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Podcast Episode 20: Goal Planning – Your Freelance Aims for 2013

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It’s the first day of a brand new year, so it is time to make some goals and set some aims for what you want your freelance business to achieve in 2013. In this episode, Lorrie and I discuss why goal-setting is a good idea, and we discuss some of the best ways to ensure that the goals you set are ones you can stick with. Enjoy, and happy new year!

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Show Notes

Understanding Advanced Search using Google Search


LH: Hello and welcome to Episode 20 of A Little Bird Told Me – the podcast about the highs, the lows and the no-nos of successful freelance writing.


Resolutions 2012

Resolutions 2012 (Photo credit: simplyla)

You can subscribe to the podcast in a number of ways: just visit our podomatic page, at and subscribe via RSS feed, iTunes or Stitcher Smart radio – or just on the Podomatic page itself. That way, you’ll never miss another episode. Additionally, there you can find the link to our Facebook page and to the numerous websites and social media feeds of myself and the lovely Pip. I’m Lorrie Hartshorn.

PW: And I’m Philippa Willitts, and welcome to the first A Little Bird Told Me of 2013! 20 episodes in – I’m not sure we when we started that we ever thought we’d get to this point – but the podcast is happier and healthier than ever, with lots of listeners and the number 2 spot on Podomatic, which is amazing! Today we’re going to be talking about setting goals for yourself as a freelancer, goals for both you and your business, starting out with why setting goals for yourself is so important.

LH: While lots of people might be just getting over their hangovers and setting out their New Year’s Resolutions around now, the kind of goals we’re talking about are those that will help to move you and your business forward. And, unlike New Year’s Resolutions, they’re not designed to be conveniently forgotten about at the earliest possible opportunity like that whole “I’m going to go to the gym four times a week!” one that I totally didn’t resolve to do!

PW: Or don’t eat chocolate ever again.

LH: Yes! Someone said to me, “Why don’t you give up chocolate for a year?”

PW: Why on Earth would you want to do that? You might get hit by a car in August and spend your last moments wondering why you’ve missed out on eight months of chocolate.

LH: Can you imagine if it you got hit by a Cadbury’s truck?

PW: That’s a beautiful short story.

LH: Thank you! I might note it down!

PW: Yes, so like Lorrie said, resolutions tend to last about a week or two, whereas setting goals can be a really useful exercise to make sure you are achieving the things you want to achieve, and going in the right direction. It can help you to stay motivated, as well, and can make sure you do tasks you might overlook otherwise.

LH: Yeah, definitely a good way to keep on track. So, first of all, what types of goals might freelance writers set – or freelance anythings, for that matter? It makes sense to split your desired goals into two areas: personal development and business development. Personal development would include things like training, courses, research and all kinds of things that will help you to improve your knowledge and skills. Business development aims are wider goals, really – what you can do outside your writing and editing savvy to make sure you win clients, keep current clients (and yourself!) happy and grow your business, improve your marketing as time moves on.

PW: I agree that’s a good way to divide them up. I’d add an extra area though, because it ties in to one of my own most important goals for this year. Because we know, as freelancers, how work and not-work can easily merge into one big half-working situation, so I’d add a work-life balance section, because one of my goals is… *drum roll* to take a whole week off in one go. Not divided up, so two days here and there, but a whole week in one go, and in a very planned way so I can get extra work done the week before and inform all my clients in advance. But a whole week off in one go. Radical, eh?

LH: Haha, it’s the sort of thing I’ve only ever dreamed of! But no, you’re right – joking aside, I’ve done it a couple of times. Freelancers, like anyone else, we’ve got the right – and the need – to take a really good stretch of time off in one go. It’s important to recharge your batteries, so yes, let’s go with three areas, then – personal development, business development and work-life balance.

PW: Awesome. In order to start setting goals, you need to know what you are aiming for. Otherwise they might be a bit pointless and lead you nowhere. Ask yourself where you want to be this time next year. Do you want to be earning more? Do you want to have specialised more? Do you want more regular clients? Or, equally valid, do you love everything as it is, and want it to be just the same? If you know where you want to be, you can start to make a plan to get there.

LH: Yes, I think people tend to have vague hopes for where they want to be in a year’s time and they’re happy to see where the road takes them when it comes to achieving them. Sometimes, if you’re in a salaried position in a company, that’s an OK tack to take. The company you work for will develop externally of you, and you can base your own development on where that takes you. Say, whether you decide to spend more time on training and development, whether you decide to work towards an internal promotion or whether you decide to change companies – or even career.

LH: If you’re freelancing, though, you don’t really have the luxury of ruminating on your goals for the year. You are your business, and you need to keep those plates spinning. Setting realistic, sensible and forward-looking goals is a great way to do that.

PW: Absolutely. The way I’m looking at it, in terms of my own goal setting, is that there are big goals and there are small, regular goals. So you might set a bigger goal, that by the end of the year you will have had 4 short stories accepted for publication in anthologies. That can be broken down, so you know that if you get one accepted every three months, you are on track to succeed. Alternatively, you can set smaller, regular goals, such as an aim to contact 20 new prospects every month, or earn £2,000 a month. Rather than aiming for one massive achievement, committing to regular, smaller achievements can help it to stay realistic and feel attainable.

LH: This is it – it’s a question of eating an elephant, isn’t it?

PW: Hahaha, it is!

LH: I’m hungry, I’m sorry! I’m vegetarian, which is more worrying still!

PW: I’m not, but I really like elephants!

LH: You want your goals to make a real difference to you by the time a year’s up – it’s a good stretch of time, but time is easy to lose – but that doesn’t mean you have to go charging in and trying to transform your life in one fell swoop. In fact, I’d agree with Pip on this and recommend smaller goals that add up to one big one over time. If you make your goals bite-size and regular, they’ll be far easier to incorporate into your already busy life.

PW: Yes, and if you have one massive goal to achieve by next January, it’s pretty easy to ignore it until…say, November! Whereas if you need to something this week, then next week, then the week after. It makes it easier to keep on track.

LH: Definitely, I keep a paper diary as I’ve mentioned before and I’ve gone through my diary at the beginning of the year and blocked off Friday afternoons for creative writing. Once it’s blocked off, it’s achievable.

PW: Absolutely, like Lorrie says, making a huge change isn’t what we’re talking about. You can’t realistically expect massive change overnight.

LH: So, when it comes to sitting down and figuring out your goals, you might feel a bit stuck. Which ones to choose? Which ones to pass up? Why? After all, how do you know if something’s a good goal to have? Pip and I want to recommend a goal-setting method that’s used by many organisations as a way of outlining KPIs – or key performance indicators – and making sure that goals are achievable and easy to keep track of.

PW: That’s right. It’s one of the most well-known ways of goal setting, and it’s called the SMART framework – it helps you to set goals which are specific, measurable, attainable realistic, and time sensitive.

LH: Yep. While it is sometimes tempting to dismiss templates like this as cheesy ideas, there’s a reason they’re so popular: it’s because they’re effective. As I mentioned earlier, it’s not a good idea to try and wing it when it comes to a freelance career and being self-employed. So, even if you feel a bit silly or cynical when it comes to setting goals in line with a specific framework, as I did at first, like the SMART method, it’s still worth sitting down and actually spending some time doing it.

LH: The fact is, if outlining a few goals in line with the framework is difficult for you, your business is probably lacking a bit of direction. And remember, spending a few hours on something like this might feel like a waste of time, particularly in the busy New Year period, because it’s not earning you money, but it’ll set you up really well for the year ahead.

PW: So if we start by looking at specific, then in terms of one of the possible goals we mentioned, let’s look at pay. Do you want to earn £30,000 this year? “Earn more” is no good, choose the wage you want to attain. A target for earnings is also nicely measurable – it’s easy to tell whether you’ve met your goal or not.

PW: Other specific and measurable goals might be that you want to send 5 pitches every week, or gain 5 new clients.

LH: Probably not five new clients a week, though!

PW: Haha, no, I meant in general, perhaps regular clients!

LH: Phew, I was starting to think I was lagging behind quite significantly in terms of marketing there!

PW: Setting goals which are attainable and realistic is very important. If you’ve earned £12,000 this last year and your aim for 2013 is to become a millionaire, then I hate to break it to you but you’re unlikely to succeed.

LH: you cynic!

PW: I know! You might, of course, but as goals go, it’s not that attainable or realistic.

LH: Definitely. There’s always this big dream, especially when we read about lucky ducks who’ve become overnight millionaires, but you’re setting yourself up for disappointment if you don’t keep your goals realistic.
For this reason, I think it’s important to brainstorm a few ideas when it comes to trying to find attainable goals. On the one hand, you don’t want to rest on your laurels and end up with a five-year plan that consists of “Do the same as last year”, then “Ditto, ditto, ditto, ditto.” That’s cheating, so don’t do that!

Writing Resolutions

Writing Resolutions (Photo credit: Tojosan)

You need to devise goals that are aspirational but not entirely out of reach; goals that motivate you because you can visualise ways to achieve them, maybe three, six or twelve months down the line. On the other hand, though, while you should have to reach for your goals – and use them as a means of advancing – don’t go reaching for the stars unless you’ve got a space ship. This isn’t a film, it’s a business, so keep things sensible. What I’m saying, really, is that it’s crucial to find a balance.

PW: Yes, if you set them too high, you’re likely to look at them go, “I can’t do it.” Whereas, if they’re too easy, it might keep you ticking along nicely but if you want to progress, you won’t if your goal is, “Do a bit of work once a week.”

Goals which are timely are those which have a particular length of time in mind for when you want to achieve them. Going back to wanting to have 4 short stories accepted into anthologies. That’s a nice goal, but if it’s in general you will have no motivation to make it happen this year. As a goal to achieve before the end of the year, you will be much more proactive. Similarly do you want to earn £30,000 this year, or in total for the rest of your life?! So, set time limits. When goals have a time limit, this helps them to be measurable too. All these different factors play into each other to create goals that are pretty resilient.

LH: Absolutely. I think this touches on a really important point that’s worth reiterating. While goals should be a really positive, motivating way to start your New Year, there’s no point spending a half-day or day outlining them if you feel comfortable sacking them off a week or a month later. That’s another reason it’s so important to make sure you address all of the factors above – if you choose unsuitable goals, you’re more likely to think (probably correctly) that they were a bad plan in the first place and shouldn’t be stuck to.

PW: Absolutely. Once you have set your goals, you need to stick to them or, as Lorrie has just said, they are a pointless exercise. Think about the things that, in general, help you to stay accountable. Some people make sure they tell other people their New Year’s Resolutions, so that if they are caught smoking, or eating pizza, they can’t pretend they weren’t supposed to!

LH: Yeah, accountability is a really important thing. I like to make quite a thing of my annual goals by writing them down on a really big bit of A3 card in my office. Also, for smaller goals, the fridge – no kidding! – is a really good place to have them. Particularly personal goals. I head to the kitchen several times a day – for tea, lunch, dinner, snacks, whatever – and to have the goals there where everyone can see them and I can be reminded of them really does help.

PW: Something that can help me is having something that reminds me of why I chose that goal in the first place. If I’ve lost my motivation and can’t be bothered, then being reminded that I’m doing this because of x, y and z can boost my enthusiasm for the project again! If I don’t want to send out another pitch but I can contextualise it and remember why I’m doing it, it’s a boost.

LH: Ooh, you could have your one-week holiday destination there on a lovely postcard!

PW: Yes! Setting up a regular time each month, or each week, to monitor how you are getting on is a good idea.

For instance on the first of each month I do all my financial stuff. I think I’m going to add goal monitoring to that day each month. I can review whether I am meeting my goals, exceeding them, or failing entirely. If you revisit them in this way then you can decide if they actually need revising – if by April you’ve had 6 short stories accepted, then change your goal to keep going.  Whereas, if you’ve had none by September, then perhaps aim for 2 by the end of the year in that case. There’s no point stubbornly sticking to a wrong goal just because it’s what you decided on the 1st Jan.

LH: definitely – and this is one more reason your goals should be measureable.

PW: Absolutely. Regular reviewing and monitoring can help you to check your goals are realistic and attainable, and if one is clearly very wrong, it gives you the chance to do something about it. It can also give you a kick up the bum if you’ve got lazy on one or two.

LH: it’s true – t’s easy to get lazy at the best of times. Also, if you’re new to goal setting and freelancing, it’s a bit of a shock to the system to realise you’re the only driving force behind your own career. It can be scary, and New Year can be a scary time anyway and a lot of people tend to have real existential crises – “What am I doing with my life? Where’s this all going? What does it all mean?” But by having it all bullet pointed nicely and what have you, you can see what you’re doing, go back and revisit it. As Pip says, don’t stick with something if it’s not working – give it a go (hopefully the tips in this episode will help you come up with some goals worth sticking to!) but don’t stick to something arbitrarily if it’s not working.

LH: The next thing we want to discuss is what to do if you don’t stick to your goals. And, as Pip just said, making time to assess your performance in line with your goals should make it easy for you to see how you’re getting on. Again, as with the setting of the goals in the first place, don’t try and cheat your way out of your assessments.

PW: You’re only cheating yourself! Haha!

LH: It might well be tempting to skip a weekly or monthly goal check, especially if you know 100% that you’ve been really flaky on one or two (or even all) of them, but you’re only kidding yourself. The sooner you look at your goals, the sooner you can iron out any problems.

If you find that all’s not well in the homestead, you need to work out what’s happening. Depending on how you work best, you might want to sit down on your own and have a little ‘heart to heart’ with yourself on why something’s not gone to plan. Or, if you have a trusted person like a partner, colleague, friend or family member, maybe sit down with them and try and pinpoint the issue.

It might be that the original goal is fine – you’re just not quite going about achieving it in the right way. Or, it might be that the goal needs some tinkering. I think that’ll often depend on whether it’s a small, medium or large goal – if you find that you’re in month six and your plan was to earn £30,000 in the year, but you’re only on £5,000, there’s obviously a real issue that might need you to shift one of the goal-posts as well as altering your working methods as well.

PW: Yes, an important point to make here is that reviewing and possibly revising them is not to be used to get out of a task you’re bored of. It’s strictly for goals which it has become clear were totally out of whack, one way or another.

LH: Good point. If you get three months in and find that your goal of keeping better track of your finances by having a weekly session with your online banking interface and your spreadsheets is boring, it’s not an excuse to lay your hand across your forehead and bemoan that, “This is not for me…this was THE WRONG GOAL” As long as a goal is going according to plan, leave it alone and just do it.

LH: The next thing we wanted to talk about is what to do if you’ve achieved/exceeded your goals. As Pip mentioned above, achieving your goal early isn’t an excuse to sit back and relax for the rest of the year. There are different ways of dealing with a goal that’s been met, and it’ll very much depend on the type of goal. Say you started the year wanting to earn £30,000 in the twelve month period, and you achieve that sum by month nine, there are two ways of looking at the situation. Either you go on and try to continue earning at the same rate (never a bad thing!), and increase your desired earnings for the next year, or you can take a little time and concentrate on other things. Or, invest some of the ‘extra’ funds in more training and development. Better still, treat yourself to a few nice things – life is for living, after all 😉

PW: Or, you could take my goal to an extreme and just take the final 3 months of the year off!! Not if you ever want your clients back, however.

LH: Yeah, I can’t see many of my clients welcoming me back with open arms after a three-month break!

PW: That is one of the fears of taking time off, isn’t it? If they need to find another copywriter to cover you for a week, then they’ve got another copywriter on their books!

LH: What I’ve always tended to do is mention the holiday *way* in advance and prepare, say, news articles before the week or two weeks comes around. The last thing we want is some other copywriter coming in and smooching up our clients!

PW: Yes, that’s absolutely my plan actually. Warn regular clients, and do as much in advance as I can.

LH: As long as you know when you’re going to be off, you should be fine – you have a good level of communication with your clients, they know from experience that you’re committed to keeping the work at a good standard and they know you’re flexible, punctual and accommodating.

PW: Aww thank you! And yeah, that’s the thing. It’s not like I’ve taken no time off this year, it’s just that it’s been a bit ad hoc – if I was having a quiet week I’d have a few days off. This is different because it will have to be planned far in advance.

LH: And you’re quite entitled. While being a freelancer is a bit different to being salaried, in that you are your business, you’re still very much entitled to some time off. I think, as well, there’s a tendency to think too big when it comes to taking time off. Because you’re used to being so busy when you’re self-employed, and to carrying the whole business, you feel like the world will end when you don’t check your emails for a day or so.

PW: Even an hour!

LH: Haha, I didn’t want to say it, but yes! The funny thing is, though, that other people don’t even notice – it’s sod’s law! You have to remember that people aren’t sitting there focusing on you, you, you. Think about it – I don’t send an email and then sit there wondering when that one person will get back to me. I expect a delay of some hours or days, depending on the query.

PW: It’s true, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that sitting in your inbox is your DREAM assignment, with a 25 minute acceptance limit.
LH: This assignment will self-destruct in T-minus five minutes…

PW: Exactly!!

LH: Joking aside, I think a nice, specific out-of-office will tide you over absolutely fine for a week 🙂

PW: I haven’t told you this yet, but my auto-responder will probably say, “If you have a copywriting emergency, please do contact Lorrie”!

LH: Um, thanks?! Good to know I’m recommendable. Maybe I can be your Little Bird Recommendation for the week!

Little Bird Recommendations

PW: Lorrie, as transitions go, that was SEAMLESS. Beautifully done.

LH: Why thank you! Just one more reason to recommend me, I guess 😉

PW: Maybe next time! So what’s your recommendation this week?

LH: So, this week, my recommendation will be put to shame by Pip’s, but it’s nice and simple: business cards! I got caught out last week when I met a prospective new client, reached into my hand bag for a card and realised that I’d changed my handbag. For new freelancers, I’d recommend you get on the internet and have a look for free business card samples. My personal favourite is – they offer 10 free business cards, totally personalised, so get them, and stick them in your wallet!

PW: Like you say, when you go out shopping, you’re not actively looking for clients, but you do want to be prepared. I do keep some in the back of my diary, as back up, really.
Now, my recommendation is a course I took recently. I found it on and I think it’s fair to say that the quality on there varies a lot. But this one, I loved. I am a bit of a search geek, so when I saw they had an “Advanced Search on Google” course, taught by a guy from Google, I couldn’t resist. It didn’t disappoint. I already used a few of the tips, such as putting a minus in front of the terms you don’t want to include. I remember, I got glue ear once, and searched for it on Google, but realised most people who get it are toddlers and babies, so I searched for “glue ear” minus babies, minus toddlers, minus children!
Another one of the advanced search functions I use is searching within a certain time frame. For example, if I need current statistics, but I google and find results from 2009-10, that’s no use. So I search within the last week or month. But there were so many more tips and tricks and they’ll help me a lot in the searches I do when researching articles. Even if you’re strangely not like me, and excited by searches, you can still benefit from this course. The link’s in the show notes at, the course is free – it’s about four hours of video, perhaps a bit less.

LH: And please, if you’re interested in search, please, please get in touch with Pip because she needs some like-minded friends! Please don’t make me to talk to her about search any more. When you decide to become a freelance writer, you think, “Ah, writing! I like that, I can do that!” but what you don’t realise is how much you’ll have to baby step clients through finding up to date, relevant information for their stories.

PW: that’s often why they hire you – because they don’t have time to do it.

LH: It’s also something to pop on your CV and on the training section of your website. People like to think they’re getting value for money, and if they see you’ve just taken a course, they’ll like that.

PW: Plus, people hire me to write about search so it’s my duty to take training on it. Also, I love it!

LH: Haha, I knew that was the real reason! I can see you rolling around in search print-outs.

PW: Life wouldn’t be interesting if we all liked the same kind of thing.

LH: True, we both love grammar, for example.

PW: Me too! What I really find interesting is when someone whose first language isn’t Eglish uses a particularly word order or grammatical formulation because that’s how they’d normally do it in German or Swedish, for example.

LH: That’s a service I offer, actually – it’s called target text only editing. So, you’ll have a text that’s been translated from, say, Swedish to English, and there’ll be mistakes in there that, if you have no knowledge of Swedish, you won’t understand why they’re there or what they’re supposed to mean. So it’s a cross between translation and editing, really, and it’s something I do offer because I can see why someone’s put what they’ve put, take it back to the original language and try and decipher what was meant.

PW: I used to know the only Welsh to Swedish translator in the world!

LH: That’s fabulous!

PW: There wasn’t a whole load of work, but what there was, she got! She was Swedish, went to Uni in Wales and as well as picking up English, perfected Welsh as well.

LH: Right, anyway!

PW: So yes, we’re both geeks in our little…well, big ways!

LH: So, we hope you’ve enjoyed this podcast and that it’s a really positive way of getting into the swing of things for 2013, by setting some goals that will help drive you and your business forward.

PW: And come over to our Facebook page and tell us what your goals are!

LH: Yes, tell us how you’ve used the SMART framework to come up with some self-employment goals. Pip and I might share some of our own as well.

PW: Thank you so much for listening, we really hope you’ve enjoyed this episode. I’ve been Philippa Willitts…

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


Podcast Episode 19: How to Proofread Your Own Work

We ran out of storage space for our earliest episodes. But fear not, we have made these many, many hours of freelance writing goodness available for just £10. If you want access to them all, please click Add to Cart and buy through our e-junkie account for instant access.

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As a freelance writer, there are times when it is impractical or unrealistic to hire an external proofreader to check through everything you write. A full work of fiction or an entire book will, without question, require a professional proofreader and editor, but for 500 word articles or 700 word blog posts we need to be able to check and double-check our own writing to make sure that everything we submit is perfect.

In this solo episode, I discuss numerous tactics that can make this process much, much easier.

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

Subscribe via RSS

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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!

Show Notes

Armando Iannucci: Comedy Writing Tips


How to proof-read your own work

Hello and welcome to episode 19 of A Little Bird Told Me, the freelance writing podcast that talks about the highs, the lows and the no-nos of successful self-employment.


proofreading… (Photo credit: monsterpants)

Tune in every week to get news, views, opinions, tips and tricks about freelance writing, and find us online at If you go to that website, you can subscribe to the podcast by RSS feed, on iTunes or on Stitcher Smart Radio. And if you do that, you’ll be the first to hear when we have a new episode out. On that page, you can also find links to our Facebook page, and also to my own social media feeds and websites, and those of my co-host Lorrie. Although, speaking of my co-host Lorrie, she’s not here today as this is a solo episode. So you’re with me, Philippa Willitts, and I’m going to be talking about proof-reading your own work.

Now, if you do an extended piece of wiritng, be it a novel, a set of short stories, a book length non-fiction text or any considerable piece of work, then don’t even try and be your own proof-reader. It’s not realistic – nobody can successfully proof-read their own work when it’s a long, decent-sized text. You need a proof-reader, and an editor, and there’s no avoiding that.

However, when you’re a freelance writer, often a lot of what you do is smaller pieces of work for clients such as articles, press releases, website copy – there are a lot of different options that it’s just not realistic to expect to hire an external proof-reader for. If you’ve written 500 words as a news story for a client, sending it off to be proof-read, then getting it back, isn’t common practice.

But, proof-reading your own work, you still face some of the same problems with smaller pieces of work as you do with longer ones – it is really hard to look at your own work with fresh eyes, and that’s absolutely necessary if you’re going to proof-read successfully. A lot of freelance writers are also proof-readers as well – I am, and I know Lorrie is too – so it might seem strange to dedicate an episode to it when we already know how to do it. But when you’re doing it on your own writing rather than on someone else’s, you really do fae some different issues. When you read your own work, you’re familiar with it, so it’s easy to skip over words and phrases without even knowing you’re doing it. It might evem be that you think you’re reading it, but you’re actually remembering it and what’s in your head is what you remember writing, which was, of course, perfect! It’s only when you look at it with fresh eyes that you realise there’s an extra comma and, for some reason, you’ve capitalised a word in the middle of a sentence.

