I’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.
So many freelance writers feel trapped in the under-paying, soul-destroying ‘race to the bottom’ freelancing sites and content mills.
I have escaped from that depressing hole, and I want to help other writers to do the same! But to do so really effectively, I need to know what the barriers are that you face so that I can guide you to smash them and thrive with your own, private clients!
A couple of months ago, I was really excited to get an interview request from the then-new Cherished Ideas podcast. It is a podcast for freelancers of all stripes and I chatted to Simon Knapp all about freelancing, how to make it work, how to stay up to date, and plenty more.
I currently have no broadband access at home. Just take a moment to absorb that: No. Broadband. Access.
I know, it’s a practically mediaeval state of affairs but, until Thursday, it’s how it is.
In a bid to be mature and not completely freak out, I spent the days before the outage gathering together apps, software, websites and tips on managing without WiFi while still trying to run a business. And stay sane(ish). So, in this post I will go through some of the best ideas and tools available for coping without a regular broadband connection.
I was in the fortunate position of having a few days’ notice of my impending broadband outage. This meant that I had the chance to do a degree of preparation for as many eventualities as I could think of. However, we can all find ourselves with an unannounced or unplanned broadband failure and, in those circumstances, it is impossible to just ‘nip online’ to download the software and get the advice you need!
Because of this, I would recommend putting some preparations in place so that, if you are faced with connection error messages, you are not completely helpless.
The mobile broadband dongle I bought has come in handy. It’s a fairly expensive way of accessing the internet but it’s a very useful for connecting a few times a day and catching up with everything that’s going on. Spending a few hours a day at venues with WiFi access has also been pretty essential. I’ve been using The Cloud app on my Android phone to find cafes and bars with free WiFi, but there are many places that offer WiFi outside of The Cloud network, too.
Software and apps for working offline
Manage your email offline
If you manage your email through gmail, Gmail Offline is invaluable. It syncs your inbox when you are online and then, when you have no internet connection, you can work your way through your inbox, reading messages and writing replies or new emails through the Gmail Offline interface. When you next go online, the emails in your outbox will be sent and the messages you’ve received will be downloaded.
Gmail Offline is a little slow and buggy but, even so, it is proving incredibly helpful to me at the moment.
Manage your WordPress site offline
This was a biggie. I wanted a way to write and prepare blog posts without needing to be online while I did it. When searching Google for answers, I was mainly seeing solutions for people whose WordPress sites had broken and gone offline, but eventually I found what I wanted. I downloaded some free desktop software called WebStory, which is what I am using to write this post.
WebStory allows you to download your posts, pages and comments, so it’s a nice way of getting a backup of your website, too. Then, you can use the software to create new posts and pages and, when you go back online, you can publish them to your site.
For security reasons, I created a new user account for the site that is specifically to use with this software. That way, if there seemed to be any security vulnerabilities, I would be able to remove this account’s posting permissions. This avoids compromising the primary user details you use for your website.
You could, of course, just use your usual Word Processor to write posts offline, but the benefit of WebStory is the ability to upload directly to your site, view the post in your blog’s template, use html, and back up the rest of your posts and pages to your computer, too.
Reading webpages offline in Chrome
I knew that I would need a way to save webpages so that I could do some research when online and then, later, when I was offline again, I could write the piece I had been researching. I have used a combination of free tools and tricks to do this:
The Send to Kindle extension allows you to send any webpage to your Kindle device to read later.
Pocket is a tool where you can bookmark webpages and websites and then read them later. Importantly, any site you bookmark can be accessed offline, too, so if you need to do extensive research for an article you’ll be writing when offline, you can use Pocket to store all your reference articles. Pocket also has a range of smartphone apps, so you can sync articles you find between your devices.
CutePDF is a simple tool that allows you to ‘print’ any webpage you look at to a PDF document. After installing CutePDF, you send a webpage to be printed and, from the dropdown box of printer choices, choose CutePDF. You then choose which folder you want the PDF file to be stored in, and it takes it from there.
You can also change your browser settings so that you can access cached copies of webpages you have loaded before. It is best explained here:
Reading Feedly offline
NewstoEbook.com is a pretty smart tool that allows you to connect to your Feedly account and download the 50 latest posts in any given category as an eBook. You can choose whether to get them as an .epub or .mobi format, so I chose .mobi so that I could read them on my Kindle. Once I had downloaded the files, I used the unique email address provided by Amazon to send them by email to my Kindle and, lo and behold, there they were.
