Tag Archives: Freelance

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.

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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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 (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 66: Five (and a half) ways lists can transform your marketing

Everybody loves crossing things off a list, right? A to-do list is not the only list freelance writers can use to help their marketing and self-promotion, so tune in to this podcast episode where we talk you through five and a half types of lists that can help you to transform your business.

Show Notes

10 most popular episodes of 2013:

drumroll – and I don’t really know what this says about our listeners, but at number one is…

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

Subscribe via RSS

Subscribe via iTunes

Find us on Stitcher Smart Radio

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


PW: Hello, and welcome to episode 66 of ‘A Little Bird Told Me’, the podcast where two freelance writers tell you all the tricks of the trade. We talk about the highs, the lows and the no-nos of successful self-employment, saving you from mighty embarrassment and mortifying mistakes, and guiding you to the very top of your chosen profession. Freelancing is a funny old job, and we want to help you along the way. Tune in to this podcast every two weeks. And if you go to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, you can subscribe to assure that you never miss an episode. Whether iTunes and RSS podcatcher or Stitcher Smart Radio or your platform of choice, we’ve made it super easy to sign up so you can be the first to hear our latest words of wisdom. There you will also find any links we mention, links to our own websites and social media feeds and a link to the ridiculously impressive ‘A Little Bird Told Me’ Facebook page. I am Philippa Willitts…

LH: …And I’m Lorrie Hartshorn, and today is another dual episode of your favourite freelance writing podcast. The lovely Philippa has joined us once again for the first time in 2014.

PW: This is true. And before we get started on the episode proper, it is time for us to wish you a happy new year, of course. As it’s the start of a new year, I have actually had a look at our podcast download stats for the last 12 months. So I thought it would be good to start by, first of all, thanking listeners for supporting us and listening and sharing our content. Looking at the ten most downloaded podcasts from 2013, number one was a bit of a surprise. So I thought we could go through the top ten most popular downloads from 2013.

LH: Oh, very cunning.

PW: Indeed. Lorrie, would you like to count down and I will list the episode titles?

LH: Okay. So in at number ten…

Top Ten Records

Top Ten Records (Photo credit: Thomas Hawk)

PW: It’s episode number two, ‘Setting up as a freelance writer: website, social media and brand management best practice’.

LH: Okay. That was a good—I liked that one.

PW: Yes.

LH: Okay, number nine.

PW: Number nine was episode three, ‘Setting up as a freelance writer part 2’.

LH: Oh, I hope this isn’t going to be a pattern.

PW: It’s not. It doesn’t just go up in number from there.

LH: Numbers one to ten and then the rest. Number eight.

PW: Number eight was episode 18, ‘How to network like a ninja’.

LH: Oh, I liked that title.

PW: Yes.

LH: Number 7.

PW: Episode 7, ‘Freelance Writing: To specialise or not to specialise?’.

LH: Oh, I remember that, which is good because it wasn’t that long ago.

PW: Okay.

LH: Okay, well not that much. Okay, and at number six.

PW: Was episode 55, ‘Coping with rejection’.

LH: Aw, that makes me a little bit sad. And at number five.

PW: Number five was episode 30, ‘It’s not about you: the art and science of commercial copyrighting’.

LH: Okay. And at number four.

PW: Episode 38, ‘How to break into new freelance writing markets’.

LH: And then we’re in the top three. Number three.

PW: Number three is randomly the second part of a pair. Okay. Episode 50, “Part 2 of How to stop your freelance business from wasting money’.

LH: Oh, they were good episodes, weren’t they? I like those.

PW: They were, but only part two ranked. I have no idea why.

LH: And number two.

PW: Unsurprising favourite, episode 24, ‘The art of getting paid’.

LH: Oh, yeah. I like that one, favourite kind of episode. So number one.

PW: I don’t really know what this says about our listeners.

LH: That’s underwhelming. Number one.

PW: Number one, episode 26, ‘How to turn down or disconnect from a client or supplier without losing your professionalism or gaining an enemy’.

LH: Oh.

PW: Yes, I had a similar reaction. I mean it was a good episode. We put a lot of research into it, but I thought it was an odd favourite, to be honest.

LH: That is slightly odd. Either we have a lot of unfriendly listeners, or they’ve got a lot of annoying clients.

PW: I suspect it’s the latter.

LH: I would suspect so, too.

PW: And maybe it’s more of an issue than we gave it credit for at that time.

LH: I wonder if it’s worth doing another episode on that, too.

PW: Yeah, it could be.

LH: Well, stay tuned listeners, because we often take calls or suggested subjects on our Facebook page. So if you would like to hear more on that subject, do come and have a chat with us and that’s at facebook.com/freelancewritingpodcast.

PW: And this applies all the time. If you tune in every fortnight and think, “Oh, I hope this time they’re talking about such and such,” and we never, ever do, just tell us. We may be brilliant, frankly, but even we miss things once in a while.

LH: True, true. So going back to the topic at hand today, I don’t know about anybody else, but when it comes to activities, and that can be anything from breathing to moving to running my own business, in sort of January, February time, I like things to be simple. I like wearing leggings and a poncho at my desk because, frankly, it replicates a duvet.

PW: Yeah.

LH: I like bullet points. I like life hack blogs. I like pre-packaged couscous, and I like Subway sandwiches for lunch. So basically, I’m recovering from December, which is cold and dark and miserable. And January does seem to be doing its best to mimic December at the moment, what with it being cold and dark and wet or miserable, at least here. So half of my brain is going, “Oh, new year, new ideas. Let’s get going.” The other half is always going, “Nope. No, not doing that.” So thinking about that struggle between productivity and lethargy and thinking about how awesome it is when people present you with some step-by-step simplicity, Pip and I thought it would be a fine high time to take a look at lists, because it can’t get much simpler than a list. So we’re going to be talking you through a few kinds of lists and discussing how you can use them to streamline your marketing.

PW: Now the obvious place to start with lists is a to-do list. Some people live by their to-do lists, and other people can’t abide them. I have phases. Sometimes my entire life is run by a scrap of paper with 84 things to do written down. Other times, it’s all in the recesses of my brain. But mostly, though, when I do have a written to-do list, it helps me to manage my time and my workload. And it can reduce my anxiety as well, because it frees up that space in my mind and I’m not constantly worried that I’m going to forget something important.

LH: Yeah, I think that’s a really important point, because sometimes, when I feel like I have too much to do and I feel really stressed and anxious, my brain goes, “We don’t have time to write a list. Just do something. Do something.” But actually, if you take that sort of, I don’t know, between 5 and 15 minutes at the start of the day or halfway through your day or whenever you need to get started with a to-do list, it really does kind of just really brings things down a little bit, calm everything down. So if your brain is saying, “No, no, no. We don’t have time for this,” I find that it’s good to override that.

PW: Definitely. Definitely. And years ago, my dad, who was a university lecturer, he was given a secretary. And initially, he was like, “I don’t have time to brief a secretary about the things that need doing.” But he quickly learned that actually, it meant approaching each day with a clear plan of what he was going to do so that he could brief her, and he ended up far more organized having taken 20 minutes at the start of the day to plan what needed doing.

LH: Yeah.