The Importance of Proofreading

The Importance of Proofreading (Photo credit: spaceninja)

The place to start is with the spell-check in your word processor. Now, these are notoriously unreliable and they’re certainly not something you should rely on entirely. They don’t spot homophones, they don’t spot typos that are still words but not the word you intended. However, there’s no denying that looking over your work and spotting one of those red wiggly underlines can help you to see errors that you’ve made. It’s a place to start, but it’s far from the end, So, once you’ve written it, it’s important to remember that, in order to proof-read properly, writing and proof-reading are entirely different mind-sets. If you’re still writing, you can’t proof-read at the same time, and you won’t be able to proof-read properly until you’ve finished writing. Because, when you’re writing, you’re in a creative mind-set. Even if it’s non-fiction – it doesn’t have to be fiction to require creative thinking, because you’re thinking about how to word something, how to structure it, and all that kind of thing. When you’re proof-reading, you have to really zone in on the specifics. In order to do that, proof-reading and writing have to be separate events.

And, ideally, you’ll leave a long gap between writing and proof-reading – the longer the time it is since you wrote it, the likelier you are to be able to spot errors. The best scenario would be to finish a piece of work on Monday and proof-read it on Friday – you’d probably have written a lot of things in the meantime, and proof-reading it would be a lot easier than trying to do it straight after writing.

But, especially if you’re a commercial freelancer, you don’t often have the luxury of that amount of time, or being able to write something so early when you have a lot of deadlines. So, if you can proof-read it 24 hours after writing it, that’s great. But, even if you can write it in the morning and proof-read it in the afternoon, that’s still better than stopping writing and starting proof-reading instantly. You have to refocus your mind – it’s a very different skill, so separating writing and proof-reading as best as you can will only help.

Proofreading advert needs proofreading

Proofreading advert needs proofreading (Photo credit: engineroomblog)

And then you need to take as many steps as you can to view your work with fresh eyes. One really effective way to do this will be to read your work out loud. This has various benefits for your work, and the first is that it tells you if what you’ve written scans properly. Something that looks ok on the page – when you read it out loud, you might realise that you’ve got your tenses wrong, or that a certain word doesn’t really fit, or that you’ve repeated a word, or even that you’ve just got an impossibly long sentence. There are some mistakes that are easier to spot when you hear them than when you see them. And reading your work out loud is obviously a great way to do this – some people even get someone else to read their work out loud. The other main benefit of reading your work aloud is that it slows you down.

Your out-loud reading will almost certainly be slower than your…I was going to say “mind-reading” but it’s not that! Than your ‘internal’ reading in your mind. So, it helps you to not skip words and phrases that you might have overlooked if you were just reading on a screen.

Another important tip is to proof-read for one kind of error at a time. You want to spot grammar mistakes, punctuation mistakes, and spelling mistakes. But looking for all three at the same time can distract you and mean that you miss things, so do at least three different scans of your text. The first one might be for grammar, so you go through very closely looking specifically for grammatical mistakes. Your next might be for punctuation. Some people even, if they know they have a particular problem with commas, they might do a specific read-through for commas. But yes, punctuation: did you use that colon correctly? Did you put that full stop inside or outside of the quotation marks? Then, finally, the spelling read-through. Check you’ve used the right there, they’re or their, or whether you’ve got here and hear mixed up.

Another really good tip for proof-reading your spelling is to read the text backwards! This way, you won’t miss things in an overall phrase or get distracted by reading the story rather than the words. So, go through your text backwards, and you’ll look at each word individually, out of context, and spot things you might not have seen otherwise.

To view your work with fresh eyes is the best way to get into the proof-reading mind-set. One very simple technique is to simply print it out. You’re viewing it differently than on the screen that you might have been staring at for four hours, so arm yourself with a red pen. You’d be surprised at what you spot in a print-out that you don’t see on the screen. One technique I use all the time is to change the font, and sometimes the font size.

It’s amazing how small steps like that can help you view your work differently. If you’ve spent a long time on a piece of writing, your eyes are so familiar with what it looks like that they skip over words and phrases. When you change the font, there might be fewer words on a line or more lines in a paragraph, and this helps your brain to start again, rather than reading what you think you wrote. Because that’s the key – we write for a living; we write a lot and sometimes what ends up on the screen is what we think we wrote, rather than what we actually did write.

If you come across a mistake, and you correct it, go back and re-read that sentence to check it still makes sense. Sometimes, you’ll make a correction, but then leave in the word you meant to remove or add an extra word a few words early, so when you do make a correction, start again with that paragraph and double check that you’ve corrected what you think you’ve corrected. It can be quite hard for some writers when they proof-read properly to spot the mistakes they’ve made – it can be disconcerting to see you’ve made a number of mistakes in a piece of work they thought was perfect only an hour earlier. But the fact is it’s normal to make mistakes. We might be paid for this, but we’re only human – it’s what proof-reading is for and it’s why we offer it as a service to other people. We know it’s really important and we know that someone can take loads of care with a piece of work but that errors will still slip in. The important thing is to catch it, spot it, correct it and submit as good a piece of work as you can.

OK, so now it’s time for the Little Bird Recommendation. My recommendation this week is a YouTube video – an interview with a guy you might have heard of, called Armando Ianucci. I first became aware of him a few years ago when he used to do comedy panel shows on Radio 4. Anyway, this YouTube video is just three or four minutes of tips on comedy writing. Comedy writing isn’t something that either Lorrie or myself really specialise in, so it’s interesting to get an insight into how that all works. So, if you go to the shownotes at, you can find a link there to this recommendation.

So, that’s the end of episode 19, and I hope you’ve got some good tips there about proof-reading your own work, and that this will help you to avoid sending something off to a client with a big fat typo in the middle of it, or a semi-colon in the wrong place, or any other freelance writer deadly sins. Thank you so much for listening, and we’ll see you next time.

Podcast Episode 18: How to Network Like a Ninja

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Networking. It might not be your favourite thing, but it’s pretty much essential for any freelancer. In this podcast episode, Lorrie and I talk about  why networking is important, and how best to go about it. Like a ninja, obviously.

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Show Notes

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Episode 18: Networking like a ninja!

PW: Hello, and welcome to Episode 12 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, and there you can subscribe to the podcast in any number of ways, and you can also find the link to our Facebook page. I’m Philippa Willitts…


English: High Speed Business Networking Event ...

English: High Speed Business Networking Event by JCI Français : Événement de rencontres d’Affaires à très haute vitesse organisé par la JCI et l’association EGEE (Entente des Générations pour l’Emploi et l’Entreprise) en partenariat dans les locaux de France Télécom (Paris, Gare de Châtelet – Les Halles en 2006). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

LH: Today we’re talking about something that doesn’t seem to come naturally to a lot of writers and copywriters, and that’s face-to-face networking. Even if you’re not a natural networker, it’s a really valuable skill to have and one you can learn and improve on as your business grows. By following a few easy rules – and we’ll cover these in the course of this podcast – you can turn networking from what’s basically a necessary evil into something that really works for you and your business.

PW: Networking is not my favourite thing, I find it awkward, and getting the right line between self-promotion – which is pretty much why you’re there – and not being pushy – which puts people off – is hard. Because I’m so averse to being pushy I have a really bad tendency, at networking events, to make polite conversation, listen to what other people have to say, and do a very poor job at marketing myself. However it is something I’m constantly working on. I go to these things fairly regularly – at least partly so I can improve – and also, because it’s actually pretty vital as a freelancer, especially if you primarily do commercial copywriting.

LH: It’s interesting that you say that you go to them for practice, because it’s very much like going for an interview just for the experience. Networking events can be quite daunting, and what you mentioned about going along but just listening to other people is exactly the kind of thing this podcast episode will hopefully help our lovely listeners to avoid. There’s no point going to a networking event if you get there and find you can’t make it work for you. You really have to know how to ‘work the room’, to use a horrible bit of salesy speech there, you have to get in, get done and get out because other people are certainly going to. And yes, while networking might not be your cup of tea – it’s wasn’t mine at first, but I’ve got used to it really – but it’s hugely important for a number of reasons.

PW: One thing that’s really important is that, going into these events thinking, “I must sell myself!” is obvious and offputting. It’s important to let others talk too, and listen. If you go in and say, “Hi, I’m a copywriter and I can write your website for you!” and they’ve just had their website done, you’re of no interest to them. But if you properly listen to them talk about their business, you’re in a great position to identify what their needs are. So you can tailor your offerings to what they need. If they say, “I’ve had a new website done, but I’m wondering how to let the press know.” Then, you can talk to them about how good you are at writing press releases.
So a good way to pitch yourself right is to listen first, then talk.

LH: As long as you don’t both just listen first. Really quiet networking event! But no, you’re right, listening’s really important; people can tell straight away when you’re faking it – your eyes glaze over and if you’ve got nothing insightful to offer by the time they’ve finished speaking, they’re going to know you weren’t listening.

One thing I would add is that, as a copywriter, you ahev to be a good listener. The information you’re going to use is going to come from the client, so you need to be able to email or phone someone to elicit that information. So if you don’t listen properly at a networking event, you’re not setting yourself up for a good future working relationship with them.

PW: You’ll probably get three sentences from them, initially, and you’ll have to fill 24 pages. So what you have to do is get good at asking the right questions and reflect things back, listening properly until they’ve said everything you need to know. It’s quite a difficult skill to develop but it’s a valuable one.

LH: It makes people feel valued as well. It makes people feel like you’re investing time in them, and it’s great for building up trust at networking events. People like talking about themselves and they like someone who makes it easy for them to do that. No one wants to feel like they’re boring everyone silly.  You don’t have to pretend to be fascinated by everything they’re saying, but if you’ve chosen an appropriate event to go to, you should know who’s going to be there and have done some research to ensure that you know what people are selling or producing, and to know where you’re headed in the room so there’s plenty of interest to you.

PW: One thing that’s vital before attending a networking event is to prepare an Elevator Pitch. The idea behind this is, if you were to get into an elevator with Bill Gates, your elevator pitch is the perfect summary of what you do that would get you from the ground to the top floor in order that, by the top floor, Bill Gates would be investing in your business.

This is basically a summary of your business and what you offer, condensed to the amount of time it takes to go up a building in a lift. If you can shrink what you do and what you offer into a perfectly worded 10 seconds, once you’ve mastered it, you have a really good place to start when face to face networking. I adapt and update my elevator pitch all the time. It’s a bit like my website – I’m never 100% happy with it but the more I use it and the more I practice it, the better it gets. At networking events, you need to make a quick impression at a networking event, so if you start by stumbling over, “Yeah, I’m a writer…what do I write? All sorts of stuff really, whatever you need writing I can write, and….” then people will lose interest straight away. They don’t have time to listen to you ramble.

LH: I think there are two, maybe three types of people at networking events normally. One type is the people who don’t really know why they’re there, so they lose interest very quickly. The second is the normal people, I’d like to say, like you and me…

PW: Hahaha, that’s optimistic!

LH: Haha! Well, you’ve got to be! Live in hope, yeah? But the third type, I think, are very aggressive salesy people. If you don’t hit them straight away with a confident pitch, they’ll give you an amused smirk that says,

“Why are you here?”

So, yes, for me, a confident delivery makes all the difference. I’m small, I’m female, and many networking events are very man focused. The last one I went to, I went with a 49-year-old woman, and we were asked, “What are you girls here for?”

PW: Uuuugh!

LH: I was like, “Business – same as everyone else! So yes, for me, confident delivery is everything. As we’ve mentioned before, there’s no shame in owning your own business, and owning the fact that you own your own business. You’ll look unprofessional if you get blushy and worried about describing the services that you offer. Go in there, ignore your nerves and make sure you’re well prepared.

PW: If you want people to believe that you’re the professional you say you are, then you have to present yourself in that way.

Another vital, vital point about networking events, probably the biggest piece of advice I can give you – trust me on this – is, well, go and listen to episode 14, “Mistakes We’ve Made”, and hear my awful error. Seriously. It involves foul language and a massive internal censor failure! So yes, if you just want one absolutely, “Don’t do this at networking events.”, go and have a listen.

LH: It helped me, actually. I went to an event recently, and it was in my head the whole time. I was worried that it was going to be one of those things that was in my head so much that I’d actually end up saying it – but eventually, all was well, everything went well, and I have you to thank.

PW: So, there are quite a few benefits of Networking Events and we wanted to talk about those. Firstly, they get you out and about.  We’ve talked a lot about combatting isolation – we had an episode dedicated to that topic specifically – episode 11 -, and also it comes up regularly in other episodes – freelancers can get very isolated if they live and work at home. Even the most antisocial of freelancers needs human contact once in a while, and networking events are a good way of getting yourself out there. You meet other people who are self-employed and have the chance to promote your business and meet people who can help you too.

LH: Yeah, I think this is another reason to research the events you’re going to go to – don’t just go to any.

You’re supposed to enjoy yourself, at least a little – it’s not supposed to be Hell on Earth, you’re supposed to able to make valuable contacts and stretch the benefits out over the long-term. So if you really research, you can end making some really good contacts – people you’ll come back to again and again, people you can network with, collaborate with, share tips with – anything really. It’s brilliant for getting you out and about as long as you go to the right events.

The second benefit of networking events we wanted to mention is that face-to-face communication is really powerful. It might seem sort of counter intuitive hearing a writer saying that, but it just changes things up really.

With an email, for example, you have a whole range of tools under your belt, but with face-to-face communication, you have tone of voice, a smile, you’re in front of the person so they can’t escape or just click delete on you – there’s that boundary of politeness really, they can’t just get rid of you! You smile at someone, you disarm them – not literally, obviously…

PW: Haha, ninja networking!

LH: Haha, not my kind of event, but don’t let me judge! But yes, face-to-face communication does open channels that an email might not.

PW: Yes, if they’ve just got an email from you, they can hit delete. But, if you’re there in front of them, unless they are a ninja networker with a wide array of violent moves, they have to listen for a bit, as Lorrie says!

LH: This is true – they’re a captive audience, especially if you get them backed up behind the coffee and biscuits, or catch them while they’re behind their stand. They can’t just say, “No!” and walk away. This is why your elevator pitch is so important – it’s your ninja death star, and you can get your prospects quickly!

PW: The third benefit we identified is that networking widens your exposure and increases brand awareness. People, especially business people, hear and see and read about lots of local business, service providers, whereas if they’ve met you a few times or gone home with your business card. If you then email them, they’re more likely to remember you. It makes your brand more sticky in their mind.

LH: One thing I would add is that you should get yourself some lovely business cards. It’s really worth it, even just 100 to start off with. Get something really nice and hand it out – make sure you’re not shy about giving your card, shake hands with people, give them your card, because then people have a physical reminder of you after the day.

PW: Another benefit of face-to-face networking events is that it’s more personal than a pitch email. You’re a lot more memorable if you’re face to face than if you just send out an email which could be from anybody. If they can picture you in your mind, it humanises the person behind the pitch.

LH: Definitely, and it taps into what we said about listening to people when you meet them. If you pay attention, shake hands, make good eye contact, give open body language, or give your number, or arrange a coffee, they’ll remember you. There are lots of things you can do by email, but these aren’t those, so change things up.

PW: Definitely. When someone’s in front of you, you can respond to them a lot better: if they look bored, you can change tack. If they seemed bored but perked up when you said something in particular, you can work out that that’s what they’re interested in. They’re more likely to remember you as a human rather than an email, and to remember that you were talking to them personally.

LH: That’s it – it’s great when you’re face to face with someone to talk about how your services can help their business success.

PW: Yes, and that doesn’t mean telling them about everything you do. It means listening to them and spotting what they need.

LH: Yes, otherwise, it’s overwhelming. So, the fifth benefit of face to face networking is something we’ve touched on already, and that’s that your audience is more receptive: people are actually there for that specific person – they’re not sitting down having lunch when they receive your email; they’re not having a coffee when you give them a sales call. You’re all there for the same reason.

PW: Yes, people go there knowing that they’re going to promote their work, but also knowing that other people will be promoting their work as well.

LH: Do you know, the last networking event I went to, I went with a friend and client. When we got there, we homed in on the biscuit and coffee station because that’s where everyone wants to be. We started doing the rounds, after a while, and we came to these two tiny men, gripping a table and looking terrified. I went to them and I was chatting to them, but they were like rabbits in headlights, so I started out with a “Tell me about yourselves!” kind of opener. One of them looked at me and said, “Oh  no, you’ll have to talk to him about that!”. The other one, his eyes sort of rolled back in his head and he gave me a huge long list, and I tried to get some interaction going, but he was unstoppable. There was no reason for me to be there at all, and that’s someone who really wasn’t receptive, but only through terror.

PW: I’ve met loads of people who just list what they do, or the history of their company. The last event I was at, I got talking to this guy who was saying, “Yeah, I do this, and in 1980, we opened, and in 1984, we changed premises, and then in 1992…” and I was just standing there, not knowing what to say. And even I’d had something to say, he wasn’t up for listening. All the way through, I was wondering what I could offer him, and there was nothing!

Open Coffee Cardiff, Free Business Networking ...

Open Coffee Cardiff, Free Business Networking Event (Photo credit: YODspica)

LH: A pillow and a brandy!

PW: He didn’t have a website or any written material, so I clearly can’t help him.

LH: I suppose it’s a point though: you stood there and listened to him, which proves how receptive the audience is – especially British people.

PW: It’s true! I stood there for ten minutes and said barely 20 words. It was hard work.

LH: Yeah it sounds it – and I suppose it takes us neatly on to benefit six, which is that networking helps you hone your presentation and verbal communication skills for a change. Because obviously, what we normally work with is the written word.

PW: When you’re used to doing most of you communication in a written way, you get used to being able to edit things or coming back to things – or even nipping on to You get used to having time to think things through. When you want to be impressive verbally, it’s quite a different set of skills.

LH: yeah, you have to brush off the dust bunnies and come out of your hole – “Hello world, I’m still here!”

PW: Yes, and just be a lot more spontaneous.

LH: I don’t think a lot of clients realise what a massive gap there is between written and verbal communication. While you might be very comfortable with one, ie. Written communication, verbal communication is very different. I can go a whole day without speaking if I’m alone in the house. So yeah, getting your presentation skills sorted and boosting your verbal communication skills, it’s a great opportunity.

PW: Yeah, and most of the people you’re with aren’t master after-dinner speakers, so they won’t worry if you stumble over a word. So it’s a good way to reminding your brain to be quick, persuasive and to do it without planning.

LH: Good point. And face-to-face, you can smile if you forget a word, or say, “You know what I mean” and rescue the situation with visual clues.

PW: Definitely, definitely. The final benefit that we thought of was, actually, as well as meeting people who might want to hire you, you can also meet people you could work with too. I know Lorrie’s having a website redesign at the moment. You might go to a networking event and meet a designer. Or you might need a lawyer and meet one there. There’s a good chance that you can meet people who offer those services at a networking event.

LH: I tend to find, actually, that graphic designers, web designers and software designers networking in a very similar way to copywriters. Although we deal with different things, I think we’re a similar breed. But it tends to be quite a friendly networking experience, dealing with designers in particular. The way of working is quite similar and it’s quite beneficial to make these contacts, actually, as writers often need to recommend designers and designers often need to recommend writers.

LH: One thing I would say, and it comes from personal experience and personal frustration is that you should only really make connection with people you’re interested in. And when you do make good contact, honour that with an email or phone-call.

PW: Yes, don’t be tempted to blast an email out to all 38 people you met saying, “Hey, great to meet you yesterday, hire me!” – it doesn’t work.

LH: Yes, personalise your email communication. Email your matches as soon as you get back, while you’re fresh in their minds, and try to organise the next step with them. Don’t take it too far – as Pip just said, don’t be all, “Hire me, hire me, hire me!”

It’s good to take it easy, though – suggest coffee or a working lunch if you need to chat more. If they’re further away, a Skype call might be the way forward. Reconnect with them!

PW: Definitely. It’s also important to remember that you might meet someone and think they’re perfect, but they might not remember you as well – so give them a little prompt about who you were and what you discussed. It’s not personal, it’s not that you did a bad job, it might just be that you weren’t immediately what they were looking for.

Something I do, immediately after the event, is to write a note on the business cards I’ve collected – usually the date and where I met them, but also any other pertinent points that you might want to remember. You might think you’ll remember, but a week later, you don’t.

LH: I always think after events, that I’m going to start an excel file and type all the info in, but do you know what, that’s what business cards are for! Get a box, put some dividers in there and, as Pip says, put some notes on the cards and keep them in one place.

PW: I know some people swear by these phone apps where you can take a picture of the cards with your phone – it can extract the info and store it all, so if you want something more hi-tech, it’s worth looking into.

LH: I suppose even without an app, you could keep jpgs on your computer. A bit of a faff for me, but it could work.

I think I’d sum up about business networking events by saying, “Don’t be fake.” Don’t fake interest in people, don’t waste people’s time. Not everyone’s going to hire you, so choose your targets.

PW: Similarly, don’t feel obliged as though you’re going to hire someone if you’re not.

LH: True – you can be friendly and receptive, but let people know that, you know, “Thanks for your time, not really something I’m looking at at the moment. Don’t say you’re interested in hearing from someone if you’re not; don’t say you’ll contact someone if you won’t.

PW: And be aware that the things you might get out of the event might not be clients – there are all the benefits we mentioned above. Even if you go and you’re rubbish, you’ll be better next time!

A few weeks ago, we started the Little Bird Recommendations, in which we both share something worthwhile with our listeners every week. So, my Little Bird recommendation this week is a blog post. Quite often, if you submit work, you can be really confident with your a magazine article or a short story, the editor will nonchalantly add, “Oh, and send a photo and a short bio too, ok?”. I don’t know what it is about the words short bio that strikes fear in the heart of many writers, but lots and lots of people do find them incredibly difficult to write. Similarly with “about me” pages on your website. So my recommendation is a blog post entitled Writing About Yourself When You Hate It and it’s from Angela Booth’s Fab Freelance Writing blog, but don’t worry about remembering that, just check the show notes and there will be a link there. She gives some great advice about how to write about yourself, specifically to do with author bios, and anyone who finds themselves cringing when asked to write one should find it really useful.

LH: I’ll certainly give it a look – I often have to send them with my creative writing.

PW: Yes, it really does strike fear into people’s hearts – considering you’ve just written 2,000 words for someone, it’s funny that another 75 is so scary!

LH: I think it’s easy to be contrived when you’re trying to write an author’s bio. I can only speak from a creative perspective, really, but it’s difficult. It’s very much like trying to be taken seriously with your business: you want to be taken seriously as a writer, but creative writing can be quite embarrassing in a way because it’s quite intimate. You want to come over as someone who’s seriously a good writer, because you’ve been published, so you must be quite a good writer, but at the same time, you don’t want to take yourself to seriously, so here’s a funny anecdote about me but, OH GOD, what if they don’t find it funny? What if they think I’m a loser?!

PW: People always want a comedy last line, don’t they? “And I spend too much time with my cat!”. It’s hard to pitch it right – sometimes you read brilliant ones, but other times you think, “I see what you were trying to do, but oh God…”

LH: I spoke to the editor of a literary journal recently, and he’d received a submission email from someone who’d taken the liberty of including their own author bio, which was fine. The problem was, they’d tried to branch out with the humour into the email, and they’d started it with, “Dear Probably Intern…”

PW: Ohhhhh, dear…!

LH: And it’d gone to the owner of the intern, who reviews all the submissions personally. You’re not really showing much faith in the journal you’re submitting to, but nice attempt at humour! The guy who runs the journal is really nice, actually – we were chatting on Twitter and he really didn’t know what to do with it!
But yes, a blog post about writing about yourself when you hate will, I’m sure, be an absolutely God-send, and I’ll certainly have a look at it.

PW: Well, the link’s in the show-notes!

LH: Haha, thank you!  My recommendation this week is kind of the opposite of Pip’s, for me – it’s something that doesn’t come that naturally to me, and that’s direct marketing copy. I love creative writing, but this stuff isn’t my cup of tea. So, my recommendation is for copywriters who write for the web – particularly those who write direct marketing copy or sales pages: it’s called, and it’s the blog that’s a treasure trove for copywriters. There are loads of articles on there on how to create brilliant landing pages, very regularly updated, on how to optimise your SEO, and loads more. The emphasis on the blog tends to be on conversions – ie. sales, so it’s a great place to go to improve your skills in persuasive sales copy. It’s quite a hard topic – direct marketing copy actually looks really bad – it’s the kind of stuff that looks so bad that it’s good.