Alternatively, you could download software that reads .epub files and use that to read your Feedly posts offline.
NewstoEbook is a free service. The formatting isn’t always brilliant, but it does what it does very well.
Other points to remember
Planning and organisation are key. If you are only going to have a couple of hours’ broadband access, for instance in a cafe, you need to do as much preparation in advance as possible. This way, you can really make the most of the connection when you have it.
For instance, I didn’t need to be online to edit this week’s podcast, but I will need to be online to post it. Using my precious broadband hours for editing would have been a complete waste, when I could have been using that time for surfing, researching, emailing etc. If there are tasks that are easily done offline, don’t do them when you’ve got rationed internet access.
Keep people informed
Another vital point is to let your clients know that you are having connection problems. I informed certain, regular clients in advance and then set up my email out-of-office reply so that anyone who emails me this week gets a quick summary of my situation. I was careful to reassure people that I’m not completely stranded – I didn’t want anyone to panic and find a new writer! – but I explained why I may be less quick to respond than usual.
Back everything up
And finally, if you use an online back-up service (I use BitCasa) to keep up-to-date copies of all the files on your computer, remember that this will not be active during your time offline. What’s more, if you’re connecting occasionally with a mobile broadband dongle, you really don’t want your automatic back-up software to use up all your bandwidth, so make sure you manually switch it off for the time being.
Online back-up services tend to run quietly in the background so we often forget they are there. However, you don’t want to risk losing any important documents that you work on when you’re off the grid, so you might want to invest in an external hard drive (I’m using this one), or even just a USB memory stick, to make sure everything is safe and backed up while the automatic back-ups to your usual service are interrupted.
I shouldn’t be surprised, really, that time offline has boosted my productivity. When I have to find my phone to check Twitter, and when sites I vaguely want to peruse require me to connect the dongle, I tend not to bother. Instead, I’m actually on top of my email inbox and I’ve written this 1,500-word post, amongst many other things. The need to plan my time out carefully is also having a positive effect that I hope will stick around. I know what I need to do, and when, and I have to prepare for pieces of work meticulously so that I’m not caught out.
While I most certainly wouldn’t recommend being stranded without the web for a week, it’s an interesting exercise now that I’ve been forced into this situation. I hope that at least some of the clarity and focus continue when I’m reconnected to the world. Watch this space.
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!
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 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.
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…’
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.
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” (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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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 (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.”
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
LH: And to really work well because spending time on a piece of writing helps you to improve your skills.
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.
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.
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.’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 —
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.
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.
There 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 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.
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.
Sometimes the hardest thing is to just get started, so if you are really committed to making freelance writing your full-time business, in this solo episode Lorrie outlines her freelance business planning blueprint. Follow her suggestions to be up and running as a freelance writer in just six weeks.
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 podcast where two freelance writers tell you all the tricks of the trade. We talk about the highs, the lows, and the no-nos of successful self-employment, saving you from mighty embarrassment and mortifying mistakes, and guiding you to the very top of your chosen profession.
Freelancing is amazing, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Tune in to the podcast every week, and if you go to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com you can subscribe to ensure you never miss an episode. Whether iTunes, an RSS podcatcher or Stitcher Smart Radio are your platform of choice, we’ve made it really easy to sign up and be the first to hear our latest words of wisdom. There, you will also find any links we mention, our own websites and social media feeds, and the A Little Bird Told Me Facebook Page, too.
I’m Lorrie Hartshorn and this week, it’s time for my solo episode. Philippa will be back next week, though, so make sure you subscribe at our homepage so you don’t miss her victorious return.
So, this week I’m going to talk about something a lot of people have asked me about recently. And I mean – A LOT. I’ve had emails, phone-calls, LinkedIn messages and long sessions with lots of coffee – all based around the same thing: “How to get into freelancing”
Over the last year and a bit, Pip and I have talked about lots of the different things you need to master when you’re a freelance writer. If you want to make a success of being self-employed, you have to work hard. But what we’ve not really looked at specifically – at least not for a good while – is how you go about getting started.
