Tag Archives: Freelance Writing

Fixing the Mistakes Made by Hiring Cheap Writers

euro-870757_640I’ve lost count of the number of times somebody has approached me about my writing services. They complain that they hired somebody to do this work already but, well, it was awful and now they need someone to fix it or to start again from scratch.

Invariably, they paid that person around $5 for 500 – 1,000 words and the content they show me is an unmitigated disaster.

So, they hire me. I do the work they need, and they pay me. They’ve paid out twice for writers when, if they’d only bitten the bullet and paid fair fees in the first place, they would have saved themselves both money and time, all the while reducing their stress levels as an added bonus.

Those of us who charge higher rates do so because we are confident that the additional training and experience we have gained over years of full-time freelancing make the extra £££s worth paying. We’ve navigated our way around many different types and formats of writing, and we’ve negotiated the most weird and wonderful content requirements with a range of clients.

So if you pay cheap writers on Fiverr for an SEO-optimised article, you will get 500 words that do, indeed, contain your target keywords. But – most frequently – you won’t get much more than that. How on earth can they really take the time to research your topic if they have a matter of minutes to write your blog posts (they need to submit a large number of posts per hour / day to get a decent amount of pay to go home with)? How can they possibly proofread your work when they have 30 more articles to write today? How can any of those articles have the unique, special touch you are so keen to display in your content?

I feel confident in the fees I charge because I know I deliver great value to businesses and editors who are looking for insightful, unique, well-informed and engaging work. The effect this will have on a business’s customer engagement cannot be overestimated.

Run, Don’t Walk, Away From Content Mills: Secret Sneak Peak!

One of the questions I get asked the most by fellow freelancers is how they can escape from writing for mass freelancing sites with low pay and a ‘race to the bottom’ mentality.

The fact is that even if all your current work is underpaid and undervalued, even if you are doing some kind of ad-based revenue share that earns you 22 cents for an article you spent three hours writing, even if you are currently producing work that you know is under par because you need to write four articles an hour to break even, and even if you have never had a private client of your own, it is possible to escape from the content mill, but it takes some focused work to get your foot in the door.

It *is* possible for freelancers to escape the content mill trap!

I have an upcoming, exciting project that will help you to drop those exploitative sites and create your own income and I don’t want you to miss out on this incredible opportunity. If you are interested in learning how to make more money as a freelancer, how to find potential clients that could be a great fit, how to approach them, and how to seal the deal, leave your first name and email address below.

I want to know how to escape low-paying freelance writing work!

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I look forward to hearing from you!

Book Recommendation: The Freelance Writer’s Guide to Making $1,000 More This Month

Bookshelf

Bookshelf (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You may remember Mridu Khullar Relph who I interviewed on the podcast recently. Well, she’s written a book. And it’s really good.

Full disclosure: Mridu and I are friends and she gave me a free copy of the book. However, if I thought it was terrible I would simply have never mentioned it again. Instead, having read it and been inspired, I actually can’t recommend it highly enough.

Firstly, her credentials. Mridu has years of experience in journalism and counts the New York Times and TIME amongst her credits; this shows in her writing. The Freelance Writer’s Guide to Making $1,000 More This Month is packed full of tips to get more work and improve your income and these tips are not vague, they are specific, with clear instructions.

So, when Mridu recommends pitching magazine editors, she links to 21 pitch emails she has sent that resulted in a commission. When she talks of Letters of Introduction, she shares the one she uses. So much of the professional advice we see consists of gems like ‘make more connections’ or ‘raise your prices’, whereas, in this book, Mridu tells you exactly how to do the things she advises, step by step.

And all for under three quid!

The Freelance Writer’s Guide to Making $1,000 More This Month is aimed at freelancers with some experience who want to improve their fees or up their game, however anyone from a complete newbie to a highly experienced writer is bound to pick up numerous tips that can help them to improve their success rate and earning potential.

Tips that you can go away and do, right away.

And this is the real genius of the book – the fluff has been stripped away and what is left is pure freelancing gold.

You can get The Freelance Writer’s Guide to Making $1,000 More This Month by Mridu Khullar Relph on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.

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

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

if your business plan includes free content

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

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Transcript

PW: Hello, and welcome to episode 68 of ‘A Little Bird Told Me’, the podcast where two freelance writers tell you all the tricks of the trade. We talk about the highs, the lows and the no-nos of successful self-employment, saving you from mighty embarrassment and mortifying mistakes, and guiding you to the very top of your chosen profession. Freelancing is a funny old world, but that doesn’t make it easy. Tune in to the podcast every week, and if you go to allittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, you can subscribe from links on that page to ensure that you never miss an episode. We’ve made it really easy to sign up, whatever your favourite podcast technology is, and you will also find there any links we mention in the podcast, our own websites on social media feeds, and the frankly awesome A Little Bird Told Me Facebook page, too. I am Philippa Willitts…

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

PW: I think so.

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

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

LH: I think so.

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

LH: All the way back.

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

PAY

PAY (Photo credit: tind)

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

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

LH: [laughter] Wow.

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

LH: That’s generous.

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

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

PW: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

LH: Already a bit of a warning sign.

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

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

PW: [laughter]

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

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

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

LH: That’s ridiculous.

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

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

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

LH: Awesome. Page 134 on Google.

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

LH: How would it be good for your site?

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

LH: Okay. [laughter]

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

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

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

LH: [laughter]

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

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

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

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

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

"Your logo here"

“Your logo here” (Photo credit: jystewart)

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

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

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

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

LH: Oh, I remember her, yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

PW: Of course.

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

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

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

PW: Obviously. [laughter]

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

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

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

LH: Exactly.

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

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

PW: Wow.

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

PW: Right.

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

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

LH: Funny that, yeah.

PW: Isn’t it.

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

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

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

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

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

PW: That seems unlikely.

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

PW: Fairly enough.

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

PW: [laughter] Freely decorated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PW: Very true.

LH: Awesome. More free clients, yes!

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

LH: She’s great, isn’t she?

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

LH: [laughter]

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

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

PW: Yeah. She’s got the magic.

LH: She has. She’s great.

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

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

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

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

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

LH: Amazing. [laughter]

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

LH: What a joker.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LH: Way more.

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

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

PW: Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

English: University of Cambridge. University Hall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PW: So rude.

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

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

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

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

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

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

LH: That’s so ungracious and priggish.

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

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

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

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

PW: That’s it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PW: It’s always the same.

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

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

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

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

LH: I always retweet those.

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

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

PW: Go on.

LH: Simon Cowell.

PW: [laughter] ‘Cause he’s skint.

LH: Isn’t he a billionaire?

PW: Oh, at least.

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

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

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

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

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

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

LH: That’s brilliant.

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

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

LH: [laughter] Steady…

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

LH: Brilliant app.

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

LH: Scumbags.

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

LH: Yeah.

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

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

PW: I can imagine – scrambling for the scraps.

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

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

LH: Probably badly written.

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

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

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

LH: Why would they? It makes no sense.

PW: Exactly.

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

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

LH: Bashing things out.

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

LH: And an angel started to sing around you.

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

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

PW: Of course I did.

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

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

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

PW: We’ve all been there.

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

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

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

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

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

LH: No.

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

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

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

LH: No.

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

LH: They’re reasonable.

PW: They’re where they should be.

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

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

LH: It’s just not a problem, is it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LH: Of course.

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

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

PW: Exactly.

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

PW: Definitely.

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

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

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

PW: Yeah. Finding 50 other ones.

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

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

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

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

LH: No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PW: We’ll actively discourage it.

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

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

LH: Ta-da-da!

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

LH: [laughter]

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

LH: Nope.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PW: Is it going to ask for free posts?

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

PW: Yes.

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

PW: Yeah. That could be better.

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

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

LH: Brilliant recommendation.

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

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

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

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

PW: [laughter]

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

PW: Take no nonsense.

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

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

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

LH: [laughter]

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

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

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

LH: That would be nice, wouldn’t it?

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

LH: Yes, the myths, isn’t it?

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

LH: Hours.

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

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

PW: I like it very much.

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

PW: [laughter]

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

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

LH: It is, isn’t it?

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

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

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

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

PW: And so thank you very much for listening. I have been Philippa Willitts…

LH: … and I have been Lorrie Hartshorn. And we will catch you next time.

Podcast Episode 62: How to meet – and exceed – your clients’ needs

Retaining existing freelance clients is generally much easier than constantly finding new ones, so it’s important to ensure that you are always seeking to meet, and exceed, their expectations. If someone hires you, make sure you are impressive! In this podcast episode, Lorrie and I recommend various ways to make sure that you correctly identify the needs of your clients, and how to go about meeting them.

Show Notes

There are several ways to make sure that you don’t miss out on A Little Bird Told Me. Subscribe via RSS Subscribe via iTunes Find us on Stitcher Smart Radio And finally, do ‘like’ us on Facebook to be the first to hear our news and to talk with us about what you hear on the podcast!  

Transcript

PW: Hello, and welcome to episode 62 of ‘A Little Bird Told Me,’ the podcast where two freelance writers tell you all the tricks of the trade. We’re here to save you from mighty embarrassment and mortifying mistakes, and guide you to the very top of your chosen profession. Freelancing is a funny old job, and we want to help you along the way. Tune into the podcast every week, and if you go to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, you can subscribe to ensure that you never miss an episode. Whether iTunes and RSS podcatcher, or Stitcher Smart Radio, or your platform of choice, we’ve made it super easy to sign up and to be the first to hear our latest words of wisdom. There you will also find any links we mention, and our own websites on social media feeds, as well as the A Little Bird Told Me Facebook page. I am Philippa Willitts…

LH: … And I’m Lorrie Hartshorn, and today we’re going to be talking about how to make sure that you’re meeting your clients’ needs. Building a freelance writing business, or any business for that matter really, is about finding and exploiting, or creating an exploiting demand for service that you can offer. And when I say ‘exploit’ I don’t mean anything untoward. I mean just making the most of something for the sake of your own benefit, and in this case, money to pay your bills.

Now in today’s climate, where clients can rightly or wrongly, especially wrongly, get what they think is the same work for much less that you probably want to charge them, and also where thousands and thousands and thousands of freelance writers are all vying for the attention of big business clients, meeting your clients’ needs will definitely be the difference between your business sinking or swimming.

