I currently have no broadband access at home. Just take a moment to absorb that: No. Broadband. Access.
I know, it’s a practically mediaeval state of affairs but, until Thursday, it’s how it is.
In a bid to be mature and not completely freak out, I spent the days before the outage gathering together apps, software, websites and tips on managing without WiFi while still trying to run a business. And stay sane(ish). So, in this post I will go through some of the best ideas and tools available for coping without a regular broadband connection.
I was in the fortunate position of having a few days’ notice of my impending broadband outage. This meant that I had the chance to do a degree of preparation for as many eventualities as I could think of. However, we can all find ourselves with an unannounced or unplanned broadband failure and, in those circumstances, it is impossible to just ‘nip online’ to download the software and get the advice you need!
Because of this, I would recommend putting some preparations in place so that, if you are faced with connection error messages, you are not completely helpless.
The mobile broadband dongle I bought has come in handy. It’s a fairly expensive way of accessing the internet but it’s a very useful for connecting a few times a day and catching up with everything that’s going on. Spending a few hours a day at venues with WiFi access has also been pretty essential. I’ve been using The Cloud app on my Android phone to find cafes and bars with free WiFi, but there are many places that offer WiFi outside of The Cloud network, too.
Software and apps for working offline
Manage your email offline
If you manage your email through gmail, Gmail Offline is invaluable. It syncs your inbox when you are online and then, when you have no internet connection, you can work your way through your inbox, reading messages and writing replies or new emails through the Gmail Offline interface. When you next go online, the emails in your outbox will be sent and the messages you’ve received will be downloaded.
Gmail Offline is a little slow and buggy but, even so, it is proving incredibly helpful to me at the moment.
Manage your WordPress site offline
This was a biggie. I wanted a way to write and prepare blog posts without needing to be online while I did it. When searching Google for answers, I was mainly seeing solutions for people whose WordPress sites had broken and gone offline, but eventually I found what I wanted. I downloaded some free desktop software called WebStory, which is what I am using to write this post.
WebStory allows you to download your posts, pages and comments, so it’s a nice way of getting a backup of your website, too. Then, you can use the software to create new posts and pages and, when you go back online, you can publish them to your site.
For security reasons, I created a new user account for the site that is specifically to use with this software. That way, if there seemed to be any security vulnerabilities, I would be able to remove this account’s posting permissions. This avoids compromising the primary user details you use for your website.
You could, of course, just use your usual Word Processor to write posts offline, but the benefit of WebStory is the ability to upload directly to your site, view the post in your blog’s template, use html, and back up the rest of your posts and pages to your computer, too.
Reading webpages offline in Chrome
I knew that I would need a way to save webpages so that I could do some research when online and then, later, when I was offline again, I could write the piece I had been researching. I have used a combination of free tools and tricks to do this:
The Send to Kindle extension allows you to send any webpage to your Kindle device to read later.
Pocket is a tool where you can bookmark webpages and websites and then read them later. Importantly, any site you bookmark can be accessed offline, too, so if you need to do extensive research for an article you’ll be writing when offline, you can use Pocket to store all your reference articles. Pocket also has a range of smartphone apps, so you can sync articles you find between your devices.
CutePDF is a simple tool that allows you to ‘print’ any webpage you look at to a PDF document. After installing CutePDF, you send a webpage to be printed and, from the dropdown box of printer choices, choose CutePDF. You then choose which folder you want the PDF file to be stored in, and it takes it from there.
You can also change your browser settings so that you can access cached copies of webpages you have loaded before. It is best explained here:
Reading Feedly offline
NewstoEbook.com is a pretty smart tool that allows you to connect to your Feedly account and download the 50 latest posts in any given category as an eBook. You can choose whether to get them as an .epub or .mobi format, so I chose .mobi so that I could read them on my Kindle. Once I had downloaded the files, I used the unique email address provided by Amazon to send them by email to my Kindle and, lo and behold, there they were.
Alternatively, you could download software that reads .epub files and use that to read your Feedly posts offline.
NewstoEbook is a free service. The formatting isn’t always brilliant, but it does what it does very well.
Other points to remember
Planning and organisation are key. If you are only going to have a couple of hours’ broadband access, for instance in a cafe, you need to do as much preparation in advance as possible. This way, you can really make the most of the connection when you have it.
For instance, I didn’t need to be online to edit this week’s podcast, but I will need to be online to post it. Using my precious broadband hours for editing would have been a complete waste, when I could have been using that time for surfing, researching, emailing etc. If there are tasks that are easily done offline, don’t do them when you’ve got rationed internet access.
Keep people informed
Another vital point is to let your clients know that you are having connection problems. I informed certain, regular clients in advance and then set up my email out-of-office reply so that anyone who emails me this week gets a quick summary of my situation. I was careful to reassure people that I’m not completely stranded – I didn’t want anyone to panic and find a new writer! – but I explained why I may be less quick to respond than usual.
Back everything up
And finally, if you use an online back-up service (I use BitCasa) to keep up-to-date copies of all the files on your computer, remember that this will not be active during your time offline. What’s more, if you’re connecting occasionally with a mobile broadband dongle, you really don’t want your automatic back-up software to use up all your bandwidth, so make sure you manually switch it off for the time being.
Online back-up services tend to run quietly in the background so we often forget they are there. However, you don’t want to risk losing any important documents that you work on when you’re off the grid, so you might want to invest in an external hard drive (I’m using this one), or even just a USB memory stick, to make sure everything is safe and backed up while the automatic back-ups to your usual service are interrupted.
I shouldn’t be surprised, really, that time offline has boosted my productivity. When I have to find my phone to check Twitter, and when sites I vaguely want to peruse require me to connect the dongle, I tend not to bother. Instead, I’m actually on top of my email inbox and I’ve written this 1,500-word post, amongst many other things. The need to plan my time out carefully is also having a positive effect that I hope will stick around. I know what I need to do, and when, and I have to prepare for pieces of work meticulously so that I’m not caught out.
While I most certainly wouldn’t recommend being stranded without the web for a week, it’s an interesting exercise now that I’ve been forced into this situation. I hope that at least some of the clarity and focus continue when I’m reconnected to the world. Watch this space.
We see it all the time, and it seems to be getting worse: business owners and media outlets put pressure on writers to work for free. Is there any benefit to this, or is the fabled ‘exposure’ they promise not worth a thing? In this episode, Lorrie and I look at the facts and share some rather strong opinions on the topic!
And finally, do ‘like’ us on Facebook to be the first to hear our news and to talk with us about what you hear on the podcast!
PW: Hello, and welcome to episode 68 of ‘A Little Bird Told Me’, the podcast where two freelance writers tell you all the tricks of the trade. We talk about the highs, the lows and the no-nos of successful self-employment, saving you from mighty embarrassment and mortifying mistakes, and guiding you to the very top of your chosen profession. Freelancing is a funny old world, but that doesn’t make it easy. Tune in to the podcast every week, and if you go to allittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, you can subscribe from links on that page to ensure that you never miss an episode. We’ve made it really easy to sign up, whatever your favourite podcast technology is, and you will also find there any links we mention in the podcast, our own websites on social media feeds, and the frankly awesome A Little Bird Told Me Facebook page, too. I am Philippa Willitts…
LH: … and I am Lorrie Hartshorn, and today Philippa and I are going to be tackling one of our most loved and loathed topics. I think that’s fair to say, isn’t it?
PW: I think so.
LH: Today we are going to be talking again about working for free, because this is something that just won’t die. It’s getting worse almost, I would say.
