then avoid using these too. Make sure the photo is clean, that if it’s a head shot then your head is clearly visible

 

LH: Haha, it kills me that we have to specify this!

 

PW:…and that people don’t have to struggle, when they look at it, to understand what is what.

 

LH: I dread to think! But yes, all good points. And just thinking about what you’ve said: if you’ve got a picture that’s blurry but you think you look a bit fit in it, don’t go to Picasa and turn it black and white, and high contrast. If it’s a blurry picture, it’s a blurry picture; I don’t care how gorgeous you look in it – it’s not appropriate for work.

 

PW: And nowadays, camera phones are exceptionally good, so either you or one of your friends will have a decent camera. As long as the photo in the end looks good.

 

LH: I’ve seen people who’ve forked out for headshots. That said, there’s no need to get expensive photography if it’s beyond your price range. Headshots can be expensive and you might not have those funds. Get a friend to take some nice, clear, non-blurry pictures of you wearing something smart, and you’re all set. And stay away from funky photography effects unless you know what you’re doing and it’s in-keeping with your brand.

 

Because remember, people will be contacting you and seeing you as the person in your ‘work’ images, so give them as professional and neutral a feel as possible. We all build up a picture of someone – I defy most people to say that they don’t go and have a look at what someone looks like – I’m always interested to know who I’m speaking to. Be neutral, be professional and remember to smile.

 

PW: Another situation where you have to think about how you look, and what your surroundings are, is if you have meetings with clients on Skype. If you use video chat during these meetings, then you will be expected to not be in your pyjamas, lying down in bed. Clients know you work from home, so they won’t necessarily expect formal office attire and a plain white background, but it is worth taking a moment to consider how you are presenting yourself when you do have video chats. Also, whether you use video or just audio chats consider background noises – don’t have the TV or radio on in the background, and take care – and I know this from podcast recording! – even with things like whether the washing machine is on a noisy spin cycle or not!

 

LH: I’ve taken Skype calls before where I’ve still had messy hair or a slouchy t-shirt on: I actually pop a piece of paper over my webcam so that, if I accidentally hit ‘video call’ instead of ‘audio call’, my clients won’t be horrified!

 

PW: Yes, post-in notes can be very good for that as well. Something I do about 10 minutes before a scheduled video chat is to turn on my webcam so I can see exactly what’s on show, and exactly what the client will see. It actually helps me to spot things I hadn’t noticed, because I’m looking at it with fresh eyes.

 

LH: That’s actually a really good idea. I don’t tend to do video calls, but that would definitely help reassure me if I did.

 

PW: Yes, I don’t tend to do video calls either, but once in a while they are necessary. When dealing with other freelancers, I’ve had them say, “Please can we not do video chat? I haven’t got dressed yet!” and I’m happy to oblige!

 

PW: Now, something else to bear in mind, in terms of how you present your business visually, is the appearance of your website and social media profiles. Looking again at social media, make sure you have made the best of the opportunities that Facebook and Twitter offer you for personalising your profile and Pages, with the header images and so on. These aspects aren’t as important as your head shot, but they contribute to an overall feel. Then, looking at your professional website, think about the layout and background, and the font and font size too.

 

LH: Yes, and I think it’s important to make sure there’s a synergy between your website and social media feeds. So if you have monochrome social media feed with a splash of pink, don’t go for a beige website with a scrolly font.

 

But in terms of fonts, it’s something I wrote about on my blog recently. I do a lot of fiction reading because I do literary editing – and a lot of what I read is on blogs. And a lot of the blogs I come across have a black background with red font, or a black background with lime green font. And unless I have to read whatever it is – which is rare – I just click away. I can’t deal with the glow – it gives me a headache.

 

PW: Someone I know had a lime green background with white font, and it was actually painful.

 

LH: It’s called ‘halation’ out of interest – the glow you get from light font on a darker background. Now, I don’t have any visual impairments, but that causes me massive issues.

 

Now, in terms of font, it doesn’t even really matter to me if you go serif or sans serif…

 

PW: Yes, there are views all over the web about that, so just go with what you think.

 

LH: Yes in my view, as long as you stick with a font that people can read and are happy to read. I visited a copywriting site fairly recently and bounced straight back off the page when I saw that the writer had chosen a squirly handwriting font to go with her cutesie 1950s theme. While a cute theme can work – it’s a risky choice but it’ll get you noticed – keep your font readable.

 

PW: Yes, and readability is particularly important in terms of web accessibility. Like Lorrie, I have visited sites that I bounced straight back away from because the font was either too small, illegible or there wasn’t enough contrast to read it easily, and although I am short-sighted, my vision is fine when I wear my specs. However for people with reduced vision, these kinds of things make your site impossible to navigate, so if they are a client looking to hire you’ve instantly lost some potential work before you could even start to sell yourself.

 

LH: Yeah, I mean black or dark grey font on a pale background is always going to be your best bet, in my view. Studies that I’ve read do seem to indicate that a high contrast – although not too high – is the best option.

 

PW: Yes, I believe the best contrast advice in terms of accessibility is black on a pale coloured background. Black on white is too ‘contrasty’ and can cause difficulty for some people, so although I haven’t looked it up in the last year or two, the advice last time I researched the best practice was black, or dark coloured font on a pale background.

 

LH: One thing it’s important to remember in terms of your online presence is that people will sometimes search for you and, even if they don’t actively search, people will sometimes find you. And by you, I don’t just mean your carefully designed website – I mean your Twitter, your Facebook, your Pinterest or your blog. It’s very hard to be invisible on Google nowadays, so it’s important to control your social media feeds and make sure that anything you wouldn’t want clients to see is tucked away behind your privacy settings.

 

PW: I’ve read a few interesting blog posts recently about whether or not freelancers should be friends with their clients on Facebook, and although they all presented a “pros and cons” approach, I strongly identified predominantly with the “no, don’t do it!” side of the advice!

 

LH: God, yes, 100% agree. Do not befriend your clients! You might think you’re charming and marvellous, but a whole host of factors are going to come into play.

 

PW: My Facebook account is very much a personal one, I talk nonsense, I post about trivialities, and it contains photos and details that just aren’t appropriate to bring into a professional relationship. Not because they’re scandalous…

 

LH: They are. Pip’s Facebook is a hotbed of decadence and scandal.

 

PW: …but just because they’re not at all relevant to the work I do. This is exactly why I have Facebook Pages for my business, so that people who want to follow me or keep in touch can do so there. I need social media spaces where I can switch off, and that includes my personal Facebook account, and my personal Twitter account. I have my Facebook Pages, my professional Twitter account, and my LinkedIn account to network with clients and prospects, and to promote my work.

 

LH: And it’s nice that you don’t put all your work stuff on your friends, as well. I’ve dealt with individuals and sole traders previously who don’t get the difference between a Facebook profile and a Facebook page.

 

PW: And it’s an important difference!

 

LH: That’s the point I was trying to make earlier – I spent about an hour trying, unsuccessfully, to try and explain the different between profiles and pages. And as far as I’m aware, they’re still using their Facebook profile as their personal and professional Facebook presence. Even if you don’t say something actively offensive, most of what you say will be irrelevant, so it’s best to limit your communications to when you’re tuned in. Jokes, sarcasm, flippant comments can all be really hard to translate. If you have one shot to attract a client, that’s just not going to work.

 

PW: As Lorrie said earlier, making sure your privacy settings are carefully managed is vital. There’s no point me not friending clients on FB if they can just do a search and see everything I post anyway! I know that some clients have “subscribed” to me on FB, so I do some “public” posts, just so they have something to see! Those tend to be quite generic ones that won’t offend anybody or give too much away about my life, but that they might enjoy seeing.

 

LH: One thing I would say is that you don’t need to panic about wiping every trace of yourself off the Internet. Things like my blog and my creative writing are visible if you search for my name because I wanted my creative writing to be published under my name, and that’s not an issue. My writing is my writing – while I wouldn’t go and say to my clients, “Hey, take a look!”, it’s not something I’m interested in hiding. The same goes for my feminist articles – while they might not be to every client’s taste, they don’t interfere with the work I do, nor are they something to be ashamed of or bashful about.

 

PW: Yes, absolutely. I am always aware that, if somebody looks hard enough, they can find parts of me online that I might not promote with my professional work, but which also don’t get in the way.

 

LH: That being said, it’s important to remember that, if you’re a freelancer, the lines between professional and personal do get blurred. Like it or not, freelancing is a bit of a lifestyle, in my opinion, so you have to be a bit careful about what you post. A good way to get a bit of freedom if you want to be more controversial in your personal dealings is to use avatars that don’t show you, and pseudonyms. Or, as we mentioned earlier, to trade under a business name. But even that might not be enough if you’re posting something that clients might find really objectionable in your spare time.

 

PW: Yes, if you’re creating a “why I hate all my clients” tumblr, a pseudonym might be in order. 😉

 

LH: God, yes!

 

PW: So we’ve looked there at how clients and potential clients might view you if they see things that aren’t on your professional site. It’s an important thing to bear in mind because the vast majority of my work comes from online connections.

 

LH: So, I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode and found it helpful. It’s now time for the A Little Bird Told Me Recommendations of the Week.

 

PW: For people who are interested in journalistic writing I found a really amazing resource about how to deal with sourcing information. It comes from Reuters, the news agency, and is a really comprehensive list of 23 vital aspects of dealing with sources, interviews, quotes, privacy, honesty, and it is clearly fairly up to date because it also includes the ethics and practicalities of dealing with social media as a source of information. It’s a long read, but if you are working in journalism, news or newsy opinion writing it’s absolutely packed full of information. So I’ll link to that in the show notes.

 

LH: That’s a really good recommendation. In the current era of blogs, everyone can turn their hand to journalism and investigative writing – and indeed so many people do. What I find, though, is that people who do blog and use social media as a way of building a writing platform – and who want to be part of the commentariat – aren’t doing it properly, responsibly and in the right way. Rather than just an opinion piece, a bit of a rant, possibly libellous…

 

PW: A few misquotes…

 

LH: Yes, the damage from that can be huge.

 

PW: And like you say, because so many people blog – and it’s known as citizen journalism – there are a lot of people skipping journalism school and going into journalism. I did that, so I’m not criticising it, but one of the things about journalism school is that you learn those kinds of things. This was a particularly good resource for me.

 

LH: My recommendation this week is based on a comment someone made to me recently about how he couldn’t be a freelance writer because he doesn’t have a degree.

 

Now, for the sake of disclosure, Pip and I both have degrees. And it is useful – it shows clients you’ve reached a certain level. In my opinion, though, although it might be harder to be a freelance writer without a degree, I’ve never been asked to prove I have a degree. I’ve never been checked or even asked. So that’s not to say that having a degree isn’t important experience. But I don’t think that if you’re a good writer with a good level of English, that you should write yourself off.

 

PW: Yes, my degree is only tangentially related to what I’m doing now. Without wanting to be overly political, as student fees go up and up, more people without degrees will be making their way into the work place.

 

LH: Yes, what are people supposed to do if they don’t have a degree? Which brings me on to another point: writers with a degree shouldn’t consider their learning done. My recommendation, to get round to it, is an online learning resource, called Coursera, which allows you to take University courses from a wide range of institutions online – for free!

 

While most of the Universities featured are from the US (it’s a shame no UK unis have got involved yet) there are some from Europe, and a few Asian ones. Most of the courses range from 2 to 12 weeks, so you’re looking at a proper learning experience, and there are a wide variety that would be extremely helpful to any freelancer, whether or not they’ve reached Uni-level education. You’ve got courses like, “Content Strategy for Professionals” and “Understanding media by understanding Google”, delivered by Universities like Harvard. So really up to date course materials.

 

So there’s no reason you can’t bring your learning right up to date – and no reason you shouldn’t whether or not you have a degree already.

 

PW: it’s incredible to have access to the kind of teaching materials we can find online now. Even a few years ago, it was hard to find something good quality, but now – to have these often top of their field people teaching you for twelve weeks shouldn’t be underestimated.

 

LH: The net is so big that we can sometimes forget how much there is out there. One of the nice things about Coursera is that you can actually build a portfolio and show it to people; keep a record of what you’ve done. With Alison.com, similarly, you can download a code to show you’ve done a course.

 

But yes, Coursera: I think it’s great. If you don’t have a degree, don’t be disheartened. Neither of us has had our degrees checked. Don’t lie if someone asks you whether you have a degree – it’ll be the one time someone checks. You can say to a client, “I don’t have a degree, but here’s a list of courses I’ve taken in the last year.”

 

PW: Yes, that’s similar to what I said in my last episode about writing without clips. Don’t say, “No, I haven’t written about that.” and leave it at that; say, “No, I haven’t written about that but I have done X, Y and Z.”

 

LH: Yes, and the thing with Coursera is that we’re looking at courses from good quality institutions.
So yes, thank you so much for listening. Really hope you’ve found what we’ve shared today useful and interesting. If you have any ideas or feedback, come and have a chat with us – you can find all the links to our Facebook page and social media feeds at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com. We’re very friendly, so feel free.

 

I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn…

 

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

 

Podcast Episode 35: No portfolio? No problem. Get writing work without published clips.

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Lots of new freelance writers fear that they will never get any work because they don’t have published articles or novels already. However, when you remember that every successful freelancer started out in the same way, it becomes clear that it is definitely possible to get hired as a writer even if you have no clips to show.

But how, exactly? In this podcast episode, I go through lots of different ways to get yourself some clips, build up your portfolio, and to persuade people to take you on regardless.

Show Notes

Episode 15: Guest Blogging for Exposure, Brand Building, Backlinks and More

10 very costly typos

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Transcript

Hello and welcome to A Little Bird Told Me, the freelance writing podcast about the highs, the lows and the no-nos of successful self-employment. This is episode 35 and today I’m going to be talking about how to get freelance writing work when you don’t have clips.

I’m Philippa Willitts and I’m a full-time freelance writer.  I’m here without my usual co-host Lorrie, who’ll be back next week, so if you’re missing her, tune in again next week.

You might be listening to this podcast on your computer, your iPod, your phone, and so if you want to make sure you never miss an episode, do head over to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com where you can find links to subscribe via iTunes, Stitcher or RSS. You can also – if you have a Podomatic account – subscribe there so you’ll get an email every time there’s a new episode.