PW: So what we’re going to do is go through various areas in which you can check what you’re doing, and maybe change the way you work a little bit, just to make sure that you are doing your best to really meet your clients’ needs. And the first area that we want to look at is listening. You should never assume that you know what your clients’ needs are. It’s easy to assume that if somebody contacts you wanting a blog you might think, ‘Oh, they want a blog because blogs are good for this, that and the other,’ and never say to them, ‘So what are your aims with this blog? What is it that you want to achieve with this blog? What do you want it to do for your business?’ Because it may actually be something entirely unrelated to what you think, and if you’ve guest and if you guest wrongly, then you’re not going to do a great job because if you think they’re aiming for SEO, but in fact they’re aiming for relationship building, then the blog’s going to be written in the wrong way.

And so while you can’t assume you know what their needs are, what you need to do is basically ask them. If you are having a first contact with a potential new client and they say, “We’re looking for press releases. We’re looking for news stories,” talk to them about not just what they want but why they want it. What are their goals for the piece of work? What do they hope is going to happen? Because without that information you’re not going to get anywhere.

LH: Definitely. And I think as well as actually getting useful information from them, you can really strengthen relationships, particularly with new clients, but as well with existing clients. There’s never too late a time to do this – letting them feel that they’re being listened to, and that you’re prioritizing what they want, even if they’re not quite sure what they want. If you give your clients the feeling that they’re being listened to, that is really, really valuable, and it’s something that will make them stay with you rather than going somewhere else.

PW: Yes, definitely, because I think we’ve all had to experience, even just as a — say you’re ringing up your gas company with a complaint. You know if you’re not being listened to, and it’s really frustrating. Or if something that drives me particularly up the wall is when you email a question to a customer service team, and you get what’s blatantly a form response.

LH: Oh, I hate those so much.

Most people do not listen with the intent to u...

PW: That is answering a different question to the one you asked, but it has some of the same keywords in it, for instance. There is nothing that makes me angrier, I don’t think. Because I can’t help myself but reply and go, “Well, if you could read what I actually said, and respond to that question, please, I would very much appreciate it.” And it’s so frustrating when someone assumes they know what you want, because it comes across as you don’t feel valued, you don’t feel heard, you don’t feel anything other than annoyance, I think.

LH: Yeah. You’ve wasted your time communicating with somebody that’s not listening to you. And time is really valuable. I think it’s a difficult balance to strike when you’re a freelance writer, because often your clients will need some level of guidance from you. They need your expertise. That’s why they need a freelance writer, they need somebody who’s got your skillset.

PW: Absolutely.

LH: So you do need to guide them, and sometimes… Say if you’re having a conversation with somebody for the first or second time, you do need to interject with suggestions of what they might be hoping to achieve and “Well, maybe, if we did this we could achieve such and such for you, or maybe we could increase website traffic by doing A, B and C.” But, as Pip just said, you don’t want to overstep the mark, and just make assumptions about what they need. Because you might be so busy trying to impress them with what your writing can achieve for them that you’re not actually hearing what they’re wanting to achieve.

So when you’re looking to take on new clients, market research is really important. You need to know who you’re dealing with, and consequently how you’re going to deal with them. So depending on how you’re making contact with these prospects, you might want to bear certain things in mind. One of the ways that you can make contact with people is via a networking event. And when you go along to these networking events active listening is really, really important, if you want them to pay attention to you or you at least want to get somebody’s interest, and get their business card off them. So, as Pip and I discussed before in our ‘Networking Like a Ninja’ episode we…

PW: [laughter]

LH: I know.

PH: I do feel we somewhat misrepresented that, but the title was so good that we couldn’t not use it, frankly.

LH: I disagree. I think it was absolutely accurate —

PW: [laughter]

LH: — that you will impact network like a ninja would. Who knows if ninjas network? They’re probably so sneaky you wouldn’t know even if they did.

PW: True.

LH: But when you’re networking you can’t simply tell people about your services. Although it’s good to have an elevator pitch, you can’t give people stock responses, because just as Pip said with that gas company, for example, people want to feel that you’ve tailored what you know to their needs. It’s not about you, it’s about them and how you can meet their needs. It’s quite different.

PW: I know at networking events the most success I’ve had tends to be when I’ve spoken the least, because if say I meet someone who runs their own small business, and they ask what I do, and I say, “I’m a freelance writer. I do this, that, the other -” which I may well introduce myself as. So if I then say, “So, if you need a new website, I’m the person to contact,” whereas they’ve actually already had a new website, and they would be interested in something completely different, I’ve probably lost them. Whereas if I say, “I’m a freelance writer. This is what I do. I do A, B and C,” and then pause, that’s when they will say, “Oh, I have been wondering about getting some help with press releases.” Whereas if I launched into why I’m great at websites or why I’m great at blog, then they would have thought this wasn’t something I could help them with. Listen, listen, listen.

you're not listening

you’re not listening (Photo credit: jessleecuizon)

LH: Absolutely. And if you leave a pause and they don’t come in with anything, you can ask them what do they do, because it’s a truth universally acknowledged, I’d say, that people like talking about themselves, even if they don’t, because it’s a bit uncomfortable at a networking event. But at a networking event you do have to talk, and the usual thing for people to talk about is what they do. And the more you know about them, the more you can tailor your speech in their direction.

PW: Yes, definitely. If you make an assumption about the kind of business they run, like if they say, “I run a small shop,” you might think, “Oh, there’s not much copywriting I can do for a small shop,” but they might… First of all, what “small” means to one person isn’t the same as it is to another. You don’t know if they’re running an online shop or a local shop. You don’t know what they’re selling and how much potential there is in that for content.

LH: You don’t know who they’re targeting, so how they reach people. They might reach people via the web, or they might reach people using printed literature.

PW: Yes. Or it might entirely be an email newsletter. If you make assumptions you’re going to miss opportunities.

LH: Absolutely. And being face to face with somebody is a really, really valuable opportunity, and it’s something you don’t want to waste. Now you might not be going to networking events. You might just be contacting people on the internet, and coming across people on social media, in which case it’s important to know which kind of social media you need to be on. The clue is in the name – social media is social – and you can learn a lot from listening to people that you would like to target as clients on social media feeds. But in order to be able to do that, you need to be on the right social media feed. Facebook, for example, is not all together the best social media feed for B2B businesses.

PW: Yeah. It can work, but it’s certainly a far less intuitive way of doing B2B networking, I think.

LH: Definitely. Whereas, if you’re looking for B2C clients, Facebook is perfect. So for B2B clients Twitter, I’ve always found, is very good. You’ve got a lot of people on there talking about a lot of complex things, and if you can insinuate yourself into a conversation, or just be a bystander in a conversation, you can learn more about your prospects. And as we said, the more you know about these people, the more you can make sure that you’re meeting their needs.

PW: You can also set up very strategic searches, especially if you use a tool like TweetDeck or HootSuite. You can have a constant column open, so that anybody who mentions, I don’t know, “dressmaking Sheffield” will pop up on your screen in front of you whenever they do. Or you can do it manually. You can save searches on the Twitter website and then you can just set them up and watch for a few weeks and see what are people’s concerns, what are people wanting, what do people want to know, what’s missing from people’s lives. You talk about whatever your chosen subject is, and it’s a brilliant way. You don’t have to do any work, you just watch what people say publicly. Compared to setting up surveys and saying, ‘What do you want from a dressmaker in Sheffield?’ you can just let people tell you.

LH: Definitely. And it’s not just a good way to find perspective clients, either. It’s a good way to formulate your content if you’re for clients in that sector, because it’s what it says. If they’re asking questions about – oh, I don’t know, let’s stick with the dressmaker – where can I find a good dressmaker in Sheffield, there’s a blog post in that.

PW: Yeah. And if lots of people are saying, “I want a dressmaker in Sheffield, but nobody’s listing their prices,” for instance, then —

LH: You’ll know what their priorities are.

PW: Exactly. And what website needs to stand out. The listening tools available in the world of social networking are really mind blowing when you compare to even five or ten years ago.

LH: You’re basically able to eavesdrop on any conversation that’s taking place online, and it’s really amazing, because it can take a lot of the pain out of contacting new prospects, as well. If you were to get in touch with the dressmaker in Sheffield and say, “I’ve noticed on social media that there’s a lot of discussion about the fact that dressmakers in Sheffield don’t have very good websites and don’t list their prices clearly. I’ve noticed that your website is -” and then you can give a bit of insight into how the website is functioning. “Would you be interested in talking about A, B or C?” And that shows that you have your finger on the pulse, that you’re interested in that business, have a concrete way to improve their business, and that you’re in touch with prospective customers for them.

PW: And you can back it up with links, screenshots. You can say, “In the last week alone 15 people wanted to know this.” You could do graphs.

LH: [laughter]

PW: Everybody’s impressed by a graph.

LH: You go for something visual. You could do a pie chart.

PW: And that’s all ways of listening in a way that, again, it’s getting rid of those assumptions, and listening to the reality of what people want, so that you can meet the needs of your client.

LH: This is it. Because depending on how generalized or specialized you are, even if you’re the most specialized person, you can’t know any sector inside and out. You can’t know what everybody in that sector is thinking in all the associated industries. What you hear might not be what you’re expecting to hear a lot of the time. I think it’s good not to rest on your laurels and assume that you know a sector even if you’re a specialist in it, because sectors develop, don’t they? There’s always something changing and growing and evolving. I suppose particularly if you’re a specialist actually, you need to keep your finger on the pulse, and to really, really listen to what people have got to say.

Now another way to do this, staying on the same theme, is to subscribe to and read trade publications and trade blogs. Because it’s not just the value that you’re going to get from the articles themselves, but also from the comments below the line. So where you will have a trade publication about skip hire, for example, you will have people who are interested in skip hire. And where you have people who are interested in skip hire, you’ll have perspective customers and their perspective customers. So you’ve not just got the people who you can target, you have the people looking for skip hire companies, so you can learn not just about your prospective clients’ needs, but about their prospective clients’ needs. Again, it’s like a social media feed in your specific industry.

So it’s well-worth subscribing to popular high-traffic blogs and publications and e-newsletters, because that keeps a finger on the pulse without you having to do it. That’s a whole load of research, isn’t it, that you don’t have to do. You can go along and see what they’re researching because to stay popular, to stay high-traffic, they will have to keep their finger on the pulse.