PW: Yes. One of earliest episodes – was it episode 4?
LH: I think so.
PW: I will link to it in the show notes.
LH: All the way back.
PW: — was about working for free. And sadly, it’s not only not disappeared from freelancers’ radars, it’s if anything becoming more of an expectation.
PAY (Photo credit: tind)
LH: Yeah. And we are not happy about it, so brace yourselves for our latest episode in which we are going to cover all the things that we’ve noticed recently, all the trends that are going on in which sneaky people are trying to get you to work for free, and our thoughts on the situation, and how you can avoid getting sucked into that kind of exploitative working relationship.
PW: That’s it – how to handle it, really, how to handle these requests. And the idea for this episode’s topic came from an email that I received last week. Now I won’t name the company in question, but for the sake of this podcast Lorrie has helpfully named it Keith. And what Keith did is exemplify something that I’ve been seeing increasingly lately and it’s a worrying trend. The culprit – Keith – were a website that is pretty high-profile in its field, and its niche is one that I’ve been writing in a lot recently. So I’m on their email list, and I got an email from them entitled ‘Would you like to write for us – Keith?’ And I thought, “Well, yes, actually. Yes, I would. So I opened it.” And rather than it being full of details of how to apply or how to pitch, I found myself instead looking at a quite disheartening message. It says, “I’m looking out for talented writers who can contribute to our website. Contribution is free of charge –”
LH: [laughter] Wow.
PW: “We do ask for the article to be audience-focused, centred on fundraising, and not directly promoting your organization.”
LH: That’s generous.
PW: How kind of them. They don’t charge people.
LH: I know, wow. You don’t have to pay.
LH: Amazing. I mean, I can understand why they said it in a way… There were still loads and loads, and way too many writers out there who will knock out rubbish guest posts in some desperate attempt to gather backlinks. I mean, you and I receive guest posts offers all the time, don’t we? You know, “I can write an amazing article for your website on – subject.” That’s like, “Wow, no thanks.”
PW: All I want in return is two do-follow links.
LH: Yeah. So I can understand trying to tell people that it shouldn’t just be promotional, but then to act like they’re doing you a favour by not charging you, that crosses the line by quite some distance, I’d say.
PW: Yeah. They want you to write for them. They’re not going to pay you.
LH: Already a bit of a warning sign.
PW: Well, yes. And they’re going to make it clear that while you’re not going to have to pay them for the privilege of providing them with free content, [laughter] we’re all very much to see that as a favour on their part.
LH: That’s lacking in self-awareness, I’d say, is about the kindest thing I could say. You know… No, it’s just silly. I mean, I had another incident of this recently. It was a for-profit company that I followed on Twitter. They put out a tweet asking for professional bloggers to get in touch urgently. Now being a professional blogger I did so, and I got an immediate and really enthusiastic, very cheerful email from them chirping about what a life-saver I was, and how they desperately needed content for their website straight away. And I said I’ll sign absolutely, but when I asked what the rate of pay was I was told that, ‘Unfortunately…’
LH: It’s always unfortunate, isn’t it? The work wasn’t paid, but that I’d get great exposure, because they get a lot of traffic to their website – I didn’t get any figures – and they could tweet about me – Pip, brace yourself – to their 3,000 Twitter followers. Yeah, that’s just…
PW: Yeah. We, at the A Little Bird Told Me nest have long warned people against doing work for free if it’s going to be exploitative, and, sadly, writers and other freelancers being asked to do this is still incredibly common. And then this extra idea of paying others to publish you – if that becomes a sign of a new pattern emerging, then it’s one we’ve got to look out really carefully so that we can be armoured if it comes towards our general direction.
There’s a famous internet marketing forum that I occasionally check up on to keep an eye on what the latest is, and there’s a long thread recently where someone had explained his plan to set up a website that anyone could contribute to, and he was asking on the forum how much the readers would be willing to pay to have an article published on his site that, bear in mind, at this stage didn’t even exist.
LH: That’s ridiculous.
PW: And the awful thing was that people were responding to his question suggesting the different amounts of money they’d be willing to pay in order to get the backlinks associated with writing for him. So I responded that, you know, I don’t pay to write for people’s websites, I get paid to write for them. But the general discussion carried on. And while that site wasn’t planning to target writers, it was still promoting the idea that populating other people’s websites with something that we should be grateful for…
LH: I don’t understand it. I really, really, don’t. Because I don’t know if it’s wilful ignorance or what – backlinks from a website, they’re okay, they’re helpful, and they’re a good part of your content marketing strategy, but it’s not a one-way ticket to the top of Google.
PW: Well, no. And paid backlinks are against Google rules, so if they spot you, you’ll be banned.
LH: Awesome. Page 134 on Google.
PW: Exactly. And it will be clearly a site designed to put backlinks on rather than anything that Google will —
LH: How would it be good for your site?
PW: Yeah. Another situation that I came across a few weeks ago is similar, if not worse. I saw a tweet that said something like – I wonder how this conversation went. Client: “We want you to design us a logo.” Designer: “Great. What’s your budget?” Client: “Well, actually, we thought you might pay us.” Now, obviously, I was intrigued, so I clicked the link, and sure enough this was a company who had opened a competition that designers could enter, and they would use the winner’s design as their company logo.
LH: Okay. [laughter]
PW: Now many freelancers would object to this already. Designers in particularly are often under a lot of pressure to do this kind of spec work, where they create a complete design as an entry to a competition, and so it’s very much spec work on the off chance of a very small chance of eventually getting work. And so many designers see that in a similar way that Lorrie and I regard writing for free or blogging for free. It’s rough.
LH: You’re creating a finished piece of work. It’s like one of us writing a report.
PW: Exactly. It’s rough on the writer and the designer, but it’s also rough on the people trying to get money for what they’re doing, as well. But it got worse than that, the competition has an entry fee.
PW: Designers have to pay them $25 for the privilege of having their work considered to be the logo for the Centre for Architecture and Urban Design in Los Angeles. Just everything is wrong with that.
LH: Yeah. There’s nothing right with that at all anywhere in this situation. That’s ridiculous.
PW: And despite a big Twitter backlash, I checked the site this morning and it’s all still the same.
LH: That’s outrageous. And the sad thing is you get a lot of people entering that competition.
PW: You will, because everybody wants their big break, and you just think, “Well, if I could spend a few hours and then get a really big gig, like being able to say that yeah, I designed the logo for the Centre for Urban Design and Architecture, that’d look great on my CV.” But the reality is there are other sites, like 99Designs, which work on a similar basis. You post a budget – they at least don’t pay to do the work – you post a budget and say what you want, and then as many designers as you want can submit an idea and then you pay the one you like best. And it’s the same thing with that. You can work full time submitting complete ideas and never getting paid for any of them because yours is not chosen.
“Your logo here” (Photo credit: jystewart)
LH: It just seems like pure laziness and just exploitation on the part of the client, really, because when you get in touch with somebody you talk to them about what you need and then you have discussions, you have initial discussions about how you’ll get a logo or an article or whatever you want to get.
PW: Exactly. Because I used to think – with a site like 99Designs I used to see the appeal of saying what you want, and then getting, say, 50 logos, and you could choose the very best one. And I used to really see the appeal of that. But now, like you say, I see it very differently, where actually the way to get exactly what you want is to work with somebody who can give you exactly what you want rather than —
LH: And to actually put some hard work in, rather than just sit on your butt and get other people to spend their time for free. I think it’s this kind of ‘if I can’t see it it’s not a problem’ attitude.