On the Podomatic page, you’ll also find links to the A Little Bird Told Me Facebook page, as well as mine and Lorrie’s various websites and social media bits and bobs.

Magazines

Magazines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, as I say, today I’m talking about how to get freelance writing work when you don’t have a portfolio of published work – magazine articles, commercial samples etc. A lot of people think they can’t possibly approach an editor or business, and pitch themselves to that publication or place because they don’t have any experience – and they expect to be told to come back when they have examples of past writing. And this can happen, however – if you think about it – every successful freelance writer started at some point without any clips or any kind of portfolio. So it is entirely possible to break into freelance writing as a career even if you haven’t been published or had any high profile writing out there.

So what I’m going to do today is look at some of the different options you have if you’re desperate to start out but are scared to get an email back saying, “Send me what you’ve already done” before you can get any work. In my experience, surprisingly few clients and editors have asked me for examples of my past work. Some have and I’ve sent them that, but actually an awful lot don’t ask. If you make a good enough approach, demonstrate knowledge of your subject and produce a good enough pitch, clients and editors can deduce that you’re probably a decent writer and you know what you’re doing.

Now, on my professional sites – philippawrites.com and socialmediawriter.co.uk, I do have links to my published work. And this might be as simple as a blog post, or it might be a link to a national newspaper, but I do have a page dedicated to “Have a look at my writing” so if people want to know more, they can see what I can write – they can get an idea of the styles I can write in etc. So I wondered whether the reason that so few people ask me for clips is because they’d been on my website.

And so I had a chat with my usual co-host Lorrie, because I know on her website, it’s quite different to my own with not so much focus on what she’s written before. So I asked Lorrie whether in her experience clients ask for previously published work, and she has had a very similar experience to me – it does happen, but it’s rare. I think that’s interesting because it suggests that, regardless of having clips on your site, a lot of clients and publishers just don’t ask for them.  So if you’re wary, bear that in mind and make an approach – if you write a good pitch email or approach letter, the thing you’re fearing (where they get back to you and say, “Send us 10 examples of work published in international magazines!”) won’t happen.

I think also, if you have good clients who respect you and what you do, they often assume that, if you’re approaching them, it’s because you’re capable and experienced.

Another problem that commercial copywriters and fiction writers can face is if they do ghost writing – they might have tonnes of experience and have written five novels and 18 websites but, if they’ve signed a none-disclosure agreement or have just agreed that the writing they’ve done belongs to whoever paid them and can’t be claimed as their own, then they can still have an empty portfolio. So it’s not just an issue that new people face. But, I think the more experienced ghost writers would have a more confident approach and would be better at wording things to show that they’re capable and competent.

And it’s important to look at this issue, not just because a lot of new freelancers get caught up in it and feel like they don’t have much confidence without clips, but also because it’s used as people as an excuse for procrastination – it’s a nice way to avoid having to put yourself out there and make some pitches and see what happens. So do listen on and find out more ways to prove to people that if people hire you, you’ll do a great job. And also, to start getting those clips so, as they build up, you’ll have more to show what you can do.

So you’re in a situation where you’ve had a great idea for a story or you’ve found a company you’d love to write for but you don’t have anything to show. Or so you think. The first thing to do is really have a think. Stretch your imagination a bit. There’s a chance that you do have something to show that can prove your writing ability. For instance – have you written something to your company’s annual report? Have you contributed an article to your local neighbourhood newsletter? Have you had a letter to the editor published in a newspaper? When you’re starting out, all this stuff does count, even though it might feel irrelevant but it can work as a confidence booster. Over time, as that works, you’ll get new clips and examples of what you can do, so you can stop including the school newspaper or whatever it is – but it gives you somewhere to start from.

If you find you really don’t have anything, or you’re worried that your work is inadequate, it’s time to start creating writing samples. Make your own portfolio. Sure, it won’t have been published by anyone else, but what a lot of companies and editors are looking for is proof that you can write and examples of your writing style. They want to see those things a lot more than an arbitrary publication of something. An unpublished example may not be as influential as a published one, but it’s a place to start and it shows the most important thing: how well you can write.

There’s one easy way to start producing your own clips, and that’s to start a blog. Especially if you have a professional website – a blog is a perfect way to add to it. If you don’t have a professional website, it’s time to build one or to just start a blog anyway.

Now, what blogs do is give you an opportunity to get your writing out there. When you approach someone – especially if you have a target focus, say cosmetics – then you can show potential clients links to four brilliant blog posts on the latest trends in the cosmetics industry. You’ve got a head-start. If you particularly want to write about trade fairs or focus groups, start a blog and do it. It shows you can write, that you have the knowledge and that you’ve taken the initiative and that you enjoy writing and are good at it.

Another approach – and you can do this instead of having your own blog but I’d suggest doing both – is to approach the owners of prominent blogs, especially in your specialism, and offer to write a guest post.

Now, some blogs offer to pay for guest posts but most don’t so you’ll have to make a judgement as to whether that crosses the line into working for free and being exploited or whether it’s a case of increasing your platform, getting your name out there and helping out a blog you enjoy. I’ve done guest posts for some blogs but turned down others. If the blog is making money but not paying writers, then I’m not that keen, whereas if it’s something I feel strongly about or a platform I really like, I’m more keen to go ahead. We’ve all got a line and while I’d never support working for free to get started, where you stand on guest posts is something you have to work out for yourself. But, potentially, it’s an opportunity to get your name out there into the sector you want to work in. You get a link, a clip and some good contacts in the sector as well. We do have a whole episode on how to get started with guest-posting, which I’ll link to in the show-notes, so if you want to know more, do check that out.

Now, another approach you can take is to just write some articles that show off your best writing, your knowledge of your subject, and have them on hand so if a client wants to see more of what you can do, they can have a read. This works well if you have a specialism because you can write your best stuff about the area you know well. If you’re more of a generalist, it still shows your ability to write, be persuasive, be funny, depending on what’s needed. Now this is an option some people choose. Personally, I tend to think that if you’re going to the trouble of writing these articles, it’s worth creating a blog and putting them on there so people can find you there rather than you always having to find people. However, if you really don’t want a blog or website, then write four or five exceptionally good articles and have them ready for if someone wants to see what you can do.

Now, with these or having your own blog, it’s so important to do your best work. If these are examples to potential employers and clients, then they need to be as good as they can be. Make sure everything’s spelt correctly, check commas and capitals, make sure everything’s worded in the best way. A few hours now will pay dividends over time as you use them.

Another way to get some published writing experience is to do some writing on a voluntary basis for a charity or non-profit. Normally, both Lorrie and I do strongly advise against working for free – almost without exception. But, one of the exceptions we share is if you want to volunteer your time and skills, then doing some free writing for a non-profit can be a really good way to do that. If you’re starting out and you want published examples of work, approach a charity you like and support, and offer them some free writing – a pack of press releases, an annual report – and ask them in return whether you can use the work in your portfolio. I imagine most charities will bite your hand off – who wouldn’t want free writing from a professional writer? And you both benefit. So again, I wouldn’t approach a business and offer free writing, but if you find yourself wanting to volunteer some time, have a chat to a charity whose work you support and see if you can come to some kind of agreement.

English: email envelope

English: email envelope (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are other ways to get published and hired if you don’t have a portfolio bursting with tonnes of experience and published article. A vital one – whether you have a portfolio or not – is to make your pitch or query email outstanding. This is what grabs attention, whether the recipient is a newspaper editor who gets 60 pitches a day or a busy marketing manager who needs a copywriter. The first thing they see if the first few words of their email, then your first sentence, so to get them to the end of your pitch email, it has to be really good. And if it’s good enough, they’re already persuaded you can write – so do make sure your pitch is as good as you can make it. Don’t reuse the same one again and again, bring in something they’ve recently published, make it relevant to them. You should also bring in your strengths. OK, you don’t have a lot of professional work behind you, but what you can do is show you can write by the content of your email.

Also, emphasise the strengths you have. Have you previously had experience in the sector? Going back to the cosmetics example, were you previously a make-up artist? Were you a marketing executive in a huge make-up company? This is something people want to know and could make the difference in getting you the job.

Your strengths and experience are so important. Do you want to write about weaning a baby? Maybe you’ve just weaned your baby. This helps. This will make someone want to hire you over someone who wants to write the same article but doesn’t have kids. Make the most of the experience you have – make it apply to what you want to write for this person, and make them see that. You do have strengths and expertise that you might not immediately think of, but that do apply and can make you the perfect person for the job. So good, in fact, that they forget that they haven’t seen what else you’ve had published.

Also, the way you portray yourself is important. If you sound apologetic – “Oh, sorry I don’t have any experience” – they have no real reason to have faith in you, so go in with confidence. Make sure you know what you’re talking about. Research in advance so you’re not taken by surprise by an awkward question. It’s always a good idea to be honest.

Now, I’m not saying open your email with, “I HAVE NO EXPERIENCE!”, because it doesn’t portray you in a good light, but if they ask whether you have experience and you don’t, say no. Don’t just say no – say “No, I don’t have published articles, but I have written this and this (attached) and I worked in that industry for four years, and it’s also a hobby of mine.” So you’ve turned a negative into a positive, but never lie. If you’re attaching articles to an email, don’t lie and say they’ve been published – don’t mock up some fake Time Magazine layout! If they find out, you’ll never get hired and you’ll damage your reputation.

Similarly, if they ask whether you’ve written about orchestral instruments before, and you haven’t, say “No, but I have written about guitars.” Or “No, but I used to be a piano teacher.” Turn it round to what you can offer. Don’t mislead anyone, or tell lies, but present yourself in the best way you can.

There are also some tips that apply mainly to commercial copywriters rather than the other kinds of writing work we’ve talked about in this episode, such as newspaper and magazine feature writing. The next tips apply to commercial copywriting predominantly.

Firstly, testimonials. If a client can see – ideally on your website – that other clients speak highly of you, this will really encourage them. Make the most of the good feedback you get. Be careful naming people if you haven’t got permission but do try and make the most of it.

The second is to have a filled-in LinkedIn profile and get endorsements and recommendations on there. I think people have even more faith in those testimonials because you have to use full names. You can’t make them up unless you make some kind of fake account and that’s not a big problem on LinkedIn, so if someone sees a testimonial on your LinkedIn profile, they have more reason to believe it. Plus the new-ish endorsements, where you can click a +1 equivalent to various skills that someone’s said they have. So if you’re on the site, it’ll pop up and ask me whether Lorrie has skills in literary editing and I’ll click yes – she gets an extra +1 for that skill. It’s a good thing to do in terms of good karma as well – not least because people get a notification that you’ve endorsed them, and they might do the same for you. But don’t do it always for that because sometimes doing things without self-interest is more attractive.

But yes, if you do have lots of LinkedIn endorsements, make the most of them. There are plenty of ways to get freelance writing work when you don’t have clips or published articles. You can’t get every job without clips – you’re unlikely to get a four-page feature in Cosmopolitan if you can’t show them any examples of writing – but if you start with trade press, maybe you can. Or if you get some links from guest posts you’ve written for prominent blogs in a particular industry, that will help you approach other people in that same industry. There are ways around it. Sometimes they won’t be enough but you can make the most of your situation, so don’t use “I don’t have clips” as an excuse not to approach people. Because that’s the only guarantee you’ll never get any work. Part of being a freelance writer is approaching people and getting no response, or getting, “No thanks, not at the moment.” It’s just part of the job and you have to face it. It might not be pleasant but it’s how things are, so if you’re going to be a freelance writer, you’ll have to get your head around it.

And sure, you might lose out on a few jobs when you’re starting out because you lack published work but plenty of people get their first job without any. Both Lorrie and I rarely get asked for examples and that doesn’t seem to be because I have lots of examples on my website, because Lorrie doesn’t and she still doesn’t get asked for examples. Be persuasive in your approach and they already know you can write well.

And now it’s time for the Little Bird Recommendation of the Week! My recommendation this week is a blog post called, “10 Very Costly Typos” from the mental floss website. As writers and proof-readers, we have to spot typos all the time.

There have been situations where typos have cost companies actual millions of dollars. If you’ve ever doubted the need for a proof-reader, this post will make sure you get especially careful about anything you publish. A book that had to be recalled at a cost of $20,000 for accidentally typing a recipe where instead of “seasoning with salt and ground black pepper” it recommended seasoning with salt and ground “black people.”, so 7,000 copies had to be destroyed. Or the bible publisher that was fined £3,000 in 1631 – a lot of money! –  for saying that one of the 10 commandments was “Thou shalt commit adultery” or whether it was the poor guy who sold a 150-year-old bottle of beer on eBay but put a typo in the name. Someone else spotted it, bought it for $304 and sold it for half a million. Gutted for him! I’ll put the link in the show notes. It’s slightly light-hearted but it goes to show that not checking things really can cost a lot of money.

So I hope this episode has been helpful. The message is, don’t hold back – put yourself forward even if you think you’ve got nothing to show what you can do. Follow the tips I’ve given, let us know on Facebook how you get on.  Check us out at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, come say hello on social media and tune in next time. Thank you for listening – I’ve been Philippa Willitts.

Podcast Episode 34: Sociable or Spammy? Pitching your marketing to be enticing, not annoying

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Freelancers need to constantly market themselves and their services in order to keep the work coming in. To make sure that your self-promotional efforts hit the mark and don’t put potential clients off or even offend them, Lorrie and I made this podcast episode to summarise some of the most crucial dos and don’ts for four different marketing platforms.

Show Notes

Buffer App

Condescending Corporate Brand Page

Writing a Better Elevator Pitch

How to work long periods at your desk and come out healthy

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Podcast Episode 33: How to deal with a crisis of faith

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Freelancing can be a really tough business. While it’s a common preconception that working from home and working for yourself are an easy ride, like any other job being a freelance copywriter has its ups and downs. In this solo episode, Lorrie discusses what to do if you feel like your freelance writing career has reached crisis point. She talks about how to tell the difference between a career crisis and a temporary blip, and outlines a number of helpful solutions to common freelancing problems.