For a number of reasons – some of them more transient than others – a lot of people seem to be wanting to make a move toward freelancing at the moment. Whether you’ve been made redundant, can’t find a job, just want to work for yourself, or make some extra money to supplement an existing job, you’ll have your reasons for wanting to go solo.
What I want to make clear, though, is that freelancing isn’t easy – particularly if you’re wanting to make it your sole income. Above all things, you’ll need to be persistent and consistent – if you’re easily disheartened, you’re lacking in drive and confidence (even if it’s fake!), or you’re not 100% sold on the idea, it’s going to be a very steep uphill struggle.
If you’re sure you have the time, commitment and basic skills needed to become a freelance writer (and a knowledge of SEO is definitely included in that – had way too many people recently thinking that SEO’s optional!), this podcast will hopefully give you a check-list of essentials to work to, so that you’ll be able to hit the ground running in the new year, safe in the knowledge that you’ve got the basics sorted.
So, with the end of the year coming up fast, I’m going to look at how to set up as a freelance writer in six weeks. With exactly eight weeks left until 2014, that gives you six weeks of hard work (and you’ll need to do work around all the suggestions in this podcast) and two to recover/be festive.
Even if you’re already a successful sole trader, stay tuned – with 2013 almost at an end, it’s a really good time to make sure you’re doing everything you need to, to make a real success of your business over the next year.
I’ve assigned four tasks to each week, assuming that, like me, you enjoy having a couple of days off. If you’re doing this part-time, or you’re not bothered about having full days off, you can obviously redistribute the work across more or fewer days.
So, week one. It’s time to decide exactly what you can and do offer – and how you’re going to communicate that to your clients.
1.Make a list of your freelancing skills.
Grab a big piece of paper and brainstorm everything you *can* do on to that. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it’s related to freelancing, writing, words, editing, marketing.
Once you’ve got a load of stuff down on paper, you need to work out what could feasibly become part of your freelance writing career. Draw three columns to the side of that list and title them “enjoy”, “good at” and “demand” – namely, whether you enjoy the task, whether you’re good at it, and whether there’s any real demand for that service on the part of clients.
Work your way down the list and tick the boxes that apply. It’s really important to be honest, though, otherwise this is a pointless exercise. Don’t panic if you’re not sure there’s a demand for something – pop a question mark in there if you really don’t know, but don’t let yourself pop question marks in when you know there isn’t a demand but you wish there was!
For stuff you enjoy doing and there’s a demand for, make a separate list and start looking around online for training that can help you improve your skills in these areas. Start scheduling in some training bit by bit – this is really important and something you will have to keep on with forever.
2. Space and equipment
the office equipment, software and materials you already have
how much money you have at your disposal to invest in your freelancing business
where will you work? How much of the house will you use? This is important for tax purposes
3. Journal your day-to-day activities – find out when you get up, go to sleep, eat lunch, exercise, slump, socialise – everything.
4. Time and resources
people who can give you support
how much time you can devote to freelancing
co working spaces?
Smart goals (Photo credit: shaggy359)
5. Set Your Freelancing Goals – SMART Goals. Episode 20. Specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-sensitive. It’s a good idea to set monthly goals so you can set aside time each month to see if you’re hitting those targets.
6. Get Inside Your Client’s Head – who are they? What do they want? Which social media platforms are they on? How do they like to communicate? What are their values?
7. Check out the competition
Quick Check on Your Competitors – are you charging the right amount? What do they do well? What are they doing poorly? Are people interacting with them? Learn what you can!
8. What you’re offering- time to set those services. If you don’t know what you’re offering, your clients won’t either. Know what you’re selling, how long it’ll take you, how much of it you want to do, and what the benefits are. Know your services.
9: What to charge and how? Episodes 23-25. What you want to charge, how much you need/expect to make, whether you’re going to charge hourly, by the job or use a combined approach. Very complicated, and not something you want to get wrong – most freelancers charge way too little, some charge way too much, so please check out our three episode series on this!
10: All about money. Setting your budgets – marketing, training, office equipment etc., deciding how you want to be paid, setting up a Paypal account if necessary, checking you’re happy with your bank account, deciding how to invoice, setting up an invoice template
Keeping track of your money
11. What makes you special? USP and elevator pitch – base this on what you know about your target markets and keep it in mind as you start to promote yourself. You can also use this information to help you with your next task, which is setting up a website. Think carefully about your company or brand name, and your website URL. Three important things to remember
Easy to remember. Really long domains can be confusing, as can ones with odd acronyms or letters in them
Easy to spell. If you have to say your web or email address over the phone it’s always better if you don’t have to say it letter by letter with things like dashes or underscores mixed in.