PW: Yeah. That’s it. And so we’re fully aware that it’s not just writers suffering this. The last time we talked about this on the podcast we’d mentioned it on Twitter, this topic, and we’d even heard from a woman who was a professional cake decorator.
LH: Oh, I remember her, yeah.
PW: Do you remember? And someone said to her, “Well, if we bring you flour and eggs and sugar, will you do it for free?” And that really highlighted how unreasonable a request this is.
LH: Yeah. I mean, when you put it in those terms rather than words and sentences and paragraphs, but cakes?
PW: Yes. And you instantly go, “Well, clearly there’s more to this than flour.” She’s clearly very artistic and this takes skill. But actually that’s the case will all of us.
LH: That’s outrageous, honestly. It makes me so cross. I’m struggling to stay not crossed right now.
PW: That’s one aspect of working for free that we’re aware of as a potentially rising trend, which is being expected to work for free and pay for the privilege. Now in a while we’re also going to talk about your more common-or-garden working for free, where at least it doesn’t cost you. But we also want to look at this ongoing issue of writers being expected to write for incredibly low pay. We’re not talking about being argued down by a couple of pounds. We’re talking about someone wanting 1,000 words for $7 – very low pay.
LH: Yeah. I was doing some research when we were planning this episode, and I came across something that I found really quite shocking. It’s a forum called Absolute Write Watercooler. It’s Absolute W-R-I-T-E.
PW: Of course.
LH: And on this forum there is actually a ban on criticizing unpaid or poorly paid work. It’s a writers’ forum.
PW: Now if that’s not defensive behaviour I don’t know what it is.
LH: Yeah. Now on one particular thread that I had a read of is a couple of years old now, but one poster on there is actually told off by a moderator for questioning a roll that’s described as part-time or full-time, has a turnaround of 24 hours for 3-4 500-word blog posts, and pays $5 per article. So the commenter is a user called Shadow Ferret comment —
PW: Obviously. [laughter]
LH: Obviously, of course it would be. It wouldn’t be something like Dave Smith for the sake of the podcast. No, it’s called Shadow Ferret. He comments, “I’m always intrigued by people who want something written but won’t pay professionally to get it.” $5 per a 500-word article and expecting 3-5 articles a day. That’s nearly full time work, and all you can expect to make is $25 a day. So it’s basically the same point that we’ve just made. Now the reply from the moderator is swift and in my opinion really shocking. It features excerpts from previous posts from the then owner of the site. And it reads, “I can understand your point, Shadow Ferret, but discussions like this one are the reason the Paying Markets Board was closed to comments for almost two years, and why we now have a rule against such discussions.” They’re really engaging with the topic then.
The post continues. There’s a really predictable history on this board, and these are the excerpts. Someone posts a low-paying job. Lots and lots of people post complaints about the low pay. It’s tiring. Now you’d think they’d take the hint instead of assuming that lots and lots and lots of writers are just stingy arseholes. But I suppose not. Instead, they’re besieging writers who are offended by low pay to just not apply and not say anything, because it obviously solves the problem of prices being driven down to a level way below living wage.
PW: Yeah. The problem isn’t people complaining about rubbish pay. The problem is rubbish pay.
PW: And this whole thing about “Well, if you don’t like it, don’t apply” is the same argument as if you complain about racism in a TV programme and then someone says, “Well, if you don’t like it, don’t watch.” But it’s bigger than that. It doesn’t solve – there’s a bigger problem.
LH: Yeah. It doesn’t solve anything. And now the person that I’m quoting in these excerpts is the former owner of Absolute Write, and this is a ghost writer named Jenna Glatzer. And I did a little bit of looking around. On her Twitter profile Miss Glatzer claims to have written Celine Dion’s authorised biography.
LH: On her website she also states that she writes regularly for celebrities, and she states in her FAQs that “I charge a flat fee for ghost writing proposals, and I warn you that I’m not cheap.”
LH: And not only does she actually charge for her ghost writing services quite rightly, she charges for proposals. And if you can bet your ass it’s not a $5-fee.
PW: No, she seems very clear that she doesn’t work for low prices.
LH: Funny that, yeah.
PW: Isn’t it.
LH: And back to Jenna’s comments on Absolute Write, she continues, “Please, if a job doesn’t pay enough to make it worth it for you, just don’t apply. There’s no need to post a complaint about it. If there’s something dishonest about the job, or if you want to raise other questions, that’s fine. But please, enough with the posts just to say, ‘Wow, that pay stinks.’ That almost never changes anything.”
PW: To be honest, if I run that forum it might change something because it might change my opinion of posting jobs like that in the first place.
LH: Yeah, especially if you’re a self-proclaimed not a cheap writer working for a variety of multi-millionaire clients.
PW: That’s it. Other circumstances you’d want to say, “Good for her. She’s made it. She’s doing very well.” But it’s just that enthusiasm’s dampened, isn’t it?
LH: Well, it’s like climbing up the ladder and standing on the heads of other freelance writers, because this forum that she owned has now been sold to somebody else, and I’m pretty sure that she didn’t sell it for $5.
PW: That seems unlikely.
LH: So Jenna goes on. “Complaining about pay rates only serves a few purposes. It scares off others who would post jobs here, and it makes hobbyists and new writers feel bad if they take low paying jobs, and it makes me grumpy.” Apparently, writers still weren’t happy with that, which prompted —
PW: Fairly enough.
LH: Weirdly enough – prompting Glatzer to ban what she called “snooty writers” from complaining about low rates. Because she deleted their posts and changed the commenting options on the job boards to announcement-only with responses only allowed by moderators. Now fast forward by two years and she comments, “We’re giving you all another chance. Please don’t abuse it and make us go back to announcements only.” So complaining about unfairly low pay rates, which the founder of the forum won’t personally accept is abuse. And what really sums this up for me, what really is the cherry on the cake, on the free cake.
PW: [laughter] Freely decorated.
LH: I know. What really sums it up for me is this tiny little comment in the middle of all of it, which reads, “Note: Absolute Write is a low-paying market. I’d really rather not feel like I can’t post our needs on our own board.” So Absolute Write can’t protect the writers that use the forum from exploitative employers because they are one.
PW: It’s so bad, because I know freelancers when they’re starting out really seek out blogs and websites and forums, to give them confidence and to learn about the trade.
LH: To reduce isolation of the job, because this is a very isolating job, and I think a lot of confidence issues with freelance writers come from the fact that you’re on your own and you’re handling it all on your own.
PW: Yeah. And so I lucky, many people were lucky in that they found actually the great blogs to be reading in that niche, and things that told me and know in certain terms I was entitled to decent money for what I was doing, that I was entitled to not be earning £4/hour when I broke it all down. And with that expectation and belief I was able to negotiate good deals for myself. I hate the thought of someone instead finding a site like that and thinking, “Oh, this site is about freelancing and they pay. Let’s have a look. Oh, they pay $5 an article.” But then thinking, “Well, this is obviously how it works.”
LH: Yeah, because she’s a freelance writer. This one is a successful ghost writer. Apparently this must be how you do it. And ordinarily I would feel torn about criticizing another writer so openly, and I’ll be honest, especially a woman, because it’s not easy. But I’m pretty much getting to snapping point with the attitude that writers are unreasonable and greedy and snooty for wanting to be paid for their work. I cannot see any reason that anybody that expects decent money for their own services to encourage other people to work for pennies or even nothing. It’s not acceptable.