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Show Notes

How To Be A Happy Freelance Worker: http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture-professionals-network/culture-professionals-blog/2011/nov/04/arts-happy-freelance-tips

27 – Dealing With Feeling Overwhelmed: http://alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com/entry/2013-02-26T03_00_00-08_00

Episode 21 – Managing Freelance Projects And Planning Your Time Effectively: http://alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com/entry/2013-01-08T03_00_00-08_00

Episode 11 – Overcoming Isolation As A Freelance Writer: http://alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com/entry/2012-10-23T03_00_00-07_00

Episode 9 – The Sad Smell Of Desperation: http://alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com/entry/2012-10-12T04_05_24-07_00

Transcript

Hello, and welcome to Episode 33 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, iTunes, Stitcher Smart Radio or on the Podomatic page itself. You can also find the link to our Facebook page, where you can chat to me and my co-host Pip, ask us any questions you might have and give feedback on the episodes you’ve listened to so far. At the Podomatic page, you’ll also find links to my websites and social media feeds, as well as those of the lovely Philippa.

I’m Lorrie Hartshorn and today’s episode is a solo one, so tune in next week to hear from me and Pip as a dynamic duo – if you click on subscribe, you’ll get a notification the next time an episode is posted.

Day 23 - STRESS

Day 23 – STRESS (Photo credit: isabisa)

This week, I’m going to be talking about what to do if you feel like your freelance career is in crisis and everything’s tumbling down around your ears. Feeling like your career is failing is a horrible, awful thing, and when you work for yourself, the isolation can increase the sense of panic and confusion a hundred fold. When you’ve got no one to bounce ideas off and share your worries with, it’s easy to imagine yourself standing at the edge of a really bad decision with no one to tell you otherwise.

First off, breathe.  Career fear is something everybody goes through at some point or another. It feels real at the time – it is real – but that doesn’t mean you won’t get through it. No matter what happens, it won’t last forever. Decisions about a job won’t mean the difference between life and death, and hopefully this podcast episode will help you to put your worries into perspective a little bit and face a tough decision with your logical head on. If the worst comes to the worst, you can always come and have a chat to me or Pip (or both of us – we work well as a pair, as you might have worked out!) and we’ll do our best to advise.

When you start to feel like your freelance career is flagging, and the red flags are going up, and  a little voice in your head is saying, “Maybe this isn’t working?”, it’s important to determine whether it’s a crisis or a just a really bad blip.

Ask yourself how long you’ve been feeling this way. Can you think of anything that triggered it? If there’s an event that seemed to start you off on this train of thought, is it work related or something else? Either way, you need to ask yourself whether stopping freelancing will be a solution to the perceived problem.

If you’re not sure what’s causing the general negativity, a good exercise is to get a pen and paper and do a spider diagram. Jot down words that represent how you’re feeling on there – it doesn’t matter what you write, just keeping scribbling for a couple of minutes and see what you come up with.

You might notice that you’re just generally fed up, in which case it might not be your career that’s the problem. Maybe you’ve had a bad time of it recently in other ways – family worries, relationship trouble, depression, anxiety, boredom – all of these things can make you feel like you want to abandon ship. Whether jumping ship will help solve your problems or add to them is another matter, so even if you feel like you want to throw in the towel now, now, now, be a professional. That’s going to be a common theme throughout this episode – it’s important that you conduct yourself as a professional, no matter what decision you come to. So make yourself go through the motions – sit down and have a good hard think.

Blips aren’t always tiny little hiccoughs – sometimes they can feel horrible, and sometimes they can go on for ages. What I mean by a blip is a period of negative feeling, a temporary problem or a resolvable one. If you’re having a down period in your freelance career, it might be time for a reality check. Reassessing your expectations of freelancing will do you good whether it’s a blip or not – a lot of people have a wobble about three to six months into a freelance career when they’ve got over the novelty period, realised there really is nothing good on TV and started to come to terms with all the not-so-great bits of being self-employed. Feelings of overwhelm can start to settle in, and you need to work out what your freelance career is likely to entail in the long term in order to determine whether you’re going to be able to hack it.

Every job has its downsides and, as Pip and I have mentioned in previous episodes, being a self-employed writer is no different. It can actually be even more of a shock when you start a career that you think is going to be just up your street and you find that you’re experiencing difficulties. Maybe you thought it was going to be easy. Maybe you thought working from home would be less stressful. Maybe you’ve been shocked to find that your writing isn’t as ‘good’ as you thought it was. Or maybe you’re finding that doing something you really enjoy all day every day is taking the enjoyment right out of it. These are all totally normal things, and there are ways to manage them – but it’s up to you to decide if you want to try those. You do, of course, have to have the desire and determination to stick with a freelance career – if you don’t want to, that’s another thing entirely!

Some of the other most common blips are as follows:

– feeling burnt out: taking on too much work, not being productive enough in the time you’ve got, not scheduling enough down time into your days, weeks, months or year and getting to the point where you feel like you need a holiday – preferably a six month one, from life. Some of our past episodes have dealt with how to plan your time effectively and make the most of what you’ve got, so really do go back and have a listen to some of the tips. They’re quite easy to implement but can makes a huge difference to the way you’re feeling. A career’s not about working forever, and one of the biggest draws of a freelance career is that you can achieve a healthier work-life balance if you just get it right. Episode 27 is about how to cope with acute feelings of overwhelm, and episode 21 is more generally about planning your time.

– isolation – isolation can be a horrible thing when you’re a freelancer. If you’re a sociable person, particularly (but even if you’re not) being on your own all day every day for the rest of forever can be  a daunting prospect.  It can feel awful not to have someone there to bounce ideas off or chat about last night’s telly with.  And isolation doesn’t just make you feel lonely – humans are essentially sociable creatures, even if we might not always feel that way, so even if you think you like being on your own a lot, it’s important to make time for contact with others.  Isolation can lead to loneliness, anxiety, depression, jittery feelings and serious cabin fever.

Pip has been known to forget what other humans look like during her busy periods, and I’ve been known to terrify the postman by being super chatty when he’s the only person I’ve seen in days. It happens to us all, so you need to take care of yourself and ensure that you work contact with others into your job, even if that’s just a trip to the supermarket at lunch-time and a phonecall to a client rather than another email. Episode 11 is specifically about how to deal with isolation, because it really is that common a problem, so have a listen and try to take on board some of the tips we share. And, if you’re really feeling desperate, you can always come and have a chat to me or Pip online – or both of us, for that matter: you may have noticed but we do work well as a pair!

– low salary: When you start out as a freelance writer, it’s likely that you won’t be making as much as you did in a salaried position – unless you had a really low paying job or you’ve landed on your freelance feet with some very well paying clients. Either way, it’s easy to have a panic when you realise you’re living on savings and finding work is getting to an urgent point. As I mention in episode 9, the key thing is to avoid coming across as desperate to your clients. There are ways to boost your income and client base, but begging for work, working for free – or next to nothing, and airing your panic on a public platform is no way to do that.

Now, I realise I’ve outlined problems there while directing you elsewhere for solutions, but my point is essentially that none of those things I’ve just mentioned means that freelancing is wrong for you. They all have solutions.

When it comes to deciding whether these problems are terminal for you, you need to ask yourself when you went freelance in the first place. Maybe you’re not achieving some of those aims yet, but have you given yourself enough time? Are those aims still in reach – or could they be with the solutions we’ve talked about? And do they still matter to you?

My Workplace 2

My Workplace 2 (Photo credit: davemelbourne)

If you find that you inherently miss working for a company, for example, and you want to be able to do eight hours writing work a day and forget about the rest of it, it might well be that freelancing isn’t for you. Perhaps an in-house copywriting or marketing position would be better.

But, if you find that you miss the contact you used to have with people but still want to run your own business, for example, maybe shared working space and regular working lunches could be a solution. So try to drill down and find out whether you’re unhappy as a freelancer or unhappy because it’s not working right yet. You probably spent a lot of time and effort getting into freelancing, so really do make sure that you’re not considering giving up for a solvable problem.

If your freelance career is going well generally but you’re falling out of love with it a bit – even if there are no specific problems and everything’s going well – there are a few things you can do to refresh your career.

Firstly, maybe it’s time for new clients. That doesn’t necessarily mean getting rid of the old ones unless those relationships really aren’t working for either party, but targeting new clients can offer you a challenge and remind you why you enjoyed freelancing in the first place. So maybe make room for a few new one-off projects. Similarly, why not try targeting new sectors? If you work in, say, recycling and waste management, renewable energy is a short step. Or, if you work with careers services, lifestyle coaching isn’t too far from that. Alternatively, you could go for something completely new – you’ll need to do a lot of research, lots of training, familiarise yourself with the trade press publications in that sector, plus all the big names. It can be just the challenge you need.

If you’re happy with the sectors you work in, why not consider ways you could diversify your service offerings? If you offer copywriting, why not branch out into proof-reading and editing? Again, this isn’t an instant switch – there’s a lot of research and training that needs doing, but there are plenty of online resources that can help you get to grips with new skills like this. Or, get social media savvy and offer consultancy and social media management services. Find services that suit the aspects of your personality. If you’re quite spontaneous and miss chatting with people, maybe a couple of real-time social media management services could be up your street? If you want to write in a more chatty way without dealing with PR crises and customers in real time, how about offering blogging services? Maybe you want to get back to your roots and deal with local firms – why not offer full service marketing strategies for a couple of SMEs? There are always ways you can tailor your job description to better suit you – after all, you’re the boss! Don’t stick with stuff that makes you unhappy.

I’ll finish up with one important point, and that’s self-care. Working from home is tough, so you need to take advantage of the situation to look after yourself properly. It’s easy to get lazy about things like going to bed on time, getting up on time, eating breakfast, having a proper lunch, getting exercise every day, but these are hugely important things – it’s easy to underestimate sometimes how sedentary a freelance writing lifestyle can be and how easy it can be to slip into bad lifestyle habits, like late nights, late mornings, skipping meals, watching day-time TV, working in bed, essentially letting things slide. You need to remember that you’re doing a job and that you need to take care of yourself – and your career – properly.

Sometimes, the solution is time off. That might be a day off a week for the next month, or it might be a week off now before you reach snapping point. Remember, while it’s not good to disappear off the radar, health is priority one, so if you feel like you’re at breaking point, stick your out of office on, pop a professional sounding message on your answerphone and take time off like a responsible adult. There’s a really helpful article from the Guardian actually – it’s a couple of years old now, but it’s called How To Be A Happy Freelancer (I’ll link to it in the show-notes) and it has some great advice on how to keep yourself happy and healthy as a freelancer.

Of course, one other option is to reduce the number of freelance hours you do and seek out part-time work . This could be part-time writing work, say for an agency or as an in-house writer, or it could be something completely different like admin, retail, cleaning or bar-tending. Although part-time work is hard to find, particularly at the moment, you might find that you just need the stability and variety that a different job provides.

Ultimately, the decision to stick with freelancing or call it a day is yours – only you’ll know what you really feel and you’re the one who has to deal with the change of circumstances if you decide to quit.

My advice would be the same to you as it would be to someone deciding to quit a salaried position to go freelance: don’t do anything until you’re on a stable footing. If you do decide to go back to salaried employment, take note of the following points:

–  find a job to go to before you stop freelancing

– make sure you’ve got money in the bank

– make sure you’re not letting any clients down: just because you won’t be freelancing any more doesn’t mean you can flick two fingers to your clients – even the really annoying ones – and ride off into the sunset. There’s a delicate phrase – “Shit sticks” and it’s true. If you let people down, cancel on them last minute or tell them where to go, your reputation is unlikely to recover. So don’t burn your bridges. Give people notice; help them find someone else if appropriate. Finish the work you’ve got on and wrap it up like a professional. This also leaves the door open for a return to freelancing if you decide later on that it suits you or your lifestyle better.

So don’t burn your bridges.  You never know what you’ll fancy doing in future. Your lifestyle or family situation might change. The economy might change – again! You might be made redundant, you might get ill, your significant other might get abducted by aliens, leaving you to look after the kids, pay the bills and sort everything out. You just don’t know.

Do go back and have a listen to some of the episodes I’ve mentioned in this one. If you’ve got a particular problem, as I say, do come and have a chat with me and Pip. We’ll always do our best to offer practical advice – although we obviously can’t tell you what to do, it really is good to talk!

I really hope this episode has been useful in letting you know that you’re not alone when it comes to having freelance hiccoughs. Life isn’t always smooth sailing, and there are plenty of challenges to face and overcome, however you choose to do that.

Tune in next week to catch Pip and me again – we’ve got some lovely new topics to cover and, if there’s anything you’d particularly like to hear, come and let us know on our Podomatic page – alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, on our Facebook or on our social media profiles.

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

Podcast Episode 32: The Pros and Cons of Long-Term Clients

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Should you take on one-off projects as a freelancer, or only work with clients who promise long-term work? What are the risks associated with long-term clients? And how can freelancers turn clients who started off with a one-off project into clients who work with you for an extended periods of time? In this podcast, Lorrie and I cover it all!

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Transcript

LH: Hello and welcome to Episode 32 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 in any number of ways including RSS feed, iTunes, Stitcher Smart Radio or just on the Podomatic page itself. You can also find the link to our Facebook page where you can post any thoughts or questions you might have, and there are also links to our websites and individual social media feeds.

I’m Lorrie Hartshorn…

PW: And I’m Philippa Willitts, and today we are going to talk about the pros and cons of having long term clients.

As a freelancer some of the clients you get will be a one off, they might want a particular task doing and then that’s that, whereas others want you on a more regular basis, either doing a set amount of work each week or each month, or sometimes you work with them over a long period of time but just as and when they need you.

So yeah, so we’re going to look at there are benefits and there are disadvantages really of both long and short term clients, and so that’s what we’re going to look at today.

LH: Like with deciding whether to charge by the hour or by the project deciding whether to have long term clients or just one off clients will actually shape the way you work quite significantly and like with the payment options it’s something that needs to be right for you. You know it varies from person to person. It might be something that you find you have only a little control over when you first start out because you just take in whatever work you can get, but as you start to see results from your marketing and your business development you can decide which sectors of the market to target and how, and that will give you slightly more control over whether you attract people who are looking for a one term collaboration or a long term collaboration.

