Tag Archives: Podcast

I was interviewed on the @CherishedIdeas podcast: freelancing, pricing and marketing yourself

Often, I find, my most creative thinking has to come in my work that involves the most boring topics

“Often, I find, my most creative thinking has to come in my work that involves the most boring topics” – Philippa Willitts


Listen to @PhilippaWrites talk to @CherishedIdeas about freelancing: 

A couple of months ago, I was really excited to get an interview request from the then-new Cherished Ideas podcast. It is a podcast for freelancers of all stripes and I chatted to Simon Knapp all about freelancing, how to make it work, how to stay up to date, and plenty more.

“Often, I find, my most creative thinking has to come in my work that involves the most boring topics”

Have a listen below, enjoy, and let me know what you think!

“Guest blogging doesn’t have to be for free. I guest blog and I get paid for it”

You can listen to other episodes of the Cherished Ideas podcast here.


Podcast Episode 76: Writing for Agencies

Don Draper of Mad Men works on Madison Avenue

Don Draper of Mad Men works on Madison Avenue (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many freelancers are curious about the idea of writing for agencies, which can be a great way to boost the stability and income of your freelance writing business but it doesn’t suit everybody!

In this podcast episode, Lorrie and I discuss how to decide whether writing for agencies is right for you and, if so, to how to find the best agencies to suit your needs and working style.

Show Notes

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

Subscribe via RSS

Subscribe via iTunes

Find us on Stitcher Smart Radio

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


Podcast Episode 75: Twitter Tools to Streamline Your Social Media Marketing


Do you find that you waste time posting on Twitter and keeping track of your followers? Social media is an unavoidable part of marketing a freelance business, but there are tools available that can help freelancers to avoid wasting time and energy on their Twitter tasks. In this podcast episode, I talk you through a series of tools that can help you to streamline your Twitter marketing and make it a far more efficient process.

Show Notes

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

Subscribe via RSS

Subscribe via iTunes

Find us on Stitcher Smart Radio

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


Podcast Episode 73: Taking a non-linear approach to copy

Nobody sees your process, they only see your final results

Nobody sees your process, they only see your final resultsThere’s nothing worse than staring at a blank Word document and not knowing where to start. Do you find yourself faced with getting 500 words onto the page, incorporating SEO keywords, heading tags and a call to action, yet have no inspiration at all? In her solo episode, Lorrie goes through some non-linear ways to approach copywriting, where you don’t necessarily start at the top and finish at the bottom.

Show Notes

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

Subscribe via RSS

Subscribe via iTunes

Find us on Stitcher Smart Radio

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

Podcast Episode 72: Additional Income Streams for Freelance Writers

Graph With Stacks Of Coins

Graph With Stacks Of Coins (Photo credit: kenteegardin)

Freelancing can be a bit scary at times, and the lack of guaranteed income puts many people off even trying. Those who have already embarked on full-time self-employment will also find that their income can go up and down, and time off sick or a trip away can cause it all to grind to a dramatic halt. Because of this, it can be a good idea to have an extra income stream or two, but many writers have no idea what they could do to gain any kind of passive or residual income. Tune in to get some great ideas!

Show Notes

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

Subscribe via RSS

Subscribe via iTunes

Find us on Stitcher Smart Radio

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


PW: Hello, and welcome to episode 72 of ‘A Little Bird Told Me’, the podcast where two freelance writers tell you all the tricks of the trade. We are here to save you from mighty embarrassment and mortifying mistakes, and guide you to the very top of your chosen profession. Freelancing is a funny old world, and we want to help you along the way.

Tune into the podcast every two weeks, and if you go to allittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com you can subscribe to make sure you never miss an episode. So, whether iTunes and RSS Podcatcher or Stitcher Smart Radio are your platform of choice, we’ve made it really easy to sign up and be the first to hear our latest words of wisdom. On that site you’ll also any links we mention, and links to our own websites and social media feeds, as well as the A Little Bird Told Me Facebook page, too.

I am Philippa Willitts…

LH: And I am Lorrie Hartshorn, and this week we are going to be looking at some relatively quick and/or easy ways to boost your freelance income. Business development when you’re a freelancer can feel like a bit of slog sometimes, in fact most of the time. So it’s nice to have irons in a few fires just going on while you’re doing your usual work.

Now while these suggestions that we’re coming up with today aren’t necessarily passive income and residual income streams in the traditional sense of the terms, what we wanted to do is look at a few ways to give you inbound queries, a bit of a pick-me-up, without adding loads of extra work to your plate. Because of course we could say, “Do more work. Do more stuff. Do more expensive projects.”

But when you feel like you’ve got a full plate anyway, but you’re still not quite making enough for you – you’d like to just earn a bit more, or you’d like to build yourself a safety net – these are the kinds of ideas that we’re going to be looking at today. And because a lot of these streams can be set up and maintained when you’ve got a spare 15-20 minutes here and there, they are a good choice for freelancers who are struggling to get started and are looking for some quick action.

Because I hear this a lot from freelancers who are just getting into the swing of things, like “I’m doing stuff, but it’s just not quite happening enough yet.” So these kinds of things that you can tackle to get started and then forget about.

PW: Definitely. And also because of the kind of come-and-go nature of a lot of freelancing work. You will have times when the money’s rolling in, and times when it seems to go dry. So having some backup passive or residual income can really help you out on those occasions. Plus, there’ll be situations where you might get ill or you might want to take a holiday, and it’s nice to have a bit of extra coming in.

LH: Yeah, absolutely. And it’s one of the big things that understandably makes people hesitate about going freelance – it’s the potential lack of stability and the lack of a regular income. And I say understandably because it is. If you’re a freelancer you don’t have the regular salary, and you don’t have maternity pay or sick pay or holiday pay.

So these kinds of passive income streams and residual income streams and low-maintenance income streams are a very good thing for taking on some of that strain, especially if they can look after themselves most of the time. So it’s well-worth considering what you can do alongside your everyday work activities, just to create that little financial safety net or a little bit of a financial boost for yourself.

So these additional income streams don’t necessarily have to be writing work it’s the first thing that I’m going to say. You might be thinking that I write all day every day. And I do creative writing, not as a residual income stream, but just as a hobby, and I do get that thing of “I’ve written all day. And now I’m going to sit down and write something creative and wonderful and lovely.” And it can feel overwhelming sometime.

You might find that carrying out content writing work all day is just enough, and you fancy doing something a little bit different. Alternatively, you might go the other way and think, “Well, writing’s what I do. I don’t mind doing writing all day, so I’ll stick with what I’m good at.” And it’s up to you entirely, but you can consider all kinds, so don’t limit yourself. Have a good think about your skills, your hobbies, your pastimes, and try and come up with something that fits in with your life and your interests.

PW: In many of the ideas we suggest your writing skills will certainly come in handy.

LH: Absolutely. I mean, we do have to love up to the whole freelance writing podcast thing, so we’re not going to go too far off.

PW: That’s it. So don’t forget, in whatever additional projects you might decide to take on, you do know how to write persuasively or informatively or cattily or whatever it is you need. Another point to make at this stage is that this single episode is not enough to tell you how to do all the things we’re going to suggest.

LH: True. We probably don’t know how to do them all.

PW: What is true, though, is that the internet is full of detailed advice, so if we discuss an idea that you love the sound of, find some reputable sources online for step by step how-to guide.

LH: Absolutely. And you can always come and have a chat with us and the other freelance writers at our Facebook page, and that’s at facebook.com/freelancewritingpodcast. We have lots of lovely people on there and they’re getting a little bit les quiet now, which is great.

PW: We love it.

LH: We love it. So do feel free with any questions or discussions.

PW: And so, without further ado, we’re going to start looking at some of the additional income streams that you can get as a freelance writer.

LH: Yeah. The first thing that I’m going to suggest is something called ‘hourlies’ and that’s on peopleperhour.com. Now People Per Hour, like many freelancing sites, is mostly for people bidding on jobs. Potential clients go on there, post a job that they need doing – say they need that fence painting or they need a blog post writing – and then freelancers will come along and bid on that. Sometimes the client will put in place the suggested price, sometimes they won’t. And like any freelancing website, it can be quite brutal. It can be a little bit hunger games.

PW: I think it’s slightly better than some of the others, but not always, I would say.

LH: Yeah. I mean, the prices tend to start a little bit higher on People Per Hour. I’m not sure why. I don’t know if it’s because it is a UK site.

PW: Could be.

LH: I don’t know if it is a UK site, but it feels that way. It’s international, certainly. But for whatever reason, as Pip says rightly, prices are a little bit higher and it’s a little bit less brutal. But like anything, it’s getting that way more and more.

And I’ve spoken to freelancers in the past who said, “I just can’t be doing that. I can’t be doing, having to search for things and to apply for things, because it’s very much a number’s game if you act that way sometimes. If you source work that way, and you’re chasing projects that come up, you have to be on the go and ready to respond, and you have to tailor your response. So it can be very stressful, particularly as with it being a numbers’ game, you’re not going to get most of the work that you apply for.

PW: Yeah. That’s the kind of work for me that I can never be bothered really, because, like you say, if you put together a really detailed proposal…

LH: And you have to, don’t you?

PW: Yeah. Then you’re going to spend a lot of time doing that, and you’re going to get very little of the work because of the numbers of people applying, and because a lot of people will make a judgment on price regardless of the rest of the proposal.

LH: Well, this is a good point, as well. Even if you do get the work, you are going to have to be very competitive on price. Because – I think I said it in a previous episode – we’re all human. You go on a website like this looking for somebody to fulfil a project for you, and it’s hard to opt for a more expensive person. It’s counterintuitive, particularly when you see other people. Maybe you don’t understand freelance writing so much if you’re a client, and you see other people saying, “Well, I’ll do it for £5,” and then someone else just says, “Well, I’ll do it for £30,” it’s very hard to know why you should opt for that £30 person.

So back to PeoplePerHour – hourlies, then, what these are. These are set-fee project fees you can set up on your own profile. So if you go on PeoplePerHour and you set yourself up a profile as a freelance writer, you can establish these hourlies which, for example, if you were me and Pip, they might be say a 500-word SEO blog post for X pounds. And that way, if somebody sees your profile and you optimize your profile nicely, with lots of information and keywords and things like that, if people see that and they think, “Right, well, X pounds sounds good to me. I like the look of this person,” they have to buy that from you before you start the work.

PW: And the parameters are set. You know exactly what you’re getting, you know exactly what you’re offering.

LH: Yes. You don’t have to do anything. You can set up an hourly and you can leave it. People may come and buy, they may not come and buy, but you will fare – there’s no debate, there’s no discussion, there isn’t a negotiation stage, and if the client wants to buy that piece of work from you, the money has to go into an escrow account. They have to pay up before the thing happens. And of course, they could dispute at the end, but then you would get the PeoplePerHour customer service fee for getting involved. Generally, you don’t get ripped off if you’re providing somebody with an hourly, as long as you fulfil the job that you said you were going to fulfil within the time frame that you said you were going to fulfil it.

PW: I know you have a lot more PeoplePerHour experience than do, because I know you hired various people from there before, whereas I used it a couple of times and both times I bought an hourly. The first was that guy to migrate two of my websites. That was a PeoplePerHour hourly, so he had a set fee for migrating a website from one host to another. And so I bought two of his hourlies, gave him all the information he needed for my two websites, and he did it.

And there’s also a time limit, as well. You set your own time limit when you set up the hourly, so one of the things I liked about this guy was that he promised to do it within 24 hours.

LH: That’s really good.

PW: Whereas if it’s–. Say you’re offering “I will write an e-book for you,” and that’s a big project, you would put along the time limit. But I like that kind of clarity on both sides, really. The buyer and the seller are very clear about what’s being offered.

LH: Absolutely. And I think one thing you just brought up actually is a point worth making. Just because it’s called an hourly it doesn’t mean you need to do it in an hour, and it doesn’t mean that it needs to be a task that could be fulfilled within an hour. You could put a £500 project on there, and say “My hourly: for £500 I’ll build your website.” It’s just a set-fee project.

PW: The name ‘hourlie’ has always bugged me.

LH: But I like hourlies because you can set them up and just leave them, and then if you get people coming along and saying, “Yes, I’d like to buy that,” then great – you get an email to you your inbox. You don’t even need to go on PeoplePerHour to keep checking your hourlies and see if anybody’s interested. So it’s a good thing to have on there. It’s a good inboud marketing technique, I think.

And you can also embed graphics on your website, so if they’re in the sidebar of your website, you can have a little button that says, “Buy a press release from me now for X pounds.”

PW: And if I remember rightly, then if somebody buys through your link like that and then PeoplePerHour don’t take their commission…

LH: They don’t take commission if it’s an external link.

PW: So you get the full amount, as well, which is nice. And so that’s one option. Another option is affiliate websites. Now these aren’t as easy as they were perhaps a few years ago. Affiliate websites now have to be a lot better than they used to be.

LH: Thank goodness, frankly.

PW: Yeah. There was a time when somebody could throw up a five-page website about fridges, add to them Amazon affiliate links, or AdSense, add code and cash in, but no more. Google is a big decider these days, and after their Pandora and Penguin updates in particular, affiliate sites need to be bigger, they need to be well put together and they need to be well maintained.

However, that’s not to say it can’t be done. I have a few and they do okay. I’m never going to retire on that income, but considering this is work I did several years ago and have barely looked at since, it’s nice to get the odd check in the post as a result, really.

LH: Yeah, absolutely. And I think I’ll interject here – in case people don’t know what an affiliate website is…

PW: Yes, that’s a good point.

LH: An affiliate website is a website where you sell a product that has an affiliate program, and what that means is that somebody else will have developed a product – sometimes it’s software, sometimes it’s an e-book, sometimes it’s something else, something tangible.

It’s Time For Changes in Affiliate Marketing

It’s Time For Changes in Affiliate Marketing (Photo credit: Bob Massa)

And what you can do is you can set up a website singing the praises of this project and trying to encourage people to buy it. You use what is called an affiliate link, and if people click and they buy the product through that link you get a commission on the product. Now the commissions on products can be very, very generous, particularly if they’re not very exciting products. You’re looking at 60-70% commission on some, say the big financial trading products. For example, financial trading books, financial trading software because they’re hard to sell.

So this is something for writers who really love getting down and dirty with sales copy. You have to be persuasive in sales, and informative. And you have to take an angle when you’re writing content for an affiliate website, thinking, “How am I going to persuade people to buy this?” And it’s not always a question of “Come and have a look at the product X. It’s amazing. Do you want to buy it?” As Pips pointed out, really good content is super important to Google, and things like how-to lists, things like informative editorials.

People want more value from their content. They’re not going to be persuaded by just a little bit of sales speak anymore. You can’t just stick an ad up on a website and expect it to make money. You have to give people worthwhile content, and as Pip’s already said, affiliate websites now tend to need a bit more maintenance.

PW: For most people, if you’re thinking of setting up an affiliate website, first of all you need to fill it with great content. Say you want to make money using Amazon affiliates around a particular product. You need to create a decent website, all about that product, that mostly isn’t salesy, but that does it right. So most people starting with Amazon or AdSense is the best place to start.

With AdSense it’s a bit different. You don’t get commission when somebody buys something. You get commission when somebody clicks on an ad on your site. So they don’t have to go on to buy. All they have to do is click. Often people then move on to sites like Clickbank, which sells big money products, and these often have 50%, 75% or even 100% commission. So one sale by Clickbank can be worth several hundred AdSense clicks or dozens of Amazon purchases.

Other places to consider are E-junkie, Commission Junction, Affiliate Window – there are loads of them. We’ll link to all of those in the show notes. But there are lots and lots of options.

LH: Yeah. It’s well worth having a think about it, because if you can find something and you think, “Actually, I know loads about that really obscure product or service. I might definitely write about that in an informative way.” If Google doesn’t have much content on there at the moment about – come on, Pip, think of an obscure product for me. Singing fridges – fridges that sing when you open them – not sure they exist. They probably do because internet.