PW: Yeah. And one of the ways that people often try to get people to work for nothing is the suggestion that if you write for us for free you’ll get great exposure. Hurrah! Now there will be the very, very odd occasion when it might actually be worth writing for free to get exposure to a particular audience. However, what you need to remember is that despite what people tell you in the vast, vast, vast majority of cases it is not worth it. Most of these opportunities won’t give you any exposure at all, and even those that do… Exposure isn’t the same as money in the bank.
LH: No. And if you get exposure for writing on a well-known platform that doesn’t pay all you’re doing is exposing yourself to people who go, “Oh, they write for free.”
PW: Very true.
LH: Awesome. More free clients, yes!
PW: Carol Tice, who runs the blog ‘Make A Living Writing’ —
LH: She’s great, isn’t she?
PW: She is. And that’s actually one of the blogs I was talking about earlier, one of the ones that set me up to demand decent prices for myself. — wrote a blog post recently that I linked to. She looked at the websites of three different people who had approached her offering her the exciting chance to write for them for free.
PW: Now Carol Tice is, amongst other things, a very successful journalist who writes for Forbes magazine. She knows what she’s doing.
LH: She’s like one of the most popular online freelance writers out there. Every article she writes has hundreds and hundreds of comments.
PW: Yeah. She’s got the magic.
LH: She has. She’s great.
PW: Yeah. So she’s looked at these three different people that approached in different ways – I think one on Facebook, one by email. And she found that each of the sites that they were offering her the exciting chance to write on got not traffic, whereas she has a mega-successful website. They don’t, and yet they think they’re doing her a favour.
LH: Is this short-sightedness, isn’t it? Because with a lot of these free opportunities for exposure is part of the business plan, isn’t it? I will have lots of free content and then my site will make lots of money, and then I will get lots of advertisers and hurray, ching-ching all the way to the bank.
PW: And this whole thing of putting you in a business plan has got to such a ridiculous degree that I pitched the magazine and they liked my pitch and wanted my feature, and I asked about the fee, and they said, “Oh, you know what it’s like. We’re start-up. We didn’t budget for it.” Do you remember this?
LH: Yes. You’d just been to that content marketing show, haven’t you?
PW: Yes, exactly. And this was a magazine! And the magazine’s business plan hadn’t budgeted for writers.
LH: Amazing. [laughter]
PW: So no surprise that other businesses don’t budget for them if the magazine thinks that, obviously you try to then persuade me to do it for exposure, and then eventually ask my fees, interestingly.
LH: What a joker.
PW: Yeah. But there’s this thing of not putting email in your business plan. If you’re going to need something on your website or on your brochure, or on a leaflet, then it doesn’t come out of the air.
LH: Yeah. If your business plan doesn’t work without free content, your business plan doesn’t work. It’s a rubbish business plan. If you need content – I’m pretty sure you do, if you’re going to have an online business – and you don’t budget for it, then you might as well just upload an empty website – ridiculous.
PW: Yeah. You’ve messed up your planning, you need to start again.
LH: Yeah. Plan fail. Go and find yourself some funding from somewhere. Go and work a job somewhere for a while, dip into your savings and fund some bloody content rather than expecting content for free.
PW: And the content is what’s going to bring people to your website, is what’s going to persuade people to buy from you.
LH: It’s everything. It’s what’s going to appear on Google.
PW: It’s not incidental. Yeah, it’s not incidental to your success or failure. It’s business.
LH: No. it’s not just optional. Well, I’m going to talk about an example that happened to me recently. And one point that I wanted to make before that, though, is that when people offer to publish you for exposure – and that sounds like a good thing to you – what comes into my mind is that the best way for a freelance writer to become well-known and get real exposure is for them to market themselves properly. You don’t need to appear on some chump’s website for free, It’s ridiculous. Don’t bother wasting your time making money for somebody else.
PW: Yeah. Marketing is all about getting yourself out there.
LH: Absolutely. So get yourself out there. Promote your work properly, have a decent website, have an active, engaging social media feed or two, and you will have absolutely no trouble getting plenty of exposure.
PW: And if you decide that part of your marketing plan is to do some strategic guest posting, then do that on the basis of making your own choices about where to approach. Don’t do it on the basis of some chancer dropping in your email box and saying, “Do you want to write for our factory seconds shop?”
LH: Yeah. I mean, have a look at popular sites that match your interests and your expertise.
PW: And where your potential clients hang out. That’s the thing.
LH: Yeah. Absolutely. So if you’re a trade and industrial writer like me, you might go in and have a look at the trade and industrial publications, and see if they’re taking any guest posts, or see if they welcome features from people.
PW: Because they’re not going to be checking out Mr Factory Seconds’ website, just in case there was a good writer on there once.
LH: No, it’s bloody ridiculous. It’s completely stupid. Plus, most of these start-up businesses, they’re not going to get anywhere, especially if they’ve got a rubbish business plan. So you’re just going to throw your writing into the ether, sit there on some rubbish website that’s possibly going to get blacklisted.
PW: And it’s certainly less popular than your own if you’re doing something right.
LH: Yeah, absolutely. And this is what made me laugh about that stupid printing company telling me that they’d tweet about me to their 3,000 followers on Twitter. I’ve got 2,700 followers on my own account, plus another hundred or so on my Facebook. Plus we have this podcast, plus we have the Facebook page for it, plus I promote myself via newsletter and other means. There’s no way I need some random chancer with a load of bots following him to tweet about me like it’s going to transform my business into a FTSE 100 Company. Naïve at best.
PW: Exactly. I mean, we’re doing alright. The key is all Twitter followers of which we both have a good number, they’re interested in what we do, whereas your printing guy had Twitter followers interested in printing, presumably, which is hardly your target audience. We’ve got podcast listeners, Facebook friends, LinkedIn connections. And the key to that is that we worked hard to maintain the relationships on all of those platforms. So in order for work for exposure to be significant enough to take our time out of doing that someone would need to offer significantly more than a few tweets.
LH: Way more.
PW: There was one instance when I did write for free. I think I’ve talked about it on the podcast before, and it doesn’t sit well with me because it was for a profit-making company, whereas my free writing is almost exclusively for non-profit. But I made a decision in that instant that it was worth it, and it was for a national newspaper with a very good readership. And even with that audience I didn’t do it for this mythical exposure thing, because even with that volume of audience it didn’t lead directly to any work or even any contact. However, I decided for myself that it was worth it so that I could add that newspaper to my list of places I’ve written for. A one-off piece of writing to improve my quotes indefinitely, that’s all it was. And for me it was a tough choice, but it was one that’s worked, although it still doesn’t sit comfortably with me as I said. I fundamentally object to writing for free for anyone who makes a profit. However, there will be times when it seems like more of a tempting offer, and for me that was one, but do bear in mind I wrote for a national newspaper and the exposure didn’t do anything.
LH: And I think a key point it to remember, as well, is that you wrote about something you’re passionate about.
LH: You led on the subject. You weren’t dictated to. It wasn’t please write X, Y and Z. And you wrote about something that you write about for free for non-profits, as well, so it’s really an area of expertise for you. I mean, it is a tough line. I wouldn’t necessarily criticise you for it. I can see why it doesn’t sit well. But in an ideal world, which should be a fairer one for writers, it wouldn’t have been a choice that you had to make, because a national newspaper which comprises all necessarily content would actually pay for content.
PW: That’s it. And I made that decision knowingly, and I am still glad to be able to list a paper in my quotes, but I do also feel resentful that they don’t pay their blog writers, and I hate having contributed to that. Plus, it bears repeating. Even writing on that platform didn’t expose me to more work. So if it’s jumped-up fellow with an empty website and a vague idea for a business it’s really, really not going to get you any work.