01 (49)

01 (49) (Photo credit: Victor1558)

PW: Yeah, as Lorrie said when you first start out you don’t have much choice really over taking long or short term clients. You take what you can get and that’s the right thing to do, but quite often what begins in a discussion as a one off project will turn out to provide you with long term work anyway.

Clients are understandably nervous about taking someone on they don’t know and saying, “Okay, we want six months work from you.” So they might well initially say, “Can you write three press releases for us?” and then if they like not only your work but how you work and, you know, your attitude and that kind of thing it can develop into a long term client.

So equally if you would prefer lots of long term clients don’t turn down work that looks like it’s just a one off because that’s often how long term work starts.

LH: No, that’s very true. You know somebody might say, “Oh, we’d like a website redoing” but, you know, if they’re integrating a blog into their website, for example, you might pick up on the clues that if they can’t do their own website content they’re not likely to be able to do good SEO blog content either. So have a look for the opportunities that appear to be presenting themselves and then if it is only a one off thing you’ve not really lost anything.

PW: No, not at all.

LH: If you prefer to work long term with people a one off collaboration, it’s no great loss, it’s something for the portfolio and it’s something that will keep your bills paid.

PW: And it’s a new contact, someone who might come back later or recommend you to someone else.

LH: Definitely.

PW: I mean in terms of the positives of having long term clients I think the most obvious thing in favour of it really is that it results in regular predictable work, which results in regular predictable income. You can start carefully to rely on a set amount of work coming in and you can feel reassured that week after week after week you might not have to do as much marketing or finding new clients because you do continually get assignments from these one or two or four clients.

LH: Yeah, definitely, and in terms of managing your workload as well, whether you’re doing the work, or in my case you’re doing some of the work and then outsourcing other pieces of work, it helps you to get into a regular rhythm and that’s something that I quite like and I know that both you, Pip, and I have traditionally busy and quiet days every week.

PW: Yeah.

LH: You know for Pip I know that Wednesdays and Thursdays are very, very busy days, whereas perhaps Mondays and Fridays are days on which you can fit in slightly more internal deadlines, things like marketing, admin, finance, that kind of thing.

PW: Yeah, I mean it definitely helps you to plan your week out, doesn’t it, because you may get someone contact you on Monday and say, “Oh, can you do this by Friday?” but equally you know that every Wednesday you have three blog posts to do for that client and you can have a picture of how your week’s looking.

LH: Yeah, I tend to just block out days or hours of days more accurately.

PW: Yeah.

LH: And know what I’m doing on a Monday morning or what I’m doing on a Monday lunchtime. You know I know that I need to get the story suggestions over to certain clients by Tuesday afternoon. So it helps me to just shape the rest of my week and know when I can fit in ad hoc pieces of work, if somebody wants something one off, and when I can’t.

PW: Yeah, definitely, definitely I’m the same. You can also feel reasonably confident with long term clients that you know what you’re doing and that the work you get will be something you’re familiar with and capable of. If you get used to a mixture of, say, case studies and blog posts you can get really good at doing not just those styles of writing but doing them in the particular style that your client needs.

LH: Definitely and it’s nice to become a valued part of a client company, even though you’re external, because while you’re freelancing you’re not employed by anybody particular. Sometimes it is a little bit isolating and it’s nice to feel that, you know, over time you get to know the people in the company and you get to know the big players in the company sector and you get to know the trade press publications and you can start, if you want, to get more involved in the marketing process, or yes, as Pip says, you can just end up really, really savvy about what the client wants and you’ve reached the point where you deliver exactly the kind of content that they want every time, and often without much input from the client themselves.

PW: Yeah.

LH: Yeah, I have certain clients who say, “Right, we need blog posts. We need x number of blog posts per week. Can you come up with some ideas?” and I know the kind of thing that works for them and I know the kind of thing that people in their sector will want to read about. So that’s something that I can be really useful for them.

PW: Definitely. I know like with some of my regular clients that I write blog posts and news updates and things for when I first started with them they’d give me very clear instructions, whereas now they might just send a 10 word email, “Hi Philippa, can you cover these Facebook changes?” and then a link and that’s that. They know I know how they like it, I know what they expect from me and it works really well and what you say as well about kind of suggesting your own work, you can do that more and more I think as you get to know clients and as they get to know you. For instance, some of the clients I blog for give me a set… like tell me what to write about each week, whereas others leave it very much they give me the general gist of their blog and I find the subjects and write about them, but you can also get yourself into a position where you can suggest extra work, like you could say, “Oh I’ve just written up a blog post about this but actually I think you could get a really good press release out of it. Would you like me to take that on?”

LH: Definitely, definitely, definitely and it’s nice, you can do the same thing internally. You know I have some clients who’ve been on board for years and I can say to my contact person in that client, “I’ve not heard anything from Linda for a while” or, “I’ve not heard anything from Jim for a while. What’s going on in x department? What’s happening over in y?” You know you can realise that this company has different service areas and different key members of staff who are likely to have good ideas or they’re up to something that is worth blogging about or worth writing a news story about, and sometimes it just takes you to prompt your contact person.

PW: Yeah.

LH: You can come up with some really good stories and really good extra work out of it. You know it’s a win-win for everybody. Content marketing is hugely important for a company. It’s massively, massively important to have really good quality content, not just for, you know, the strictest SEO purposes but for viral marketing purposes, you know for share and share purposes, and if you can help your client come up with things like that it’s going to be just an extra string to your bow.

PW: Yeah.

LH: And besides anything else it’s a nice feeling to know that you’re an important part of a company’s marketing team and the thing is if you’re really savvy and you’re really forward thinking with your client you get recommended and word of mouth is such a powerful thing. You know I’ve had people contact me on LinkedIn and say, “Oh, you know, x person at x company’s told me about you. I thought we’d connect on here because I might be looking for some content work.” You know it really does work, you know, and I end up working for several companies who all know each other in various ways just because word of mouth has travelled from company to company. It’s a really nice thing.

PW: Yeah, definitely and there are different ways, like I mentioned, that long term clients can work. I know I have some, like I’ve mentioned, that I’ll do a certain number of blog posts for a week, or a certain number pieces of work for a week, and there are others that are long term; I’ve worked with them over a long period of time but they don’t need weekly work or monthly work, it’s just that…

LH: As and when really.

PW: Yeah, once or twice a month they’ll email me with a list of 12 articles they want and I’ll do them. So it’s not predictable in the way that we’ve been talking about can be quite nice with long term clients but it’s still somebody you already know, it’s somebody who trusts you already, it’s somebody who you presumably work well with and so you can have clients that are long term but not necessarily regular.

If there’s a client who wants more regular work out of you over a long period of time they might work on a retainer basis where they pay you a set amount per month, for instance, for a certain amount of work.

LH: Yeah, I mean retainers are a really good way to secure the long term arrangement and it goes for your client as well because with the retainer… I work on a retainer basis for a couple of companies and it tends to be that I invoice them at the start of every month for a set amount of money and they expect a certain number of, say for one client, press releases, news stories and blog articles per month.

PW: Yeah, I work that way with several clients as well.

LH: Yeah, so the number of hours for me, because I work on an hourly basis, the number of hours per month is arranged and I know what I can do in that number of hours. So effectively the number of pieces of work is arranged.

PW: Sure. I do it on a piece of work basis in general but yeah.

LH: Yeah, yeah it’s effectively the same thing because I tell them I can get x done in one hour.

PW: Sure.

LH: You know, so yeah, but I mean it’s a great way to work with people because then, you know, you get paid on time because the company’s used to paying you the same amount on the same day you know, but you’re not tied into anything, you’re not their employee. You know if they decide they don’t want you anymore or you decide you don’t want to work with them anymore, of course you give notice, you know that’s just well…

PW: Yeah and you complete the work that’s been paid for.

LH: Oh absolutely, yeah, you don’t just disappear. “Thanks for the £400, I’m off.”

PW: [Laughs]. I think a really important thing actually, if a company wants to hire you on a retainer basis is to be very, very clear about what that will mean from your end. Don’t let it be some kind of open ended, “We’ll pay you £400 a month and we’ll send you what work looks, you know, like it’s your area” because you could end up really in trouble then. Be very clear what it will involve. Like Lorrie said, she would do it on an hourly basis, you know, “For £400 a month I will do x number of hours work and this is probably this number of words” or whatever. I would do it on a, you know, this number of blog posts, this number of press releases, whatever basis. I’d be more likely to. I do do some work on an hourly basis but…

LH: Yeah, I completely second what Pip said. Get it down in writing. Get it down in writing exactly what you’re going to get. It doesn’t matter if it’s like a proper agreement or if you put it in an email and ask them to confirm by reply that they’re happy with that because then you have it, you have it in your hand what they’ve agreed to.

PW: Yeah, definitely.

LH: Because you know I do have cheeky clients, you know I do have clients that say, “Couldn’t you do a couple extra?” and I say, “Well if you pay me for a couple of extra then yes.” You know I could do a couple extra but as it is, no.

PW: Yeah, no absolutely, absolutely. The last thing you want to do is find yourself doing £1200 worth of work for your £400 and you’ve got no recourse because you agreed to them sending you over what looks appropriate. You know you can get yourself in real trouble and…

LH: Yeah, you just find yourself quitting if that were the case because I wouldn’t say that you’ve got no recourse but the only course of action you have is to quit, which is not ideal.

PW: Yeah, yeah.

LH: You know you can’t do anything to them if you don’t have a formal agreement you would just get more and more resentful and then stop working for them and that’s not really what anybody wants, and people forget that you’re a freelancer and that you’re a single person and that you’re not a company you know, because we all like to feel like we’re getting a bit extra from a company, you know.

PW: Of course.

LH: I bought a pair of shoes the other day and there was a scuff on them and I asked if I could have some money off and she said, “Yeah, yeah that’s fine, we’ll give you 10% off and, you know, it’s non-refundable.” So I said that’s fine and when it came to the till she knocked off a fiver out of £15. I was like that’s a big 10%, but I felt like I’d won the day.

PW: Yeah, definitely.

LH: I just won these shoes.

PW: Well getting a freebie, I’m a real sucker for a freebie. Because I live in a big city there’s quite often people in town giving out free samples of…

LH: Ooo, free chocolate.

PW: Yeah, some chocolate or toothpaste or bread or all sorts of things really, and the joy you get just for getting a free loaf of bread, you feel like you’ve beaten the system.

LH: You’re a sucker for marketing.

PW: I know, it’s really bad but you do feel… people want to get the most out of what they get and if what we just talked about in terms of retainers you might be thinking, “But £400, but for how much and what do I do?” Do go back to the beginning of the year. We did three episodes about finance.

LH: Yes.

PW: We did one about how to decide what to charge, one about kind of the nuts and bolts of invoicing and charging and one about how to increase your rates and if what we talked about in terms of retainers just left your head spinning with 8000 questions you’ll probably find that a lot of them are answered by those three episodes.

LH: And if not come and have a chat. Yeah, we’re happy to go over things. If you let us know on our Facebook or our social media that you’ve not followed something, that you’ve had a listen to those three episodes and you’re still not getting it we’re happy to chat to you on Facebook, we’re happy to chat on Twitter, we’re happy to even record a podcast if we think there’s enough in it for a whole episode.

PW: Yeah, absolutely because, you know, we’re aware that while we do try to make all the information we give as accessible as possible because we’re both doing the job full time, and have done for a while, there may be things that we think are just a given that we’ve kind of maybe forgotten are more complicated than they sound. So, you know, if you feel a bit lost or if you’ve got any questions that we haven’t covered yeah, do let us know.

LH: Definitely you know, and just to sum up on the retainer business, I think it is a pro. I think being on a retainer is a positive thing because you’ll find that retainers are mostly monthly and it’s just a certain amount of your monthly target, because I have a monthly target for my salary, it’s a certain amount that’s accounted for and it’s a certain amount that, like I said about the weekly work, you get used to it being in the rhythm of your month.

PW: Yeah.

LH: You know you set aside a day or two days, or whatever, you know perhaps spread out actually over several days but that amount of time and you get the work done and it’s nice, it’s nice to have somebody on board as long as you’ve made sure that the terms are favourable to both you and the client.

PW: Yes, absolutely, because much as you don’t want to feel resentful about the work you’re doing you also are never going to have a good relationship with them if they feel resentful about how much they’re paying and whether they’re getting value out of it.

LH: Yeah, I suppose that’s one point to make before we move on from retainers, is that communication is good. You know if you have a long term client…

PW: Vital, yeah.

LH: Yeah, better than good, it’s vital, you’re right. If you have a long term client talk to them. You know I have long term clients, I have long term connections, I have long term people working for me and it’s important to check in with these people regularly and say, “How are you feeling?” Like don’t invite clients to ask you to drop your rates. They’ll say, “So how are you feeling about that massive invoice that I just sent you?” you know because if you’ve taken the advice that we’ve given you and you’ve worked out your hourly rate or your project rate fairly then alright, your client might be stinging when they get a large invoice but they will be paying a large invoice because you’ve given them a large amount of work, but what I mean is sort of say to them, “How as that press release? Was that in line with everything you wanted? How are you feeling at the moment? How’s your marketing going? Do you need any more? Do you need any different types? I’ve noticed that we haven’t done any case studies for a while, how about that?” you know keep talking and you’re likely to find that they’re more satisfied with your work and that they’re more likely to carry on with you on the long term.

PW: Plus a few months ago I had a long term client who pays me at the beginning of each month for a certain number of news stories each month and after this working well for a good eight or nine months suddenly there were three or four months where the payment was late in a row after that never happening before, and so you know the first time I overlooked it and the second time but then after a few more I actually got in touch with him and I said, “You know I really enjoy working with you but I’ve noticed the last few months you’ve paid late and I don’t know whether actually you’ve got some kind of ambivalence now towards the work we’re doing. So I just wanted to check in with you because if there’s something you’re not happy about it’s much better if you can tell me. If you want to change the work we’re doing that’s fine but could you just let me know” and I kind of opened the…

LH: Channels.

PW: Yeah, exactly, opened the channels of communication and what actually happened was that there was an issue with the finance department of his business. It wasn’t anything to do with him not being happy, it was a communication problem between him and his finance team. So the invoices weren’t being processed properly but it meant that I felt better because I was confident then that I hadn’t done something wrong or that he wasn’t pleased with my work and our relationship got back on track again because it had been getting quite awkward.