PW: Another thing that’s important to do if you want to really focus on meeting your clients’ needs is to be flexible and responsive.

LH: This is always the tricky one, isn’t it?

PW: It is. There’s always a line to be drawn, and it’s sometimes not 100% clear where that line is, but basically you want to impress your clients, and you want to do the best by them. They are paying your bills, and you want them to feel thoroughly happy with what you’re doing. And this does mean sometimes maybe taking on an extra piece of work when you aren’t planning to, it means responding to your emails and phone calls fairly quickly, and keeping on top of keeping them happy, really, but not at the expense of the rest of your business and your life.

LH: I think this is it. When you start out as a freelancer I think it’s easy to go overboard trying to meet the needs of your clients. And given how eager people are when they start freelancing, it’s a bit of a perfect thorn, because you are likely to take on clients who don’t pay you enough, in my experience, and usually, in my experience, again, it’s the clients who don’t pay you enough who tend to be the most demanding.

PW: That is very true.

LH: So when you start out I’d put money on it that you’re likely to think, “Oh, I can’t do this. I can’t cope with this. I’m having to respond to emails at 11 o’clock at night,” and “Oh, this person’s not paying, and it’s costing me money, and I don’t know what I’m doing.” So as Pip says, there’s definitely a balance to be met. And as you carry on freelancing you’ll realize how far you can stretch yourself, and indeed how far you should stretch yourself to meet your clients’ needs and to be responsive with them without sacrificing your own wellbeing, and in some cases, not just your free time but the time you need for other clients.

PW: I think something’s that’s really important to bear in mind is that if the time you spend communicating with your clients or dealing with them in ways other than just writing stuff for them – if that’s taken over and losing you money, then you’re probably doing your pricing wrong. The fact is you’re a freelancer and a big part of that job is liaising with businesses. And that has to be incorporated within your overall pricing structure. And so if you think, “No, this is taking up too much time and it’s unpaid work,” then look at your pricing because you have to take into account that you’re not just going to write stuff. You do have to be dealing with people in their terms, as well as working to your own terms.

LH: Absolutely. And there are ways of doing that. It’s good to look at how long you’re spending, because if one client is on the phone all the time and on the email all the time, then it might be a problem with that particular client. But if you have a look across the board, and you find that you’re spending too much time across the board talking to people, then absolutely you need to look at trying to incorporate that into your pricing structure. And there are ways and means to do that. You can either increase the prices for say… I mean, something I’ve done – I increased the price of a case study or a blog post if I have to do a phone interview for it.

PW: Yeah. Other ways that you can be flexible and responsive are things like often it’s not unreasonable demands, it’s just things that you may have to just shift things around a bit. If a client needs to speak to you, and they’re only free at 4 o’clock, then do everything you can to make sure you can speak to them at 4 o’clock. It’s not a big deal, it shows them that you’re making the effort, and it keeps things easy. Similarly, a way of being responsive can be to set an out-of-office auto-responder if you’re away. Then your client won’t feel that you’re neglecting them if you don’t get straight back to them.

And things like if you’re a proof-reader and somebody wants you to work in the Open Office software suite rather than Microsoft Word it’s not a big deal. It’s easy to do, and it shows them that you’re willing to take steps to work with them.

LH: Absolutely. It’s good to keep in mind that you and your clients are on the same team, I think. Because sometimes you can feel quite resentful, especially if you’re chopping and changing what you’re doing. It can be easy to think, ‘Oh, for goodness sakes, I’ve just changed this, and I’ve just done that.’ And then now I need to do this, and he’s only free at 4:00 – it’s the nature of freelancing.

PW: It is.

LH: It really is. Things aren’t as structured as they would perhaps be in a salary position. You do have to chop and change, because it’s your business, and that’s just the way it is. I found myself at first getting really stressed out and thinking, “But I’ve just changed that. Now I have to swap this around…” If you just accept it, really, it’s less difficult.

PW: Yeah. The lack of structure in freelancing is one of the reasons a lot of freelancers get into it. So go with it.

LH: It is the other side of the coin that allows you to go out for lunches, or allows you to do your shopping in the morning if you need to, or go to doctor’s appointments in the afternoon. It’s the same coin. So in terms of being flexible and responsive, it doesn’t just go for looking after existing clients, either. It’s actually a good thing to bear in mind when you’re looking for new prospects, as well, because part of winning you business, people will say, “How did you find new business? How did you get new customers?” Part of it, and a large part is just being in the right place at the right time and saying the right things. You need to be seen to be doing the right things and seen to be being the suitable person for them. So there’s no point in saying the right thing if they’re not there. There’s no point in being there if they are, but not saying anything. You really do have to say the right thing at the right time in the right place.

PW: Yeah. And some of that will happen by very good planning, and some of it will happen by complete luck.

LH: Almost miracles. When I think how I found some of my clients I think, “Gosh, how did that happen?”

PW: Oh, I know. It’s ridiculous sometimes. You think, “I worked really hard for client X. I did everything and eventually snacked them.” And then client Y will just almost trip up and land at your feet. And you think, “How did that happen?” But go with it. It’s all good.

LH: Yeah. If you move in the right circles it’s far, far more likely to happen. So I think that’s a good time to interject with kind of the words on marketing. It’s really good to plan and streamline your marketing rather than having a scattergun approach, because you can put hours and hours and hours of effort into hitting every possible social media platform and trying every different thing. It’s far better to streamline your marketing activities and to respond to what works well. And to be able to respond you need to be able to measure your marketing activities, as well. So it’s really worth having a look at coming up with a marketing plan, and there’s so much online that will help you do that. And you can actually spend a lot less time just hitting the right target than spending a lot of time hitting all the targets, many of which won’t tick any boxes for your perspective clients.

PW: Now the next point which is really important in terms of meeting clients’ needs is about being proactive. But sometimes you can feel like you’re just sitting back and everything’s going swimmingly.

LH: [laughter] That’s always when things go wrong, isn’t it?

PW: Yeah, and you’re going with the flow and everything’s working perfectly. But if you get too comfortable in that situation you can suddenly find it all drops away. So being proactive is what we’re going to look at next.

LH: Definitely. I think the first point I want to make is that just because everything seems right doesn’t mean it is. That’s a really sad fact. It is, but it is a fact. It’s easier, as Pip says, to rest on your laurels and think, “Oh, everything’s good,” and just let things slide.

PW: Because there are times as a freelancer when that happens – you’ve got just the right amount of work, you’ve not got too much, you’ve not got too little. Everyone’s paying their invoices on time, and you just think, “I have mastered this now.”

LH: [laughter] Bravo.

PW: We fall for it many times. And it feels lovely, but what we don’t hear is the Jaws music in the background.

LH: [laughter] No, it’s definitely true. What I was going to say? Then you laugh just thinking about Jaws now.

PW: [laughter]

LH: That tickled me so much, the vision of you on a lie-low with a cocktail. And there’s a big danger in thinking that everything’s okay, and everything will always be okay, and sort of lay back on your lilo with your cocktail, just thinking about how marvellous freelancing is. Because as a freelancer you don’t have the security that you have in a salaried position. It’s sensible to put something in place when you start working with a client that says a month’s notice, for example. But unless you’re willing to really pursue that, depending on circumstances that might just not have any bearing. They might decide that they don’t need a copywriter anymore, effective immediately, and are you really going to try and force them to keep to that one month’s notice theory?

PW: A lot of businesses that hire copywriters, that hire freelancers do so because they don’t want to commit to a certain amount of work and a certain amount of time. It’s the very appeal of freelancers, that’s why they will go with the freelancer rather than hire someone who they’d have to provide a certain amount of work for.

LH: Absolutely. So while you might be able to persuade them to give you a notice period, unfortunately a lot of clients aren’t ideal clients, and when they won’t need you anymore they won’t need you, and that’s as far as it would go. So don’t assume that just because everything looks okay, and your client’s not saying that anything’s wrong, that there aren’t things going on in the background. It might be that the company is planning on downsizing, it might be that they’re planning on increasing their marketing capacity in-house, and they might be wanting to hire a copywriter in-house or a marketing exec. It might be that they’re not happy with your work. It might be that there’s something about your work that’s not suiting them. And I know it sounds obviously you might think, “Well, why wouldn’t they say something?” But some people just don’t.

PW: They’re too polite, so they’d rather just never deal with you again than actually say, “It’s not good enough.”

LH: Yeah, it’s completely true. So you need to be proactive in order to keep your clients happy. They might not even know that something’s wrong. But if you find that their responses to you are getting a little bit lukewarm or that they used to be in raptures about your blog posts, but now they’re just like, “Hmm, thanks, yeah, cool.” They might not even know what it is, but it is your job to find out, to be proactive, and to make sure that you give them as little reason as possible to become dissatisfied with your work.

PW: Yeah. Because also it impresses clients. If you come across as having thought something through beyond what they were respecting…

LH: Definitely. Actually, that’s a really good point. I was there with all the doom and gloom, but there’s a positive side, isn’t there?

PW: Say you provide regular blog posts for a plumbing service, a plumber. For them it’s a content marketing tool and it’s a lead generation tool. If you do your weekly post of whatever it is, but then if you once in a while get in touch with your client, the plumber, and say, “I’ve noticed that three of your competitors have done this particular thing recently, and it seems to be successful. So I did some keyword research, and I did some wider research in other plumbing blogs, and this is what I suggest.” We do just maybe as a one-off, see how it goes. They will be impressed that you’ve taken the time to do the extra research to compare with what their competitors are doing and to take the time to go ahead with it, basically.

LH: Absolutely, because it’s just adding value to what you do for them. It’s easy as a freelancer to, “Well, they’re only paying me for this. They’re only paying me for five blog posts a month, so why should I spend more time not being paid?” Particularly, you don’t have a salary. Why should I spend chargeable time doing work for nothing? But it’s ten times easier to keep a client than to get a new one. That will never stop being true.

PW: Definitely. Plus, back to what we said earlier, if doing anything extra like that is for nothing, then your billing is wrong. You’re not taking the right things into account when you set your fees.

LH: Definitely. And like I say, we’re reiterating things that we said earlier, but you and your clients are on the same team. If you find yourself resenting doing anything for them, and you don’t have at least something invested in their business, then there’s something amiss. You have to be able to invest your energies into your client’s business, because the better their business does, it may well be the better that your business does.

