Tag Archives: Marketing

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

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

Show Notes

10 most popular episodes of 2013:

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

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Transcript

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

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

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

LH: Oh, very cunning.

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

LH: Okay. So in at number ten…

Top Ten Records

Top Ten Records (Photo credit: Thomas Hawk)

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

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

PW: Yes.

LH: Okay, number nine.

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

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

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

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

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

LH: Oh, I liked that title.

PW: Yes.

LH: Number 7.

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

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

PW: Okay.

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

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

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

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

LH: Okay. And at number four.

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

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

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

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

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

LH: And number two.

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

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

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

LH: That’s underwhelming. Number one.

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

LH: Oh.

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

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

PW: I suspect it’s the latter.

LH: I would suspect so, too.

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

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

PW: Yeah, it could be.

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

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

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

PW: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

LH: Yeah.

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

LH: Yeah.

to do list

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

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

PW: Yes. Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

PW: Yeah, yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LH: Why were you surprised?

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

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

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

LH: Boring buggers.

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

LH: Dullsville.

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

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

PW: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PW: Yes, on the Content Marketing Show hashtag.

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

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

LH: Really good talking point.

PW: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LH: No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LH: Oh, yeah.

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

LH: Harsh.

PW: Oh, it’s true though.

LH: Oh, it’s completely true.

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

LH: Yeah.

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

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

PW: Good thinking.

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

PW: That’s a very good tip.

LH: Thank you very much.

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

LH: Shame.

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

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

PW: They’ll sell your name and address.

LH: But Guerrilla Mail is a godsend.

PW: It is indeed.

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

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

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

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

LH: No. No, you don’t.

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

LH: Yeah.

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

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

PW: Normal service will be resumed.

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

PW: Yes.

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

PW: They don’t make it easy, do they?

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

PW: Oh, that’s handy.

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

PW: I do.

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

PW: Handy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PW: Oh, tell me about it.

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

PW: I click Spam and disconnect from them.

LH: Yeah. I’ll do exactly the same.

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

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

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

LH: Why? Just why?

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

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

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

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

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

LH: I have no idea.

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

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

Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II X

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

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

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

PW: To imagine Great Britain without a monarchy.

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

PW: I am in big trouble.

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

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

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

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

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

PW: The Little Bird recommendations of the week.

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

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

LH: No, sir.

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

LH: Oh, god, Pip.

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

LH: Very good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PW: If they fell with wings.

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

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

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

PW: Yeah, same. Yeah.

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

PW: Yeah.

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

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

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

PW: Context, context, context.

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

PW: And why.

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

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

LH: Yes, everyone.

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

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

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

LH: What? That’s incredible.

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

LH: Wow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PW: Thank you very much.

LH: But I kind of hate you for it.

PW: And why is that?

LH: Because it was so huge and useful.

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

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

PW: You’re small and useful.

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

PW: Next week, Google.

LH: Honestly. I know…

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

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

PW: I’m sure your recommendation is marvellous.

LH: I don’t want to do it now.

PW: Well, you have to.

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

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

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

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

PW: We’ve all done it.

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

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

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

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

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

PW: Oh, gross.

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

PW: And her various nutritional deficiencies.

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

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

LH: Wow, what a loaf.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PW: I think I might do this this year.

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

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

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

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

LH: Oh.

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

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

 

Podcast Episode 49: How to Make Creative Marketing Ideas Work

Many new freelance writers are surprised by the amount of marketing that they need to do. Because these activities need to be pursued relentlessly it is easy to run out of ideas and feel uninspired. In this solo episode, Lorrie looks at some creative and unusual marketing approaches that freelance writers can adopt.

Show Notes

Roses are red pub sign

Amnesty hanging people flyers

ESPN Brasil interactive advert

Rock FM air guitars

Accountancy terms glossary

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Transcript

LH: Hello and welcome to Episode 49 of A Little Bird Told Me: the freelance writing podcast that’s here to help you through the highs, the lows, as well as the absolutely brilliants and the unbelievably awfuls of running your own business.

Our home on the web is at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, so head on over if you’re not there already and subscribe to the podcast in whichever way suits you best – there’s an RSS feed, as well as iTunes, Stitcher Smart Radio and Podomatic subscription options, so pick whatever you fancy. Make sure you do it, though, because you’ll get a notification as soon as our new episodes are out.

On the Podomatic page you’ll also find the links to our Facebook page where you can come and have a chat to me and my co-host Philippa. You can post your most pressing freelance questions, make suggestions about future episodes and give feedback on the episodes you’ve listened to so far.

You’ll also find links to our websites and our social media feeds, as well as to other episodes, transcripts and show notes, many of which are actually handy links to resources for freelancers, so come and have a nosy!

I’m Lorrie Hartshorn and this week, I’m here without my usual co-host – the lovely Pip. She’ll be back next week as usual, though, when we’ll be recording another dual episode, so stay tuned for now with me and the time will fly by.

This week, I’m going to be looking at how to come up with some marketing ideas that will help you boost your freelance business. While we all know that creative marketing ideas are the ideal weapon for grabbing your target market’s attention, it can be hard to know where to start. In this episode, I’ll be looking at a few of the key components to help you get your creative ideas off the ground but not too far off the ground!

Intro

So, as Pip and I have said a thousand times (and it might actually be a thousand now we’re nearly at episode 50!), freelance writing isn’t just writing. If you get into this business because you like nothing better than putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), that’s only a small part of the battle won. A huge part of running a successful freelance writing business is marketing yourself and your services, getting business development down to a tee.

If you can do this in a way that grabs the attention of your target audience, and makes you memorable to them, you’re already a huge step ahead of the competition. Marketing isn’t just about you – it’s about your customer. So the key to developing some creative marketing ideas, even before you decide which fabulously inspiring thing you’re going to try, is to start with some preparation. And yes, I know that’s not as fun as getting stuck in, but you know what they say: “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” And it’s true, so suck it up.

Firstly, what are you trying to achieve? Maybe you want more clients in a particular sector. Maybe you want to promote a certain type of work – your blogging services, for example. Perhaps you’re trying to establish yourself as an authority in a certain sub-sector of freelance writing – technical writing, scientific writing, academic proof-reading. Whatever you’re trying to achieve, keep that central in your mind as you brainstorm marketing ideas. There’s no point catching people’s attention with a marketing campaign if they don’t know what they’re supposed to think or do once they’ve spotted you.

Jot down the core ideas behind your marketing. Really get it clear in your own mind what you want to achieve – pop it down on a piece of paper, pin it up on a notice board, start an Excel file, get coloured post-it notes and write your objectives on those. Put them somewhere you can view them with a clear mind.

target market

target market (Photo credit: yelahneb)

Secondly, decide who your target market is. What are their motivations? If you’re looking to attract small business clients, it’s likely that cost is going to be a huge factor in their decision to hire you, or not. If you’re looking to grab the attention of huge blue-chip firms or exclusive consultancy firms with a lot of disposable income, for example, cost won’t be such a key issue. They might be more concerned with hiring someone who’s known to be the best of the best.

Put yourself to one side for a moment and think about things that will push your ideal client’s buttons. What do they want? What do they really not want? What motivates them? What will make them hire you?

Brainstorm everything you can think of. Surf the net, get on social media and see what they’re talking about. Read newspapers and magazines for inspiration. Keep an eye on that client’s sector – maybe there’s some legislation that they might be a bit worried about; can you tap into that?

Copy, paste, snip and collect anything that fits with your idea of what your ideal client thinks, feels, needs and wants. This will help you to get inspired, and come up with ideas that will really attract the kind of target audience you’re after.

So, now you’ve done your research and your planning, we come to the fun stuff. Or do we? Well, not quite. Almost, but no. Sorry, it was a trick!

Now, the reason we haven’t quite come to the fun stuff is this: during my research for this podcast, I’ve come across a lot of suggestions for creative marketing ideas for small businesses that, to me, seem either legally or at least ethically questionable. So I want to talk briefly about that, and how, in my opinion at least (and I know I speak for Pip), it’s best to steer clear of anything dodgy, even if it might get you some short-term gain.

One suggestion was to hire a number of interns to do your marketing work for you. While the cheery suggestion was, “Interns Make Dollars and Sense!”, there was no indication that the interns should be paid. Anything. At all.

This is something that both Philippa and I feel quite strongly about – in my view, at least, if you can’t afford staff for your business but you need staff for your business to succeed, there’s a serious problem with your business plan. It’s not acceptable for your business to be dependent on free labour. Free labour isn’t a solution, so let’s knock that idea on the head right now. If you’re thinking that you need to do some business development and you think, “Hmm, I can get some graduates or people who are looking for work to do this for me.”, be careful. If you run a freelance business, it’s not like you’re likely to be in a position to offer people realistic job opportunities afterwards, so I would suggest you just steer clear.

fly posting

fly posting (Photo credit: Belfegore)

I’ve also seen suggestions that fly-posting and glueing your flyers to the front of newspapers is a good idea. It’s not – it’s probably illegal; it’s definitely annoying and I can’t see it winning your business any real brownie points.

For this podcast, we’re going to be focusing on ideas that are creative without being spammy. In terms of long-term benefits, I do always find that ethical and professional work best even if it might take a little bit longer.

So, moving on to the creative side of things, while only you will know what’s suitable for you, your business, your objectives and your target market., there are certain things you can do to try and ensure you come up with some good, actionable ideas. The key to a creative marketing idea is that it’s unique and captures the imagination. For that reason, I can’t come up with one for you now – of course – but what I will do is go through some of the criteria that you can bear in mind when you’re looking to come up with a creative marketing idea. And a lot of these feed into one another – hopefully you’ll be able to sit down, juggle them around in your own mind – keeping in mind your own needs – and come up with something that works for you and your target audience.

First off, emotional marketing campaigns work a treat. If you can make your prospects laugh from their belly up, you’re probably on to a winner. From where I’m standing, intelligent, topical, relatable humour is one way to get into your prospects’ heads where you want them to be.

Now, while toilet or crude humour might be the easy option, try to avoid that – remember that whatever you do has to fit your brand. Unless you’r brand is normally controversial, rude, cheeky, potentially offensive, say if you’re a funny blogger by trade, I’d suggest you steer clear.

If you’re not looking for wit and you want to be a bit sillier, surreal and absurdist humour is a good option. Things that make you laugh but you don’t know why.

There’s a picture floating round the internet of a sign outside a pub that reads, “Roses are red, violets are blue, poems are hard, BACON.” and I always think that would have made some really good flyer copy for a copywriter, for example. You could finish up with something like, “Need help finding the right words? Get in touch.” You will have made people laugh without resorting to being crude.

You might decide not to go with humour – other strong emotions can work just as well, so use your imagination. Depending on what you’re trying to achieve and who you’re trying to target, making people feel sad or envious or worried can all help you achieve your goals. As long as you move someone emotionally, you’ve got a better chance of getting through to them rationally.

One emotive campaign that really caught my attention was by Amnesty International, which, if you don’t know it, is a global human rights organisation that campaigns against the death penalty, torture, rape and other abuses. They ran a campaign using public transport – in each of the little straps that bus passengers can hold on to, they inserted a flyer in the shape of a person with their hands tied behind their back. And on the front of the flyers were photos of people who are blind-folded and they have bruises on their faces – they look like torture victims, basically.

What passengers on that bus saw were people being hanged. Shocking, yes; powerful, yes. When you look at photos of people responding to the campaign, they’re holding the flyers and reading what’s on the back, and that’s exactly what you want. A rectangular leaflet probably wouldn’t have had the same effect. It definitely wouldn’t be being talked about long afterwards.

You might be thinking, “Oh, but I don’t have the resources for something like that.” but the point is that the power of the campaign came from the shape of the flyer, the positioning of the flyer, the content, the message, and not the money behind the organisation. In the grand scheme of things, a flyer’s not a high-expenditure piece of marketing, so it’s not difficult to take and adapt for your own needs if this sparks your imagination.

Secondly, and it kind of follows on, interactive campaigns. If you can get your prospects to interact with your marketing campaign, then you’re over the first hurdle. You can talk at your prospects but if you can get them to interact with you, you’re opening a positive, two-way channel.

People don’t like to feel like they’re being targeted and sold to all the time. If prospects can have some kind of meaningful relationship (and I’m not talking a house, car and two kids – I’m talking however long you need them to pay attention to you) , that eases some of the pressure.

The way you get someone to interact with something is to tempt them into it by connecting with them emotionally. You make something fun, funny, shocking or cute, and often people won’t be able to resist interacting. Humans can be horrible, but we can actually be pretty nice too, and we like to feel connected – which is why these creative kinds of marketing – work so well.

So, if you give your prospects a toy, something edible, a photo opportunity, something that they want to fill out, or colour in, or draw on, or anything else you can think of, you’ve captured their imagination. And if your marketing message is strong enough – that’s a matter of offering and content combined – you should be well on your way to winning new business.

Air Guitar Championship

Air Guitar Championship (Photo credit: AxsDeny)

One of my favourite examples of this was by Rock Radio, who put an empty guitar stand out on the street, along with a big sign offering people a free air guitar. There aren’t many people who can resist a freebie – even an imaginary one! – and there are loads of folk who would leap at the chance to do something a bit silly and get playing a free air guitar – either for their friends, for YouTube, for Instagram, whatever. It’s a brilliant idea. It’s fun and nice without being rude or crude.

One of the real benefits of this kind of marketing now is that people will share things that they find unique, clever, funny or interesting across social media platforms, even if they weren’t the person in direct contact with the marketing material itself. If you can come up with something arresting enough, you could find yourself reaching more prospects than you’d originally planned!

The third point to bear in mind is that your marketing should be relatable. Whether you tap into something like observational humour (for example, the funny little things we all seem to do) or nostalgia to grab people’s attention, or you use clever analogies and metaphors to make something more specific relatable, it’s important that your prospects feel that your material is aimed at them. While it’s not good to have people feel like you’re targeting them purely as a sales exercise (which, usually, you are – you’re looking for clients, not friends, right?), it’s good for them to feel that your material is speaking to them, that you understand them and that you can therefore meet whatever needs they have.

Another way to be a bit more creative about your marketing is to avoid the same old flyers, posters, advertorials etc. and produce something that’s of real value to your prospects. This could be something content marketing-related, such as a blog post, an eBook, or a YouTube tutorial on how to, say, get the most out of press releases.