Appropriately descriptive. A name that says something or ties in with your name or business name is best. Its easy to remember and immediately identifies you
12. Set up a WordPress website – time to get ranking. Choose a nice, neutral theme. Don’t worry about being too exciting, just keep it professional. This might take you a while, but trust me – as a former tech-phobe (and still not the techy-est person in the world) WordPress is really easy to use. It’s way easier than some other CMSs.
Week 4 – extra content
13. Pick up some plug-ins: do some research into plugins that will help your site run faster and more securely (Akismet is a lifesaver, screening out spam comments, and Limit Logins helps protect you from automated attacks http://wordpress.org/plugins/limit-login-attempts/), and help you to promote the things you post across social media. It’s also a really good idea to add a contact form to your site – they capture emails a lot more effectively than just putting an email address in there.
14. Putting pages on your website: Home, about, services, FAQs, testimonials, training, contact me. Get some testimonials ready for your site – ask anyone and everyone you can think of. And don’t panic if you don’t have any writing testimonials just yet – it’s also important to let clients know how you work, so if you’ve got people who’re willing to say that you get work done on time, always pitch in as part of a team, have brilliant creative ideas or are just lovely to work with, it’s far better than nothing.
15: Check in with your organisation. Are you keeping to the hours or are you slacking off already? Are you getting up when you need to? Are you working where you’re supposed to or vegging in front of the TV? How’s the training coming on?
16. BLOG. Content marketing important – social media and evidence of your ability to write. Think about setting up an editorial calendar (ep 17) so you can drop in ideas when the mood strikes and keep on top of what needs publishing and when.
17. Prep some test pieces ready for your portfolio. You might want to upload these, you might not, but it’s good to have them on hand.
18: Client communications: be prepared to communicate with your clients like a business. Forget the whole “Who, little old me?” attitude and get ready to talk shop.
terms of agreement or a contract
submission of completed project
request for feedback
19: Get social – set yourself up with, at the very least, a Twitter and LinkedIn account. Facebook can also be worth it, particularly if you’re looking to engage with B2C clients – but go with what you can manage. Make a plan to engage daily with these platforms, and/or schedule some updates, including links to your site and blog. Start to subscribe to – and comment on – popular blogs or business sites, so you can start to get your name out there and your voice heard. Make sure what you contribute is quality, and not spam.
20. Brainstorm some marketing activities you could carry out
Here are some activities of marketing activities:
Publish a blog post weekly about a topic your target clients are interested in.
Submit articles in article directories.
Network on Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn
Join an online forum.
Send a pitch email to a prospect
Cold call a company
Attend a live conference.
Give away a white paper or special report and start to build up your database of contacts
22. Identify some prospects – blogs, social media, business sites, networking events…use your imagination to identify a number of clients to approach over the coming months. Start an excel file of clients and sectors you’d like to target and set yourself a goal – depending on how much time you have – to start pitching regularly.
Elevator Pitch for Katie (Photo credit: Marco Wessel)
23. Prepare to get networking – look for events, decide whether to go to one-off events or regular ones, be aware of the pros and cons of both. Make sure you have your elevator pitch down pat and a smart suit ready to wear. If you can, get yourself a small batch of business cards and get used to carrying those – I keep a few in my wallet, a few in my diary and a few more in a pocket in my handbag so whether I’m out shopping, sitting in a meeting or just out and about, I’m likely to have one to hand. Don’t go bad and buy 500 – 100 will do for a start, even 50 if you’re a bit skint.
24. Learn your pitch. It doesn’t matter how you prefer to pitch – whether you’re naturally an emailer, a cold-caller, a networker or a combination of the three. Research how to effectively pitch to clients – both in general and specifically to certain markets. Say you want to target clients in the B2C professional services sector, like insurance and law, consultants, architects, engineers, doctors and dentists. But you also want to target B2B customers in the nuclear sector, because you did a degree in engineering. What do clients in these two sectors need? What are their concerns? What do they want? How do they communicate? What are their values, missions, priorities. If you focus on these things, you’re far more likely to convince companies in those sectors that you can adequately meet their requirements.