LH: Well of course it will if somebody’s paying you late and you don’t know why and they just carry on doing the same thing.

PW: Yeah, yeah. So that kind of communication, it’s vital in every… you know in all sorts of areas really.

LH: Definitely and especially in an age where, and we’ve talked about this before, where email is so prevalent over phone contact it can be easy to really distance yourself and, you know, some people might like that but I really don’t enjoy having clients for whom I produce work but with whom I never speak.

PW: Yeah.

LH: Even if it’s just a bit of chat over email. I have some clients, and I’ve had them for months or years, well not years but I’ve had some clients for months and I’ve literally never spoken to them.

PW: Yes, yes it is weird.

LH: So I don’t know what they sound like.

PW: Yeah.

LH: You know and some clients I will probably never speak to on the phone. You know some are in different time zones, some aren’t native speakers of English and I think they’re just more comfortable with communicating by email, some we just don’t need to but it’s nice to have a little bit of friendliness and I think if you show yourself to be open to communication, and you communicate in a nice way, again that’s going to facilitate a good working relationship in future.

PW: Anyway, we were talking about the pros and cons of long term clients, so I think we need to get back to that.

In terms of the cons one of the negative aspects of regular clients, long term clients is that you can get bored. You don’t have the challenge of finding new clients, of taking on pieces of work that are slightly outside your comfort zone, understanding a new company’s style or of writing about a new subject and so psychologically you can get bored but also your writing can get a bit tired.

LH: No, it’s not good when your writing gets tired because it’s immediately obvious to anybody reading it, you know, and I would go as far as to say tired writing just doesn’t get results.

PW: No, no.

LH: It’s not persuasive. If you’re not putting it in to your writing people aren’t going to get it out of your writing, it’s quite simple, and it can also be an issue in terms of working for the same client if you’re charging by the hour, which of course as I’ve said I do. Where I find that my online news articles for one client, say, now take an hour previously, when I was getting to know them, they might have taken 90 minutes say, and it’s not inherently a problem for me because I get a lot of work from all of my regular clients and as we’ve discussed before, I make sure that I get a certain amount of work from them, if not on a retainer basis then I’m quite an active pursuer of work with some of my regular clients because I know that if I suggest something to them the worst they’re going to say is no, you know they appreciate me finding work. So I get, you know I get a lot of work and if I find that, “Oh, that didn’t take very long” I’ll search out something else and see if they fancy me doing that for them as well, but imagine that you’re just doing a few one hour pieces of work for someone every month, say you’re doing four hours of work for someone every month, and then over time you find that they’re only taking you 30 to 45 minutes it can start to feel like a bit of a waste of time because with every client you have to keep up to date with the developments and the trends in their sector to prevent exactly what Pip was talking about. You need to prevent your writing getting stale. You need to be able to write informed, relevant, up to date, key word rich content for your client but if you’re spending more time doing that background research that’s needed for your client rather than spending that amount on paid work it can be a bit of a pain and it can actually not be worth your time.

PW: Yeah, I know Lorrie does a lot of work in the kind of recycling sector and I do a lot in the Health & Safety sector and various others and we are both always up to date with the latest news and there’s a lot of law changes going through, Health & Safety law, at the moment and I know all about them and…

LH: Yeah and it wouldn’t be worth your while, would it, if you were doing like…

PW: Exactly.

LH: …two hours a month on that?

PW: Yeah, it’s keeping on top of that in Google Reader, which we’ll lose Google Reader.

LH: Do you know, I’ve never used it but I’ve noticed like tears before bedtime all over my social media.

PW: I am not the only devastated person.

LH: Poor thing. What are you going to go with instead?

PW: I think Feedly but I’m not sure. Someone started a Government petition but the Government rejected it [laughs].

LH: I’m not surprised. Oh, desperation’s palpable at this point.

PW: I know but yes, keeping up to date in Google Reader but also I’m on mailing lists for all sorts of Health & Safety magazines and…

LH: But it takes time, doesn’t it?

PW: It does.

LH: You have to get in the zone for a bit of Health & Safety unless you’re really passionate about the subject and getting in that zone you’ve got to sit down and make time for proper engaged reading. You can’t just skim read things like this because you have to know in-depth what you’re talking about.

PW: Yeah, yeah and so having all that going on and that resulting in two hours a month, like Lorrie says, it’s not really worth it. If it results in 20 hours a month that’s a different matter.

LH: Yes, yeah. So that’s perhaps another reason in favour of paid per project rather than paid per hour but if you’re like me you know I am committedly paid per hour for myself. For some reason it’s just what’s worked best for me and it’s what I’m cosy with.

PW: And that’s what it’s all about to be honest. Throughout this podcast what we always say is, you know, “I do it like this” and then Lorrie might say, “And I do it like this” and we’re not saying you must do what I do or what Lorrie does. We’re presenting you with information about different ways to do it and you know what works and then, you know, make your own choices based on what suits you. I do a bit of pay per hour stuff. I can see the benefits of it but I’m more confident with pay per project. It’s all about what works.

LH: It’s horses for courses. You know we’re not trying to create lots of little Lorrie and Philippa clones because our lives aren’t…

PW: [Laughs] Team Lorrie: hourly wages, Team Pippa: project pay!

[Laughter]

LH: I see a few tee shirt sales coming from this.

PW: Yeah.

LH: But yeah, you know lives aren’t the same. My life’s not the same as Pip’s and our lives aren’t the same as yours. So whatever works best for you really.

PW: And try a few things out if you want to. Yeah, I warmed more to pay per hour when I did quite a lot of it for one client and I started to see more of the benefits than I’ve been able to without having done it in any considerable way.

LH: Yeah and likewise, you know when I started working on retainer I saw the benefits of pay per project.

PW: Yeah.

LH: You know it’s all where you are in your life and your career at that time and what works there.

PW: Yeah. If you’ve got one regular client that provides the majority of your work a possible problem with that, and this would really bug me I have to say, is that you can start feeling like an employee. You probably chose to become self-employed for many very good reasons and feeling like you’ve still got a boss who expects to know where you are and gives you most of your work and they’re dictating what you do and when you do it you might not feel that different to when you were in someone else’s office.

LH: Definitely and I’ve got experience of that. You know, as I say, I do have… most of my clients I would say are long term clients. You know I don’t do that much one off work compared to the amount of long term work I do simply because I outsource a lot of my long term work so I can keep more of it on but yes, I’ve certainly experienced it when one particular client forgets that you’re not their employee.

PW: Yeah.

LH: And they’ll send you an email sort of last minute about something urgent and then they’ll be phoning you and phoning you and phoning you and there’ll be this tone of sort of not belligerence but sort of, “Where were you?”, “Oh, I’m not your employee. I’ve done my work for this week and if you can’t get hold of me it’s because I’m busy with something else and I’ll get back to you when I can” and I’ve had clients phone me at 8 o’clock in the morning on a Saturday saying, “We need you to do this immediately” and I’ve said, “Well let me check my diary and it’ll be time and a half because it’s a rush job on the weekend” and that kind of brings them back to it, it’s a bit like, “Oh. Oh right, okay” and it’s, “Well no, my weekends are my weekends” and I do have to keep a certain amount of distance for this very reason. You know I do have to remind them sometimes I need to check what I’m doing for my other clients; I need to balance that with my other commitments.

PW: Yeah or if they want something today you can say, “Actually I’m already fully booked up today and tomorrow. I can do it for you on Thursday.”

LH: Yes, yeah exactly that and it can come as a bit of a shock to clients I think.

PW: Yeah. I do remember a point where the vast majority of your work was coming from one client and you were almost, well not even almost, you were very much actually caught up in office politics.

LH: Yes.

PW: Which is really one of those things that when I went freelance I was glad to leave behind. I wasn’t having to deal with all the internal turmoil but yeah, there was a point with you when so much of your work was coming from one place that you may as well have been there in terms of dealing with that kind of office politics situation.

LH: Very much. I mean when you start out it’s easy, as we’ve said before, to get caught up on one client because you have to take as much work as you possibly can from wherever you can get it. So the way I kind of dealt with that, because you know that client’s still on board, they’re a great client, it’s just that they have so many different departments that there’s bound to be lots of office politics between. So what I basically said is, “I will deal with x person in this company. If anybody else needs to contact me by all means, feel free, but x person is my point of contact and this person should always be aware of anything that you’re sending to me. You should see this person in” and that’s cut down on a lot of the, “He said, she said but I thought we were doing this and I didn’t think we were doing that” and you know, as you say Pip, it’s easy for them to get caught up in thinking that you’re part of the company and to involve you in things that you don’t need to be involved with.

PW: The point of asking for one contact within a company is good advice regardless of office politics. If you get in a position where… like quite often I find that a piece of work I’m doing will be used by, say, the PR department and the marketing department and you can get really caught in a position there where the PR department wants to pull you one way with it and the marketing department want to pull you another way.

LH: Yes, similar.

PW: And if you’re dealing with one person from each of those departments at the same time it is impossible to get it done, it’s impossible to get it submitted in a way that people are happy with, whereas…

LH: Yeah, right.

PW: Yeah, whereas if you’ve got one contact then the others can pass information through them but you’re only answerable to one person and it makes it much more doable and you can do the good job that you were going to do in the first place.

LH: Definitely and I’ve done the same thing with, you know, email trails where I’ve had sort of four or five members of a project team on the same email and I’ve said, “Right, I’ve done Stage 1 of my work. All my actions are delivered. I need you to come to a consensus before you get back to me.”

PW: Yes, yes.

LH: And that is absolutely fine for you to say that.

PW: Yeah.

LH: You need to be able to take a step back and say, “Okay, I’ve done my bits, now your actions need to happen and then I’ll do my next bits.”

PW: And often with something like press releases and case studies, I think in particular, you might need to get a handful of quotes from different people and quite often what will happen is your contact will give you other people’s contact details to get quotes.

LH: Yeah.

PW: And so you then send them all an email saying, “Could you give me, you know, three quotes on this new product that you’re selling” and then you can pick the ones that fit, and that’s all fine and most of the time they’ll get back to you, especially if you say, if you give them a deadline, “Get back to me by Thursday with these three quotes” but sometimes you do that and you don’t hear back from someone and you might prompt them and they still don’t hear back from them. That’s where your contact comes in handy because you then go to your contact and say, “I’m having trouble getting a quote from Margaret, could you try for me” because then you’re not in the position of chasing, which isn’t your job, and your contact is aware that you’ve got a problem that’s arisen that’s out of your control.

LH: And I think going back to, because we’re coming up with loads of really good stuff and I think this is all a really good insight into what it’s like being a freelancer, to kind of take it back to the overarching theme of the cons of working for long term clients is sometimes clients won’t realise that that’s not your job.

PW: Yeah, especially if you do do it for a while.

LH: Yes because it’s easy not to know where the line is because you chase once, you chase twice and then you send it back to your contact saying, “I’ve not heard back from x person. I can’t get hold of them” and if a client wants me to chase I make it clear that I will charge for the time.

PW: Yeah and if you weren’t assertive enough and spent your first three months doing all that yourself it’s harder then…

LH: Yes, it is.

PW: …to say, “This isn’t my job” because they’ll say, “Well it’s what you’ve been doing.”

LH: Yeah, you would have to go back to them at that point and, you know, it’s something we’ve all lived through and it’s scary, it’s scary in the same way that upping your rate is scary and the same way that communicating problems with clients is scary but it needs doing and if you go back to a client and say, “Right, the communication within the company is preventing me from doing my job. My job is x, y, z and I’m having difficulties with a, b and c. I’m not hearing back from this department. That department aren’t available when I need to speak to them and this department keep telling me to get quotes that I can’t get.” You know you list the problems, what the solutions would be and you come up with something that’s favourable, again, to yourself and the client. So either, “I’m not going to be the one to chase for this, I’ll get back to my contact person and tell them whatever I need chasing or I’m happy to chase but I will charge you.”

PW: Yeah. Sometimes you do have to just go to a client and say something isn’t working.

LH: Yeah.

PW: And it’s hard because you feel like you want to… you feel like you’re making yourself look bad but actually if something’s going wrong over a period of time and you’ve tried various things to resolve it sometimes you do have to go to them and say, “This isn’t working.” I had a situation with a client really recently where we both really tried to make it work but for numerous reasons outside of both of our control really.

LH: Yeah, there was no fault in this situation. I think I know the one you’re talking about.

PW: Yeah, it just became clear that we weren’t going to be able to work something out and we had a very respectful conversation, we worked out a new way of doing it, which involves an entirely different way of working to what we’d planned, but had both of us not been honest. We tried, we tried different things but the way we’d started out was not working and it did come to a point where we needed to have that conversation rather than both kind of getting more and more unhappy.

LH: But it’s nice that you both valued each other’s aims enough to have that discussion.

PW: Yes, absolutely, yeah.

LH: You’re wanting to deliver what your client needs.

PW: Exactly.

LH: And your client is trying to deliver what you deserve and have every right to expect.

PW: Yeah, yeah.

LH: You know that’s really, really nice. Yeah, so as you say, communicating a problem is actually showing that you value the client/freelance relationship.

PW: Yeah.

LH: So if you fit that’s not necessarily, you know it’s not necessarily going to be an unsolvable problem that your client might sometimes slip into the pattern of treating you like an employee.

PW: And on the other side if you have a long term client you’re more likely to be able to communicate better with them…

LH: Definitely.

PW: …because you’re familiar with each other. So, you know, if problems do arise it might be easier to tackle them because you know them well.

LH: Yeah, no 100%. You know a relationship with a client is like any other relationship. There are going to be ups and downs, there are going to be times where they say, “Oh you know you sent that with a funny subject and it got lost in our spam filter” and you go, “Oh I’m really sorry. I’ll come up with a subject for that particular type of work and you’ll never get it lost again. You can put a filter on it.”

PW: Yeah.

LH: You know that’s a problem solved, or you say to them, “I’ve been paid late a few times. Is something going wrong?”

PW: Yes.

LH: And they say, “Oh well our contact in the finance department keeps losing your emails or keeps forgetting, so I’ll cc that person in in future.” So no matter what the problem is, or what the problem seems to be, it’s always best to try and solve it and to have a good conversation with your client company because otherwise there’s no real solution.