English: A Swedish box of chocolates called &q...

English: A Swedish box of chocolates called “Aladdin” (top layer, identical to the bottom layer). Svenska: Den svenska chokladasken “Aladdin” (övre lagret, identiskt med undre lagret). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Or, it could be a freebie – you can get branded-up products from some business suppliers; choose something good quality and useful to send to your prospects (this could be something typical like a mug, a pen, a calendar etc. or it could be something more unusual – I remember when I was working as a secretary, a company was really cheeky and sent us in a tiny little box of chocolates. We were thrilled – way better than the usual invoices. But when we opened the box, it was empty apart from a note saying, “If you’d taken our call last month and arranged a meeting with us, we’d have sent you chocolates.” To soften the blow, they did send us chocolates the next week – it caught our attention and we did have a meeting with them. It’s stuck in my head so it obviously worked!

If you send your prospect something physical, you’ll capture their attention (plus, as a bonus, there’ll be a reminder of you, your services and your contact details floating around their premises if they decide to keep whatever you’ve sent them). If your prospects feel that they’re getting something of good quality for nothing, they’re more likely to be receptive to a pitch from you. They will already be in a position where they’ve benefitted from interacting with you, even just via your marketing material or content, which gives you a talking point to open up discussions with and an opportunity to discuss with them how you could be even more useful (ie. if they hire you!).

Another way to approach this particular technique is to deliver the value in person so you can get straight into your pitch to your targets. Giving a talk at a networking events, offering free tutorials on social media to local business groups, hosting a Google Hang-out – these are all ways to offer something of value to people. Send out your invites and prepare your pitch – you’ve already got a foot in the door.

So there we are: a few pointers when it comes to thinking up creative marketing techniques. While it can be a bit of a brain-fry trying to come up with something unique that will capture the imaginations of your targets, keep aligned with your branding, help you meet your objectives, one good thing about creative marketing is that anyone can do it, regardless of how tight your budget is. Social media, in particular, makes this kind of marketing so much easier.

Make your ideas unique; make them apply to the target audience, make sure they’re in-keeping with your brand, give them value of some kind (whether they’re informative or entertaining) and make them easy to share – whether it’s because they’re so imaginative and attention grabbing that people want to or because they’re easily passed on via social media or other channels. Give your prospects every reason to get in touch.

The various ideas themselves are infinite, so I’m not going to go into them here. What I will do, however, is post a list of different kinds of marketing activities on my website, which you can find the link to on our podcast page at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com. I’ve split marketing activities into various categories, such as marketing materials, email marketing, relationship building, so you can come and grab that list and start popping ideas into each different section. It’s just a way of helping you to organise your potential marketing plans and deciding which one’s right for your objectives and your target audience.

So, I hope that’s been a helpful introduction to making sure you come up with the right kind of creative marketing ideas. Freelancers depend on being to attract new business, but we also need to attract the right kind of business – and without spending a fortune. Use the list on my website to devise the kind of creative marketing strategy that will work for your business, your objectives and your target audience. Step outside of the ordinary with your marketing, and you’re more likely to stand out from the crowd when prospects are looking to hire.

Recommendation

My recommendation this week comes on the back of Pip and I being in the middle of a two-part series about economising. Episode 48, if you haven’t already listened to it, was all about how not to waste money, and how to make savings, and we’ll be finishing off on that topic next week for episode 50.

But, while I was floating around on social media this week, I spotted something that fits in quite nicely with a point that Pip made as we were recording the episode last week – and that it’s good to know about finances, even if – like me – you’re not naturally a particularly number/tax/finance savvy person. The better you understand figures – and all things finance-y, the better you can look after those pennies. And even if you get an accountant on to help you, say, do your monthly accounts and tax returns, it’s important for you to be able to 1) understand what they tell you and 2) know what that means for your bank balance and your business.

For that reason, my recommendation this week is something I spotted on a website called FreelanceAdvisor.co.uk. Now, it’s a UK-centric site so the advice might not be completely right for other listeners, but they’ve published a glossary of accountancy terms. It’s a brilliant A to Z of all those words and phrases your tax advisor or accountant might trot out while you nod and smile and try to work out what they’re talking about, and it’s broken down into easy-to-understand language for easy reference. As well as the more complicated stuff, there are some quite basic terms on there – well, I say basic; they are if you know them! – and some specific kinds of financial and tax legislation that you may need to know about.

Bookmark the page, copy and paste the information into a Word document and save it in your admin folder – whatever, just make sure you keep this list handy and look over it when you get five minutes. Just as marketing is part of freelance writing, so is managing your money – you’re running your own business and it’s unfortunately not something you can avoid. So yes, get your nose out of whatever book it’s in, sit down and have a thorough look at all these terms. Once you know them, life will be a lot easier to manage, and who doesn’t want that?

So, that brings us neatly to the end of episode 49 of the A Little Bird Told Me freelance writing podcast. Fabulous podcast. As ever, I really hope you’ve enjoyed this episode – come and give us some feedback at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com – try and be kind! You can find all the links to our social media feeds there so if you want to tweet us, tweet us; if you prefer to Facebook us, Facebook us! However you get in touch, don’t forget to subscribe while you’re there – you’ll get every new episode delivered straight to your inbox, which will make tuning in easier than ever.

Pip and I will be back next week, thank the Lord, with the second in our series on how to stop your small business wasting money. In the meantime, I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn, and thank you so much for listening!

Podcast Episode 36: Visual clues to professionalism

 

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

 

 

 

 

Show Notes

 

How to name your business: Facebook discussion

 

The top 50 most embarrassing domain names ever purchased

 

Clients from Hell

 

The Essentials of Reuters sourcing

 

Coursera

 

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Transcript

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

I’m Lorrie Hartshorn.

 

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

 

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

 

Spelling Challenges and More!

Spelling Challenges and More! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

LH: I was going to say, keep counting!

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

A half-drunk glass of beer

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

PW: And it’s an important difference!

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

LH: God, yes!

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

PW: A few misquotes…

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn…

 

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

 

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

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

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

Show Notes

Buffer App

Condescending Corporate Brand Page

Writing a Better Elevator Pitch

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

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Podcast Episode 30: It’s not about you – the art and the science of commercial copywriting

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

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Commercial copywriting is not what most people picture when they think about freelance writing. It is so different to typical fiction or non-fiction writing, and in this episode, Lorrie and I talk about why this is, what PPC ads can teach us about why good copy might not be that good, and what the deal is with features versus benefits.

Show Notes

Calmingmanatee.com

Entrepreneur.com: Marketing Features Vs. Benefits

Google Adwords keyword tool

10 Amazing Free Online Writing Courses

Episode 23: How to Decide What to Charge for your Freelance Writing Services

Episode 24: The Art of Getting Paid

Episode 25: Why and How to Charge More For Your Freelance Writing

Calculate Your Hourly Rate With This Freelance Billable Rate Calculator

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

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Transcript

LH: Hello, and welcome to Episode 30 of A Little Bird Told Me.  I can’t believe we’ve got there but it’s Episode 30, yeah!

PW: Yeah!

LH: So this is Episode 30, 3-0, of the podcast about the highs, the lows and the no-nos of successful freelance writing.

PW: Episode 30 did you say?

LH: I did say Episode 30.

[Cheering]

*Copywriting

*Copywriting (Photo credit: Bazstyle | Photography)

LH: Yay!  So if you’d like to listen all the way to Episode 40, and hopefully 50 and beyond, you can find us on the web at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, and there you can subscribe to the podcast in any number of ways, including RSS feed, iTunes, Stitcher Smart Radio or just on the Podomatic page itself.  You can also find the link to our Facebook page, where there are plenty of tips, tricks and topics to enjoy and you can also find links to our websites and social media feeds.  So you can come and have a chat with us about any of the topics we cover in this podcast, and any we haven’t covered for that matter.

I’m Lorrie Hartshorn.

PW: And I’m Philippa Willitts and today we are talking about copywriting.  Both Lorrie and I we do different styles of writing in different parts of our work and one of those that we both do is commercial copywriting.

In A Little Bird Told Me we do look at different aspects of copywriting regularly but what we’ve talking about today is quite specifically about the art and the science of copywriting because the thing is it’s quite a unique skill and it involves the techniques that don’t tend to be found very often in fiction or non-fiction writing.

LH: Yeah, I think it’s definitely true that copywriting’s a very distinct skill and it’s very different from what people think of when they think of writing.  You know I’ve chatted to people and they say, “So what do you do?” and you go, “Right, well I’m a writer” and they go, “Okay, what do you write?”  You know they’re automatically thinking like novels.

PW: Yeah.

LH: I say, “Well I’m a copywriter” and they’re like, “Right” and you start to see their eyes sort of glazing over a little bit.  It’s kind of like, you know, there’s not really much of an awareness of really the bare bones of copywriting as opposed to just writing.

PW: Yeah, even in business context at networking meetings if I introduce myself as a copywriter some people just even know what it means.

LH: Mmm, yeah, they mistake it for copyright as in intellectual property.

PW: Yeah.

LH: You know so while copywriting is still very creative you’re actually dealing with like a whole framework, depending on the kind of document or text that you’re trying to produce, and there are rules that you have to learn and conventions that you need to respect and all kinds of things that you have to take into account, such as SEO, formatting, you know if you’re writing on a website that’ll be different for if you’re writing on social media or in a print document or on something else.  Copywriting is as much, for me at least, about skill as it is about talent and skills have to be learnt properly and thoroughly for the results to be any good.

PW: Yeah, in many forms of writing that you might do you’re trying to express yourself in a way that’s pleasing to read, you might want to show off a bit with a bit of flowery language or astound people with your incredible progressions of logic, and that is great; however, not when you’re copywriting.

Copywriting isn’t about what you can do.  It isn’t about you at all.  It’s about your client and I’d say more importantly about your client’s client or their customers or prospects.

LH: No, absolutely, I think you’re completely right.  I think copywriting is, to a certain extent, it’s much more utilitarian than just other forms of writing.  You know you’re writing for a reason, it’s not just for the pleasure of writing but the pleasure that your readers are going to get.  You know your client needs their clients to get something from what they’re reading, whether it’s a general feeling of benevolence towards the company, they need to be informed about some sort of progress that the company’s making, they need to be persuaded to buy a service or a product.  You know there has to be a purpose behind it.

While we’re actually on the topic one more thing that I do want to mention is I think it’s a not so well known fact about copywriting and that’s it’s different from content writing.

PW: Yeah, it’s kind of like there’s a Venn diagram, isn’t there, and there’s a crossover but that doesn’t mean that they’re the same thing.

LH: Yes.  I always struggle with Venn diagrams, especially the ones that have got three circles.  I always sort of try and work them out.  I sit there going, “Right, that and that and then that and that.  Oh, it does work.  That and that.”  Every time I found myself astounded, I’m not quite sure why.  Bar graphs and pie charts don’t quite have the same effect.  It’s quite overwhelming, but yes, copywriting, content writing; I don’t want people going away from this podcast thinking, “Oh, well I don’t do copywriting, I do content writing so, you know, these tips don’t apply to me.”  The term ‘copywriting’ is often used as a coverall term for content production and to a certain extent that’s fine and that’s really, I think, how we’re going to be using it in this.

PW: Yeah.  There are also people who believe very strongly that copywriting should only be used to describe sales copywriting but, again, that’s not what we’re talking about today; we’re not talking just about sales writing but as kind of commercial writing in a wider context.

LH: Yeah.  I think because the word ‘copywriting’ came from the advertising industry, didn’t it?

PW: Yes, yeah, ad copy.

LH: Yeah.  So I think that’s why people go along with that.  So yes, definition pure of ‘copywriting’ is producing text that is trying to persuade your readers to get on board with a certain point of view or to persuade them to buy or desire a certain product or service but for the purposes of this podcast whichever type of writing you do, either content or copywriting, and it’s likely to be both unless you’re writing purely sales and ad copy, most of the points, if not all of them, are going to apply to you because at the end of the day you’re writing on behalf of your client and that’s what we’re trying to tackle in this episode.

PW: Yeah.  So yes, so that’s the definition of copywriting we’re working with today and as we mentioned above one of the key things about copywriting is that you have to put your own preferences aside.  You may end up writing something that you don’t love from an artistic point of view but that’s not the point of copywriting.

LH: Yeah, 100%.  You know as Pip’s just mentioned writing on behalf of somebody else means that the first thing you have to do, as long as you’re happy to take on the brief, is to put your own feelings about a certain subject or product or service or company on one side and decide what you’re actually trying to achieve with the content that you’re creating.

PW: Yeah.

LH: A point that follows on from this is that you need to put your personal writing style on one side.  Now speaking from experience I write for clients in the waste management and compliance sector.

PW: She does.

LH: I do, lucky me.

[Laughter]

LH: I also write for clients in the fashion, style and beauty sector and everyone will be going, “Mmm, that sounds nice” but for me it’s just as terrifying.  You know I’m not… in fact it’s more terrifying actually because I’m at home with the conventions in sort of environmental services.

PW: Yeah, yeah.

LH: Whereas fashion, it’s slightly more subjective.

PW: But I have to say, listener, Lorrie always dresses beautifully and she is very stylish but she’s not a big like talking all the time about style and always wearing labels and all that stuff.

LH: I never wear labels.

PW: Yeah, exactly, and so it’s not that Lorrie doesn’t have a sense of style because she very much does but, again, that’s not the point of the writing she’d be doing in that sector.

LH: Aww, I love that you just leapt to my defence and told everyone how stylish I am.

PW: You are; you always look gorgeous.

LH: Aww, aww listeners! Get a load.

[Laughter]

LH: Aww.  Well I feel completely off topic now.

PW: Just bask for a moment.

LH: I’ll just bask in the glory.

[Laughter]

LH: So my point was going to be…

PW: Yes, sorry [laughs].

LH: …about my clothing and style, is that, listeners, do you think I write for these clients in the same way?  Absolutely not, 100% not, and do you think that either of the writing styles, or any of the writing styles, that I create for my clients are actually ‘me’ and, again, no chance.  I’ve no outside interest in waste management or scrap metal recycling or micro polymer processes.  I don’t sit down and read you know reports unless I need to for work, you know it’s not bedtime reading for me, and nor do I have anything more than an extremely fleeting interest in high fashion.  What I do have an interest in is writing and in creating and maintaining an authentic voice for every single one of my clients and there has to be a voice that reflects their mission, their values, their personality, in the case of individuals or prominent individuals in a company, or their brand, in the case of a company as whole, and it needs to be a voice that appeals to the target audience and gives that audience what it needs in order to have faith in the client.