I don’t know about you, but I find myself doing more and more work on my mobile phone when I’m out and about. Thankfully, there are plenty of apps designed to improve productivity, aid organisation and help you to take notes and produce work on the go. In this solo episode, I discuss the top apps for Android-using freelance writers, and most of them are available on iOS too!
And finally, please ‘like’ us on Facebook to be the first to hear our news and to talk with us about what you hear on the podcast!
Hello and welcome to episode 51 of A Little Bird Told Me, the freelance writing podcast about the highs, the lows and the no-nos of successful self-employment. You can find us on the web at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com. Do make sure you head over there because there are links to all our previous episodes and every link we mention on the podcast.
The other thing you can find at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com is the links to subscribe to the podcast. You know you never want to miss another episode, so whether your platform of choice is iTunes, RSS reader or Stitcher Smart Radio, you can find the links on our Podomatic page.
Now, as we use our phones more and more for checking social networks, doing a quick Google to find something out on the go, it gets to the point where you find yourself increasingly working via your smart phone or tablet as well, whether that’s something as simple as checking your email while you’re having a drink in a café or whether you’re doing more complicated work on your tablet or smart phone. The fact is that I think this will continue to increase and that we’ll find it more normal to work in this way. I know I’ve gone from checking my work email when I’m out to doing more and more involved things.
So what I want to look at today is apps that are really handy for freelance writers – apps you can download to your phone. Now, in these recent statistics, in the second quarter of this year, the Android operating system accounted for 75.5% of the smart phone market share. Apple operating system IOS dropped to 13.6%. Windows Phone is increasing but from a very low place to start with, and Blackberry is very low at the moment. So there are three quarters of the world’s smart phone users using the Android operating system, and almost a sixth using Apple. With tablets, so iPads or Android tablets, Android has 53% of the market share, while Apple has 43%. Apple’s number dropped and Android’s grew, so that’s a far more even split.
android (Photo credit: Saad Irfan)
Now, I’m an Android user. I use an HTC Android phone and I have an Android tablet. I like Android – I like how it is to use, I like how it integrates well with everything else, I like that you don’t have to have a particular brand of phone or tablet to use it – I like that kind of open nature of the coding. It’s a lot less control freaky than Apple can appear to be, so I’m a big Android fan. However, some of my best friends are iPhone users – I don’t object to it!
But, because I like it and because so many more phones are using Android including my own, the apps I’m talking about today are all Android apps. However, some of them do have IOS, iPhone, iPad versions of the same app. Even in the cases where there aren’t exactly the same apps, there will, I’m sure, be very similar apps. So even if you’re an iPhone user, don’t think this episode won’t be relevant – it’ll give you ideas about the kinds of apps to look for and a good number will have iPhone versions available.
So what I’m going to talk about today are the nine top apps that every freelance writer can benefit from. They can have numerous purposes from being handy if you’re out and about to actually serving a better purpose than something on your PC or laptop might.
And the first of these apps is called CamScanner, and it’s available for Android and IOS systems. It’s very simple and very effective. It enables you to take a photo of any document or object, say a receipt. It optimises it, makes it very clear and very contrasty, then turns it into a PDF for you. So when you buy something work-related, and especially if you’re worried you might lose the receipt, you just open up CamScanner, start a new document, take a picture of it and it turns into a PDF that you can then email to yourself or share with your Google Drive and you’ve got a record of that receipt that can then be filed.
Now, you can use the free version of CamScanner, which I use and is great. You can also upgrade to a paid version which has some benefits and that’s either $4.99 a month or $49.99 a year. If you use the free version, at the bottom of each document it says something like “powered by CamScanner”. Now I don’t mind that, as I just use the documents for my records so it makes no difference. If you get the paid version, there are no ads and no watermarks. You can also password protect your documents, extract text to edit later and you get a higher quality scan although the scans you get with the free version are, for my purposes, absolutely fine.
Now with this app, you can actually annotate the PDF documents you scan. You can do this 30 times with the free version; if you need to do this more, you then need to buy the paid version. And whether you get the free or paid version, you can share the PDFs with yourself in whatever way suits you whether that’s via Google Drive, emailing it to yourself, uploading it to Drop Box, whatever. It’s a really handy little app – it was one of the first things I downloaded when I got an Android phone for the first time a few years ago.