PW: I know in the past both of us have agonised over sending particular emails and we’ve run them by each other and, “Does this sound reasonable?” and, “Oh my God, what if they take it the wrong way?” and then both of us have sent it off and within half an hour got a response going, “Yeah, that’s fine.”

LH: Yeah, or, “Oh I’m really sorry.”

[Laughter]

LH: And it’s like, “Oh, it’s okay” you know you’re almost weeping with relief, “That’s fine.”

PW: Yeah. I think the biggest risk that freelancers can face with regular clients is that if they disappear you can be in real trouble. If they realise they’re sending you an awful lot of work and it actually might be more cost effective to hire an in-house writer, if they decide to go with a different freelancer for some reason, if they run out of money or have a change of staff or, you know, worst case scenario but it’s happening these days, you know going bust, closing down altogether then if all or a lot of your work is coming from one place the majority of your income can disappear overnight because you’re not contracted to them, they’re not under any obligation to send you work.

LH: Not at all.

PW: And you can find yourself in real trouble, especially because the process of marketing and approaching new clients and building good relationships can take weeks or months.

LH: Definitely and this is why you have to keep all your plates spinning and we say it again and again and again…

PW: Yeah.

LH: …people hate marketing. You know loads of people we’ve spoken to go, “I don’t want to market myself. I’m a writer. I’m not a marketing person, I’m just a writer.”

PW: “My work should speak for itself.”

LH: Oh yeah, obviously, yes that totally happens all the time on the internet! It just doesn’t you know and to a certain extent there’s a risk that you can’t avoid. You know when you’re starting out I would 100% support you in taking as much work as you can get from any client that comes your way.

PW: Absolutely, absolutely.

LH: 100% and if they disappear it’ll be a kick in the teeth and it’ll be a pain in the bum and all sorts of other things but it’s not a reason not to do it.

PW: No, it’s work you’ve had even if it’s not work that continues, so it’s still money in the bank.

LH: Yeah but, as Pip’s pointed out, be aware of the precarious position you might be in.

PW: Don’t get complacent.

LH: Yes and don’t concentrate all your efforts on one client at the expense of others.

PW: Yeah and that level of security shouldn’t be underestimated. I mean the biggest fear that freelancers have and the biggest fear that people who are contemplating freelancing have is, “What if I can’t pay my bills? What if I don’t get enough work?” and there is a lot to be said for the security of somebody who for the last 12 months has paid you every month a certain amount of money, or even varying amounts of money but still regularly. There is a lot to be said for that and we shouldn’t underestimate, even amidst the various disadvantages that we’ve talked about, but people do feel good with that element of security.

LH: It’s nice you know and some of the writers that I hire, you know the way I work is that I have particular writers for particular accounts.

PW: Yeah.

LH: So for Client A and B I’ll have one writer who does regular work so that I know that my writer can get up to date with the sector and the trends within the company and the company style, but then it’s not a full time job. You know I’ll send over, for example, 20 hours a week to one writer which leaves that writer free to find other work.

PW: Yes.

LH: So effectively it’s the same situation as my own.

PW: Yeah.

LH: You know it’s just branching out and spreading that situation a little bit further. You know I’ve got a certain amount of time per week that’s accounted for and the rest of the time that I’ve made free by outsourcing I look for different work and with my writers they have a certain amount of time per week that’s accounted for because I send them that certain amount of time per week worth of work.

PW: And they’re in the exact same position where you might one day have a change of career or you might take someone else on if they’re suddenly not doing the job well enough, they’re in the same position where it’s brilliant for them that you’re providing them regular work but this isn’t guaranteed for the next five years.

I mean for me, overall, a combination of long term clients and new clients works perfectly. I feel like I’ve got a degree of security from the long term ones but each of those provide only a certain proportion of my work each week or each month. I also keep marketing myself, keep approaching new people and keep doing either one off work for newcomers or developing long term relationships with them. It’s about not keeping all your eggs in one basket and it’s also, and this is for me really important, about keeping a variety of work in my week. Different topics, different styles, different types of writing keep it interesting, because I can get bored quite easily [laughs] and they make sure my writing doesn’t get stale.

LH: Yeah, no 100%. I mean with the way I now work I prefer having a number of long term clients because it doesn’t take up all my time.

PW: Yeah.

LH: You know, as I say, I outsource so it’s lovely to have that security on there and I know that the security’s being passed on to other writers, which makes me feel really good, but I do like the challenge that new clients present when they come on board.

PW: Yes, I do too. It’s stressful but in a really nice way.

LH: Definitely and I like it, even if I’m hoping they’re going to become a long term client it’s nice to have that freshness from a new person.

I prefer not to work with people on a one off basis on commercial stuff. That’s a personal preference. There’s nothing wrong with doing that.

PW: No.

LH: I prefer to work on a one off basis with literary editing stuff.

PW: Sure.

LH: And that, by its nature, can be a very, very one off thing.

PW: Yeah.

LH: But that being said, you know I do like to follow up with people and the authors that I’ve worked with have often come back to me for different services.

PW: Yes.

LH: Not always but, you know, sometimes.

PW: I’ve had a series of people recently who’ve hired me to proofread their CV and they’ve been, without wanting to blow my own trumpet, so impressed with the feedback I’ve given them that they then send me a different version of their CV to proofread and their covering letter and their everything else. It’s like they’re suddenly going, “Oh wow!” and so it’s happened a handful of times just in the last few weeks where what started as a CV proofread, which I do quite a lot of and which is nearly always a one off, has actually produced more and more work, it’s really nice.

LH: It’s nice to make somebody feel that they’re getting you know real excellent value from you.

PW: Yeah.

LH: And it’s the same, you know I’ve had authors come back, well I’ve had authors come to me for a developmental critique you know when they’re writing a book, you know, “Am I going around this the right way? What do you think to my proposed chapter structure? What do you think to my proposed plot? How’s the narrative working?” you know and then you wish them luck, you send them a developmental critique and then they come back to you and the book’s finished and you’re like, “Yay!” and you have a little celebratory moment with them, like, “Well done you” and they’re back for a proofread and an edit and I just really do prefer to work with people and companies over a length of time rather than just letting them ride off into the sunset simply because it’s nice to have history with people and also because I’m kind of nosy, I kind of like to know what’s going on.

PW: Yeah.

LH: So basically, in conclusion from a very long point, is that I don’t object to working with people on a one off basis and I can see all the benefits of it. I really do like a new challenge, especially when I’ve got the time on my hands to enjoy that, but my one offs just usually do end up becoming repeat regular clients and I do like that. I like having people on board.

PW: I think that’s a really good reason to not turn down one offs on principle because I’ve had the same experience and one starts off wanting one thing and then if you do it well they do come back.

LH: Yeah and I think like much of freelancing, as we said right at the start of this windy, wandering early morning podcast, it’s a personal preference deciding whether you want to work with long term clients or short term clients. It’s up to you. Getting to know how you like to work will determine what kind of clients you want to attract. You know maybe you’re a spontaneous sort of person and you love new exciting challenges and you’re not risk adverse.

PW: Yeah.

LH: You know and things have a way of working out for you. You’ve got a stream of incoming one off projects, in which case go for the one offs, enjoy it, enjoy the roller coaster. If you’re a little bit more like me and you’re nosy and you like chatting to the same people over again and seeing how things develop and you like the certain level of stability then go for long term clients.

PW: I think there are people who need, when they start at 8 o’clock on a Monday morning, they need to already know exactly what their week looks like.

LH: Yeah.

PW: And then there are other people who can get an email on a Wednesday morning saying, “Can you do this by midday?” and they say, “Yes I can” and they do it.

LH: And that would be fine for them, yeah.

PW: Yeah and I’m neither of those, I’m somewhere in the middle I think.

LH: Yeah, I think most people are.

PW: Yeah.

LH: I think it’s a continuum, isn’t it, and most of us will find ourselves wobbling about somewhere in the middle and it will change over time. You know sometimes you’ll want a bit more stability. You know I know a lot of freelancers that I chat to on social media are working mums you know and they’ve decided to stay at home while they’ve got young children. So a couple of long term clients would be brilliant for that.

PW: Yeah.

LH: You know say over the back end of your maternity period and then while you’ve got a new born maybe you wouldn’t take on so much one off work, you know maybe that would feel just too much stress for you, maybe it wouldn’t you know, which is absolutely fine, but to have a long term client ticking away in the background would be lovely.

PW: Yeah.

LH: You know, so you don’t have to set it in stone, you don’t have to wear a uniform that says, “I take on one offs” or, “I’m a long term Larry.”

PW: Yeah.

LH: You know do what works for you.

PW: Yeah, yeah. So hopefully we’ve covered there some of the benefits and the drawbacks of long term and short term clients.

LH: And a lot of other stuff in between.

PW: And a lot of other stuff because it’s all related, and I think, like the continuum Lorrie was talking about, most people have a similar continuum in terms of new work and repeated work and it’s all about your preferences but it’s also all about making a living and that sometimes you have to make choices that don’t fit your ideal…

LH: That’s a good point.

PW: …but will pay the bills and so you may prefer to have long term clients, but if you have no work and three short term people come up don’t turn the work down on principle. You know you’ve got to be sensible. It’s not all about it being perfect for you.

LH: Definitely.

PW: When it is all about it being perfect for you that’s lovely but it’s also real life and sometimes you have to do things you’re not 100% in love with.

LH: And you’ve got to see the wider benefits as well. You know maybe a one off piece wasn’t what you were looking for. Maybe you needed another regular client to come on board, but think about how well you can do the one off piece, think about how many people that person knows, check out the sector that person’s in, milk that opportunity for everything you can get out of it. Talk about the work that you’re doing on social media. Say, “I’ve just had a really exciting piece of work on.” Tell people on your Facebook what you’re doing.

PW: Yeah.

LH: Client confidentiality accepting but, you know, say, “I’ve got a client in this sector and I’m doing a really exciting few case studies for them” or, “Just been taken on by a new client who wants a website doing.” Promote that situation. It doesn’t have to just be one off in terms of the benefits, even if it’s one off in terms of the collaboration.

PW: And if it’s a new area for you, say it’s a particular… someone wants a website about a particular health condition, then you do all your research and you write the website and then use the research you’ve done to also then pitch articles on that health condition to three different women’s magazines, send some articles on it to constant content, you know, and approach other clients who need writing on that health issue. You can use what you get from a very short term piece of work to widen the work you’re doing.

LH: Absolutely, I mean that’s such a good point. It’s all about imagination.

PW: Yeah.

Now it is time for our Little Bird recommendations of the week.

LH: Yay!

PW: Lorrie, tell me about your recommendation.

LH: Well I’m quite pleased with my recommendation this week because I always find myself thinking on maybe a Wednesday or a Thursday, “Oh, I need to recommend something” like, “What have I done?” and because so much of what you do as a freelancer becomes second nature it’s easy to forget that things that are a given to you could be something new and exciting to listeners.

PW: Yeah.

LH: But this week I have something that I’m quite pleased with. It’s nothing super intuitive, it’s nothing super fancy but it’s something that I’ve really been enjoying. Now recently I’ve been preparing, on my creative writing blog, for a particular blogging challenge and it’s the first one I’ve taken part in and it’s called ‘The Blogging from A to Z Challenge’. Now it’s an annual challenge. It involves choosing an overarching theme, say writing or reading or e-marketing or travel, photography, whatever, and producing a blog post every day in April, apart from Sundays. So that adds up to 26 days with the 26 letters of the alphabet.

PW: Ah, clever.

LH: Aha! So while it’s probably a bit late to start preparing to take part in the challenge now because we’re already on Day 2, so yeah, it’s completely too late actually, I’ve actually been enjoying the sense of community that you get from taking part in something like this because while a blogging challenge is usually devised by one person or one blog or one website people find it out and they create things like hashtags…

PW: Yeah.

LH: …spread out across social media and, you know, people will stop by your blog and social media for a chat if you use these particular hashtags and you’ll find lovely readers and critics for your work, you know in terms of creative writing, which is what I’m blogging on, and you get the chance to read work by other writers who are tackling topics that you’re interested in. So whether it’s more creative writing or photography or travel, whatever, even if you’re not taking part in the challenge, and this is where my recommendation comes in, I’d recommend having a look at the hashtag, and it’s #atozchallenge.

PW: I’ll link to the search results for that in the show notes.

LH: Thank you and you’ll be able to see who’s taking part in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, and there’s also a complete list on the Blogging from A to Z Challenge website where you can browse by author, blog or topic.

PW: Although, as Lorrie says it’s probably too late to start this one, there are lots of blogging challenges around.

LH: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.

PW: So if you can’t do this one but you really like the idea do a search. There are lots of options and you can find one that suits you exactly.

LH: Yeah, definitely. I mean this one is a big one in the sense of you have to blog every day in April, apart from Sundays, but there are some like there’s Friday Fiction or Friday Flash, I’m not sure, I don’t take part in that one, but every Friday people write a bit of flash fiction and they hashtag it up and it just helps draw a bit of traffic.

PW: Yeah, a few years ago I did NaBloPoMo, which is related to NaNoWriMo but it’s National Blog Posting Month and…

LH: I like it.

PW: Yeah, you basically just have to do a blog post a day. It doesn’t give you any… there’s no further guidance about what it needs to be about, you just have to do a blog post a day and it’s quite good for discipline.

LH: And motivation as well.

PW: Yeah because this was my personal blog a few years ago and I’d really got out of the habit of posting there and it just got me back into the habit and I was able to start keeping it up again.

LH: It’s lovely you know. So have a look around, as Pip says, at these blogging challenges and they’ve usually all got hashtags because that’s how you get people to know about them, of course. I blog in WordPress and you can search for hashtags on WordPress. You know you can have a look in your WordPress reader and search for the #atozchallenge in there and it doesn’t necessarily need a hash symbol before it but that’s the term that’s searchable and people are tagging up their blog posts with that and you can find brilliant new people to follow, have a chat with, give feedback to and it’s just a lovely thing for a sense of community, and as Pip says, getting you back into the swing of blogging if you’re a bit out of it.