So if you’re an expert on singing fridges and you realize there’s not much content on Google, that’s going to make you more searchable. So if people are searching for singing fridges and they can’t find information about these singing fridges on Google, and you come up with a gorgeous website, write all about them and then pop your commission links on there, then you’re going to do quite well.

PW: Yeah. And if you like the idea of building a website around a single product like there is on E-Junkie or Clickbank, another opportunity would be to use all your best content writing skills to create your own products. You can build this similarly – very authoritative site like you would with an affiliate product, and you can use your best sales copy skills to promote the product. But it’s your product and so you’ve got ultimate control over what happens. You can even recruit your own affiliates who can then create websites all based around selling your product for you. And unlike selling other people’s stuff, you decide the price, you decide how it’s presented. You can make sure that it’s great quality, as well, which isn’t always guaranteed with certain Clickbank products.

So if you want to look at affiliate websites or at creating your own products, think about, as Lorrie suggested, what you already know about. And from there do some keyword research and some market research to work out precisely what angle to take. So perhaps you’re brilliant at gardening. Find out exactly what people want to know and create an e-book or a membership site or an online course about how to grow petunias or how to stop killing your roses or whatever other information people are looking for.

LH: Absolutely. And you can twist it around slightly, and create I suppose what you’d call a database site really, couldn’t you? If you could write about say how to grow petunias, you might find that you could interest garden centres and petunias specialists in having some space on your website and having their details on that. So if you’ve written a brilliant piece of informative copy about these petunias and about all these gardening things, think outside the box, to use a cliché. It’s not just that you can attract people who want to buy your product or who want to buy a membership to your tutorials or your e-book. You can also attract people from the other side, as well.

So the third option that we’re going to look at is selling ad space on your websites or blog. This you have to be a little bit careful about, because with affiliate websites, they’re generally anonymous-ish. I mean, your details have to be on there somewhere. But it’s not a question of it interfering with your brand, because generally your affiliate website will have nothing to do with your business, your freelance writing business. If you’re going to be selling ad space on your website or blog, then you need to be careful about whom you sell the ad space to, because you don’t want to end up damaging your own brand by having somebody spam you on there.

If you have a professional website, as in a work website, freelance writing business website that gets decent traffic, and you understand traffic and you know how to leverage traffic, then it’s also an option to sell that traffic to somebody else. So you can give people static ad space, you could have a header bar or a footer bar, or a site bar advertising spaces, and you could sell those, offer those at different prices.

Alternatively, what some prolific bloggers do – and some not so prolific bloggers, actually; I’ve seen this work for people who have medium-traffic websites – is to sell reviews or advertorials. They make it clear usually by something branded on their own website, like paid posts with a little picture, that they’re getting money for this, and that this isn’t a completely disinterested blog post that you’re reading. But a lot of the time people like indie authors will sometimes pay bloggers to give an honest review of their latest book. Now that could be something you could do.

PW: Yeah. I was just going to say there are legal issues. If you’re being paid for something you have to disclose it legally.

LH: Yeah. You see people and they make it quite attractive, don’t they? They come up with a little slogan or a little title, and then have a link to a page from that picture or from that title that takes you to a page to say, “Full disclosure – I’ve been paid for this,” or “This product was sent to me for free. This was a sample product.” I know mommy bloggers do it a lot, don’t they?

PW: Yes. And fashion bloggers, as well.

LH: Yes. You get a fashion house or a baby product company sending sample products just as you do with people sending review copies of books to bloggers and saying, “I’d really appreciate an honest review,” sometimes just in return for the product, sometimes there’s some pay on top of that.

PW: If you’re considering selling ad space on especially your professional website, you have to think very carefully about it, because on the one hand, as Lorrie said, it is some income and, depending on your traffic, if you’re getting in the tens of thousands a week, it could probably get some decent income from it. But the point of your website is to help persuade people to hire you. And once people are on your website you have to be really careful about actively encouraging them to leave it, which is what you’re doing if you put ads on there.

LH: True.

PW: And so it could be a goose that lays golden eggs situation, where you might get 15 quid for an ad, but then lose 500 quids’ worth of business, because the client that came onto your website got distracted by your side bar ad and went off elsewhere.

LH: True. If it’s so well written as an advert that they just hop off your website, I would say (and this doesn’t fully mitigate the situation!) become a master of putting in hyperlinks that open links in new tabs! There’s an option certainly with WordPress when you insert a hyperlink, and you can just – with the HTML coding, as well – where you insert a little tiny bit of extra code or you click on a button if you’re on the sort of non-HTML interface where it says, “Open link in new tab.” So that opens a link in new tab on the browser that the person is using, and it also keeps them on your website. So they’re not just pinging off to have a look at your advertising instead of your website, as Pip’s quite rightly pointed out.

PW: Another option to consider is a website called Constant Content. It’s a freelance writing website, but it’s quite different from the vast majority of others in that clients or customers can request articles. But the majority of what fills up Constant Content is its writers writing about anything and everything they want and adding it to the site, and then buyers can come, search through the site, find the article they want and buy it.

LH: It’s a bit like hourlies in that sense.

PW: Yeah, but you’re doing the work upfront.

LH: You do do the work upfront, which is why I have a love-hate relationship with Constant Content.

PW: Indeed. As do many people, because you could be working and never sell your piece. One of the positives about Constant Content is that you not only set your own prices, but that they encourage fairly high pricing strategies.

LH: Yeah. They have a minimum, don’t they?

PW: They have a minimum, and they pay quite a cut, but that’s because they edit things very, very carefully. And so yeah, they edit very scrupulously, but it means that the buyers come to know that the quality on the site is very good. They’re not going to buy stuff that’s full of mistakes, like they might from other freelancing sites. I think there’s a way to use Constant Content that helps with the fact that you’re doing spec work essentially.

LH: Yes. I know which point you’re going to make and I completely agree, for the record. [laughter]

PW: Thank you very much. [laughter] There are people who are pretty much constant content writers, and for me that wouldn’t suit me, to write that much on spec, although, obviously, they write a lot and therefore sell a lot. So it works for some people, but for me the most efficient way I find to write for Constant Content is if I’ve done a lot of research for paid projects… I’ll give an example from a few years ago, so that it’s not kind of sensitive.

I was hired to write an entire website about a particular health issue – man boobs. And so I had done all sorts of research about this, and so I’d written the pages of the website that the client wanted, like what causes man booms, how to get rid of man boobs. But in the process of the research I learned a lot more than what was needed for that website.

LH: You’re like a manboobologist, aren’t you?

PW: Yes, and so I knew by the end of that piece of work that I also had plenty of information about alternative remedies for man boobs and how to prevent man boobs rather than get rid of them, and that kind of thing. So I didn’t need to do extra research; my brain already knew these things. And so then it wasn’t too much extra work to knock out a few more articles and submit those to Constant Content.

Similarly, there are things like we mentioned earlier, if you know a lot about petunias or roses or anything that you just are interested in your daily life, that’s a great way of finding sources for things to write about, but without adding tons of work in case this work doesn’t sell.

LH: And monetizing that extra info, because I hear this from people a lot. I heard it recently, in fact, again – people complaining and saying, “I’ve done hours and hours and hours of research for this piece of work,” and they only needed 1,000 words, “and I’ve got all this extra info. All these notes – what am I going to do with them?” And if you have that stuff and it’s something that you, Pip, came up with – I had not really considered before – I thought it was brilliant and I can’t remember if you called it this or whether I just labelled it as this in my head. It’s like mirror-imaging an article, like flipping an article.

PW: Yeah.

LH: I mean, do you want to explain what it was?

PW: No, go ahead.

LH: I never thought of it before, but let me try and think of an example. If you’d written about – we’ll use the man boobs as an example, then, but this isn’t something that Pip did, this is just a theoretical example – but if you’d written about six ways to prevent getting man boobs what you could do is sort of come up with an article about five ways or five things that risk, inducing, I suppose, man boobs. It’s not the best example, but if you flip the information… If you’ve written about how you get man boobs, then maybe you can write about how you prevent man boobs or things that you shouldn’t do or else you risk getting man boobs.

You can reframe so that the content is entirely original, it doesn’t risk reducing the quality or the value of the work that you’ve produced for somebody else, or clashing with that in any way or plagiarizing or self-plagiarizing. That work is entirely original, and yet it’s just using the same information. You don’t even need to have done more research. You can simply utilize the research you’ve done in a different way and reframe that.

PW: Definitely. Because there are ethical issues around just recreating a piece of work that you’ve already done for somebody who’s paid. And so, as Lorrie says, that mirror imaging idea, or just identifying themes that you studied but that you didn’t need to write for the other person. And you then submit it and, like with a lot of the things we’re suggesting, you can then forget about it. And then periodically you get a lovely email from Constant Content –

LH: You often do forget, too. And then I’ll get an email and I’m going, “Hurray! I’m getting a cheque.”

PW: Yeah, that’s it. You get an email from Constant Content saying one of your articles is sold, and you go, “Yay!” And because they encourage decent pricing, and because I often like very long things which illicit higher prices, I’ll then get an email and I’ve suddenly got 100 quid that I haven’t expected, or 150 quid, or if it’s a short, quick thing even just the odd 40 quid. It’s nice, it’s always a nice surprise when it happens.

LH: Didn’t it happen to you recently, before you went on holiday?

PW: Yeah.

LH: You suddenly got some incoming work and was, “Aaaah!” Bonus holiday pay.

PW: Paid for my holiday, thank you very much.

LH: Hey, free calls, lovely. Can’t complain. So yeah, if you’ve got the ideas there and you’ve got a quick typing pace, I would say go for Constant Content. I’m personally not a fan because I spend a lot of my free time doing creative writing anyway. So the idea of writing all day, then doing creative writing and then writing more articles – it’s just too much for me.

PW: That’s it. And all the things we’re talking about, some of them you’ll think, “What? You want me to create a whole website?”

LH: A whole e-book?

PW: About fridges? What are you talking about? Whereas other people will go, “That sounds perfect.”

LH: Yeah, and it’s the kind of thing you can do in half a day.

PW: Exactly. And so all the ideas were suggesting, really…

LH: Just whatever takes your fancy, really, isn’t it?

My Kindle II

My Kindle II (Photo credit: Pavel P.)

PW: Yeah, definitely. Our next idea is one that does involve more work upfront, but has potentially much higher returns, and not just financial ones. Platforms like Kindle, Lulu, CreateSpace have made publishing your own book easy and accessible. And whereas self-publishing used to have an exclusively bad reputation, there is now enough good quality stuff that it’s considered to be worthwhile enough that The Guardian have now announced they’re going to have a self-published book prize.

LH: That’s good.

PW: Yeah. So it’s starting to be taken seriously. There is still a load of rubbish that’s self-published, but frankly there’s a load of rubbish that’s traditionally published.

LH: That’s true.

PW: And so I think its reputation is improving, anyway. You’d have to put a lot of work in it at the start into the book, followed by loads more marketing it. But that could lead to years of royalty payments.

LH: Imagine.

PW: Yeah. And it can also give you other benefits, as well. Some people describe writing a book as the best kind of business card you can have. And there’s some truth in that. People are instantly impressed, they get an impression of you as somebody who really knows what they’re talking about. And this is invaluable when you’re freelancing, and it’s all about convincing people you can do what you say you do.

LH: Yeah. It’s extra clout, isn’t it?

PW: So if you have a specialist subject or a particular interest, do some research and see if there’s a buck in it.

LH: Absolutely. And it’s such a personal achievement, as well, isn’t it? A lot of people are very, very pleased to have written a book.

PW: You know, of course. I’ve never written a full-length book simply because I haven’t got the patience for it. I tend to take the short fiction, but writing a book can be wonderful. And the same goes for membership sites or series of tutorials, series of blog posts. Webinars, actually, if we can just branch out a little bit from the writing. Online lectures, tutorials, teaching people how to do things. If you’ve got a specialist subject it’s worth –. Because, of course, if you were going to come up with a series of tutorials, you’d have to put in a lot of research and effectively make lesson plans, and then usually you ought to give people some backup material. So you might end up actually writing something the size of an e-book to give to people as additional material if you’re tutoring them with something.

But if you have really in-depth knowledge – a lot of freelance writers do. They come from like science backgrounds and then get predominantly into science writing. You could write an e-book on how to do science writing, how to write about science, how to become a medical writer. Because there are plenty, plenty things that you’ll be able to write about that others perhaps won’t. You’ve just got to have a little bit of a think about what kind of saleable knowledge you have.

The next type of additional income stream that we’re going to have a look at is something that we’ve touched on already with the affiliate marketing, but it’s something that I have a little bit more experience in, and that’s leveraged income.

Leveraged income is making money on other people’s products and services. It can sound quite mercenary, but at the end of the day, it’s how pretty much all business is done. I, for example, write for a number of clients who are agencies, as a lot of freelance writers do. Now what those agencies will do is they will have clients. They will pay me a certain fee for my writing work, and then they will charge their clients more.

PW: Yes. I have the same. Yeah.

LH: So you can do the same. There’s no reason you can’t operate as a freelance in an agency kind of way. If you can find a decent service or product available for a reasonable – and I mean reasonable for both you and the supplier – for a reasonable price, and you can find a market for that product or service, there’s nothing to stop you selling it on.

PW: Yeah. And so as we’ve talked about before, possibly teaming up with people whose work compl-E-ment that of a freelance writer.

LH: [laughter] You can’t help yourself, can you?

PW: I always have to say it like that! And so it may be that if you’re working with a client who wants a new – while you’re providing their website content, they actually want a new website design as well. If you decide you want to take this responsibility for liaising between the two, it’s not a matter of no work. This can end up being more work if you’re not careful. But if you decided to take this approach what you could do, rather than saying “My mate, Sarah, designs really good websites,” you could say, “I can sort that out for you. I work with a very good designer.” And then you can be the go-between. Rather than Sarah billing your clients, Sarah bills you and then you bill your client for that little bit more, and you get some extra money out of it. But it’s not as simple, is it, as just kind of say may be the equivalent of an affiliate site where you just leave it to it?

LH: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I do this with writing work, and I do it with other kinds of work. As Pip’s quite rightly pointed out – and she’s done quite right to point it out, because it’s a very pertinent point – you have to take responsibility if you are delivering a service. All your client knows is that that service is being fulfilled and that you are taking responsibility for it. So if, for example, my agency clients were to say to their clients, “Here’s the website content,” and it was no good, I’d written a load of rubbish, it would not be on my head, it would be on theirs.

And the same – I hire people to write blog posts for me. When I get those blog posts back I have to proofread them, I have to edit them, I have to format them, I provide images to go with them. I make sure that the SEO is up to scratch. I feed back to the writers. If there’s an error, if there’s a problem, if it’s just not quite up to scratch… So I do get to charge more, but you have to pay your suppliers a decent amount anyway.

So, as Pip’s quite rightly pointed out, it’s not a question of ha, ha, ha, I will just stick a mark-up on this and do no work, because that’s when you get bitten on the bum. If you send a piece of work over that you haven’t checked, it is Sod’s law that there will be a massive typo in the middle of it, or there’ll be something ridiculous and you have nobody to blame but yourself. And you cannot say, you cannot say that wasn’t you that wrote it.

PW: And the same – Lorrie does this as she says, a fair amount during her work, and she handles it really well.

LH: Ah, thank you.

PW: You do. I’ve done it on a very small scale with just kind of overflow work, really. And I find it incredibly stressful, I think because –.

LH: It’s very risky, isn’t it?

PW: It is, and I’m relying on somebody else to do something that I’m taking ultimate responsibility for. So if they don’t meet their deadline, well, I don’t meet mine. If they send me something that’s utterly awful…

LH: It happens a lot.

PW: Yeah. And that degree of relying on somebody else stresses me out.