The next app I’m going to recommend won’t come to a big surprise to regular listeners of this podcast, and that’s the Google Drive app. Again this is available for both Android and IOS devices. It’s incredibly handy if you want to edit a document, create a document, anything like that that you can then get hold of on your computer or on another device. If I have a great idea for a podcast episode while I’m out, for example, I can open a Google Drive app, create a new document, make notes and save it, knowing that when I get back to my computer, it’ll be there waiting for me when I get back. Similarly, if I want to transfer some of the photos from my phone to my computer, I can upload those from my phone to my Google Drive and then access them from my computer. All you need is an internet connection and it’s all there.
You can share documents with people you’re in contact with. It doesn’t even have to be a word processing document; you can open a spreadsheet, format the text on it. If you’ve set out for a meeting but you’ve forgotten to bring the agenda – if you know you’ve saved it to Google Drive, you can quickly access that on your iPad. It’s so, so useful – we certainly couldn’t manage the podcast in the way that we do without it – so the fact that I use it so much on the computer makes it really handy to have it available on my phone and Android tablet.
The next app I’m going to recommend is another Google one – the Google Calendar app, which is available for Android and iPhone users. And there are also lots of other calendar apps that will sync with your Google Calendar so if you’re not enamoured with the Google Calendar app itself, do have a look at some of the others.
Now what this does is sync with your phone, so if there’s something in your Google Calendar that you’ve forgotten, but you’re not at your computer, you’ll still get a notification on your phone. I use a mix of Google Calendar and a paper diary to keep track of what I’m doing. It’s really reassuring to know that, if there’s an event coming up in your Google Calendar, you’ll get a notification on your phone.
And the fact that Android is run by Google means that Android and Google apps tend to work really well together. Within the app you can also – as well as seeing the events in there – add events using your phone or tablet. This is invaluable if you’re out with someone and want to arrange your next meeting, you can access your full calendar and then add the meeting using the app, and even invite the person you’re with using your phone. This means that you’re not having to write it down on a piece of paper and remember to add it to your Google Calendar later. And also you can set up within the app itself the kind of reminders you want.
The other handy thing with the Google Calendar Android app is that you can set up a widget. So rather than having to go to an app itself, you can choose to have something on display. So it might be that on the homepage of your phone that you have a little Google Calendar widget so you can see at a glance what your next event is and the details about it. I have one of those set up – looking at it now, it tells me that tomorrow is a friend’s birthday, that I have a meeting on Wednesday. I don’t even need to go into the app; it just displays automatically. So yes, give Google Calendar a go.
The next app I’m going to recommend is, as far as I can tell, only available on Android. It’s called Eduport, and it’s great for something that Lorrie and I bang on about all the time, and that’s ongoing training, study and learning. And what Eduport does is give you easy and quick access to loads of free lectures and talks.
When you enter the app, you can access different channels. So, there is the University College of Berkley, Stanford University, TED talks, and you can quickly and easily find courses and lectures based on subjects you’re looking for. They’re organised as playlists, really, with different playlist for different topics. And while you can find most of the same talks on YouTube, the joy of Eduport is that they’re all in one place. You don’t have to filter out all sorts of irrelevant things if you’re looking for something specific because it’s specialised and only gives you really reputable sources to work with.
I use this more on my tablet than on my phone, if only because I prefer to watch videos on a bigger screen. But looking at reviews, people love it on their phone – it depends on your preferences. But with this app you have no excuse to not check out different free university courses and other types of courses so you can carry on learning on an ongoing basis. There isn’t, for instance, necessarily a creative writing course on there – I haven’t found one, but there are so many videos on there that there may be! – but it doesn’t all have to be specifically about writing. You might want to do some business, health or maths courses, depending on what you write about. It doesn’t always have to be work related, either – you might want to know more about, say, physics, just as a hobby, and Eduport is a great way to do that as well.
App number 5 is called Voice Recorder. It also appears to only be available for Android – however, there will be very similar apps for IOS. It just does exactly what it says on the tin – there’s a big red record button on it, you press that and speak into it and it records your voice. Now what this is great for is if you have a sudden idea and you’re not near your computer but you really don’t want to forget it. Whether it’s something to add to your to-do list, or a great idea for a story or a good source for an eBook you’re writing. Rather than trying to find a bit of paper to write on, just open the app, hit record and say, “Don’t forget to email Jane about that landing page.” Then stop recording. In a matter of three seconds, you’ve made a record of something that you can easily check when you get home.