Now what this did all get me thinking about, you see I’m coming to my point, was a post I spotted a while back on a brilliant website. I love this website and it’s brilliant for research and training. It’s called Suite101, and we’ll link to that in the show notes, and the post itself is about the top 100 hashtags that writers and authors should get to know. Now it’s a brilliant resource. It’s just a list but it’s a list of all the hashtags that authors, marketers, bloggers, e-book writers, copywriters, commercial writers might need to find their fellow fish in the big social media sea.

So I guess my recommendation for this week is kind of a theme rather than one thing in particular. I’m recommending that you use the amazing resources out there across blogs and social media and that you tap into the viral connections that exist out there between authors and writers and publishers and anyone who’s interested in the written word because, like with so many things we mention, it’s something that can have an immediate benefit, say can get you posting more on your blog or can put you in touch with other people, but I really do think the benefits ripple out.

PW: Yes, absolutely. I mean hashtags are… my Tweet Deck has so many columns with so many different search results and lists and hashtags but yeah, it’s a brilliant way of finding contacts, learning new things. So yeah, great recommendation and good luck with the challenge as well.

LH: Thank you. Oooh.

PW: [Laughs].

LH: So, Philippa, what is your Little Bird recommendation of the week?

PW: My recommendation is a blog post called ‘How to Work with Me on a Low Budget’ and it’s written by a graphic designer and it’s all about… it’s basically a response to people who contact him and ask him to work for free.

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

PW: Yes. It’s, as you know if you’ve listened to us for any amount of time, is an issue that we come across quite a lot.

Now he’s very reasonable. He explains very clearly what the issues are. He says, “There are four scenarios where I can imagine people might approach me to work at a reduced fee. No. 1, you like what I do enough to risk a refusal. No. 2, you think I’m a soft touch. No. 3, you think whatever it is that you’re doing is more important than my son’s education or my health insurance. No. 4, you’re chancing your arm” and then he goes through various… he explains firstly why he deserves to get paid for the work he does, he explains why that’s not unreasonable and he also goes into, “If, if I say that I will do this for free these are very clearly my conditions and you certainly don’t have any say in these because I’m already working for you for free. So these are the things I expect from you” and it’s a good post. Yeah, he explains… he just explains it really clearly. I think anybody wanting someone to work for free should have a read because it does point out that they are being quite unreasonable but he’s also not just yelling at people but yeah, it’s an interesting post.

My sister, who is a landscape architect, sent it to me because she sees the stuff I Tweet out often on this very subject. So thank you Carolyn…

LH: [Laughs].

PW: …for this one but yeah, that’s my recommendation and as with Lorrie’s it will be in the show notes at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com and it’s by Larry Hynes.

LH: That makes me so sad that we’re having to come up with new ways to tell people why it’s not okay to beg for work for free.

PW: And again and again and again. It’s not…

LH: And again, you know, and the fact that we’re… you know it’s a brilliant article; I’ve just spotted it now.

PW: Yeah, it’s good, isn’t it?

LH: It’s fabulous and it’s really nicely laid out and it’s nicely written because, as you say, it’s not a rant.

PW: Yeah.

LH: It’s so easy to have a rant on this subject because, as we’ve just said, it’s again and again and again but yeah, this guy has actually come up with a way of really laying it out and I can see this blog post being something that people link back to for years. I mean looking at it it’s not even a new blog post.

PW: No, it was written last August and it’s still doing the rounds, so.

LH: Yeah and I’ve not seen it yet and I’ll certainly be sharing it…

PW: Yeah.

LH: …because it’s completely right and I love the idea actually of saying, “If, if I decide to work for free or for very little for you don’t think you’re off the hook.”

PW: Yes.

LH: Don’t think that you can just pat yourself on the back and say, “Right, here we go. I’m just going to get on with what I want this person to do.’ I’m going to lay it out and I’m going to get exactly what I would get from somebody to whom I was giving a professional wage.” You know there is a balance that needs to be met and if Larry Hynes is going to work for you for free his conditions are very, very clear and I applaud him for that.

PW: Yeah.

LH: No, I really, really do because like anything in life benefit has to go both ways, whether that’s financial or otherwise.

PW: Absolutely, absolutely and the conditions he’s put in place for if, “It’s a very rare occasion that I agree to work for you for free” are kind of the things you would like any client to have but certainly are things that you don’t want to be messing about with if you’re not even being paid. Like one of them is, “I expect you to be organised. I expect you to communicate clearly, show up on time and have whatever information is required to hand. I expect you to sweat the details because you’re not paying me to do it and details are very important to me.” Now that’s the kind of thing that ideally any client, you know, would be doing but certainly if you’re not paying someone get your things together.

LH: I don’t even like the phrase, “If you’re not paying someone.”

PW: I know, I know.

LH: Because for me I don’t want to talk… I applaud Larry Hynes 100,000% but I don’t like the idea of talking reasonably to somebody who is begging work for free. I will never be okay with it.

PW: No and he’s been very clear that although these are his conditions for working for free he makes it very clear that that’s a very occasional situation where he nearly always says no and he gives good reason for it, not that you should have to justify not working for free. One of the things he says is, “Do you get paid? You know when you go to work do you get a wage?” Yes, you know, and have a think about that.

LH: No, it’s like what we’re saying back in Episode, oh Episode 4, all the way back in Episode 4 when we were discussing a certain gentleman who was asking people to proofread his full length novel in return for chocolate.

PW: Yeah.

LH: Now, listeners, if you didn’t listen to Episode 4 it’s fairly ranty but it’s on this topic, so if you find that you’re liking this bit of the discussion go back and have a listen, or if you find that you’re not liking it go back and have a listen so you can come and have a bit of a discussion with us on social media, but as Pip and I pointed out I don’t send a bar of chocolate instead of money for my gas bill.

PW: Yeah.

LH: I don’t go into a shop and say, “Right, I really like that tee shirt. I’m going to buy it and here are two Toblerones” or, “Here is a bar of Dairy Milk.” No, people trade with money.

PW: I mean he says, “You’re getting a salary. Every week or month you get paid and you want me to work for you for nothing. This is not going to happen. You show me where you deferred your salary and I’ll listen to your proposal. I am serious.”

LH: That’s superb.

PW: Yeah, “You’re asking me to forego my income, so you first.”

LH: Yeah.

PW: You know he’s not messing about.

LH: 100%. I need to have a good proper read of this because I have a feeling that he’s got a lot of spikes that have come out for this.

PW: Yes, I…

LH: And it’s good, it’s excellent, it’s a really, really excellent post because I think I’m stuck in the situation where I’m like, “But I shouldn’t have to say this. We shouldn’t have to justify it” but the fact is we do.

PW: And certainly not for the 100th time but here we are having to do it again.

LH: Yeah and here we are chatting sort of passionately about an article that’s talking about just that, exactly because it’s such a common thing.

PW: And there will still be people on Twitter later today wanting free proofreaders.

LH: Course there will, or beta readers as they call them.

PW: Oh [sighs].

LH: Like I can see it, I can totally, totally see it where you say to people, “I’ve written something. I’m thinking about self-publishing. Can you let me know what you think?” That, to me, is a beta reader.

PW: Yeah.

LH: That’s a beta reader. It’s somebody that you’re friends with or that you know well or that you chat to regularly on social media and you have some credit in the bank with that person, you know you have a long term relationship with that person, or you have a mutual sense of appreciation, or they’re getting something from it…

PW: Yeah.

LH: …and you say to them, “I value your opinion. I want to know what you think about my piece of work. Just in general what do you think?” rather than, “Can you go through and proofread it and I’ll give you some chocolate?”

PW: And like I… in the unlikely circumstance that I wrote a novel Lorrie is one of my closest friends but I still wouldn’t say, “You wouldn’t have a look at this for me for free, would you?”

LH: Aww, you’d be welcome to.

PW: Yeah but you’d be the person I’d go to because I trust your skills and your abilities but I wouldn’t expect you to do that for free even though we’re very good friends because I know it’s as much a part of your job as the other things we do.

LH: True and I would assess the situation as it was. If I was absolutely rammed for time and flat broke then I might say, “Okay Pip, let’s talk mates rates.”

PW: Yeah.

LH: If, as I am now, I’m quite comfortable, you know I’m happy and I’ve got a little bit of time and, you know, I’m not struggling for any money at the moment then I would say, “No, pass it over” because it’s very much like paying for dinner for a friend.

PW: Yeah.

LH: Once you’ve been friends with somebody for long enough you don’t have to say, “Let’s split it 50/50” and you don’t have to say, “You get this one, I’ll get the next one.” One of you just pays and it just balances out at some point.

PW: Yeah, yeah.

LH: But yeah, you get so many people approaching strangers on social media saying, “Will you work for me for free? Will you translate this for me for free?” and I don’t…

PW: It’s going in titles, isn’t it?

LH: Oh it’s so arrogant and I think we’re going to have to do another episode for it at some point.

PW: We are because we’ve clearly not got it out of our system.

LH: No we’re not, no, and I’ve not even had a coffee yet. So imagine when…

PW: [Laughs].

LH: …caffeined up how strongly I’ll feel about this again. I’m sure we can tackle it again.

PW: Oh no doubt.

LH: My recommendation, don’t ask people for free work.

PW: Especially not if we’re watching.

LH: Oh that’s true.

PW: Or Larry indeed.

LH: Larry’s watching [laughs]. Poor Larry. He’s probably never heard of us and he’s being invoked as some sort of all seeing important freelancer.

PW: Or my sister.

LH: Hi again Carolyn.

PW: [Laughs]. Anyway, thank you so much for listening. We love doing the podcast and we love that people really enjoy it, we love that people find it helpful. Do leave us reviews on iTunes and Stitcher and promote us on your blogs and on Twitter because we want as many people to benefit from what we say as possible.

LH: Yeah, we always try and be responsive and flexible and we love hearing from you. You know if you’ve got any queries, as we said earlier, come and have a chat to us. We can answer you on social media, we can link you to useful blog posts, we could answer you in a personalised blog post if it came down to it, if there was something you particularly wanted to know that only Pip and I have the answer to. I can’t imagine what that would be.

PW: [Laughs].

LH: [Laughs] but you know if it came down to it and you brought up something that would be useful for loads of our listeners we’d be happy to record a podcast on that subject. We’ve got a list of podcast subjects that we want to tackle over the next few months. We can always slot somebody in. So if you come up with something that you think would be a really good podcast episode let us know and we’ll have a chat.

PW: Yeah, we spent 45 minutes the other day in a shared Google doc and we came up with three and a half pages of new topic ideas. So we are raring to go.

LH: We are, it’s like a sweet shop and we want to get a bag full out there to you right now. So come and take part, come and let us know what you want us to talk about, it’s probably already on our list but we’ll certainly answer any concerns that you’ve got, any questions you have. So yeah, come and have a chat. We don’t bite, we’re nice.

PW: Thank you for listening. I have been Philippa Willitts.

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

Podcast Episode 31: Gaining Credibility as a Freelancer and Specialist – 10 Tips to Get to the Top

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In order to be taken seriously, and to progress, in a freelance career, we need credibility, but how do we prove to potential clients that we know what we are doing, and that we can be trusted with their work? In this podcast episode, I go through ten top tips to gain credibility and become respected as an authority in your chosen area.

Show Notes

@GooglePoetics

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Transcript

Hello, and welcome to Episode 31 of A Little Bird Told Me: the podcast about the highs, the lows, and the no-nos of successful freelance writing.

I am Philippa Willitts and today I’m going to be talking about how to build your credibility as a freelancer or as an expert in your field.

When somebody is looking for a writer they may have four or five websites open for different writers and you need to give them some clues to show them that you’re trustworthy, that you know what you’re talking about and so in this episode I’m going to talk about different ways you can build your own credibility.

Now first of all, apologies that this is slightly late; I have been ill and then when trying to record this morning I had workmen across the street making this noise…

[Sound of

drilling]

Cheers fellas, just what I needed!

So slightly late but here.

Anyway, to make sure you never miss an episode of A Little Bird Told Me go to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com because there you can subscribe to the podcast which means that rather than trying to remember every Tuesday to tune in you’ll actually be notified on your chosen platform, whether it’s Stitcher or iTunes or whether you use an RSS reader.  You can also find a link to our Facebook page, so go over there, like us and say hello, and there are also links to my own and Lorrie’s various social media profiles and websites and such.

So anyway, I’m Philippa Willitts and today, as I mentioned, I’m talking about credibility.

Writing

Writing (Photo credit: jjpacres)

If you put yourself in the position of, say, a marketing manager for a business and they want to hire a freelance writer to write them a couple of blog posts a week.  So they do some searches and find some writers’ websites.  They’ve got to then make a decision about who to hire and part of that will be based on how credible you present yourself to be.  If you’ve got lots of links to other writing you’ve done that can help but there are other ways that can imply a level of credibility that can really help you get work and establish yourself as an authority in writing or in your specialist area, if you specialise in a particular subject or style of writing.

So I’m going to go through various different ways that freelancers can build their credibility and some are quick fixes and others are quite long term plans but it all depends on why it is you want to.  It may be something that if you build up over several years you can end up a real kind of name in your area or it may be that you’re just aware that your website’s a bit lacking in something and you want some quick fixes that you can do to start making a difference straightaway really.

The first way to demonstrate that you are good at what you do, because, you know, the client who’s looking for someone just doesn’t know that, you have to prove it, and a really effective thing is referrals.  If somebody you already work with recommends you to somebody else that’s instant credibility.  They can go, “That PR guy really likes what Philippa does so chances are she’s alright.  I’ll hire her.”  If you can get a referral from somebody else you already work with or have worked with in the past that’s great and it doesn’t actually have to be a client necessarily, it could be a colleague or somebody you’ve partnered with on a project.  If you’ve worked with a web designer on a big website redesign where you’ve provided all new content then next time someone asks that web designer if they know of a good copywriter they can refer people to you as well.  So it’s a really good way to make a start really on your credibility.  If other people recommend you then you’re probably doing something right.