PW: Yeah. If I’m trying to remember everything I have to do, I fret I’m going to forget something. I can’t concentrate, because I’m trying to keep it all in my head and it’s just more difficult, frankly.

LH: Yeah.

to do list

PW: So to-do lists can be as detailed or as vague as you want. For some people, just writing down the odd word will remind them of what they need to do, whereas people like me, I tend to find that the more detailed I get, the better. If I wrote down everything I need to do, then my next step is to break down each task into its component parts and write those down as well. So my list wouldn’t say write a blog post for client x. It would say — it would have that as a title maybe, as a heading but then it would say choose blog post topic, research, write outline, take screenshots, fill out the introduction, write the — you know and so on and so on, from start to finish. And there are a few benefits of more detailed to-do lists. You free up more brain space because you’re not worrying about having to remember different parts of an overall task. But also, if you’re the kind of person who enjoys the satisfaction of crossing items off a list, which a lot of people do, you get that sense of achievement many more times, frankly, if you write down relatively small tasks.

LH: And I think as well — I’ll be honest. It’s something that I’ve been guilty of as well. When you write down tasks just as an overview of a task, so say write blog post for client x, it’s easy to ignore that task either because it’s not specific enough or because it seems too huge.

PW: Yes. Yeah.

LH: So if you’re a bit writer’s block-y or you’re stressed out with the amount of writing that you’ve got, lists of lots and lots and lots of tiny, tiny tasks which are actually components of bigger tasks can be a good way to just ease yourself into it and make sure you’re not so frozen by the prospect of doing these tasks that you don’t actually do anything.

PW: Yeah, because a longer list might initially sound like it’s more overwhelming. But actually, if you look at your list and rather than ‘write blog post,’ you have ‘write title for blog post,’ it’s much, much more manageable. It’s much easier to kind of face head on.

LH: Yeah, definitely. So the second type of list that we’re going to look at in this episode of the podcast is Twitter lists. Now Twitter lists are an invaluable way — I really don’t exaggerate when I say that. They’re an invaluable way of dealing with large volumes of people, which is basically what epitomizes Twitter. It’s fast moving, and to get a good breadth of information, particularly if you’re interested in a number of different subjects, you do need to follow or at least have a large number of people on your radar. Now this is one of the things about being a freelance writer, is that you need to keep up to date with not just the sector or the sectors that you write about but also with copywriting, content marketing, digital marketing strategy. And even if you’re relatively specialised in terms of the topic that you do write about, there’ll be loads of experts that you need to keep tab of. Even in just one industry, you might need to keep your eye on trade press publications, the journalists that write for them, a client’s competitors, up and coming companies, tag experts, your competitors, associated industries or their publications or experts or companies or journalists and the list goes on and on and on.

PW: Yeah. I’m a big fan of Twitter lists. They really help me to manage my Twitter account. It used to be that I think you could only have 20 lists and each could only have 200 people on, but they’ve opened that out massively now, which means…Because I was getting to a point where I had so many lists, I was having to pick and choose. But what they help as well is just kind of deal with the Twitter noise. They do help me to focus my marketing and my self-promotion as well.

I’ve got lists of different focuses of my business, like Lorrie was saying. So I’ve got one of local business people. I’ve got lists of influential people, lists of thought leaders in my various specialisms. It helps me to focus because often, I might think from a business point of view, “Okay, for the next few weeks, I’m going to really focus on outreaching to business owners in my city.” And so then, I’ll spend a few weeks really focused on my Sheffield business owner list. And then after I’ve done a bit of that, I might think, “Right, I don’t seem to be getting as much as your work. Let’s focus on that.” And it’s brilliant for managing that kind of thing.

LH: I think you bring up an interesting point there. It’s easy, generally and on social media because it’s so fast moving, to go with — kind of go on a whim. I think, “Right. I’ve just written something about, oh, SEO writing. I’m going to look at SEO.” And then the next hour, you think, “Oh, actually, that’s quite interesting. I’d like to do something about charity.” So you write about charity, and then you think, “Actually, there’s something coming up trade and technical, so you hop on that. And while it’s tempting and you don’t want to miss the boat, what I think Twitter lists help you to realize is that you cannot target everything at once.

PW: Yeah, yeah.

LH: You can’t do it and it makes no sense to do it, because you get no depth and you get no consistency in what you’re doing. And if you use Twitter lists to help you focus, as Pip just said, on different aspects of your business and different target audiences and different prospects, you can target markets, you’re far more likely to build meaningful connections with them. Because it’s not just content marketing, it’s relationship marketing.

PW: Definitely. So if, for instance, I’m saying, “Right. I’m having a few weeks focused on local business,” and so I’m chatting to Sheffield people, I’m retweeting Sheffield things. Then if they look me up, say they haven’t come across m before, and they look at my most recent tweets, they’ll think, “Oh, she tweets about Sheffield. I’ll follow her back, because that’s her interest as well.” Whereas if, as Lorrie was saying, I was doing an hour on this and an hour on that, they would just look at my account and think, “No, that isn’t relevant.”

LH: Yeah, absolutely. And I mean you can look at it from the opposite perspective. You can look at it and say, well, you know, say a trade industrial person comes and has a look at Pip’s feed and they’re based in Wigan, for example. They’re going to look at that and think, “Oh, she’s only tweeting about Sheffield. That’s of no interest to me.” But you can’t win all the business of the world.

PW: Yeah. Yeah, you need to think it through. But yeah, it’s impossible, with one Twitter account, to be everything with every person. And so…

LH: Yeah. And also, if you try, you’ll exhaust yourself.

PW: Yeah, that’s it. And so if you can accept that that’s the case and don’t be afraid of targeting at times, it can really pay dividends.

LH: Completely agree, because I think a week or a few weeks can seem like a scarily long time when you’re marketing your own business. You think, “I’m not marketing,” you know. And if for example you do academic proofreading, you do quite a lot of that. So there will be times when you focus on academic proofreading, and you could focus on that and say, “Right. I’m winning loads of business. It’s great. I’ve targeted this. I’ve upped my SEO. I’ve got lots of different happenings for academic proofreading. It’s all great.” Or you could say, “I’m not targeting copywriting,” and that’s where the mistake comes in. And you have to have — just calm yourself down and have the courage to focus on one thing at a time. And even though you’re thinking, “Oh, it’s been a week. I’ve not tweeted about SEO blog posts,” but you’re actually focusing on something else at a time, and that’s okay. It’s okay, as we say, not to focus on everything at once.

So Twitter lists are great. I mean, they sort of enable you to keep track of all the people. So, just as you don’t want to be chaotically tweeting about everything, you probably also don’t want to be tweeted at about everything. You know, there’ll be times when you want to focus on one thing or want to know more about one thing than another. And that’s what Twitter lists are brilliant for, because they will help you to keep track of loads and loads of people without clogging your feed up to the point where you can’t keep track of anything or anyone. Now using in conjunction with a platform like TweetDeck, they are a brilliant way of creating personalized feeds of information that’s relevant to you at any one time.

PW: Definitely. TweetDeck, for me, makes lists 100% more viewable than if I was managing it on the site. HootSuite is good as well, but I think often for people, the difference between favouring HootSuite or TweetDeck is just a matter of taste. And there are other tools as well, but there aren’t tools I’d recommend starting with if you really want to make a serious go with Twitter lists.