PW: Yeah.

LH: So a fun and frolicky tone with lots of exclamation marks won’t work for metal recycling experts but it does the trick for beauty bloggers in the 18 to 25 age range.

PW: Yeah.

LH: You know likewise fashion fans don’t tend to want heavy stats and information on sort of legislative processes.  So it’s just horses for courses really.

PW: That is a really good point.  Often in social media writing I use statistics, especially early on.  If you’re trying to be persuasive about a particular service, for instance, then it can be really useful to say however many million people use that service because that may make businesses go, “Oh, I should be on there” but, again, when I’m writing about garden furniture then the number of people who have a bench in their garden is entirely irrelevant.

LH: [Laughs] “One million British people have benches.”

PW: “Why don’t you?”

[Laughter]

LH: You’re missing out.

PW: So yeah, but as well as writing in different styles and tones for different sectors you are also writing for different readers too; so you can’t write the same way in a light hearted, informal blog post as you do in a detail rich industry specific press release, even if they are for the same client.  I mean it just highlights why the skills involved in copywriting are different to writing, I don’t know, your own blog for instance because if you’re feeling light and cheerful you can write a light and cheerful blog post, but if you’re feeling light and cheerful and your client today is a funeral director you need to put your good mood aside and get serious.

LH: [Laughs] yeah, I think that’s a good point, I definitely think that’s a good point, especially the point that you made about, you know, even if you’re writing for the same client the purpose of the text, you know if you’re talking about a blog post versus a press release; you know I have one client and their blog posts, by their choice, are kind of tabloid.

PW: Yes.

LH: They’re kind of like matey language, you know lots of exclamation marks and I know some copywriters and content writers think that’s like a hanging offence but I don’t.  You know if my client wants a cheeky chappy style voice for their blog posts and their news articles then that’s exactly what I’ll give to them because I’ve had a look at their target market, I’ve had a look at their target audience and I think it’s the sort of thing they’d be receptive to.

PW: I think this highlights actually why research is so important in copywriting.  You have to really know your clients and you have to really know their target market.  You can’t just learn about the topic you’re writing about because like Lorrie says if they’ve got an 18 to 25 market you do tackle that differently to if they’ve got a 55 to 70 market and you have to have your head round that before you can even start really.

LH: Definitely because at the end of the day you’re not you, you’re your client.  You’re not going to stick your own name at the bottom of a piece of writing; you are your client’s official voice, especially in something like a press release.

PW: Yes.

LH: To go back to what Pip was just saying, you know you need to keep it authentic but serious.  You know you can’t… I don’t keep the same cheeky chappy tone in a press release for my clients but then again if I’m writing a press release for my cheeky chappy client and I know it’s only going to be a regional subject I might keep it a little bit more informal because I know the regional newspapers.

PW: Yeah and also like if you’ve got a company who, say, sells a product and they sell it direct to clients but they also sell it wholesale to businesses then the writing you would do for them to appeal to customers who buy direct from them is very different from the writing you’d do to appeal to customers who sell their product in their stores.

LH: Yeah, B2B versus B2C.

PW: Exactly, and so in every way there can be so much variety whether you’re working for 10 different clients or one client but with different purposes.

LH: That’s a really, really good point you know, and I did like the point you made as well about sort of the mood that you’re in.

PW: Yeah.

LH: Because again, you know, I started out as a translator and there’s this concept called ‘the invisibility of the translator’ and some people are pro it and some people are anti and I’m pro.  You know I think that a translator should be invisible and that’s the mark of a good translation, but I also think it can be applied to copywriting.

PW: Yes.

LH: I think you do need to be invisible.  Your client needs to shine through rather than yourself and the same goes for the mood that you’re in on that day.  You can be having the best or the worst day of your life; you have to keep it out of your writing for clients.

PW: Yeah.

LH: You do.  Sometimes I even end up laughing to myself, because I’m like that, just when I think about how little clue my clients have got, and indeed should have, about what’s going on with me on that particular day.  You know it can be my birthday, I might have the giggles, I might have just had a laugh and a joke with Pip, or I might be full of feminist rage, you know maybe there’s a law that’s been passed I’m not happy with and I’m feeling a bit of an activist, whatever, I keep it to myself.

{{Copywriting}}

{{Copywriting}} (Photo credit: faithfulllyyy)

PW: So yeah, even in your dealings with clients you might be having the most frantic week you’ve ever had but when you get an email from a client and you reply you can’t go, “Oh my God, I don’t have time” or, “Stop sending things my way for God sake, give me a break” or you can’t even say, “I’m in a really big rush but this looks okay.”  You have to reply just as if it was any other day and you have to keep it under control, but yeah, like Lorrie was saying, in the copywriting itself you might be feeling rotten, you might be full of a cold, your girlfriend’s just dumped you, the roof’s leaking…

LH: Aww.

PW: I know, but if you’re writing a blog post for a comedy promoter you know it has to be upbeat and happy.

LH: Aww, you made me really sad now just thinking about that poor hypothetical copywriter.

PW: Aww [laughs].

LH: Listeners, if you’re having a horrible week come and talk to us.

PW: Yeah, it’ll be okay.

LH: It will, it’ll be fine.  Do you know actually I was having a really stressful week a couple of weeks back and I was on my personal Twitter account, which isn’t linked to my work at all.  So I was having a bit of a rant saying how stressed I was and somebody sent me calmingmanatee.com and it’s so lovely.  You click on it and there’s a picture of a lovely looking manatee and it says, “Don’t worry sweetie, I’ll put the kettle on” and there are loads to choose from and I actually felt really calm, it was so lovely.

PW: We will add that link to the show notes if you’re having one of those days…

LH: We will.

PW: …where only a calming manatee will do the trick.

LH: Yeah, they’re lovely.  I love them.  So even if you’re having the worst day in the world, even if your life is horrible and you can be typing through the tears sadly if it takes a calming manatee to get through it that’s what you’ve got to do.  If you’ve got to go and chat to somebody by email… you know Pip and I mouth off to one another by email all the time, like, “Why has this happened?  What’s with this timing?  You know I haven’t heard from this client for a week and now they’re emailing me at 7 am on a Saturday with a load of work and I’ve just not got time and what am I going to do?” and it all works out in the end but it’s good to be able to let off steam.

PW: Yeah.  Another thing that’s important to remember about copywriting is that sometimes what’s effective in copywriting is not the most beautiful wording or the prettiest words.

LH: Yes, oh gosh yes.  I’ve got a client, lovely client, long term client, but their name sounds like a plural.

PW: Oh yeah.

LH: You know who I’m talking about, don’t you?

PW: Yes.

LH: Aha.  Well this nameless name ends in an s and we’ve had so many battles, this client and I, about apostrophes and pronouns, you know, and I would say we’ve had these battles in the past but it’s been quite recent as well.

PW: [Laughs].  So past is yesterday.

LH: That’s true you know, and one minute the client… well I say one minute, for a while the client will be happy with one thing but then somebody in-house will spot an apostrophe that looks weird and it’s completely grammatically correct but you know they say, “Well it looks weird” and my clients are in their sector and I’m not, so at a certain point I have to kind of really take on board what they say.  So it’s got to the point now where I’ve had to accept that my client prefers, and this is significantly prefers, a grammatically incorrect approach.

PW: Ooo, that must be painful.

LH: It really hurts, it really does.  I have to chop the possessive s off funny name and I have to refer to the company as ‘they’ instead of ‘it’, even though it’s a single company.  So you know it’s one single noun and it drives me to distraction but…

PW: I can imagine.

LH: …if it works for the client, this is it, if it works for my client and there’s no negative effects on the audience, like I said earlier you have to do your research, then I have to put my feelings to one side because there’s no point being precious about it, even though I shudder at using that kind of grammar in my own writing, my writing, writing that’s attributed to me because it’s not my writing, it’s not my voice.

PW: Yeah, yeah.  I’ve even read certain copywriters who specialise in the big dramatic sales, you know the long form sales letters that go on and on, I’ve even read some of them saying that they don’t care about their grammar and spelling even because buyers feel reassured by things, spelling mistakes.  Now I would never go that far just because it would keep me awake at night…

[Laughter]

PW: …knowing that I’d left typos in and I don’t think that works for every audience but it kind of reminds me a bit about the… about kind of George Bush and his inability sometimes to form sentences was some people very much criticised him for it but others kind of found it reassuring and humanising.  I would be on the very much criticising side of things but yeah, I wouldn’t go that far but it does go to show that it’s never as simple as getting it correct necessarily and sometimes if you’re writing something salesy you might find yourself cringing at using certain clichés or dramatic wording but sometimes it’s exactly what’s called for.  It’s not something you’d submit as part of a Creative Writing MA but it’s doing the job it’s supposed to do.

LH: Yeah, I had to use the phrase, and this is a true story, I had to use the phrase, ‘cast iron, rock solid 60 day bullet proof guarantee’ the other day.

PW: Oh dear.

LH: I actually had to write that and I had to write it seriously, ‘bullet proof, rock solid’ and I’ve used ‘solid gold’ before as well.  I feel like it’s a confessional but you’ve got a new Pope, it’s time to confess.

PW: [Laughs].

LH: Yeah.  No, I had to ‘cast iron, rock solid, 60 day bullet proof guarantee’ and it works, it’s horrible.

PW: Yeah, that’s the thing.  We kind of wish that writing beautiful prose would work but it doesn’t necessarily.

LH: Well no.  You know some of the sales copy that I’ve done, in fact most of it, the target market is sort of men from 30 to 55 say, and they tend to be quite high earners, so doctors, lawyers, architects, you know all that kind of thing but research into direct sales copy shows that this kind of hyped up ridiculous copy really works and less subtle approaches, and we have tried them, they really, really, really don’t work but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt the copywriter.

PW: Yeah.

LH: No, but it’s an interesting point because when I was recruiting recently, as I mentioned in a previous episode, I had people getting in touch saying, “Oh but I have a really good level of language and grammar” and you know yes, good for you, great and you know it’s the basic starting point for a career in writing, any kind of writing, but it’s not enough, you know it’s really, really not enough, and sometimes it can be a bit of a distraction because, as you’ve just said Pip, you know you can’t sleep at night if there’s a typo.  You know I do the same thing, I’ll send something off that I’ve read and read and read and proofread and proofread and proofread and the minute I click send I’m like “Oooh, but what if there was a typo?” you know.  So it can be a bit of a distraction and it can stop you looking at other things in the text.

PW: I think, especially if you’re going to do… end up with a piece of writing that’s not necessarily 100% grammatically correct, like Lorrie was saying with her client with the apostrophe and plural situation, I think it’s one of those situations where you need to know how to do it right in order to then be able to do it wrong, if you know what I mean?

LH: Yeah, you need to be able to decide how much you can deviate from grammatical norms for example.

PW: Yeah, like you have to know the rules in order to break them I would say.

LH: No, I think that’s a really good piece of advice, yeah.

PW: So it is important to know this stuff but when you’re doing commercial copywriting it’s also important that you can sometimes put it aside.

LH: Yeah and know when to put it aside based on research and reading; you know don’t just get bored of correct grammar and then chuck it out of the window.

PW: [Laughs] I’m bored of commas.

LH: I don’t understand.  Do you know honestly, I’ve had clients say to me before, “That comma looks funny.”

PW: Yeah.

LH: And it’s like, “No, it’s fine”, “Could you just check it?”  I was like, “No, I checked it when I wrote it.  It’s fine.”  I’m a bit precious about my commas, I do.  Well I studied German so you know how accurate…

PW: I do, yes.

LH: …commas, otherwise nothing makes sense, and the same in English actually; I don’t understand where this idea’s come from that commas are optional because sometimes I really, really struggle to get the meaning from a sentence and I’ll realise that actually it’s because like a subordinate clause hasn’t been comma’d off.

PW: Yes.

LH: Oh it does hurt but that…

PW: Yeah, I was editing a CV yesterday that was very, very technical and had very few commas in it and they were just using incredibly long sentences with lists of… it just appeared like long lists of buzz words on every line and because there were no commas, or very few commas, I was having… it was almost like a foreign language in that I was desperately trying to work out where the different clauses were.

LH: Yeah, you try to find parts of sentences, don’t you?

PW: That’s it because if it wasn’t buzz words it was technical language and it took some work I have to say.

LH: No, I imagine it would.  You know, but sort of to get back on track a little bit I suppose you know you need to be able to decide when and how to break the rules, as Pip’s just said.  You know you need to be aware of when you’re publishing and where you’re publishing.  You know, say, if you’re publishing content that’s going to be read online you can have sentences that are reasonably long but only very occasionally, you know you need to keep your sentences quite short.  If you’re writing for video scripts you need to keep your sentences really, really, really short, like artificially short.

PW: Yeah.

LH: You know you wouldn’t… you don’t write rhetoric in the same way that you would speak, for example.  You know rhetoric is not the same as dialogue for example.  So if you’ve had experience writing fiction with characters speaking in it don’t assume that you could write video scripts because, again, there are different conventions and you need to know those.  Whereas if you’re writing a printed report or an academic report you can have a sentence that’ll run off, you know run away for a whole paragraph and it’s not a problem.

PW: Yeah, I’ve been writing a lot recently about PPC, which is pay per click advertising, which any internet user is familiar with.  It’s the kind that you see on the right hand side of your Google search results or your Facebook page.  Now to do well PPC ads need to be split tested, almost ad infinitum really, where one example is tested against another to see which is the most effective and they do that to get the exact rewrite combination of headline, image and text and so they test two options, see which gets the better results and then test that one against another, and again and again and again, and people who really know what they’re doing with regards to managing PPC ads can find that a difference of one word can change conversion rates massively.

Now PPC is kind of an extreme case but what it is is a really good example of where science actually overtakes art in copywriting because it doesn’t matter if the final PPC ad sounds clunky or if it repeats a word, or if it’s a bit of a mouthful, because if it’s proven itself to get more conversions than all the other wordings then that’s the one to go with.  It’s kind of copywriting in a quite extreme nutshell really.