PW: I think most copywriters will be called on at some point to do direct marketing copy and it’s a really specific skill – you can just guess it, and think, “Oh, this is persuasive.” – there’s almost a science to it, and you’ll need tips. Any copywriter could really benefit from having a look at this site.

LH: Yes, more than just tips, you’ll need a recipe! Everything on a sales page – the headings, the sub-headings, the font, the font size, the images, the captions…who would think that the captions were the second most important thing on the page?

PW: Yeah, a lot of it is quite counter-intuitive. You’d think that surely the colour of the ‘buy now’ button would be the last thing to matter, but you’d be wrong. It goes to show that on a sales page, everything has to have a purpose. Through really studying how to convert from experts, you can make every word in your sales copy do a job.

LH: Definitely, so my recommendation this week – in which I’ve been doing loads of sales copy – is undoubtedly It’s brilliant for improving your skills in persuasive sales copy, it’s great if you’ve just got five minutes, it’s brilliant.

PW: Sounds great – just as you’ll be checking out my recommendation, I’ll be checking out yours.

So, we hope that this episode will help you to approach your next networking event with a ninja mentality. I’m not sure how well that really flows through the theme, but we like and it’s alliterative, so damnit, we’re sticking with it! Hopefully this will push you to attend your first event, or to get a better result if you’ve already been to a few.

LH: This is it! Be a ninja, get the results you want. Get people with your elevator pitch and don’t let them escape. This will help you improve your skills, and it’ll get you out of the house. Get yourself on, which is great for free events, so have a look. Usually, these events have social media pages, so get researching, prepare for them, go along and use the tools from this episode to make the most of them once you’re there.

PW: Go to and subscribe by RSS or on iTunes or on Stitcher Smart Radio. We know we’ve got some brilliant listeners because we get brilliant feedback on Twitter, but our Facebook page is a bit lonely!

LH: and we’re ninjas – we can find you. So subscribe, please!

PW: And then, because I’m feeling demanding, you should tell your friends. You can embed this podcast on your website – that would be ace!

LH: Give us a Christmas present, come and say hello!

PW: I’ve been Philippa Willitts…

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

Podcast Episode 17: How to Create an Editorial Calendar

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You might have heard of editorial calendars, or you might have been convinced that they are a good idea, but actually creating one can seem like an intimidating task. Is there software? How flexible will it be? And where on earth do you start?

In this solo episode, Lorrie explains what editorial calendars are, recommends software and gives some great information on the subject.

Show Notes

Links and sites mentioned during the episode:

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!


Hello and welcome to Episode 17 of A Little Bird Told Me – the freelance writing podcast that charts the highs, the lows and the no-nos of successful self-employment.

I’m Lorrie Hartshorn, and today’s episode is another solo effort, so for anyone longing to hear the dulcet tones of the lovely Pip – and I miss her too – you’ll just have to go along to and, there, you can subscribe to the podcast via RSS, with iTunes or with Stitcher Smart Radio, and that way, you’ll be the first to know when another duel episode comes out.

Today, I’m going to be talking about how to create an editorial calendar that works for you. As a freelance writer, you’ll find there are many times when all you seem to have time to do is hit external deadlines: copywriting, editing, proof-reading, social media consultancy – anything you offer, all the stuff that pays the bills. But while you do usually have to prioritise those deadlines, producing unique, interesting, topic content for your own website, or for guest posts (which Pip discussed in her last solo episode, which I think was number 15), it’s all part of marketing yourself and the services you offer.

World Calendar

World Calendar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, why do you need an editorial calendar? It’s often not possible to share work that you’ve completed for clients, either for confidentiality or SEO reasons, but many prospective clients would really prefer to see what you can do in terms of producing content. So, if you have regularly updated content on your own website, or articles and features on other websites that you can direct people to, there’s just that little bit more proof out there that you really are as good as you say you are.

Regularly updated content on your site will also, as Pip and I have mentioned before, help to keep your site ranking high up on Google, making you more easily searchable for key terms, say for people hunting for, say, “Copywriter in London” on Google, Bing or where have you. It’s also a sign that you’re  still on the planet and still trading, and that you’re engaged and up-to-date with the latest developments in copywriting and any industries you specialise in. All in all, it’s a really good thing for you, your website and your prospective clients.

But, while it’s easy to see why regularly updated content is a positive thing, what’s not so easy is making sure you find time to produce and upload it. It’s easy to get started but it’s also easy to let it taper off again, which is where the editorial calendar comes in. It’s a brilliant tool, not only for planning, but for accountability as well, which is something Pip and I talk about a lot – you may have noticed! When you work for yourself, it’s easy to let those “internal deadlines” slide. And by that, I mean deadlines that you set for yourself. An editorial calendar can at least help you to see what you’re supposed to be doing at any one time – obviously, it’s not going to make you do it, but you can see what you’re supposed to be doing and at least try and hit those targets.

While it might sound like something fancy,  an editorial calendar is essentially a schedule that helps you to keep track of your content across your website, blog, your guest posts, publications, e-marketing campaigns, monthly newsletters and social media feeds, to name just a few. If you’re a copywriter, you’ll know that somehow, content ends up everywhere!

But yes, editorial calendars are a great way of seeing what you’ve got coming up in terms of content, and by having those deadlines written down and ready to tick off, you’re more likely to stick to them. Lots of the deadlines will actually, in time, become regular commitments if you stick to this, which will help you box off the time in your calendar or diary from the word go. So rather than thinking every week “Ugh, where am I going to find the time for that blog post/guest post/e-newsletter?” it’ll actually become second nature to block off in your diary when you’re not free and when the work needs to be done.

When it comes to actually setting up an editorial calendar, there are a number of ways you can go about it – starting with the most simple: the trusty spreadsheet. There are a number of spreadsheets you can use: Google Drive, Open Office, Excel – they’re all pretty much the same and they all do a pretty no-frills job. There are a number of software apps you can use instead but if you’re happy using a spreadsheet, it’s a perfectly reasonable option.

If you do want to have a look at some of the apps out there that are undoubtedly more intuitive than Excel, there are things like DivvyHQ, – bit of a weird name, it’s probably from ‘divvying things up’ rather than ‘being a complete divvy’, but a bit risky in my opinion! – but yes, but they are generally paid for. I think Divvy, for a sole trader (you have different options: Divvy for sole traders, small businesses and large businesses, and obviously the price expands accordingly) is about $30 a month, and you do get a free 30-day trial for sole traders, so it’s something to think carefully about because it’s a bit of an expense, so if you’re watching the pennies or you’re just starting out and you don’t know if you’re going to stick to using editorial calendars, start with something a bit cheaper – i.e. free.

Another way of setting up an editorial calendar – and it’s one that’s free, and one more reason to switch your email to Gmail if you haven’t already – is using a Google Drive spreadsheet and synching it with your Google calendar. While this sounds complicated – you might be sitting there thinking, “I don’t know how to synch things! What are you talking about?!” – it really isn’t complicated – there are a number of editorial calendar templates and step-by-step instructions you can use to help you get started. I’ll include instructions on how to do this in the show notes.

To take another tack, if you’re looking to organise the content on your WordPress blog or WordPress-based website, there’s also a handy little app – again, link will be in the shownotes, called, imaginatively enough, “Editorial calendar” – imaginative! It’s a brilliant little tool, it’s completely free, and it’s well rated by a large number of people, so you don’t just have to take my word for it.

Not only does the WordPress editorial calendar give you a clear overview of your blog post schedule (and that’s something that’s not always that easy to see in WordPress), it also offers a pretty intuitive drag and drop facility, which is really nice, actually – you can shuffle posts round, manage drafts, change dates, and perform quick edits on your blog title, content and times. It’s really good little plugin, so if you have a WordPress website or blog that has a pretty busy content flow, it’s definitely worth trying this plug-in.

Now I’ve talked a bit about what editorial calendars are and the different options for setting them up, I want to chat about what needs to go in them.

I think a lot of people find the fancy name ‘editorial calendar’ quite misleading. It sounds like some huge, complicated document full of super neat information, but that’s really not the case at all. The whole point of an editorial calendar for freelance writers, at least, is to keep all your bits and bobs in one place, so to speak. It’s the digital version of sticking loads of post-it notes in your diary. So, for most freelance copywriters, the process for the production of your own content – and I’m not talking about work you get from clients – should go something like this:

Planning proces

Planning proces (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Firstly, researching topics you want to talk about, finding places you want to publish them (this might be on your own website or blog, or somewhere else) and deciding when you want to publish them. Ideally, you’ll be thinking ahead and writing something that will be suitable for publication at a later point in time, but if you’ve written something about some breaking news or development, you’ll obviously need to have a rejig – I remember when iPhone 4 came out and I got a lot of clients getting in touch with me saying, “Is there any way we could like the iPhone to our business, because it’d be great for SEO!” So yes, if something like that pops up, you need to be seen to be on the ball. So yeah, have a rejig and an editorial calendar will help you rejig without forgetting things.

Secondly, in your processes, actually writing each piece of content according to your production schedule – you won’t need to start writing a piece that’s due in six weeks, for example, but you may well want to get started on a draft for something that’s coming out at the end of the week.

Thirdly, proof-reading and editing your content. Can’t stress this enough – you have to proof-read and edit your own content. I think Pip is actually planning on talking about how to proof-read your own work soon, so stay tuned. But yes, as a freelance copywriter, proof-reader, editor, whatever, the last thing you want is to proudly announce to the world that there’s a new article out that just so happens to be chock full of terrible typos and rubbish spelling! It’ll do you so much damage, so proof-read!

Finally, publishing. Whether you hit send manually, you schedule a number of posts at one time, or you choose to synch your editorial calendar so that the publication of posts is automated, the content actually needs to find its way out there. Once that’s done, you can tick it off and start all over again – yay!

A few pointers to remember

OK, so to sum up, I just want to include a few things that I personally find helpful when it comes to editorial calendars. Firstly, no matter where you create your calendar – whether it’s Excel, Google Drive or whatever – I think it’s a great idea to include two things other than just the calendar itself. Number one: a brainstorming area, where you can jot down ideas for any upcoming posts, or any links you want to refer to, and number two: an annual overview, complete with important dates that might influence anything from your content, your theme, your tone, right down to your expected open rate.

Say, for example, you’re a Brit like me and you forget that Americans have snuck in an extra holiday before Christmas – with yet more turkey – namely Thanksgiving. If you send out a huge e-marketing campaign on that day, you can pretty much kiss goodbye to any expected sales because they’ll be stuffing themselves with turkey, not reading your email.

Or, worse, you publish a happy, jokey, cheery blog post but you forget that it’s actually September 11th – you can actually risk offending or hurting the feelings of the very people you’re trying to target. An annual overview will help you avoid these pitfalls so, when you set up your calendar, take an hour or two to really scour the web for major public holidays, religious festivals, bank holidays here in the UK, memorial days and anything else you can think of.

The best way to find an editorial calendar set-up that suits you is to get started. If you’re really unsure of how to go about it, start with a template and build up from there. As I say, there will be some templates in the show notes. Think about the kind of things you’ll need to keep track of, the basics being:

– The title of your content, if applicable
– The date you’re going to start writing it
– The date you’re going to proof-read and edit it
– The time and date it’s going out
– The URL where it’ll be hosted, if applicable

Once those are sorted, you might want to include more details (you also might not!), such as:

– Keywords or phrases
– Tone / theme
– Target audience
– Call to action – what you really want people to take away from the blog post, email or newsletter.

So, organise yourself week by week, then month by month, then by year if you need to – I like to, as I say: I like the annual overview thing, and then it feels nice and neat to fit things into an annual plan. But remember, if you end up looking at the calendar and thinking it’s too complicated and you’ll never get everything done, you can always take stuff off. At the end of the day, it’s about optimising your time, not over-filling it. There’s no point sticking stuff on there if you’ve literally got no time to do it. But, if you can, set up an editorial calendar, add some modest targets. Honestly, I promise, it really is worth producing content on a regular basis for yourself: it keeps your skills polished, it shows clients you’re still engaged with things and it keeps you nice and high on Google – what’s not to love?

So, I hope this has been a helpful introduction to creating and maintaining an editorial calendar. Obviously I’ve not been able to cover everything – for the sake of brevity, I’ve kept it simple, but as I say, I’ll pop a range of resources in the show-notes for you, which should help you get started.

If you have any questions or comments at all, Pip and I don’t bite. You can find all of my social media details at the podcast page, which is You can also find the same details for the lovely Pip there, plus loads of ways to subscribe to the podcast so you’ll never miss another episode. So get in touch and subscribe! I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn, thanks so much for listening and Pip and I will catch you next time.


Podcast Episode 16: How to Avoid Letting Things Slide

We ran out of storage space for our earliest episodes. But fear not, we have made these many, many hours of freelance writing goodness available for just £10. If you want access to them all, please click Add to Cart and buy through our e-junkie account for instant access.

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When you’ve got a lot on your plate, it’s easy to discount the bits that seem less urgent. However, letting the day-to-day management of your freelance writing business slide is a recipe for disaster, so in this episode of A Little Bird Told Me, Lorrie and I discuss the aspects of freelancing that you need to keep on top of, as well as tips and tricks about how to do this. As if that wasn’t enough, we have a interview with Sally Bramley, an Occupational Therapist who has some wise words about keeping motivated and accountable in self-employment.

Show Notes

Links and sites we mentioned during the episode:

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!


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

Guest blogging is currently a really popular way to build backlinks for SEO purposes, however it has much wider benefits than that. In this solo episode of the podcast, I talk about how to go about guest blogging, how to find appropriate outlets for your guest posts and how to approach the webmasters, as well as the myriad of bonuses that guest blogging can bring to a freelancer.

We ran out of storage space for our earliest episodes. But fear not, we have made these many, many hours of freelance writing goodness available for just £10. If you want access to them all, please click Add to Cart and buy through our e-junkie account for instant access.

Add to Cart

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

Subscribe via RSS

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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!

Show Notes

Links and information mentioned on this week’s show.

How to do a search to find blogs to guest post on. The examples mentioned in the show are:

“social media” + “write for us”

“internet marketing” + “guest blogging guidelines”

Google Reader: 

Free Page Rank add-ons for Chrome and Firefox

Little Bird Recommendation of the Week: Cease and Desist: Four Blog Writing and Marketing Practices That Have Got to Go


Hello and welcome to A Little Bird Told Me – the podcast about the highs, the lows and the no-nos of successful freelance writing. I’m Philippa Willitts and this is a solo episode. If you’re missing Lorrie terribly already, don’t worry – just tune in next week and we’ll both be here. Otherwise, please listen on.

To make sure you never miss another episode of A Little Bird Told Me, go to and subscribe to the podcast via RSS feed, iTunes or Stitcher Smart radio – or on the Podomatic page itself. That way, you’ll never miss another episode. Additionally, there you can find the link to our Facebook page and to the various websites and social media feeds of myself and Lorrie.

Blogging Readiness

Blogging Readiness (Photo credit: cambodia4kidsorg)

Today, I’m going to be talking about guest blogging. Guest blogging can be a really effective way of getting your name out there, making some great connections and it can also have SEO benefits if you want to promote your website. However, there are some very clear no-nos involved in guest blogging, so today I’m going to talk about the benefits, how to do it, and perhaps most importantly, how not to do it.

If you’ve got your own website – or even if you haven’t – guest blogging is a really good way to expand your reach and put yourself in front of other people’s audiences. I have done guest blog posts for various freelance writing websites and it just puts my name out there in front of people who probably wouldn’t have heard of me otherwise. It builds your brand and makes more people aware that you exist, basically. Another benefit of guest blogging is that you make contact with some really good people. The guest blog posts I’ve done have involved some really good conversations with other freelance writing webmasters. Also, sometimes being edited by other freelance writing webmasters is a really nice experience. It means that when I talk to one of those people on Twitter, they know who I am, they may be more likely to retweet me or reply, whereas prior to guest blogging for them, they had no idea who I was. And when you’re freelancing, especially when you’re internet based, those kinds of connections are really important – not just to grow your business but to reduce your isolation and have people you can get in touch with if you need advice or if you want to pass information on.

And the more your writing is published on other people’s websites, the more you’re able to display your own expertise. If you’re a specialist in a particular area, if you write specifically about any topic really, then guest blogging on websites dedicated to that topic – not necessary freelance writing ones – will help to grow your authority. If you specialise in writing on food and drink, then if you can get some guest blog posts on some really prominent food and drink websites, then people will know your name and associate it with the great writing and expertise that you’ve shown. It grows your authority, basically, and when you’re on the internet, clients and potential clients don’t really know how good you are. So, if you can show that you’ve written for the top four food and drink blogs, then clients in that sector are more likely to take you seriously. Your status improves in that context.

So, how do you go about the whole process of guest blogging? The first thing to do is look for suitable websites to host your guest blogging, and you want ones that accept guest bloggers, obviously. So the place to start is to think about the kind of websites you’d ideally like to appear on. Now, this might be top freelance writing websites, or top websites in your niche, so food and drink, travel, business – don’t just go and approach everyone. Start from the place you’d really, really like to be. Now, ideally, if you do specialise in a particular area, you’ll already know where the tops websites are and you’ll be familiar with them, which is a really great start and will save you a lot of work in the beginning if you already know the kind of content that these websites publish and the style they like their blog posts in. So, start with the top blogs in your area – really study their websites. You want to find out first of all – do they accept guest blog posts. If they do, they’ll probably have some guest blogging guidelines. You want to study those really, really carefully because if they have guidelines and you don’t stick to them when you contact them, especially if they’re a big website, they probably won’t even reply.

Some guest blogging guidelines I’ve seen, somewhere near the bottom, have a particular ‘coding’ just to check that the person approaching them has read the whole document. So, I’ve seen guidelines that say things like, “Somewhere in the email, mention the word ‘red’, then I’ll know you’ve read the whole thing.” It’s a really amateur mistake to not check for that kind of thing and not follow it. Secondly, if you’ve got the information you need about the kind of writing they like and how to approach then, you need a brilliant idea for a post. Don’t just contact them and say, “Um, hey…would you like a…guest blog post…about travel?” because their whole website is about travel. They want to know specifically what you can offer them – they write all the time about travel. But if you recently did a cycling tour of Italy, and offered them a specific blog post about the specific things you learn about Italy when you go cycling there, they’re much more likely to take you seriously and think, “Oh, this person might actually have something to offer us.” So think carefully about what you want to propose – don’t just send a generic email.

The next thing, and it may seem like a small detail, but it’s so important, is to find out the name of the person you’re approaching. For my Social Media Writer website, I get offers of guest blog posts several times a week. It’s a relatively small site, so if you can imagine with a big site, they must dozens or hundreds of offers a week, but the number that start with “Dear Sir/Madam…” is unbelievable, and I don’t read any further. If they can’t be bothered to find out my name, I don’t want them to appear on my website. The next thing they tend to say is, “I would like to write a guest blog post for you about Social Media Writer UK because I am really interested in Social Media Writer UK. In return, I would like two links to my website. Please consider this free content that will benefit your site – thank you.”

Now, it’s just wrong in so many ways – I’m not “Sir/Madam”, I’m Philippa or Ms Willitts, if you want to be formal. Next, if you can’t be bothered to separate the name of my site – Social Media Writer UK – from your email… it’s just blatantly a form email that goes to everyone, where the name of the site is inserted into the email. I don’t want a guest post about “Social Media Writer UK” – if you come to me and say “I have a guest post about the specifics of LinkedIn to promote your business”, then yeah, I might be interested. So, be sensible and think about it from the webmaster’s point of view. If you received an email, how would you want it to be? If you wanted someone you could really take seriously as a guest blogger, what would it say? And do that. Personalise each email you send. It feels like it adds to the hard work but it’s the only way to be taken seriously.

If you’re not familiar with the main sites in your niche for some reason, or if you’ve tried those and had no luck, you might then want to search for other websites that accept guest blog submissions. Now, there are a few ways to do this – one of these is very common now, and I know this as much from the analytics on my own sites as anything – I get lots of referrals to my site from Google searches for things like, “Social media accept guest blog posts” and it’s clear that people are doing a Google search to find websites on a particular topic that accept guest bloggers. Now, there are some quite effective ways of doing this search, and I’ll provide examples in the show notes because it might be difficult to grasp just from listening. But basically, if you know a bit about how Google advanced searches work, you can really drill down a search so it gives you the results you need. The best way is to do a search for [open quotation marks] and then your topic of choice and then [close quotation marks]. Then you want a ‘plus’ symbol, then [open quotation marks again], then something like ‘guest blogging guidelines’, [close quotation marks],or ‘write for us’ in quotation marks.
What this does is tell Google that the results you want are to do with your topic…and the reason they’re in quotation marks is so that all the words have to be together in that order. So, social media, in quotation marks, or internet marketing, in quotation marks. And the plus sign tells Google that not only do you want results with that topic in, but also results that have – again, in this exact wording, guest blogging guidelines, write for us, something like that. So, it’s a good way of drilling down your search so that all the results you get are your exact topic and are also sites that offer guest bloggers a chance to write for them.

So once you’ve got your search results for that (and again, if it all sounded confusing, don’t worry – go to the show notes and I’ll give a written example that will make it all clearer!). So then you look through the results; look through the different sites that Google has brought back to you. And, a few things to check for: you want to make sure it’s not a really obscure with no readers – otherwise, you’re just wasting your time. One way to see how big the site is, is to look in Google Reader – do a search for that site – and it will tell you how many other people subscribe to the site in Google Reader. Now, this isn’t a fool-proof way of making sure the site is popular but it gives you a good indication. If it has 3 subscribers, you might not want to prioritise it. But, if it has 300,000, then yeah, you’ll probably want to go for it!

Another way is to look at something called the page rank. You can get add-ons to Chrome or other browsers that will tell you at the top of the browser what page rank that site has. Now, again, Page Rank is something I believe Google don’t focus on anymore and, again it’s not guaranteed, but it can be a good indicator. If a site has a page rank of 0 or 1, then it suggests there aren’t that many backlinks to it, and that it isn’t that popular. You’re unlikely to find a site with 8, 9, or 10 so ideally, somewhere between 3-6 in page rank suggests a site has a good number of readers.

Also, look at things like the Twitter account and Facebook page of the site – do they have lots of followers and fans? So again, by doing this, you can focus on four or five authoritative blogs you can approach. And the approach is exactly like I described earlier – personalise it, offer them something really good and don’t, in your initial email, make demands on how many back links you want because that’s another thing that makes webmaster switch right off. If I get a guest blog submission with a specification of how many backlinks they want, then clearly their focus is that rather than providing good content to my site.

And if you think about it, why would I or any other webmaster purely want to promote your site? What webmasters want is things that their audience is going to enjoy and find valuable and useful. By studying the kind of content they already prefer, you can pitch your pitch carefully. So, do they normally publish really long, in-depth analysis posts; are they quite short, pithy and funny? Are they in the first person or the third person?

Have a look at some of their most popular posts and make it clear in your email that you’re familiar and are going to produce something their audience will like. Because if they normally produce in-depth analysis posts, then the people who read that site do so because they enjoy in-depth analysis posts. So you want to provide something that the webmaster knows their audience is likely to enjoy, read and share with their colleagues and friends.

Now, as well as getting the benefits of extra exposure, building your brand, raising your authority level, guest blogging also has other benefits, including SEO benefits. If you get a link in a post to your website from an authoritative, popular, well known site, that’s not going to do your site any harm. It’s a good thing. Like I said earlier, this shouldn’t be the main aim of your guest blogging because site owners deserve better than that and they can see through it in an instant. But think of it as an added bonus. Bearing this in mind, it’s worth thinking about how you’re going to word your link. Now, mostly, guest  bloggers are offered an author box or bio box at the end of the post, which will say something like, “Philippa Willitts is a freelance writer who specialises in writing about SEO, social media and internet marketing. You can find her website here.” For instance.