LH: Yeah, I think, you know, like I said before, I think the topic is an important one to you, and I think it was good for you, as well. You know, one of the benefits that you got with being able to express those thoughts and opinions to a wider audience and raise awareness of that. So I don’t think it was an entirely cynical thing, knowing you as well, but… It’s difficult, isn’t it? And it’s a slightly different thing, but again, one more reason to laugh at this printing mogul – I was asked by the owner of Bizitalk – and that’s one of the most popular business hashtags on Twitter – whether they could re-share one of the blog posts that I published on my website. So I said fine. I had already posted the work, so it was really no effort for me. I just had to say, “Yeah, that’s fine.” So they tweeted it numerous times an hour to an interested audience of business owner. And I write for business owners – that’s who my clients are. And they’ve got about 150,000 followers, so it’s slightly more than 3,000, and that’s not counting their smaller satellite accounts. And they posted a link to that blog for days on end. I’m talking numerous times an hour because this is what they do, they’re advertisers.
PW: If it’s one thing Busy Talk are very good that it’s self-promotion.
LH: Exactly. And they prefaced the link with the fact that I’m their top blogger. They got record traffic for my article, and basically the bee’s knees. And they even gave me a mention in their monthly newsletter. I got literally no work from it. And I’ve got an active social media profile, I’ve got an updated very nice neat website, I was interacting with people. I interact regularly on Twitter, Facebook, whatever. I got nothing. I go a few new followers, but that doesn’t count for anything.
PW: Exactly. And we both offered that work for free, we both made a considered decision to do so, and while I don’t regret it, and Lorrie doesn’t regret it, it does go to show that you’re just not going to persuade of the exposure will pay the bills. It may serve other purposes for you and you’re always entitled to make your own decisions on this stuff. And as we said, they’re not always easy decisions, but don’t be seduced by the idea without thinking it through realistically.
English: University of Cambridge. University Hall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
LH: No, absolutely not. There was a case, too, at the end of last year here, in the UK, and there’s a novelist, critic and journalist called Philip Hensher, and he was shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize a couple of years ago, so he’s a pretty decent writer. And he was asked by an academic at Cambridge University – and it’s fair to say it’s one of the wealthiest educational establishments in the country. He was asked to write a preface for this academics book for free or, as it later transpired, in return for books. Because we all know that books can completely be used to pay the gas bill. But when Hensher refused to do that he was dubbed “priggish and ungracious” by this professor of German, Andrew Weber.
PW: Because, of course, think of the exposure he’d have got having written a preface to someone else’s book.
LH: I know. Obviously. When I’m looking to hire a writer what I do is I go and look at books, and then check who wrote the preface…
PW: Unless they haven’t written any prefaces, then off the list.
LH: Yeah. It’s no good, is it? But going back it, it smacks of pure sulkiness to me, it smacks of infantile sulkiness. If you want a Man Booker Prize shortlisted novelist and write a preface for your book because, frankly, who wouldn’t? It’s because it’ll look awesome to have someone introducing you, but what a cheek! What a pure cheek to suggest that you should get something that you really want and something that will really benefit you for free, just because you want to. I mean, it makes no sense.
PW: And it’s not even just that they expected him to do it for free. It was that when he refused, which is fully within his right to, they insulted him for it.
LH: I mean, talk about a lack of self-awareness. He must have been so… It’s Andrew Weber, I think, professor of German. He must have been so comfortable in his position so his entitlement to this free work from somebody he’d never communicated with before, who had nothing to gain from it, except a few books. He was so comfortable with that he called him “priggish and ungracious.”
PW: So rude.
LH: That is so rude. And again, it’s worth noting at this point – let’s go back to Jenna Glatzer – that according to The Times Higher Education the average Cambridge professor can you guess what they earned in 2011-2012?
PW: Well, it wouldn’t be fair if I did, because I can see it on our notes in front of us.
LH: Got it. Wow, listeners, they earned £79,022 on average.
PW: They’re not typical starving academics, then.
LH: No, I’d say not. And I’m guessing they’re not paid in books, as it’s quite common for everybody else than writers, it seems, in the currency of the realm, i.e. cash.
PW: There was a brilliant blog post that did the rounds years ago, where a man wrote to British Gas and said that he couldn’t afford to pay his bill for £62.67, and so would they please instead accept his drawing of a spider which he had valued to be worth £62.67, and they refused and sent it back.
LH: That’s so ungracious and priggish.
PW: And it was all – I will link to it if I can find it, because it’s a long ongoing interaction that ended up very funny.
LH: It’s good that they sent the spider back, though. That’s fair, I suppose, rather than just keeping the spider.
PW: We’re going to look now at a few reasons why you shouldn’t work for free. We’ve looked at why it’s not especially healthy to your business, but there’s plenty more reasons why actually it’s something you should avoid, and the most obvious reason that you shouldn’t work for free is that you presumably have bills and you need to eat and clothe yourself and keep a roof over your head. It’s the same reason that anybody with a job has a job.
LH: Yeah. I mean, you wouldn’t just get up at 7:00 AM on a Saturday and go into the office for nothing.
PW: That’s it.
LH: Yeah. I mean, one thing that gets me about working for free and allowing businesses to maintain this idea that there are people who deserve to be paid and people who don’t deserve to be paid, and that writers are firmly in the second category, is that it means that writing is only a profession for people who are already well-off. I resented it when I read it on the Absolute Write forum when it said “hobbyist writers.”
PW: Yes. That’s such a demeaning term, isn’t it? It just dismisses any professionalism you may think you have.
LH: And let’s be honest, it’s bollocks. I’m getting really cross, but it’s complete bollocks. Who for a hobby writes up to 5 500-word articles a day for $5 each on topics like software and the healthcare system, which is what this random – it was basically an article distribution service. So you’re looking at all kinds of industrial, commercial, you know, topics that people don’t write about as a hobby.
PW: Yeah. So all of which need research and writing and checking.
LH: Yeah, it’s not a hobby. It’s such bullshit. And basically saying “hobbyist writers” is the same as writers who work for free. You know, a hobbyist, my God! It makes me so cross. And we’ve all seen those magazine internships in the US being auctioned off, and I think there was one that was unpaid, obviously. It was an editorial internship at Teen Vogue, and it went for $85,000.
PW: And these unpaid internships are ruining it for everybody, frankly. I know people trying to break into various aspects of TV and radio broadcasting, and even if you’re not having to pay to get an internship, you still need to be in a position where for 3 months or 6 months you can cope with no income.
LH: Usually it’s people who’ve got mommy or daddy on the end of the phone, and that’s not their fault.
PW: Yeah. They move back home or their parents will pay for it, but most people don’t have that, and so they are automatically excluding a massive number of people because they don’t have 6 months of living expenses in the bank.
LH: Absolutely. If you can’t live for free and just get say your sandwich and then your travel paid for, then apparently you’re not committed enough. And there are plenty now of professions where, unless you’ve done unpaid internships or just internships – I forget to mention the unpaid generally.
PW: It’s always the same.
LH: Yeah, those are completely the same. They don’t care whether you were paid or not. Unless you’ve done internships, you’re no good. So things like fashion, broadcasting, as Pip said, radio, things like that, editorial, publication, you know, things like that. It’s ridiculous.
PW: Actually thinking about that thing of whether internship meant the same as unpaid internship – I think it must do now because I’ve seen on Twitter recently a few charities and non-profits saying “apply for our paid internship.”
LH: Oh yeah, they specify the other way around.
PW: And “paid” is in capital letters, with big exclamation marks, because it’s such a novelty.