LH: You have to know your own. And this isn’t aimed at you, this is for the listeners – you have to know your own processes. So as Pip’s, again, rightly pointed out, deadlines are a major risk with outsourcing. So if I send it, you have to be organized, you have to send over a piece of work with as much time to spare as you possibly can, and know that if it all goes to pot, that you have to find a solution for that, because otherwise you can end up losing the client.

The number of times – and this has happened to my agency’s clients, as well, when they’ve been looking for people. They’ll outsource a piece of work and then they’ll be expecting it back on the Friday – schoolboy error – and it will come due back to their client on the Monday. And they’ll get a load of rubbish on the Friday night or they just won’t get anything. So that leaves them – or, in fact, me – covering the piece of work over the weekend, in time for Monday morning. And now, if you’re outsourcing because you don’t have time to do the work, this can be a nightmare and it can lead to no sleep. But that’s your call. You have to opt for no sleep rather than letting your client down.

PW: And for me, although overflow work – I’m always going to need it at some point – but I think this way of working while it suits Lorrie really well, I just get so stressed that I just may as well have done it myself in most cases. And so I think there’s a personality thing. I’m a bit of a control freak. But if you can make it work, which Lorrie does, and which a lot of people do, and you’re happy to take that responsibility and realize it’s not as simple as just getting a 20-quid cut on the top of every piece of work. It does involve extra work. It can be a really good way to grow your business, almost exponentially really, if you can get it right.

LH: And it starts off organically, or at least it did for me. It wasn’t a conscious decision. As Pip’s pointed out, as with Pip’s experience, I started outsourcing work when one of my clients just needed too much from me. I could not fulfil – I think he needed about 40 blog posts a week. There’s no way I could fulfil that. So finding somebody decent to help me with that work was very, very difficult. You’ve got to go through kissing a lot of frogs.

PW: Oh, you do.

LH: So many frogs, and they’re really froggy frogs, as well.

PW: [laughter]

LH: Froggy awful frogs. No, they’re dreadful. You’ve got to kiss a lot of frogs. And sometimes it does cost you some money, because you have to pay people for test pieces of work and things like that. And you have to find somebody suitable. But then when that person’s on you have to brief that person, you have to send them the information that they need, proofread their work, edit their work, feed back to them, manage them, decide what you’re going to do if they go on holiday or if they can’t do the work anymore. There are so many things to consider, so…

PW: I was talking to someone the other day, completely different industry to us, and she was saying that she has two people that she can outsource work to. And one of them is very good, but charges her almost as much as she charges the client.

LH: Right. So an emergency case, then.

PW: And the other is pretty bad, but very cheap.

LH: Oh, no.

PW: So every time she needs to outsource work she has to decide – do I want to get very little of the money, but actually feel confident it’s being done well, or do I need more of the money, but know I’m going to have to go in and fix a lot of the problems? And a lot of outsourcers find themselves in that kind of position.

In all the ideas we’ve mentioned to far you can use your writing skills. But you might also have other skills that you could leverage for some passive or ongoing income. I mean, I design T-shirts, for example. And I put them for sale on sites where people could order them, and then I get a cut of the cost. So I don’t need to do anything once I’ve uploaded the designs. The site does all the work. And I can do really nicely for me, actually, especially run-up to Christmas is a big a one. And so sites like CafePress, Zazzle, Red Bubble – I’ll link to them all in the show notes. If you’ve got some decent Photoshop skills and some creative clever ideas, that’s the kind of thing you could perhaps think of. But there are tons of options.

LH: Yeah. This is good for people who are big fans of puns, isn’t it? Because you can do anything. It’s not just T-shirts. Obviously, you can do cups and mobile phone covers and posters, you know, artwork. People like prints at the moment, don’t they, so they’re over Instagram pictures, like inspirational quotes and stuff. Those can sell quite well on things like society6.com.

PW: Yeah. I have some stuff on there. Not much actually, because it’s quite new.

LH: I love Society6, their creative writing prompts, actually. I go on there to get inspired.

PW: But yeah, I make a sale most days, for most of the year, and then, run-up to Christmas – numerous.

LH: Many, many, many.

PW: And these are T-shirts I designed several years ago. I do add the odd new one when I’ve got time, but, again, this is work that’s done and dusted a long time ago, that continues to buy me the odd beer.

LH: [laughter] Or a holiday, as we found out.

PW: Or a holiday. Or a beer on a holiday. I also have some photos up on Microstock Photography websites. The earnings can vary from decent to pretty low. Some people make a full-time living from it. Most people get pocket money from it, really. But if you already have some great quality shots, it’s something to try. Some Microstock sites also take video clips, so that’s something else you could look into if you’ve got those skills.

Obviously, T-shirt design and photography are particular skills. But look around if you’ve got other interests. Could you do some voice-over work? There’s all sorts of…

A little dexterity is helpful in working with ...

A little dexterity is helpful in working with knitting needles (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

LH: There’s Etsy, if you can knit wonderfully.

PW: Oh, I love Etsy.

LH: Yeah, collaging, beading, knitting, crocheting, anything really. Repurposing stuff, recycling stuff.

PW: Yeah, Folksy is a kind of Etsy equivalent based in the UK, as well.

LH: Watch out, though, that you don’t end up on regretsy. Because I love looking at that site sometimes. So funny. People sell the strangest things. I suppose, really, we should give a nod to eBay and Amazon at this point. People that I know go charity shop shopping. What’s that in American?

PW: Thrift shop.

LH: Thrift shopping. And then resell stuff. Again, a commission. If you find something lovely, if you know your antique, or if you know collectibles, you go around and have a look. You can sell books, things like that. And people sometimes just make a bit of commission on postage.

PW: Yeah. Or getting second-hand clothes and doing them up, adding a bit of embroidery or chopping them.

LH: Ooh, potato, prints. Potato prints – uh, how fun are they?

PW: [laughter] So yeah, if you’re still not thinking creatively there’s tons of options.

LH: I don’t want to be a writer anymore. I just want to print potato things all over everything, and sell them.

PW: Follow your bliss, Lorrie.

LH: [laughter] I’m going to make a fortune. I’m going to be Richard Branson of potato printing. So hopefully then that has given you a bit of a boost, because we know that business development can be a drag. We know it can be hard, trolling the net, looking for clients, thinking “I’m never going to get anybody else on board and I need some extra cash.” Hopefully, this’d just be a bit a bit of a boost, give you some ideas, give you a bit of inspiration, maybe help you see that actually you don’t have to limit yourself, because that’s one of the wonderful things about being a freelancer, isn’t it? That if you need to go out in the middle of the day and do an hour in a charity shop and then come home, wash the clothes and sell them on eBay. You can do that. You don’t have to stick rigidly to any one thing. You can just be a freelancer who does writing, as well.

PW: Yeah. Portfolio your career, that’s the thing, isn’t it?

LH: Absolutely. That’s such a nice term. I’ve not heard that.

PW: Yes, it’s growing in popularity for people who really do do a bit of this and a bit of that.

LH: It’s good for new moms and people who are getting back into work after having children, people who have been made redundant and they’re not too sure what they can be doing. It’s lovely to just try your hand a few things. And it’s a very modern way of working, because we don’t have jobs for life much anymore, do we?

PW: No. And if you have any other ways of generating additional income streams, then we want to know. So go to facebook.com/freelancewritingpodcast and tell us.

LH: That’s it. Tell us, because we’ve got some noisy people on there, but we would love some more noisy people and some more good ideas. So come and have a chinwag.

PW: And so now it is time for the much awaited and always loved Little Bird recommendation of the week, in which Lorrie and I share something we’ve seen or that’s caught our eye that we think might be of interest to all listeners. So, Lorrie, what is your recommendation this week?

LH: There is one blog post that I found, and I’m surprised, actually, one, that I found it, and two, that I liked it so much. Because it’s an ad agency in London. It’s in their business blog. So normally – I know that I do a lot of blogging for clients, including agency clients, but normally it’s the big sites like Copy Blogger and Mashable that have really interesting pieces of writing. But I thought this one was really, really good. And it’s called Ding Ding: 9 Knockout In-bound Marketing Tips to Help You Achieve Success. Now it’s a bit of a clunky title, but I liked the ‘Ding Ding’, so it got my attention.

What this looks at are, predictably, nine ways to boost your in-bound marketing. And there’s a wee in-bound marketing funnel infographic at the bottom which shows you kind of the path that people take from encountering you online the first time all the way down to acting on what they’ve read from you, which is hopefully hiring you or buying what you’re telling them to buy.

Aside from a really annoying typo in this, which I wonder if people will be able to spot it – I’m not going to mention it, but typos! Typos, they get us, don’t they?

PW: Oh, every time.

LH: It just has some really good standard tips that I still see a lot of freelance writers not following. They’re fairly basic, but they are all really good tips. The first one is “Keep landing pages simple.” And this are all the kinds of things – because it’s in-bound marketing it’s all kind of your content, your website, your blog, your videos, your social media feeds. So it’s a really good article for doing a bit of housekeeping, I think.

PW: Yeah. Checking that your systems are as good as they can be, really.

LH: This is it. Because people can be working and working and working, and finding that it’s just not working.

PW: Yeah. And you get stuck in a rut, don’t you?

LH: Of course you do. So things like this. I don’t exclude myself from this, at all.

PW: Oh, no, of course not.

LH: — very handy. The second point is “Educate them and they will come.” Does your content match or compliment…

PW: See?

LH: Ah, compliment with an I – compliment your consumer needs. The third is “Searchable content”, the fourth is “Your blog speaks volumes about you”, and it’s nice that they’ve actually acknowledged that the you on your blog – as the point we’ve made quite often – doesn’t necessarily need to be all of you, so yeah. Point six – pushing on – “Allow your audience to visualise you” – that was the typo that was annoying me. Seven – “E-books, white paper reports and webinars”. They’re talking about this authoritative content that we talked about earlier. “Infographics have unbelievable value”, and then they give you that in-bound marketing funnel infographic.

And it’s a really lovely spaced out article. It’s on a nice, clean background, and I just found it really accessible, really lovely. It’s got screenshots to show you what’s going on. It’s very accessible in terms of language. So I think the one point that would kind of finish on with this is that you and I have been freelancing for a while, haven’t we?

PW: We certainly have.

LH: And I think sometimes I hear from people – because we get a lot of emails from people who’ve listened or who’ve encountered us online, asking for information and advice and stuff – and I think sometimes we can forget how little you know when you start out, or you think you know. Because you actually do know it, you perhaps just don’t know the terms for it.

So something like this is very, very accessible, and it explains things like calls-to-action and explain the latest semantic indexing, making your content searchable – uses ‘searchable’ as a term. And that’s lovely because it tells you why you need to be doing these things you need to be considering. Because people can think, “I don’t know about SEO. I don’t know about optimization. I don’t know about social media.” But really a lot of it is common sense and just learning on the job. And I think this is a really good article for that.

PW: And presenting it accessibly is… I mean, as Lorrie said when she was introducing it, none of it is kind of vastly new information, but most of the information we read isn’t vastly new. So what makes something good is how it’s presented. Is it presented in a way that makes it feel new or that makes it really easy to understand? And maybe a term that you’ve been reading about for hours, you suddenly go, “Oh, I get it now.”

LH: I know what that is now.

PW: Yeah. And so yeah, it’s great.

LH: No, I thought it was fab. And I thought… Because, obviously – I say ‘obviously’ – obviously, having freelanced for yonks, I know the information in this article. So the fact that it caught my attention, that was enough for me to want to recommend it. Good. So, Philippa…

PW: I present my recommendation this week with some fiercety because of the earnesty with which I mean it. But don’t take that to mean that it’s a work of heavity, and don’t let that thought cause you any nervosity. Because I choose my recommendations with rigorosity, and so, with seriosity I want to recommend an excellent blog post on Mental Floss that follows some rather delightful abstract nouns that have somehow fallen out of fashion. And it’s our responsibility, little birds, to bring them back into use.

LH: Dear me!

PW: That took some rehearsal, I have to say.

LH: Oh, got it.

PW: I even had to write down the pronunciation in brackets after what I said.

LH: [laughter] I’ve got tears in my eyes. You got to rigorosity and that was it [laughter]. Okay, so let’s hear more about your rigorously researched recommendation.

PW: Well, it’s just lovely. It’s words that we haven’t seen for a long time, for many centuries in some cases, but have been identified as just having something about them, and it makes me want to get involved in some kind of preservation campaign to bring them back. Because they’re just lovely.

LH: I think some of them – I’ll just click through, looking at them – some of them are quite French aren’t they?

PW: Yes, indeed.

LH: Romance language-based, Latin-based.

PW: Yes, debonairity.

LH: That’s nice, isn’t it?

PW: It is. Outrageousty.

LH: Fabulous.

PW: So it’s so much more outrageous than outrageousness. Too bad it fell out of use after the 15th century.

LH: Gutted! Do you know this taps into something that I’ve been having fun with recently? And I genuinely think it makes me a bad person. But I have fun sometimes correcting people when they’re not wrong, and getting them to use really ridiculous nouns that don’t exist. And so somebody used the word “boringness” the other day, and I’m pretty sure that’s not actually a word. It probably is a word. I mean, I have to look that up. But I got him to use “boringitude” instead.

PW: Not boredom.

LH: Not boredom, no, “boringitude”, as in something being boring. And it was wonderful, and they corrected themselves. They were like, “Oh, I’m sorry, yeah, boringitude.” They make me so happy.

PW: You have such terribility, Lorrie.

LH: I’m dreadful. I’m admitting this with a certain level of nervosity, I have to say.

PW: Yeah. I’m not sure of the seemlity of this admission.

LH: It doesn’t show a very high level of graciosity, does it?

PW: [laughter] Listeners, we could do this for hours. We won’t.

LH: We probably will, after we finish recording this. I can see our emails changing.

PW: The hours we could do it with wouldn’t be fewty.

LH: For goodness sakes! [laughter]

PW: [laughter] It’s there, number four.

LH: I know, I know. It’s just the terribility of it all.

PW: [laughter]

LH: For goodness sake, we’re like a pair of drunks in the park.

PW: We’ve had some words.

LH: So silly. It’s like when children start learning languages at school, and they look at all the swear words. Only I think we’re less cool.

PW: Yes, indeed.

LH: Oh, dear. I like this recommendation. It’s really nice.

PW: It won’t help you in your work, that’s for sure, but it’s enjoyable. And to be honest, if any listeners manage to get one of these wonderful words legitimately into their copy, I will…

LH: Screenshot for us, screenshot a tiny bit of your piece of work, put a big red ring around it, and we will post that thing.

PW: It will get a special mention on our Facebook page.

LH: Absolutely. Lots of applause.

PW: And we will worship you.

LH: Yeah. We will love you for it. Fabulous.

PW: You can find the link at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com.

LH: Just love it.

PW: Just love it.

LH: Just go, just click it, just love it.

PW: Do it!

LH: Ta da ta ta taa, I’m loving it! Beautiful.

PW: And so thank you so much for listening. Do head over to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com and subscribe. You know you want to be the first to hear next time. We have an episode out which will be Lorrie’s solo episode next time.

LH: It will. So do make sure you come along and subscribe. Any questions in the meantime, do come and have a chat with us – facebook.com/freelancewritingpodcast, and you can find all of our details at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com.

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

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


Podcast Episode 67: An interview with Lucy Hay from @Bang2Write about screenwriting, script editing, social media and other Ss besides


Podcast interview with @Bang2Write #scriptchat #amwriting 


0ae00e10-a654-44f2-9f8c-cfea0c0e9cb6 (1)Lucy Hay is an expert in all things screenwriting. A published writer, script reader and organiser of the London Screenwriting Festival, she also runs the massively successful Bang2Write website. In this podcast episode, I interview Lucy and we cover everything from her work with J.K. Amalou to helping to give women opportunities through London Screenwriting Festival, funding and investment for films, why some films work and some don’t, how much to disclose on social media, Twitter hashtags, cyber bullying and teenage pregnancy.