PW: Yeah. If you’re blogging for the plumber, and he starts to get twice the number of leads as before you were blogging for him, then he’s happy, so he keeps you on. And then, when his mate, the electrician, says, “Where have you suddenly got all your work from?” and the plumber says to the electrician, “Well, I found this woman who does blog posted and my leads have doubled.” Then the electrician will get in touch with you, so you’ve got extra work. And then you do matching things to her website, and then she doubles her leads, and then her mate, the bricklayer gets…

LH: [laughter]

PW: If it works it’s beneficial in so many ways, not least —

LH: It is starting to come out like a really bad joke – “and then the plumber said to the electrician.”

PW: [laughter] So yeah, so it does more than just impress the client that you’re taking the care. If it improves their results, then that will improve things for you, because they’ll keep you on, they’ll recommend you. You’ll have better case studies to give to potential new clients where you can say, “I doubled the plumber’s leads.” Some will hear this plumber is doing very well thanks to me. And so yeah, it has more than just that immediate gratification of someone saying, “Wow, that’s brilliant. Thank you.” It can go a lot further.

LH: And not just referrals. Although referrals are one of the best ways to get new work. I mean, they’re so amazing, aren’t they?

PW: Oh, definitely.

LH: Because it’s a real foot in the door, and it tends to be business owners talking to business owners.

PW: Yeah, it takes a layer of the process out, which is proving your credibility, I guess.

LH: Absolutely. But in terms of other benefits, it may be that if this fabled plumber does super well and that blog doubles the number of customers that they take on, it may be that they’ll need more content work from you. So the benefits really are numerous, and it’s worth it. Besides which, you should actually just care about doing a good job for people.

PW: Exactly. If I send off a piece of work that I know is really good – you know sometimes you just go, “I have mastered this. These 750 words are the perfect 750 words from this situation.” Sometimes you just know you’ve nailed it.

LH: You go above and beyond, don’t you? And it’s okay to go, “Do you know, that was a really good piece of work.”

PW: That’s it. Like Lorrie says, it can be great for business reasons, but also if somebody has gone out of their way to hire me, I really want them to feel good about that. So when I want them to be pleased it’s partly for all those strategic business reasons. But it’s also because I really enjoy what I do and I want them to be pleased with it. It can be just that.

LH: Absolutely. I’ve taken on quite a new client. They’re a marketing agency, and of course, with them being a marketing agency they have a number of clients of their own. So I’ve been doing the content for them. And one of these particular clients has a reputation for being quite difficult, and they’ve not been satisfied with some of the work that’s gone through before. They’ve not been super impressed with some of the content they’ve had before, so there’re already preconceptions with that particular client. So I was warned before I did a case study for this person. And I really put my back into it. I really put extra effort in, and I put a lot more time in than I charged for in the interests of building a stable base for future work.

And I didn’t hear anything back for a while and I thought, “Oh, maybe this person’s not impressed with this, either.” But then I got an email from the marketing agency saying, “Oh, we forgot to tell you, but they were really happy.” I was like,”Aaah! Amazing! ” I think it’s just pure smugness. It was pure smugness.

PW: Yeah, it feels good. And you’re in the wrong job if you don’t care what someone thinks of your writing.

LH: Absolutely. And I was so pleased, because it’s something that wasn’t just going to be pleased with anything, and wasn’t just going to go, “Yeah, that’s amazing.” This person had ideas of what they wanted, and I’ve met those needs, and it felt really good.

PW: Yes. Good, and with good reason.

LH: And it does all the world of good for me because this person wasn’t pleased with the content they were receiving previously, so now there’s something else underlining the fact that I am different from the content provider that they were using before, and that I am potentially better. It’s all brownie points, isn’t it?

PW: Yeah. And not only do they think highly of you, that gets passed on the marketing agency, who are all too aware that this is a demanding client, so that makes you look good in their eyes, as well. So that one time of putting a lot of extra working will pay off in lots of different ways.

LH: Absolutely. In the minute I had that feedback I thought, “Oh, I don’t mind I put the extra time in.” It’s very nice when something like that drops into your inbox, and you have to care about things like that, don’t you? And that real satisfaction drives you to be proactive for clients.

PW: Yes. I hired a guy earlier this week to migrate two of my websites to a new host. Now this was a very, very anxious 24 hours for me.

LH: It really was, listeners!.

PW: I was so frightened. Don’t break my sites, please, don’t break my sites. Please, don’t break my sites! Anyway, he didn’t break my sites, and he successfully migrated them. I had hired him from a freelancing website that I’d heard about from Lorrie called PeoplePerHour.

LH: Oh, very good.

PW: Yeah, which is a freelancing site that feels very different to the elance, freelancer.com-type ones to me.

LH: It’s the only one I’ve used. And I’m not quite keen on the others.

PW: Yeah, it feels like less of a meat market where everybody’s going for the bottom prices. It feels a bit more reasonable in terms of as a buyer, but also as a service provider. I didn’t feel like I was exploiting anybody to get the work done, which also helped. Anyway, and he did the work really well, he communicated with me throughout, and so I left him glowing feedback afterwards, because he had done a great job, and those kinds of sites live or die by the feedback that people leave. And that’s partly why you can hire someone you don’t know, because you can see what other people said about them.

But anyway, the point is I went out of my way to leave him very good feedback because he deserved it, and I hope it helps him get more work. And he got back to me and he was just, “Oh, thank you so much!” He was really pleased, and he was partly pleased that he’d got such great feedback, but he was also genuinely pleased that I was pleased with what he’d done. I could tell that he was proud of having done a good job, and I would hire him again without question if I needed to.

LH: And I asked you to pass his details on to, didn’t I?

PW: Yes, you said that you might need it, and would I pass the details on, and I would happily, and that’s partly because he did a good job, but it’s also partly because he really tried. You could tell he was proactive in doing what I needed, which included emailing me occasional reassurances. And it made a difference to me. So it makes him stick in my mind beyond someone who did a good job, but someone who did a good job and cared that he did a good job.

LH: That’s really, really good. And I think it all comes back, doesn’t it, to listening to your clients. And I mean active listening. And active listening includes three types of listening, which are verbal communication, non-verbal communication, which includes things like body language, tone of voice, facial expression, and intuition, which is just your gut instinct. Say that you’ve had a call with somebody, but you get the feeling that they’re not quite reassured or they’re not quite satisfied. So you find ways to add reassurance or satisfaction or extra value into that communication with them. And if you actively listen to your client, it will help you find ways to be proactive. So say that you’re the tech guy doing the migration – this is as far as I know about migrating websites – is that you are some kind of tech person. So this tech person doing Pip’s website migration – you have the impression that maybe this Miss Philippa Willitts is slightly nervous about —

PW: About this particular task, yes.

LH: Perhaps you’re slightly nervous. She doesn’t say as much, although I know she did —

PW: I think I did say, “Please, don’t break them.”

LH: [laughter]

PW: And he replies and says, “Please, do not worry. I won’t break anything.” [laughter] And then I felt guilty.

LH: [laughter] Yeah, fair to say you felt guilty. Not too guilty, though. She sounds so worried, honestly. So the verbal communication is her saying, “I’m worried. Please, don’t break my site,” and being proactive and responsive and saying, “Don’t worry. I won’t break your sites.” The non-verbal communication is perhaps the frequency of emails. Maybe you still get the impression they’re a bit worried, so you decide to be proactive by emailing them frequent updates, just to let you know. And I’ve done this with another client.

PW: I’ve done that, too, yeah.

LH: Just to let you know, as of this morning I’ve spoken to such and such, I’ve interviewed this person. The first blog post is written, the second one is halfway done, and the case study’s got the framework in place. I just need to write that up. ETA is going to be tomorrow at lunch time. And nothing needed to be said, I didn’t need to send that email to those clients, but if you can be proactive and respond to something that is nonverbal from your client, then all the better for it, you’re being proactive. And if you go with your gut instinct that there’s nothing there, but you just think, “Hmm, if I were one of my clients, I might be nervous about this or I might be concerned about that, or I might want to know about A, B or C.” You can be proactive again or, for example, I had a client who needed a press release, but I got from their Communications that they’ve not really sent out a press release before, so I sent a whole load of extra information on what to do with your press release.

PW: Yes, this is something that I do. I created a PDF document on how to get the most of a press release, and whenever I send a press release, particularly to a new client, I attach this document, and I know Lorrie liked this idea and does it, as well.

LH: I loved that.

PW: And it took me half an hour to research it, write it and make it look a little pretty, and also brand it, so that it was clearly mine, and so maybe an hour’s work in total. And yet each new client that receives it feels like they’ve got – this goes into the next point we’re making, but they feel like they’ve got something extra. They’ve got a freebee; everybody loves a freebee. And it can also – which is also the point – help them get the most out of your press release, which then makes them think, “Wow, she writes really good press releases.”

LH: Definitely. So just a little bit of proactivity has gone such a long way in all of the places. So what we’re going to talk about now is how and when to go the extra mile in a bid to meet your client’s needs, and indeed to exceed your client’s expectations. That’s always a nice thing to aim for – meeting their need, and going a little bit beyond.

PW: If you exceed your client’s expectations more often than not, you have a very happy client who will stick with you. I always try to exceed expectations in one way or another, and it’s really worthwhile. So sometimes it might be that you will take on, for instance, some occasional rush work for a client who is very valuable to you. All these points link to each other, and so this is also connected to being flexible and responsive, and being proactive. But it might be that once in a while you say yes to some weekend work when you’re planning to have a weekend off, because the client is genuinely — they’re suddenly going to a trade show next week that they didn’t think they had a place at, and they suddenly need leaflets and brochures. And once in a while you can say, “I will work this weekend because I really value this client’s existence in my business.” And that, although it will annoy you over the weekend, or you’re thinking, “This is my time off,” in the spirit of keeping a good client, can be worthwhile.

There are also times when you can offer something to a client that doesn’t really have any direct benefit to you whatsoever. I recently had a situation where one of my clients asked if I could recommend somebody who could do a particular task, and another of my clients specialized in that particular task.

LH: That’s so fortunate, isn’t it?

PW: I know. It was unbelievably lucky.