LH: Definitely. And I think — no, I think I’m going to come to that point in a minute. Definitely, and there are a number of ways that you can use Twitter lists to boost your marketing, as we say. Whether you use private lists to sort information that only you should see, so that could be companies that you’re planning on pitching to or companies that you think might be in a bit of financial trouble and could do with some content marketing to help them out, or you use public lists where you can kind of boost people’s egos and attract their attention by giving them a label to be proud of, say you call them social media experts or top copywriters, you know, you can use lists to just increase your exposure on Twitter and to grow your following and build your brand and just keep a closer eye on the things that you need to.

PW: This is a really good point, because nowadays, when you add someone to your Twitter list, it shows up in their mentions. As long as the list is public, they will get a little notification. And I was at a Twitter list the other day called Thought Leaders, and I was really flattered and followed the person back. You know, I’m easy to please.

LH: Why were you surprised?

PW: Yeah, it caught my attention. And yeah, it’s a good little tactic.

LH: Definitely. And then if somebody wants to — you know, say somebody’s already following 2,000 people, they don’t necessarily need to follow you to add you to that list. But if they want to view what the thought leaders have got to say, say they’re — you know, maybe planning they’re planning a podcast that Friday or they’re planning a blog post, and they want to do a weekly roundup of what people are saying about SEO writing and you’re on their thought leaders list, they can just tune in to that list via the platforms like TweetDeck or HootSuite.

PW: And as Lorrie says, you don’t need to follow someone to add them to a list, so you can also add people whose updates you don’t generally want to see, maybe competitors, maybe just people you’re not keen on but that you know you should keep an eye on once in a while. And so you can add people, especially to private lists called…

LH: Boring buggers.

PW: Boring people, competitors, and people I hate but I should probably check their feeds once in a while.

LH: Dullsville.

PW: Yeah. So you make sure they’re private.

LH: Well, there’s always room for the hated people among friends. You know, everyone loves a villain. So if you want to be a villain, go ahead, but don’t say we didn’t warn you. So one final really good thing about Twitter lists is that again, using something like TweetDeck or HootSuite, you can create and follow feeds of other people’s public lists.

PW: Yeah.

LH: Now that’s other people’s, not just your own. You don’t need to subscribe to lists and you don’t need to be on the list. So if you know that someone else has a really up-to-date list of, say, digital marketing experts in the South East and that sounds right up your street because that’s who you’re wanting to pitch to, you can always sneakily go along. And using your TweetDeck or your HootSuite, you can create a feed, just like you would do your normal Twitter feed, and you can create a feed from another person’s public list. So all you will see is tweets from that list.

PW: That’s a really important point. And you can use that same functionality to benefit yourself as well. If you create a public list that is genuinely useful to a group of people, then you can publicize it and say, “If you want an up-to-date list of Sheffield business people or recycling companies or industry experts in fashion, follow my list here.” And that just gives you a little bit of exposure among the people who are interested in that area, especially if you use like the most relevant hash tag or something like that. That can be…

LH: That was exactly what I was going to say, hashtags.

PW: Yes. That could be just a great way of getting your name out there a bit.

LH: Yeah. So as Pip’s just said, don’t — you know, don’t underestimate the importance for hashtag. You can use it to title your lists. You can use it in list information. You can also use it to build your lists. Now over here in the U.K., there are lots and lots of hashtags that go out at a certain time every week or twice a week or a half year around Manchester. There’s North West hour, and that happens a few times a week.

PW: Yes. Same as Yorkshire hour, Sheffield hour.

LH: There are a lot of them. And what you can do is you can simply go down that hashtag feed, and you can add people on that feed to your lists, which is perfect. And you will get a lot of movers and shakers using your lists. Don’t think that you’ll be able to keep it exclusive, but your aim isn’t to keep that list to yourself. You are giving away this information, but it will build your brand exposure and it will show you’ve got a finger on the pulse when it comes to Twitter.

PW: Yeah. Last year, I went to the Content Marketing Show in London, and one of the first things I did afterwards was add everybody who live tweeted about it to a list called Content Marketing Show, which then, so the people — obviously, there were a few hundred people there. I haven’t met most of them, and yet, what that did was make them aware of me and make them aware of me as a content marketing person, somebody who was proactive and had attended the event. And we — I got quite a lot of mutual follows out of it, which is good in business terms but also means I’ve got useful — more useful contact marketing people on my feed. So it’s good in — you can be quite strategic with lists.

LH: Absolutely. I mean you can use a list like that in a couple of ways. You can use it in a way that you’ve used it, which was to get personal value from it. Or if you weren’t particularly bothered for some reason about getting followers, it just wasn’t your area of focus and you just wanted to kind of maybe build your profile as somebody who is an expert in content marketing rather than pursuing any of the leads that were on that list, you could simply promote that list in itself.

PW: Yes, on the Content Marketing Show hashtag.

LH: Exactly. You could say, right, if anybody else wants to connect with the people who were at the Content Marketing Show, you could promote the list as a resource as opposed to using it as your own resource.

PW: Yeah. And I think I did that, and I think I also said, “If you were there and I’ve not added you, let me know,” which is kind of inviting people to engage. So it was a really…

LH: Really good talking point.

PW: Yeah.

LH: And very good tool as well, because it’s easy to be cagey about information, but sometimes you have to weight it up and think, “Right. Can they keep this secret? No, not particularly. So is it worth me giving it away?”

PW: Showing people that you’re useful makes you a valuable resource, and people want valuable resources.

LH: Of course, they want to follow valuable resources. So yes, Twitter lists, we love them as I think you can tell.

PW: Now the third type of list is where — is the reason why the title of this episode is ‘Five and a bit ways’ because we’re looking at email lists in two different ways. We’re looking at having your own email list and also subscribing to other people’s. Now I’m trying to make an active effort this year to neglect my own email mailing list less. It can be a really useful thing to have, and I’m aware, personally, that I just don’t leverage my list to get the results I could. Because the fact is if somebody gives you that email address along with permission for you to email them, you’ve got some power there and you’ve got to use that carefully.

LH: You make it sound like a horcrux or something.

PW: You’ve got this ability to contact them, promote your services, build relationships, build your brands, start conversations, all those things that we need to do to get work. And so having your email list of your own can be an incredibly valuable thing. So if you’ve got one and you don’t use it much, guilty as charged, then now might be a time to create a proper plan for how you can best make use of it. And if you don’t have one, maybe consider starting one.

LH: Absolutely. And I mean it’s very much like we’re saying about Twitter. Don’t try and do everything at once. Sit and have a proper think about the data that you’ve got and how best to leverage that. You know, don’t just blast everybody with the first thing that comes off the top of your head. You know, a mailing list is an inherently valuable thing. It’s something that you should really take care of. Think of it like an orchid, really. Think of it as something that you need to nurture and you need to look after very carefully. You can’t just throw crap into the soil, you know. You need to feed it good quality content, and you need to treat it with care and respect.

PW: While also saying that I internalized that so much previously that I just didn’t send anything. So there has to also be a balance between saying, “I have to do this so right, I just won’t do it this week.” I mean, I’m not planning on doing weekly ones. I’m planning on doing roughly monthly ones. But Lorrie is absolutely right. You can’t mess about with your email mailing list. But if that kind of responsibility is weighing so heavy that you’re not doing anything at all with it, you can also give yourself a break.