During the discussion, I also inadvertently came out as gay. It was so thoroughly underwhelming that it was only on editing it that I even noticed I’d done it.

A must-listen for anyone interested in making it in the film and television industry as a screenwriter, and anybody who just wants to know more about different types of writing career.

"The very fact that anyone gets their creative work down is kind of miraculous, really"Show Notes

Find Lucy Hay on Facebook and on Twitter. Her writers groups are Bang2Writers on Facebook and on LinkedIn. Lucy is also on Quora and Pinterest.


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

Subscribe via RSS

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


PW: Hello, and welcome to episode 67 of ‘A Little Bird Told Me,’ the freelance writing podcast that tells you all the tricks of the trade. You can find us on the web at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, and from there you can find links to subscribe, whether you are a fan of iTunes, RSS feeds, or Stitcher. In that way you can make sure that you’re the first to hear when we have a new episode come out. On that page you can also find the link to our Facebook page. You definitely want to like us on there. We share all of sorts of interesting and relevant news and blog posts, and just helpful pointers for freelance writers.

I am Philippa Willitts, and today I am bringing you a very exciting interview with an amazing woman called Lucy Hay, who is the expert in all things screenwriting. So listen in to find out everything you’ve ever wanted to know about writing for films, why some films work and some don’t, how films are funded, how much to disclose on social media – that’s always, always an important issue, whatever kind of writer you are – how to use Twitter hashtags, and everything else from cyber bullying to teenage pregnancy, and giving women more opportunities to be heard. So, without further ado, here is the interview. Enjoy!

So, I am here with Lucy Hay, who is a script editor, script reader, and she runs the amazing website Bang2Write. She is also one of the organizers of the London Screenwriters Festival, and she has a wealth of experience in all areas of screenwriting. She has written two non-fiction books and writes young adults fiction. And as if all of that wasn’t enough, she also runs writing workshops and schools addressing social issues, as well as writing skills. So, Lucy, thank you for talking to me.

LH: Thank you for having me.

PW: I’m really aware that screenwriting is something that we haven’t covered at all on the podcast, and so I’m really glad to have the opportunity to chat to you, really.

LH: [laughter] Well, thanks very much.

PW: So, could you tell us a bit about your own career, how you got into the area you’re in?

LH: Absolutely! Well, basically, I always wanted to be a writer, and when I was much younger I wanted to be a novelist. And then I — basically, a long story short was I became a teenage mother, and I became absolutely convinced that all of those dreams were all over for me, and I was going to do the normal kind of things that you’re supposed to do. And, basically, a friend of my mother’s gave me £20.

PW: All right.

LH: And I was really not well-off at all at the time, but she said to me I have to spend that £20 not on the baby, not on foods, not on nappies. I’d just spend it on myself. And I went into a bookshop, and there were two books in there, and one was called, “Teach Yourself Novel Writing”, and the other was called “Teach Yourself Screenwriting.” And I bought both of them. And I read them both.

My baby was extremely grizzly, and all it did was cry. [laughter] Literally, all he did was cry for about first six months of his life. So I remember reading these two books, baby crying 24/7. I lived in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of a field, so I didn’t see anyone. I didn’t have any friends, I only ever saw my parents. So I read these books really, really quickly, and I thought, “Oh, I want to be a screenwriter.”

And I looked in the UCAS handbooks. Of course, it wasn’t even really the internet in those days, given this was the ‘90s. And I saw the Bournemouth University had a Screenwriting for Film and Television BA. “Oh, I’ll go for that.” And so I did and I got on the course, and I just got really into screenwriting in general.

I thought, “Oh, I still can’t really make a career of this,” because, of course, you can’t make a lot of money a lot of time, and I thought, “Do I want to be a literary agent or something like that?” But I didn’t really want to move to London. And anyway, I ended up on a work placement with a literary agent, and he took me to BAFTA.

PW: Oh!

LH: No! It wasn’t the actual BAFTA Awards, but it was the BAFTA place. And there was this big thing going on, and people were coming up to me and saying, “What do you do?” And I didn’t want to say, “Oh, I’m a student and a single mother.” [laughter] I said, “Oh, I read screenplays.” Because, I mean, it wasn’t untrue. I was reading these screenplays for the literary agent. And they said, “Oh, will you read my screenplay? I’ll pay you.”

PW: Oh!

LH: That was like, “Oh, okay.” So I kind of fell into it very randomly, really. And from there I started doing other work placements with various initiatives and screen agencies and things like that. And then I got paid jobs at screen agencies, and for production companies, and things. And I was reading these scripts from home. By this point I had graduated, and I was working at a supermarket at one stage.

And I knew I wanted to set up my own business, so I built that into the ethos of the company whilst I was doing my production company work or working for the literary agents, and then reading for private clients on the side. Because in those days — there’s a lot of script reading companies around now, but I suppose this was, what, 2004, something like that, and before Twitter, before Facebook, before the blogs. All the screenwriting blogs were really getting going. And I realized that, you know, most script reading companies were extremely expensive. You’re looking at about £100 for a report – 10 years ago, by those standards, that’s even more than it is now.

PW: Sure.

LH: And I thought, well, I could actually do a no-frills kind of script reading service, and as a result got a very loyal fan base of clients, to begin with, and then it got bigger and bigger. And I got a lot of the blog, as well, and things just kind of spiralled from there, really, in a very organic way. And I was very fortunate that people wanted to kind of get on board with me. And I think it’s because I didn’t bullshit them. I said, “This is what’s wrong with your screen play,” or “This is how you can improve it, but it is up to you.” it’s about you and about what you want to do with your work. I’m not going to give you some kind of magic formula and you’re going to be so successful. It’s all about, you know, personal growth as a writer, as well. And I think people appreciated that. They liked my honesty, and they liked the fact that I wasn’t going to bullshit them. But equally, I wasn’t going to be nasty to them, either. Because in those days the script reading services were very, “This is crap, whatever,” and as a result would be very demotivating. And I’m not about demotivating. The very fact that anyone gets their creative work down is quite miraculous, really, to be honest.

PW: And then to send it off to somebody else.

LH: Exactly! I mean, it takes a lot of guts. You’re kind of putting all your dreams on paper, and you’re kind of offering it up to someone to potentially rip to pieces. I think that’s brave, and I think that always needs to be remembered, I think so. I’m always about —

PW: Yeah, definitely.

LH: very careful to kind of support my writers. And I think the vast majority of my writers like that, and that’s why they come back to me so much.

PW: So what’s the role of a script reader? Is it to kind of just give a general assessment of — a third-party view of a script? Or tell me more about what it is you actually do when you receive a script, say.

LH: Okay. Well, I mean, it depends what a writer wants me to actually do. I mean, if they want me to just literally read their screenplay, then they’ll probably hire me to do like an overview report, which is basically an assessment of how that script works on the page. And so I’ll look at its story, I’ll look at its characters, its dialogue, its arena, which is like the story world. It’s not just the location, but also how all the bits within it work maybe you’re using mythical allusion or motifs, and things like that.

And then there’ll be a miscellaneous section where I may look at things like script format, because scripts have to be laid out a very specific way. Or spelling, punctuation, typos turn up quite regularly under the miscellanea section. Titles – a lot of the time writers choose titles that are just completely inappropriate or just really boring, or whatever. So just all the random things that are part of the package.

So that’s an assessment, basically, as a script reader. My post popular service is probably the development notes there, and that’s more of a script editing function. And that’s less to do with assessment, and more to do with development in terms of actually making it better, looking at big issues, and saying, “Well, have you considered this way of looking at this character? Or have you considered this way of changing the structure, so it reflects the theme better?” And just really delving in much more detail into the screenplay. So yeah, script reading is about assessment, script editing is about facilitating the story, making sure that it is the best that it can be.

PW: Yes. And it’s interesting, because although I don’t do anything like that, I do do a fair amount of non-fiction editing in various forms. That can be kind of on a very — just like proofreading for commas level. Or it can be on a ‘Do you think this well-structured? Do you think this needs more…?’ And something I find interesting relates to what you were saying earlier about you being pretty honest, and not sugar-coating things, but also not being unnecessarily cruel. That can be interesting from an editing point of view in general, because, yeah, some people feel almost fragile, and some people feel very…

LH: Yeah. Some clients will be more needy than others, and that’s always the case. And I hesitate to make generalizations, but very often female writers will need a lot more kind of counselling than male writers. I do find that an awful lot. And I think it’s something to do with the fact that women are told from being very little girls, that if they do certain things they may be showing off, perhaps.

PW: That is a real — yes.

LH: So I think that sometimes I do spend a lot of time kind of counselling female writers to say, “You are good. You can do this. You can get out there and do that.” It happens you kind of, you know, I’m a bit like her life coach for someone who’s — I mean, a lot of male writers can be like that, as well. But I just found it really striking that writers do it so much more. Also, there’s not as many women writers. At London Screenwriters Festival we probably have around about 50-50 now, because we work very hard to kind of be as inclusive of female writers as possible. But I have been very struck by in the past going to events that it’s been 80% make, 20% female at best, so part of Bang2Write is we’ve got to make sure that the female writers feel confident and able to share their work, and not vulnerable, if you like.

PW: Yeah. I also find there are people who send me their work saying, “I really want this to be as good as it can be. Just do what you need to do.” And there are other people who are a lot harder to deal with, who kind of send it for validation that it’s great. And they don’t want actually criticism or feedback really. They want you to say, “There’s nothing I can do. This is perfect already.”

LH: Yes, that’s definitely the case. In the olden days, when I first started, I would say most writers were probably like that. I’d say since the internet has come about, and since there’re so many writing forums and so many writing websites all saying you’ve got to be able to take feedback, you’ve got to be able to deal with it, writers have gone a lot better in recent years. They know that they can’t just write something and send it out, and they’re all just getting laid by Steven Spielberg. [laughter] They’re a lot more realistic these days. I mean, when I used to send notes back, they’d be great notes, and I’d work really hard on all of them. But like, “What the hell is this?” So they can take it a lot better than they used to for the majority.

Occasionally I’ll come across someone who goes absolutely nuts when I send notes back to them, and in which case I just kind of let them run themselves out. “Sorry you feel that way,” all that kind of stuff. And most of the time you don’t know why they’ve reacted so badly. It could be because they feel – what’s the word? They feel let down because they believed that this was the draft that would work. Or maybe they’ve made lots of sacrifices that you don’t know about in terms of family time to get it done. And they feel just very disappointed, not so much in your notes, but in the way that it’s not worked out the way that they want it to, and in which case you’re just going to let them get on with it. And if they really, really don’t like your notes or whatever…

Sometimes you’ll send some notes through, and it won’t be what they expect. So I had a guy a couple of weeks ago who hired me for an overview report, and I think he thought he was going to get development notes. And he kept asking loads and loads of questions, and it’s like, “Why didn’t you hire me to do the development notes, because it’s all laid out on the website, what you get for your money?” But a lot of new writers, they just don’t kind of process these things, and in which case you’re just going to chalk it up to experience, and just let it go and move on.

PW: Sure. So, from your point of view, what would be the ideal point at which a writer would send you a script? Is there a good point in the process?

LH: It’s hard to answer that one, to be honest, because different writers work in different ways. I mean, my main collaborator is J.K. Amalou, and he made Deviation in 2012. We made Assassin at the moment.

PW: Yeah.

LH: And he will basically send me a logline. And a logline is like a one or two-sentence pitch of the story, and we’ll throw the logline back and forth, and start flashing out some characters, turn it into a one-pager, turn it into a short treatment, turn it into a longer treatment. A treatment’s like a plan, if you like, of the whole screenplay. Then it’ll go to draft, when we’re happy with that, and we’ll start going through the draft. So I’m literally with him every step of the way, though the really drafting process. I mean, one project of his I was reading today is now on like the 18th draft.

PW: Right.

LH: Yes. Today I read a screenplay of his that’s on the 23rd draft. He really drafts things.

PW: Yeah.

LH: Because he’s a professional writer. He’s been doing this a long time. With new writers, most of them haven’t got the money to put 23 drafts through a script reader. And on that basis, I would say they need to do a lot more peer review before they probably show it to a paid-for reader. I mean, there’s loads of ways to actually facilitate peer review now.

PW: You just mentioned forums, and I see lots of forums where people do that for each other.

LH: Absolutely, yeah. And a lot of them, they get actors involved and do read-throughs.

PW: Wow.

LH: That’s a really bright idea, because actors are always happy to do that because they like to know the writers, and if you know more actors then you can do plays all together and read-throughs and stuff like that. The more people you know, and the more people who are involved in the industry, and the more favours you can do for each other, then the more of a place you have in the industry.

Because, I mean, what we say ‘the industry’ – there isn’t really any such thing. It’s just a bunch of people who are working together. So I think it’s crazy that some writers will literally lock themselves away and not try and work with other people as much as possible. You have to make a team wherever possible, I think, because it’s all about making the chain, and then you find more people, and more people on top of that.

PW: Yeah. Are you always hired by a writer? Or are there occasions when, I don’t know, a production company or someone might hire you to read through a script?

LH: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I’ve read for screen agencies. Screen agencies are like lottery funding people, and they have to give money out of like the lottery pot. And I read for Scottish Screen for years, right up until they became Creative Scotland and like – I think that was 2010 or 2011. I read at the moment for an investment company called Premiere Picture that’s down in Brighton. They are a private investment company. Basically, they award money to various films for various things that might be for poster campaigns, or it might be to finish the film, or various things. I’m never told what the money is for. I’m just literally given the screenplay and I’m told to write a synopsis and my thoughts on whether it’s got commercial viability, as well as retailing viability.

PW: Yeah. I read an article recently about this, just about investors investing in films, which is a slightly risky thing to do, but can be incredibly lucrative if it goes well from their point of view.

LH: It absolutely can. I mean, there’s lots of really great business models and tax things that producers can take full advantage of to make a lot of money for investors. And so it’s something that people can make stacks of cash on, absolutely. And it’s not something that I really understand in massive detail because I’m not about the business; I’m more about the story telling aspect, but it’s a really interesting thing. It’s something that I personally want to learn more about because I think it’s really interesting because banks do it, as well.

Banks will actually have a film on. They will actually offer money to film makers. I mean, this is how I understand it. They offer like a loan to the film maker. The film maker takes up the loan. The film then belongs to the bank, and then the producer has a certain amount of time which they agree to pay the money back, and if they can’t, then the film belongs to the bank forever, so it’s like a mortgage, but it isn’t for a house, it’s for a film.

PW: That’s the strangest thing.

LH: Yeah, yeah. And all of the big banks, apparently, have these film arms for film makers. I think you have to be quite a big company to be able to access these things. I don’t think it’s something that any indie film maker can access, but certainly all the worthy titles and guys like that may do this kind of thing.

And then, of course, there’s just the private investors, who are individuals. Some of these guys, these investors, they’re rich as Croesus. They really are. And they know a good deal when they see one, and they know what’s going to work well, and they will just throw money at stuff, massively. Sometimes they haven’t even read the screenplay, they’ve just read the treatment, and they’re like, “Yeah, no problem.” Or they’ve read the package, which is who’s in it, who’s directing, those things, and who’s the sales agent, that kind of thing. Some of these guys, they just know. They’re such good businessmen; they just know whether they’ll ever get a return or not. And it’s really, really interesting stuff.

PW: In terms of banks, I’d far rather my bank invested in films than like the arms trade.

LH: Yes, definitely. It would be preferable.

PW: I think they should publicise this more.

LH: Yeah, absolutely. I remember some bank guy coming in to talk to us at the university here, and I was like, “Why don’t we know about this?”

PW: So had you always been interested in films, even before you found out really about screenwriting?