LH: It’s one of those moments where you will like, “Yes, the Universe is aligned.”

PW: Exactly. And so I could direct client A to client B. Client A loved me because I had found the solution to his problem. Client B loved me because I had sent him some extra business. Now none of that got me any work directly, but what it did get me is goodwill from both of them that will be repaid over time. I know it will. There’s no direct – you sent me that work, so I’m sending you this work – but what it does is put you in a good place, a happy place in their mind that will pay dividends.

LH: Yeah, absolutely. And were we not close friends, we’ve certainly done things in the past that would really build up goodwill between the two of us. You’ve sent me work in the past; I’ve sent you work in the past. There’s no direct benefit there, so were we not close friends, it might be the kind of thing where you think, “Oh, well, she sent me work in the past; I could refer this work to her. I’m too busy to take this on. She’s a good person to refer that to.” Now there’s no benefit to pick really directly for saying to somebody, “I’m afraid I’m a little bit too busy to take that on at the moment. However, if you’d like me to recommend somebody, I can recommend someone who’s a good proof-reader, who’s a good copywriter, who’s a good copy editor.” And then yours truly gets recommended. What that means is that Pip has been able to recommend something to a fellow freelancer, and she’s also been able to not disappoint a customer.

PW: That’s very true. If you just go back to them and say, “Sorry, I’m too busy,” they’ll think you’re really obnoxious, and that you’ll never hear from them again, whereas if I could say, “I’m so sorry, I’m overrun. I can 100% recommend this woman. Here’s the details,” then they will have a much better feeling about the whole interaction.

LH: As you say, it’s a goodwill, isn’t it?

PW: Yeah, definitely. And also, like Lorrie says, we’re all friends, and we do help each other out in numerous ways, work-related or not. But even if we were just colleagues and not particularly close, it presents a goodwill between us that if I sent you work, you might then be more inclined to send me work.

LH: Absolutely. Because as freelancers you don’t get paid holiday, for example. You don’t get paid leave, or you don’t get paid sick leave. But sometimes you need a holiday, and sometimes you need to go off sick, and it’s something that Pip and I have discussed that potentially we could look after each other’s businesses, if the other person needed that. And it’s something that offers you extra value and extra security, and it’s something that you wouldn’t otherwise have. So goodwill – it was my old boss that used to say, “You have to have money in the bank to take out money.”

PW: It’s so true. Yeah, it would be unreasonable of me to suddenly expect a favour from Lorrie if I had never done anything at all that showed that I was happy to do a favour for her. That’s just a rule of life.

LH: It’s true, isn’t it? That’s all it is. It’s just true. And another way that I’ve been proactive for clients, sort of talking about your referring, another way that I’ve done something similar is that I upload blog posts for one particular client. Now it would take me just as much time really to upload – I work with them via Basecamp – and it takes me just as much time really to upload a blog post to Basecamp and email it to them as it does – it takes me perhaps five minutes more – to upload the blog post and add in a metadata or add in a picture and to click “Send.”

But it’s so much extra value for the client, because it’s a plug-and-play blogging service. I find the subject, I write it, and I upload it. And there’s a trust there now that they don’t even need to see the blog post. I just upload it for them. So I’m basically keeping their blog going for them. And it’s not that much extra work for me. As I say, it’s another five minutes, but I’m not going to quibble over for five minutes when it keeps my client so happy.

PW: Yeah. Similarly, if I’m writing – I’ve got a particular client who runs an SEO business, and I write blog posts for him. Sometimes they’re kind of instructional step-by-step how to do A, B or C. And I will often include screenshots in that. And he initially, the first time I sent the processed screenshots said, “Should I pay you more for the processed screenshots because it’s taken you an extra time and…?” But for me it made far more sense to say, “No, it’s the same price.” First, because I don’t want him to feel like I’m chancing it, but also if I’m writing a step-by-step, it makes my job easier if I can include a screenshot that points to the thing you have to click on, but also for the extra work, which is maybe five minutes’ extra work on a two-hour piece of work, then it’s not worth adding anything to the fee, because it’s not that much time, and the client feels like he’s getting an extra.

LH: This is an interesting point, isn’t it? Because often going the extra mile it takes more imagination than it does effort.

PW: Yes, that’s so true.

LH: You can think, “Oh, going the extra mile – but that leads to a slippery slope, and I’ll end up working for free.” But really with Pip’s screenshots, for example, and with my uploading things to WordPress rather than just emailing them across, all it took was a bit of thought. All it took was a bit of thought, thinking “How can I make life easier for this client?” It doesn’t take as long. It does not take as long. If it took me a long time, I wouldn’t do it, because it wouldn’t be the extra mile, it would be the extra marathon. It would be an extra piece of work.

PW: There’s another benefit to going the extra mile, which is that it may be that you’ll learn a new skill. For instance – this isn’t true, but looking at Lorrie’s example of uploading to WordPress rather than emailing – say Lorrie had no WordPress experience, and she felt like she was learning how to use it, then there can be a real benefit in offering that client to do it. You will upload it to WordPress yourself – that’s no problem, you won’t charge any extra, because that will also teach you how to upload to WordPress.

LH: Well, this has actually been true with Basecamp. I didn’t know how to use Basecamp.

PW: That’s it. And so you can almost – you can offer this free service while using it as a way to learn how to do it. And then in the future maybe expand it into something more substantial, and then it’s a whole new service you offer.

LH: Absolutely. Like I said, it’s the perfect example, because while I am familiar with WordPress, I wasn’t familiar with Basecamp at all.

PW: That’s it.

LH: And I panicked. I thought, “Oh, my goodness!” This client said, “I’m going to set up a Basecamp. We’ll use that.” “Oh, dear.” I loved it. So simple.

PW: The first time I used Basecamp I was the same. He was like, “You’re okay with dealing with it all on Basecamp?” But of course I was like, “Yeah…”

LH: Like uh-huh… [laughter]

PW: And it’s actually, I think we both agree it’s more intuitive than it might sound.

LH: It’s so, so easy. But now I can proactively say to new clients, “It’s fine to deal with me by email. I’m fine to upload things to Basecamp, and I’m also happy to upload things to WordPress.”

PW: Exactly. And so doing it for free for one person can become a proactive service offering for another.

LH: Absolutely. And you can readjust your fees for new clients.

PW: Oh, yeah. [laughter]

LH: So while you can say to your existing client, “No, don’t be daft. It takes me five minutes extra,” the fact that you can package it more intuitively in the future for new clients… You can say, “I offer just the text for x pounds. If you’d like it uploaded to WordPress, complete with metadata and an image, then I can do that for say 5 pounds more.” There are ways and means to do that. Because it will start adding up if you start doing 10 minutes extra for every single client.

PW: Yeah, or all your little extras for one client. Then it’s an hour.

LH: Yeah, of course. So there are ways and means to really make it work for you.

PW: And what we touched upon just then is also really important. Everything we said about being proactive, being flexible, being responsive, going the extra mile, is very important, but that’s not the same as saying you should do anything and everything a client demands regardless of how reasonable it is.

LH: Absolutely. Because at the end of the day your time is chargeable, so you need to keep a handle on the extras, and make sure that, one, there is a return on investment and that there is a benefit, and that you don’t have a client who’s all take-take-take. And sadly, they gimmick this sometimes. And you need to make sure that they’re not adding up, even if your client’s the loveliest client in the world, that they’re not adding up to what’s significant chargeable time.

PW: Yeah. If you were in a salary job and your boss is constantly asking you to do things for them. It doesn’t really matter because they’re paying you regardless of what you do. As a freelancer, it is different. And so if somebody is expecting loads of extras, then it’s not reasonable.

LH: Absolutely. And there are certain warning finds that you can look out for. Because when you start out you really want to meet everybody’s needs. And as we said at the start of this episode, meeting people’s needs is good. That’s what this whole thing is about. But, but, but there are some people who will take advantage of that, either once or twice or consistently. And you need to be able to know what’s reasonable and what’s not. And it’s not always straightforward at the start to know what’s —

PW: Oh, definitely.

LH: Particularly if you don’t have colleagues to discuss it with. It’s not easy to work these things out on your own, which is why things like this podcast and blogs for freelancers are very useful resources to have. Because you can sound off and you can say to people, “Oh, my client keeps expecting me to do this or my client’s expecting me to do that.” So the first warning sign that you need to look out for really is if the activity is costing you money.

PW: And this can be based on the client’s unreasonable demands, or it can be based on you having priced your services naively, and not taking into account the fact that in freelancing you do need to pay for time that isn’t writing. But if you’re confident you’ve priced your services well, perhaps it’s just one client’s — or if all your clients you feel are costing you extra money, then you’ve priced yourself wrong. If most you feel it’s very fair, and then there’s one that is actively costing you money because you’re having to spend time doing something when you could be doing something that you’re being paid for, then this is definitely a warning sign to look out for.

LH: Absolutely. And there are certain things you can do to protect yourself varying from just cutting down the little freebees, and maybe starting to add a few more to your invoice. I mean, you’ll have to behave in a way that suits this client, so not all of this advice will suit. Putting a writing agreement in place – for example, if they want five or six rounds of amends to every blog post from you, it might be… Obviously, if it’s mistakes that you’ve made, then there’s a problem with your writing, but if they just decide that, “Oh, I forgot to tell you this. Can we add this in? Oh, I forgot to mention that, and it would be really good to talk about this. And I just spotted this in the paper. Can you add that in, as well?” That’s the kind of stuff where you might think you may need to make an agreement with this person that one round of amends is included, anything else is chargeable as per my hourly rate afterwards.

PW: And there are some of these things that often once you’ve been through them once or twice with clients, then you just begin to insist on them from the beginning. If you’ve had a few clients that have tested your patience wanting amend after amend, then, like most freelancers, you’ll quickly start being clear from the beginning how many rounds of edits are included in your fee. So often you just need to go through it once or twice before you then just put it as part of your general work agreement.

LH: And then you can decide when you want to be flexible with that.

PW: Yes, with everything we’ve said before.

LH: Yeah, even if I’ve put in place fixed prices agreements that say that I include one round of amends, but if they need a couple more amends making, and you really value them as a client, and they’re normally ace, don’t be like, “Whoa, well, according to our contract…”

PW: Yeah, especially if you’re in a situation where you’re aware you may not have done the best job in that particular case, then…

LH: Absolutely.