Now what you really don’t want is that last sentence – a link from the word ‘here’. The anchor text – the word or phrase that is clickable – you want that to be useful and relevant. So instead, you might say, “Philippa Willitts is a freelance writer, who specialises in writing about…” and have the link to your site clickable from the words ‘social media and SEO’ for instance. Some host blogs will let you provide links within the text of the post as well as the bio box, but don’t abuse this – only do it if it’s really relevant, such as in your travel writing, cycling around Italy post, if there’s something really relevant like, “This was different from when I cycled around Scandinavia…”, which you’ve written about on your own blog, so there could be a valid, relevant link from “cycled around Scandinavia”. Don’t just make the words ‘travel writing’ clickable, because that’s just not how it’s done, unfortunately!

As well as the SEO benefits, there are also benefits of increasing your reach in a longer-term way than just that immediate post. If your post is so good, and so fascinating and well-written that people do click through to your website once they’ve read it, you can also, from there, if you make it easy via your website, have the potential to get them to follow you on Twitter, like your Facebook, join your mailing list or subscribe to your blog. So, make sure, as well as writing a brilliant guest post, when those people visit your site, it’s easy for them to find out how to engage with you. Make the most of the opportunity of very targeted visitors coming to your site. Make sure what they see there is brilliant and that it’s easy to find your Twitter, Facebook, RSS feed, LinkedIn account – whatever you’d like them to find. If you write something that’s brilliant for someone else and it’s good enough to make people click through to your site, if they then find really uninspiring content, or no updates for the last four months, or just a generally underwhelming experience, they’re not going to be impressed and your post won’t have much of a wider benefit for you than the immediate exposure itself.

Now, if your own website is even slightly findable in the search engines or has even a modest readership, the chances are that, as well as wanting to guest post for other people, you might well also get guest post requests from other people. Now, as I mentioned earlier, in my case at least, it’s unusual for me to receive anything that isn’t a blatantly copied and pasted form email that doesn’t inspire me at all to give these people access to my website and readers. So, if you get approached, don’t devalue your website by accepting anything and everything just because it’s free content. You do yourself and your business  a disservice by publishing some PR agency’s spun, dull, generic post that’s only written for the sake of getting some targeted links in the bio box. So think carefully before you give anyone else access to writing on your website. If it’s really going to benefit you, if it’s an amazing post that someone will write specifically for you, or if it has a good angle or edge, then consider it. If it starts with, “Dear Sir/Madam, I want to provide free content to your Social Media Writer UK site on the subject of Social Media Writer UK…” then add it to your spam folder, frankly. There are benefits of getting good guest posts on your site – it does give you free new content – but adding rubbish to your site does you no favours and won’t help clients take you seriously when they find it.

So there we have information that will hopefully help you get some really positive guest blogging slots in our own niche that will help you to expand your brand awareness, your reach, your audience, possibly your social media followers and email subscriptions, and on the rare occasions, opportunities for you to help someone else in the same way. Just be sensible – think what you’d like to receive if you were the webmaster in question – and don’t try and trick people with copy and paste form letters. It doesn’t work; you’re wasting your time and their time. Does you no favours.

Now, last week, Lorrie and I introduced a new segment for the A Little Bird Told Me podcast, which is going to be in every episode from now on, and that’s the Little Bird Recommendations. Every week, we’ll recommend something to our listeners. This might be something we’ve read, a brilliant Twitter update, a tip that we want to share, another podcast we like – anything and everything, really. So here we are – the second ever Little Bird Recommendation ever!

My recommendation this week is a blog post that I’ll link to in the show notes, called Cease and Desist – for blog writing and marketing practices that have got to go. This is somewhat related to guest blogging practices in that it’s all overall about how to produce really good blog posts. Now, this post originally appeared on a website called Business 2 Community, and it has some really good advice – some of which seems sensible, but you’d be amazed at how many people break these rules.  It’s got advice on avoiding clichés and buzzwords – I don’t know about you, but if I hear the phrase ‘laser targeted’ one more time, I might throw my computer out of the window. It has advice on making sure your title matches your content – I’m sure you’ve all had the experience of clicking on a link because it had an amazing title, and then the blog post being unrelated and disappointing. It advises against using bad stock photos – there are some embarrassing examples. And also, talking about whether social media marketing really is free because although you don’t pay for accounts, however the time it takes makes it not free because our time has to be valued, especially if you’re a freelancer.

So, anyway, I’m going to link to that post in the show notes and that is this week’s Little Bird Recommendation. I really hope you’ve found this episode useful, especially if you’re interested in guest blogging yourself or accepting guest bloggers. It will hopefully help you to have much more success in approaching even the most high profile and impressive websites. If you want to make sure you don’t miss the next episode, do make sure you subscribe to us on Stitcher Smart Radio, iTunes, RSS or join our Facebook page. All the links are in the show notes at Thank you so much for listening, I’ve been Philippa Willitts and we’ll see you next week.

Podcast Episode 14: Mistakes We’ve Made

In this episode of the podcast, Lorrie and I come clean about some of the mistakes we’ve made during the course of our freelancing careers, as well as some of the boo-boos we’ve seen other people make. You don’t want to miss us cringeing our way through this one!

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Philippa: Hello, and welcome to Episode 14 of A Little Bird Told Me, the podcast where two freelance writers talk about the highs, the lows, and the no-nos of successful self employment.  You can find us on the web at and from there you can find out all the multitude of ways to subscribe to make sure you never miss a future episode.

You can also find links to our Facebook page and to my and my co-host’s various social media profiles and websites.  I’m Philippa Willitts.

Lorrie: And I’m Lorrie Hartshorn, and my cold is gone.

Philippa: Yay!

Lorrie: Everything is good again.  So today we’re in a cheery mood and we’ve decided to change things up a little bit.  The whole A Little Bird Told Me podcast is all about how to succeed as a freelancer writer, so all the things you can do and not to do make sure that your self employment goes as smoothly as possible.  What we thought we’d like to do this episode though is talk about some of the ultimate boo-boos that Pip and I have made along the way.

Philippa: It might be astounding to hear that we’ve made them but it’s true.


shocked (Photo credit: apdk)

Lorrie: It’s true, there’s been boo-boos.  As we’ve mentioned a couple of times before, mistakes are horrible, they’re unpleasant, but they’re a brilliant, brilliant learning experience.  Pip and I have been freelancing for eons so if there’s anything we’ve got plenty of besides skills, experience, and professionalism of course, it’s horror stories.  Lots of them.  So it will be safe to say we’ll be talking about the mistakes that we’ve made, mistakes that we’ve seen other people make because really, there’s nothing better than a car crash moment and you look at someone and say, “Oh, thank God that wasn’t me.”  Hopefully, it will give you some insight into what can happen and how you can avoid it, or if you can’t avoid it how to kind of recover from it if it does happen.

Philippa: Absolutely.  In this podcast we both give advice which is based on our experience and our knowledge.  But the fact is some of that experience and knowledge really does come from us not getting it right.  We get it wrong, we’ve both made mistakes some small some big and we thought it might be useful to share some of those embarrassing moments with you.

Lorrie: I’ll get the first and most unpleasant one for me out of the way.  It’s about making a good first impression.  I had a meeting with a potential client, and I’m pleased to say that they are now my client rather than just being too horrified to employ me, but I didn’t leave enough time before I went to this presentation.  I turned up extremely sweaty and red in the face and I then had to go and present a marketing strategy in front of a room full of directors which was just awful.  The room was dark, they put a spotlight on me and then I was there shiny, and red, and embarrassed, and getting hotter and hotter the whole time and just hating the world and wishing for the hall of shame to swallow me.

But it didn’t and I had to stand there for a good 40 minutes dripping and growing sweat patches all over my clothes.

Philippa: Oh, poor thing.

Lorrie: It was the worst thing ever.  Eventually one of them looked at me and went, “Do you want to sit down?”  And I went, “Yes, I do.  I do want to sit down.  At this point I want to sit down under the table.”  Oh, it was so awful.  But I was going to say what it learned me, because [inaudible 3:52], what it’s taught me is that you need to leave enough time for meetings.  You need to double check Google Maps before you set off.  Even if you think you know where they are find out which floor they’re on, find out if there’s a lift, cover all eventualities because it was excruciating and I was literally in the spotlight on one of my worst professional moments for a good 40 minutes.

Philippa: I had an almost moment like that because of similar lack of preparation really.  I was doing an interview with a woman who was reasonably high profile in the area she works in and it was a very important interview.  I was meeting her at the hotel she was staying at and I had spent pretty much the whole week preparing for this interview.  I had read and watched every other interview she’s ever given, I found out everything I needed to do.  What I didn’t double check that the hotel which I thought she was the hotel she was in.

Lorrie: Oh, no.

Philippa: She had given me the name of the hotel and I Googled it and found the street it was on and left it there.  I got to town and I went to the hotel only to find it had a different name than the one I was looking for.  So I just assumed because of the street name and because I knew there was a hotel there, I assumed it was there.  I had to go into that hotel to ask them where their competitor was, I bet that went down well, and it was about another five minute walk.  Thankfully, I got there just in time but it would have been much preferable from my point of view to have gotten there five minutes early and have been able to get myself together for a few minutes before the interview started.  But yes, always double check.  Even if you think you know where you’re going always, always double check.

Lorrie: I’m so glad you didn’t actually mash it up at the last minute.  I didn’t mash it up but it was sheer compassion on the part of the client that meant that I didn’t mash it up because I gave everything to be there on time.  I was there on time, I had prepared the whole week, and it was a decent presentation and we’ve had a great working relationship since then.  But every time I try and go in now and see them face-to-face I remember it.  I remember being there and looking like some sort of beached jelly fish.

Philippa: I think from both those examples, we both have that feeling of horror of what if because, we were both in a situation where we pulled it off but we equally might not have done.

Lorrie: Definitely.

Philippa: That feeling is really horrifying.

Lorrie: And it won’t go away.  That’s why it’s been such a good learning experience is I can still feel the same way. When we have meetings in the same room, I’m there.

Philippa: To remind you.

Lorrie: I’m there thinking of, “Oh past me, please get this presentation right.”  It’s just the most awful feeling.

Philippa: Another area where I got it wrong a couple of times is definitely marketing.

Lorrie: Yes.

Philippa: When I started out I really didn’t know much about how to market myself.  Like many people, I built myself a website and thought, “There we are.”

Lorrie: Yeah, that’s quite common I think.

Philippa: Yeah, it really is.  That’ll do it.  Then of course you start and go –

Lorrie: Where are the clients?

Philippa: Yeah, why am I expecting people to suddenly hire me on this basis and realizing how ridiculous it was.  So, I started doing that kind of panic research and trying a bit of everything which is never really a good idea.  You want to focus in on something until you find out whether it works or not.  But, because I was panicking a bit, I was doing bits of this and bits of that.

Some of them were very successful and I still use them now and others failed entirely.  In some respects that’s fine because the thing with marketing is a lot of it will fail.

Lorrie: Of course.

Philippa: Just by its nature.  It’s very unusual indeed to send out some pictures and get 100% positive response.  So, you have to do some that won’t work in order to find the bits that do work.

Lorrie: Yeah, people are often surprised to find that say a 1% or 2% conversion rate is absolutely amazing in a lot of fields actually.

Philippa: Definitely.

Lorrie: If you pay for some advertising, or if you send out an email marketing campaign, to get a 2% conversion would be stunning.

Philippa: I think when it becomes a bigger fail, even bearing that in mind, it’s like you say conversion rates tend to be certainly under 10%, is where it actually cost you a lot of money or taken you a lot of time.  That’s when it feels more of a fail than just a low conversion rate.  I know Lorrie and I have both mentioned in the podcasts before, that we both tried something independently of each other, we just had the same idea and it bombed similarly for both of us, which was to choose a business website and proof read a page or two of it and then contact the owner of the site to say, “I was just having a look at your website and I thought you’d want to know that on this page you’ve got a couple of typos.  If you want, I can proofread the rest of your site for you.”

Both of us had either no responses or negative responses.  The problem with that is we had taken quite a lot of time to do the proofreading in order to make the initial contact.  That is where in my opinion, it becomes a fail rather than just a lack of conversion because, we did hours of work for no return.

Lorrie: Definitely.  I felt really hard done by when I did that because I think we took a slightly different approach.  I popped a page on my website which is still there but won’t be by the time I’m finished recording this podcast, that’s what reminded me, that said I would happily do a free proof read and content analysis of a couple of pages on peoples’ websites, they just had to get in touch with me.

So although I got some contact details from it I found that I would do the proofreading and then never hear anything back or get a thanks very much have a nice life from people.  So they were happy to take the work and that really did teach me something, that people are very, very happy to take work from free from you and I suppose I was a bit naïve when I started out because I didn’t think people would have the nerve to do it really.

Philippa: Yep, people like a freebie.

Lorrie: A freebie yes, but getting in touch with somebody and saying, “Can I please have this free content analysis,” and you get back in touch with them and give them – you know, I sent good 1,000 word documents over to get no response.  I chased a couple of times and said, “Oh hi, I just wanted to know if everything’s okay?”  I got, “Yeah, thanks it was fine.”  I said, “Alright then, thanks for letting me know.”

That’s taught me that certainly freebies, keep them to the minimum unless you need to offer a freebie.  They are a very short boost, the freebies, so if you’re absolutely desperate for more work and you really need to raise your profile very, very quickly then offer a limited time freebie that you know you can deliver.

Philippa: Yeah, and that won’t take hours and hours.

Lorrie: Yes.  Yeah, don’t feel stingy by offering something small.  I suppose that takes us onto something else that can be a little bit of a mistake when you’re freelancing and that’s offering too much work for too little money.

Philippa: And, it is so common especially, when people are just starting out.  But, even people who are established aren’t immune from sometimes miscalculating how long a piece of work will take, or just making a mistake with calculations and offering too much for too little.

Lorrie: Definitely.  You can find yourself actually paying to do work at some point.  If you take your overheads into account, and you take how much other work you’re turning down into account, it can actually cost you a lot of money and I’ve done that.  I’ve sort of charged far too little and then combined it with another newbie fail by failing to sign an agreement before entering into the work.  I can hear you, you’d be like, “Oh yeah.”

Philippa: Yeah, when I first started out I took on a big piece of work for very little money and it was because I was in that, “Oh my God I might never get any work ever come in.”  So, when someone offered me some work and suggested a price I mistakenly thought that that would be better than not taking it.  But the fact was, for the whole 5,000 words I resented every sentence because, I knew how badly I was being paid because by then it became clear how much I was getting hourly and all that and it was just horrific.

I did the work because I agreed to do the work and I did it for the price I had agreed on but, it really taught me, it was a kind of sweat shop shock really that I had to value myself for more than that.  While it might seem in the short term better to take badly paid work than no work, the fact is if you refuse that either they will pay you more because they really want you or they won’t.  But, it gives you time then to spend marketing yourself and getting paid work.  If you’re stuck in a contract with badly paid work your time is full and so you’ve not got the opportunity to find better work.

Lorrie: That is it.  I think there’s a fear with newbies, and I can certainly admit to it myself, I didn’t want to start making demands.  That was my fear, I didn’t want to say to people, “I’m not starting the work until I get a down payment.”  Now, for larger projects, not for ongoing projects, but for larger one off projects I take a down payment.

Philippa: I do similarly with new clients as well quite often.

Lorrie: Yeah.  It’s a very sensible move to make.

Philippa: It is.

Lorrie: You imagine the worse things.  You imagine thinking, “Oh, my client is going to think I’m so rude.”  But, it’s just business.  It’s just business.  I take a down payment because I’ve had people not pay me up to 800 Pounds before and because of no contract in place, this was when I was really starting out, I’ve done an incredibly amount of work for literally no money because there’s nothing in place to make sure that they pay me.

Philippa: I’ve found that if you’re just very matter-of-fact about your demands – demands sound like a very demanding word, but if you’re just very matter-of-fact –

Lorrie: Yeah, they’re requirements, aren’t they?

Philippa: Yes, that’s a better word, “I will submit the work once I’ve received payment,” or whatever your own terms are, “Copyright switches to you once I receive payment,” or whatever it is.  If you just state what they are people rarely pick me up on it, people rarely challenge them in my experience.

Lorrie: No, on the contrary I think it’s actually quite a professional thing to do.

Philippa: Yeah.

Lorrie: If you present someone in writing with a list of requirements from your end, they know that you’re serious about what you’re doing and they know that you know what you’re doing.

Philippa: Similarly, a client sometimes has a list of requirements.  Maybe they’ve been burnt before by freelancers or something, but I quite like it.  I know where I am and I can agree or not and they’re usually very, very reasonable.  It’s things like, “Deliver the work on time.”

Lorrie: Actually give me the work if I pay you.

Philippa: That’s it.  So I’m not offended and I don’t feel like someone doesn’t trust me or whatever if they have requirements and similarly if you present them in a similar way, other people don’t tend to get like that either.

Lorrie: No, absolutely.  People have accounting departments, and human resource departments, and they need paperwork often, that’s all it really is.  They need to know what they’re going to get and how much they’re going to pay for it.

Philippa: Exactly, exactly.  And, who will own the work once it is completed and that kind of thing.  There are lots of little small embarrassing mistakes I’ve made over my life.

Lorrie: I was hoping that we were going to get off the embarrassing ones and just talk about the more sensible ones.

Philippa: Oh no, there are plenty more of those.

Lorrie: Oh no, here we go.

Philippa: Little small ones that don’t have a big impact on your business but still just make you cringe.  One of those for me is I manage all my email through one Gmail account.  I’ve got about 12 email addresses and that’s not an exaggeration, it’s ridiculous.  So, I get everything forwarded to one Gmail account and from that account I can also send from the other email addresses and that kind of thing.

Lorrie: Sure.

Philippa: If I receive an email to say my account, then when I reply to that through my Gmail it automatically applies from that account so I don’t need to think about it.  The result is if sometimes I send an email, even to reply, but in fact is a first email I forget to change in the drop down box to the correct account and so I’ve sent a few, a few –

Lorrie: I notice your voice breaking on that.

Philippa: A few emails in my time, from my personal account.  It’s not awful.  Thankfully, my personal account isn’t named something horrendous like SexyBabe84 or anything like that, but it’s still somewhat embarrassing in a professional capacity.  Also, I do work quite hard to keep my professional and my personal quite separate.

Lorrie: Sure.

Philippa: So it’s one of those mistakes that is easily done and I spot it about five seconds after I’ve clicked send.

Lorrie: That’s always the way.

Philippa: I hate doing it but it has happened to me a few times.

Lorrie: Luckily, I have not actually done it but again, it’s the near miss thing where I’ve sent something – I was with Yahoo for years.  It’s not as bad as BlueYonder or Hotmail, but it’s still a bit old fashioned.  But, I was resisting the fact that Google is so sort of omnipresent now.  But eventually I left Yahoo and I went to Gmail.  The way that emails are stacked when you open a mail trail, when you want to forward something to somebody and not reply it keeps it in the same thread.

Philippa: Yes.

Lorrie: So there have been a number of times where I’ve had horrible clients, or clients doing something really, really frustrating and I’ve just wanted to really vent my frustration and I’ve emailed you Pip obviously, and just said, “In confidence, am I completely wrong in thinking this person’s being a bit weird or am I reading this the wrong way?”  Then for about five minutes afterwards I’ve thought, “Please tell me I didn’t send that back to the person.”

I’ve done that in my personal life never, touch wood, in my professional life.  But when I was about 18 I sent an email, it was one of these university ones, and we’d just gotten to university and everyone was working out who liked whom, and who was friends forever and who was just never going to speak again.  I sent an email to somebody sagging her off and I sent it to the wrong person.  Rather than send it to the person I wanted to send it to, I sent it to the actual person saying, “Oh, she’s annoying me so much.  I don’t think I’m going to speak to her much anymore.  I think this is it.”  You know, real 18 year old drama and it went straight to her.  From that, thank God it wasn’t professional.

Philippa: There is something that saves me on a daily basis from this kind of thing and it’s a little add on you can use with Google where you can undo sending.

Lorrie: Cool.

Philippa: Yes, I know.

Lorrie: You’ve got me excited.

Philippa: All it does, and you can set the timing yourself, I think I’ve got it set for five seconds, and for five seconds after clicking send you’ve got the option to undue sending.  All it does basically is delay sending it for five seconds.  But the fact is that nine times out of 10 you spot that you haven’t included the attachment you said you would, or that you’ve spelt somebody’s name wrong, or that you’ve sent it to the wrong person, often you spot those things the moment you click send.  So with this little add on in Gmail where it would normally say, “Message has been sent,” it just says, “Message has been sent, click to undo,” and for five seconds has a link to undo.  If you get there quick enough, you get it back and then you can fix it.

It is that thing of you do spot it the moment you click send so that for me is a lifesaver, or I’d do a lot more of –

Lorrie: I’m certainly going to go in and install that.

Philippa: Do it definitely.  You know, that classic, “Please find attached,” and then there’s no attachment.

Lorrie: Definitely.  Gmail actually tells you now doesn’t it, it picks up if you’ve mentioned attach.

Philippa: Yes.

Lorrie: That’s another reason that even though I’m not too keen on the thread organization in Gmail, I do prefer it very, very much.  I will be going in and installing this because just as I’m thinking about it I have been known to send vest regards to people and vest wishes.

Philippa: Similarly, I also have been guilty of sending tweets from the wrong account.

Lorrie: Yeah, I’ve done that.

Philippa: I have my personal Twitter account and I have my professional Twitter account, and I also run the Twitter accounts for two non-profit organizations.

Lorrie: You’re basically most of Twitter.

Philippa: I am most of Twitter.  99% of it is me.

Lorrie: Good marketing strategy though.

Philippa: Although Tweet Deck is a lifesaver in the terms of I don’t have to have four different browsers open, I can manage all the accounts from the one place, and it’s quite easy to highlight the account you want to send a particular tweet from, but the fact is that when you’re a bit on autopilot there are occasions where I’ve sent the wrong tweet from the wrong account.  Sometimes that’s fine.  They’re not that much [inaudible 24:12] but they’re not contradicting each other so it’s not usually the end of the world if I send something through my personal account that was meant for one of the non-profit accounts because I tend to agree with what they’re campaigning about.

More embarrassing is if I send something personal through my professional account.  There are ways you can sign certain petitions by sending a Tweet and I’ve done that with embarrassing consequences at times from the wrong account.  It’s rarely the end of the world, but it’s certainly embarrassing and it makes you feel a bit incompetent when it happens.

Lorrie: Definitely.  I do use Tweet Deck now as well, you’ve finally converted me.  It was just too difficult having even just two browsers open at the same time.  The thing with Tweet Deck, lovely though it is, is it defaults to one account so obviously, one of your accounts has to be the main account.  For some reason, I think it’s just a glitch, or I might follow one person from both accounts and in that case when you reply to somebody’s tweet sometimes both or all of your Twitter accounts are highlighted so this person receives the same tweet from about four different accounts that they’ve never heard from.

Then obviously, they want to go and see who’s been talking to them and they head over to my personal account and it’s full of feminist rhetoric and angry responses to the daily mail and things like that.  It’s a bit of fun but it can be a bit of a shock to people when they’ve just been reading about my copywriting.

Philippa: Exactly.  If I send something to my personal account about the latest content marketing strategies, it’s irrelevant but nobody really cares.

Lorrie: That’s it.

Philippa: If I send something to my professional account about, I don’t know, being annoyed –

Lorrie: [Inaudible 26:06] do you.

Philippa: [Inaudible 26:09] trying to get across the seriousness without implicating themselves.

Lorrie: Don’t worry, I’ve already implicated myself.

Philippa: If I send something to my professional account about being annoyed with a client or being stressed about not having enough work or too much work, or whatever it is.

Lorrie: Oh, those would be the worst

English: graphic convention of manga, sweating...

English: graphic convention of manga, sweating, used to represent feeling anxiety, confusion, embarrassed, and so on. 日本語: マンガの表現技法。汗。不安、困惑、戸惑いなどといった感情の表現。 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Philippa: That’s more problematic.  Thankfully, touch wood, which I am.