LH: True. Pip is completely right. And it reminds me of a conversation I was having this morning actually with somebody. And this somebody has been a client of mine, and they’ve been so worried about blogging and getting it wrong. They’ve not blogged for six months.

PW: Yeah, that’s it, and people do this. It’s a perfectionist’s trait, and it’s an annoying one from the point of view of someone who is very afflicted.

LH: Yeah. No, it’s true. I think the things to remember — because Pip, like me, like we always are, is completely right when she says that you shouldn’t get frozen with uncertainty. I think the important things to remember are tone, quality and authenticity.
PW: Yeah. People don’t sign up to a mailing list so that you can tell them how marvellous you are.

LH: No.

PW: They sign up because they think you’re going to give them something useful, and that may be discounts. I mean, include some information about how marvellous you are, but it just can’t be that.

LH: Of course, absolutely. And in terms of tone of voice, use a natural one. Be yourself. Be your best self. And this is what I said in previous podcast. Be yourself. Be your best self. Don’t make up some fake persona. If you’re naturally a quiet and quite serious person, have a few dry bits of humour in there, but just be yourself. Be friendly and warm but quite quiet. If you’re naturally exuberant and funny, then go with that. Just tap into what you’re best at.

PW: I listened to a podcast a while ago which I won’t name, mainly because I can’t remember which one it was. But there was a woman being interviewed who has clearly created a persona for herself as a bit kind of brash and daring and I don’t care what people think but actually, it came across as somebody who did have valuable information to share but who is peppering it with f words.

LH: I think we might actually be thinking about the same person.

PW: For the sake of fulfilling a persona and it didn’t sound natural. And I — Lorrie can tell you I am not offended in the least by the f words. I use it regularly. So it wasn’t that I found it offensive, because I don’t. It was that it felt like she was stepping into a persona that didn’t sit that naturally but that was quite created in a false, unpleasant way, actually.

LH: Yeah. A lack of authenticity can be problematic in two ways, really. One, if it’s a bit of a jarring personality that they person’s created, you get this feeling that this isn’t real. And I think it taps into your subconscious where you think the information might not be real either. Even if the personality that you create or the persona you create isn’t a jarring one, if it slips at all and people end up doubting your authenticity, they’re less — in fact, there are three points. They’re less likely to believe what you’ve got to say. And they’re more likely — this is the third sort of semi point. They’re more likely to feel like they’re being sold to and most feel like they’re being duped.

PW: As Lorrie very rightly said, be yourself. Be your professional and best self, but just don’t come up with some kind of contrived persona for effect because people see through it. Whatever you’re trying to be, it doesn’t — it just doesn’t work. And yeah, it creates an atmosphere where people don’t know if they can believe the rest of what you say. Now the other kind of email list that can be important is other people’s email lists. And just as you hope that your own will provide great value to its readers, there are times when subscribing to other people’s email lists will also provide you with invaluable information and inspiration sometimes. Now admittedly, I spend an awful lot of time removing myself from email lists that I once enthusiastically signed up for.

LH: Oh, yeah.

PW: Yeah. But there are still certain people whose updates I generally look forward to and I always open, I always read and I always really gain from. If you’ve got a list of your own, you won’t be that person. But if like me, your list subscriptions have got a bit out of control, there are some ways to deal with this so that you can get the updates you want and filter out the crap.

LH: Harsh.

PW: Oh, it’s true though.

LH: Oh, it’s completely true.

PW: Now firstly, and this is something I’m trying to apply to myself currently, if there is any mailing list that you’re on and you, without fail, delete the email without opening it, just unsubscribe now.

LH: Yeah.

PW: Do it. Life is too short to keep deleting this stuff every week when you could, with a few clicks, get rid of it. Alternatively, if you’re on a subscription list that sometimes you sort but not always and you use Gmail, you can make use of their very smart functionality to ensure they’re not quite as annoying as they currently are. The best thing to do is to set up a filter so that every time these emails arrive, they skip your inbox but you direct it to a good descriptive label that means you’ll be able to find it when you want it. So it won’t bother you when it arrives, but when you need it, it’s there. And all you do is when you have one of these messages and it’s open, you click More on the top right of the screen and then filter the messages like these. Then what I do is I select Skip Inbox and then choose what label should be applied to it and Bob’s your uncle.

LH: Yeah. No, it’s really good advice. And I think if you’re worried about unsubscribing from things that are sometimes useful but mostly not, have a look at what in particular is useful. And you can always set up a Google Alert.

PW: Good thinking.

LH: So rather than — say if you get a marketing from someone, but you’re really only interested in knowing what they’ve got to say on print media, then you can set up — having a look at the phrases that they use, set up a Google Alert for whichever phrases they’re applying when it comes to print media and then select maybe a daily digest.

PW: That’s a very good tip.

LH: Thank you very much.

PW: Now another point to remember is a lot of marketers have caught on to the fact that people will sign up to an email list if they’ll get a decent freebie. Lorrie and I were talking before we started recording about the appeal of freebies, and it’s true. And this is how lots of people end up on lists they obviously don’t want to be on. There’s a handy service called Guerrilla Mail, which is guerrilla like warfare rather than the animal.

LH: Shame.

PW: In terms of spelling I mean. I’m not being judgmental. And basically, it provides you with a temporary email address. So you can sign up to an email list through Guerrilla Mail and download whatever it is you want and then the email address disappears. Now this is a good service if you don’t trust the list owner to not spam you afterwards. But normally, I’d recommend subscribing and unsubscribing. But if it’s something that you’re not sure you — they’re trustworthy, then Guerrilla Mail is handy.

LH: Oh, yeah. Loads of the big, big internet marketing product sellers are just — it’s hell trying to get off their lists, and they’ll move you from one list to another.

PW: They’ll sell your name and address.

LH: But Guerrilla Mail is a godsend.

PW: It is indeed.

LH: Or indeed, a Pip-send. So the next type of list that we’re going to look at — oh, love to hate it. Love to hate it, is LinkedIn mailing lists. LinkedIn — now I think LinkedIn either tuned in to our podcast or somehow finally got the memo about everybody hating it.

PW: They’re bound to have tuned in to our podcast. Who wouldn’t?

LH: I think so. I think Mr. LinkedIn subscribed. Now LinkedIn has finally upped its game a little bit. Let’s not give it too much credit, because I still hate it but I love to hate it. And it’s made life a little bit easier for people who want to network and do a bit of relationship marketing via the website. Now let’s be clear. We all do still have LinkedIn, and if you’re wondering what to think of LinkedIn, wonder no more. You hate it.

PW: I do have to say, in the last few weeks…

LH: No. No, you don’t.

PW: No, listen though. I snuck into LinkedIn because it has helped me find two people from my past who I genuinely, genuinely cared about and genuinely missed. And for years and these two different people I managed to get back in touch with. So LinkedIn to me currently is a bit, aw. However, its practicality will soon hit home again.

LH: Yeah.

PW: But currently, I’m a bit — if you’re listening Mr. LinkedIn, thank you.

LH: So anyway, Pip’s going a bit maudlin here. Let’s go back to hating LinkedIn. So we all do still, apart from Pip, hate LinkedIn.