PW: So it can be a close call, but you’ll also have instincts about it.

LH: Yeah, just strengthen your position and be aware of a few things. The second point is if it’s stressing you out consistently.

PW: Yes. Everybody has days where everything feels stressful, and every client feels unreasonable. And sometimes, that said, you just have one of those days. But if a particular client is stressing you out day after day or week after week, then this is something to look at, as well.

LH: True. If you start to dread hearing from them because their demands are getting so excessive – I think we’ve all had clients like that, haven’t we?

PW: Yeah, yeah.

LH: I had one client who wanted me to go round for lunch rather than paying for meetings. And there are certain things that get really, really silly, and you start dreading hearing from that person because they’re always finding ways to try and push you the extra mile.

PW: Yeah. I read a blog post, I can’t remember where, but it was on a freelance writing blog. The title intrigued me because it was something about why the writer was going to refuse to write guest posts anymore. And this wasn’t a guest post on their own behalf; it was a guest post on their client’s behalf. And I thought that’s odd because I sometimes have clients who want me to write posts that they can then guest post on another blog. It’s the same as writing them a blog post.

LH: Yeah. It doesn’t really matter where they put it in the end, doesn’t it?

PW: That was my thinking, but then when I read the article, it turned out that there are clients who expect their writers to not only write the post, but to approach every blog in the industry —

LH: No!

PW: — to try and negotiate terms about how many links you can get in your guest post, and then write the post and give it to that third-party site. And that writers are finding – nobody is shocked surely at this – but writers were finding that they could write that post in an hour and a half, as usual, but then they might spend five or six hours trying to find a blog that would host it, And that’s when I thought, “Of course they’re refusing to do it from now on.”

So I commented and said, “I’m perfectly happy to write guest posts, but I’ve only ever done it in a way where my client or their marketing agency or whatever has found somewhere to host it, has done all the negotiations and all I’m doing is writing a post as I would be writing it anywhere.” That I can totally understand why writers are stressed if they’re having to do all that when it’s not really their role. So that is a sign of being exploited, I think.

LH: Yeah. I mean, I had something similar, and it’s from one of my favourite clients, so it absolutely wasn’t exploitative. It was just them not really knowing about the process. I had written them a press release and they said, “Right. When are you going to send it out?” And I said, “Well, I’m not going to. I’m not going to send it out,” because when you send out a press release you have to not only send it out, but you have to follow up. You have to deal with any of the responses that come back in, you have to negotiate terms. And aside from that, it doesn’t look very good coming from a random freelance writer’s address.

PW: Yeah. I was thinking if nothing else, it has to come from one of their email addresses.

LH: Absolutely. So instead of saying to them as I might have done when I started out, “Oh, okay. I’ll send it forward,” I said to them, “I’m sorry if there’s been a miscommunication. That’s not actually part of what I do. I’m just the content production side of things. However,” – and this is where Pip’s marvellous idea came in – “I’ve attached something here that tells you step by step how to send out a press release, how to follow up, and how to get the best chance at being included in your chosen publication. If you need anything else from me please don’t hesitate. I’m available on the phone, as well, so if there’s anything you’re not sure about give me a call.”

PW: Yeah, absolutely. And that resolves…

LH: They were happy. They were super happy. They were like, “Oh, sorry. I didn’t realize. Oops, my bad.”

PW: Well, that’s it. Sometimes it is naivety on the part of the client rather than desire to take you for everything you’ve got.

LH: Yeah. No, absolutely. And it’s always good to work off that premise, as well, because it stops you becoming better. It can be really easy, because some people are taking the proverbial; some people will do what they can to get what they can from anybody they can. But some people don’t realize – and it’s easy. I think we’ve discussed this before, when you said if you’ve had the busiest Saturday out in town and people have been knocking into you and elbowing you in shops, the first person who bumps into you on the street when you go home you let fly, and you have a huge go at them, and you can’t do this with clients. You have to just treat them all as though they were just naïve as opposed to really annoying. And then if it keeps happening consistently that’s when you start to deal with things more firmly.

PW: And another sign to look out for, rather than necessarily what they’re doing is how it’s making you feel. We’ve mentioned if you’re feeling stressed, but also if you’re feeling resentful, if you’re feeling angry, if you’re actually starting to hate their name showing up in your inbox – it might be signs that you’re not happy in other ways. Everybody has a bad day where they don’t want to hear from anybody, frankly. But if it’s more consistent, if it’s more long-lasting, look at how it’s making you feel. Do you really hate hearing from them? Do you feel like you’re being taken advantage of? Do you feel like it’s affecting your ability to do what you’re supposed to be doing?

LH: Yeah, it might well be that the more you resent somebody, the less willing you are to do a good job to them. And while that might be fair, that might be the most awful exploitative client in the world, and they might be doing it completely deliberately, you’d be better off getting rid of them than doing a bad job for them.

PW: Definitely, because then if you did a bad job half deliberately or because you didn’t care, you’re then compromising your own integrity. You’re making yourself look as unprofessional and as bad as they’re being, and that’s not a position you want to be in.

LH: You need to be able to be in a position where you’re doing the best for your clients. And if you’re feeling exploited you’re not going to be meeting your clients’ needs but also your career isn’t going to be meeting your needs, and your work isn’t going to be meeting your business needs. So it’s a whole kettle of fish, really.

PW: And so really we’ve been looking at meeting client needs, but not at the expense of your own needs. If you feel you’re being compromised, if you feel you’re being exploited, then that’s a situation you need to get out of. If, however, you have clients who are respectful, who appreciate what you do, then you will find yourself wanting to go the extra mile. You’ll want to do a bit more for them and make them happy. And you will start thinking of creative, proactive ideas that can really build on the relationship you’ve already got and create an even better situation for you and for your clients.

LH: That’s so true, because as copywriters, we don’t just write what we want. We don’t, do we?

PW: That’s so true.

LH: I don’t want to write about waste management half the time, but half the time it’s what I do.

PW: And even if it’s the topic we want to write about, we may have to write from an angle that we don’t want to write from.

LH: Absolutely. And you can inject a level of pleasure into your business by finding creative ways to really meet your customer’s needs. It’s a nice feeling to know that you have a business that is invaluable to people. It’s a really, really nice feeling.

PW: And that that’s you.

LH: Yes. Yeah, absolutely, that you are your business. And it’s just a nice thing to have done. Try and embrace the ups and downs of a freelance business, and really make sure that you’re not stuck in a salaried mind set. So if you hear from a client on a Saturday morning and they say, “I’m so sorry to contact you on the weekend. We’ve just been invited to a trade show. There’s this spare stand. We’d love to go, but we need a press release, and we need it by Monday morning. Could you help us?” Instead of thinking, “Oh, my God, what the hell? Contacting me on the weekend? This is my weekend. Monday to Friday, that’s when I work.” And it is when I work. I do work Monday to Friday, 9-to-5-ish, but it’s not a salary job.

Freelancing is partly about being flexible. So just bring yourself back down and think, “Come on. I go for long lunches, I do brunching, I have appointments, I go to networking events.” You’re flexible in the week when it suits you. We all love a bit of flexibility when we fancy a long lunch or a cup of tea in the afternoon. So when it doesn’t perhaps suit you as much try not to take it too much to heart. It’s just part and parcel of the job, isn’t?

PW: Yeah. There’s an example I think I’ve mentioned before on the podcast, but it highlights that quite well, which is I was having a busy week, and there was one client that was pushing my limits a bit, demanding a lot more than we had agreed in a very urgent way, which is very stressful.

LH: Because my panic is your panic.

PW: That’s it. And then right in the middle of it one of my very regular, very valued, very nice clients said, “I don’t suppose you could do an extra blog post for this week, could you?” And I remember emailing Lorrie and going, “I can’t believe he wants some extra work tomorrow. When am I supposed to do work before tomorrow?” And Lorrie just thankfully said, “I don’t think he was really being that demanding. I think he’s –”

LH: I think he’s just asking.

PW: — just wondering, and that’s okay. But because I was in this state of stress, and I was in quite a state of defensiveness because somebody else was pushing my limits, my quick immediate reaction to a very polite request – thankfully, this reaction went to Lorrie rather than the client. It was like, “How could people want even more from me?”

LH: And God, haven’t I got enough on my plate?

PW: As soon as read her response I instantly knew she was right. It kind of tricked me back I was like, “Oh, of course.” So I could get back to this client and said, “I’m really full, but I could do it in two days. Would that be okay?”

LH: Yeah. I think you said you could do it by Friday rather than Thursday.

PW: That’s it.

LH: And they were super happy, weren’t they? They were like, “Oh, thank goodness.”

PW: That’s it. We’ve all ended up happy. But yeah, there’s always a line, and sometimes it’s difficult to recognize.

LH: Absolutely. At the end of the day it’s all about being human, isn’t it?

PW: Of course.

LH: Because when we run off our feet and we feel exploited and we feel like we’re not getting things done, somewhere inside we feel like we’re failing. And when you feel like you’re failing you get defensive, and it all spirals from there. But really it’s just about juggling plates and just squeezing a little bit of extra value out where you can. And if you can’t, you can’t. If it would take you an extra 20 minutes to form out a blog post in a way that a client would like ideally, then don’t offer it for free. If you can do it in extra five minutes, then maybe consider offering it for free if they’re a regular client.

PW: Yeah. If you’ve already written the article and they suddenly say, “Can we change it to something else?” it’s reasonable to say, “Well, I’ve already done it. I’ll do that one for you next time, maybe.” If you haven’t started it yet, then say, “Yeah, absolutely. I’ll do the new topic. That’s totally fine.”

LH: Yeah, why not? It’s no odds to you, is it?

PW: That’s it. And so do offer — you’re not expected to go the extra mile every day necessarily, every week. But when something occurs to you or if you’re thinking, like what we said earlier, somebody just seems a bit less enthusiastic than they used to be, that might be a good time to try and think of extra things you could do or ways you could just over deliver a little bit, and it will make you feel good, and it will be good for your business, as well as pleasing the client.