LH: Yeah, yeah, I always loved films. I remember that for my 13th birthday I was given a director’s chair.

PW: Oh, fantastic!

LH: Alien, and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. And I saw this documentary about Ridley Scott, the director of Alien. And I remember I’d loved to be a film director. I didn’t know what went into it, being a 13-year old girl, and certainly knowing what goes into the role now, I don’t think it would be for me, after all. I mean, script editor is just the perfect job for me, because I get to arse around with stories. And I write crazy notes to self. I found one the other day while I was cleaning up that said, “Whites, why not ferrets?” What the hell was that about? I’ve got no clue, but there you go.

PW: Are you ever able to watch a film without analysing the script?

Westwood Movie Theaters - Los Angeles, Califor...

Westwood Movie Theaters – Los Angeles, California (October 31, 2013) (Photo credit: cseeman)

LH: It’s quite difficult. It must be really good, then I won’t analyse it. And certainly, 2013 movies – one was Gravity. Absolutely, 100% involved in Gravity. I absolutely adored it. And also Frozen, which I really liked, as well. And also Rush, as well, the racing one. And what I loved about all three of them was they were all so different. I mean, Rush was absolutely unapologetically masculine. It was like super, super masculine. It was like a Lynx advert, but to the power of a million. It was great. I adored it. And of course, you get to see — it thaws off all the way through, which for me was a big thrill.

And Frozen – I loved Frozen. It was about teenage realizations and sexuality, and coming of age, and all that kind of stuff – all the things that are predominantly girly. And I loved that, because it was really nice to see a story that dealt with what it was like to be a girl. Because even films for little girls with female protagonists don’t always deal with that kind of stuff.

PW: No, absolutely.

LH: So that was really nice. And Gravity I just loved, because the threat to her life was so great and so massive, you just weren’t sure she was going to make it, which hardly ever happens, because you’re going, ‘Oh, yeah, she’ll be all right. She’ll be all right.’ But right up to the last minute I was thinking I don’t know if she’s going to make it. The threat, the jeopardy was just fantastic. And what I loved about it was it wouldn’t have mattered whether she was male or whether she was female. Everything that she had to go through she had to go through and she had to deal with, no matter — it transcended gender, it transcended everything.

It was just about, “Do I want to live?” or “Am I going to die? Am I going to literally lay down and die, or am I going to fight for my life?” And I loved that, because the great metaphor for what so many people go through on a small basis on their everyday lives – if you’ve been through something like cancer or a terrible illness or something like that, and you’re having to fight that battle within yourself to actually see it projected in a massive 3D way – I just really appreciated. It was a great metaphor for the human endurance, and I just loved it.

PW: That’s interesting, actually, because we recently had a brief discussion about a film that I was watching at the time, which technically should have had some of those same dilemmas and issues, which was called The Ledge.

LH: Right.

PW: And on paper to me it sounded like, “Oh, this should be interesting.” It’s essentially a man standing on a ledge, and he’s been told that if he doesn’t jump off the ledge at a certain time, somebody else will die. So he’s got about an hour and a half to decide whether or not he’s going to jump to save this other person’s life, or whether he’s not, and this other person’s going to die. And I thought, “Oh, that sounds quite — I could get into that.” But in reality it wasn’t engaging at all.

LH: Yes, it was a real shame, that movie. It was an indie film. I believe it might have been a Canadian film, I’m not sure, but it starred – what’s his name?

PW: The guy who was on Queer as Folk in the UK.

LH: Charlie Hunnam.

PW: That’s the one.

LH: Yes. The Ledge starred Charlie Hunnam, who, of course, is a big hunk at the moment from Sons of Anarchy and from Pacific Rim. And I actually really enjoyed Pacific Rim. I mean, it was your classic kind of ‘the Americans are going to save the word’ and all that kind of nonsense. But it reminded me very much so of Independence Day, those kind of movies – great fun, but also with a human element to it that was actually very appealing. There was lots about it that was quite unusual in the same way that Independence Day was way back, in 1994. So it was a bit like being 15-years old again, and watching those kinds of movies in the ‘90s with army, and Will Smith, and all those kind of guys. I really enjoyed Pacific Rim, and it was really good. He put on a good performance in that, and of course, he’s ace in Sons of Anarchy. And I liked him in Queer as Folk, as well. He’s a good actor, Charlie Hunnam, so I got the movie out, because, like you, I like the concept, and I like him, as well. And I thought this was going to be good stuff. I had also just recently seen another film that was very similar, called Man on a Ledge. Have you seen that one?

PW: No, I haven’t.

LH: That one stars Sam Worthington as the guy on the ledge. And then we’ve got Jamie Bell – Billy Elliot. And basically, in that Sam Worthington’s on the ledge. He’s going to jump because basically it’s all a big ruse because he’s actually drawing attention away from Jamie Bell, who’s trying to rob a massive jewel, basically. And it’s a big jewel heist, and it’s to do with revenge. And as you watch it though the movie, it gets bigger and bigger, and it gets more and more out of control, and it was very exciting. It was absolute nonsense, but it was very exciting.

So I thought, “Oh, okay. The Ledge should be quite good, then.” And as you say, it simply was not, because they basically took a great concept – basically we’ve got Charlie Hunnam on the ledge, and he’s talking to the cop, the guy from The Brave One who, again, put in an amazing performance in The Brave One. He was fantastic in that. I can’t remember his name, either.

PW: I’m useless with names.

LH: I can never remember anyone’s name. But yeah, the guy who plays the cop who was in The Ledge, he was also The Brave One. He was fantastic in that film. I loved The Brave One. I thought that that was great, but unfortunately in The Ledge what let the entire premise down was two things. The first thing was the fact that he’s on the ledge, and then we get out of that by him telling his story, and it all goes back in flashback. That immediately sapped the jeopardy, because all the time you’re going backwards. It lacks forward-looking momentum.

PW: Oh, of course, yeah.

LH: So it totally undermines everything. And the whole deadline of an hour and a half, boom, it’s all gone. And it’s just a nightmare. So that’s a real shame for starters. And that would have been bad enough if it wasn’t for the fact that the premise doesn’t stand up, because if he’s got an hour and a half before the husband shoots the wife in the head, and he’s telling his story to the cop…

PW: For an hour and a half.

LH: Then it’s obvious what the problem is.

PW: I know.

LH: And it’s like what the hell was that all about? Who thought that was a good idea?

PW: After I watched it I read lots of discussion online about it, and people were coming up with reasons why he didn’t, but they really just wanted to not be so annoyed with it, so were forcing reasons out of nowhere, really, just in order to feel less like, ‘Oh, what? This is so obvious.’

LH: Yeah, yeah. But I mean, they might have gone away with it if they had provided us with really great characters, but unfortunately they didn’t. We’ve got Charlie Hunnam’s character, who’s so bitter and twisted about the death of his wife and child. He’s just always going on about God and life not being fair, and all these kinds of other things. And we’ve got the husband, who’s such a homophobic wanker, and he’s so hateful, and he’s so much older than the girlfriend, who’s such an unbelievable sap. I mean, bloody hell!

PW: She’s awful.

LH: Liv Tyler just spends her entire career playing these really sappy women. I mean, it’s like for goodness sake! And then we’ve got the gay roommate, who’s such a stereotype, as well. He’s only there just to actually facilitate the husband’s phobia…

PW: Homophobia, yes.

LH: Yes. It’s just crazy. Everybody was a cardboard cut-out, and I could —

PW: And also, I initially heard about some – it was when it came out, really – and it was through talking the kind of sceptic atheist communities around it, because it was being built as this atheism-versus-belief thing.

LH: Yes, yes.

PW: But actually that was so overegged.

LH: It really was. And it’s a tragedy. I love the idea.

PW: Yes. That could have been an interesting extra angle, but in reality it was just like ‘oh, stop whipping that now.’

LH: I know, definitely. I mean, this is the problem with so many spec screenplays that I read is that a writer will have a personal soapbox of some kind, whether it’s atheism or religion or feminism or anti-bullying, or whatever, and they will just keep whipping it, like you say, just over and over. It’s like, ah, you’re hitting me in the head with a brick. Stop it!

PW: We don’t need everything pointing out.

LH: No. I mean, this is the thing with theme. Theme of any creative work is essentially read into by the audience member and their response anyway, so you can put whatever you like into something. They’re going to see it their own way anyway. I mean, I was having a conversation with one of my Bang2Writers the other day. We were talking about Frozen, and she thought that the song ‘Let It Go’ was about being gay. And she had some really great reasons for why it was about being gay, and certainly when she said that I thought, “Oh, yeah, it could be, actually.”

But then I’m not gay, so I wasn’t thinking that at all. I saw it as actually letting go of the past, letting go of mental health issues, changing your response, all these things that I personally have been through. I then put on the movie, and then she had put on this notion of being gay, because that was experience. Somebody else would have a different experience and a different response to that song. And that’s good. Variety is a part of life. To actually say, “They must get it! They must get this theme! They must get the theme the way I want them to!” That actually kills off your creative work’s power.

PW: Yes. My sister, many years ago, did theatre studies at university. We went to watch a play that she’d been in, and afterwards I remember my dad saying to her, “Did the audience laugh in the right places?” And she said, “Well, wherever they laughed, that was the right place.”

LH: Exactly.

PW: Because it was obviously funny, and that kind of blew my 13-year old mind.

LH: She’s absolutely right. You can’t be too precious as the creator of a creative work. People will have the response that they have to whatever it is. That said, if they tell you what your response is supposed to be, or what you intended, then that’s wrong. At the same time, you can’t push it too far the either way, either. At the end of the day it’s a very finely tuned balance.

I don’t believe that — in this age of the internet often you’ll find people really slagging off, and screenwriters saying, “Well, he or she is clearly a misogynist because of blah” or whatever. And it’s like, no, stop right there. What you are not factoring in there is the fact that you’re seeing fiction. That is not reality. And just because somebody creates a creative work that maybe you don’t agree with the theme, that doesn’t give you the right to actually tell the author of that that they’re a bad person, or that that’s what they meant.

I was reading on Facebook this morning – somebody was having a really big rant about how people with mental health issues are always misrepresented on the screen, and the film makers say that they’re trying to raise awareness, and how this is all bullshit, and they’re really just ignorant and blah, blah, blah. And it’s like, well, this is your response. Maybe that’s more actually what they meant. At the same time, obviously, some people are blatantly trolling. They’re trying to be controversial, and they’re being a pain in the ass. But most people have got good intentions. Most people want to actually create something of worth and of value, so that it makes people happy. They don’t want to actually be horrible to people. They don’t want to be ignorant.

PW: Yeah. The troubling thing is a really interesting relatively new phenomenon that writers are doing. I blog partly as my job, and partly voluntarily for a feminist website, a disability website, that kind of thing. And it’s got to the point now where you know when you write any opinionated blog post. There’ll be people who agree, and there’ll be people who disagree, and that’s fine. But you know that there’ll be another subset of people who will look specifically to find something to misrepresent.

LH: Oh, God, yes.

PW: And will then fight you on that. And you can’t defend yourself there, because they’re arguing something that you didn’t even say. The F-Word, the feminist website I write for, so it’s quite big, a lot of readers and so we get quite a lot of this. And it’s at a point now where I’ll write posts, and I’ll reread it as I normally do, and rework it, but then I have to rework it again to try and find the bits that could be deliberately misrepresented. This is a real thing that we’re dealing with on an increasing basis, I think all kinds of writers really.

LH: Absolutely. I mean, I actually write one long blog post a week now on Bang2Write, and I’ll usually put it up on a Sunday. But it’s usually written for a whole week before it goes up online, because I will write it, and then I will add to it. And then I would look through, and then I would check it, and then I’ll get somebody else to read it, because, as you say, I’m looking for ways that people will try and stick the boots in, because that’s what they’re trying to do, because that’s actually what they want to do. It’s not got anything to do with me, it’s nothing to do with the writing craft; it’s nothing to do with any of that. It’s to do with the fact that they just want to kick back, because they do, and all because —

PW: And that’s not the same as just disagreeing. I think you and I would both be completely fine with somebody saying, “I’ve read this. I disagree because of A, B and C.” That’s fine.

LH: Yeah, people disagree with me all the time, and that’s absolutely fine because I’ve got very strong opinions, and I’ve got very — I pride myself on being the voice of dissent [laughter]. You may have noticed this. So I always try not to be one step ahead, because that sounds too wanky, but I try and actually look ahead to what is the next big discussion that we need to have, because I think just going the whole time – back in 2008-2009 I was talking about female protagonists, and there weren’t any around. So I stopped talking about it, and then last year we ended up with loads of female protagonists, which is great.

Things are actually moving on, so now I’m talking about masculinity and representations of masculinity. Because they need an overhaul, as well, and the people are often telling me, “Oh, you know, it’s a male privilege. We don’t need to talk about that.” It’s like yeah, we do, because you can’t just have one without the other. We’ve got women, got men – why would you say that the characterization of men is fine, when it’s clearly not? We’ve got lots of stereotypes here. We’ve got lots of bullshit here. There’s loads of boys walking around with the same kind of problems that young girls have about the feelings of their self-esteem to do with their bodies, because they’re not really buff and ripped like Thor.

PW: Yeah, and it’s not like the imposed masculinities are great for women, either.

LH: Yeah, exactly.

PW: Even if you look at it from still a woman’s point of view. You could still go ‘let’s look at masculinity because it’s a mess.’

LH: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, a lot of websites for men have started talking about the notion of ‘toxic masculinity’. I think that’s great. I think that’s a really, really interesting phrase, because it is. There’s lots of mixed messages about what it means to be a man, and what it means to be a hero, and what it means to be a father, or equally missing messages about what it means to be a father, especially in the black community – this notion of automatically a black [0:41:24] just disappears from his kid’s life. I mean, how fucking hideous is that? That’s so insidious. We should be addressing these things, and yet it’s strangely silent. And I’m not going to apologize for wanting to talk about those things.

PW: Quite. Now you mentioned your website – this is bang2write.com, and that’s a number two. What made you start it in the first place? Was it a business decision, or just something you wanted to write?

LH: Well, as I said, I’ve got loads of opinions. So I love the internet. I love to just talk, talk, talk all day. In the last three or four years I’ve sent nearly 100,000 tweets for starters [laughter]. I just love going on and on. When I found out about blogs – it was 2005 – I thought, “Fantastic! I can write about stuff on there.”

PW: I need one of those.

LH: Yes, definitely. It was an AOL Hometown blog. Do you remember those?

PW: Yes. My first website was a GeoCities.

LH: Yeah [laughter]. And you could only write in Comic Sans. Oh, my God!

PW: I used to be really excited when I could make a text change colour.

LH: Yeah. I used to write blue Comic Sans with pink links. Oh, my God! I look back now…

PW: I was trying to teach myself HTML years and years ago, and I found this website at the time that I just thought it was the best thing in the world. It was a website where you could just copy bits of code into your site, and it would make these things like snow on the screen over —

LH: Oh, God, snow! Yes, I remember snow, too.

PW: Or fireworks when you clicked your mouse or something. And I thought this was the best thing ever. And so my GeoCities site, every page of it, all of it was hand-coded very badly, had some kind of exploding text or wobbly lines.

LH: Yes. Flying ones, as well. Oh, God! But yeah, I loved my blog at first. And I was just writing randomly at first. I was just writing all kinds of crap on that. Then I started getting fan mail.

PW: Oh!

LH: From a lady called Mary. And she lived in Alabama [laughter]. And that’s when I realized that I wasn’t just talking to myself. The people are actually reading this stuff. And she wanted to ask about – I would write about my son, and stuff like that. And I was just using it as a diary at first. And I wrote a couple of stories and I stuck them on there. And she liked these stories, and I suddenly realized, “Oh, these things are quite powerful.” And I just started the script reading on a kind of more – what’s the word?

PW: Formal?