PW: Normal service will be resumed.

LH: At least it’s giving a bit of a good impression of being vaguely sort of time being. Well, you know, it’s got to try.

PW: Yes.

LH: One big improvement to the site recently is the increased functionality when it comes to managing your contacts. Now previously, I’ve spent hours and hours with two windows or two tabs open selecting people, writing the names down by hand and then going to the Remove Connection page.

PW: They don’t make it easy, do they?

LH: They do not, do they? You still can’t bulk unfollow people easily. You have to click on something that says Remove or Delete Connections. There’s no little tick box. At least, there wasn’t last time I checked. But you can now delete people on the same page that you can just view their general connection information.

PW: Oh, that’s handy.

LH: So in terms of managing your contacts now, what you can do when — either when you add somebody or when you get to someone’s profile and you’ve already added them, is that you can add relationship information to each of your contact. There’s like a wee section on everybody’s profile down where the contact information is. You know that little tab?

PW: I do.

LH: Under that picture and that basic information. Well, there’s a new relationship section in there. And what you could do is have tags.

PW: Handy.

LH: Because you might be thinking, “Hmm, what’s the point of having tags if it’s just extra information that LinkedIn is probably going to use to, I don’t know, sell my connections to alien overlords from the last 20 years or something.” Say you’ve connected with professionals in the farming industry, but you’re also a writer with interest in textile manufacturing. You can add different texts to help you separate your contacts accordingly. And obviously, you might be wondering what the point of that is, but the fact is that you can now email tagged groups via LinkedIn rather than spamming all your connections. So this is a final much needed triumph from the social media platform that everybody, Pip, everybody loves to hate.

PW: So if you want to promote, say, a local event, you can send it to your Manchester tag and I can send it to my Sheffield one. But yeah, that’s handy.

LH: Yeah. Or you know, if you wanted to send something about some farming legislation that has come through and they will change their website to let their clients know that this legislation is going to be in place and there’ going to be changes in the way they work, you don’t want to send that to people in the textiles industry, because they’re going to think that you’ve lost the plot.

PW: And that’s very reminiscent of what Google+ does with Circles. And that — I was — nobody will be surprised to hear that I was an early adopter of Google+, I’m a chronic early adopter. Circles was one of its first features, and it was one of the things that made it potentially very exciting because it meant that I could post something about concept marketing and my friend from school, who is a P.E. teacher, would never have to see it. And that made it stand out against Facebook and Twitter, which were its main, well still are really, its main competitors because you could filter things according to how you classify each person. And it sounds like LinkedIn have set up a similar functionality.

LH: At least in their emails. I’m not too sure what the tags are also useful for. I don’t think they’re just there with potential.

PW: Yes. I was just going to say even if that’s all it can do now, I would imagine that if they see people using them, then they would expand the functionality.

LH: Well, the number of emails I’ve gotten via my LinkedIn has increased over the last three or four months.

PW: Oh, tell me about it.

LH: It’s okay. I mean at the end of the day, I’m quite ruthless when it comes to emails. If somebody’s spamming me, I don’t care who they are, I will click Spam.

PW: I click Spam and disconnect from them.

LH: Yeah. I’ll do exactly the same.

PW: I have no time for spammy links and emails.

LH: Now in this fifth and final section, we’re going to look at one of the most obvious kinds of lists. And in fact, it’s right after your nose or in your ears as we speak.

PW: We are talking about those lists that we can’t resist clicking on when they fly by through our timelines: ‘The top ten marketing tips of freelancers’, ‘Eight social media marketing tips you’ve never heard of before’, ’12 ways to impress a client without even trying’, ‘Five and a bit ways of lists to transform your marketing’. Oh, that one’s us. You know the type. Some blogs rely on them constantly, usually combining them with the ‘What Justin Bieber can teach us about could teach us about PPC advertising’, ‘Twelve things Kim Kardashian does that SEO experts should learn from them’ style link baits. Many people understand, but they take a sceptical view of this.

LH: Why? Just why?

PW: The fact is that better or worse, it is undoubtedly an effective way of getting to click through to your posts. I would suggest limiting their use, because they lose the impact and they get annoying. But once in a while, it can be a good approach to get some positive attention to your blog and a boost in your visitor stats. Way back in May last year, we did an episode about finding inspiration for blog posts when you run out of ideas. And we talked about this very phenomenon and which we jokingly tagged ‘Or what Pippa Middleton’s bum can teach us about finding writing inspiration’ onto the end of the planned title. Now I still get a stupid number of hits from people searching Google for Pippa Middleton’s bum. They’re not targeted to freelance writers, so they’re not useful, but it does still make me giggle a bit.

LH: It makes me happy that they’re not getting Pippa Middleton’s bum.

PW: They’re getting Pippa Willitts’s website.

LH: True, ha ha ha. If you get a picture of a peach on the page or something.

PW: I should. I should set up a landing page for that search, shouldn’t I? Pippa Middleton’s bum has nothing to do with this page. That would work. That would work for me, and it would make me happy knowing that people having surreptitious searches for the sister-in-law of the Prince — I’ve lost track of the royals.

LH: I have no idea.

PW: I don’t know. Some kind of rich person’s bum, just — yeah, they deserve to get a bad link, frankly. I watched the royal wedding with Twitter going and just people constantly all day saying, “Oh, Pippa looks nice.” And I would just constantly reply, “Thank you. So kind of you. I don’t know how you could see me, but yes I do, rather.” It was fun.

LH: I’m sure it was great for the royalists. Who is this woman? Why is she tweeting me? What’s going on?

Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II X

Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II X (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

PW: I learned the other day that it is against the law in Britain, under treason laws…

LH: I think I learned the same thing. Sorry.

PW: To imagine Great Britain without a monarchy.

LH: Yes. Oh no, I read the same thing. I can’t believe you would even think about it.

PW: I am in big trouble.

LH: I think I’m going to the tower. I’m gone.

PW: So yes, what we’re saying, back to list posts which I believe we were talking about. They can be handy. They can get you clicks, but use them in moderation. And also, don’t let them be disappointing. That’s the worst thing, is when you click on a title, it sounds promising. And you get to a post just full of recycled rubbish that we’ve seen a hundred times already. If you’re going to use a link bait-y title, make it at least worth people’s while to click through.

LH: Well, just to say even like content marketing giant BuzzFeed doesn’t get away with it, because they’ve got those tags that users can generate at the bottom of every post. And if anything’s hackneyed or contrived or recycled content, you get loads of people just sticking “Fail”, “Oh my God”, “Ew” on the bottom of it. And that’s BuzzFeed, so you know, if it’s you, I mean if it’s good, you don’t have to be cynical about using numbers in lists. I mean I posted something the other day on my blog that was like three steps to doing something with posts on Facebook, and that’s because people want a simple, easy way to do things. So that was a legitimate three-step process just learning to do something.

PW: Yeah. If you want to optimize your Facebook posts or whatever it is and you just think, “I don’t know how. It might be hard,” or whatever, it can certainly be more appealing to see a three-step process. And you think, “Oh, surely I can do that.”