LH: I always retweet those.
PW: I do, too. And I refuse to retweet unpaid internships, no matter how good the opportunity or no matter how good a charity. If it’s a charity…
LH: Do you know who is offering an unpaid internship recently?
PW: Go on.
LH: Simon Cowell.
PW: [laughter] ‘Cause he’s skint.
LH: Isn’t he a billionaire?
PW: Oh, at least.
LH: At least. What is he, a trillionaire?
PW: [laughter] Gazillionaire. Another reason that writing for free causes problems is that it devalues what you do, devalues what we all do. If you’ve got somebody who has a gang of writers happy to write whatever they want, just in case they get a mention on a website, then why should any of those people, be it the commissioning person or the writers, actually value what writers do? There’s no motivation in there at all to take what we do seriously, and to ever get in a position where you can earn a decent wage from it.
LH: Yeah. The number of times I’ve gone on these websites and seen something that appear to have been written by a five-year old with an access to a keyboard is ridiculous. You’re looking at work that’s been hammered out in ten minutes. It makes no sense, half of it has been ripped from somewhere else, it’s plagiarised and… To be honest, I get really cross, and I mean really cross when I see so-called professional writers on business forums say, or social media platforms, snapping up or even creating and offering opportunities where they will work for free for business.
PW: She’s not lying, because she then emails them to me. She is incredibly cross and I join her.
LH: I’m so cross because I want to shake these people. Honestly, if you were a writer and you are out there thinking, “Yeah, I’ll write for some company or some for-profit company for free” I’m cross with you. And all the business owners I see swarming around them like flies – it’s nauseating, and it shows off the worst of human nature, to my mind, expecting something for nothing and being sulky and rude about other people wanting to pay their bills.
PW: Yeah. I use an Android phone app all the time called Bus Scout. I will give it a little promo because it’s marvellous. Wherever I am in the country it uses my GPS to find me and it shows me the nearest bus stops, shows me which buses go there, where they go to, when it’s due. And I use this app all the time.
LH: That’s brilliant.
PW: If I’m in a part of town I don’t know, or a place I don’t know, I use it to find out how to get from A to B. If I’m getting my usual bus home I use it how far away that bus is, because it will say “3 minutes away” or “8 minutes away”, whatever, so it’s brilliant. And I use it several times a week and have done for a long while. And then a few months ago a popup came up when I used it. And it said, “Service is guaranteed to remain free, but one aspect of it, which is if you want to click through to the timetable of each bus that we list, we’re going to have to start charging for because the server costs are too high.”
So I thought, “Okay. Well, I’ll see how much it is and then make a decision.” So I click through and this guy wanted $2.99 a year.
LH: [laughter] Steady…
PW: And I thought, “Well, I use this app all the time. I do use the timetable function, and $2.99 a year – I can do that, that’s fine.” So I instantly subscribed. I was happy to, and I felt good that I could support presumably some lad in his bedroom who’s created this thing.
LH: Brilliant app.
PW: Yeah. That I use all the time. And so I thought, “I value the app. I’m happy to pay that amount.” But then next time I looked at it in the Play Store it suddenly got a load of negative reviews from people going, “I can’t believe you have to pay for this. It’s outrageous, it’s disgusting. I used to think this app was great, but I’m uninstalling it now.”
PW: And I’m thinking, well, first of all, most of the app is still free. It’s fully functional. You just can’t access specific timetables, but also he wants $2.99 a year. Now if you really think it used to be a great app, then it’s still a great app… And so I made a point of leaving positive feedback for the guy, in particular mentioning what a great bargain it was that actually, too. And this is the same entitlement, isn’t it?
PW: People want it, they want it now, and they want it free.
LH: It’s outrageous. It’s so disappointing, honestly. You kind of feel betrayed by other writers doing it. I remember I was on a business forum, and I was there working hard and stuff, and talking to people, and doing all this relationship marketing that I don’t enjoy it. I like being with my books and my words, and my writing. I don’t particularly like chin-wagging to people about business. It’s just part of the job that I have to do. And there was this writer on there, and he started this thread saying, “Who wants free articles?” And basically he was offering free articles on any subject to business owners in return for backlink. And the business owners – honestly, it’s pathetic – they were all awed.
PW: I can imagine – scrambling for the scraps.
LH: It was so nauseating. I can’t express how disgusting I found it. They were all like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. DM me, DM me. Email me, email me, email me.” And I’m like, “You people are advertising the fact that you have no idea about content marketing.” Not the businesses, not the writers. And that’s the writer who one day will feel ashamed of being such sell-out.
PW: If I was looking for a writer, an online writer – these days online writers need some SEO basic knowledge. Even if you’re not looking for an SEO writer, you still need to know the basics. And so if you’re thinking, “I need a writer who knows the basics of SEO,” this guy clearly doesn’t. So he’s doing himself no favours. He’s going to give out a lot of work that’s going to be half-hearted because he’s not getting paid for it.
LH: Probably badly written.
PW: Probably the people who receive it aren’t going to value it because all they had to do was reply to a forum post.
LH: What are they going to do with it? Just bang it up on their website? That’s going to look awesome.
PW: Yeah, they’ll throw up somewhere on their site that doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a waste of everybody’s time. And then he’s not going to get any of those businesses come back to him and say, “That was so good. We’d like to pay you now.”
LH: Why would they? It makes no sense.
LH: But what they’re also not going to do is come to me and pay thousands of times more for the writing that I’m going to do for them than the £0-writing that he’s going to do.
PW: Yeah. I have a regular client that I do a few blog posts for a week, and when I was first negotiating with them – or not negotiating even, you know, just talking with them about —
LH: Bashing things out.
PW: Yeah, what they wanted and what I could offer. And Andy, who I was speaking to on the phone said, “Well, ideally what we’d like is a few kind of test articles”, which if you’ve done freelancing for any amount of time, that pulled alarm bells, isn’t it? It’s like, “Oh, test articles…” Because there are businesses who will go around getting two test articles off every writer they find, and then they have a complete website. It’s inconsistent and it makes no sense, but it’s complete. And so, of course, my alarm bells instantly went off. But he said, “Obviously, we’ll pay you for the test articles, and then we can see how they go.”
LH: And an angel started to sing around you.
PW: I know. Exactly. But I didn’t even have to say, “I don’t do test articles for free.” The fact that it was him that suggested that he would pay me for them – I knew from the start that he considered what I did valuable. I knew that he respected what I did and so it was the start… And it worked. They liked my test articles which they paid for.
LH: Yeah. And I bet you put a lot of effort into those test articles, as well.
PW: Of course I did.
LH: I mean, knowing you, you put effort into everything.
PW: But yeah, it continues to be a very respectful and equal relationship, whereas if it had started off with me offering a freebie in return for a backlink, how could that ever be a proper professional relationship?
LH: No, it’s ridiculous. I had an email from a freelance writer and editor who wrote – I’ve kind of mentored her a little bit. She got into it after I did, and I did my best to look out for her, because, like I said, it’s an isolating career and…
PW: We’ve all been there.
LH: So anyway, she emailed me the other day, and she said, “Can I just get your opinion on the below?” And there was an email thread below. And, of course, I didn’t mind. And I looked down. To her credit, actually, because I’ve never known this to work for anybody else, she had contacted a guy, an owner of a small publishing independent publishing house, and said, “I’m a professional proof-reader. I’ve had a look at your website, and I’ve noticed it’s full of mistakes. Would you be interested in my proofreading services?” And he got back to her – and that’s where I’m saying, “Wow! It’s never worked for anyone else I know.”