LH: Absolutely. And as Pip mentioned earlier, there are ways to see why you’re going the extra mile and to incorporate that into your business in the future. Because your business isn’t static. It grows and evolves just as the needs of your clients grow and evolve. And if you decide that, for example – going back to the WordPress thing – if you decide that you can offer that as another service, that makes you look really good. That makes you look really good, because you’re taking weight off your client’s shoulders, and you’re making yourself invaluable to them. And really, what more do you want? To be paid for doing something that you enjoy, and for delivering a really good service to your clients?

PW: Well, exactly.

LH: So now I think that neatly brings us to the A Little Bird Told Me Recommendations of the Week.

PW: It does, indeed.

LH: So this is the section where Philippa and I discuss something that we spotted over the course of the last week that we think might be funny or interesting, or useful to you. In some way it’s just our extra value to you.

PW: Yes. We’re just going the extra mile and over-delivering.

LH: Sticking with the theme. So Philippa, darling Philippa.

PW: Yes.

LH: Your recommendation this week?

PW: Well, something that Lorrie and I have touched upon numerous times doing this podcast is if you’re self-publishing there are certain things you can do for yourself, and there are certain things that are almost always best outsourced. And my recommendation this week is the humorous look at of those very things. It is a blog that shows – it’s called lousybookcovers.com.

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

PW: Its subtitle is “Just because you can design your own cover, it doesn’t mean you should.”

LH: Oh, I’ve just clicked the link.

PW: And people submit the things they’ve spotted, lousy book covers, basically, all self-published e-books that have just…

LH: This is amazing.

PW: Isn’t it? I spent a good two hours going through the archives when I first found it. The blog host does – it’s got various tags. He tags things – bad font choice, pixilation. Art for a Refrigerator is my favourite. There’s MS Paint Reborn.

LH: Oh, I love it.

PW: They are brilliant in their awfulness, frankly.

LH: So funny.

PW: Readability is another one. The number of these that I’ve seen where you cannot read the title because it’s like red on a red background or perhaps it’s really… It’s a very funny blog and it also does give a very clear message, that these people presumably thought they’ve done an okay job.

LH: Oh, so often the case.

PW: And yet they are like unbelievable, some of them.

LH: You’re running out of words just in pure shock.

PW: I know. I’m scrolling through it again, and it does leave you quite speechless, isn’t it?

LH: I love this.

PW: And I think we ought both to choose our favourite lousy book cover off the site.

LH: I think we should.

PW: And I will link to those, as well, because we then need to hear your favourite —

LH: I think we should put them on our Facebook page.

PW: Oh, that’s a good idea.

LH: If you come and a have a look at facebook.com/FreelanceWritingPodcast you can submit your favourites to us. We will mark them together, because they deserve it.

PW: So this blog is first of all hilarious. It will make you laugh and it will make you cringe more than you knew you could cringe. But it also does give a valuable lesson to self-publishers, I think.

LH: Oh, if only they would listen.

PW: [laughter]

LH: Oh, dear me.

PW: And so that is my recommendation. I think we can both safely say that give yourself a good hour when you click this link.

LH: I think I might just quit my business, just spend the rest of my life looking at that link. It’s amazing this is, honestly. I think I’m going to post this a lot.

PW: [laughter]

LH: So my recommendation is comparatively boring. It’s this whole business thing. Rather than looking at lousy book covers, it’s something useful. So I thought, “Right, rather than getting frivolous I’ll go with something useful.” But now I look like the boring aunt. But my link is a HubSpot freebee.

PW: We love HubSpot.

LH: We love HubSpot and we love freebees. In this instance it is a free download. It’s 50 customizable – that was what got me – call-to-action templates. And the reason this caught my eye so much is not just that it’s free and it’s customizable so you can adapt it to meet your own need, it was brought to mind after I was asked for some advice on an article that somebody had written. And the thing that struck me immediately, and it’s something that this person isn’t by any means alone in doing, is that the article didn’t have a clear call-to-action.

Now it can be easy to get carried away as a freelance writer and think, “Oh, I must make this perfect, and get the keywords in there, and really make it very readable and wonderful. And my language is great, and that analogy in paragraph four is marvellous.” If there’s no clear purpose to your writing, there is no purpose to you writing. There’s no point.

PW: Yeah. There’s study after study after study that shows that writing something as simple as “Tell us what you think in the comments” will make people tell you what they think in the comments. It’s weirdly powerful, whether it’s “Sign up for my mailing list” and “Tweet this article,” telling people to do something has a surprisingly high success rate in making them do it.

LH: Definitely. And you need to know how to do that. And in terms of articles, that’s often language at the bottom, so written calls to action, but when it comes to your website it has to be quite visual. And things from the font to the size of the font, to the colour of the button, to everything, the wording – that will all have a massive effect. There are people who make a career out of split testing the results of this.

PW: Indeed, conversion rate optimization.

LH: Yes. You see this, Pip, not just with the lousy book covers, but with the perfect phrases. It’s conversion rate optimization, and you need to be able to measure how effective your marketing is going to be if you want to have any chance of making your website a success. And this free download from HubSpot – HubSpot is brilliant. For inbound marketing, particularly, it’s superb. And the article says, “Redesigning your call-to-action buttons can improve click-through rates by 1,300% or more.”

PW: Yeah. It’s mind-blowing, isn’t it? You can always read a case study somewhere on the web of someone who changed their buy-now button from blue to green and got 12 times the number of sales. It seems to make no sense, but there’s a lot of evidence of this stuff.

What I really like about HubSpot is that they practice what they preach, because they’re a company that is based on offering inbound marketing services to businesses. And so you can hire them to do a lot of different inbound marketing things, but the way they get their business is entirely inbound marketing. They provide brilliant content. If you don’t subscribe to them, then do. If you do any amount of content marketing you need to keep on top of HubSpot. Because they do it. They provide great information about it, and by doing that provide themselves with leads, which is what inbound marketing is.

LH: Definitely. And this is the important thing about a call-to-action, is that people feel that you’re talking to them, that they have a say, that you’re interacting with them, and not that you’re just words on a page. So if you can download this – it’s 50 customizable call-to-action templates. They’re colourful – knowing HubSpot, they are all beautiful and marvellous, and they are visually arresting, and that is exactly what you need. You need to catch people’s attention, because, as we said, if you’re in the right place at the right time saying the right things, and likewise, if your perspective clients are in the right place at the right time namely on your website, you need to be saying the right things in the right way to catch their attention, and a perfect way to do that is to have a customized call-to-action button.

So I’d say that brings to the end of episode 62.

PW: I think you’re right. We also want to mention at this stage that, for a while at least, we’re going to trial doing these podcasts fortnightly rather than weekly. We really enjoy doing them, but we take so much time that is getting a bit unsustainable at times. And so what we’re going to do, just give it a go, see how we get on doing them fortnightly. There are still tons of archives you can listen to if you really miss us, and we will be back with you in two weeks’ time.

LH: Absolutely. And we’re always available on the Facebook page. We’re still busy bees there, which is at facebook.com/FreelanceWritingPodcasts, as well as at allittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com homepage.

PW: So come over and say hello. Let us know what you think of what we’re doing, as long as it’s nice.

LH: [laughter]

PW: And I have been Philippa Willitts…

LH: … and I have been Lorrie Hartshorn, and we will catch you in a fortnight’s time.

Podcast Episode 61: How To Start Freelancing In 2014

Sometimes the hardest thing is to just get started, so if you are really committed to making freelance writing your full-time business, in this solo episode Lorrie outlines her freelance business planning blueprint. Follow her suggestions to be up and running as a freelance writer in just six weeks.

Show Notes

ALBTM 17 – How To Create An Editorial Calendar

ALBTM 18 – How To Network Like A Ninja

ALBTM 20 – Goalplanning: your freelance writing aims for 2013

ALBTM 23 – How to decide what to charge for your freelance writing services

ALBTM 24 – The art of getting paid

ALBTM 25 – why and How to Charge More For Your Freelance Writing

Monthly budget template

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Transcript

Hello and welcome to a Little Bird Told Me, the podcast where two freelance writers tell you all the tricks of the trade. We talk about the highs, the lows, and the no-nos of successful self-employment, saving you from mighty embarrassment and mortifying mistakes, and guiding you to the very top of your chosen profession.

Freelancing is amazing, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Tune in to the podcast every week, and if you go to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com you can subscribe to ensure you never miss an episode. Whether iTunes, an RSS podcatcher or Stitcher Smart Radio are your platform of choice, we’ve made it really easy to sign up and be the first to hear our latest words of wisdom. There, you will also find any links we mention, our own websites and social media feeds, and the A Little Bird Told Me Facebook Page, too.

I’m Lorrie Hartshorn and this week, it’s time for my solo episode. Philippa will be back next week, though, so make sure you subscribe at our homepage so you don’t miss her victorious return.

English: blueprint

So, this week I’m going to talk about something a lot of people have asked me about recently. And I mean – A LOT.  I’ve had emails, phone-calls, LinkedIn messages and long sessions with lots of coffee – all based around the same thing: “How to get into freelancing”

Over the last year and a bit, Pip and I have talked about lots of the different things you need to master when you’re a freelance writer. If you want to make a success of being self-employed, you have to work hard. But what we’ve not really looked at specifically – at least not for a good while – is how you go about getting started.

For a number of reasons – some of them more transient than others – a lot of people seem to be wanting to make a move toward freelancing at the moment.  Whether you’ve been made redundant, can’t find a job, just want to work for yourself, or make some extra money to supplement an existing job, you’ll have your reasons for wanting to go solo.

What I want to make clear, though, is that freelancing isn’t easy – particularly if you’re wanting to make it your sole income. Above all things, you’ll need to be persistent and consistent – if you’re easily disheartened, you’re lacking in drive and confidence (even if it’s fake!), or you’re not 100% sold on the idea, it’s going to be a very steep uphill struggle.

If you’re sure you have the time, commitment and basic skills needed to become a freelance writer (and a knowledge of SEO is definitely included in that – had way too many people recently thinking that SEO’s optional!), this podcast will hopefully give you a check-list of essentials to work to, so that you’ll be able to hit the ground running in the new year, safe in the knowledge that you’ve got the basics sorted.

So, with the end of the year coming up fast, I’m going to look at how to set up as a freelance writer in six weeks. With exactly eight weeks left until 2014, that gives you six weeks of hard work (and you’ll need to do work around all the suggestions in this podcast) and two to recover/be festive.