LH: Yeah, exactly. So if you can think of a legitimate way, whether it’s like a three-step process tutorial or as we’ve just been discussing, you know, say eight things I have something in common, just make sure that it is, as Pip says, it’s actually legitimate and that you’re not shoehorning everything in there. Because as we said with email lists, people don’t like feeling that they’re being duped or sold to. I don’t like it. Pip doesn’t like it. And if we catch you doing it, we will disown you. No more podcast. That’s it. People don’t like it. So that’s five and a bit ways a list could transform your marketing, which leaves us with one thing to do.

PW: The Little Bird recommendations of the week.

LH: My favourite bit. I love it so. I love it so I got to come up with one, and I enjoy it every time.

PW: She never complains when we get to this section, never.

LH: No, sir.

PW: And she’s never pleaded with me to just skip it this time.

LH: Oh, god, Pip.

PW: My recommendation this week is a blog post from Search Engine Watch, which is a very well established, well respected blog about — roughly about SEO, but it actually covers a lot of ground. And the post is called ‘How to Create Content Strategy for a B2B Business’.

LH: Very good.

PW: Yes. Now this — the reason I like this post is it will be relevant to finance writers in two ways. First of all, we are B2B businesses ourselves. And so — and we are content creators, so we need some kind of content strategy ourselves. And so the fact is that creating content and particularly an overall content marketing plan, is quite different between B2B and B2C businesses. And a lot of the stuff you’ll read about content marketing is aimed at B2C or e-commerce type sites, and there can be some different strategies and different things you need to bear in mind with B2B content strategy. And this post is very detailed and goes into a lot of that.

Now the other reason it will be beneficial to finance writers is that you’re probably part of somebody else’s content creation strategy. And if they are a B2B business as well, then it will help you with that kind of thing as well. It goes through different types of content not just in terms of, “Oh, let’s have list of things we could do,” but looking specifically at why you would use a particular kind of content for a particular client with a particular target audience because these are the things you have to bear in mind. You can’t just create a great YouTube video if your client demographic is retired people who have very little computer experience. Instead, you might want a paper transfer or magazine or something. Similarly, you don’t want to send out direct mail to a young student who is fully digital. That’s obviously kind of almost a stereotypically extreme example, but in fact, looking — if you’re going to have successful content, it needs to be targeted in a way that the target demographic can relate to, will be able to access.

And like one of the best content marketing move of last year was Red Bull sponsoring the guy who jumped out of the plane from the edge of space. Now on first glance, that seemed like a weird thing. How on earth is that content marketing? But actually, Red Bull target — I looked this up the other day. The target audience is young men, 18 to 35, who are into kind of action and adventure. Red Bull’s slogan is “Red Bull gives you wings.” They sponsored a man who was breaking a world record, so literally millions of people watched live, and their name was all over it. And the people that were most interested in watching this were young men who were into adventurous things. And it was actually perfect as a way…

LH: It’s genius, but it makes me laugh just thinking about all these guys looking at it and subconsciously going, “I like Red Bull. I’m watching this guy jump off the moon. I could jump off the moon if I just buy Red Bull. Yes.” And then their sales rocketed.
PW: Yes, exactly. Yeah, and their brand name got out to places where they don’t even sell Red Bull.

LH: Yeah. It will never, never be forgotten with it, because that was such a ground-breaking thing to do.

PW: Yeah. It was actually a work of genius from the Red Bull marketing department. Red Bull marketing department, I salute you. You need to think along those terms, as well as looking up what to write about, you know, how frequently to write, all those kinds of things. You need to really think this through.

LH: And if you’ve kind the kind of clients who’d like you to be pushed out a plane.

PW: If they fell with wings.

LH: Honestly, if you see wings, just tell them, “You’ll be fine.”

PW: So yes, if you want a really in depth look at B2B marketing, then the link is in our show notes at alittlebirdtoldme.podmatic.com.

LH: I think that’s a really good recommendation as well, because what I was thinking before I got the giggles about Red Bull — it’s just a bit silly. Young men, so funny as a demographic. Basically, a lot of my business is with B2B customers.

PW: Yeah, same. Yeah.

LH: And I prefer it that way, actually. I’ve recently gotten more involved with B2C.

PW: Yeah.

LH: I secretly don’t like it as much. You’re just not my B2B clients though, are you? They’re nice, but you’re not B2B.

PW: I think it’s a really different approach, isn’t it? Even if you’re just blogging, even if that’s the content you’re producing, if it’s just blog posts and news stories and you’re not doing any of the kind of really out there or really creative stuff, you’re still — it’s a very different mind-set.

LH: It’s completely different. When I get in touch with any of my clients or you know, an existing client, what tends to happen is they’ll have some idea of a marketing plan or strategy even if they’re not calling it that. Because a lot of my B2B clients kind of trade in industrial, and they’re the kind of people that go, “In my day, we didn’t have marketing.” That kind of thing. So they’ll be doing marketing without realizing that’s what they’re doing. So what you have to do is fit into a content marketing strategy that they don’t know they’ve got but also advise them on a content marketing strategy of which you will deliver only part. So if you’re a copywriter, as we are, your client may say, “Right. I want leaflets, and I want a website, and I want a blog.” But you know, you’re going to have to help them come up with a wider content marketing strategy in which to embed those channels. So there’s no point coming up with a blog and new website content and leaflets for an event if you don’t know which even they’re going to go to, if you don’t which sectors they’re targeting, if you don’t know where their target audience is found or which media their target audience prefers.

PW: Context, context, context.

LH: Exactly. And you have to work this out for your B2B customer in order to be able to sell your services to them, because if it doesn’t work, then a lot of B2B customers will come back and go, “Your writing didn’t work.” So sometimes, it’s not the easiest thing, because they don’t — like I said, they don’t realize they’re doing content marketing or that they’re doing any kind of marketing or, “We don’t do marketing in this industry.” You know, you get a lot of those. So this is the kind of thing, I think, in this blog post that will come in really handy when it comes to talking to clients about what they need to do.

PW: And why.

LH: Yes, and the context around the stuff that you do for them. And when you say to them, “But I need to know who you’re target audience is,” and they say, “Well, why?”, this is the kind of thing that will back you up.

PW: I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a few times I said, “Who’s your target audience?”, and they’ll say “Other businesses.”

LH: Yes, everyone.

PW: Another interesting — I’ve been writing a lot about content marketing for various clients in the last few weeks, which is why I’ve got all these examples in my head. But Sainsbury’s supermarket has magazine. I think it’s just called Sainsbury’s Magazine, which they sell and which I refuse to buy on the basis that it’s a magazine that’s essentially all built around them.

LH: Yeah, it’s that type of literature.

PW: And so they have lifestyle stories and they have recipes, but it’s all based around their clothes and their food. And I don’t want to pay to be marketed to, basically. But what I learned the other day is that Sainsbury’s Magazine is the U.K.’s leading lifestyle and food magazine.

LH: What? That’s incredible.

PW: It’s incredible. And the Sainsbury’s Magazine is content marketing. That’s exactly what it is, and they are the leading lifestyle and food magazine in the country.

LH: Wow.

PW: Now if you’re wanting potential for content marketing, start there. That’s amazing.

LH: That is really impressive. Wow. It’s stuck in my thoughts.