The second idea is very similar actually and that is recommendations from other people.  Now this isn’t necessarily the same as referrals, although it might immediately sound like it.  What this can be is things like colleagues and clients who leave you a review on LinkedIn for instance, who will click those new little boxes that say you’re good at whatever it is you do.  You can also have a section of your website dedicated to the reviews and comments you’ve received from former clients.  You have to be careful with that; you probably need their permission, certainly if you’re going to name them and certainly if you write for them in a ghost writing type capacity rather than under your own name.  You’ve got to be careful but that kind of thing can be really helpful.

Image representing LinkedIn as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

If you want to get more reviews on LinkedIn there are different ways to go about that and one that a lot of people do, which probably isn’t the best way, is to just send your LinkedIn contacts a message saying, “Please recommend me” and it’s not a good move.  It’s people who receive the message, you know there’s nothing in it for them.  They’re busy, why would they take time out of their day to write you a recommendation?  You might be contacting people you’ve never worked with.  I’ve had LinkedIn messages from people I’ve never worked with saying, “Please can you recommend me?” and I can’t because I don’t know what they’re like to work with or how good they are at what they do.

A better way is to think carefully about people you’ve worked really closely with who know you quite well and who you know quite well and just writing them a recommendation; write down how they are to work with, write down what they’re good at, be honest but obviously positive.  They can choose whether or not to put it on their profile, it doesn’t appear automatically, but often if you write someone a recommendation then within a week or two they will reciprocate and write one for you as well.  It’s a better way of going about it than just randomly asking people to do it because, you know, they’ve got better things to do, whereas if you show willing first then you’ve got goodwill on your side.

There are dodgy ways of getting reviews as well.  You can pay people on Fiverr, and presumably other websites as well, to record a video talking about how wonderful you are or how great your book is and it will cost you $5, but actually it could cost you a lot of business because these people do hundreds and thousands of video reviews, and so if somebody is looking at your website trying to decide whether to hire you and they see someone saying how great you are but they recognise them from eight other sites that they’ve looked at where that same woman or same guy is saying just how good the person is it will not only not convince them that you’re good, it will destroy your credibility instantly I would think.  If I thought somebody had faked a review in that way I wouldn’t trust them at all.  I wouldn’t want to hire them in any circumstances.  So it’s not just that it wouldn’t be helpful, it could do your reputation some real damage.  People would wonder what you’ve got to hide, it’s no, just don’t do it.

The next way to prove yourself to potential clients is simply your website.  You have to make it as good as you possibly can; make sure there are no typos on there, make sure there’s no weird formatting in different browsers.  You’re a writer so it doesn’t have to look spectacular in terms of visual design.  If you’re a designer then it does but if you’re a writer you know it’s great if it looks spectacular but that’s not what people are looking for.  Instead the words, the writing, the text has to be really, really good.  I’m never content with my own websites.  Every time I look at them I end up changing a bit of text but hopefully it just keeps improving over time, but if you want to persuade people that they should hire you to write then make your website content not just persuasive but impressive.

The other thing about your website is it provides an opportunity for you to link to your other writing.  If you write for a blog under your own name link to that, if you write articles for constant content you can get a code for a little widget that you can put in your sidebar that’s got links to all your recent articles.  It’s more difficult if you do more ghost writing than writing under your own name.

I know I write blogs for several companies under their name.  My job is to write the content really well and then it’s theirs.  Lorrie and I talked in the finance episodes we did about the fact that my general rule with copywriting is that as soon as their invoice is paid then they own the writing, it’s entirely theirs.  They can say it’s written by themselves, by me, by the Queen, it’s entirely up to them.

So that is more difficult because you can’t link to these blogs and say, “I wrote that” if you’re ghost writing.  So you need to think of some other ways to get published with your own name.  So this might be writing guest blog posts for a couple of big blogs, it might be getting a couple of articles published in magazines and linking to those, particularly if you have a specialist subject this is a really good way to get clips if you specialise, or whatever area you specialise in there will be blogs dedicated to that subject and if you can get a few posts on those that really show that you do know what you’re talking about then people in that sector of business may well read those blogs and recognise your name and that is where credibility really begins to build.

Another idea for website content is something I mentioned earlier, is a page of people I’ve worked for, or a section of people I’ve worked for.  Now, again, this can be varied depending on who you have worked for and how open you can be.  I’ve done some work for some quite high profile clients for which I had to sign non-disclosure agreements; so as much as I would like to name them and say, “I’ve written for companies x, y and z”, and it would look impressive, I can’t do that.  There are other companies where I can.  I haven’t got one of these pages.  It’s a tricky one.  I know Lorrie and I have talked about it a few times just amongst ourselves, not on the podcast I don’t think, about the fact that it does look impressive if you look at a copywriter’s page, a copywriter’s website, and they have a section for people they’ve worked for and it’s got big companies, big national or international brand names and you do, that gives credibility, which is what we’re talking about.  You do think, “Wow!  If she’s written for Marks & Spencer’s you know she must be good.”  You make assumptions and that’s what building credibility is about quite a lot of the time, is kind of creating the right assumptions in people.

However, there can be ethical issues around privacy and confidentiality and I know Lorrie and I have both been a bit torn on this.  Is it do you need to contact each company, which companies do you mention, do you mention the small companies that might not be that impressive, do you want a long list, even if it’s tiny companies, or do you want a list of six or seven people that are well known?  It’s difficult but sites that do have that page, that have impressive companies, it gives a good impression.

Tip No. 4 is, again, related to the previous one and I mentioned being able to link to clips which is, you know, previously published articles and such.  This does really help and actually the better the… the more high profile the publication or the website the more impressed people are, understandably.  I can say I’ve been published in The Guardian and Independent websites and New Statesman and people think, “Oh, she knows what she’s doing”, which I like to think I do, and so sometimes even if these aren’t your target markets it may be something that you can work towards, that you can aspire to really, but you might want to start with, say, pitching guest blog posts to smaller blogs to gain confidence but pick the biggest ones or the print magazines in your area to really aim towards because it does immediately make a good impression.

Studying

Studying (Photo credit: Skakerman)

No. 5 tip about how to gain credibility is to make sure that if you’ve done any training or study you let people know, mention it on your website.  I’ve got a whole page on my website dedicated to the study I’ve already done and the on-going training and study that I do.  I want people to know that I take my job seriously and that I’m committed to continuing to improve and to grow and showing that I undertake regular training does help that, and also if somebody’s unsure about whether I’m really qualified to write about a particular aspect of, say, social media, which is one of my areas, they can look at my training and study page and see that I keep on top of the latest social media training all the time.  It helps them to believe that you take your job seriously, that you have an in-depth knowledge of your subject rather than just a very vague one and that you know what you’re talking about really.

Another link to this is certification.  Do you have any kind of professional certification?  Are you a member of some guild of copywriting or editors’ association?  If you are make sure people know.  Put it on your LinkedIn page; put it on your website.  If there’s a little logo that you can put in your sidebar then do it.  It helps people to gain in confidence.

Tip No. 6, and this is a form of social proof, which is where people react well to the implication that other people support you, which is why if you see a blog post and you’re not sure whether to Tweet it or not and then their, ‘Tweet This’ button has a little note that says, “This has been Tweeted by 2400 people you’re more likely to hit ‘Tweet This’ than if it says it’s been Tweeted by two people.  We react well to what we believe other people react well to and so showing that you have certification is a form of social proof because it means that someone else has also recognised your capabilities.

Now Point No. 6, I think we’re at, is another form of social proof, which is awards and prizes.  If you have any awards or prizes that you have won that relate to either writing, proofreading, editing, whatever your area is, or that relate to the topics you write about then display them on your website, mention them if it comes up in conversation.  If you write about cookery and you’ve won a national baking competition that will make people want to hire you to write for them about cookery.  The award you won or the prize you won gives other people confidence that you do genuinely deserve to be taken seriously in your specialism.

Social proof is effective in all sorts of areas of life and it’s particularly relevant in the area of credibility and being taken seriously.

In the introduction I mentioned that some of these tactics for gaining credibility were a longer term plan rather than a quick fix and this is one of those.  It’s quite a big, long term plan but when it works it works really, really well.  So you have to decide how much time you want to invest in this and the possible benefits you can get out of it.

So Tip No. 7 for gaining credibility is to create your own products.  Now by products I don’t necessarily mean a physical thing.  Something like a podcast or writing a book both take lots of hours for lots of months to get right and to be respected but if you do put that time in then the returns can be really, really rewarding.

Lorrie and I have made this podcast now for… this is the 31st episode and we spend hours a week recording.  I spend a good four hours a week doing the audio editing.  Lorrie spends I don’t know how many hours a week doing the transcription.  It’s not something we just throw together.  Yeah, that’s not even mentioning the planning actually.  This takes a lot of hours for both of us every week but we’ve invested that because we think it’s because we enjoy it, we like providing useful information, but also it proves to anyone who listens, hopefully, that we do know what we’re talking about; it builds our credibility.  The fact that we’re co-hosts of a freelance writing podcast automatically makes people think, “They must really know about freelance writing” and they can listen to it and hopefully that will cement in their mind what they think of us as a result of it.

Writing a book is similar.  Now some people find that there’s more credibility in being traditionally published.  Other people prefer the control you can have with self-publishing and self-publishing does have a bit of a bad reputation.  I know some people are trying to challenge that.  Guy Kawasaki has started calling it artisanal publishing to make it sound a bit better and it’s a debate that will go on for ever.

So traditional publishing may be considered slightly more authoritative.  Self-publishing you keep a lot more of the money.  Either way if you write a book and publish it, be it an e-book, a paper book, whatever, this makes people see that you do know what you’re talking about.  If you’re the food writer I mentioned earlier who’s won a national baking competition, if she then writes a whole book about how to decorate cupcakes then that, again, cements her credibility.  People think, “Wow!  She won that big award.  She’s written for BBC Food magazine and she’s written a whole book about cupcakes.  This woman knows what she’s doing.”

Now like I said, these kind of products, podcasts, books, all sorts of options really, are big undertakings.  They take a lot of time, a lot of energy and a lot of persistence but, like with many things, the more effort something takes the bigger the rewards will be.  So if you do want to be freelancing still in three years’ time and you want by then to have a bigger name and be more in demand and be more known for your particular specialism then creating a significant product is a really good way to build your authority, build your credibility and make people believe in you.

Tip No. 8 is another one that not everybody will agree with, which is completely fine, and that’s to specialise if you choose an area that you want to write about that you already know a lot about.  Maybe you studied medicine at university and decided not to become a doctor you can specialise in health writing and you’ll be respected because you have a medical degree, you’re a doctor and you will be able to get a lot more not just work but work that’s probably better paid because of your credibility if you work in health and medical writing.  If you do general copywriting you won’t be able to demand better fees because the fact that you’re a medical doctor makes no difference when you’re writing about town planning or the latest film.

So specialising, especially if you can prove that you actually are a specialist in that area, can lead to more interesting work I find and better paid work because people are happy to pay more if they can get someone who really knows what they’re talking about in a certain area, but also specialising is a good way to build your credibility because you’re trying to be the big fish in a pond that’s a lot smaller than just business or commercial or blogs.  If you want people to start saying, “Yeah, she’s good” you’ve got a much better chance of that if you’re writing about just, say, travel than if you’re writing about everything.  If you only approach the magazines in your specialist area then you can really get to know the editors and become their ‘go to’ person when they need a particular article, whereas if you write an article for anybody and everybody there’s just no way to build yourself up as a specialist, and specialist implies credibility immediately.

Point No. 9 about gaining credibility is good old social media.  You can make sure that the Tweets you send out show that you know what you’re talking about, you can mention the work you’re doing on Facebook, but also, and probably more effective, is things like communities on Google+ and groups on LinkedIn where you can go into a group of freelance writers or of food critics, or whatever your area, and contribute to discussions that gets your name out there.  Again it shows people that you know what you’re talking about.  So don’t do it if you don’t know what you’re talking about.  If you don’t know what you’re talking about then you can’t specialise in that area yet until you do, but presuming you do know what you’re talking about Google+ communities, Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups are all great ways to demonstrate that you can do what you say you can do and that you do know what you say you know.  Don’t just contribute to writing groups.  Look for where you want to be, what areas you want to be writing about and go to groups in that area as well.  Make your name familiar to the people who have the power to hire and fire you.

And a final point, Point No. 10, about building credibility as a freelance writer is once you’ve got it or once you’re starting to get it don’t lose it by doing something stupid like submitting bad work or getting a reputation for being a diva or giving in work late, or even things like promising more than you can deliver.

If you work really hard to build up a reputation, if you work really hard to prove to people that you’re credible, that you know what you’re doing, that you really are a specialist in the area you say you specialise in that’s a lot of work and to throw that away by being careless, by planning badly, by taking too much on, by not communicating with your clients you’ll lose it instantly.  Clients can’t be bothered with somebody who regularly submits work late.  If you submit work late once but that meant they missed a deadline they won’t bother using you ever again.  Once you start building credibility don’t lose it.  Do your best.  You can only do your best but do your best to maintain the image you’re portraying and prove people right.  If they put their trust in you make sure that your behaviour merits that trust.

So that’s 10 points about gaining credibility as a freelance writer and now it is time for my Little Bird recommendation of the week and it’s a bit of a light hearted one this week.  It is a Twitter account called GooglePoetics and you know when you do a search on Google and it gives you dropdown options for what people commonly search for, or what it suspects you might be searching for, people are spotting poetry, I guess found poetry in some ways, in some of the dropdown predictions that Google are giving out and some of them are really quite beautiful.  So head over to @GooglePoetics to have a look at the screenshots of spontaneous Google poetry which are just lovely and a bit of light relief.  As an example one person did a search for ‘I wish I knew’ and it auto-completed in the following poem:

I wish I knew how it would feel to be free

I wish I knew how to quit you

I wish I knew then what I know now

I wish I knew Natalie Portman

So there we have it.  Enjoy your Google poetry recommendation of the week.  The link will be in the show notes.

I’m sorry if it’s been a bit choppy.  I’ve had to stop and start a lot of times either because of power tools across the road or because I’ve needed to cough and sneeze for a while, but that’s how committed we are to this podcast.  We come at you when we’re ill and when there are workmen.

Thank you for listening.  Do check us out at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com.  Subscribe, leave us ratings and feedback on iTunes and Stitcher and anywhere really.  Tell your friends that we exist.  Like our Facebook page.  Come say hi to us on social media.

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