LH: Yes. So I had started in a more formal way, and I was advertising on various bulletin boards and stuff, and getting two or three clients a week by this point. And I noticed that I was writing the same sort of things to them all the time. Lots and lots of screenplays essentially got the same problems, problems of things like structure and character – the two big things. So rather than write the same thing to all three clients, I’d write an article on the blog, and then direct them to that, so that they could see the main kind of problem. And then I would write the specific notes to their screenplay with that in mind. And that worked really well. And people really got bored with that, and they liked the extra value from there. And so for a long time I was just writing articles on that blog, thinking only my clients would be reading it.

And then about a year after I had started this blog I started getting lots of comments and emails from people saying, “Oh, can you write an article about this screenwriting problem or that screenwriting problem?” And I thought, “Oh, okay.” So I started taking questions – this was before Twitter and Facebook, and all that stuff. And it became very interactive.

And I discovered other screenwriters were writing their own blogs. Most of their blogs were online diaries of whether they were going to make it or not, or they’ve just started writing a project for a producer, and they were doing diaries of that and things like that. And somebody came along and they made this – I suppose it’s like a library aggregator thing of all the blogs about writing and stuff like that. It just became what was known back then as the Scriboshpere [laughter].

PW: That’s excellent.

LH: And we all called ourselves the Scribes of the Scribosphere, and I think there was about 50 of us. And some of them were quite big, like John August, who wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Go, and Ken Levine, who wrote M*A*S*H and things. And then there were tiny little people like me. And then there was like the middle kind of TV writers from this country, as well. It just got bigger and bigger, and then Twitter came along, and Facebook came along. And people started to integrate their blogs into their Facebook, and then, weirdly, all the commentary, all went over to Facebook and Twitter, and now you don’t see a lot of comments on blogs.

PW: It’s true. And it’s interesting hearing how your site developed, because in modern-day internet marketing type speak, what you were doing was positioning yourself as an authority, which then makes people respect you and think, “She clearly knows what she’s doing,” and so they’ll say it to someone else, “She knows what she’s doing,” and they’ll think, “Oh, she knows what she’s doing.” And then the more people think well of you, the more they think, “Oh, I’ll hire her.” This is what a lot of modern [0:47:30] actors try to create in a bit too much of a planned way, whereas when it happens organically, like yours did — this wasn’t you setting out saying, “I’m going to write useful things, and so people will think I’m useful.” You were just writing what occurred to you, and then a few patterns started emerging, but the result was that you were writing things that were useful to enough people that you began to be recognized as someone who actually did know what they were talking about.

LH: Yes, which is pretty random, because I probably didn’t [laughter]. It just seemed common sense to me, and I think that’s probably the key behind good social media marketing, is it’s common sense. I mean, you don’t whine on social media about how hard everything is every five minutes, and you don’t slag everybody off, and you try and help other people, and you try and be pleasant, and you have a laugh, and whatever. And people will like you and pass your content on. It seems obvious to me, but very often it can’t be that obvious because I see loads of people —

PW: They’re really wrong.

LH: Oh, God, so wrong! I mean, I write social media posts on Bang2Write now because so many people ask me about it now. “What do I do? How do I set myself up on Twitter? How do I create a blog? How do I do a good digital footprint?” and all that bloody jargon.

PW: Yeah. People want to ultimate the process so much, and lose sight of the common-sense side of things, I think.

LH: Yes. It’s about human interaction and common sense. That’s all it is.

PW: I mean, we met on Twitter initially.

LH: Yes.

PW: We chat embarrassingly a lot [laughter] on Facebook. Not that either of us are there all the time.

LH: Oh, I am [laughter].

PW: But we both use both mediums a lot. And it’s interesting to see how writers are using them. I saw – it was a few weeks ago, and obviously, I won’t name who, but it was a copywriter who normally tweets just fairly sensible copywriting things, and then ended up live tweeting – I’m embarrassed for her just thinking about it – this kind of five hours following her husband telling her that he was leaving her.

LH: Oh, blimey!

PW: And she fell apart, not unreasonably.

LH: Yeah, of course.

PW: But spent five hours of tweet after tweet after tweet of kind of rage, then despair, then rage, then despair. And it was painful to watch.

LH: It can be.

PW: And if it’s a personal account then do what you will, frankly. But you do have to be a bit more careful with professional accounts.

LH: Yes, I think so. I mean, I tweet personal things sometimes, especially if I’m upset. I have been known to kind of rage a little bit, but I try and allow myself only three tweets maximum.

PW: That’s it.

LH: And then I’ll have to walk around the block a few times. Occasionally I might get drawn into a dog pile or whatever. There was one only last week where a certain keyboard warrior came after me because apparently I’m racist and classist, and all the usual -ists, based on a single tweet I made in November. So rather than ask me about the context of the tweet – which by the way was Storified – they start slagging me off. It’s like whatever. They were looking for ruck, basically.

PW: Yes, I know this phenomenon.

LH: Yes. So to protect my brand I just kept throwing back, kept throwing it back. And they kept coming back with the same nonsense over and over again. It’s like, “Oh, my God!” And then I wrote a nice long post about the issue on Bang2Write without naming her. If anybody ever takes it wrong again, they can see, because you’ll – what’s the word? The trail of tweet, and the trail of content to show that actually that’s just bullshit. So I think it’s useful that if somebody does launch an unprovoked attack like that, then you should protect your brand, I think. I could have got really personal and all that kind of stuff, but I didn’t see the point of that, because she was the one that ended up looking like an idiot.

PW: Yeah. And you do have to – you are a person that – it is the brand, but you are a person behind it, and you can’t be entirely robotic, and nor would you be an interesting person to follow if you were, frankly. It’s a difficult balance.

LH: Yes, it is.

PW: The kind of personality —

LH: It is. It can be.

PW: How much to come into it. But it’s an interesting one that evolves, I think.

LH: Yeah. I think that’s really key is this notion of evolution. I didn’t tell people that I was ill on social media. I didn’t tell anyone that I had cancer on social media when it was all going on. I didn’t want to be the one with cancer. It wasn’t what I wanted to do. But the people that I actually knew in real life, all knew about it. And the people that I worked with on a regular basis all knew about it. And, again, people were really nice to me on social media. They knew that I didn’t want to talk about in public, but they were always there all the time. They’d know that I would be in the hospital every three weeks or whatever for chemo, and they’d be on my phone with me the whole time, which was great.

And that was really helpful, as well, especially because when you’re on chemo, as well, you can’t sleep a lot of the time, so I’d literally be awake 21-22 hours out of 24, and I’d be on Twitter most of it. It was really great that people were always there, which was nice. It does stop you from feeling lonely, which is great. And that’s a brilliant aspect of social media, because you can feel like you’ve got moral support. But equally it can work the other way, and you can feel kind of harangued, as well.

PW: Yeah. There’s been an interesting story that’s blown up in the last day or two about an article that someone wrote in The Guardian. Now I first came across this because someone pointed out the quite exceptional statement that this article has now been replaced with. What was the full article now says, “This post has been deleted with the agreement of the subject because it is inconsistent with The Guardian editorial code.” Nothing would make me search the internet more, frankly, to find out what on earth was going on here, because I’ve never seen a statement like that.

I could still see the title to the piece, which was “Forget funeral selfies. What are the ethics of tweeting a terminal illness?” And I could still see all the comments to the piece, which thought it was horrific. And so I, of course, had to find out what it was. Google Cache wasn’t giving me anything, and all the obvious things, so I had to search further and further and further. Anyway, I eventually found it because when I get determined I get determined.

LH: Right. Fair enough.

PW: And basically there’s a woman who has terminal cancer, and has been tweeting a lot. Now I know and tweet with a lot of disabled people, and so somebody tweeting about their body or their pain or their treatment doesn’t really stand out to me.

This woman’s tweet – she’s not somebody I know on Twitter. She’s called Lisa Adams, and she’s tweeting very honestly about this last stage that she’s in, and the pain she’s in, and just how hard it is, which I will say I think is fully within her rights. It’s her Twitter account. She can tweet what she likes. What The Guardian journalist did was write an article, a really horrific article criticizing this woman for tweeting about this saying it’s basically too much information. I don’t know why I can’t stop reading it, but I can’t stop reading it. Some people just share too much, and do we have no limits anymore? And this Guardian journalist compares the tweets, at one point, to a grim equivalent of deathbed selfies.

LH: Oh, gosh!

PW: Yeah. Why are you saying this? If you don’t want to see this, don’t follow her. She’s very open that this is what she’s tweeting about. And I saw lots of article criticizing the original article, and then finally found a kind of cache of a cache of a cache from the article itself. And it is bad. And I’m not surprised The Guardian have taken it down. But for me that’s very much — she’s got exactly the same choice that you had. You chose that for you tweeting about this very openly wasn’t what you wanted to be doing, and that’s entirely within your right. And this woman had exactly the same choice, and for her tweeting openly was what she wanted to do about it, and that is also entirely within her rights.

LH: Absolutely. Yeah. Anyway, screenwriting.

PW: Yes, right. Yeah, Twitter. I don’t know whether you started this or whether you participate in it, but the #scriptchat…

LH: Yes.

PW: Tell me about that, because I like hashtags.

LH: Yes. Hashtags are brilliant. I love hashtags. I didn’t start scriptchats. As far as I know, it came into being around 2009, something like that. It’s been around for ages. It was one of the first things on Twitter that got me over there in the first place. And three people in America started scriptchat, and then they did a Euro scriptchat, as well. And they got three people in the UK to do that. I don’t know if they do it in any other country, as well, but there’s two main ones – Euro scriptchat on a Sunday, which is at 8:00 PM GMT, and then they’ve got a US scriptchat, which is about 10 o’clock our time. And basically they moderate a chat every week for an hour, 8:00 until 9:00 on a Sunday Euro, and then 10:00 until 11:00 US.

The three moderators for the US chat will usually have some sort of guest coming in to talk about various things. They nearly always have a guest. The UK moderators don’t have a guest quite as often, I’ve noticed. But they have a blog and they kind of facilitate questions and stuff through there, and suggestions for topics and stuff. Organically, other people who are talking about writing on Twitter will use a hashtag throughout the week, as well.

And I take full advantage of that, and all my musings about screenwriting or script reading I’ll hashtag with scriptchat, and also all my blog posts and things like that, as well. And scriptchat is a really good way of finding mostly screenwriters, but in the last year also novelists have started using it, as well, especially the people who publish to the Kindle, as well. So that’s a really good thing – more novel writers on there, as well. It does get taken over a bit by promo.

PW: A lot of the hashtags do now, and it’s a real shame. But if you can see through that they can be really – I used to participate in a monthly writers chat with a hashtag that I still never quite get it in the right order. I think it’s WCLW, which is Writers Chat Last Wednesday, and it’s just the last Wednesday of the month. And it’s for an hour. And I got out of the habit because it’s US time, and it doesn’t always translate to the same time here. But that’s started by a freelance writer called Michelle Rafter, who’s got a website. She will set a theme and certain questions. And sometimes there’ll be a guest answering questions. Other times it’s just a general discussion.

But I see so many hashtags now. There’s like #SheffieldHour and #YorkshireHour and there’s #UKFreelance. There’s just so many – every issue, every job. I think they’re a really good thing, although now there are more of them. I pay a bit less attention sometimes, whereas I think when there were fewer of them I probably focused a bit more on them, whereas they just pass me by a bit now. But they can be just a really good way of organizing Twitter into a topic.

LH: Definitely. And I probably use scriptchat the most followed by #Amwriting.

PW: Yes. I use that one.

LH: Also #Novels, as well, is an obvious one. I use the #fem2 a lot to get representation of women out a bit more. Also [1:02:07] about pregnancy, because obviously that’s a personal interest of mine, but also something that I write about quite a lot. I’ll use #fem2, #teenpreg, #teens quite a lot. I try and do some outreach work for our Twitter and ask fems with teenagers to answer their questions, especially about teenage pregnancy, but also about other issues, as well.

So I talk quite a lot on Facebook to a few teens about cyberbullying. Oh, some of the shit they put each other through, it’s just horrible. It’s really bad, all the memes that they do, and setting up pages to mock someone, and things like that. It’s just really nasty shit. I’m so glad it wasn’t around when I was this —

PW: Yes, I often think that when I see a documentary or something about cyberbullying. I just think I had some rough times at school, but I’m so glad now that when I got home I wasn’t then having that.

LH: Yeah, right. Because kids 10 years ago had mobile phones to worry about, you know, text message hassle.

PW: I’m too old to have even had that.

LH: Yeah, me too [laughter]. At least when you got home —

PW: We got bullied through the Post. [laughter]

LH: — you could close the door on it. [laughter]

PW: Royal Mail bullying, good old fashioned. [laughter]

LH: We could get home, close the door on it. They can’t even do that now. It’s just horrible. It’s really horrible. And also it’s another way of actually taking the Mickey even more out of people who’ve got problems or disability or an issue like teen pregnancy or whatever. That said, at least there is the feeling, as well, that you can actually bandy together with people who are being hassled, as well. You cannot say no. It’s a kind of a double-edged sword. One hand you can be harangued, but on the other hand you can —

PW: You can communicate.

LH: — actually find out you’re not the only one.

PW: Yeah. You can communicate with all sorts of people.

LH: When I was growing up I literally thought I was the only one that thought the way I did. I really, really believed that, 100%, until I was quite old, actually. I was about 22-23 before I realized that actually other people felt the same way about certain things as I did.

PW: I mean, for me, growing up gay, I would never have called it that when I was a kid, because it terrified me. I had no frame of reference other than it being a bad thing. And in so many ways the internet would have made for me that progression to ‘actually this is fine, and it’s me’, would have made it a million times easier. Because there was nothing then. There was the odd article in a teenage magazine, but very rare, and so, yeah, in that way, the internet would have made things far more accessible to me.

LH: Yep, definitely, and it would have been the same for me as a teen mother, especially living in a rural area. I just didn’t know anyone with a baby that was my age, nobody at all. And I was horribly lonely because I didn’t get to see anyone or do anything in a place that was so remote. I couldn’t even go into town or anything. I was literally just in the middle of a field, basically, and if I had just had Twitter on my phone even – just Twitter – life would have been a bit more bearable. But, as a result, I was having to read six books in a fortnight to say I had any kind of relief.

PW: One of the very good things about hashtags is that it’s an easy way of zoning in on the right people.

LH: Absolutely.

PW: Whether that’s about a personal issue like #teenpreg or whether it’s a professional thing like I want to talk to the UK freelancers, then if you’ve just joined the site you’ve got instant access to that community. And also anyone else who checks those hashtags will see you pop up. And so relationships start to be built, which is the beginning of all good things really.

LH: Yeah. No, it’s brilliant. I think Twitter is absolutely fantastic. I adore it. A couple of times a year I get sick of it and go, “I’m never going on Twitter again,” but I’m literally back on it within about five hours [laughter].

PW: So, Lucy, thank you so much for coming and talking on the podcast. It’s been really interesting to find out more about screenwriting and script editing. Good to talk social media with someone else who I know is really into social media. If people want to say hi to you, Lucy, or have a read of your blog, perhaps your social media feeds, how would they get in touch with you?

LH: Well, all you have to do is you can find me via Google, because I’m the only Bang2Write online, which is B-A-N-G-2-W-R-I-T-E, and you can find my website, which is bang2write.com or I’m bang2write on Twitter. On Facebook there’s a writers’ group called Bang2Writers, and there’s another one on the LinkedIn. You can also find me on various other platforms like Quora and Pinterest, and I think I’m even on FourSquare, as well, though I don’t really understand what that is. But occasionally people add me on there. So find me there if you want.

PW: And I’m going to also put links to all those places in the show notes at allittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com. If you listen to this and then by the time you get home you’ve forgotten, just come to the podcast website and there’ll be links directly to all of Lucy’s online stuff.

LH: Brilliant. Thank you.

PW: Thanks very much.