Another lovely thing about Voice Recorder is that you can send what you record directly through Gmail. So, you might want to email yourself but equally you might record a note for someone else and send it through to them if you use the Gmail app on your phone. There’s also a widget so you can also set it up so that you just hit record on the widget. So it’s a handy app. I will of course be linking to all of these apps in the show notes at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com so don’t worry about trying to remember what they’re all called; just make yourself a Voice Recorder note to go to our site and you’ll find all the direct links there!
Mind Mapping (Photo credit: sirwiseowl)
The next app I’m going to recommend is available for both Android and IOS. It’s called Mindjet Maps. Now this is a brilliant and simple way to create mind maps that you can store on your phone, share with Drop Box, whatever. And if you’re the kind of person who really likes a visual approach to planning and brainstorming, this is a really effective method. You can create a visual planning document or brainstorm with different boxes all linked together. They can contain photos, written notes or anything really that can help you organise your ideas. It can also be handy for taking notes at a meeting if you want to represent your ideas a bit differently – rather than just writing pages and pages of words. It may well make more sense to you afterwards – you can see immediately what you were getting at rather than having to re-read loads of quoted words.
Now, mind maps do seem to be the sort of thing you either love or hate, but if you’re the sort of person who finds them useful, then Mindjet Maps is a free app and I’d strongly recommend giving it a go.
The eighth app I’m going to recommend for freelance writers is the Feed.ly app. This is available on iTunes as well as the Google Play store. If you were a former user of Google Reader, you, like me, will probably have done a fair bit of research into a good alternative to switch to when Google Reader was closing. You may well have switched to Feed.ly. Now I miss Google Reader still – I always will.
However, the benefit of Feed.ly is that they’d anticipated that Google Reader was going to close. Several months in advance, they started preparing for that possibility. So they vastly increased their capacity and they really optimised imports from Google Reader and while I did try a couple of other services around that time, Feed.ly was the only one I found to be consistently good. Lots of people were raving about one called The Old Reader but every time I went on there, it said it was over capacity and I couldn’t be bothered with that, frankly.
So, yes, I went with Feed.ly like a lot of people. I access this partly via a Chrome extension but also via my phone and tablet. Now, what Feed.ly does is…if you’re not familiar with how RSS readers work, any blog or website that you want to keep up with, you can subscribe to in Feed.ly. Every time that site is updated, Feed.ly will update and you can scroll through your favourite sites and blogs in this one interface. So you don’t have to keep going and checking to see if your favourite blog has been updated – if it has, it’ll be in Feed.ly.
Now within Feed.ly, you categorise each site you want to keep up with. You might have a section for writing blogs, humour blogs, health information – whatever you want. So each website you subscribe to, you then subscribe to one or more categories. Then, when you want to catch up with your favourite sites and blogs, you to go your Feed.ly app on your browser, or phone or tablet, and you can choose to scroll through all the updates in a particular category or just all of the updates together.
I’m going to put a screenshot from my phone of a couple of these apps into the show notes, include one from Feed.ly. It’s really useful for keeping on top of the latest news. Looking at my own account, I have a category for writing advice, one about my local area, one about SEO and social media, another about PPC, another of photo blogs, one about people I know, one for marketing, one about environmental stuff, a humour one, a feminist one, Google Analytics, journalism etc.
So if I know I need to find a blog topic for an SEO client, I go straight to my SEO category. If I want to find something to recommend on this podcast, I might go to my writing category and see if anything great has been posted. Or, if I’m on the bus and want some down-time, I’ll open the humour blogs and have a giggle.
And it gathers everything you need. You input the RSS feed or URL of a website and it brings everything to you. I do also have some categories for some specific industries I write regular news stories for – they’re not the kinds of stories I’d normally read, but they’re there and waiting when I need them.
The app for the phone is nice, it’s intuitive, you can swipe to the left for the next story and quickly scroll past things you’re not interested in. You can also share directly from Feed.ly so you click the share button and share with Twitter or Facebook. So if you’re looking for a good RSS feed reader to manage your subscriptions, Feed.ly is one to look at. The phone and tablet apps really do make it easy to use.