PW: Yes. I’ve had a few days to process this. Lorrie hasn’t, but yeah, this is what at its real heart and at its biggest. You’re unlikely to be editing Sainsbury’s Magazine. However, on a smaller basis, you as a copywriter will be working within other people’s content marketing plans or you may be advising them on it. Or you may even be structuring it if you’re expanding your kind of job description. But this is the kind of thing that the big companies are doing, and it can give you all sorts of ideas.

LH: Definitely. And in terms of sort of expanding your offerings, I tend to find that content marketing strategy, it’s kind of copywriting in a way that to a lot of my B2B clients, proofreading and editing are the same. It’s like, “Oh, could you proofread this for me,” and what they mean really is edit/rewrite but for them, it’s the same thing. And when it comes to copywriting, because your copywriting needs to be delivered within, as Pip said, a wider context and it needs to make sense as possible wide a strategy, sometimes you just have to throw some content marketing strategy in there with it and say, “Look, you need to do — like here’s a blog post, but this needs to happen twice a week or twice a month. And here’s an editorial calendar that needs to go in…

PW: Yeah. And it needs to be promoted in these ways.

LH: Yeah. And it needs to be cascaded out to social media. And before you know it, you’ve done their content marketing strategy for them.

PW: Yeah. And then you link back to this and then you put internal — yeah, it’s all…

LH: Yeah. And then it all unravels when they don’t do it, and they go, “That writing you did for me, it didn’t work.”

PW: You’ve done two blog posts. We don’t have any new customers.

LH: Why not? It’s just like — so yeah, great recommendation.

PW: Thank you very much.

LH: But I kind of hate you for it.

PW: And why is that?

LH: Because it was so huge and useful.

PW: Well, I’m huge and useful. And Lorrie, what is your recommendation this week?

LH: And Lorrie, are you huge and useful? Relatively.

PW: You’re small and useful.

LH: Thank you. Aw, I like being useful. So well my relatively underwhelming recommendation — every week, Pip, every week. And I don’t want a pity win. I don’t want you to come up with a rubbish recommendation so I’ll look good.

PW: Next week, Google.

LH: Honestly. I know…

PW: It’s a search engine, and if you put something in it, it will find it for you.

LH: I feel like I can’t just jump off a slide and pass that guy that jumped out of a plane on the edge of space. I was like, “Wow, I’m jumping so high.” And then Pip comes in from space.

PW: I’m sure your recommendation is marvellous.

LH: I don’t want to do it now.

PW: Well, you have to.

LH: Okay. Well, my recommendation, seeing as you’re all dying to know, it kind of keeps — it kind of fits into what we’re saying about click bait-y and link bait-y stuff, and I was talking about that in my last solo episode as well. And it’s a post from the Guardian Small Business Network. Even if you’re not U.K. based, I’d recommend signing up, because they send out newsletters on all kinds of things and there’s everything from marketing to your finances to innovation. They’re really quite useful. And that post is called ‘Four ways,’ so you’ve got a number in there, ‘to step up your marketing campaign in January.’ And this doesn’t sound particularly impressive and indeed, it’s not now. Thanks, Pip.

But basically, there’s a picture, a very blurry picture, of two women jogging. And you see, step up your marketing campaign, and I just thought it was a nice example of being click bait-y without pushing it too far. Because what they’ve done is they’ve tapped into kind of the consciousness that people have got around January about getting fit and New Year’s resolutions and exercising more and doing all this, and the Guardian’s got a hugely popular running blog. And what they’ve done is they’ve taken the format of like a health and exercise art school, and they’ve used it to kind of come up with text for business owners that want to improve their marketing over January. And they’ve used the theme and it’s gone all the way through ‘Go on a healthy diet of the right kind of work,’ ‘Go for a mixed routine,’ ‘Go for little and often’, ‘Picture and plan’. And it really — I found it really helpful, actually. I found it really well written and quite imaginative and quite helpful in terms of visualizing how to — I hate the word revitalize, but that’s the word I’m kind of going to use, revitalize your marketing because I think a lot of us in January are a bit overwhelmed.

PW: It’s a sunny time of year, isn’t it?

LH: It is. And I think you can feel a bit overwhelmed with everything and a bit for where to go with your marketing, especially since you’ve got a whole year looming ahead and you think, “What am I going to do? What do I need to do? What do I need to focus on?” And there are just loads and loads of tips in there. It says if marketing is like fitness, that customers that you take on board are like your diet. So it’s torturing an extended metaphor. It’s really going for it. It’s got in on the rack and it’s stretching it.

PW: We’ve all done it.

LH: We’ve all done it, but it does it quite well so that is my recommendation for this week.

PW: It looks good, and it also is good because it’s a time of year when everybody’s full of resolutions and this year I’m going to do this and that and the other. And it can still — you can kind of start to spot signs that your own marketing might be getting a bit stale. And yeah, it is good to update these things and make a few changes and test things out and see if you’ve got any new ideas. And this article has some really good kind of pointers in it, so it can help you, you know, just get some new ideas, maybe put a few new things in place. And I also second Lorrie’s recommendation to the Guardian Small Business Network, which I actually only discovered recently but is — yeah, I’m liking it so far.

LH: No, it’s really good. And I suppose I’m being a little bit more realistic when it comes to this article, because it’s not actually about diet and exercise. But when it comes to diet and exercise articles, it’s all about stupid thin, stupid quick. I think it was something that you, Pip, had posted, Weight Watchers recipe cards from the 1970s.

PW: Oh, I will link to the listeners, because they are astounding.

LH: They’re stunning, but did you see the diet drink that was beef stock cubes, water, celery and sherry. And the website added in that there was also a healthy dose of self-loathing. And then the other drink was orange pulp and skimmed milk.

PW: Oh, gross.

LH: And it’s just — you’ve imagined, haven’t you? There are so many people going, “And I only ate an orange and a banana every day for the whole of January, and now I am super skinny and amazing.”

PW: And her various nutritional deficiencies.

LH: My brain no longer works, but that’s okay. And what I like about this article, just finishing my weird rambling point, is that it builds in self-care. It talks about the greasy fast food equivalent of basically getting on every client, because they’re there and you’re desperate for work. It tells you about sort of waiting a little bit and valuing your time and really building your business will lead you to long-term satisfaction and not short-term gain.

PW: And this is particularly hard for solo workers, I think, because you’ve not got other people to check in with so much. So yeah, definitely, those Weight Watchers recipe cards and also a link to the BuzzFeed list that then made somebody send me the link to those Weight Watchers recipe cards. And if you have any doubt that there is no food that you can’t suspend in jelly…

LH: Wow, what a loaf.

PW: It’s just salad after salad that’s in Aspic. And so like you slice it, it’s the weirdest thing.

LH: I mean there was one. It was mayonnaise, cottage cheese and seafood mixed in with lime-flavoured jelly.

PW: Oh. And there are various examples of fish dishes where the fish isn’t whole, but then the dish is made to look like a fish. So they kind of break up fish and then reform it into a fish shape.

LH: Using jelly or mayonnaise usually, usually one of the two, something greasy.

PW: It’s really quite astounding, so yes.

LH: What they can do with a banana, oh, my lord.

PW: Yes. The show is worth it if for those alone, so head over to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com to be horrified by food.

LH: I think for the next week, I might post one of the recipe cards on the Facebook every day.

PW: I think I might do this this year.

LH: I think I might start with the banana candle.