Lorrie: I’m touching all the wood within reach at this point.

Philippa: I’m leaning on a desk so much of me is in contact with wood.  That hasn’t happened, but it’s easy to do and I can see why it does happen.

Lorrie: I suppose it’s on a similar vein and I am going to implicate myself, I don’t really mind at this point you’ve all heard that I sweated my way through an initial client meeting so how much worse can it get.  When I started a Facebook page for my business I was reading up on how to get sort of more followers in an organic way rather than do that whole follow me, follow me, follow me and then buying followers [inaudible 27:13].

So I was reading these articles and it said, “Why not invite people you know?”  I thought, “Fair enough,” because most of my client base is sort of from a friends of friend, colleagues of colleagues, people I’ve worked with kind of origin.  I went to my Yahoo account, as I mentioned earlier, and I selected the people from my address book that I wanted to inform about my professional Facebook page and I clicked send.  I deselected all the randomers that I had spoken to over a good five years with that email account and I went on my merry little way.

All of a sudden I started receiving emails and likes from people I hadn’t heard from in years.  As it transpires, Facebook had a little promotional tool of theirs that had sent the email to everybody I had ever emailed or who had ever emailed me in five years.  Estranged family members, ex-boyfriends, people that I no longer speak to for a multitude of reasons, people I used to work with, people I never used to work with, everybody.  The builders, the window cleaners, the gardeners, everybody, thousands of contacts received this SPAM email about my Facebook.

Silly me, well actually I don’t think silly me, I’m going to stand by it.  I went on my personal Twitter account which is in no way connected to my professional Facebook account, there’s no link between the two and I basically had an, “Oh shit moment.”  I was like, “Oh my goodness.  Oh, no a horrible horrible moment.”  I mentioned, and I didn’t name anybody but I said, “Oh this awful person just tried to like my Facebook page.”  And then I got a Tweet from the awful person.  They must have Googled me and found their way to my personal email account because there they were saying, “I hope I’m not the awful person you’re referring to,” and they were.  I went, “Oh no,” and they wouldn’t go away they tried phone me, texting me, and emailing me for days afterwards.

Philippa: I nearly invited an ex that I don’t speak to, to connect with me on LinkedIn the other day.  I finally agreed to let it sign in with my Gmail account so it could find people I’d had contact with to request connections and it did.  There were loads of people most of whom I didn’t know who they were.  They were presumably somebody who’d sent me an email once.  It seemed to scrape everybody.

So I was going through this immense list.  There was this kind of check all option and so I did that and then went through unchecking the odd person either I really didn’t know who they were or they had nothing to do with anything I might do professionally.  Of course, once you’ve scrolled down 30 or 40 people you start paying less and less attention to what you’re clicking and unclicking and yes, I very nearly invited an ex that I had a bit of an acrimonious break up with to make contact which, if nothing else, would have provoked a really awkward conversation with that person.

Lorrie: Oh, how awful.

Philippa: Thankfully, it’s another horror of the almost.

Lorrie: I wish it was just an almost.

Philippa: I did spot it, but the horror of what may have happened if I hadn’t still sits with me.

Lorrie: No, I have the horror of what happens if it does happen and it is horrifying.  I felt like my stomach was going to drop out of my feet.  It was the worst thing, honestly ever.  I just sat there and went, “Oh no,” because it wasn’t anything I had done.  I had unchecked everything and it was Facebook.  Oh, I loathe Facebook sometimes because I don’t know whether it was a glitch, I don’t know if it is something they do that is a little bit naughty to try and get more people on there, but it caused me huge, huge problems.

Luckily, I hadn’t said anything awful on my professional account but what it also did was invite people to be my friend at the same time.  So what that does is give people access to all your personal information on Facebook.  Again, luckily my Facebook is fairly neutral.

Philippa: One of the whole points of having a professional Facebook page is that you can keep the professional and personal separate.  So there might be people who you would really like to like your Facebook page but connecting with them on your personal account is a whole other thing that you probably don’t want.

Lorrie: Exactly.  My privacy settings on my personal account are sky high.

Philippa: You’ve got it so locked down and understandably.  More and more people are doing that.

Lorrie: Like you say, for good reason, but yeah, it was excruciating, it really, really was.

Philippa: Other social media no-nos that I see quite a lot is a professional account, even a LinkedIn account which is pretty much entirely professional, or professional pages with awful profile photos of you falling out of a night club.  Not you, falling.

Lorrie: I was going to say, “When did this happen?”

Philippa: Of people falling out of a night club or being a bit sexy.

Lorrie: Or, the duck face.

Philippa: Yeah, exactly duck face.  That’s fine on your personal account, it’s fine on your Facebook personal profile but on your LinkedIn account, no it’s not good is it.

Lorrie: Sexy web cam pics.  I’ve seen somebody who I know is a really, really, really good professional person.  Very, very skilled, very intelligent and I had a look and their profile picture is a murky webcam picture that’s taken in sort of half light and yeah, this person is doing duck face.  For anybody who doesn’t know what duck face is, poor Pip, she clearly has bad experiences with ducks or duck faces.

Philippa: Duck faces, ducks are fine.

Lorrie: I like ducks actually, but yeah, duck faces which frankly do a disservice to ducks, are when people stick their pouts really, really far out and try to be blasé about pouting.  It’s a very, very weird thing so I might actually link to it in the show notes.

Philippa: Do, although I’m sure people, as soon as they hear it, will know exactly what we mean because it’s so prevalent on Facebook in particular.

Lorrie: Definitely.

Philippa: It’s just that every girl seems to have the arm outstretched phone above the head.

Lorrie: Yes, always the arm and in the bathroom.

Philippa: Yes, the bathroom.

Lorrie: Always in the bathroom or in front of the bathroom mirror.

Philippa: The thing about having murky profile photos or just inappropriate ones, 10 years ago that was kind of okay because  lot of people didn’t have digital cameras and would have to scan a photo and scanners weren’t very good and all that.  But these days, you get more photos from people’s phones on one night out than you might have had in your entire digital photo lifetime.  Until a few years ago there were digital photos everywhere.  There were opportunities for digital photos everywhere and there were few excuses these days for having an inappropriate profile picture, I think.

Lorrie: Absolutely.   Carrying on from the theme of really embarrassing profile photos, I’d like to think I’ve never really suffered from.  My personal Twitter account as a weird one sometimes, but it’s nothing excruciating, is embarrassing profile information.

Philippa: Oh, yes.

Lorrie: So whether it’s your Twitter profile or your LinkedIn profile headline, or commonly actually, people’s websites.  For some reason people feel the need to tell people on their professional websites everything about them, and their hobbies, and their interests, and what they get up to and particularly in the copywriting sector, or communications, or editing.  There tends to be this over share tendency with stuff that they write.

Philippa: I think it’s difficult because we’re always told, and it’s correct, we’re always told that we need to inject personality into what we do.

Lorrie: Definitely.

Philippa: That people hire a person as much as they hire a copywriter and that by portraying you as a well rounded individual you’ll do better.  That’s good advice however –

Lorrie: There’s a big however.

Philippa: There’s a line and some people don’t even seen the line.

Lorrie: To some people the line is a dot.  Like you said, it’s good to inject a bit of personality.  I write fiction and there’s a number of times I’ve had to sort of provide people with an autobiography of myself.  You have a look through other people’s autobiographies to get an idea of what’s a good idea and what isn’t.  Often it’s nice to inject a little bit of humour into them. Mine’s got a little bit about trying and failing to write the great British novel and I read somebody else’s that said they had been on the Zombie Walk recently, but it was one line and it was an oblique reference.

Whereas, I’ve been on people’s website and the most recent example I can think of is that somebody had dedicated a paragraph to the fact that they write Harry Potter fan fiction on their copywriting website.

Philippa: Oh, no.

Lorrie: For those people who aren’t particularly savvy about fan fiction a lot of it is quite saucy.

Philippa: It is.  It’s quite often an erotic – people carry on a story from the end of the Harry Potter books, or the Twilight books, or whatever and turn it into a more adult thing.  I mean, that’s where the infamous 50 Shades of Grey, that started off as fan fiction so that gives you an idea of what fan fiction can be like.

Lorrie: This is it.  Or, if you disagree with the original author’s choice for couplings for example, if one character ends up marrying a different character and you think they should have gotten with the other person, then your imagination can go wild in your fan fiction.

Philippa: Which is fine.

Lorrie: That’s fine.  It’s fine for [inaudible 38:49].  I was a bit worried about mentioning this in this Podcast in case people were like, “Hmm, I wonder if she does fan fiction?”  And I assure you I do not.

Philippa: And even if you did –

Lorrie: It would be fine.

Philippa: It would be fine but it also wouldn’t be on your copywriting site.

Lorrie: It certainly wouldn’t be on my copywriting website.

Philippa: If instead you were a writer of erotic fiction and had a website dedicated to that, then it could possibly have a place.  But, on a copywriting site, or a web design site, or anything like that there are lines and you’ve got to think.  You do want to inject personality but you’ve got to think, “Is this what my clients are trying to find out about me?  Is this something I would want them to know?”

Lorrie: Unless there’s a great big untapped niche for Harry Potter fan fiction purchasers than I would suggest not including it on your website unless you know there are companies out there who will buy your Harry Potter fan fiction for a handsome sum.  In which case, by all means offer it as a service otherwise, perhaps stick to your blog.

Philippa: I fear that the 50 Shades of Grey phenomena may encourage more, and more, and more fan fiction than necessary.

Lorrie: It already has.  Honestly, literary work has become interesting in the last few months I’ve got to say.  I believe a number of people that I’m actually friends with have been asked to edit stuff that’s a little bit more adult.

Philippa: Yeah, I’ve edited some erotic fiction.  It was an interesting process, I quite enjoyed it.  But that was very good, it was good quality it wasn’t fan fiction.

Lorrie: Good quality writing is good in whatever form even if it’s a bit eye opening.

Philippa: Back to mistakes we’ve made, probably my worst one by far I’m mortified when I think about it.

Lorrie: I was looking forward to this.

Philippa: I was at a networking event, a face-to-face networking event locally.  I was taught you kind of do the rounds of the room and you talk to various people and I got talking to a guy who is a lawyer and he works with small businesses on writing contracts for their work.  He works with sole traders and freelancers as well.

I was chatting with him saying, “This is pretty interesting.  I’m aware it’s something I need to formalize more in my own work.”  So I was chatting with him and earlier that day I had actually watched a video about why freelancers need good contracts in place and so that came to mind.  I made what had to be my most misjudged comment in my entire life.

Lorrie: I have no idea what it is but I’m tickled waiting.

Philippa: This video that I had watched, it had gone a bit viral understandably, and I’ll link to in the show notes and it was called F*ck You, Pay Me.

Lorrie: Oh dear.

Philippa: But not F*ck You, Pay Me it was the full word you, pay me.  Now, the F word doesn’t offend me, I’m quite a sweary person at times.

Lorrie: It’s true, she is.  The editing is unbelievable.

Philippa: So for some reason while talking to this lawyer at a networking meeting I said, “It’s funny we’re talking about this because I watched a video only today.  It was very good and it was called Fuck You, Pay Me.”

Lorrie: Oh, no.

Philippa: I said it and then the look on his face was pure horror.  There was no amusement.

Lorrie: You think you’d get a little bit, “Oh dear.”

Philippa: You think he might be slightly amused, perhaps taken aback because it was [inaudible 43:09] I shouldn’t have said it.

Lorrie: For sure.  Pure horror.

Philippa: Pure horror.  He looked at me like I had just punched his child in the face and couldn’t get away fast enough.

Lorrie: Could we just say at this point no children have been punched by Pip ever.

Philippa: No, not a single one.

Lorrie: It’s not something people expect from her at all.

Philippa: Yes, it was awful and it was my fault.  When you’re speaking to someone you don’t know in a business context you don’t use the F word and yet, for some reason, my internal sensor didn’t switch on in time and I said it and it was horrific.  So learn from me, if you’re talking to a person you don’t know at a business account and they’re a lawyer and they’re a middle aged man in a suit, I’m making judgments there, but it all plays in doesn’t it – don’t use the F word.  Just don’t, even if it’s a title of a video.  It’s a very good video, I’ll link to it, but yes, please learn from my mistake.  I’m mortified just thinking about it still and this was months ago.

Lorrie: How awful.  I remember saying once, in an interview actually and I got the job, but I mentioned that I couldn’t be asked for something.  That went down equally well as you could imagine they just went, “Hmm,” and carried on.

Philippa: The initial thing was me going, “Oh, I shouldn’t have said that.”  But then it was his reaction that really made it 100 times worse.

Lorrie: Like, “No you really shouldn’t have.”

Philippa: Yeah, I could not have misjudged it more badly.  It was as bad a misjudgement as is possible to make.  But thankfully, I wasn’t looking for work from him I was more interested in possibly using his services actually to get one off full proof contract drawn up rather than winging it.  I’ve got a reasonable one but I’m sure a lawyer could tear it apart.

Lorrie: Especially that one.

Philippa: I was possibly interested in using his services.  Thankfully, I wasn’t trying to get him to use mine.  But, oh, don’t.

Lorrie: I had an excruciating moment recently but luckily, after what we’ve said in the last episode or two about luck and how it’s just not a big part of freelancing, luckily this person is a friend and I was doing some work for him for free for a favour.  We access one another’s fiction writing, we read one another’s fiction writing and offer reviews.  It’s a really nice sort of friendly working relationship.

We were talking about writing scary stories.  It’s a little bit before Halloween and I was in the midst of something spooky.  So we’re chatting away and he said rather than coming up with a spooky story as a whole what he was doing was making a document full of spookiest scariest possible things he could think of and then he was going to write short stories around those.

Well I thought, “What a great idea.  Brilliant.”  Because I tend to start a short story and just see where it goes.  For longer pieces I do pen them out but for short stories I just sort of wing it and then do some editing afterwards.  So I said to him, “Go on, send me your scary ideas because I really want to be scared.”  He said, “No, no, no they’re too scary.”

I thought he was joking at first because we were chatting on Twitter on my personal account and I kept going, “Please, please, please.”  Eventually other people on my Tweet feed who didn’t know him were like, “Come on, please.  Send us the scary stuff.”  I was sitting in bed and I had already terrified myself by writing a scary story that succeeded in scaring me.  It took me ages honestly, because every time I got to a scary bit I was like, “Oh, I can’t it’s just too scary.”   So at least my readers know I do suffer for my art.

Eventually, after so much warbling he was like, “Okay, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.”  So, I open the email anyway and I was reading through and I don’t really want to give too much away about his idea but I thought it was hilarious.  I was like, “Oh, you tricked me.  After all this time you’ve sent me something really, really funny.”  I was weeping with laughter, it was so funny.  It was late at night and he was about to go to bed and he said, “I’ll send you a little bit of the document now.”

So I got in touch with him on Twitter and it was quite sweary I was like, “Oh you,” in less than nice terms, “You, I thought you were going to send me some really scary stuff.  This is Fing hilarious.”  And it turns out it was actually the scariest thing he could ever think of.

Philippa: Oh, no.

Lorrie: It was actually generally the scary stuff that he had been so nervous to send me.

Philippa: Because it was so scary.

Lorrie: So scary and also he was embarrassed that he was scared by it.  I still wasn’t taking him seriously, I was still absolutely convinced he was having a laugh with me.  So I was like, “No, you’re so funny.”  It carried on and he was like, “Seriously, this is harsh dude.”  I’ve never felt as such a failure as a literary editor in my life.

One of the services I provide is developmental critiques and people send me a synopsis and a 10,000 word extract of their writing and I tell them what I think of it and how they can improve it.  Sort of assessing the marketability of the writing and I absolutely shredded it just because I thought it was so funny.  I swear honestly, I was convinced he was trying to make me laugh.  I felt so bad.  I’ve apologized to him so many times but he was like, “Yeah, I won’t send anything to you when I’m feeling a bit delicate next time.”

I can’t tell you how bad I felt.  I think you’re getting a sense of it.  I felt so bad.

Philippa: Yeah, I feel for you.  In work there’s a mistake I’ve made a few times, not when freelancing but in other work that I can see could certainly happen in freelancing and that is pretending that I’m further on in a project than I actually am.  If you’re manger says, “How are you getting on with that thing?”  And you go, “Oh God, I’ve forgotten to do it.”  So you go, “Yeah, I’m getting on fine I’m about half way through.  I’ll get it to you in a bit.  But it becomes problematic that you then realize that you need more information from them and you have to go, “Actually…”

Lorrie: Yeah, somebody didn’t send the vital document over and you’ve said you’re half way through.

Philippa: I’m half way through but could you resend me the title?  Would that be alright?  Thank you.

Lorrie: Just so I can double check.

Philippa: Exactly.  Can you resend your whole instructions I just want to cross reference them?

Lorrie: Who was the client again?

Philippa: I’ve done that in a job I have not done it as a freelancer but I know plenty of freelancers who have because you don’t want to imply that you’re running late and your clients don’t want to think that you’re rushing their work.  So it could be tempting if someone says, “How are you getting on?”  To say, “Great, nearly there.”

Lorrie: A bit of a auto response really.

Philippa: That’s it and then you’re stuck if you do need more information on something you’ve said you’re already done.

Lorrie: You’d have to word yourself extremely carefully to get out of that one.

Philippa: Yeah, definitely.

Lorrie: Something that feels similar and I’m not sure why or if it is, but on the subject of sort of getting enough information for a project often with clients, as we’ve mentioned in one of the earlier episodes, you’re not necessarily dealing with one person in the company you’re dealing with several and some are better than others at sending information over.  Some are notoriously bad for it even in house.

Occasionally, I don’t think this is something that I’ve done but I know it’s something that I’ve come extremely close to doing, chasing people for more information and feeling a bit of an attitude with them because really, how are you supposed to write something without the necessary info and then finding that they’ve already emailed you.  There’s nothing like a smug person, “Do you just want to check your emails because I already sent you that.”

Philippa: Often, that could happen with someone that is notoriously bad at sending information.  You might make an assumption without double checking.  If it’s normally someone who is normally very reliable and you can’t find the info you double check.

Lorrie: Of course.

Philippa: But if it’s someone who is notoriously bad you are more likely to jump to the conclusion, “Oh, here we go again they haven’t sent it.”

Lorrie: This is it, always, always check your inbox.  As I said, I almost did it the other day, a client company who is terrible at sending information.  They’re rubbish at it.  You’ll send them something and they’ll send you back question marks, or they’ll say, “Oh you need to ask such and such,” and I had no access to that person.  There’s all these reasons that I can’t get the information that I need for the work they want.

I was on the verge, I had even typed out the email, “I’ll do this as soon as I finally have some information from X person.”  And I looked down and again, I’m sure Gmail sent it for me, it was a Gmail issue, it was sitting under the email I was typing.  It was just tucked in there and I think our emails had crossed and it just popped in the bottom.  It was there so I deleted the email thankful that I had taken a bit of time over it and that that person who is notoriously bad at sending over information wouldn’t have any ammo to use against me.

Philippa: There’s a mistake that I’ve made several time and it’s not strictly a freelance writing mistake.  As well as the freelance writing that I do I’ve got a few small websites that earn a bit of affiliate income which is just a nice bit of passive income really so little bonus extras.  More times than I care to remember, and it tends to be late at night, I get generally over excited with the best idea I’ve ever had and this is amazing.

Lorrie: The one that is going to make you a millionaire.

Philippa: It’s just going to be perfect and how has no one else thought of it.  So at 1AM I buy about six URLs for the amazing, amazing websites I’m going to sell.  I wake up the next morning and just go, “Oh God, what am I going to do with those?”  I bought

Lorrie: Deals for freelance copywriter.  It’s just what you want to be telling people, “You know what?  I’m tired and I’m bored.”

Philippa: I don’t even know what I thought it would be but it was a brilliant idea at the time.  Late at night it was fantastic, I had plans galore.  That recently came up for renewal and I said, “No, please don’t renew it.”  Thankfully because it was a it only cost me about a few pounds for two years.  But, I’ve done that so many times.

I get my URLs through a website called 1and1, I looked through my 1and1 account and I’ve got my useful ones that I use and then I’ve just got so many that I look at –

Lorrie: It’s a shame.

Philippa: I got, “Oh why did I ever think that was a good idea?”

Lorrie: I think I’ve got up for renewal soon.

Philippa: That’s brilliant.

Lorrie: And I think it’s not going to get renewed.  It was a good idea.  I’m not going to tell you what the idea was in case somebody steals it and then I resent them forever.  But if anybody out there would like to purchase by all means it’s up for renewal soon so stay tuned.

Philippa: As well as mistakes we’ve made we also see plenty of mistakes going on around us.

Lorrie: Yes, it’s far more interesting territory for me because it means that my embarrassment is over and I can start pointing at other people and going, “Oh, thank God I didn’t do that.”

Philippa: So true.  One I see quite often is famous or not so famous people who go onto Twitter with the intention of doing a vanity search and basically search for their own name to see what people are saying about them.  This can be a good idea if you’re running a business, it’s really good to see what people are saying about you.  But, it’s not unheard of for people to get it wrong and instead of typing their name into the Twitter search box they actually put it into the status update box and send a tweet with their name, just of their name.

There’s a politician in the UK with the rather unfortunate name of Ed Balls and he did this once.  He sent a tweet that just said, “Ed Balls.”  I saw it so I retweeted it and I added, “Philippa Willitts,” at the start and lots of other people did too.  The thing is, the poor guy, this was about two years ago he did it and I still about once a week see it retweeted it’s just Ed Balls saying, “Ed Balls.”  If you’re going to do a vanity search that’s fine but put it in the right box for goodness sake.


Embarrassed (Photo credit: mloberg)

Lorrie: I bet Ed Balls doesn’t do anymore vanity searches because that will probably be the most common tweet that comes up for him.  It’s not quite on the vanity search front but the British Red Cross, the person that manages their Twitter account and to all of my knowledge still manages their Twitter account did something that Pip and I mentioned earlier which is getting their personal and professional accounts mixed up.

Now, the British Red Cross has hundreds of thousands of followers so it’s not like Pip and I with a few thousands each.  It was fairly late at night and we will add an article about this into the show notes, but the British Red Cross announced to its hundreds of thousands of followers that it was ready to go out, drink lots of beer, and get completely slizzered.

Philippa: Slizzered.

Lorrie: They were ready for a hot party time and they were going to get slizzered.  They mentioned the brand of beer and the brand joyfully retweeted it.  They were like, “Oh, good God this is the best endorsement ever.  A British first aid charity has just recommended going out and getting paralytic on our beer.”  Luckily they handled it really well.

It was a bit of a PR triumph actually.  I think they made some comment about keeping people away from their Twitter feed when they were getting slithered.  It all went well but it was so funny at the time.  You just felt so sorry for that person because there’s no way you could get a tweet like that back before it had been retweeted by hundreds and hundreds of people.

Philippa: In a similar vein something I see quite a lot is people trying to copy and paste URLs into a Tweet or an email and they don’t pay attention to what they’re actually pasting and they’ve copied the wrong thing. I’ve seen people emailing, “Please check out my website,” and then a recipe, a whole recipe, or something just unrelated.

This one case where a guy was on his company Twitter account and sent out a URL to a porn site that he’d obviously copied and then perhaps copied something else and it didn’t click properly or something.  But, he lost his job.

Lorrie: I’m not surprised.  I’m really not surprised at that because a lot of people are offended by porn so it’s kind of a case of, “Sorry, you’ve got to go,” in that case.  I’ve done it before but luckily the URL I posted was nothing sensitive although I really, really didn’t want to post it.

I had contacted somebody, and it was somebody I know fairly well, but at the time I was keeping my fiction writing a secret because I was feeling a little bit nervous about getting out of copywriting and into fiction.  It’s a lot more intimate, writing something from yourself than writing a press release for someone else so I was keeping it under my hat while I was getting into the swing of things.

I was in the middle of telling this person, “No, sorry you can’t see my blog.  I’m not telling you where my fiction writing is.  But, here’s another website,” and I sent my blog URL.  It was the most awful thing.  I don’t know whether he saw it but he didn’t mention it.  It’s totally possible, sometimes he’s a little remise on noticing things but we’ve never spoken about it.  It was just so excruciating because it’s one of those moments I really could have fixed with that Gmail undo thing because as soon as I sent the email I just had an, “Oh, no,” moment.