So the ninth and final app I’m going to recommend is DropBox. DropBox is a really useful way of backing up and sharing your documents and information. If you’ve got DropBox on your phone and you have some pictures you want to share with your sister, you can create a shared folder for you both, upload the pictures and then, when she turns her phone on, those pictures are there, ready for her to download. If you’ve scanned a business receipt, using my first recommendation – CamScanner – then you can upload the file to a folder called “Receipts” and you know it’ll be there ready to file on your laptop when you get home.
Similarly, if you have a file already in your DropBox, you can open and amend it from your phone. It’s one of those services I didn’t realise was so useful until I started using it. At one point, I was working between two faulty machines. So when I was trying to work on a document I’d previously been working on on another computer, Drop Box made it so much easier – with Drop Box, it was just there. If you don’t have an account already, do check out our show notes and click through from there. It’s so handy and you get a certain amount of storage for free, although you may want to pay for more storage. And it might just make life that bit easier.
So those are my nine essential Android apps for freelance writers. They can all really help you with your productivity, organisation, planning and your work itself. They can help you learn, take notes, organise notes and access the information you need when you need it. Mobile technology is coming on so fast that we’re going to be using phones and tablets for more and more of our work over time. There’s no doubt – whereas freelancers might have used smart phones for social media, increasingly we’re using it for work and that’ll grow as the capabilities of the machines grow, and also as companies have bright ideas about how to make it easy to do and create apps that help.
So if you do have a smart phone and you’re not already using it for anything work related, then maybe give a few of those apps a go. If you’re already using your phone for some work stuff, then maybe some suggestions here can make things even easier. And if you’re just looking for something to keep your mind occupied, then Eduport or Feed.ly can provide you with endless information at the touch of a button. And so those are my top app recommendations for self-employed writers.
And now it’s time for the famous Little Bird Told Me Recommendation of the week – only one this week, of course, as there’s only me. My recommendation this week is something called Worldometers, which is a website of real time world statistics. It’s just quite fascinating if you want instant statistics, it’s the place to go – it has constantly updated stats.
So I’m watching at the moment about the world population; the numbers are rising several per second. I can see that there have been 223, 404 births today and 92,187 deaths today. If I go back to the main page, I can see there have been 221, 368,000 computers sold in the world this year. I can see that there have been 3,075,000 cell phones sold today. I can see that there has been $104,618,000 spent on video games today, 2,383,000 blog posts have been written today, 17,988 people who died of hunger today. How much water is being consumed, how much coal we have left, how many deaths by HIV and AIDs…it’s not just full of this really interesting and potentially very useful information, it’s also accountable because it gives its sources and they tend to be really reputable, like the World Health Organisation.
It’s fascinating to watch these numbers but if you’re writing about dieting, you can see that today alone, $110,340,000 has been spent on weight loss programmes in the USA. You can see how many emails have been sent today, how many newspapers have been sent today…so whether it’s something you find useful for work or just something to help you win a pub quiz, then my recommendation today is the Worldometers website, which I’ll link to from our show notes.
So that’s the end of episode 51 – thank you so much for listening. Let me know how you get on with your Android apps. All my contact details – and my co-host Lorrie’s – can be found at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, and there you can subscribe to the podcast and find a link to our Facebook page. Do come and say hi on there or Twitter. Thank you again for listening and I’ll see you next week.
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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.
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 (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.
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Freelancing can be a really tough business. While it’s a common preconception that working from home and working for yourself are an easy ride, like any other job being a freelance copywriter has its ups and downs. In this solo episode, Lorrie discusses what to do if you feel like your freelance writing career has reached crisis point. She talks about how to tell the difference between a career crisis and a temporary blip, and outlines a number of helpful solutions to common freelancing problems.
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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 (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 (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.
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Philippa is an excellent writer who consistently adds high quality content to the blog that regularly attracts tweets, recommendations and debate in the comments. She is always up to date on social media developments and is extremely good at making connections with readers and drawing them towards the site. In addition to this, her commitment to equality issues and insights into the application of those principles make her a very valuable member of the blogging collective. I would recommend her …
Holly CombeCopy Editor
Thanks again Philippa – I’m very much liking how you work and the quality of your articles!