And so before we finish up there is now just time for a quick Recommendation of the Week. And my recommendation this week is a blog post by Carol Tice on makealivingwriting.com, and it’s called ‘Can You Spot These Three Different Freelance Writing Scams?’ And we always all have to be on the lookout for people trying to exploit our frankly good nature, and get work out of us for nothing, or indeed charge us for work, which is more common than you might expect. And so, what Carol does in this post is go through three examples from her own experience, but really they apply to so many of us. Any writer with any kind of platform gets approached with this stuff all the time, and you have to know what to look for and what the warning signs are. And so I will, of course, link to that in the show notes. That’s just a quick recommendation for this week.

Now we will be back for a dual episode in two weeks’ time, so come back then to hear me and Lorrie talking shop. I hope you’ve enjoyed this interview with Lucy. Head over to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com and as well as all the links, too. Subscribe to the podcast and to my websites in social media feeds. You will also find links to all the films we’ve talked about, all of Lucy’s own websites and social media stuff, and plenty more. So thank you very much for listening, and we will see you next time.

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

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

Show Notes

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LH: Oh, I hate those so much.

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

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

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

PW: Absolutely.

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

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

PW: [laughter]

LH: I know.

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

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

PW: [laughter]

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

PW: True.

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

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

you're not listening

you’re not listening (Photo credit: jessleecuizon)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LH: You’ll know what their priorities are.

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

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

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

LH: [laughter]

PW: Everybody’s impressed by a graph.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PW: That is very true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

PW: It is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LH: [laughter] Bravo.

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

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

PW: [laughter]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LH: [laughter]

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

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

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

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

PW: Oh, definitely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PW: Yes. Good, and with good reason.

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

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

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

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

LH: It really was, listeners!.

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

LH: Oh, very good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PW: About this particular task, yes.

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

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

LH: [laughter]

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

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

PW: I’ve done that, too, yeah.

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

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

LH: I loved that.

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

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

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

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

LH: That’s so fortunate, isn’t it?

PW: I know. It was unbelievably lucky.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PW: Yes, that’s so true.

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

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

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

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

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

PW: That’s it.

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

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

LH: Like uh-huh… [laughter]

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

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

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

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

PW: Oh, yeah. [laughter]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PW: Oh, definitely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LH: Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

PW: Yeah, yeah.

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

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

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

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

LH: No!

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

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

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

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

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

PW: Yeah, absolutely. And that resolves…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PW: That’s so true.

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

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

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

PW: And that that’s you.

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

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

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

LH: Because my panic is your panic.

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

LH: I think he’s just asking.

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

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

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

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

PW: That’s it.

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

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

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

PW: Of course.

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

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

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

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

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

PW: Well, exactly.

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

PW: It does, indeed.

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

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

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

PW: Yes.

LH: Your recommendation this week?

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

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

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

LH: Oh, I’ve just clicked the link.

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

LH: This is amazing.

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

LH: Oh, I love it.

PW: They are brilliant in their awfulness, frankly.

LH: So funny.

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

LH: Oh, so often the case.

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

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

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

LH: I love this.

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

LH: I think we should.

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

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

PW: Oh, that’s a good idea.

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

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

LH: Oh, if only they would listen.

PW: [laughter]

LH: Oh, dear me.

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

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

PW: [laughter]

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

PW: We love HubSpot.

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

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

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

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

PW: Indeed, conversion rate optimization.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LH: [laughter]

PW: And I have been Philippa Willitts…

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

Podcast Episode 48: How to prevent your freelance business from wasting money

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

Show Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look after the pennies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PW: And you don’t pay tax on an ISA!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LH: Haha, while you starve away at home!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PW: Yeah, you can find some lovely journeys.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PW: That. Is. Ingenious.

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

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

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

PW: It’s a no brainer, isn’t it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PW: I always use both, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Podcast Episode 41: The Importance of Professional Courtesy

We all grew up being told that manners cost nothing, and it’s never more true than when you are running your own freelance writing business. Treating your clients and fellow freelancers with courtesy is a must, and it is not unreasonable to expect the same in return. In this solo episode Lorrie talks about the importance of professional courtesy for freelancers and gives some handy hints and tips about achieving it, even in trying situations!

Show Notes

How to format an e-book. http://freelanceswitch.com/freelance-writing/format-an-ebook-for-kindle/

The sad smell of desperation: http://lorriehartshorn.com/episode-nine-of-a-little-bird-told-me-the-sad-smell-of-desperation/

Turning one-off clients into repeat business: http://www.philippawrites.co.uk/podcast-episode-39-how-to-turn-one-off-clients-into-repeat-business/

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LH: Hello and welcome to Episode 41 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 worth clicking the subscribe button, it really is because you’ll get a notification as soon as our new episodes are out.

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 and this week, I’m here without my usual co-host Pip, who has been off down South, gallivanting at this year’s Content Marketing Show in London. She’ll be back next week as usual, though, so stay tuned for what will hopefully be another really helpful solo episode.

English: Table Manners

English: Table Manners (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This episode is all about professional courtesy. When you’re your own business, and you’re all that stands between you and oodles of work – or bankruptcy for that matter – it’s important that you keep your standards up and your interactions courteous. So here I am with a few dos and don’ts about dealing with people courteously. And, because in my world, the client isn’t always right, I’ll also be talking about what I think is acceptable – and unacceptable – behaviour on the part of your clients.

Whenever I chat to clients and other freelancers, one thing that most people can agree on is that they think professional courtesy is an important part of a working relationship. And yet, everyone I speak to has some kind of horror story they can tell about discourteous clients, churlish designers and grumpy, off-hand writers. The only thing I can really conclude is that most people think manners are really important but not everyone agrees on what constitutes polite and what doesn’t.

For that reason, I’ll be sharing my own opinions and those of other people I’ve chatted to. If you get to the end of this episode and find there’s something you think should have been included – either as a hallmark of manners or the height of rudeness, please do come and let me know on our Facebook page or on my social media feeds – the links to all those are at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com.

So first off, why is professional courtesy so important for freelancers? When you start out as a freelancer, it can be easy to get carried away and think “Haha! Now I answer to no one!”. There’s no gruff manager breathing down your neck, you don’t have to suck up to that evil woman in accounts who wields your payslip with an iron fist, and you’re not representing another company. Plus, you can’t get fired.

But, since I began freelancing, I’ve realised that it’s more important than ever to be really polite and show professional courtesy on a consistent basis. In person, over the phone, by email – you’re the sole representative of your own business, so first, second, third and 100th impressions count for a lot.

When clients work with freelancers, the relationship can actually become quite intimate. They’re dealing with one person for the work itself, the business relationship, the invoicing, the admin, and they need to find you approachable in all of those roles. To my clients, I’m a marketer, a writer, an editor, an advisor, someone to chat to when they don’t know what to do with a piece of work or a press release or a marketing campaign, someone to laugh with when a frantic last-minute project lands in their lap and they can’t handle it, and someone to talk seriously with when it’s all gone to pot and they need a hand fixing it. I have to be respectful, approachable, available, appropriate and courteous through it all.

Likewise, if you’re a client – and lots of us freelancers are clients as well as service providers – it’s important to treat your freelancer with respect and manners. I for one know that a rude, disrespectful client is almost never worth the hassle, and while I’ll never be rude in return, I might well not be available next time some work is needed!

A rude client really can be the bane of a freelancer’s life, even if they’re not relying on the income from that person. From personal experience – my own and other freelancers I know – rude clients can make you question yourself. They can ruin an otherwise really nice day or week, cause sleepless nights and wear away at a freelancer’s self-confidence, self-assurance and general enjoyment of their career. You don’t want to be the person whose thoughtlessness or actual discourtesy contributes to someone having a really rubbish time of it, so listen up.

These are my top six rules for professional courtesy – a lot of these apply to both freelancers and clients.

1) Do what you say you’re going to do. From the moment you get in touch with your client or freelancer, it’s important to do what you say you’re going to do. If you meet someone at a networking event and say you’ll drop them a line when you get back, do it. If someone’s expecting a phone-call or an email from you, make sure they get it – or let them know if you’re not going to be able to keep your word. If work’s due in on Monday, get it in on Monday. If you quote a client £200 for a project, charge them £200.

There are times, particularly with quotes and deadlines, where you face a choice between being inconvenienced and inconveniencing your client or service provider. In my books, it’s better to take one for the team if you’ve under-quoted or given a tough deadline. You might lose out on a bit of money or sleep, but it’s better than putting your mistake on the other person for the sake of an easy life.

2) Communicate. In the case of things not panning out how they’re supposed to, as well as other situations, I never usually mind so much as long as I know what’s going on. The same thing goes for clients. If, for some unavoidable reason, you’re not going to be able to stick with number one and do what you say you were going to do, let them know as soon as possible. Don’t give them rubbish excuses, or your life story, and acknowledge the inconvenience you might be causing them rather than taking a “like it or lump it” approach. Most importantly, don’t let them down more than you absolutely have to.

Likewise, even if there’s nothing wrong, make sure you check in often enough with your clients. This can be a difficult one to master – when I started out, I was wary of getting in touch with clients too often – besides which, it just wasn’t my preferred MO: with a predominantly academic background, I was used to burying myself in books and dictionaries and emerging only when I’d done a project. But clients like to hear how you’re getting on. Sure, they don’t want a minute by minute update, but if you’re working on a project that runs over more than two days, it’s best to check in with them and let them know that everything’s running smoothly. I’ll admit, this is still something I slip up with occasionally – I get so focused on my work that I find myself forgetting to drop a quick “Everything’s coming on fine!” message to clients sometimes, but they do worry, so it’s something I try really hard not to fall down on.

3) Don’t be clingy. This is one a friend suggested, actually. Although he works for himself, my friend – and fellow freelancer –  doesn’t really have clients that he deals with directly. What he does have, though, is a wide range of freelancers who work for him on a regular basis. And one thing that really gets up his nose is people harassing him for work. As Pip mentioned in her last solo episode, which was about how to turn one-off clients into repeat business, it’s great to check in with clients and see if there’s anything you can do to help them – any more work they might need doing, any advice they might need and any chance of repeat business in future. What it’s not good to do, though, is bug clients for extra work when you’re having a quiet period. As I’ve mentioned before, desperation is never attractive, and it’s not good to be interrupting your client to beg extra work from them. Likewise, if you’re a client and you have a regular arrangement with a freelancer, it’s fine to get in touch with them to see if they have any extra capacity to help you out, but don’t guilt-trip or penalise someone if they just don’t have time to help you. I’ve had this before and it’s really awkward when clients take it personally that you have other clients and commitments. If your freelancer is consistently not available as much as you need them to be, that’s one thing. But if you contact them on a Friday afternoon needing something by Monday morning and find that the answer is “Really sorry but that’s not do-able”, don’t take it out on the other person.

4) Ignoring someone is rude. This has to be personal pet peeve. Although it’s similar to tip two, which was of course to communicate with people, I felt this one deserved its own category, simply because of the number of people – both freelancers and people who hire freelancers – who go, “YES!” when you mention it. Not to mention (and of course I will – you know I will!) my own experience.

Many is the time, sadly, where I’ve had my emails and phonecalls ignored by clients. Whether it’s repeated requests for clarification on work they want doing, invoices that need paying or work that’s been completed, emails and phonecalls are commonly ignored by people for whom politeness is not high up on the list. What’s more, it always seems to be the most demanding clients – the ones who want to pay the least and give the shortest deadlines – who suddenly ignore you when they’ve got what they want. Now, forgetting to answer someone’s email is easy. I have lovely clients who are scatterbrained, and that’s different – I expect it from them and I’ll usually get an email or phone call a while later saying, “OMG, I’m so sorry”. And I do the same – say if a client tries to call me while I’m out and about for the afternoon, or emails me while I’m busy with something else, I do have to put off responding to the query, but I answer it eventually! What is really not acceptable is people for whom radio silence is a standard response.

Manners Count

Manners Count (Photo credit: jessamyn)

If someone’s sent you a query, answer it. If someone wants to know where they’re up to with you, let them know. If someone invoices you, pay them or let them know when you’ll be paying them. If someone pays you, email them to say thank you. A two-line email only takes a few seconds, but it pays dividends to acknowledge people. A recent client of mine – a one-off client – took to ignoring me once I’d completed the work they wanted from me. I asked for feedback on the final piece of work in the project and got nothing. I asked if the project was complete as agreed: got nothing. I waited a few days, sent the invoice and got nothing. I was fully expecting them to pay me late as well. As it was, they didn’t, but given that they’d ignored three emails from me, I was left really underwhelmed and frankly unimpressed. When you can see someone merrily tweeting away and updating their LinkedIn, all the while ignoring you after you’ve put some real effort into working for them, it’s a kick in the teeth. I wouldn’t work for that person again – although I’ve obviously got no idea whether they’d want me to!

5) Don’t run rough-shod over your client or freelancer’s feelings. As a freelance writer, you’re being hired because you’re good at writing and everything that entails. No big newsflash there. You’re supposed to be good at what you do, and have confidence in what you do. Confidence, when well-placed, can be a reassuring thing to demonstrate to a client. What it’s important to avoid doing, though, is being arrogant and high-handed with a client.

As a freelance writer, I am often surprised at how many people struggle with what I would consider quite basic literacy. Grammar, spelling, punctuation – all of these things can prove a struggle for even the most successful business people and executives. Unsurprisingly, then, more complex aspects of commercial writing and editing – anything from SEO copywriting to narrative voice in literary editing, can be a minefield. Every freelance writer I know has experience of being questioned by a client. Whether it’s “Are you sure those commas should be there? They look funny…” or “I think that should be a semi-colon. Why? Um…” or “This email subject line needs to be something like, “WE CAN SAVE YOU MILLIONS TODAY!” because everyone loves money…” everyone’s had a client who thinks they know best.

Other times, you might have an endearingly helpful client, who’s full of great ideas and wants you to love them. I find a lot of this with literary editing clients – creative writing is a hugely personal thing, so characters or scenes will often be based on an idea or experience that the author holds dear, so the idea of chopping or changing anything can hit really hard.

Alternatively, you might be a client – say, you’re a writer who’s hired a designer for a project. Your designer comes back with work that you hate. In all of these cases, it’s important to be courteous.

Firstly, avoid arrogance. Avoid the temptation to pull rank and wax on about what an expert you are. “Trust me, I’m an expert” is obnoxious, and absolutely not the same thing as reassuring someone that you’ve done your research and have lots of experience in A, B or C “so try not to worry”. It can be really frustrating to explain yourself to a client who might know absolutely nothing about writing, and who might be being aggressive or defensive or clingy, but slapping someone down with a “Please, you know nothing!” is never going to be appropriate. It takes more effort to send someone a rant by email than it does to send them a quick email saying, “Have checked the commas” or whatever it is, “and it’s all fine.”

In the event of a well-meaning but perhaps a bit inept client, be careful with their person’s feelings. If someone’s come up with a really bad idea, it’s your professional duty to voice your concerns, but it’s never OK to ridicule someone, talk them down, ignore them or go ahead and do something they haven’t OKed simply because you know – or think you know – it’ll be better.

At the end of the day, the client often has the final say. What they want might be plain wrong or it might just really not be to your taste, but if they’re insistent on having it, there’s not much you can do. Sometimes all you can do is voice your concerns, say, “Personally, I would advise against that because A, B and C” and let them make the final decision. If you need to be clear that you don’t want your name going on that piece of work, then so be it, but try to be sensitive about it. Same goes for hiring people. I’ve ended up cutting short projects with designers simply because I’ve felt that the work is so bad or unsuitable that it’s unusable. What I don’t do is insult people, start blanking them, or bad-mouth them.