Philippa: It’s awful, it’s awful.

Lorrie: It really was.

Philippa: Another thing is that people kind of forget that if they say one thing to you and are on Twitter saying the opposite you know.  If they say, “I’m going to pay that invoice right now.”  This is an exaggerated example but then they go onto Twitter and go, “Ha-ha-ha, I’m not going to pay that invoice for a week.”  You can see it.

Lorrie: You’ve got some really dastardly clients haven’t you.

Philippa: That hasn’t actually happened, but it was all I could think of.  It’s that kind of, “Oh, sorry I’m really busy this afternoon,” for instance and then they’re on Twitter talking about Carnation Street.  People, don’t forget that if you’ve got a visible profile or a visible Facebook page, just be sensible don’t be stupid.  If you ring someone up and they’re trying to pretend that they’re not in the pub and they blatantly are, don’t lie.  You’re quite entitled as a freelancer to an afternoon of and say, “I’m not working this afternoon I’ll call you back on Monday.”

Lorrie: No, no I’m just in the office.

Philippa: Exactly.  Do you know there’s a pub in Sheffield that’s called The Office.

Lorrie: Oh, lovely.

Philippa: I think it’s ingenious because you ring home and go, “I’m going to be home late I’ve got to stay late in the office.”  Isn’t that clever?

Lorrie: That is good actually.  I though actually you were going to say something really, really ingenious, not that what you said wasn’t ingenious.  But, I thought you were going to say something along the lines of actually you can wave a little flag and everybody will stop making a noise so you can actually pretend that you are home.  That would be great, wouldn’t it?

Philippa: That would.

Lorrie: If you had a pub that was very freelance friendly and you could just stick your hand up and be like, “I’ve got a call.”  That would be a life saver.

Philippa: I think we’ve covered quite a few mistakes that we’ve both personally made or both personally almost made and you learn just as much from almost making a mistake as you do from actually making it.

Lorrie: Yeah.

Philippa: The point is everybody will make mistakes, everybody will.  You can be as good as you want but it’s going to happen.  The point is getting out of them alive, trying to do as little damage as you can when you make them and mostly learning, learning from it.  Don’t assume which hotel on a particular long street it is.  Don’t say the F word to the man you don’t know.

Lorrie: Don’t turn up late to meetings, or almost late because you don’t have time to go and check your makeup in the mirror, check that you’re not sweating all over people.  There’s nothing worse than a wet handshake.

Philippa: That’s it.  That’s just some of many mistakes that Lorrie and I have made in the course of our careers and there will be more to come no doubt.  I’m sure we could repeat this episode every few weeks and there would be more.

Lorrie: I really, really hope not.

Philippa: Let’s hope not.

Lorrie: It’s a question, a lot of time especially, as you go on and you learn from the mistakes that you do make, it’s prevention rather than cure if you possibly, possibly can.  A lot of the mistakes really are just a result of not being prepared or having a lapse in judgment.

Philippa: Yes.

Lorrie: It’s a momentary lapse and you’ve just got to get yourself into the write habit, you really, really do.  Once you’ve done it you’re at least minimizing the chances of absolute agony and it is agonizing when you make a horrible, horrible mistake.  But what I would say is that if you make a mistake don’t try and bullshit your way out of it, really don’t.

Philippa: If you need to apologize, apologize.  You’re not going to lose face, you know, you made a mistake.  So say, “I’m really sorry I shouldn’t have done that.”

Lorrie: If it’s needed.  If not, have a laugh at yourself.

Philippa: Yes, absolutely.

Lorrie: Don’t take it too seriously if you don’t need to.  Apologize for any inconvenience or hurt that might have been caused, duck and cover for a while if you need too, lay low while the storm blows over if you’ve got to.  But at the end of the day, we all do it.

Philippa: Yep, it’s true.  Now, what we want to do now is introduce a new segment that is going to be part of every episode of A Little Bird Told Me from now on.  It’s the Little Bird Recommendations.  I feel we should have a jingle.

Lorrie: Da-da-dada.

Philippa: What we’re going to do each episode is both of us are going to choose something that we want to recommend to listeners.  Now this might be a blog post, a podcast, a grammar tip, a piece of software, a website, a plugin, anything really that we thought was worth sharing.  So Lorrie, what’s your Little Bird Recommendation this week?

Lorrie: So my first tip, it’s an important one but it’s really, really simple, but it’s something that I’ve noticed recently, sorting out your emails.  Two things, first as we’ve already mentioned, I think in one of the early podcast, an email signature is a great way to get a little professionalism into your communications and as we’ve already said it’s a great way of getting in a link to your website and your social media feeds.

Secondly, the autoresponder.  This is something I’ve really been thinking about recently.  In the last few weeks I’ve emailed a number of different freelancers about a number of different things but always with a view to actually hiring them.  On every occasion I’ve had nothing but silence.  Nothing but silence.

I understand that people, particularly freelancers, and particularly those doing sort of manual work which is what I really wanted which is window cleaners, gardeners, builders, that sort of thing, they can be out and about.  So I waited for a day or two, waited over a weekend and then when you hear nothing you go elsewhere.

But what’s also happened is the minute I go elsewhere I’ve had an email back from the original choice going, “Oh, I’m really sorry was away.”  If I had known they were away and if I had known when they were going to come back via an autoresponder I would have waited for them because they were my first choice.  So as it is they’ve missed out on business because I’m not going to go to somebody and then say, “Oh, sorry my original choice has got back to me.”

Philippa: No, no you can’t.

Lorrie: But if you’re like me you can’t afford to just go chucking clients away.  So my tip is this, if you’re going to go out of the office even for a day, even for half a day, let your clients know.  You don’t need to tell them all because they might not get in touch with you that day, but schedule your out of office autoresponder.  With Gmail you can schedule them so far in advance that you can just do it and forget about it.

Philippa: That’s really good advice.  I mean, if you’re a freelance writer or something changes are you’re at your computer a lot of the time.  But like you say, if you’re a window cleaner we understand that you’re not going to check your emails every half hour and that’s fine, but if you don’t get a response within a day you don’t know if that’s they don’t care, or if they don’t use that email account, or if they’re full up.

Lorrie: Or, out of business.

Philippa: Yeah, exactly or, whether they’ll be there the next day sorting it out.  That’s a really good tip.  My recommendation is something I only discovered yesterday but it’s brilliant.  I was doing some proofreading and I was editing a document in Google Docs.  Now, most of us, however much you might know and understand about language and grammar, most of us have certain mental blocks and for me one of them is complimentary with an i versus complementary with an e.

Lorrie: Oh, okay.

Philippa: Now, if you’re saying something nice to someone that’s a compliment with an i, I know that.  But there’s also complimentary meaning free and there’s complementary meaning things that go well together and I can never remember between those two which is spelt with an i and which is spelt with an e.

Anyway this came up in the document I was proofreading in the content of meaning goes well together.  So I knew I needed to double check whether the client used the right spelling or not.  So I highlighted the word and I was going to copy it into a Google search and do some research but when I highlighted it and right clicked what I discovered is there is an option called research that word.

Lorrie: Oh, brilliant.

Philippa: If you click on that it starts at the top with a definition and then underneath that is links to the thesaurus page for that word.

Lorrie: Oh, that’s really handy.

Philippa: For instance complimentary with an i, the top is a definition, adjective and then it has a few synonyms and then there’s loads of websites like Merriam Webster Dictionary, Free Dictionary, grammar sites, thesaurus sites.

Lorrie: It does it all for you.

Philippa: Wikipedia even, they all appear just to the right.  You don’t have to go into a separate page.  If you want to know more you can click links to those other sites. But for me, I did it, I found out that the client had used the wrong spelling because complementary with an e means goes well together so I changed that and I was able to fix it without leaving the Google Doc I was in.

Lorrie: Sure.

Philippa: So that’s my Little Bird Recommendation.

Lorrie: That’s brilliant because it’s one of those things that you need to be able to pick up on yourself and you need to be able to not waste too much time because spell check is not going to get it.

Philippa: Exactly.  I could have picked up a dictionary and looked it up and I could have done a Google search for the word, but sometimes you’re so busy that saving 10 seconds is still important.

Lorrie: Sure.  It’s not so much the 10 seconds it’s the process, it’s the fact that you have to stop the process that you’re doing at that time and start a different process and then get back into what you were doing.  You know as well as I do that once single click on the Internet when you’re in the middle of a really, really boring document can be fatal because you think, “Oh, I’ll just check my Twitter.  I’ll just have a look at the news.  Oh, what’s this?”

Philippa: Exactly.

Lorrie: You get distracted and you might lose a really good idea or you might just not go back to the document even though you really need to get a bit more done.

Philippa: With paper dictionaries I have a particular problem that a lot of linguistically minded people do which is if I look something up in a paper dictionary I’m reading it for 20 minutes because I then look up another word, and then another word, and then another word.

Lorrie: It’s like, “Oh, that one is nice.”

Philippa: Exactly.  People last but I can read a dictionary quite happily so yes, that’s a relief for me.  If I use a paper dictionary I will be distracted.  Yeah, like Lorrie said if you go into a separate tab and look something up there’s always something because yeah, you’re out of the original document so you mind as well check Twitter, and you mind as well check your email.  Whereas, if you can remain within the document itself and get the information you need just on the right hand side it’s handy, it’s quick, and yeah it reduces distractions considerably.

Lorrie: So I think that just about sums up our A Little Bird Told Me Recommendations.  We’d love to hear any recommendations that you’ve got over the coming weeks.  We are happy to feature them if we think they’re good.  If they’re a bit rubbish, sorry no.  You’ve got to be cruel Pip, you’ve got to be cruel.

Philippa: Cruel to be kind.

Lorrie: It’s true, we’re not having any rubbish recommendations.  We really, really hope that you’ve enjoyed the podcast.  We hope that baring our souls, if nothing else, has given you a bit of reassurance especially if you’re having a bad day or if you feel you’ve mucked up royally and nothing is ever going to be okay again.  It will.  It’ll be fine.

Philippa: Take heart, we’ve all done stupid things.

Lorrie: That’s it.  Usually, things work out better than you think.  Look at British Red Cross, that person lived to get slithered another day.  I sweated my way through a presentation under the spotlight and that client is one of my best clients now.  We’re human, we’re all human so try not to worry.  If you do worry, come and worry with me and Pip.  Come and have a chat with us.

Philippa: Exactly.  I got the wrong hotel but I still got a cracking interview because thankfully I was a few minute ahead of myself in the first place.  I swore at a man but that didn’t prevent any work I was going to get because I wasn’t going to get any work from him anyways, it wasn’t that kind of conversation.

Lorrie: Sure.

Philippa: Sometimes you might swear at a man and lose work and that would feel even more horrendous.

Lorrie: It’s not the end of the world.

Philippa: It’s not the end of the world, things happen.

Lorrie: There’s ways and means of repairing situations.

Philippa: There are.

Lorrie: Even if there aren’t sometimes it’s okay.  We’re all still here, the world’s still turning it’s all good.  The podcast is still podcasting, the most important thing.

Philippa: That’s the most important thing.

Lorrie: It is.  It is, as long as this keeps going we’re all fine.  If you have any worries at all or if you have any horror stories you want to come and share –

Philippa: We want to know your horror stories.  We’ve bared our souls and we want you to do so now.

Lorrie: Come and share with us. You can find all the links to our social media feeds, you can find the link especially to the Podomatic page which is and you can find our Facebook page from there so come and have a chat with us.  Tell us what you’ve been up to.  Tell us what you think of the podcast, the good, bad, we want to hear it.

Philippa: If we get any particularly good embarrassing mistake stories we will share them next time.

Lorrie: Which is a huge incentive for you to share them with us. The whole world will know so it’s all good.  I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn.

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

Podcast Episode 13: How to be Responsive and Flexible Without Losing the Plot

Here is another solo episode from Lorrie, talking about how freelancers can plan all they like, but they have to be responsive and flexible because at any stage you might get a phonecall or an email which will change your to-do list entirely!

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Hello, and welcome to Episode 13 of A Little Bird Told Me, the podcast about the highs, the lows, and the no-nos of successful freelance writing.  I’m Lorrie Hartshorn with a bit of a cold this week so my apologies in advance for any sniffles and snuffles.  Today, I’m going to be at least try and sniffle my way through a podcast that will help you work out how to be a more responsive and flexible freelancer and how to deal with whatever comes your way without sacrificing time management and prioritization skills.

Basically, we’re going to be look at how to take on as much as possible without losing the plot.  This is another solo episode so you’ll have to tune in next time to hear me and the lovely Pip chatting together I’m afraid.

English: Jump! Deutsch: Spring!

English: Jump! Deutsch: Spring! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before I start I do want to remind you that if you head over to you can subscribe to the podcast in any way that suits you really. We’ve got RSS Feed, we’ve got iTunes, Stitcher Smart Radio.  You can also find links to our Facebook page so you can come and have a chat with us on there as well as links to my personal Facebook, Twitter feeds, and my website as well as all the same links for the lovely Pip.  So if you’re missing her and can’t wait until the next episode head on over, subscribe, and you’ll be the first to hear when a new episode comes out from the pair of us.

Back to the responsive flexible business, the first thing that I really would say is that being a freelancer is all about being responsive and flexible.  In a lot of the other episodes that Pip and I have recorded we’ve talked about how you can build up business, and gain new clients, and win new contracts.  But what I really want to talk about today is how to juggle those clients and how to keep them happy.  How to keep yourself happy as well, because there’s no point freelancing if you’re not getting any benefits from it.

You’ll need to know how to deal with a workload that absolutely will fluctuate all the time and you’ll definitely need to know what happens when things don’t go as planned.  Now, flexibility as most of us know, can be one of the biggest plus points for working for yourself.  The minute you say to somebody they go, “Oh, you lucky thing.  You don’t have to commute in the morning, you don’t have to go out in the rain, you don’t have to do A, B and C.”

It’s true, it can be great.  If you’re like Pip and you don’t particularly like Sundays you can just arrange things so that you work through Sundays and take Wednesdays off as a bit of a midweek weekend.  Try doing that in an office, it wouldn’t happen.  But, like many things, flexibility has a price.  In order to deliver the best work and the best service possible to your customers, you do sometimes, and I would perhaps say often, have to be flexible in a way that will suit your clients rather than in a way that actually suits you.

I’m not talking about sacrificing your life, but you do need to be able to handle what your clients throw at you whether that’s a week’s radio silence when you really needed some work from them, or a full length novel manuscript and you scheduled the publisher by Friday while you’ve got loads of other stuff on, or a press release that needed to be out yesterday and wasn’t.  But, how do you meet the demands without letting your entire schedule fall apart.  That’s really what we’re going to be dealing with today.

The first thing I really want to talk about is managing your schedule which, for me at least, is an absolutely vital part of being flexible and responsive.  It doesn’t sound like it at first, managing a schedule, that doesn’t sound like flexible and responsive that sounds very structured.  But, bear with me, I promise it really, really does help.

I start every working day not just with a gigantic cup of coffee, but with a list of tasks.  Everything I get in my inbox in the morning goes on the to-do list.  As we’ve discussed previously, I prefer written to-do lists but you can get programs and software that will help you keep a digitized to-do list.  As I said though, I use a written to-do list and I combine that with the use of the starred list in my Gmail inbox which is where you can add important mails to a shorter list by highlighting a little gold star next to them.

Once everything is down on my list, it’s a question of deciding what has to happen first.  It’s not really a case of you must do all this now, now, now because that’s never going to work but some things are essentially, some things aren’t.  Some things need to happen straight away and some don’t and it’s up to you to decide which is which.

What I find actually is the common fear with many freelancers, myself included sometimes if I’m a bit stressed is not clearing a to-do list.  But in all honesty though, I very, very rarely clear a to-do list now.  That’s not because I’m badly organized or not very productive.  I can’t remember the last time I cleared a to-do list because when you work for yourself there’s always more you can doing.  There’s always more stuff you can stick on your to-do list.  If you clear it you’re probably not on top of all the proactive stuff you should be getting done.

It’s worth noting at this point that you should always, always put aside a few hours a week to get your admin and your housekeeping done so business development and social media, because remember that’s what brings new clients in.  But yes, managing your to-do list, the key thing really is to get your urgents done and then to work through as many of your fairly urgents as possible.

What I will say is don’t feel pressured to try and get work in early if you don’t have to.  Say you’ve agreed to a deadline with somebody of two weeks for a piece of writing, use that time.  If they want the work in two weeks feel free to take the two weeks.  Obviously, if you get it done sooner because you don’t have that much on that’s fine.  But, if you have other pieces of work with shorter deadlines dropping into your inbox while you’ve still got seven to 10 days left on the bigger project, by all means take a bit of time.

A big part of managing your schedule and making sure you don’t end up working late and weekends all the time is to get on board with some productivity techniques.  Use your working hours to get as much done as possible.  Pip and I recommended a range of software tools in Episode Eight I think it was, and we’ve also talked, and talked, and talked about accountability days which are our babies.  I like to think we invented them, and I’m not going to do any research in case I find out that we didn’t, but yeah accountability days for us at least are great.

We log on in the morning, say good morning to one another via email, tell each other what we want to get done in the next half hour or hour, depending on how often we want to check in and then try and make sure that we hit the target.  It really does help to keep you on track.  As Pip and I have discussed before, it’s amazing how much more you get done if you put your mind to it and if you focus on ticking off one task at a time.


Stress (Photo credit: Alan Cleaver)

If something does come up, and life happens especially when you’re a freelancer, because you aren’t working for one company you’re working for a number usually, if you have to deal with something straightaway, say a client wants to phone you for [inaudible 6:56] try and leave the task that you’re currently working on in a sensible place.  Finish the half hour time slot, or finish your paragraph, or whatever.  Just try and leave the piece of work in as sensible a state as possible because then when you come back to it you can try and get done what you needed to before the interruption happened.

As most freelancers listening will know, there can be several if not numerous unexpected events in any one day.  That’s just the nature of the beast when it comes to freelancing so do try and not panic.  If you panic you’re likely to let your whole schedule go out of the window.  But if you say, “Okay, that interruption is dealt with, now I have to get on to this.”  If it helps, redo your to-do list, rearrange things but try not to panic.

Another of the big factors in being responsive is excitingly enough, managing deadlines.  I know, thrilling.  But really, honestly, truly, the best way to avoid missing deadlines is to make sure you don’t set any that you can’t keep in the first place.  Basically deal with prevention rather than cure.  It might sound really, really obvious but the thing is if you’re new to freelancing or you’re struggling to find work, it can be so tempting to offer really, really short deadlines in a bid to win clients in the same way people offer really, really low prices.  It’s actually counterproductive in my experience at least.

It can go both ways, depending on the client, depending on the type of work you do, and depending on the project in question.  Some people will be impressed by an ultra quick turnaround.  I’m not convinced that it’s great for you though as a freelancer because what it is worth remembering is taking too little time for a piece of work can have some really, really bad effects on the quality because not only do you have less time to do your research and less time to actually put pen to paper if you’re a copywriter, or fingers to keyboard but you’re also putting extra pressure on yourself.  You need to ask yourself whether delivering the work on a such a short notice is sustainable over the long term.

Another thing to consider is that even if you can squeeze a piece of work into an impressively short time span with no detrimental effects as far as you’re aware you might be dealing with a client who is not impressed by it.  As I mentioned in Episode Nine I believe, you can actually come across as desperate or a bit shoddy by presenting a potential client with a really, really short deadline in a bid to impress.  They might be wondering why haven’t you got anything else on, or surely you can’t be doing a good job in that space of time.

That’s not to say it can’t work.  I’ll be fair.  If you deliver one or two services that require a consistently short amount of time and you don’t have to push yourself too hard, you could certainly make a super quick turnaround part of your offering.  You know, 24 hours, 48 hours, whatever, same day even, six hours, it depends on what you do.

But, if you need to take into account longer pieces of work or the ad hoc pieces of work that really, at least for me, [a pit 9:56] to my self employment, you might find that offering to take on any piece of work with set turnaround or really, really short turnaround you’re actually setting yourself up for burnout.

Really, just weigh it up, if you know that you can deliver your best work on a really short deadline, feel free to go for it.  Take it as one of your recipes.  For most people though, I would suggest hedging your bets and offering your clients a more measured deadline.  Just deliver it with confidence.  If they ask why give them a reason, “I want to produce quality work and I need X amount of time to do it.”  And, most likely they’ll go for it.  Just keep an eye on the industry standards and make sure you’re not super slow and you should be fine.

Now, this does feed into another important factor in being flexible and responsive as a freelancer and that is communication.  Sticking with the theme of deadlines, if you do find that you have taken too much on and it looks like you’re not going to make a deadline that you’ve set with a client you need to assess the situation as soon as possible and decide what to tell your client.

There are a number of things that you need to be considering when you start hearing warning bells and that’s firstly, can you get the work done by putting in some extra hours?  If you can, can you get it done without it impacting on your other work and your other clients?  If you can’t, what are you going to tell your client?  Now my suggestion would be this, if it’s a one off and you can get the work done without mucking the rest of your work load up, do it because losing out on a bit of sleep isn’t going to kill you, rearranging a trip to the cinema is not going to hurt you.  But, if you can’t do it you can’t do it.

If you’re ill, if you have a super important family event to go to, or if completing this one piece of work on time is going to muck up really important deadlines for the rest of the week, make your choice carefully.  If it is a no go and you’re going to have to rearrange a deadline that you’ve already agreed to tread very, very carefully.

I’m not going to charge you for palm reading here, you can expect your client to be unhappy.  I can tell you that without knowing your client.  Even if they don’t say as much to you it’s just not ideal, is it?  If you’ve arranged for somebody to give you a piece of work on a set day you organize things around that.  Just as when you’re a freelancer you organize your schedule around the pieces of work you’ve got coming in, your clients will be doing the same so they’re not going to be best pleased.

To clients with whom you’ve got a good ongoing working relationship, it might be a huge deal especially if it’s not a usual turn of events, you know, if you’re normally punctual in getting the work to them.  For one off clients though, no matter how punctual, and decent, and marvellous you are with everybody else it’s likely to be really damaging to your reputation with them particularly and with anyone else if they talk about it and they probably will.  So as I say, tread really, really carefully.

As I said before, assess the situation.  Don’t go and tell your client what they don’t need to know.  If you manage to get in a piece of work by the skin of your teeth and you wake up the next day looking like the living dead because you’ve had so much coffee and you’ve been up all night they don’t need to know, Twitter doesn’t need to know, Facebook definitely doesn’t need to know.  What’s more is perhaps you need to just get a bit of rest and plan your time better in the future.

Equally though, if you’re going to miss a deadline do not leave your clients guessing.  The golden rule, explain to your client as soon as you’re sure you’re going to be late what’s happened, why it’s happened although, keep it brief they don’t want a massive sob story, and more importantly what you’re going to do about it.

Now, you’ll need to take your clients lead on the third one.  If they can wait for the work, you [inaudible 13:34] of apologizing and asking them to do just that.  If it’s appropriate offer them a discount, or if you’re really, really late waive the fee completely and just take it as the price of salvaging a bit of your reputation.

What you should never, ever do though and this has happened to me a few times recently, and it’s so annoying is let the deadline come and go without a word.  As I say, this has happened to me a few times recently now actually where I’ve hired a freelancer for a piece of work and the deadline has arrived and there’s been absolutely no word from the freelancer.  It is so rude, and it is so unprofessional, and it actually ended up being me that has to email the freelancer and say in a really British way, “I’m really sorry to chase on this, but the work I’m paying you for, where is it?”


stress (Photo credit: bottled_void)

It’s horrible, it’s so awkward.  As Pip can vouch, it really does sour the situation and it doesn’t make me want to hire somebody again.  As a freelancer don’t do it, don’t let people sit there wondering what’s happened to the work they’re paying you for.  If there’s any way on God’s green earth that you can get word to your client that things have gone bottom’s up you need to find it and you need to do it.