PW: Yes. I know we’ve both done that, and it’s never happened.
LH: It’s never worked. So he got back to her, and they had a little to-and-fro and he said, “Actually, I’m just trying to get the website up at the moment, so I would just stuck whatever on there.” And she said, “Well, you know, that’s not going to do your reputation any favours, because people are going to read that content. It’s badly written.” And they got talking, and he basically said, “Do you do book editing, as well?” And she said, “Yeah. Absolutely.” And she has some brilliant experience. And she said, “Yes, I do do book editing.” And he sent her over a chapter of some stupid sci-fi novel to do as a test edit. This is when she got in touch with me and said, “What do I do? Because he wants me to edit this for free, to see whether I’m any good.”
And I said, “Well, I wouldn’t edit it for free. I think he’s a complete chancer, and if he wants his book editing, he can bloody well pay for it.”
PW: Yeah. I remember you had a situation a year or two ago with some translations. And you did some test translations, because it’s kind of – with editing and translation it’s kind of hard to show what you can do because it involves a before and after and that kind of thing. And yeah, I remember you did some test translations, and then they never got back to you, because they never got back to anybody.
PW: Because they had got everything done as a test. And it’s so easy to fall into.
LH: Yeah. And immediately I advised this woman to get back to him and say, “I’m happy to edit it. This is what it will cost you.” I was like, “Don’t make a big thing of it. Just work out the fee, and tell him you’d be happy to do that. I’ve got some space next week, and this is what it will cost. If you have to go ahead, I’ll do that for you, and you can see what you think.” And all of a sudden the project was on hold. That was it. Immediately she got response: The project’s on hold. Thanks very much.
PW: I got an inquiry a week or two ago by someone who should have been a really good fit. I should have been a really good fit for them. They should have been a really got fit for me. The site was health related, which is one of my areas, and it was all looking really promising until I mentioned my fees, at which point – and this is what-, they just disappeared.
PW: That’s what makes me angry. They didn’t even say, “Sorry. It’s out of our price range at the moment”, which I’d have some respect for. They just disappeared, and it’s clearly the fees. My fees, listeners, aren’t extortionate. They’re also not cheap. They’re right place.
LH: They’re reasonable.
PW: They’re where they should be.
LH: Yeah, absolutely, completely reasonable for a woman of your skills, experience and expertise.
PW: That’s it. And I have much more respect for another who got in touch with me last week asking about press releases, and I said how long a press release takes me, and therefore I explained the price. He got back to me and said, “I fully understand your workings out. It makes a lot of sense to me. However, for my clients at the moment that’s not a fee I can work with.” And he wasn’t expecting me to drop my fee. He was just letting me know…
LH: It’s just not a problem, is it?
PW: Yeah. And that’s absolutely fine. You’ll get several inquiries for every client you end up landing. Part of the job is just dealing with inquiries, and you know that most of them or at least some of them won’t go anywhere. But be straight with somebody. If it’s too expensive don’t try and talk them down. Just say, “Sorry, at the moment, I can’t stretch to that.” It’s not hard.
LH: Yeah. I mean, just as you’ve experienced this, I’ve had prospective clients basically smack down perfectly reasonable fees suggested by me for being far too high. And again, it’s this entitlement thing. I’m like, “No. I know what a reasonable fee is.” And you work out, and they want a writer with a degree and a masters, and 12 years’ experience in freelance writing to work for something like £5 an hour. It’s utterly ludicrous. When I see other writers pandering to this it really does get my goat. Because we both know it’s hard, we both know it’s hard to get started as a freelance writer, but I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, and I will keep saying it – I never had to work for free to get my business going, nor did I land on my feet, nor did I have mommy and daddy paying, nor did I have a safety net. I went out and I found paying opportunities, and okay, I earned less than I do now, but it was still paid work that helped me to live.
PW: And we’ve both been in the business for long enough to have tales of when we frankly screwed ourselves over.
LH: Yeah, of course. Especially with like long manuscripts and things.
PW: That’s it. By miscalculating or not appreciating how much a piece of work was worth, or even just not having to —
LH: I think we’ve all done that, haven’t we?
PW: Yeah. Just not having the confidence. We’ve been there, we’ve done it. And we know it can be really hard, especially if you get established. If you’re in a position where you’re doing very, very low-paid work, you’re in a cycle that’s hard to break out of.
LH: Of course.
PW: Because you have to do such a volume of it in order to get your rent paid that you don’t have time to do the stuff that would build your business ordinarily.
LH: Yeah. You don’t have time for the marketing, and you don’t have time just to actually put real thought into the work that you’re doing, and take considerations like SEO seriously.
LH: And to really work well because spending time on a piece of writing helps you to improve your skills.
LH: You know, the better you get, the more you can charge, obviously.
PW: Yeah. And so it’s not that we don’t appreciate that it’s a real trap if you’re in it. If all your clients are from Elance, and you’re just bidding your lowest cost for every piece of work, we’re not underestimating how rough that is. However, you need to break out of that consciously, and with care and with determination, because if a client’s paying you $5 today, it’s not going to up it to $50 tomorrow.
LH: No. Knock your cheapest clients on the head and spend that time doing something better.
PW: Yeah. Finding 50 other ones.
LH: Yeah. Because a lot of writers that we see who are reaching that, “Oh, my God. This is never going to work,” and they’re thinking about letting for-profit companies take advantage, they haven’t even done everything they can to try and make a go at things. This is what’s frustrating: you’ll find that they’ve got an infrequently updated Twitter account with no calls to action and no real oomph to it at all; you’ll find that they’re not on Linked In, and they’ve not tried things like uploading an hourly, like a fixed-price job to people per hour. And I think it must be the culture of freelance writing and the forces that we’re exposed to, like those greedy businesses. Because there seems to be this real defeated attitude sometimes, like this real, “Ooh, no!” when it comes to charging a fair rate that you can actually live on. And if you stick to your guns people will have no choice but to pay you or bugger off.
PW: Yeah. Your $5 client isn’t going to pay you $50. You need an entirely new client base. And then you’re not going to find them in the same place, and so you need to expand and, like Lorrie says, spend some time – set yourself up in a position where it’s possible to leap from and get the better stuff.
LH: Keep your eyes focused on the fact that is not a reasonable rate. And when it comes to setting your freelance writing rates, a lot of writers I see make the mistake of basing their fees on what suits their clients. And it’s the wrong way around, isn’t it? It’s 100% the wrong way around.
PW: Yeah. If you’re having to write three blog posts an hour to break even, then your writing’s not going to be very good.
PW: And so you’re not going to entice people.
LH: Absolutely. And if you are finding you are working your ass off and you’re earning very little, it’s not you that’s the issue. Pip and I did a series of three episodes on money issues quite a while back now, where we discussed how to set your rates properly rather than just plucking figures from the sky, how to calculate rates based on your needs, your living expenses, your costs, and how to increase them if necessary. Because think about it. I mean, if you went into a shop and everything was too expensive – say you went into a nice independent boutique on a high street, everything was too expensive – you wouldn’t expect the shopper to lower the prices for you.
PW: Well, I want a cardigan and I have a 20p. It would be really good exposure for your shop if I’m seen wearing it.
LH: [laughter] I’ll tell people where I got it. You’d leave, wouldn’t you? You wouldn’t do something so stupid. You’d leave and you’d go somewhere you can afford. And while it’s okay to be flexible with your pricing, say if you’ve got a client that’s very long-term, or they give you loads of regular work, or you have pay rates where you’re having complete dry spell, then dropping them to something ridiculous isn’t going to work. But being flexible is okay, but being ridiculous isn’t going to do you or your client or your fellow freelance writers any favours at all.