LH: My husband does loads and loads and loads of PPC stuff.  He’s a marketer rather than a copywriter and it’s something we butt heads over, sort of good naturedly really, because I know, I know, of course I do, that the science has to overtake the art but when he’s showing me something that’s converting really well I’ll look it, I’ll go, “Well the grammar’s wrong” [laughs].

PW: I know, I know.  You just see ads all the time.

LH: Oh I totally do.

PW: Yeah, at the top of my Gmail and it’s just, “Oh why did you word it like that?” and it may be, we don’t know from the outside, it may be that they’re rubbish at PPC or it may be that they’ve done 24 versions of multivariate testing and that one is converting massively.

LH: Yeah.  My husband loves split testing.  I don’t understand at all.  He’s way more analytical than I am but he loves split testing, absolutely loves AB testing.

PW: I see that it is vitally important, especially for anything salesy, but I do think you need a certain type of brain that I don’t have.

LH: That’s it.

PW: So I’m glad there are other people who are very good at it and very passionate about it because I do appreciate that it’s really important but I’m also glad that it’s not me that’s looking at graph after graph after graph.

LH: No he really loves it.

PW: Yeah, to see where the ‘grab it now’ or ‘get it now’ works better.

LH: Yeah, I mean he finds it really exciting because obviously once you get a spike in a graph and you see that one particular colour, you know background colour, you know sticking a coloured filter on a photo, as you’ve just said, you know changing ‘grab to get’ and changing it back again, you know trying it out with all different colours and different pictures and you know he loves it, really finds it exciting but, you know, like you say, rather him than me.  I’ll stick with my decent writing thank you.

PW: Something else to bear in mind is that some clients, especially if they’ve got a dedicated communications or marketing department, will have style guides that they send to any copywriters they work with and these can contain guidelines that hurts your grammatically correct heart.

I had one recently that said very clearly that there should be no more than one sentence per paragraph.

LH: No.

PW: I know.

LH: No.  Hang on, hang on, no, no, no, hang on, one sentence per paragraph?

PW: Yes, one sentence per paragraph because their reasoning was that people have no attention span these days.

LH: Well in like long copy sales letters or online yes, yeah one sentence per paragraph, two absolute max.

PW: Yeah but this was blog posts, you know, but you know if that’s what they’re paying you to do it’s pretty much what you do.  If it’s something that is really blatantly wrong you might want to carefully point it out to them but often that’s not your place and you do your best with what they give you.

LH: Yeah, I suppose it’s a good point really because it might rankle but you know, and it is worth pointing out to clients if there’s a specific problem with something that they’ve included in their style guide, and whether that’s an actual style guide or just a set of guidelines or preferences that they’ve got, if you can see something that’s going to have like an actively detrimental effect on their marketing, like it’s going to make them look daft, then I suppose it’s best to gather data to back up your claim and then put it to them in a polite and confident way and just let them do what they’re going to do with it, but it’s also good, I think, to note it down somewhere and to know what you’re talking about and then to bear it in mind in future because if you’ve flagged it up once it may be that that’s because it’s going to cause issues in the future.

PW: That’s very true, that’s very true, yeah.  Now as well as putting yourself aside, which we’ve been talking about when you’re copywriting, sometimes you have to persuade your client to put themselves aside a little.  It is often difficult for clients to distance themselves from their own products or services in a way that means they’re able to promote them effectively and that’s easy to understand.  You know they’re very entrenched in their own day to day work and because of that they sometimes lose sight of what will really appeal to their prospects.

LH: Mmm, and I think there’s a certain amount of possessiveness sometimes.

PW: Yes, yes.

LH: You know and it’s understandable, even when a client has brought you on board though because they’re not getting the results they want; so, say, you know an open rate on an email marketing campaign or a conversion rate on a sales page or a really good level of content in a promotional brochure.  It seems like it can be really difficult for them to accept that their personal opinion, particularly if they’re the brains behind the operation, isn’t necessarily what’s going to work or what’s important.

PW: Exactly and we do appreciate that for a lot of people their business is their baby you know and they can find it hard to feel like they’re letting go or losing control of it, but sometimes it’s gentle reminder that that’s exactly why they’ve called in a copywriter is what you need to do and it is our job sometimes to be a bit patient and ease them into it, as long as that doesn’t get ridiculous.

LH: Yeah, it can be really counterintuitive, especially if you’re suggesting something that they wouldn’t have gone with.

PW: Yeah.

LH: But like you say, if a client sort of says, “Ooh, but I wouldn’t have written it like that” it’s like, “Well no, precisely.”

PW: Yes.

LH: You know you mince your words a little bit better than that.

PW: [Laughs] yeah.

LH: Well exactly.  You know but that is the point.  You know if they’ve tried writing for themselves or they’ve tried having somebody in-house do the writing and it’s just not working for them then yeah, it’s counterintuitive but they do need to bear in mind, and as Pip’s just said, you do need to help them bear in mind sometimes that that’s the whole point of you being there.

PW: Yeah.

LH: And I think it’s a little bit like author intent to a certain extent.  Once a product or a service or a company is out there, you know sort of on the public market, the originator, so the brains behind the operation, the owner, the creator, whatever, they no longer control the way that the public views, reacts to or engages with the product or the service and it doesn’t matter what the original idea was to a certain extent because the reality might have changed, depending on any number of things, you know changing target market, new products and services developed by a competitor, or customers just finding new uses for a product that the business owner might never really have thought about.

PW: Yeah.  I mean if somebody’s invented something that’s quite clever but then people buy it and find another use for it that’s even cleverer then that may well be the angle to go for but if the creator is very, “Like no, I invented it for Purpose A” it can be difficult, it can, plus sometimes they can’t see where the absolute goal is in their own product because they have…

LH: Yes.

PW: Yeah, they have no distance or objectivity from it.  I met some guys at a networking event and they had invented this… it was a very cool mobile phone app, I really liked it, and I was chatting to them and they talked me through how it worked and what was, to me, an absolutely clear sales approach was one that hadn’t even occurred to them.  They were solving a particular problem really effectively but they were so caught up in setting up a business and the technical side of the app that they hadn’t spotted this other area of absolute genius in what they were doing and I talked to them about it and they were like, “Wow, you’ve got to write our copy.”  You know that was like, “Great.  You know that’s why I’m here.”

PW: Yeah.  So we’re not all about telling people they’ve picked a crap aspect of a thing to promote.  Sometimes…

LH: No, no of course not.

PW: Yeah, sometimes we’re pointing out that they are geniuses and they haven’t realised it yet.

LH: I often think I’m an undiscovered genius.  I’m just waiting for someone to tell me.

PW: You are most definitely a genius m’dear.

LH: I know but thanks.

[Laughter]

PW: For the record, I bought Lorrie a mug that says, “I’m not perfect but I am so close it scares me.”

LH: It’s true, it’s true.  I’m not sure my husband’s that keen on the mug but I drink from it quite regularly now.  I even wash it specifically so I can drink from it again.

PW: [Laughs].

LH: One thing that Pip and I have discussed recently has been the difference between benefits and features and it’s always worth going into because no matter how many times you go over it there’ll always be a bit of confusion with people.

PW: Yeah.

LH: And I think it’s quite a relevant point when talking about the difference between writing and what we’re terming copywriting here for the purposes of this podcast.

PW: Yeah.

LH: In a piece of marketing or sales copy one of the golden rules is to focus on benefits and not features.  Now I found a really helpful article actually on a site called entrepreneur.com and I dare say it’s not out of the ordinary in its helpfulness because, as we say, benefits versus features is a topic that can run and run and run.

PW: It’s a bit issue and if you could just Google benefits versus features I’m sure there will be tons of resources, if, you know, you listen to what we’re about to say and then want to know more.

LH: Aha, yeah.  I mean Google auto filled it for me.

PW: Oh brilliant.

LH: I was half way through Benefits A, typed in features.  So I was like, “Yeah, even Google knows.”  So yeah, the example that I found on a site called entrepreneur, we’ll link to that in the show notes, and it gives you some concrete examples of how to turn descriptions of a product or a service, which are features, into something that entices the reader and helps them see how they would benefit, hence the benefit, from those specific features.

PW: Yeah, your client might be selling a very intricate piece of equipment or some very clever software and they might want you to describe in detail the exact measurements of the engine or the processing capabilities and this is…

LH: Because that’s what they’ve spent years building.

PW: Exactly and that’s their frame of reference, that’s how they understand the product.  However, in the majority of cases that’s not what’s going to appeal to the customer.  The customer doesn’t go, “Oh I must find a 1.3 engine”, what they want to know is how that engine’s going to benefit them or what the software will make easier in their working life.  So the copywriter’s job is to translate these features, technical detail, into information about how it’s going to benefit the customer.  So if something’s got an adjustable height you don’t necessarily need to say, “The height adjusts from 1.2 metres to 2.4 metres”, you could say, “The height adjusts which makes it suitable for people of different shapes and sizes.”  That’s more appealing.

LH: Definitely.  I think the only time… I was just thinking about what you were saying earlier, the only time that you really need to focus on, say, the size of an engine or processing capabilities would be B2B.

PW: Yes.

LH: You know if you were trying to sell computer parts to distributors or like some of my clients are LED lighting companies who then sell on to electricians and lighting specialists, you know they’re more of a supplier than a B2C.

PW: Yeah, that’s very true.

LH: Then yes okay, you know in their brochure they need the specific features but still, in all their forward facing copy, they need to talk about the benefits and still, to their B2B clients, they do need to focus, as well as the features, on the benefits.

PW: Because I’m quite techy if I was buying a new laptop, for instance, I want to read a bit of prose about the benefits to me but I also want to be able to scroll down the page and see a list of numbers.

LH: Yes.

PW: And so one doesn’t have to exclude the other and, like Lorrie said, the audience is important.  If you’re selling software to resellers who can then, you know, brand it themselves and sell it on to their clients they need to know those numbers but it doesn’t mean you can put those exclusively necessarily because yeah, even B2B clients want a bit of context I think quite often.  That gives them a sense of the company and I think it’s important, yeah.

LH: Yeah.  Going back to what we said earlier about sometimes the clients need to put themselves on one side, you know to take it full circle sometimes B2B clients are resistant to writing about benefits as opposed to features.  It can be like, “Well we don’t need that.  That’s not what I want to read” but to a lesser extent you do still need benefits for B2B writing.  You know trust us, we both do write in the B2B sector.

PW: Yes, yes.

LH: And I think it’s good to remember that as a writer, rather than a copywriter, you might be quite a descriptive person.  I am, I like to get quite flowery.

PW: Oh yes.  Whenever I’m reviewing a first draft of anything that I’ve written most of it is cutting stuff out [laughs].

LH: Same really, you know, and you might get caught up, you know when you’re writing about a specific product or service, you might get caught up in helping your reader to really visualise something, like see the product, and you actually end up forgetting that you’re supposed to be effectively selling something but the piece of writing you’re creating is supposed to have a purpose.

PW: Yeah.

LH: And I think benefits versus features, it’s a good reminder that it’s really important to keep your writing aims in mind, particularly as a copywriter, because someone else is relying on you for a certain result.

PW: Yeah it’s really true.  The client will know their product or service better than you.  However, you, when you have experience and maybe a bit of training, know better than them, probably, how to go about describing it and selling it and so it can be difficult to negotiate sometimes because it’s understandable that they can get precious over their stuff.

LH: Of course.

PW: But you don’t want to indulge that to a point where you know you’ve written something that’s not going to be useful to them.

LH: Yeah, definitely.  I mean it can be… what I’ve found with B2B clients, because as you know most of my clients, until recently, have been B2B…

PW: Yep, same here.

LH: …what I find is that when you choose to leave something out they think you’ve forgotten it.

PW: Yes.

LH: You know and it goes back to the benefits and features thing.  You don’t have to say everything but with B2B they can be so excited about a product and all of its functionalities and capabilities that they want you to crowbar them all in to like a press release and talk about the fact that it does this and talk about the fact that you can do that and talk about the fact that it can process x number of y’s in a certain z period and it’s like yeah, to a certain extent but don’t overwhelm people.

PW: And quite often, if you’re going to do a really good job on some sales copy, you need to do a bit of market research and that doesn’t mean sending out women to the city centre to ask people questions.

LH: [Laughs] women with clipboards.

PW: Yeah.

LH: Have you been accosted recently?  I wonder why that’s on your mind.

PW: I am accosted all the time.

LH: Are you?

PW: I think it’s because I walk quite slowly, they just like see me coming and go, “We’ll get her.”

LH: Head her off at the pass!  You see I put my headphones on, stick my head down and stride away.

PW: Headphones are very handy for that but yeah…

LH: You can stop by headphones though.  They’ll just be like, “Hiya.”  It’s like, “No, no sorry.”  I just shake my head and smile, “No.”

PW: But yeah, yeah it doesn’t have to mean that, it can just mean literally going onto web forums and seeing what the concerns are of the target market you’re working towards.

LH: Yeah, market analysis, competitor analysis or having a look at the sector, recent technological developments in there.  It’s really common sense, isn’t it?

PW: Yeah and there are all sorts of ways you can go about it.  There’s a website called Quora, which is just people asking questions and really in-depth answers.  Forums are particularly handy to see how many people are concerned about certain issues.  So say you’re selling power tools, so drills and screwdrivers and those things, and you sell a drill that has a particular purpose that you think’s really exciting, well the client does anyway, and then you go into some DIY forums online and have a look and you see that a good portion of the people who are posting are very concerned about the fact that their drill doesn’t do a particular thing, and you also see that nobody even mentions the first thing that your client thinks is important.  That’s the time to drop really, or at least downplay, the thing that nobody appears to be concerned about and…

LH: Or to apply.

PW: Yes, yeah and to actually make this new product apply to the concerns they genuinely have and appeal to that big market there.

LH: Yeah, definitely because you know if you take it down to the building blocks of, say, online writing that’s going to affect your key words, it’s going to affect what you hyperlink in a text online.

PW: Yeah.

LH: You know say if you’re talking about a certain functionality that nobody’s interested in there’s no point linking from, say, an article in your client’s blog to the product from those particular key words.  You know you need to be linking from something that’s more relevant to their interests, their concerns and, as Pip’s just said, you need to be steering your writing more towards what they’re interested in in general and obviously you might have to go back to your client and have a bit of a tussle with them and sort of say, “No, people aren’t interested in that but here’s the link, here’s a screenshot of people discussing it.  I didn’t see anybody mentioning Functionality A.  They were all talking about this Functionality B that either it has and we haven’t mentioned, or it doesn’t have and we could include in a future product.”