If the client can’t wait for the work, consider whether there’s any reasonable way to help them resolve the situation.  That is if they want you to, they might just tell you to get lost.  If you really can’t juggle your work any other way and slot the work in, consider doing something that I’m going to talk a bit more about in a minute and that’s delegating the work to somebody that you trust. If not, if they’re not happy with that, it’s time to just hold your hands up, apologize really sincerely, and accept that you might just have lost the client.

I mean, you can certainly try and win them back with an email and an offer, or waiving a fee, or what have you and I would suggest it because otherwise it can look a little bit like you didn’t care about them in the first place.  But, if they were looking for a one off piece of work rather than a repeat arrangement it may just be adios amigo, they might just be gone and you’re just going to have to try and improve your working methods in the future.

When you find yourself pushing deadlines on a regular basis, there’s something wrong.  Now, it might not be you it might be your client that is the problem.  If you have one or two clients who consistently drop work on you at the last minute and who are causing you problems in meeting deadlines for your other clients you really do need to consider your position.

Now, from the top of my head there are two ways you can go on this.  If the client gives you regular work that pays well and you enjoy working for them, you can choose to reduce the amount of work you’re doing for other clients and concentrate on giving work to this one particular client.  Now, that does approach something like salaried employment but if it suits you it’s fine.

To inject a level of predictability into your schedule it might be worth having a chat with the client and consider working for a retainer, or agreeing up on a set amount of work per week or per month, whatever works.  If you’re not getting regular work from them or if it’s not paying well, or you just don’t want to dedicate that amount of time to them, there are a number of things you can do.

Firstly, if it’s just a lack of notice is a problem you can always phone them.  You can always phone them for a chat and say, “Look, I owe it to all of my clients to produce quality work in line with deadlines that have been set and I include you in that.”  Try and establish what the problem is, why the work is coming through in such short notice.  See if there’s anything they can do about it, see if there’s anything you can do about it.

The ideal outcome of the call is that you’ll be able to come to some sort of arrangement with them where you’ll take work on but you’ll have a little bit more notice.  Alternatively, and it’s something that Pip and I have discussed previously and it’s what I just mentioned earlier, you can consider partnering up with a number of other freelancers whose standards you absolutely know are good.

If you receive a piece of work from a client on a short deadline you can then get in touch with your new colleagues, to see whether any of them are going through a bit of a dry patch.  If somebody has a quiet afternoon, or a quiet come of days, they might be happy to take some work on.  You can hand it over for nothing, because you’re grateful they’ve taken the work on and they’ve got you out of a sticky spot, or if it’s more of a regular thing, you can arrange some kind of fee or commission with them.  That’s something you’ll have to work out between the pair of you, but it’s actually really a nice way of filling in short dry spells within your week and it can help to build up really friendly working relationships with other self employed people.

Now, delegating work is something that has to be handled really carefully, because you do still owe it to your client to deliver work that matches up to the quality that they expect from you.  If nothing else, you need to remember that the work is coming through on your name.  You recommended that person, you’re handing the work over, your client is paying you and I assume you will therefore pay the person who has actually taken on the work.  So you need to make sure that your client is happy with the arrangement before it goes ahead.

If one of your freelance colleagues does undertake the work the onus does remain on you to carry out some quality control.  So if it’s a piece of copywriting you need to proof read it before you send it to your client.  If it’s a press release and there’s a certain way that your client prefers to have those formatted, you need to make sure it’s all in line with their expectations.  As long as you have [inaudible 18:51], it can be a really, really good way to free up some time and keep working ticking over.  You know, keep your clients happy without burning out.

I hope this little podcast will give you some good ideas about how to be a bit more flexible and a bit more responsive in your day-to-day life without really letting your schedule suffer as a result.  It really is a case of balancing existing tasks with new ones that fall into your lap, and they will fall into your lap several times during the day.  To come back to it, for me, the to-do list is king really.  Cross things off, add things on, redo it.  I love a nice clean to-do list.  Redo it as many times as you need to to get the urgent pieces of work done.  When they’re dong go on to the fairly urgent ones.  If you get more urgent ones in, rearrange things again.  There’s no limit to the number of times you can do this.

Make sure that you factor in as well time for your housekeeping such as admin, invoicing, social media, and business development.  Also, make sure that you take time off because a burnt out freelancer is absolutely no good to anybody and you end up getting less done in the long term.

As ever, thank you so much for listening.  Don’t forget to go to and subscribe so that you can hear everything that the love Pip and I have to say.  You can leave us reviews on iTunes, you can leave us comments on Stitcher Smart Radio.  You can come and have a chat on our Facebook pages or on our Twitter feed.  We’d absolutely love to hear what you think.

You can find all of my details and all of Pip’s details on the podomatic page.  As always, a transcript will be available as soon as my fingers can manage it. I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn and Pip and I will catch you next time.

Podcast Episode 12: It’s not about luck (well, it’s a little bit about luck) aka “The harder you work, the luckier you get”

In this brand new podcast episode, Lorrie and I tackled a rather tricky subject – just how much of freelancing success is luck? We discuss whether the “you’re so lucky!” sentiment actually downplays the hard work that writers put in, or whether saying that hard work automatically will equal success is unfair to those who do put in the effort but still struggle to meet their goals.

As you can imagine, there were lots of issues to cover, and we hope we did it justice! Listen, enjoy and spread the word!

We ran out of storage space for our earliest episodes. But fear not, we have made these many, many hours of freelance writing goodness available for just £10. If you want access to them all, please click Add to Cart and buy through our e-junkie account for instant access.

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Philippa: Hello, and welcome to Episode 12 of A Little Bird Told Me: the podcast about the highs, the lows, and the no-nos of successful freelance writing.  Now, before we start we wanted to apologise for the lack of podcast last week.  Lorrie had a really nasty bug and I had tonnes of work to do.  This is going to happen from time-to-time but we do, as a rule, aim to produce weekly podcasts.

I’m Philippa Willitts…

Lorrie: …And I’m Lorrie Hartshorn, and yes, it’s been a hugely busy and buggy week but, we are back to it now, so you can all breathe a massive sigh of relief.  Before we get on to our topic for today, I just want to remind you if you head over to you can subscribe to the podcast so you never miss another episode.

There are a number of ways you can subscribe including RSS feed, iTunes, Sticher Smart Radio, and you can also find all the links to our social media feeds and websites so you’ll never miss us again.

Philippa: We would also love it if you left us a review on iTunes, or a comment on Stitcher.  If you liked the podcast, do share it with others.  We would love to get your help to get the word out.

Lorrie: It’s true.  Anybody you can think of to tell, tell them!  We love to have new listeners.  We’ve got some great feedback so far and we hope to carry on, so all we need are people with ears, or indeed eyes, because we have a transcript for every episode.

Philippa: We do indeed.

Chinese lucky cat

Chinese lucky cat (Photo credit: _yammynelly_)

Lorrie: Today, we’re going to be talking about a bit of a contentious issue and that’s about how to succeed as a freelance writer or a freelance anything really, and how it’s really a case of luck.  Now, we do hear a lot of people out and about and on social media sort of lamenting their lack of success as a freelancer and it’s often before they’ve even tried anything.

The message that Pip and I always try and get across is that, like anything, building a self-employed or freelance career does take hard work and dedication as well as imagination and persistence.

Philippa: Exactly, you think it would be obvious really, that starting and running your own freelance business is hard work but, both Lorrie and I have come across the attitude from others that it’s a matter of luck more than effort.

Lorrie: It’s true.  I mean, I really do get the impression sometimes that people think I sort of fell into freelancing like, “Whoops, I’m freelancing!”  It is really not the case.  I’ve been plugging away at it for 10 years now, although I did start out part-time.  People ask me things like, “Do you reckon I can do a little copywriting on the side?”  Or, “How do you manage to get so many clients.”  And it’s a bit of a head in my hands moment, really.

I got into freelancing because I made a conscious effort to get into freelancing.  It was based on a conscious decision and I’ve made a real effort over the years to make it work.

Philippa: This is it.  I mean, it’s almost insulting when people say, “How do you have so much work?”  Kind of like it’s being bestowed upon me from above.

Lorrie: Most of it has been bestowed on me from above, but I’m quite short, so it’s not really much of a shock.  But you know, you’re right, a lot of people who talk to me, they’re genuinely talented people but unfortunately they seem to be labouring under this misapprehension that talent is enough and it’s not.  It’s never enough.

I’ve seen frankly mediocre freelancers do exceptionally, exceptionally well because they’re so consistent in what they do and they’re really persistent in their approach to marketing and business development.

Philippa: Definitely, I’ve seen the same.  It would be lovely if talent was enough, it really would, but sadly, clients don’t know that you’ve got talent if they’ve never heard of you.

Lorrie: This is it.  You can’t be invisible because people aren’t going to come and hunt you out to offer you work.  It would be great if they did.  I see some people on the Internet, and on social media, and in my emails and things and they don’t bother responding to clients and their social media’s all to pot, and I think, “You must have clients to throw away.”  But for most of us, that’s not the case and you might be good but you definitely are not the only decent freelancer out there.

There is somebody who is just as good as you, or even as we said before, not as good as you, if they’re more visible, they’re going to get noticed by clients not you.

Philippa: This something that can be quite difficult to tackle really as an issue, because lots of things come into play when you’re talking about how or why one person is successful and another is.  Neither Lorrie nor I believe that it is all very clear cut and all you have to do is X, Y, and Z and you’ll be successful.  It is more complicated than that.  But, what does get frustrating is the assumption that making a freelance career work is simply a matter of, “Ooh, lucky you.”

Lorrie: Yeah, definitely.  It really seems to be a very, very common assumption, at least from what I’ve seen.

Philippa: It does and there is always an element of luck in anything, but putting it all down to luck does discount all the effort that people put in to get work and to then do the work well.  Now of course, there will always be occasional bits of luck in terms of getting work.  You might meet someone randomly who just happens to need the exact service you offer and then hires you.  Or, you might have a friend who starts a business and needs copy for their entire website, for instance, and you’re the only copywriter they know.

But that’s not exclusive to freelancers.  There are people who get a job interview because their mum’s friend was doing the listing.  There are people who find their ideal job in a newspaper that someone else left on a train.  There is luck in every part of life.  But, other aspects of what looks like luck are actually not so much.

For instance, I could be considered lucky that one of my clients knew other people who also needed some copywriting.  So he was able to act as a go between and get me work from them and take a commission himself.  So I got extra work, but that luck was actually part of a really carefully planned marketing campaign that I did that included a plan for referrals and targeting prospects really carefully based on who may well be in a position to contract work to me from their own clients.

It wasn’t a lucky accident; it was something I thought out, spent a lot of time on and designed to work that way.

Lorrie: Definitely.  I think there is a real tendency to be quite fatalistic actually, when thinking about freelancing.  There’s this attitude of “Oh, it will either happen or it won’t” and people forget that in freelancing, perhaps more than in any other career really, you are the one who has to make things happen.  The impression does seem to be quite often that working for yourself is some sort of easy option.

Philippa: Hahaha! Bitter laughter at this end!

Lorrie: Hahaha! I wouldn’t say, “Bitter”, more just “tired”!

Philippa: Hahahaha! Overworked!

Lorrie: Over worked, under paid, tired!  It’s true there’s no boss breathing down your neck but I don’t understand this belief that if you’re talented enough, people are going to seek you out and just throw work at you.  When people start getting an inkling that this might not be the case, and I’m thinking of people who are interested in freelancing or who are new to freelancing, that’s usually when they come and chat to someone like Pip or me.

I think we discussed it in Episode 10 actually, more often than not Pip and I are happy to give any advice that we’ve got.

Philippa: Yeah, definitely.  I mean, that’s one of the reasons we do these podcasts.

Lorrie: It’s true.  But, the problem I come across really often, and it’s something that I had to be quite careful with in Episode 10 because I didn’t want to come across like I didn’t want to help anybody, but fairly recently I’ve found that when people are approaching me and I suggest to them that they try freelancing, or that they try certain techniques to overcome problems they’re having with getting started as a freelancer, I find their interest level drops dramatically the minute I come up with something that sounds like hard work or a bit of a gamble.

Philippa: Yeah.

Lorrie: There’s always 101 reasons why the suggestions just won’t work, and there’s no comprehension of the fact that actually it’s up to you to sit down and find ways to get over these hurdles.  Sometimes I really do get the impression, when I’m approached by some people, and asked for tips on freelancing, and “How do I get into copywriting?”, and “How do I do this?” that they really think that I’m missing a trick and there really can’t be that much work involved!

Philippa: This is really true.  People often ask me how I find work when they find out what I do.  Once I start explaining the numerous steps involved their eyes just start to glaze over.

Lorrie: It’s true!

Philippa: But this is the reality of it.  Work doesn’t just arrive with no effort on the part of the writer, it doesn’t come with the morning post.  You either seek it out which is frankly relentlessly hard but necessary work, or you occasionally get approached based on something you’ve written before.  But even that, is actually based on previous hard work; it’s still not a matter of pure chance.

Lorrie: Yeah.  I mean, you’re completely right it’s a bit of a truism but in this game you make your own luck, at least a lot of it.  Definitely, I’ve had some lucky breaks, I’m not going to say, “Oh, it was all a massive slog.”  There were good points as well as bad points.  But the fact is I put myself out there a lot, I’m consistently obnoxious on LinkedIn like, “Hey everybody.  I’m having a great day doing some copywriting, doing some other things!”

I’m out there and I’m constantly letting people know what services I offer.  I offer discounts to people, I do all sorts of things to try and attract new business.  Also, what people are forgetting as well is that there have been loads of mistakes along the way.  It’s been a learning experience and I’ve had to just take the rough with the smooth.

Philippa: Of course.  I know, in one of the earlier episodes I talked about this brilliant marketing idea I had when I would proof read a page of somebody’s website on spec and then email them and say, “Look, I found these mistakes on your website.  Why don’t you hire me to do the rest?” and I thought, “This is a brilliant idea!”  I didn’t get a single bite.

But the thing is you have to do things like that in order to find out that it’s not going to work and then you need another tack.  Ideally, you need about four or five to start off with.

Lorrie: I did the same thing you suggested, at first I thought, “Yeah, this is working really, really well.”  I just ended up doing loads of proofreading for free! Haha!

Philippa: Exactly.

Lorrie: Which wasn’t exactly what I wanted. Fair enough, I got a little bit of praise and a couple of testimonials out there like, “Oh, you’ve done just a good job.”  But it certainly didn’t pay the bills.  With some people they got in touch with me and said, “Could you do one of the sample proofreads for my website for me?”  And I never heard from them again!

Philippa: Yeah, because while there are always certain proven tactics you can try that will increase the likelihood of having success with your marketing, it isn’t a pure science.  There are no guarantees and you do have to take risks.  Now, if you’re something like a freelance writer these risks needn’t be horrifically expensive.  You’re not going to be putting billboards up that go wrong or anything like that.  But you still do need to go somewhere out of your comfort zone and try things.

Lorrie mentioned about taking risks, and it’s true. When you’re not in that out of your comfort zone place and you’re doing your day-to-day writing work, something that’s important to remember is that you’re only ever as good as the last piece of work you submitted.  You can have written a dozen flawless press releases for a company but if the most recent one was late, and it had typos, and there was no coherent structure, and no contact information they will probably go elsewhere next time.  You have to always be on top of your game because you have to prove yourself pretty much daily.

Lorrie: Yeah, that’s true.  That is absolutely true.  I’ve suppose it’s a bit unfair when you come to think about it but, at the end of the day, clients can be really fickle.  To a certain extent they can afford to be because they’re paying you.  It’s not mates’ rates or doing a favour for a friend, a client wants the product; they don’t want you.  Especially, when there are so many people who are fighting to take your place and offer lower price, a quicker turnaround.

A client’s head can be turned really, really quickly and you have to stay on top of your game.  You can do that quite easily but again, it’s a long game and it’s a long game that takes a lot of effort.  We’re talking training, research, reading, online courses, networking events –  anything you can think of really, do it and keep your skills polished.

Philippa: A while ago I clicked a link that I saw on Twitter and it was to a blog post, I can’t remember where, but if I can find it I’ll add the link to the show notes, but this post is called something like “How to be better than 95% of your freelance competitors”.  I mean, how could I not click on something with that title.

Lorrie: Haha, you sly fox. There I was thinking we’re all in this together.

Philippa: The thing that really shocked me was the article was saying things like, “Astounding as it is, the way to be better than nearly all freelancers is to submit your work on time, and be pleasant when you’re interacting with clients and potential clients.”  Now, it sounds ridiculous that people are giving out that kind of advice but sadly there are many freelancers who don’t follow even those rules.  It’s similar with doing even basic marketing, if people aren’t willing to do that they can’t be surprised when they don’t magically get jobs.

Lorrie: Oh my word, yes.  I mean, I’ve been amazed recently, honestly I have, by just how many established freelancers seem to be just happy to completely bend the rules and hand work in late, and hand it in unfinished and just be like, “Yeah, I’ll get the rest to you ASAP.”

Philippa: It’s unbelievable.

Lorrie: Then you get people wanting to get into freelancing but worrying about taking the first teeny weeny little step.  Sometimes, honestly, I feel like shaking people and saying, “Look, these people can’t even get work in on time and they’re freelancers.  The only thing between you and being a freelancer is saying, ‘I’m a freelancer.’  So, what’s stopping you?”

Philippa: I’ve had more clients than I can remember who thanked me profusely for getting my work in on time and who tell me how rare that is.  Now, that should not be the case.  I do get my work in on time, it’s very important to me that I do.  It’s vital for me and it’s absolutely basic, it shouldn’t be a rarity.

Lorrie: No, no, it really, really shouldn’t.  It is something that I want to cover in my next solo episode.  Recent experience with both clients and other freelancers actually has shown me exactly the thing that we’re talking about now which is that many freelancers and many wannabe freelancers really are falling down on the most basic of things.  Sometimes it’s really frustrating because things like time management, admin, communication, all the stuff you need to be on top of when you don’t have support staff and managers, a boss breathing down your neck, an HR department, accounting department – there’s so much.

If you want to be self employed you really have to be self employed because you are the only thing keeping your business moving, keeping plates spinning.  If you stop, your business is going to come crashing down more quickly than you think.

Philippa: This is true.  While people may imagine that freelance writers spend the majority of their time reading poetry in a sunny park surrounded by admirers and having a muse to inspire writing perfection, the reality isn’t always quite so blissful.

Lorrie: No, it’s not exactly the life of lattes and velvet jackets I was hoping for, to be honest. Never mind!

Philippa: It is really hard work.  It involves stepping out of your comfort zone in many ways.  Like Lorrie said, the fact that you have to do every aspect of running your business means you have to suddenly become enough of an expert in a lot of areas.  It’s hard. You get dream commissions and you get awful commissions and, if you’re doing this to make a living, you can’t really pick and choose between them because the bills have to be paid.  Doing just the ones that boost your ego, or promote your profile, or are just simply on a subject you love, will limit your work and that will limit your income.  If you hate marketing, if you hate financial spreadsheets, if you hate admin then it’s kind of bad luck because you just have to do it.

Lorrie: Honestly, you really do touch on a point that I want to cover so much, but I have to be careful with myself not to be too cross about it because what you touch is basically what I call the X Factor attitude; it’s kind of like, “This wasn’t my dream.  I want to follow my dream, it’s my dream!”

You have people going on about the dream commission, the horrible stuff…The number of times I’ve seen freelancers or wannabe freelancers almost stamping their feet really at the idea of having to do work that doesn’t interest them in order to grow their business and pay the bills, it’s phenomenal.

I feel like saying, “Some of the subjects I write about – I don’t do it for fun, I do it because it’s my job.  It’s copywriting it’s not writing.”

Philippa: So true, being upset if some work isn’t deeply fulfilling is not going to get you very far.  Speaking of the X Factor, slightly off topic, something that particularly bugs me on this program is 15-year-olds going, “It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.”  I’m going, “You’re 15!”  Hahaha! But anyway, as you mentioned X Factor that’s always my particular annoyance.

Lorrie: Oh, dear.  But you know, to go back to it, really, genuinely, I see people almost throwing tantrums and it’s like, “Yes, but I don’t want to write about that.  I don’t get how to monetise this.  I don’t want to talk about that.  That doesn’t interest me.”  I feel like saying, “Sorry love, but it’s the nature of the beast because I would love to be paid a fortune for everything.”

I write a lot of short stories, if somebody was going to pay me as much for them as I get paid for copywriting I’d be in heaven.  But the fact is, that just isn’t the way life goes.  I take on commercially viable work so that I can spend some time building up my fiction.  That, like the rest of my work, the fiction it’s not just a case of sitting down and waiting to be discovered.  It’s loads of hard work, it’s loads of content production, reading, research, marketing, thinking about the long game and really being the driving force behind it.  I’m not sitting there having a sulk.

Philippa: This might sound a bit brutal but if you want to succeed as a freelancer but you’re not putting the work in, it’s not that you’re unlucky, it doesn’t work like that.  Unfortunately, unless you put the hours in, and that includes finding work as well as doing the work you get really well…

Lorrie: Even if you find it massively boring.

Philippa: Even that.  Plus also, putting the hours in liaising with clients and so on.  If you don’t do those things then work is unlikely to just land on your desk.  And, if work does land on the desk of a fellow freelancer who did all that stuff to generate it, that doesn’t make them luckier, it means they worked harder in this particular instance.

Lorrie: Definitely.  As we just mentioned before, there is no magic formula to it.  There’s no waving a wand and getting loads of work.  We’re not saying that if things are a bit tough that it’s all your fault, that’s definitely not the message we’re trying to send out here.  Some of it might be because of things you’re doing or not doing.  Some of it might be just the way life goes sometimes.  Freelancing is really tough and sometimes it can be really disheartening.  You will have down weeks, or down months.

You’ll try something like my proofreading thing and you’ll work really hard on it in good faith and sometimes it just doesn’t work.  You know, I talked to someone on Twitter recently and he’d done his best for a client and he found that they just weren’t happy with what he produced and what’s more they weren’t willing to take in all of the previous good work that he’d done into account and they just don’t want to hire him anymore.  It stings but it’s just the way it goes sometimes.

Philippa: Yeah, there are lots of factors that are beyond our control.  We can’t get every job that we pitch for, we can’t please every client no matter how hard we try.  I think the nature of freelancing is that there will be dry periods as much as there are periods when you’re overrun with work.  We’re not saying that if you’re having a dry period then you’re doing it all wrong, there’s way too much to take into account.

However, there are also things that it’s vital to be doing if you want to have a chance at getting some of this “luck” that people keep talking about!

Lorrie: Completely.   I mean, as Pip says, there’s no saying that if you’re going through a dry patch that you’re a complete failure and you’re never going to get it to work but if you are going through a dry patch, try and be honest with yourself.  There’s no better time than a dry patch to look at yourself and really give an honest assessment of what you might be doing or not doing that’s not helping you.

It goes for the work, it goes for marketing, it goes for self promotion.  Depending on the unique mix of clients, and projects, and sectors, and skills, and anything else that you’ve got on your plate, different things will have different effects. Sometimes you can be really, really salesy and that will bring you massive business and other times people just think you’re being obnoxious and they’ll bugger off.

That’s another reason that you have to stick at it and that you have to be consistent.  It’s like I mentioned in, I think Episode Nine, one of my first solo episodes, don’t just try one thing and then give it up.  Especially in the early stages, you need to find out what works and then get that down to a fine art.  Don’t just try one thing and then go, “Oh, this is too hard.”

Chinese Lucky Cats

Chinese Lucky Cats (Photo credit: manda678)

Philippa: I wrote a blog guest post for a copywriting website which I’ll link to from the show notes, and in that I said something like, “Marketing as a freelancer is like throwing 100 balls into the air and trying to guess which four will be caught.”

Lorrie: That’s a great analogy.

Philippa: Yes, especially when you’re starting.  It really does feel like that and even, I like to think the longer and the more I do it, I’m not going to get 50 of those balls caught, but I do like to hope that I’ll eventually have a clearer idea of which four they might be.  But there was a famous copywriter, I can’t remember his name, he said, “50% of my marketing budget works but I just don’t know which 50%.”