PW: Although listeners, given when we’re recording this, she actually means this week.

LH: So there we are. You’ll have all those lovely things to look forward to at facebook.com/freelancewritingpodcast.

PW: And so that brings us to the end of episode 66. Tune in next week for an interview with screenwriting expert.

LH: Oh.

PW: Yes, and until then, thank you very much for listening. I have been Philippa Willitts…

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


Big Yourself Up! How giving stuff away will have new clients flocking in your direction, make you look awesome, and give you a nice happy feeling inside. Or, self-promotion for freelancers.

recite-19714--1483687329-1e42zxtThere is a lot to be said for providing valuable content, skills or expertise online for free. Offering useful information demonstrates that you know what you are talking about, it helps to show people you can be trusted, and it gives you an opportunity to get your name ‘out there’.

It’s one of the reasons I make a freelance writing podcast – it helps to establish in potential clients’ minds that I’m knowledgeable and skilled in my field. Similarly, the writing I have volunteered for non-profit websites shows editors and clients my writing style and the topics I specialise in writing about. It has also increased my profile, all of which contributes to me getting work on a daily and weekly basis.

Giving stuff away for free is usually good; working for free is usually bad. Work out your limits

Giving things away is not the same as working for free – something that should, in most cases, be avoided at all costs. You don’t want to put yourself in a position where you are being exploited or taken advantage of. Instead, giving things away puts the power in your hands: you choose the information, or the value, that you will provide and you offer it openly. Image of en:Stephen Fry

In this TEDx video, Simon Wheatley talks about how he got web design work from the likes of Stephen Fry and the Rolling Stones based on his reputation as someone who  was “good at WordPress”. That reputation came from having developed plug-ins and contributed to the overall open source nature of the WordPress project. It’s a great talk to listen to and could provide some great ideas for freelancers who are considering adding more content to their sites or service offerings.

In the interests of full disclosure, Simon is my brother-in-law as well as being a top WordPress dude.


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!  


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 48: How to prevent your freelance business from wasting money

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

Show Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look after the pennies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PW: And you don’t pay tax on an ISA!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LH: Haha, while you starve away at home!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PW: Yeah, you can find some lovely journeys.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PW: That. Is. Ingenious.

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

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

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

PW: It’s a no brainer, isn’t it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PW: I always use both, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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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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.

Subscribe via RSS

Subscribe via iTunes

Find us on Stitcher Smart Radio

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


Hello and welcome to 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 (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.

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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.

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

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


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

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

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

Day 23 - STRESS

Day 23 – STRESS (Photo credit: isabisa)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some of the other most common blips are as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Workplace 2

My Workplace 2 (Photo credit: davemelbourne)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–  find a job to go to before you stop freelancing

– make sure you’ve got money in the bank

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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LH: Hello and welcome to Episode 32 of A Little Bird Told Me: the podcast about the highs, the lows, and the no-nos of successful freelance writing. You can find us on the web at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, and there you can subscribe to the podcast in any number of ways including RSS feed, iTunes, Stitcher Smart Radio or just on the Podomatic page itself. You can also find the link to our Facebook page where you can post any thoughts or questions you might have, and there are also links to our websites and individual social media feeds.

I’m Lorrie Hartshorn…

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

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

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

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

01 (49)

01 (49) (Photo credit: Victor1558)

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

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

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

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

PW: No, not at all.

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

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

LH: Definitely.

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

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

PW: Yeah.

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

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

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

PW: Yeah.

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

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

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

PW: Yeah.

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

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

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

PW: Yeah.

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

PW: Yeah.

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

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

LH: As and when really.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PW: Sure.

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

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

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

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

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

PW: Yeah, definitely.

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

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

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

PW: Yeah, yeah.

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

PW: Of course.

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

PW: Yeah, definitely.

LH: I just won these shoes.

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

LH: Ooo, free chocolate.

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

LH: You’re a sucker for marketing.

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

LH: Yes.

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

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

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

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

PW: Yeah.

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

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

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

PW: Vital, yeah.

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

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

LH: Channels.

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

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

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

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

PW: Yeah.

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

PW: Yes, yes it is weird.

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

PW: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

PW: No, no.

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

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

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

PW: Exactly.

LH: …two hours a month on that?

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

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

PW: I am not the only devastated person.

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

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

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

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

LH: But it takes time, doesn’t it?

PW: It does.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

PW: Yeah.

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

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

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

PW: Yeah.

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

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

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

PW: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

LH: Yes.

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

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

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

LH: Yes, similar.

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

LH: Yeah, right.

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

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

PW: Yes, yes.

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

PW: Yeah.

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

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

LH: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

LH: Yes, it is.

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

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

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

LH: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

PW: Yes, absolutely, yeah.

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

PW: Exactly.

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

PW: Yeah, yeah.

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

PW: Yeah.

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

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

LH: Definitely.

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

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

PW: Yeah.

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

PW: Yes.

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

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

LH: Yeah, or, “Oh I’m really sorry.”


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

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

LH: Not at all.

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

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

PW: Yeah.

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

PW: “My work should speak for itself.”

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

PW: Absolutely, absolutely.

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

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

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

PW: Don’t get complacent.

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

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

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

PW: Yeah.

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

PW: Yes.

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

PW: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

PW: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

PW: No.

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

PW: Sure.

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

PW: Yeah.

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

PW: Yes.

LH: Not always but, you know, sometimes.

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

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

PW: Yeah.

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

PW: Yeah.

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

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

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

PW: Yeah.

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

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

LH: Yeah.

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

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

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

LH: Yeah, I think most people are.

PW: Yeah.

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

PW: Yeah.

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

PW: Yeah.

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

PW: Yeah.

LH: You know do what works for you.

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

LH: And a lot of other stuff in between.

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

LH: That’s a good point.

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

LH: Definitely.

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

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

PW: Yeah.

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

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

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

PW: Yeah.

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

LH: Yay!

PW: Lorrie, tell me about your recommendation.

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

PW: Yeah.

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

PW: Ah, clever.

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

PW: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

LH: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.

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

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

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

LH: I like it.

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

LH: And motivation as well.

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

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

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

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

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

LH: Thank you. Oooh.

PW: [Laughs].

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

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

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

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

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

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

LH: [Laughs].

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

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

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

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

PW: Yeah, it’s good, isn’t it?

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

PW: Yeah.

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

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

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

PW: Yeah.

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

PW: Yes.

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

PW: Yeah.

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

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

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

PW: I know, I know.

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

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

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

PW: Yeah.

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

PW: Yeah.

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

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

LH: That’s superb.

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

LH: Yeah.

PW: You know he’s not messing about.

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

PW: Yes, I…

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

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

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

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

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

PW: Oh [sighs].

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

PW: Yeah.

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

PW: Yeah.

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

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

LH: Aww, you’d be welcome to.

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

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

PW: Yeah.

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

PW: Yeah.

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

PW: Yeah, yeah.

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

PW: It’s going in titles, isn’t it?

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

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

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

PW: [Laughs].

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

PW: Oh no doubt.

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

PW: Especially not if we’re watching.

LH: Oh that’s true.

PW: Or Larry indeed.

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

PW: Or my sister.

LH: Hi again Carolyn.

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

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

PW: [Laughs].

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

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

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

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

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