PW: Yeah, exactly, exactly and that goes to show why key word research is also an important part of copywriting.  It’s very similar actually to market research.  There’s a tool offered by Google for free called the Google Adwords Keyword Research Tool, is it called?  Something along those lines.

LH: If you search for Google Keyword Tool you’ll find it.

PW: Yeah and what that does you can search for a word or a phrase and it tells you how many people search for that per month and how much competition there is and it also suggests alternatives.  Now from the information they give you you could easily spend a week analysing it but often for smaller jobs you know you’ve no desire or need to do that but what you can see is that if 350 people a month are searching for one term but 35,000 people a month are searching for another it also gives you an idea of people’s priorities and interests and also the way they’re wording them, which is important for SEO writing.

LH: Definitely.

PW: So hopefully that’s been helpful in terms of giving you an idea of where to start really when copywriting and how to put aside your own style and preferences and also how to tackle trying to persuade your client to put aside theirs if necessary.

LH: Yeah.  I mean often the proof’s in the pudding with the clients.  You know don’t be surprised if they resent you for it at first.

PW: Oh yeah.

LH: You know they can get really, really grumpy and it’s like, “Well you don’t know.  You don’t work in my sector” you know especially in very male dominated sectors.

PW: Yeah.

LH: I get it, you know, “Some young filly’s just come in and she’s telling us what we already… she’s teaching grandma to suck eggs” and I just have to keep schtum until the results come in that were far better than the results they were getting in the first place and then it’s like, “Don’t worry.  Don’t all apologise at once.  It’s fine” you know because it doesn’t matter.  You know people get precious and now, hopefully, Pip and I have given you a bit of a heads up that it’s not personal, it’s just it can be counterintuitive for them to say, “Okay, well I’m the expert in my subject but she’s the expert in writing about my subject.”

PW: Yeah, yeah exactly.

Now it is time for our Little Bird recommendations where we choose a blog post, a phone app, a Tweet, a piece of software or a bit of advice that we would like to recommend to listeners.

So, Lorrie, what is your Little Bird recommendation this week?

LH: My Little Bird recommendation this week is based on something I mentioned in the last episode and that was my solo episode about how to get started as a freelance writer and I talked a lot about how important training is, and it really, really is.  You know I do at least two or three training courses a month.

PW: Yep, the same.

LH: Yeah and if you find yourself with a spare bit of time, I know that Pip’s exactly the same, you know try and get in a little bit of training even if, and it does count, even if it’s just a bit of reading.

PW: Oh absolutely, yeah.

LH: 100% you know, it all helps.

PW: Yeah.  One of my main things that I learn from is I listen to podcasts compulsively [laughs] and I learn so much from them, especially because I do a lot of tech writing I need to be up to date and there are endless numbers of tech podcasts, so it keeps me informed.  So yeah, it doesn’t have to be formal study, although that’s good as well.

LH: Yeah but imagine if you were in a lecture hall listening to somebody rather than listening to a podcast it’s all the same thing.

PW: And these are the experts, you know, like people from Google who really know what they’re talking about.

LH: Yeah and you wouldn’t be able to secure an audience for those sorts of…

PW: Never, no.

LH: You’d never ever get near them.  So a podcast, yeah, is a brilliant way.

PW: Especially a very good freelance writing one.

LH: Yes that’s pretty stunning.  If I was going to choose any I’d probably go with the A Little Bird Told Me.

PW: I think so.

LH: Freelance Writing podcast.

PW: Yeah.

LH: No bias.

PW: [Laughs].

LH: So yeah, I was having a nosy around on the net and as I mentioned in the last episode I tend to spend a lot of time on OpenLearn, which is the Open University’s free training section, and alison.com, which is mmm, it can be hit and miss but it’s all free training courses and they’re quite interactive, they’re usually quite pointy clicky.  So you know it’s a good place to be going around and I was looking to broaden my horizons a little bit and I spotted what’s quite an old, it’s about three years old, two and half, three years old now, it’s quite an old article but it’s still quite useful and it’s on something called freelancefolder.com, and it’s, ‘10 amazing free online writing courses’ it’s called, and I expected this article to be stuff like you know how to write a limerick or how to write a sentence you know because people will spin articles about anything just to get people to click, of course they will, but when I actually clicked on it you’ve got things like ‘Learn to Write a Feasibility Study’.

PW: Wow, that’s a very specific skill.

LH: Very much so and it taps into, quite nicely actually, it taps into what we were saying about copywriting being a skill rather than a talent.  You can’t just be naturally good at writing a feasibility study.

PW: Yes, yeah you need to know what you’re doing.

LH: This is it.  You know you need that specific skill set.  You’ve got the intensive grammar workshop, which is just so brilliant, it’s fabulous and it gives anybody who’s starting out, it’s good for people who are starting out as a copywriter and want to make sure that they’ve got all their grammar down pat.  It’s good for non-native English speakers.

PW: And for proofreaders as well.

LH: Yes, yeah and it even says, “Remember that poor grammar can cost you a gig” and it’s true.

PW: Oh yeah.

LH: So you know the sources are actually quite good.  Some of them are from about.com, which I think is really unrated actually.

PW: Yeah, it does often have some really good information.

LH: It really does.  I do like about.com and I do like wikihow.com.

PW: Yeah.

LH: Because often these sites are populated by very, very good writers who want to get back links from what are huge, huge high traffic sites.  I mean these sites are massive and if you did have a back link from those sites that would do you the world of good.  So the content on those sites is really very, very good, even though we’re just looking at, you know, sites with text on them.  So if you’re receptive to reading things and you’re not looking for a podcast about.com and wikihow.com are great for different types of writing and learning how to go about getting started and you can often find templates on there…

PW: Aha.

LH: …for various kinds of writing.  So as Pip mentioned in a previous episode, I think it was when we were talking about writing the perfect press release, they’re a good place to start looking, they’re really, really helpful.

You’ve got other available courses; you’ve got technical writing, marketing writing tips.  Now a couple of the links are broken but the sites are still there.  So if you just go back it looks like the page has been moved on the website.

PW: Ah right, yeah.

LH: So I think it’s No. 9 and No. 10, which are ‘Marketing Writing Tips’ and ‘Creative Writing 101’, they’ve been moved.  Now I’ve had a click through the ‘Creative Writing 101’ and it’s quite clear where the rest of the course has gone.  It’s there, it’s just it’s been revised I believe.

PW: Aha.

LH: You know and this article’s just really, really helpful.  It tells you kind of what to expect.  There’s just loads of really useful, interesting stuff on there and it underlines the importance, I think, of taking on a variety of training courses.

You know I try and… I’ve got a list of courses that I want to do in a whole year and I try and choose like a couple that I’m really, really into and a couple that I’m kind of dreading.

PW: Yes, I’m exactly the same.  I do some just for the love of it and I do others because I know I really should, that I would benefit from it but it doesn’t inflame passion in me [laughs].

LH: No, like ‘Videography’ and ‘Audio Recording’ and stuff like that, it’s just not my cup of tea at all, whereas ‘Introduction to Fiction Writing’, you know seeing what a certain training provider is suggesting the ‘Fiction Writing’ but I find that interesting.

PW: Yeah, exactly.

LH: You know, so that would be my recommendation of the week you know.

PW: It’s a very good one.

LH: And I suppose one more point I would make is that these are all courses aimed at freelancers.

PW: Yeah.

LH: They’re all at freelancefolder.com.  So they’ve been collated with freelancers and self-employed people in mind.

PW: Brilliant, brilliant.

Now my recommendation; earlier this year we both… we did some episodes, I think there was a dual episode and two solo episodes all about money and how to decide what to charge I did a solo episode about, Lorrie did one about how to increase your rates and we do know that for freelancers, especially people who are starting out, knowing what to charge is a big issue, people find it incredibly difficult.  Now in those earlier episodes, which I’ll link to in the show notes, we went through a few different ways of deciding how much to charge and how to go about it but my recommendation this week is a freelance billable rate calculator.

LH: Ooo.

PW: Ooo.  It’s on a site called Micro Business Hub, which I hadn’t come across before.

LH: No, I’ve not heard of that one either.

PW: But they actually coded and created this calculator and if you’re the kind of person who really wants to drill down to the penny and get it exactly right without taking any risks, or not even necessarily without taking risks, but who wants to…

LH: So you want to pounce at every single penny?

PW: That’s it, that’s it, you don’t want to miss anything out, you don’t want to forget about an important cost, this is the calculator for you.  It covers everything.  It has basically lots of different fields to fill in about how much you spend on marketing, how much you spend on insurance, entertainment and then how much you want to earn and then also a section about how much you work, so how many days you work a week, how many weeks you work a year, how many bank holidays there are even, and then it gives you a calculation of your hourly billable rate, what it should be or what it needs to be to meet your own goals.

Now what I like about this is there are lots of people I know who would love to do it in this much detail.  I’m not one of them.  I’m happy…

LH: [Laughs] I’m glad you said that because neither am I.

PW: I know.  I am happy working it out on a reasonably informal basis.  It’s still based on calculations and it has a basis in reality but some people feel much more comfortable knowing that everything is accounted for.

The other thing I like about this is first of all it’s based on UK earnings.  So first of all there’s just the novelty of it not coming out with a dollar sign at the end, it comes out with a pound sign instead, and that’s rare when you’re doing any kind of money calculation online, but also it has tax information at the top in terms of Income Tax and VAT, and it’s just a really comprehensive way of going about working out your fees and you can also get the report at the end emailed to you.

LH: Oh that’s helpful.

PW: It is.

LH: It’s surprising that that’s free actually.

PW: Absolutely and this site, Micro Business Hub, have coded the form themselves.  A woman called Jo Waltham has done it and the comments underneath the calculator are also really positive people.  Stunningly simple but brilliant for instance.  It’s… and I think…

LH: People say that about me all the time!

PW: They do, stunningly simple they say [laughs].  So that’s my recommendation.

If you’re unsure about your earnings, you’re not sure you’ve calculated it right or you’re not sure you’re asking for the right amount of money check out the freelance billable rate calculator along with the link to Lorrie’s recommendation is in our show notes at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com.

So goodness me, Episode 30 is complete.

LH: That’s more than me.

PW: I know.  It’s not quite me but it’s more than you.  The podcast is older than you and yet you’re in the first episode, which is almost magic!

LH: Possibly.  I’m going to have to go away and think about that one.

PW: [Laughs].

LH: I haven’t had a coffee yet, so once I’ve had a coffee I’m sure it’ll make more sense.

PW: Thank you very much for listening and for supporting the podcast through 30 episodes.  We’re really proud we’ve got this far and we’re really glad that people are enjoying it.  We’re getting great feedback and we love it.  So do get in touch.

LH: And tell us we are marvellous, we love to hear it.  We don’t bite.  If you’ve got any questions about this podcast, any other podcast episodes that we’ve recorded, any questions about anything at all really, keep it decent but you know come and have a chat with us, come and ask us.

PW: Thank you so much for listening.  I have been Philippa Willits.

LH: And I, for the 30th time, have been Lorrie Hartshorn and we will catch you next time.

 

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Podcast Episode 22: The Hows, the Whys and the Wherefores of the Perfect Press Release

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

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Knowing how to write an attention-grabbing, appropriately formatted press release is an essential skill for any copywriter. Whether your clients are in industry, the public sector, sole traders or charities, you will almost certainly be asked to produce press releases on different topics and you will be expected to know exactly the style and tone that is required. In this episode of A Little Bird Told Me, Lorrie and I discuss when press releases are useful (and when they should be avoided), as well as how to go about writing them.

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Transcript

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Newspapers yellow (Photo credit: NS Newsflash)

LH: Hello, and welcome to Episode 22 of A Little Bird Told Me: the podcast about the highs, the lows, and the no-nos of successful freelance writing.  You can find us on the web at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, and there you can subscribe to the podcast in any number of ways, including RSS, iTunes, Stitcher Smart Radio or on the Podomatic page itself. You can also find the link to our Facebook page, where there will be plenty of tips, tricks and topics to enjoy. I’m Lorrie Hartshorn…

PW: And I’m Philippa Willitts, and this week we are going to be talking about writing press releases. How to write them, what they’re used for – that kind of thing. The ability to write a press release is an essential skill for a freelance copywriter – every client will expect you to be able to do it, and to do it well, so mastering the techniques involved is vital. So we want to first look at what press releases are.

LH: A press release is a pretty important exercise in branding. It’s an official statement that a company or organisation issues to newspapers, websites, magazines and other publications in order to publicise and share, and inform on a certain subject or event.

Put simply, a press release is an official news story, so it’s important that you get it 100% right every time – firstly, because it’s your, or your client’s official word on a particular subject and will set the tone for your or their business, and secondly, because publications receive a lot of press releases from people wanting to shout about something, so the press release itself needs to conform to a strict set of standards to avoid ending up unread and in the sin bin. If an editor or journalist can’t get the right information from your press release straight away, they don’t have the time or the inclination to sit there trying to puzzle it out.

PW: They are written with a really distinctive style and have to follow certain rules, which we will go on to talk about later. But a key thing is that they’re not the place to indulge in extreme creativity or bending the rules! They have a particular format, and if nothing else, journalists are used to receiving them in that format, so sticking with the convention is important if you want to have a hope in somebody picking up your release and publishing a story about it. If they have to hunt around for key information they just won’t bother.

LH: I’ve seen some scarily creative press releases in my time, and I’ve never been impressed by them – it’s never worked. I know some people can get a bit creative with news stories, articles, job applications, but not press releases.

So, now we’ve talked about what press releases are, we want to discuss what they’re used for. So, unless you pride yourself on doing something eminently newsworthy every single day, the most common type of press release you’ll write is for someone else.

PW: This is true. Although sometimes a large part of the challenge of writing press releases is that something the client sends you isn’t necessarily eminently newsworthy either! They’re doing it for self-promotional purposes. Your job is to take their brief and turn it into something that sounds like news, even if what you start with is a brief about a company having hired a new member of staff, or having held a raffle or got a new car park.

LH: I’m laughing because I’m remembering the horror I’ve faced in the past. Yes, that’s sadly quite true – I remember being asked to write a press release for one of my clients on something really quite unexceptional, and being asked whether I’d be able to get it on the 6 o’clock news, please! If I can, I thought, I’m charging too little – it’d be a miracle!