Lorrie: That’s very true.

Philippa: You really do have to try lots of things.  Even things like the time of year, you might get away with doing something cheesy at Christmas in terms of marketing, but try that in February and everybody will hate you.  It would be lovely if we could find the brilliant marketing that worked for our business and then do it forever and nothing else, but even that’s not that straightforward.  You can certainly build on it, but you can’t get complacent.

Lorrie: This is it and that is what frustrates me when people actively approach you and me and say, “Give me some tips.  I want to get into freelance writing.  I want to do copywriting.”  Then they really don’t believe you when you say all this and it’s like, “No, no, it can’t be that hard.”  Or they’ll be, “Yeah, but…  Yeah, but…” to everything you suggest and it’s like, “Honestly, take my word for it.  After 10 years if I didn’t have to do all this stuff I wouldn’t.”

Philippa: If they have a yeah but, then they have an objection but it’s then their responsibility to find something more suitable.  If they says, “Oh, I couldn’t do cold calling because…” and I know that’s not something that either of us do so I quite agree with them, but if they say, “I couldn’t do cold calling because I feel too self conscious,” for instance it’s not then anybody else’s responsibility but theirs to come up with an alternative.

Lorrie: Definitely.

Philippa: Like you said, when people are saying, “Yeah but…” to everything you suggest then it’s really frustrating.

Lorrie: Especially the easy stuff.  Obviously, if somebody approaches me and says, “You know what, I’m unemployed, I really want to get into being self employed rather than going back into salaried work,” or, “I’ve got a part-time job and it’s not really paying the bills I need to do something else.”  I’m not going to go in at level 10, I’m going to go with the basics and obviously, the basics are a little bit boring sometimes.  That’s the way it is, the leg work is always a bit dull – of course it is.  As it is with anything, the basic stage, the first day of the job, it’s your induction and it’s all dull, dull, dull but it’s necessary.  There’s always this, “Yeah but…yeah but…”, like I haven’t thought about it.  Honestly, I know!

Philippa: “But if I email companies they might not reply!”  Then I go, “They probably won’t so you have to do quite a lot of it.”

Lorrie: Yeah, with cold calling, I hate phone calls! I absolutely hate calling people but I had to get over that.

Philippa: We’ve talked about that, haven’t we, ourselves?  Not on the podcast, but it’s something that both of us don’t enjoy but we both see that it makes such a difference to a relationship with a client.

Lorrie: It really does.

Philippa: We do it, but it’s still something that neither of us really relishes.

Lorrie: No, I have no natural affinity to phone calls at all I’m far more of an email person.  I don’t know if that’s because I’m a writer or a translator.  Maybe I’ve just been indoors too long with too many books.

But, it’s just one of those things and it’s kind of like, “Why don’t you set up a Facebook page for the business?”  or, “Why don’t you set up a Twitter account?”  It’s like, “Oh, but I don’t know how.”  It’s like, YouTube…Google… “Google is your friend!”, it really is.  Honestly, I’d love to record that as a jingle, I may have to actually, and play it for people: “Google is your friend!”  It really is!

Just learn how to do things.  If such a teeny weeny hurdle is going to stop you from freelancing…oh it’s not very good is it really?

Philippa: The thing is, in any job, any salaried position, when you are the employer, when you’re the employee, any job has bits that you really like hopefully, but also bits that you really don’t like.  It’s not exclusive to freelancing that there are parts of your job that you don’t get up excited to do.

Lorrie: But I think people think that freelancing will be a job without those bits.

Philippa: I think you’re right, I think they do and yet it’s actually a job, the same as anything else.

Lorrie: There are more of those bits as we say because, you’re your accountant, you do your tax returns, you do your invoicing.

Philippa: You don’t have the marketing department other than that part of your own brain.  You can’t refer things on to the other person in the office who you know knows more about certain things than you because you’re everybody.

Lorrie: That’s it.  When we first started doing the solo episodes of these podcasts, I didn’t know how to use sound recording software.  I had to go on YouTube and find out.  I’m not a naturally technical person.  I don’t enjoy it at all.  I had to watch a YouTube video quite a few times.  I’m not going to say how many because it’s embarrassing!

Philippa: But no, what that proves is that there was something that you weren’t confident at and you did what you could in order to be able to use it.  That’s a good thing.

Lorrie: Yes, this is it.  I would have much rather gone and read something about translation theory, because that’s my comfort zone.  But, needs must – I needed to record a podcast so I went and then found out how to record a podcast.

Philippa: One thing that is a really positive takeaway from all of this is to remember that there are practical steps you can take which will increase your luck in inverted commas.  Market yourself well, do any commissioned work that you get to your very best ability, stick to the deadlines you agreed to, always keep trying.  Like Lorrie said, it won’t always work or what works for one job won’t work for another, but by doing as much as you can the best you can, and by assessing what’s working and doing more of that, you do increase your chances.

Lorrie: This is it.  Especially, what you just said about assessing what you do, take a moment to look back over what you do.  Don’t just go for a scatter gun approach to work.  Be consistent and measure the results. That way you’re not trying one thing that doesn’t work twice, you’re saving yourself work.

Philippa: Yeah.  If you send out a marketing email to 20 different companies and you send four on a Monday, four on a Tuesday, four on a Wednesday, four on a Thursday, and four on a Friday, see do you get a dramatically different response rate depending on the different day, the different time of day, the different type of email?  You need to pay attention to that kind of thing so you can boil it down and have better luck.

Lorrie: Well that’s if you want to do less work in the future, otherwise you can stay at the same level and as we said, the leg work is no fun.  Basically, there is no magic formula.  I keep trying to think when people ask me, is it just A + B= C.”  But, when we say to people that it really just is hard work, I’m not being an ass about it.  Honestly, I’m not saying it to be difficult.  I’m not trying to keep people out of freelancing, I’m telling the truth.

Philippa: Yes, keeping it for yourself!

Lorrie: That’s it, keeping it all under my cloak.  I’m not, honestly!  I love freelancing, but it is hard work.  I’ve done other jobs and I’ve been in salaried employment for a number of years, but freelancing is perhaps one of the hardest things that I’ve done for all of the reasons we’ve mentioned.  You do everything yourself, you don’t get to leave the job at the office, you don’t get maternity, you don’t get sick pay, you don’t get holidays so you really do have to make sure that it works for you.

To do that, I think you often need to come up with solutions that are a little bit more creative especially starting out, as many people are and as I was when I started, I was 18 with little or no money.  To torture a cliché, because I do like doing that, you definitely have to think outside the box.  If you can see any opportunity to legitimately get a new lead whether that’s approaching someone and giving them a business card, asking a friend to put in a word for you with someone they know, contacting all your ex-colleagues and asking for testimonials which is what I did when I started out, then do it.

It’s a full-time thing, at least at first.  If you find yourself groaning and sighing like, “Ohh,” and all of that, I really would suggest without being harsh just turn around, get yourself on the job sites and stick to salaried employment because that’s just the beginning of it all.

I do love what I do even though it really doesn’t sound like it!  I do.  That was the leg work and although there is still always work to be done on that kind of level, it does level out after a while.  You’re not always going to be having to start up, you’re only going to be a newbie for so long.

I wouldn’t swap freelancing for anything.  As we discussed before, I love being flexible, I love the sense of achievement I get from winning new clients and doing the work for them.  I love thinking, “Oh my God, I’m a grown up: I have my own business.”  When people go what do you do?  I go, “I’m self employed.”  It’s a lovely feeling.

Philippa: I think I would conclude by saying I do feel lucky to be doing the job I do.  It suits me so well and I really do enjoy it and in that respect I am lucky.  But that’s not the same as saying that any success I have is down to luck.  I mean, this morning I spent two hours – two hours! – finding businesses to approach and looking at all sorts of spurious information to try and make sure they’re the best targeted people.  Then, starting the admin of actually doing it, personalising approaches because you can’t just be sending off the same thing to everyone and so on….and if that results in work then it’s due to that effort, it’s not any kind of random luck.

Lorrie: Definitely.  All you can do really is get your processes right and then stick to them.  Find what works and stick to it.  Really, we’re just hoping this podcast has given you a bit of an insight into making self employment work for you because, it can.  I do believe that self employment can work for most people as long as they’ve got the basic talent to pursue the freelance work that they want to do.

Although, it might sound like we’re doling out some really nasty hard truths, and I really hope it doesn’t, the advice that we’ve given in this episode is in response to genuine queries that both Pip and I have received pretty recently.

Philippa: It’s true, it’s a fairly consistent discussion that I have with various people.  It’s, I guess, we perhaps have been a bit along the hard line today, but I think to be honest, we’re doing it a bit kind of tough love really because we do both genuinely like our jobs.  But we also get a bit defensive sometimes when people suggest that we have it really easy and we’re being carried around on gold trays by handsome men.  It’s a great job but if people go into it and don’t put the leg work in then –

Lorrie: It’s a nightmare job.

Philippa: It’s a nightmare job and they’re probably not going to do very well.  The title of this episode, the “aka.” after the episode, the harder you work the luckier you get, was a phrase I saw on Pinterest of all places, just after Lorrie and I had been discussing this general subject.  I think our general message is that there are elements of true luck that happen to everybody at some stage, both good and bad and then there’s a lot of heavy digging you have to do yourself.  It is true, the harder you work the luckier you get.  You can never account for all sorts of random extra factors but working harder generally makes you luckier in freelancing.

Lorrie: Definitely.  I mean, I’ve spent the last two weeks in bed with a hot water bottle and feeling really, really poorly.  Now, I don’t get sick pay.  If I hadn’t spent so much time communicating with my clients and really building up strong relationships, and planning my social media in advance so that at least one or two useful articles go out every day, the wheels might have fallen off this freelance car.  But, because I work hard and because I keep the plates spinning, it’s been okay.

I’ve had a quiet couple of weeks.  I’ve managed to get a little bit of work done, and it’s all good.  But freelancing can be really, really hard.  And as Pip’s basically summed it up, you have to work hard to get the luck.  I’m lucky that my clients understand that I was feeling poorly but, they understand that I was poorly because I communicated well with them and they know that I’m normally reliable and that I normally get the work to them.

Philippa: You’ve proven yourself many times.

Lorrie: That’s it.  If I hadn’t, or if I’d been a bit flaky in the past they would have been like, “Oh, enough is enough, this is the final straw.”  Really, you might be thinking that the advice is primarily aimed at newbies to freelancing or that Pip and I think of ourselves as the royalty of freelancing but that is really not the case!

Philippa: Not at all.

Lorrie: Maybe for me, but…you know. But, it never does hurt to reassess yourselves, even if you’ve been doing it for years.  We get it all the time.  I often find myself reading through the podcasts transcripts, or having a listen to them again and taking advice that Pip shares on board and I’d hope vice versa.

Philippa: Oh, absolutely.  Absolutely.  We always seem to, when we finish recording, and then have a bit of a chat – a long chat! – we always, both of us say, “Oh that thing you said, I’m definitely going to try that.”  You can always get new ideas that can be helpful and just give you a fresh perspective.

Lorrie: True.  There are always ways to improve work, cut costs, and try something new.  If you think about it really, and don’t be defensive while you’re listening to this, even if you think, “Wait a minute, they might be talking about me.”  It’s in your interests to do it. Genuinely, even if you loath Pip and I now and think that we’ve been super harsh on everybody.  We’ve tried not to be, but even if you’re feeling a little bit like, “Hmm, I’m not sure I like that advice very much.”  Take it on board, have a think about it and honestly, honesty, honestly, I promise you it will make it more likely that you’ll succeed in freelancing.

Philippa: Yeah, definitely.  There is so much involved in freelancing and much of it is brilliant.  However, it’s not all brilliant because nothing is all brilliant.  I had a weird parallel at the beginning of last week when I was getting emails from Lorrie about how stressed she was because she was ill and it would mean she wouldn’t get as much work done as she normally would.

In parallel, I had a Facebook friend being joyous that she had a cold because she could have time off from her job.  It was a really weird parallel at the time because Lorrie getting ill was really stressful for her because of her business and yet some salaried people, not all, I know a lot of people in salaried jobs get stressed if they’re of sick because of the work they’ll miss and have to catch up and so on, but it was a quite interesting parallel at the time that the two were having simultaneous.

But it’s not easy, especially in circumstances like that.  But the really positive aspect about success being about more than luck is that it means that you can take positive steps yourself.  It means that it’s not in the laps of the Gods and there’s lots you can do to help yourself succeed.

So, that concludes Episode 12.  Thank you so much for listening.  I’ve been Philippa Willitts…

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

Podcast Episode 11: Overcoming Isolation as a Freelance Writer

In this week’s podcast, I talk about the problems that freelancers can face with isolation – working from home alone can lead to cabin fever, so I discuss plenty of tips for making sure you maintain social contact while still getting all your work done.

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Hello, and welcome to Episode 11 of A Little Bird Told Me, the podcast about the highs, the lows, and the no-nos of successful freelance writing. I’m Philippa Willitts and today I am doing another solo episode and I’m going to be talking about how to overcome isolation as a freelance writer, or freelance anything really.

Before I start, I want to remind you that if you go to you can subscribe to the podcast in a number of ingenious ways such as RSS, iTunes, Stitcher and you can also find links to our Facebook page. As well, you can find links to my various websites and social media presences. So please, head over to and sign up and get in touch.

Working at home

Working at home (Photo credit: gibsonsgolfer)

Like I mentioned, I’m going to be talking about overcoming isolation. Working from home is brilliant in many ways. There’s no need to set out early in the morning on a freezing winter day in the rain to catch a crowded bus to work. You don’t have a dress code, you can basically just stumble downstairs in the morning and you’re already at your desk. If you want to take an early lunch you can do it. If you want to start late and finish late you can do it. If you want to work Sundays instead of Wednesdays, one of my own favourite things, you can do that too.

There’s no office politics, no one eavesdrops on your phone calls and let’s face it, there’s no heart sinking moments when that unbearable colleague walks through the door. However, that being said, working from home isn’t without its problems. You don’t have annoying colleagues in the room but, you also don’t have supportive ones either. You don’t have to trudge to the office in the morning but, you also risk not leaving the house at all. When your home is also your workplace, isolation is a big risk factor that many freelancers face.

So, what steps can you take to overcome isolation? My first suggestion is lunch dates. You need to eat lunch in order to fuel your brain for the afternoon ahead so why not once a week arrange a lunch date with a friend, or a former colleague, because when you work at home it’s really easy to get into the habit of grabbing a sandwich and eating it at your desk because taking half an hour or an hour can feel a bit pointless.

However, if you take an hour or two to go out and socialize over lunch it can do you a world of good. You get to see your friends. They’re probably in a similar situation even if they don’t work at home, at their desk they may be tempted to just grab a sandwich and work through so it’s good for both of you and you get to see your friends.

On a similar note scheduling social time specifically is a really good idea because it’s easy to promise yourself that you’ll take an afternoon off but then some work will come in or it’s raining, or you just don’t feel like it so your planned walk in the park, or trip to the shops starts to look quite a lot less appealing. But, if you’ve scheduled the time in your diary and preferably arranged to meet other people during that time it’s a bit harder to cancel so you’re more likely to go out and rediscover what having human company is like.

You don’t need to feel guilty about taking time away from work because chances are if you have a change of scene and some good conversations with someone you care about you’re going to come back refreshed, full of ideas, you might have seen something that sparked your creativity. So it’s not a negative anti-work move, it’s actually good for you socially and for your work.

The next tip is don’t always email. When you need some information from somebody the easiest thing is to just drop them an email. It’s what we do all the time, “Hi, do you have that document?” “What time do you want to meet on Friday?” It’s quick and easy to just send them an email. However, breaking that habit and making a phone call instead, just perhaps once a day, it can be a great way to break through the monotony and have a conversation once in a while.

Why not ring and say, “What time do you want to meet on Friday?” You’ll hear a human voice, you might have a chat, and it’s all good; do it. We kind of forget that before 15 years ago that is what we did, we rang people or heaven forbid saw them. You don’t want to make a phone call for every single email you have to send, but once or twice a day why not pick up the phone.

If you find that you’re getting cabin fever and you’re sick of the sight of the same four walls, work somewhere different for a while. Go out to a coffee shop, go to the library and do some work there. You might find that you’re more focused but also, just having people milling around and being in different surroundings can do wonders for your state of mind and for the work you do.

You might cringe a bit at the thought of those guys in Starbucks with their Macs but they do it for a reason. It’s quite nice to have someone bring you coffee and to be in a bustling environment once in a while rather than the solitude of your home office. The library similar, especially if you’re a writer, they’re full of books and information what more could you need.

They may not have Wi-Fi but if they don’t, you’ll probably get even more work done. There are books everywhere, it’s writer heaven and they’re all free which is even better. I generally tend to be too self conscious to set up in Starbucks to work but, setting up in the library is brilliant.

Collaborate [11/52]

Collaborate [11/52] (Photo credit: Brenderous)

My next suggestion is something that Lorrie’s talked about before which is collaboration. It can be a good idea to collaborate with fellow freelancers to offer a more complete service. So freelance designers for instance, because web designers are often times asked to recommend copywriters. Copywriters are sometimes asked to recommend web designers. There are also times when working together on a bigger project can be really valuable.

If you make connections with other freelancers, perhaps local to you, although with the Internet they don’t have to be local to you, they can be anywhere in the world. But, if you collaborate with them and make some really good connections you both benefit and it’s great for business to have those kinds of collaborative relationships. But collaborating with other professionals can break down isolation problems as well.

Now, the next suggestion is one that seems to divide people. Some people love the idea, others hate it and this is co-working spaces. These are where people who work from home can get together and all work together in the same room. They are events that might take place weekly or monthly, they can be in a variety of places but what they’ve all got in common is people who normally work alone can all work together.

Now I attend a co-working space in the city I live in. It’s weekly but I can’t always attend that often. However, when I do go I thoroughly enjoy it. Some weeks it’s quite chatty, other weeks everybody has strictly got their head down and getting on with lots of work. Either way being in the company of other people is great. It’s a whole different situation and I’m quite often very focused when I’m there and I get a lot done.

Some people’s criticism of it is that I think they worry that it might be really chatty and it’s more of a social event than a working event. But, the ones I’ve attended even where some people are chatting, others have headphones on and are working away so even if some people are chatting it doesn’t mean everybody is you can get a lot of work done and you can just get the benefit of being somewhere with other people.

Another feature of co-working spaces is they can offer the beginnings of a collaborative relationship. Some of the coders that attend the one I go to collaborate on work and I am now looking at working with the venue to provide some workshops soon. Now, that was a really unexpected lovely benefit of attending these events. I’ve met some really nice people.

The one I go to is called Jelly. There are Jellys all over the country, all over the world I think but there are other types of co-working events. Google your area and co-working and see if anything comes up and you can try it. I was really nervous the first time, I didn’t know what to expect but it’s been great.

Something to bear in mind when thinking about isolation is accountability. That’s a bit of a sideways reference I suppose but, it’s definitely related to isolation because being entirely isolated can make it hard to keep yourself accountable and make it hard to achieve everything you’re trying to achieve. Keeping yourself accountable does very often involve somebody else. Lorrie and I have mentioned before that we have what we call accountability days once or twice a week or a fortnight.

We basically email each other either every hour or every half hour with what we’ve achieved and what we are doing next. It’s a really effective way of keeping us focused. Some people go quite a lot further. A guy called Maneeshi Sethi writes a blog called Hack the System and recently he wrote a post about how he hired someone to slap him in the face. Honestly he did! What happened was he put an ad on Craigslist looking for somebody who he would pay to sit next to him, they could do their own thing, as long as they kept an eye on whether or not he was working.

What led up to this was that he had used some software to see how much time he was wasting and he was really horrified by his results. I suspect a lot of us would be. So for some reason what came to his mind was paying somebody to slap him and he did it. His productivity increased from an average of 35% to 40% up to 98% on the day that the slappy person, I’m loathed to say slapper was by his side. It’s a fairly extreme example but what it does go to show is it’s harder to waste time when somebody else is keeping an eye on your progress.

Now rather than hiring somebody to sit next to you and carry out acts of violence, why not get together with somebody periodically. You could sit next to each other and encourage each other to keep focused. It can work wonders for your productivity and help to beat feelings of isolation as well.

Networking is an important factor in being a freelancer, being self employed. But, it doesn’t just have to be a business benefit, it can be a really good opportunity to socialize as well including meeting possibly other self employed people who will be in a similar situation to you. I attend networking events, I’m not brilliant at them I have to admit, I’m forever striving to improve how I do them. But, they’re a great way of meeting lots of people who quite often have something in common through your work.

They can have many kinds of benefits and bonuses from a business point of view. You can make contacts, you might get some work as a result if you meet someone who needs just what you’re offering. You’ll probably swap lots of business cards but also it means you spend two hours talking to people, making conversation, chatting. It’s not just good for business it’s good for freelancers to make sure they get out and meet new people.

The next point is easier said than done but it’s keep the work coming in. Basically the more work you’ve got the less time you’ll have to feel lonely. Having a good structure to your day can also really help to keep your mind on work rather than thinking about how much you want to chat with someone.
I’m one of these people who functions very well on her own but there are points where I realize I haven’t had human contact for way too long and that’s not healthy. But sometimes if I’ve just not got enough work I kind of mistake that for feeling feed up personally. I’m not, it’s just that I don’t have enough to do so, if you keep a steady about of work coming in this is obviously easier said than done for a freelancer, but if you can do your best to do that it will help with pangs, I think.

Now, social media it’s not the same as meeting up with people face-to-face but getting yourself on Twitter or Facebook, wherever your friends are basically, can be a really positive way of interacting with people when you’re home alone. Mutual support, interesting links to click, and just silly things to make you laugh. They can all make a positive difference.

Similarly online forums for freelancers or local business forums can provide advice and support that can be really beneficial. Even start a podcast, the conversations that Lorrie and I have around our podcasts, not to mention once the recording is finished on Skype, are really good for mutual support and plenty of gossip. Lots of people, not just freelancers, who can’t get out and about rely on social media for social contact.

I know lots of disabled people who can’t get out and Twitter for them is a life line. Even if you’re in a different situation and it’s just work that you do on your own, having somewhere, be it a supportive forum, or friends on Twitter or Facebook, or wherever it is that works for you where you can go and let off steam or get some advice is really valuable so don’t write it off just because it’s not face-to-face contact.

The final tip is join, join, join. Join groups, join classes, join societies. These can be work related or they can be entirely unconnected with your work. Do you want to learn about bird watching? Do you want to improve your dancing? Do you want to improve your professional development? Go for it. Do it. There will be something that you can join that will force you to meet other people, probably once a week, and having that as a regular event in your diary will be brilliant.

You’re learning new skills, be they work ones or personal and you’re forcing yourself into a new situation with new people. There are things like Geek Up which is where web developers can get together and just socialize because a lot of web developers are freelance and work on their own. I know various people who attend Geek Up and really get a lot out of it.

There are that kind of group for all sorts of professions and all sorts of interests, and skills, and situations. Check out your local college, look for adult education centres, and look for societies and groups. Lots of towns and cities have one of those cafes where there’s a notice board with notices about all sorts of things. I can think of the exact one in my city. Go and have a look at the notice board and see if anything takes your fancy. Then, sign up and do it. Don’t think about it endlessly, just do it.

I hope some of those will give you some good ideas about how to combat any isolation you might be feeling if you work at home on your own. Freelancing is brilliant. I love the flexibility, I love working from home but, sometimes you really do need human contact with somebody else. When you’re self employed you have to make more of an effort with that than most people do. Plan things, don’t be vague, plan it specifically and mnemonically to do it.

Thank you very much for listening. Don’t forget to go to and subscribe. You can also leave us reviews on iTunes, comments on Stitcher, or on our Facebook page too. We’d love to hear what you think. Also, go to the Podomatic page to check out the show notes where I will link to places I’ve mentioned on this podcast and you can also find how to contact me.

I’ve been Philippa Willitts and I will see you next time!