6) My sixth and final tip is one that I always hope is obvious but that never seems to be and that’s Don’t get into flame wars! If you get an angry phone-call, email, website, social media or blog comment, don’t respond in kind. Stay professional, no matter how wrong the client might be and try and take the discussion private if it isn’t already. If you can talk the other person round, so much the better. If you’ve done something wrong, apologise, outline how you’ll resolve the situation and try to move forward. If you haven’t done anything wrong, explain yourself politely but firmly and take your lead from the other party. If they’re being abusive, you’re well within your rights to step away from the conversation. I’ve had to do it once or twice and I’ve never regretted it – being polite doesn’t mean being a pushover. But, no matter what they say or do, and no matter where they say or do it, don’t be rude or abusive. If you handle a situation with dignity and class, you’ll not only be remembered by anyone who’s privvy to the situation as a professional, you’ll be minimising stress for your own self by being safe in the knowledge that you did nothing to make the situation any worse than it already was.

So I hope you’ve found these tips a helpful reminder of the different kinds of courtesy you can show to your clients and suppliers. As someone said to me on Twitter the other day, “Manners at work, as in life, are vital. They grease the wheels and make everyone feel better about themselves.” And it’s true. You don’t technically need to be polite to anyone. Sure, clients might not come back if you’re rude to them (some might!) but you can always find more, even if it is less energy efficient. But being courteous to people is about more than just fulfilling a necessary duty. It’s about being the best kind of freelancer. It’s about making other people’s lives more pleasant, and it’s about not being one of those horrible people whose emails and phonecalls other people dread. Being courteous puts you in a league above, sadly, as there are still plenty of people who aren’t. And if you stick to your standards, clients and suppliers will thank you for it.

I know without a doubt that I’m willing to go one further and one better for clients who treat me with respect. I’ll hit tough deadlines for clients who have the manners to give me the time of day and say, “Hi, hope you’re well…” before they launch into a request. I’ll throw in bits of advice and consulting here and there for clients who pay me on time, thank me for getting work to them and keep me up to date with what they need from me. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the people I hire – usually writers and designers – do a brilliant job for time and time again. I try to treat them as I’d like to be treated and, while I’m not the perfect client or freelancer, a little bit of effort and courtesy usually goes a very long way.

So now it’s time for this week’s Little Bird Told Me Recommendation of the week. This week’s recommendation is a little bit different to most of our previous ones, which often focus on commercial copywriting, SEO and things like that. Recently, on our Facebook page, a listened asked us about self-publishing on the digital market – ie. publishing an e-book. And while the query was about publishing in general, it got me thinking about a big bug bear of mine when I purchase Kindle books by independent authors: formatting. I bet you thought it was going to be editing, didn’t you? And you’d be right, usually, but not this time!

Poorly formatted e-books are a total pain. Bad formatting ruins the reading experience which, for me personally, is already compromised by the book being in digital format. I’m a traditionalist – what can I say?

Bad formatting seems to happen for the same reason as bad editing: through sheer laziness. It’s easy to focus on the content of your book and think, “Oof, finished it – now time to publish and make millions!” but there are boring things like proof-reading and yes, formatting, to be perfected before your book is suitable for sale.

Be courteous to your readers by making sure that they can enjoy what they’ve just purchased from you. If the spacing, margins, headers and pages are all to pot, you’re on to a loser.

A recent article on Freelance Switch offers a really in-depth tutorial on how to format an ebook. While the author, David Masters, is clear that he’d recommend using paid-for tool Scrivener, he goes through all the steps you need to go through if you decide to format your book using Microsoft Word or other free software.

The article has really clear guidelines, screenshots and links, and is the perfect go-to guide for anyone planning to self-publish online, whether you’re a blogger, marketer, copywriter or fiction author. I’ll pop the link to the article in the show-notes and I’d encourage anyone who’s thinking of writing an e-book to have a look. If you’ve got the time, inclination and talent, an e-book can be a brilliant way to promote your services, as long as you do it the right way.

So, there we have it – episode 41 of A Little Bird Told Me. If you’ve got any comments, queries or questions, or you just fancy getting in touch, go to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com and follow the links to my and Pip’s social media feeds and websites.

Pip and I will be recording another dual episode next week, and you can subscribe to that and all future episodes right there on Podomatic. Until then, though, I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn – thanks so much for listening.


Podcast Episode 39: How to turn one-off clients into repeat business

Keeping and nurturing existing clients is a more reliable and less time-consuming way to conduct your freelance writing business, when compared to doing lots of one-off pieces of work for all and sundry. You don’t need to spend as much time marketing yourself, and you can build on existing good relationships rather than constantly starting new ones.

In this podcast, I talk about the 13 top tips to turn one-off clients into repeat business and there is, of course, the Little Bird Recommendation of the Week too.

Show Notes

Episode 8: Essential Software and Online Apps for Freelance Writers

Twitter Law

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Hello and welcome to episode 39 of A Little Bird Told Me: the freelance writing podcast about the highs, the lows and the no-nos of successful self-employment.

I am Philippa Willitts and today I’m going to be talking about how freelance writers can turn one-off clients into repeat business. I am here without my usual co-host Lorrie, who’ll be back next week for our next dual episode; today, you’ve just got me.

If you want to make sure you never miss another episode, the thing to do is subscribe. And we make it really easy: there are several ways to do that via alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com. If you use an RSS feed to subscribe to podcasts, which I do, you can find the RSS feed there. If you’re more of an iTunes person, there’s a link too. And if you like Stitcher Smart Radio, which I also use on my Android tablet, you can listen to us there, too.

You can also leave us thumbs-up and feedback on your preferred mode of listening, or you can subscribe to us directly to us on Podomatic. You’ll get an email notification as soon as we have a new episode. On that page, you’ll also find links to our Facebook page and we love it when people come and say hi, ask questions and give us suggestions. You can also find the links to my websites and social media fees. So with that out of the way, let’s get down to business!

When you’re a freelancer, you spend a lot of time marketing yourself, finding new clients, approaching people and persuading them that you’re the writer for them. It’s a lot of work. What becomes clear over time is that it’s easier to get repeat business from a client than to find a new one. You’ve already built a relationship with them, so don’t let it drop too easily. It also takes a lot less of your time than finding new people to approach, taking the time to get to know their business,  taking the time to get to know what they do – that kind of thing.

Some clients genuinely just do need one piece of work doing. They may have an in-house person who was off-sick, so they hired you as a one-off. However often, if you scratch the surface, you will find that they need more. Another benefit of repeat customers is that it’s also a good confidence boost – if they come back to you, it means they were really pleased with what you did. They liked the way you worked, they found you reliable, talented and found you understood the work they do. So getting repeat clients is just really nice; you know they’re pleased with what you’ve done for them.

If you’re still unsure, have a think about the lifetime value of the customer. If you get £250 worth of work from them, that’s brilliant. But if you can get £250 a month from that client, then that’s £3,000 coming your way every year. It all adds up, even regular small jobs – it doesn’t even have to be worth that much; your income will often come from a variety of places.

So in this episode, I’ll talk about the 13 top ways to turn one-off clients into repeat customers. The first one is very simple and very complicated, and that’s to be amazing! Often, a client will say they just want one piece of work because they want to test you out. They might be nervous and want to test out your writing, skills and reliability before committing to more regular work. Can you submit work to a deadline or are you chaotic? Are you pleasant to work with? So what you have to do is prove yourself. Prove you can write in the style they need; prove that you are easy to work with; prove that you meet deadlines. Make a great impression and do the best you can.

The second tip is to be consistent. If as a one-off piece of work, they wanted four blog posts and you give them two great ones and two that are just so-so, you will not seduce your customers into coming back. They want consistency as well as quality.

First Meeting

First Meeting (Photo credit: lhl)

Tip number three is to talk to clients about their needs. Sometimes all it takes is a discussion about where they want their business to go, and from that you can identify from that the services you are able to offer that will help them to reach their goals. They may not know that you can write a wicked press release that will get their business in the local paper. They may not have thought about the benefits of a case study in their annual report. Don’t be pushy but chat to them about they need. Be pro-active and come forward and say, “Actually, I think you’d benefit from these blog posts being weekly.” If they don’t know you provide a service, or they don’t know that the service will be helpful to them, they won’t think to hire you for that. So, as is so often the case, communication can really open doors. When you find out their business goals, identify yourself as  a key way to reach those goals.

The next point is to stay in touch, and follow up regularly. Check in periodically, see how they are, see if they need any extra work. Sometimes a courtesy call can be good – two weeks after you’ve submitted the one-off piece of work to them, give them a call. See if they got good results and if they need anything else.

This can be helped by having an email mailing list – encourage clients to join, then send out regular reminders that you exist, and tempt them back for more work from you. Remind them that you exist and increase the likelihood that they’ll come back to you when they need something else.

The next tip, I’m offering warily, but there is a place for it, and that’s special offers. Be careful with this one, because you don’t want to put yourself in a position where you are working at a loss, or aren’t getting the fees you deserve, but it’s something to consider if you can make it work on both sides. An idea that Lorrie gave me was to bundle services together. Now this can be a good way to do this, especially if you can offer a package that will involve only one set of base research to produce several documents. I think Lorrie’s idea was to offer a press release with a case study on the same subject – so she’d so the research and the interviews, then do the case study and offer a press release at a reduced price, but without having to do a whole load of extra work, just the writing.

It’s important that you don’t offer discounts that will make you feel bitter at how little you are working for! You don’t want to resent your clients or yourself for suggesting it! But times when work is slow to come in can sometimes be a good time to compromise a bit on fees if you receive a decent amount of work from the agreement you come to. So don’t sell out but think about whether you can offer a good amount of work at a price that makes the customer feel that they’re getting a good deal without short-changing you.

Tip number six is to make sure they are aware of the services you offer.  Say if they hired you to write a case study, they might not know that you also write annual reports, press releases, website copy etc. They won’t consider rehiring you if they don’t know you can do what they need. They may think they need a special PR firm for press releases; let them know they don’t. Show them results you’ve had in the past, be persuasive, be clear and sell yourself.

Point number seven is to make the client feel appreciated. You can make sure you always send them a thank you email with every invoice, or thank them publicly on social media. Make it something that sets them apart and lets them see how much you value their loyalty. Make sure you thank them; treat them with courtesy. Courtesy is really important in business, so don’t just work for them then drop them. If they feel you value your custom, they’ll remember you in a positive way and it could bring them back to you.

Tip number eight is to ask for feedback when you’ve submitted your first piece of work. Check that they are happy, offer edits if they need them. Most freelance writers, I think, agree to a certain number of edits – often one or two. Be very clear – you don’t want to be in a position that you’re on your twelfth edit because you didn’t specify a limit! But if they need them, be pro-active in offering to rework parts of what you’ve written, if they’re not happy.

Similarly, requesting feedback can be a good way to find out if customers are pleased. And if they are pleased with what you did, this can be a good time to suggest other work. This opens up a dialogue where you can find out what else they might need. But even if you don’t do that at this stage, they will appreciate you making sure they are happy, and this will make a good impression that will stick with them. They’ll remember those kinds of touches.

Tip number nine is to go the extra mile. Always over-deliver when you can. For instance when I send a client a press release, I also send them general pieces of advice on how to get the best results from press releases. Now, this is very little extra work for me, it’s a document I’ve prepared to go with the press releases I do, and it’s 10 seconds extra work to attach it to the email. This took me about an hour to prepare originally – I did research on the best tips, compiled them, rewrote it and now clients appreciate it. It doesn’t matter that I send it to everyone – it just helps any client to have better results with their press releases.

Point number 10 is to remind the client – tactfully – of the benefits to them of working with a writer they already know. Prompt them and point out that they know the kind of work you produce, they know that they can rely on you to meet deadlines, and they know your fees, they know how flexible you are. No negotiations need to take place, no more leaps of faith because they know what they are getting. And as long as the work you’ve already done for them means they do know you are reliable, and write well, and can follow a brief, then this may help to sway them.

Tip number 11 is: don’t leave contact so long that they’ve forgotten who you are. It’s important to follow up with past clients if you want them to become regular or future clients. If you follow up six months after you write their website copy, they might not remember you. Act within a week or two of finishing the piece of work you’ve done for them.

Tip number 12 is to keep records. It can feel a bit tedious – in my experience! – to keep a database or spreadsheet of client information, but it’s invaluable if you want to remind yourself of who you have worked with who might be good to approach with the suggestion of new work. Make a note of the named person or people you worked with, their contact details, what you did for them so you can bring that up, and that kind of thing. I have a database for this purpose, which also has a notes section to remind myself about that client. If you remember that they’d just had a baby, or that they were considering expanding their business, if you can contact them again and ask how their new daughter is getting on or how their expansion is going, it makes a good impression. If you don’t keep up-to-date records, you’re relying on your memory and once you’ve worked with more than, say, a dozen clients, you may start to forget about people – especially if you just did a small piece of work for them. It doesn’t take long to update a spreadsheet when you hear from someone new, and it helps you approach them appropriately in future.

The final tip is about practicalities – if you change your email address or your phone number, let all your previous clients know. It can be a good way to pop up in your inbox and remind them you exist. But also, if they try and get hold of you and can’t, they’ll quickly move onto somebody else. I also try to remember to add clients on LinkedIn or Twitter while I work with them, so my updates there will remind them that I exist, and so I can easily contact them if their details change. They may move to a different company or get a new number and if I want to approach them but can’t get hold of them, I can find them on LinkedIn or Twitter.

One of the ways I do that is through a little Gmail extension called Rapportive. Now, Lorrie and I did an episode (I’ll link to it in the shownotes) on essential tools to freelancers, and Rapportive is one of my favourites. As I say, it’s a little add-on to Gmail and, whenever you open an email from/to someone, you get a little box on the right-hand side of the screen with lots of information on that person. It’s nothing creepy – it’s all publicly available stuff. It gives you their LinkedIn profile, their Twitter account, their most recent emails to you, and I find it really helpful to make the LinkedIn connection that way. You can request a connection from Gmail – you don’t even need to leave your Gmail.

So those are 13 ways that can be really effective, and they can be used together although even doing one or two is better than nothing. They’re really good for persuading clients that they want more work from you than just the one piece you’ve done. You know that you do good work; make sure they know as well, partly through the work you submit and partly through gentle appropriate marketing that you do for them. If you value them and their custom, and do things on a timely basis, you can give them a better feeling about working with you.

And now it’s time for the Little Bird Recommendation of the Week. And, as there’s just me today, there’s only one recommendation. Now, my recommendation is an article on a legal website and what it’s about is the laws surrounding Twitter. Now, this is particularly timely in the UK because we have some quite high profile people on trial for libel at the moment because of things they said on Twitter, including the wife of the speaker of the House of Commons. And she said something that may or may not have been libellous, and she said that on Twitter. And so what this blogpost is (it’s UK specific, although some of it’s just good advice even if you’re outside the UK) and it goes through some of the different laws that can be broken, basically – libel and slander, for example. But it also looks at the fact that, if you say that you work for an organisation but don’t say “These views are my own”, your employer can be liable for anything you say on Twitter.

It also looks at promotion, copyright law, trademark law, cyber-bullying. It even looks at the contract you signed – i.e. ticked a box for – with Twitter itself. And also looks at regulations in certain professions, what happens if you have sub-contractors tweeting for you, and it’s the kind of thing that myself and a lot of people have wondered about over the years as Twitter gets bigger and as these things get to court more and more often.  So if you want to know about how copyright law, trademark law affects what you say on Twitter, or the legality of sponsored tweets, or what to do if you’re in a profession that’s regulated by an external body, this is the article for you. I’ll link to this in the show notes so you can have a read – it’s very interesting and slightly alarming!

So, that is the end of episode 39 of A Little Bird Told Me.  I really hope you’ve found some value in the things you’ve learned today. Do check us out online: go to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com and subscribe. Follow the links I’ve mentioned in the show notes and share the page with your friends – any freelance writer would love to hear about it, I’m sure! Thank you very much for listening – I’ve been Philippa Willitts and we’ll catch you next week.