To be fair, it might be that the subject matter really is lacking; other times, though, it might just be a question of finding the right niche. It’s important to bear in mind that it’s not all or nothing with a press release – while it might not be breaking national news, it could still be of interest to the client’s local regional publications, as well as trade press.

PW: Absolutely. If they sell copper pipes and they come up with an innovative new copper pipe, you might think, “Who cares?” but plenty of people do. Send it to the Daily Mail, they won’t care. Copper Pipes Monthly will love it!

English: The Daily Mail clock, just off Kensin...

LH: If you get some sort of immigration angle on it, the Daily Mail will love it – Foreign Copper Pipes Taking Over British Steel!

PW: Hahaha! Killing our swans!

LH: Haha, killing swans – I do like that! The Daily Mail is fond of talking about Her Majesty’s swans! But yes, sometimes it’ll just be a matter of luck – regional press or trade press might be having a slow news day. So if your client just cut the red ribbon on a new car park, as you mentioned earlier, maybe their local paper might want to cover that, especially if there are some nice pictures of the mayor cutting the ribbon.

PW: Yeah, if it’s three days after Christmas and literally nothing’s happening, then you might get it in. If there’s just been a local disaster, you’ve got no hope.

LH: “Local disaster, followed by really nice car park!” Oh dear! But it’s a tough balance. If your client sends out a press release to, say, their local newspaper once a week on something utterly ridiculous, they might end up getting black-listed as a bit of a spammer. But, unless you’re looking at something absolutely ridiculous or offensive, I’d leave it to the client to decide when a press release should be sent. As I said before, you might find it deathly dull, but there might well be a very interested target audience.

PW: This is very true. Interestingly, today on Twitter I’ve seen a lot of usage of the hashtag #notnews, which people are using to highlight when traditional news websites publish content about a celeb losing weight, or a footballer having dyed his hair (this was a genuine #notnews story this morning!).

LH: I saw one today on the Daily Mail – it was a photo of Jennifer Anniston smiling and it was entitled, “Chin chin – Jennifer Anniston shows of a fuller face” and she looked exactly the same as she always does.

PW: And it’s just not news, is it?

LH: Well, I think I need to write to the Daily Mail about those copper pipes if Jennifer Anniston’s chin is considered news!

PW: There may also be occasional occasions, if you will, when you want to send out a press release on behalf of yourself. Perhaps you have won a writing award, or published a book, and you are keen to raise your profile by alerting local press, or trade publications. It can sometimes be difficult to be entirely honest with yourself on these occasions, about whether your news really is… well… news, so checking out with somebody else what they think is a good start. We might feel so overjoyed just by handing in a big website rewrite that we think the world would care, but they wouldn’t.

LH: Haha, yes. Breaking News: COPYWRITER DOES WORK!

PW: Ha ha ha!

PW: However if you genuinely do have something newsworthy, you can consider sending out a press release, because it can definitely help you to make a good name for yourself, and raise your profile. Follow the same rules and guidelines as if you are writing one for somebody else, write it in the third person, and send it out to *relevant* publications, not to all and sundry. If nothing else, annoying reporters does not help you when you have future “news”.

LH: Definitely true – it taps into what we were saying earlier about clients sending something out every week; you don’t want to get yourself black-listed. That said, because we’re British, I do want to say that you should be fair to yourself as well – if you’ve genuinely got some news that you’d be happy to share on behalf of a client, don’t hold back just because it’s you and you feel a bit shy or silly. Remember, you’re not promoting yourself; you’re promoting your business in a perfectly normal, reasonable way.

PW: I know one guy who bought a subscription to one of the big online press release distribution services, and the subscription he bought entitles him to send one press release a day. In order to feel he hasn’t wasted his really big investment, he does send out a press release every single day. That can work if you’re a multinational, but he’s just a bloke running a fairly ordinary business, so you can imagine the kind of “news” he lumbers them with. And you really, really don’t want people to automatically switch off when they see your name in their email inbox!

LH: It’s so massively unfortunate – there really is such a thing as overkill and this would be a perfect example.
I think a lot of clients I’ve spoken to are a little confused by the difference between press releases and news articles – they use the terms interchangeably, and I do sometimes have to go back to them and check. The problem is that it can lead to them viewing the functionalities of the two types of writing as interchangeable as well.

PW: Whereas, as writing exercises, they are pretty much at the opposite ends of the spectrum!

LH: Absolutely. You wouldn’t send a blog post to a national publication, but if someone calls that a press release, you think, “Oh hang on, there are press release search engines, press release distribution services…maybe I should send this “press release” TO THE PRESS!” and you think, “No, don’t do it!”
I’ve got some clients who tell me that they want, say, five press releases a month writing, but they’ll actually be closer to reports. Or blog posts. They do send them to the press release search engines, such as PR Newswire and Business Wire, but it’s pretty obvious that, while this will be handy for, say, Google ranking, because it’s not excessive, it’s not likely that the work will be picked up by publications. The Times isn’t going to be on Business Wire looking for this client’s press releases.

PW: I think a lot of businesses fall into the trap of saying, “OK, we want five press releases a month” and then look for stories, whereas it’s better to do it the other way round – to do something good and then write a press release about it.

LH: Definitely – it feeds into what we were saying about mixing up press releases and news stories. I write news stories for people and occasionally, I’ll say, “I think we can get a press release out of this.” So I’ll write them a nice press release and then you can bring that down to a nice news article as well, but generally a news story is just a news story.

PW: There are some reputable – and generally expensive – PR distribution services online, and there are some free or cheap ones which send things out indiscriminately, and could result in Google penalties if links to your – or your client’s – sites end up on 8,000 article directories, so do be careful. A good way around it is to have your own personal contact list of journalists and publications who you have built relationships with over years. Your releases are much more likely to be read if they go to somebody with a specific interest in what you are writing about.

LH: God, yes – you have to be so careful not to spam people. Previously, that wouldn’t have done any damage, but with the new Google algorithms, that’s a total no-no. So readers, if you’re interested, that’s the Google Penguin and Google Panda updates. So yes, be so careful not to spam.

Going back to the idea of having personalised mailing lists, that’s actually a service I provide clients with – particularly new start-up firms – and it’s a far better approach to send reasonably frequent press releases to people you know are going to be interested rather than sending a big hit or allowing a site to do it on your behalf, both of which are in dodgy legal territory anyway. You’d not only be looking at getting yourself a whole bunch of Google penalties, as you point out, Pip, you’d be looking at making your business (or your client’s business) synonymous with spam. If your client is clueless and they take a hit from a press release that you’ve sent for them, it won’t do your reputation any good either.

So, now we’ve talked a bit about what press releases are, and how they’re used, we want to discuss how to write one. This is something that both Pip and I have noticed that a lot of writers – massive hand movements here! A LOT! – get horribly wrong and, as we’ve mentioned before, that can have disastrous consequences. Not only that, they’re supposed to be a basic thing – one of the staples of copywriting. There’s no excuse.

PW: Definitely. If a business hires you for any copywriting work and they like what they do, you have to expect that a press release will come your way at some point. As Lorrie says, they’re a staple.
Unlike virtually all other documents you might be commissioned to write, press releases are virtually identical to their typewritten counterparts years ago. They are very restricted in their style and formatting, to the point where I actually have a checklist that I use every single time I have to write a press release. This is to make sure that each odd little necessity is included, from the date and location (and that the date and location are probably in bold italics), to how the document is ended with three hashtags, and so on.

LH: Slight variations on these conventions can sometimes be acceptable. For example, some press releases are finished off with the word “END” or “ENDS”, centred and capitalised. But for the most part, and with a few style issues like this aside, a press release will (or should!) always look like a press release.

PW: Yes, if you google “press release template” or “blank press release” there are lots of examples available. Especially if you’re new to this, it’s good to have a look at a lot. They will all differ slightly, but once you’ve had a look at a dozen or so, choose one and stick to it. Alternatively, the company you are writing for might have a particular template that they want you to stick to, so always check with them before making a start. Otherwise, choose the one you prefer and use it from then on.

There are also features like notes at the bottom, including contact details of a relevant person within the organisation, and the release itself is generally written in a way that starts with the most important, newsy news, and then as it goes on, goes into more detail and explains things more.

LH: Yeah. When it comes to finishing off, you’ll have your Notes To Editors bit, and you might also have a notes bit, so “For more information, please contact…blah blah.” In the notes to editors, I mention company style, so if there’s a date or a capitalised word, I’ll put them in there rather than bulking out the press release.

PW: Yes, or a source – if you mention a survey, you’ll want to include the link.

LH: Right – because you don’t want to go above, say, one and a half pages max, really. But yes, as you said just now Pip, it’s always worth starting a press release with something resembling a two line summary of the news itself, so, for example “A pair of famous UK copywriters have started a podcast that seems destined to take over the writing world.” Just, you know, for example.

PW: Haha, of course. I can’t think where you got that from! You need the opener to really catch the eye. Clarifications and details come later. And overall the document shouldn’t be more than two pages long, and it’s ideally around one A4 page.

LH: In terms of actually formatting the release, and the aesthetics of it, it’s worth suggesting to clients, if they don’t have this already, that they have a media header and footer designed – attractive graphics with which you can top and tail the press release, and which contain the company name and logo, contact details, slogan etc. It’s just a nice bit of branding to finish the piece off. If my clients don’t have one, I tend to include their logo in the header space for them.

PW: Yes, that’s interesting – I do similarly. I will usually send them a plain text, or .doc version of the press release, and also create a .pdf version with their logo on, too. I send both and they may choose the plain text one, but otherwise, they’ve got the pdf.
When you’re doing work for a client, you have to go with their preference. There’s no negotiating if they want x or y header. Unless something to do with the writing is specifically not right, that’s it.

LH: You’re right – the customer isn’t always right, but the customer is always paying, so unless they’re asking for something totally wrong, it’s important to give them what they want. It might not be to your taste, but what are you going to do?

So, once your formatting is sorted, it’s important to get the tone right. As we said, in a number of ways, a press release isn’t a news story. It has a lot of the same content, but it’s not one, and this goes for the tone as well.

One thing to take note of is that, say we’re talking about ABC Client, you write about the business in the third person. This isn’t an internal piece of news, so while your news articles might go on the client’s websites, the press releases need to assume no prior knowledge of the client. So while your news stories might be all us and we, your press release will need to start with things like, “ABC Client, a leading such-and-such in London, has done A, B and C.”

PW: Absolutely. Another thing about the tone and style is that it’s formal writing, but needs to be catchy and friendly, but it’s not casual and chatty. You’re getting across important information in the style of a news report in many ways. It needs to be eye-catching – if you write a dull press release, no one will get past the first line – but keep it formal at the same time.

LH: Definitely. With a number of my clients, they like extremely informal press releases with loads of friendliness, exclamation marks etc. It’s very much The Sun / Daily Mail style writing, it’s horses for courses and that’s fine. That’s NOT fine, however, for a press release.

One final point I’d make is that press releases are written in the perfect tense. It gives a sense of recentness and ongoing relevance. It’s a subliminal message and the journalists who read it will think that this just happened and it’s still worth writing about. Now obviously the whole thing doesn’t need to be written in the perfect tense – if you’re giving background, for example, that’s a step further back, but for the introduction, you really should be looking at perfect tense.

PW: Another thing – we did mention this above but didn’t include much detail. We mentioned that you need to start with a couple of attention-grabbing lines. But as the release goes on, you need to start backing up the claims you made at the start. So, you might say, “Two famous copywriters start an amazing podcast…”

LH: I really want to hear how you’re going to substantiate this now!

PW: Haha! And then further down, you’d give our names, then mention our listening figures had grown by x percent. You need to be catchy but you need to back up your soundbites lower in the document.

LH: One of the most uncomfortable experiences is when a publication picks up one of your client’s data-sparse press releases and puts almost everything in inverted commas. So, “The company has seen, quote,  “a large number” of improvements in, quote, “the last few years”…” Because none of its evidenced and a publication will quote you as saying anything they can’t back up.

PW: Or “An industry source says…”

LH: Or, worst, “The company claims…” which is awful. Sometimes companies will try and go a bit light on the data to avoid letting competitors know too much, in which case, they just shouldn’t send a press release, because I’ve seen lots of “The company claims…” articles and it looks really bad.

LH: So, another important point to remember, if you’re the one sending the press release out – or if you’re asked to advise a client on how to do this, is how it should be framed in the email. You need to attach the press release, and a zip file of any relevant images – nothing huge but not thumbnails – as well as including a short message in the body of the text, plus a couple of lines and a copy of the press release text below that.

So, your letter might be something as simple as, “Please find attached and below a copy of a press release detailing, [insert specific details here], which I hope will be of interest to you. If you would like further information on this subject or a higher resolution version of any of the attached images, please do not hesitate to contact [insert person’s details here]. With kind regards etc.” Don’t make it any longer unless it’s a one-off email to someone with whom you’ve had previous discussions on the same matter. Even then, don’t make it much longer!

PW: Yes, you don’t want to distract from the purpose of your email, which is the press release.

LH: Yes, keep the press release above the fold of the email. You don’t want to write six or seven paragraphs and have someone scroll, scroll, scroll until they find the press release.

PW: Or forgetting there was a press release full stop!  And what Lorrie said about pasting the text into the body of the email is really important. A lot of people are understandably wary of opening unsolicited attachments, so always make sure you copy and paste the text of the release into the body of the email, as well as sending it as an attachment. The easier you make it for a person to access, the more likely it is to be picked up. I know from writing for blogs that receive press releases, you really do get a lot of them, and they have to 1) stand out, 2) be coherent 3) meet at least some of the usual conventions, and that’s just for them to be read properly, never mind acted upon!

LH: Totally agree – one of the most annoying things people can do is send you an attachment with absolutely no hint in the email of what it’s about – something like, “Please see the attached press release” is definitely not a winner. Another point I’d make is that you should make sure to give your documents an appropriate name. “Lame-arsed PR for loser client” is a terrible name and you should be looking at a title with a date, an underscore, a brief title and dot whatever.

PW: Oh, and company name as well! And as Lorrie said, “Crappy press release for the client I hate” isn’t great, but neither is just, “Press release.”

PW: Another point to mention is that many PRs have to be submitted via online forms, most of which don’t even accept attachments.