Even if you’re already a successful sole trader, stay tuned – with 2013 almost at an end, it’s a really good time to make sure you’re doing everything you need to, to make a real success of your business over the next year.

I’ve assigned four tasks to each week, assuming that, like me, you enjoy having a couple of days off. If you’re doing this part-time, or you’re not bothered about having full days off, you can obviously redistribute the work across more or fewer days.

Week 1

So, week one. It’s time to decide exactly what you can and do offer – and how you’re going to communicate that to your clients.

1.Make a list of your freelancing skills.

Grab a big piece of paper and brainstorm everything you *can* do on to that. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it’s related to freelancing, writing, words, editing, marketing.

Once you’ve got a load of stuff down on paper, you need to work out what could feasibly become part of your freelance writing career. Draw three columns to the side of that list and title them “enjoy”, “good at” and “demand” – namely, whether you enjoy the task, whether you’re good at it, and whether there’s any real demand for that service on the part of clients.

Work your way down the list and tick the boxes that apply. It’s really important to be honest, though, otherwise this is a pointless exercise. Don’t panic if you’re not sure there’s a demand for something – pop a question mark in there if you really don’t know, but don’t let yourself pop question marks in when you know there isn’t a demand but you wish there was!

For stuff you enjoy doing and there’s a demand for, make a separate list and start looking around online for training that can help you improve your skills in these areas. Start scheduling in some training bit by bit – this is really important and something you will have to keep on with forever.

2. Space and equipment

  • the office equipment, software and materials you already have

  • how much money you have at your disposal to invest in your freelancing business

  • where will you work? How much of the house will you use? This is important for tax purposes

3. Journal your day-to-day activities – find out when you get up, go to sleep, eat lunch, exercise, slump, socialise – everything.

4. Time and resources

  • people who can give you support

  • how much time you can devote to freelancing

  • co working spaces?

Week 2

Smart goals

Smart goals (Photo credit: shaggy359)

5. Set Your Freelancing Goals – SMART Goals. Episode 20. Specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-sensitive. It’s a good idea to set monthly goals so you can set aside time each month to see if you’re hitting those targets.

6. Get Inside Your Client’s Head – who are they? What do they want? Which social media platforms are they on? How do they like to communicate? What are their values?

7. Check out the competition

Quick Check on Your Competitors – are you charging the right amount? What do they do well? What are they doing poorly? Are people interacting with them? Learn what you can!

8. What you’re offering- time to set those services. If you don’t know what you’re offering, your clients won’t either. Know what you’re selling, how long it’ll take you, how much of it you want to do, and what the benefits are. Know your services.

Week 3

9: What to charge and how? Episodes 23-25. What you want to charge, how much you need/expect to make, whether you’re going to charge hourly, by the job or use a combined approach. Very complicated, and not something you want to get wrong – most freelancers charge way too little, some charge way too much, so please check out our three episode series on this!

10: All about money. Setting your budgets – marketing, training, office equipment etc., deciding how you want to be paid, setting up a Paypal account if necessary, checking you’re happy with your bank account, deciding how to invoice, setting up an invoice template

Keeping track of your money

11. What makes you special? USP and elevator pitch – base this on what you know about your target markets and keep it in mind as you start to promote yourself. You can also use this information to help you with your next task, which is setting up a website. Think carefully about your company or brand name, and your website URL. Three important things to remember

  1. Easy to remember. Really long domains can be confusing, as can ones with odd acronyms or letters in them

  2. Easy to spell. If you have to say your web or email address over the phone it’s always better if you don’t have to say it letter by letter with things like dashes or underscores mixed in.

  3. Appropriately descriptive. A name that says something or ties in with your name or business name is best. Its easy to remember and immediately identifies you

12. Set up a WordPress website – time to get ranking. Choose a nice, neutral theme. Don’t worry about being too exciting, just keep it professional. This might take you a while, but trust me – as a former tech-phobe (and still not the techy-est person in the world) WordPress is really easy to use. It’s way easier than some other CMSs.

Week 4 – extra content

13. Pick up some plug-ins: do some research into plugins that will help your site run faster and more securely (Akismet is a lifesaver, screening out spam comments, and Limit Logins helps protect you from automated attacks http://wordpress.org/plugins/limit-login-attempts/), and help you to promote the things you post across social media. It’s also a really good idea to add a contact form to your site – they capture emails a lot more effectively than just putting an email address in there.

14. Putting pages on your website: Home, about, services, FAQs, testimonials, training, contact me.  Get some testimonials ready for your site – ask anyone and everyone you can think of. And don’t panic if you don’t have any writing testimonials just yet – it’s also important to let clients know how you work, so if you’ve got people who’re willing to say that you get work done on time, always pitch in as part of a team, have brilliant creative ideas or are just lovely to work with, it’s far better than nothing.

15: Check in with your organisation. Are you keeping to the hours or are you slacking off already? Are you getting up when you need to? Are you working where you’re supposed to or vegging in front of the TV? How’s the training coming on?

16. BLOG. Content marketing important – social media and evidence of your ability to write. Think about setting up an editorial calendar (ep 17) so you can drop in ideas when the mood strikes and keep on top of what needs publishing and when.

Week 5

17. Prep some test pieces ready for your portfolio. You might want to upload these, you might not, but it’s good to have them on hand.

18: Client communications:  be prepared to communicate with your clients like a business. Forget the whole “Who, little old me?” attitude and get ready to talk shop.

  • project proposal/bid/quotation

  • terms of agreement or a contract

  • submission of completed project

  • invoice

  • receipt

  • request for feedback

19: Get social – set yourself up with, at the very least, a Twitter and LinkedIn account. Facebook can also be worth it, particularly if you’re looking to engage with B2C clients – but go with what you can manage. Make a plan to engage daily with these platforms, and/or schedule some updates, including links to your site and blog. Start to subscribe to – and comment on – popular blogs or business sites, so you can start to get your name out there and your voice heard. Make sure what you contribute is quality, and not spam.

20.  Brainstorm some marketing activities you could carry out

Here are some activities of marketing activities:

  • Publish a blog post weekly about a topic your target clients are interested in.

  • Submit articles in article directories.

  • Network on Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn

  • Join an online forum.

  • Send a pitch email to a prospect

  • Cold call a company

  • Attend a live conference.

  • Give away a white paper or special report and start to build up your database of contacts

Week 6

21: Make a marketing plan

Here’s what your marketing plan should have:

  • Your freelancing goals and objectives – Simply take this out of your assignment on Day 3, when you set your freelancing goals.

  • An analysis of your target clients – Don’t panic; you’ve done this! Go back to the assignment on Day 4, when you got inside your target clients’ heads.

  • Marketing activities

  • Schedule of implementation

  • Monitoring and evaluation

22. Identify some prospects – blogs, social media, business sites, networking events…use your imagination to identify a number of clients to approach over the coming months. Start an excel file of clients and sectors you’d like to target and set yourself a goal – depending on how much time you have – to start pitching regularly.

Elevator Pitch for Katie

Elevator Pitch for Katie (Photo credit: Marco Wessel)

23. Prepare to get networking – look for events, decide whether to go to one-off events or regular ones, be aware of the pros and cons of both. Make sure you have your elevator pitch down pat and a smart suit ready to wear. If you can, get yourself a small batch of business cards and get used to carrying those – I keep a few in my wallet, a few in my diary and a few more in a pocket in my handbag so whether I’m out shopping, sitting in a meeting or just out and about, I’m likely to have one to hand. Don’t go bad and buy 500 – 100 will do for a start, even 50 if you’re a bit skint.

24. Learn your pitch. It doesn’t matter how you prefer to pitch – whether you’re naturally an emailer, a cold-caller, a networker or a combination of the three. Research how to effectively pitch to clients – both in general and specifically to certain markets. Say you want to target clients in the B2C professional services sector, like insurance and law, consultants, architects, engineers, doctors and dentists. But you also want to target B2B customers in the nuclear sector, because you did a degree in engineering. What do clients in these two sectors need? What are their concerns? What do they want? How do they communicate? What are their values, missions, priorities. If you focus on these things, you’re far more likely to convince companies in those sectors that you can adequately meet their requirements.

Podcast Episode 36: Visual clues to professionalism

 

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

 

 

 

 

Show Notes

 

How to name your business: Facebook discussion

 

The top 50 most embarrassing domain names ever purchased

 

Clients from Hell

 

The Essentials of Reuters sourcing

 

Coursera

 

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

 

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Find us on Stitcher Smart Radio

 

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

 

Transcript

 

LH: Hello and welcome to Episode 36 of A Little Bird Told Me: the podcast about the highs, the lows, and the no-nos of successful freelance writing. You can find us on the web at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com and there you can subscribe to the podcast via RSS feed, iTunes, Stitcher Smart Radio or just there on the Podomatic page itself.

 

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

 

On the Podomatic page itself you’ll also find the links to our Facebook page where you can come and chat to me and Pip and ask us any questions you might have and give feedback on the episodes you’ve listened to so far, and you’ll also find links to our websites and our social media feeds, as well as to other episodes, transcripts and show notes, many of which are actually handy links to resources for freelancers.

 

I’m Lorrie Hartshorn.

 

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

 

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

 

Spelling Challenges and More!

Spelling Challenges and More! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

LH: I was going to say, keep counting!

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

A half-drunk glass of beer

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

PW: And it’s an important difference!

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

LH: God, yes!

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

PW: A few misquotes…

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn…

 

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

 

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

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

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

Show Notes

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

10 very costly typos

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

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Transcript

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

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

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

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

Magazines

Magazines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

English: email envelope

English: email envelope (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Show Notes

Buffer App

Condescending Corporate Brand Page

Writing a Better Elevator Pitch

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

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

Subscribe via RSS

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Find us on Stitcher Smart Radio

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

 

 

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

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


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

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

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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

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

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

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

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

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

Transcript

Hello, and welcome to Episode 33 of A Little Bird Told Me: the podcast about the highs, the lows, and the no-nos of successful freelance writing.

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

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

Day 23 - STRESS

Day 23 – STRESS (Photo credit: isabisa)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some of the other most common blips are as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Workplace 2

My Workplace 2 (Photo credit: davemelbourne)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–  find a job to go to before you stop freelancing

– make sure you’ve got money in the bank

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

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

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

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

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

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