LH: Good point. So, to sum up, press releases are a very exact science, rather than a strictly creative type of exercise. While it’s important to write them well and include lots of information that’s going to grab the reader’s attention, the formatting does need to be quite strictly observed.

PW: Defnitely. I, and a lot of copywriters, charge quite a lot more for press releases than for news articles because I can take three or four hours to get a press release right. If you do it properly, it’s quite a big job.

LH: What I tend to do is combine press releases and news stories. I’ll perfect a press release and then bang on a news article quite quickly afterwards – knock off the header/footer, get rid of information based on the assumption that the reader hasn’t heard of the company, getting rid of a couple of middle paragraphs, bringing the tone down, changing the third person to ‘us’ and ‘we’ etc. Then, they can use it as unique content for their website, as well.

PW: Yeah. Now, it’s time to go on to this week’s Little Bird Recommendations, in which Lorrie and I choose something that’s caught our attention over the course of the week. So, Lorrie, what’s your recommendation?

LH: My recommendation isn’t something that’s really related to press releases in any way, and I think that’s OK because press releases can be really tiring work. So what I’m going to recommend is a lovely website called http://search.creativecommons.org/. And it’s a lovely little resource where you can find lots of creative commons licensed media – photos, videos, music etc. Basically, this kind of media can be used on blogs, websites, etc with no copyright issues. It’s been released by the author of the piece for general use; depending on the type of license, you can use it for commercial purposes, you can modify it.

The lovely thing about this website is that you don’t have to go to all the various websites – it pulls in media from the various websites. If you just go to creativecommons.org, you can click whichever website you want and it’ll open the site for you. It’s lovely for perking up blog posts a bit.

PW: It’s always good to add a bit of visual interest to your blog. And, if someone spots a lovely picture on your blog, someone might decide they want it on Pinterest and you could get a load of back links to your website. Just one thing: make sure you check how the artist wants you to use the image – you might have to credit the photographer.

LH: A good way to do that is to either credit them at the bottom of the post or to include their name as part of the file name when you upload it.

PW: Yep. For my recommendation, at the end of the day, you want to break through the clutter and streamline what you bring to the table. And of course I’m talking about buzzwords…

LH: Hahaha, I was wondering! Go on, do it again…

PW: You meanie! At the end of…hahah!

LH: They’re so awful, you can’t do it. You should be reassured by that!

PW: At the end of the day, you want to break through the clutter and streamline what you bring to the table.

LH: it’s just vile – and my immediate thought was that I had no idea what you were talking about!

PW: Yes, that’s part of the point and everyone kind of hates them, apart from the people who use them all the time. In business, there are so many. “Going forwards” is one of my least favourites, I have to say. The worst thing is when you find yourself using them without realising them.

I found a really interesting blog post called, “Death to buzzwords”. The writer gives an example: “Our writers are detail-oriented problem-solvers and team-players, who create a proactive synergy that can deliver a paradigm shift within your organisation.”

It’s meaningless, it’s alienating, it’s lots of awful things. So the author, Lori, from the Words on the Page blog, gives some really good advice on getting posts, emails or social media messages out that are short, succinct and don’t talk about paradigm shifts and proactive synergy.

LH: When I was at University, we actually did specific courses to make sure we came up with “crystal clear English” and what I noticed is that councils and government organisations are some of the worst for language like this. Surprisingly, really large organisations are bad as well, even though they have enough of a marketing team to know better.

PW: There’s an organisation called the Campaign for Plain English and they offer awards for clear and easy-to-read leaflets. But they also offer an award for the worst gobbledegook every year.

LH: it wouldn’t surprise me at all. It used to take us the best part of a whole lecture to work these things out! A communication is supposed to be telling people something – otherwise, what’s the point?

PW: Especially to something from a council – that’s going to people with PhDs and people who haven’t finished school; it’s supposed to be accessible. It might be about your home, your bills, your transport. It’s not fair.

LH: I’m having a look at the Plain English website now, actually, and there are some examples. Here’s one: “High quality learning environments are a necessary precondition for the facilitation and enhancement of the ongoing learning process” and that’s been translated as “Children need good schools if they are to learn properly.”

PW: Hahaha, and it’s so true!

LH: People seem to think that they have to write fancily in order to write ‘well’ but the fact of the matter is that you have to take your audience into account.

So, we hope you’ve found this podcast episode really helpful. As we said before, press releases are an essential part of your copywriting artillery because it’s embarrassing if you can’t, frankly – it’s one of the basics. Once you’ve got the rules down pat, it’s not something that’s hard to do. As Philippa said earlier, choose a template, make sure it’s correct and stick to it. If your client wants to deviate, that’s their business. But when it comes to you offering guidance or taking free reign, stick to your approved template and you won’t go wrong. They’re formulaic but they’re supposed to be. Make sure they’re well written and make the information as easy as possible to find.

PW: Yes, if you want someone to pick up your story, make it as easy as possible. It’s self-promotion for you or your client, so schmooze if you need to.

LH: Yup. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, we’d love you to subscribe at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com. You’ll never miss another episode.

PW: It’d be tragic if you did, so subscribe and save us all from that devastation. You can come and have a look at our Facebook page – the link to that will be on the podomatic page, as will all the links we’ve mentioned in this episode.

LH: So, I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn…

PW:…and I’ve been Philippa Willitts, and thank you very much for listening!


Content Marketing for Small Businesses (Infographic)

I love content marketing. I love the concept of it, the execution and the results! But many people, especially small businesses, just don’t know where to start, and while regular blog posts, for instance, can be a brilliant form of content marketing, there are actually many more directions a great content marketing strategy can take.

The rather clever people at PRWeb have created the following infographic about it, highlighting different options which are presented in a chart which divides them up into the most and least easy to implement, and the most and least attention needed to produce the content.

Enjoyed this infographic? Get more small business marketing tips from BloggingPRWeb.

 

Podcast Episode 9: The Sad Smell of Desperation

In Lorrie’s first solo episode, she talks about how freelancers can market themselves in difficult times without coming across as desperate and needy. Nobody wants to hire somebody who is pleading for work, so here is some great advice about… How to get writing commissions without embarrassing yourself!

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

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Transcript

Episode 6: – Welcome to the A Little Bird Told Me Podcast, in which two freelance writers chart the highs, lows and no-nos of successful self-employment. You can subscribe at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, and you can find all of our contact details, websites, twitter and facebook accounts below the media player there.

Small scream

Small scream (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m Lorrie Hartshorn and this episode I’m going to be talking about the sad smell of desperation – aka. how to market yourself without turning your clients off! This is the second of the individual podcasts – so apologies to anyone hoping to tune in and hear Pip! In the good news, Pip and I will still be recording on a weekly-ish basis, and these individual podcasts will be shorter than the joint ones and they’re just going to allow us to cover a few more topics without having to both be available at the same time.

So, as I say, this episode, I’m going to be talking about how to promote yourself, particularly across social media channels, without sending a massive whiff of desperation in your target audience’s direction – that’s never good.

It’s something we all go through, particularly when we start out and/or we find ourselves going through a bit of a dry spell. The temptation to throw yourselves on anyone who has even slightest hint of a relevant lead, and that can be overwhelming, which is why it’s important to get to know your social media – and the associated trends and patterns – and to set guidelines for yourself, which is what I hope this podcast will help you to do.

Now, I do say ‘guidelines’ rather than rules because, as a freelancer, you need to be responsive and judge each situation on its own merits. So, no, there aren’t any hard and fast rules that can be applied across the board, but there are some common-sense tricks and tips that you can use to develop a good sense and how to promote yourself successfully.

The first tip I’ll give you straight away is that no situation is made worse by you maintaining your composure – it’s one of the top things to do. It gives your customers confidence in you. It makes them believe that you will always be in control, even in the toughest situation, you’re not going to get flustered or buckle under pressure, they can give you a tough project and be demanding in what they want from you. If you maintain your composure, that’s great – it’s a great way to promote yourself. No matter what anyone says to you or sends you, be professional and composed; you don’t sound desperate if you sound in control.

And as we’ve mentioned previously, your clients don’t want to think of you as a person – they want to think of you as a service provider. And they don’t want your service to be interrupted by someone having a bit of a panic. So, when you are in control, you can perform to the best of your ability, and this will give your clients real faith in you.

The best way to develop a sense of what works for your business and the social media that you’ve chosen to market yourself across is to engage in really consistent marketing. This is – to me – one of the biggest areas that sole traders fall down in – they tend to engage in one-off marketing campaigns, trying one thing and then letting it drop, and so when they don’t get the results they hope for, they don’t see the link and they don’t realise they’ve just not been consistent enough, and that’s when people start to get desperate. That’s when they start to engage in one-step marketing – and there’s not much that carries a stronger smell of desperation, or a lack of planning than that.

You might be thinking, “Well, I’m not sure what a one-step marketing strategy really is…” so I’ll explain it a little bit. A one step marketing strategy on, say, Twitter or Facebook would be something like this:

“Freelance copy-writer looking for work – please RT!” or “Excellent self-employed editor, please get in touch if you want to hire me!”

Now, if it’s not already obviously, this kind of marketing is just not going to work. There are three reasons off the top of my head: firstly, your clients don’t know who you are. All they know is that you say you’re really, really good, which is exactly what every single sole trader says, no matter how crap they are at their job.

Secondly, you’re offering your audience nothing of value – one of the most common things that freelancers often forget is that their interactions have to be of value. Now, I’m not saying that every single tweet you send out has to be a gold-mine of copy-writing savvy, or editing marvellousness – in fact, it’s better to intersperse your informative posts with updates that gives over a bit of personality – when I managed a social media feed for a company I worked for, the feedback we got was that clients and potential clients enjoyed the banter. We kept it clean and we kept it nice, but it helped to build up relationships. Social media is social – it does what it says on the tin.

However, if you post an update saying, “please send me work, please give me work, please hire me – I’m great!” it’s not informative, it’s not witty, it’s just awkward for everybody. Which leads us on to the third point, which is really the whole point of this podcast – it comes across as desperate. And if you come across as desperate, your potential clients are going to look at you and the only thing you’re telling them is that you’re finding it hard to win business and are having to beg for work. And why anyone would hire you off the back of that, I really don’t know.

So no we’ve talked about what not to do across social media, let’s talk about a few things you can do. First off, there are a few things you can do to make sure your social media marketing reeks of brilliance rather than awfulness and desperation.

In attention to being composed, be confident. Secondly, be consistent in your marketing, as I say, and this will help to avoid making yourself vulnerable to peaks of desperation! Thirdly, remember to sell yourself – either your skills or your personality – with every update you make. As I say, you don’t always have to be super informative, you don’t always have to be super charming and witty, but try and be one of the two more often than not. Because people will want to follow you – it’s quite simple. You don’t want to follow someone who’s boring and useless, so don’t be boring and useless – that would be my tip!

Another good way is to link to interesting posts by other people – feed back into the network a bit. Write some of your own so people will have to retweet you if they want to share that information with their followers. Share some good news from the projects you’re working on – say you’ve got a really good copywriting project going on: tell Twitter about it, tell Facebook, although do be careful with confidentiality issues here – your clients probably won’t want to be mentioned directly! But you don’t have to be all James Bond, super-secret about it – you can say, “I’m working for a client in the charity sector, really enjoying these good news stories!” or “Just done some work for a client in the technical market, had a great time, ready for some coffee!” Be informative but don’t give anything away, if only because you don’t want people undercutting you and you don’t want your clients being uncomfortable because you’ve just outed them for having a copywriter.

Give your potential new clients something to chew over – so, pop an informative post up, find an infographic on the net, write a bit about it, tell people what your opinion is, stick that on your website, blog about it, post it to your social media – you’re leading potential clients, then, to your headquarters. It’s very much about getting the fly into your parlour!

So, when it comes to sharing achievements and good news about your work and your skills, it’s important to promote without over-doing it. What you don’t want to do is say things like, “I can do whatever you want me to do!” – again, it can make you sound desperate and unrealistic rather than impressive. No one can do anything, so get to know your strengths and play to them. There’s no shame in not being an expert in something you’re not an expert in, unless you’re claiming to be an expert in it. In which case, stop claiming it!

If there’s a service you don’t offer, it might well be worthwhile – as I’ve done – considering partnering up with someone who does offer that service – that way, you can offer a positive response when people get in touch with you without acting like you know it all, you can build up a mutually beneficial working relationship with another freelancer who does offer that service. Promote one another – that could bring in more work for you – and you’re being honest and realistic about your capabilities. People appreciate that, I think – they appreciate you promoting yourself…not in an understated way, as you do need to self-promotional if you’re a freelancer, and you need to generate business, but just in a very down-to-earth way. Don’t pretend to be the superman or superwoman of the freelance world because you’re not. None of us are.

To say to someone, “That’s not an area I specialise in, but I can certainly put you in touch with a reputable freelancer who can help.” not only looks professional and tells people that you won’t just do a hash job for them in a bid to get any and all work in the world ever, but it also opens up opportunities for that other freelancer to promote you. And it shows that it’s not all about you, the world doesn’t revolve around you and that you have a bit of self-awareness, and that’s always nice.

What it’s important to remember, actually, is that as soon as you cease to be the best value for your clients, you’re in trouble. But, it’s worth noting, as I’ve just mentioned, that value doesn’t just come from price – with sites like Elance and Freelancer – and even Fiverr.com – there are always going to be people offering writing at a cheaper rate than you, say, 50 articles at $2. It’s impossible to compete with this people on price and still pay your bills so don’t try to.

Your value can come from professionalism, personality, wit, basic classiness, the way you deal with people and quality of work. You’re not just going to do a hash job, and all of the tips I’ve had a think about and come out with so far will come together to build up a very positive picture of you – if you’re consistent.

There’s one thing I did want to talk about, and that’s the idea of show don’t tell. Now, this is quite handy across social media because there’s a lot of bumf on there, particularly across social media like Twitter, which is very fast moving. It’s just words, and words, and words…so showing not telling is really important. You have one chance to impress people, very often, and if you demonstrate your value rather than just claiming you have a value, you’re more likely to promote yourself successfully and gain a bit of business.

So, instead of saying, “I do really good work,” prove to people that quality of delivery is central to your business. Explain why you’re great value, why your work is so good. Talk about some tutorials you did, talk about a certification you have or an organisation you belong to. Give people something to mull over.

Don’t say: “You can’t go wrong with me,” or “I’ll do you the best job!” Instead, prove it: get some testimonials up on your website. Retweet people who say you’ve done a good job. Thank people on Facebook when they say they’re happy with the work you’ve done.

There’s another thing I want to warn against as well, and by the very nature, it tends to be something that older freelancers and sole traders tend to do, and that’s trading on the number of years you’ve been in the business. Saying, “I’ve been doing this for 50 years!” (well, I suppose that would make you a bit too old!) so saying, “I’ve been doing this 20-30 years” and then expecting that to be the golden key to some business.

Now, if you have been doing this 20 years, you may well have learnt far, far more than some young whippet like me, who’s been doing it for 10 years, knows. On the other hand, you could be one of these people who’s absolutely stuck in their ways, hasn’t kept up with the marketing or content trends and who really is a bit of a dinosaur – it can go both ways. So, if you say to someone, “I’ve been doing this for 20 years,” that doesn’t tell them anything. What you need to be able to demonstrate is how you’ve improved your service offerings over that time and how you’ve kept up-to-date with all the industry trends, both writing trends and the trends in your client’s sector, and why you’re still – after 20 or 30 years – the best choice for them. That’s what you need to demonstrate, not simply that you’ve been doing it for X number of years.

Now, we’ve gone through a few don’t-do-this, and don’t-do-that points. I do prefer to be a bit more positive, though, so I’d like to finish off by talking about things you need to do or be to secure your position on social media as someone who’s a really positive person to follow, not desperate and who clients and potential clients are going to believe in.

First off: be brilliant. I know that sounds like a really, really obvious thing to say, but be really good at what you do. If you’re not a good writer, or you’re not a good editor, you’re in the wrong job. This is about being a successful self-employed writer or editor, or whatever your field is. If you’re a graphic designer, be a brilliant graphic designer. If you’re a software developer, be an innovative, brilliant software developer. Don’t try and fob people off.
In addition to that, believe in what you’re offering. Believe that you’re good – you do need to believe in the services you’re offering people to be able to win business. Now, if you don’t believe in your services, you can’t expect anyone else to either. And, more to the point, why don’t you believe in your services? Why don’t you believe in what you’re offering? Is it that you don’t have the basic talent? In that case, you’re up a certain creek without a paddle and you perhaps ought to be having a look at a different career. Or is it that you’ve let things slide a little bit? We can all let things slide sometimes – we get a little bit overwhelmed. Philippa’s just recorded an episode about specialising and generalising; that could be something to have a really good listen to if you feel that you’ve lost your way a bit and that you’re not quite the expert you want to be in the services you offer.

Now, there are plenty of ways of fixing this problem: there are so, so many ways and the internet is a brilliant thing. You can take training, you can take tutorials, you can listen to podcasts – like this one! You can read, you can do practice; I’m a translator and editor, and I practise all the time because there are always things you can be learning. Try and specialise, I would say, in a few areas, I would say. That might be two, five or 10 – whatever works for you. Specialise in a few areas and get really good. Because then, if you find you’ve got more room and more to offer, you can have a look at services and areas that complement those and you can expand your service offerings a bit. You can get better at other things, but get a few things down pat and then you can start looking at other things.

Be credible – this is another really important thing. As I’ve said previously, it’s really important to know your industry, and to know your clients’ industries. But – and this is absolutely crucial, it’s one of those things I’m going to over-enunciate to really drill it home! – don’t pretend to know what you don’t. If you get caught out pretending to be an expert in a something that you’re not, either because you don’t know what you’re talking about or, even worse, because you’ve got a project and won the contract, but you’ve delivered a piece of writing that shows no knowledge of something really important in that sector, you can kiss that client – and a good chunk of your reputation, good-bye.

It’s better by far, as I said before, to be genuinely helpful and pass the work on to someone you trust who can do the work well. I know this is an opinion that Pippa shares 100% – don’t try and fob your clients off. Be credible and promote yourself in a credible way; don’t claim you know everything.

Equally, be sincere with your customers. Treat people with respect; you’re a customer often enough and you know how you like to be treated, so treat people the same way. Make your buyer the focal point rather than running after them like a dog after a bone trying to win any contracts they have going.

Be sincere. Be mindful of what you’re saying when you’re chatting to them, or emailing or phoning them, make sure you’re saying things of value, but do remember that your client is a person, not a money pot. If you try and be all lovey-darling with them when, really, all you care about is getting a bit of money of them, that’s going to show and seem fake, and there’s nothing worse than a faker. Alright, there are plenty of things worse than a faker, but being a faker is horrible, so don’t be one!

One point I would make is that some people, particularly across social media, may not be looking to make a purchase from you. They might just be chin-wagging with you, or they might be wasting your time. Now, if you get the sense that this is the case, do help that person to the best of your abilities, but be aware that your time is valuable and don’t waste time on someone who’s just got a vague inclination to get some advice or information for free. Remember that there may be potentially seriously interested customers close by. The time that you’re spending on someone who’s asking for free advice, or who’s just shooting the breeze with you, could be spent on someone who’s actually interested in hiring your services.

Now, Pip and I are going to cover how to be assertive and still professional in one of our future podcasts, so do stay tuned for that one.

Another thing you to promote yourself properly across social media is to be a listener. According to recent statistics on Facebook pages, posts that ask potential clients a question get a 90% higher feedback rate than those that don’t. The message is really clear – customers like to talk about themselves. They like to talk about their needs, their opinions, and they like to feel that you’re interested and that you’re listening. And, in my opinion, they’re perfectly justified in that. One, social media is really social and we all love having a chat and giving our opinions. But secondly, your clients are your work and they have every right to be listened to. Otherwise, you’re not delivering what they want, which is where it all comes undone.

Another point would be to be appropriate. As we’ve said before, in episode one or two, I believe, it’s not appropriate to plug your website and your business at every possible opportunity. It’s not appropriate to go on someone’s blog, make a really lightweight remark and then say, “Oh and by the way, I covered something similar on my blog recently – here’s a link!” It’s really tacky and people will know what you’re doing.

Equally, it’s not appropriate to market your services with the hard sell at every opportunity. If someone comes along on Twitter (and I know I keep mentioning Twitter – that’s because it’s my main social media feed) and says, “Oh hey, howdy neighbour!” and you go, “Oh hi! Did you know I offer X, Y, Z and 1, 2, 3 services, and that there’s a 10% discount on at the moment and I really think you should have a look!” It’s just really awkward. You wouldn’t go to a dinner party and leap on someone as soon as they spoke to you, so don’t do it on social media either – you’ll just put people off.

I was asked whether I’d be interested in joining a networking group recently, but the sell was so hard that I just put the shutters down and was like, “Uh uh, no thanks.” And that was it. I would actually have been really interested in having a look at that opportunity but now I’m looking elsewhere. And people will do the same – they resent the feeling that you’re trying to crowbar their cash out of their wallet, so don’t do it.

Now I’ve said that, I’m going to say “Be proactive”, and you’re thinking, “Well, hang on a minute, you’ve just told me to chill out a little bit.” But by being proactive, what I mean is pay back into your network. So don’t just tap into your network of clients, potential clients and freelance buddies when you need new clients.

If you see someone who’s looking for a great graphic designer, you notice someone’s searching for one on Twitter, pass that on; recommend a friend. Same goes for any other kind of work – if your client’s looking for a software developer, recommend someone.

Equally, take care of the clients that you’ve got. If your customer’s had some good news – they’ve got engaged, they’ve had a baby – drop them an email. Congratulate them. And don’t stick something in there about “Ooooh, 10% discount at the moment!” Just be nice! Make it not all about you getting money and work all the time.

If you spot a useful article on writing, share it. You can’t ask for favours without credit in the bank, as they say, but more importantly, you’re going to be building up relationships with people – it’s the long-term gain. People will get used to seeing you around; they’ll know you’re a nice person who thinks about other things than getting work and getting all the customers in the world, and that’s how you establish yourself as a pleasant, positive, and reputable freelancer. If you’re approachable, and your kind, polite and professional with people, that’s the first hurdle gone. If you’re not, people won’t want to talk to you, no matter how good you are at your job. You just won’t get near anyone.

I know I said I was going to finish with the positives, but I do have another negative and that’s don’t settle: If you’re going through a really dry patch, you might be tempted to get out there and tell people you’ll do anything for any price. Don’t. Just don’t!

Resist this urge with everything you have in you because it’s almost impossible to come back from working for free or for very little, and from being really desperate in public and begging for work, so really, please don’t do it. If you find that your freelance career isn’t paying the bills, take some time out. Consider doing agency work, taking a part-time job, take a full-time job or consider diversifying your service offerings. Sit down, have a good think about your business plan and ask yourself if freelancing really is for you. But whatever you do, do it with dignity and never, never, never share your panic across promotional platforms.

Don’t go on Twitter, as I saw someone do recently, and tweet: “Looking for freelance writing work, prefer creative but not fussy!” It’s just everything it shouldn’t be. Now first of all, it goes against everything I said earlier. It tells people nothing, it’s not informative and it sounds desperate. Secondly, “Prefer creative but not fussy” – no one in the history of the world, as far as I’m aware, has made a living by being a creative writer. There are authors – don’t get me wrong, there are indie authors, and they make a living out of it but they’re not copywriters; they’re authors. Now, I do creative writing – I love it, it’s great but it’s not my day job. If I was an author, as I say, that would be a day job but then I wouldn’t be a writer, so I hope you see the difference there.

This person is saying they’re looking for freelance writing work and that they prefer creative writing work – don’t we all?! – but that they’re not fussy. They’ve given you a preference but they’re not being assertive, which says, “Do you know what? I’ll take anything” and that sounds desperate. It brings us back to the whole point – it sounds really, really desperate.

To sum up: be gracious. Now, it can be really hard, business development. It can be hard on the fingers when you’re typing away, and it can be hard on the soul. But, be gracious. If someone considers hiring you, or a fellow freelancer or a contact offers you a lead, and it doesn’t pan out, make sure you remain gracious and pleasant and professional throughout the whole thing.

For potential clients, they’ll appreciate you acting with a bit of grace rather than making them feel like they’ve screwed you over, which, you know, they might have done (and we’re going to cover being assertive, as I say!) but you aren’t going to gain anything by having a go at someone. You might well be so stung by the disappointment of not getting a project you want, that you lose sight of what’s reasonable and what’s not. So, just play it safe and be gracious, even if you think someone’s being awful with you. Just be professional, keep it pleasant. And who knows, they may come back to you. Maybe they arrangement they’ve decided to go with instead isn’t going to work out. Maybe they’ll come back to you, maybe they’ll recommend someone else to you.

For freelancers, clients and friends who’ve tried to send business your way, let them know that it’s all appreciated, no matter what the outcome is because, five, ten, fifty times out of a hundred, it might work out. There’s no set number. So every opportunity it one to grab.

I really hope this podcast has given you some ideas on how to promote yourself without sounding desperate, especially across social media feeds. Now, self-promotion is a really important part of freelancing and it’s something you have to do, so it’s important to get it right. As I said at the beginning of the podcast, make sure you get to know the social media feeds you choose to market yourself across. Only market yourself across platforms you’re comfortable with. If you hate Facebook, don’t use it. If you loathe tweeting, don’t tweet. If you abhor LinkedIn, don’t go on there. Do what works for you and your potential clients. Bear people in mind and be mindful of what you’re putting out there.

Resist the urge to get desperate, be consistent in your marketing, be professional in your marketing and if you keep things on a steady keel, you’re more likely to win business. I really hope this has proved to be a useful podcast. I’d love to hear whether you have any tips of your own on how to market yourself without coming across as over-eager or desperate. You can find both myself and Pip on Facebook and Twitter, and you can see all the details for our websites and LinkedIn accounts at the bottom of the podomatic page: alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com. Pip is, of course, just as well versed on this topic as I am, so if you fancy having a chat with either of us, we’d be more than happy to hear from you. In the meantime, though, thank you so much for listening. I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn and I’ll catch you next time.

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The Relentless Marketing of a Freelance Writer

Promotion brainstorm

Promotion brainstorm (Photo credit: tamurray5)

Before I became a full-time, self-employed freelance writer I read a lot on the subject. I wanted to feel prepared and not have any nasty surprises, so I consumed as much information as I could find in advance.

One thing that I read again and again was that, as a freelancer, you have to be constantly marketing yourself but for some reason the reality of this didn’t sink in. I was building myself a website – that was marketing, right? And I could email companies to see if they needed a writer, so that was my marketing covered. Or so I thought.

What transpired was that what I had read was right and my vague plans were severely lacking.

I had planned to find some of my work on various freelancing websites, but that was before I saw that the fees that most of them pay is, frankly, insulting. This meant that I was even more in desperate need to market myself.

The fact is that having a website is not enough, and sending the odd email to a company on spec will mostly result in very few responses, and even fewer actual work commissions. Instead, you need a consistent, targeted marketing plan because, otherwise, nobody knows you exist.

The key to success as a freelance writer is to build good relationships with various clients: some of them will place repeat orders while others just need one piece of work such as a website rewrite. I started to target very specific companies in one of my specialist niches and I also later started to target businesses local to me. I did this by a carefully designed email campaign, and postcards specific to the audience I was aiming for. I also started attending networking events to meet other business owners in person.

As a typical self-effacing Brit, I found it rather mortifying to promote myself in such a blatant way. It helps to think of it as marketing the business rather than myself, but it still makes me cringe.

Even when work comes in and you are busy, if you do not keep the marketing going you will find yourself short of work again in a couple of weeks. It is no exaggeration to say that it is relentless, and sometimes it feels utterly pointless as well. Other times, inexplicably, the same approach pays dividends and enquiries flood in.

Marketing your services as a freelancer can feel very much like throwing 100 balls into the air and trying to guess which two will be caught. I am sure that, over time, I will be able to throw fewer and get more catches but so many factors come into play that it feels impossible to tell. Who was it who said, “Half of my advertising budget is wasted, I just don’t know which half”?

If you are planning to start a career as a freelance copywriter, do not underestimate the effort and energy you will need to put into promoting yourself and your work. A website is key, but on its own it does very little. Think of creative ways to make people aware of what you can offer them. Next, do those things and repeat the ones that are successful. And repeat. And repeat. And repeat.

This post originally appeared as a guest blog post at the Copywriting Apprentice