PW: And this relates very closely to our next reason why you shouldn’t write for free, and that is that the time you spend writing for free could have been spent attracting lucrative work. If you spend two hours on a blog post for free, just think how many companies you could have researched and emailed in that time? Think how much more information you could have added to your website or your Linked In profile. Think how many phone calls you could have made to local businesses. It’s almost always going to be the case that that amount of time will be better spent being proactive about your business than writing for free. Because when you think of it in those terms you can get a lot done in two hours.
LH: You can set up a website in two hours. So at the end of the day it is absolutely possible to get paid and get paid well for freelance writing. It is. Pip and I are fitting here – other sides of a mountain range, but we’re both fitting, I imagine. And we both make a full-time living out of writing for money, and we tackle a variety of topics from the relatively boring to the not so boring. And I know writers who get paid very well for blog posts on feminism, women’s rights. They review novels, they make commentary on sport, and there’s a wealth of other interesting and sought-after jobs that are perfectly achievable and attainable. And while a certain level of commitment and determination of flexibility is needed to achieve success in these more competitive markets particularly, that doesn’t extend to hocking your skills for free.
PW: I think hopefully what you’ll have got from this episode is that not only do you not have to work for free to make it as a freelancer, it can actually be downright detrimental to your progress.
LH: Yeah. It doesn’t work. And, as Pips just said, it’s not only that it doesn’t work, it prevents you from doing things that do.
PW: Yeah, exactly. And so we would love to hear what you think. Head over to our Facebook page and tell us – do you work for free? Do you think it’s useful for you? Is it something you wish you could go like a bad habit about? Or do you thoroughly refuse? And how does that go down? We want to know.
LH: We do. So come over to Facebook.com/freelancewritingpodcast – we’re easy to remember – and come have a chat with us, because one of us is always there. Not always, obviously. If you catch us overnight we’ll probably be sleeping, but we’ll get back to you. We do like having a chat. We’ve got some good links going on there, so come and have a nosey because it’s all extra good stuff. Because freelance writing, as we say, it can be isolating and it can be hard. And it can be hard when you get yourself caught in a situation, and you might be setting their thinking, “Well, they’re really harsh. I don’t want to work for free, but I kind of have to because of my situation.” You, come and talk to us about it, because we don’t it, so there must be a way out.
PW: And if you comment on posts we put up on our Facebook page, you can also interact with other freelance writers who comment, and so it’s not even just like come talk to Lorrie and I, but come and post —
LH: No, we’ve got some lovely listeners.
PW: Yeah. And other listeners will see your comments and so it could be a really useful little forum.
LH: Definitely. And we will not encourage you to work for free.
PW: We’ll actively discourage it.
LH: Definitely. So if you’ve got any questions at all, come and have a chat with us, and you can find all the links to our social media feeds and websites and things, at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com if you don’t fancy Facebook.
PW: And so now it is time for the Little Bird Recommendation of the Week.
PW: In which Lorrie and I share something we’ve spotted that we think you might enjoy. And so my recommendation this week is kind of in the spirit of the topic of this episode. It is a blog post from a website called Success Works – all about SEO copywriting. And it’s a recent post, only a few days ago, called ‘Freelance writers: how to tame the client from hell.’
PW: And much as Lorrie and I are always advocates for being flexible, being responsive, dealing with your clients professionally and respectfully, sometimes we don’t get that back in return.
PW: And this post has some very good advice about dealing with those clients that are frankly making your life a misery. They don’t show up for meetings, they change everything at the last minute; they want you to do things that you don’t normally do, that you didn’t agree to. It’s a short post, but it’s just got some frank talking, basically, and some advice about what to do.
LH: It looks really good because it looks like it tackles the kind of negative aspects that your clients can display, even when you’ve been in the business stages. It’s the kind of stuff that will never go away, unfortunately.
PW: Sadly, yes. So some ideas about charging for meeting time, and though this is something that Lorrie and I have discussed perhaps not on the podcast but amongst ourselves.
LH: It’s a difficult one, isn’t it? Because I’ve considered it, and sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t, because it’s rarely well-received.
PW: I think something that both of us have semi-decided on is that to a degree anything should be free, but if it’s getting pushed and pushed, then there is certainly a case for charging.
LH: Yeah. If it’s regular meetings I’ll charge. If it’s an introductory meeting I won’t charge.
PW: That’s it. And so, like with everything else, it’s not a simple yes/no, but this post just gives you suggestions, sings like that, and almost gives you permission really that this is something you can consider – you can charge for meeting clients, you can ask for more money for a rush job, and that kind of thing. So it’s a great little read, and it’s a site that I’m not very familiar with, but just from looking at their post titles, I think I’ll definitely be subscribing myself.
LH: No, it looks really – apart from one thing on it. Can you guess the one thing that’s putting me off the website?
PW: Is it going to ask for free posts?
LH: No. I’ve not actually checked that. It’s the sexy cartoon woman.
LH: At the top, with her legs crossed. Ugh!
PW: Yeah. That could be better.
LH: It could definitely be better. But apart from that, the joking aside, the blog post looks great. And, like I say, it’s the kind of stuff that – because we’ll always take on new clients. We’ll never always just have the same old clients again and again and again. And each time – especially with this culture of entitlement at the moment – each time we take on a client, you do often have to tackle these things. And the best way really is to be quite firm.
PW: And it’s so much easier to be clear from the outset than it is to try and change the parameters when you’re in it.
LH: Brilliant recommendation.
PW: Well, thank you very much. And what is your recommendation, Lorrie?
LH: My recommendation, Philippa, is from inc.com, which I like for small business advice. And it kind of goes – it counters the opposite tack to yours, because we all know you can have clients from hell and exploitative clients and stuff. But you can also be a bit of a chump yourself. We’ve all done that. We’ve all been a bit of chump sometimes.
PW: We certainly have. Probably several times today already.
LH: [laughter] Well, speak for yourself. I don’t think you’re a chump. And it is an article from – alright, maybe I do.
LH: It’s an article from Inc. and it’s about productivity, and it’s called ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Ineffective People.’ You know me, you can tell what sort of mood I’m in, and I’m in that kind of…
PW: Take no nonsense.
LH: Take no nonsense; tell it like it is, lay-it-out kind of mood. Because I feel frustrated with writers when they insist on working for free and working for pennies. Often, when people ask for advice – “Oh, I just don’t have time. Oh, I don’t know about this, or I don’t know about that.” – often I’ll find that there should have been much, much more thought put into building that business from the start and running a business. And that that business isn’t being treated like a career, it’s being treated like a hobby, and that’s where the problem is. So I feel cross. And this is a good post because it goes through seven habits that you might think will make you more effective, but actually, according to this author, won’t.
At first I was kind of surprised. I thought they were quite useful, but it does go down some very interesting points, and it talks about things like always making sure that you finish your task list and always answering the phone when it rings, and doing things immediately – answering an email as soon as it’s there, or signing some papers as soon as they arrive, or posting something as soon as you need to.
PW: I like this because I feel less inept for the fact that I never finish my task list.
PW: I don’t always answer the phone. And yes, it’s quite nice to get a little boost for the fact that it’s not always efficient to do everything on the list, and it’s not always efficient to do everything straight away. I like that because, as Lorrie suggested, it’s constantly being drummed into us that this is what we should be doing.
LH: Yeah, definitely. And it’s not just kind of, “You muppet, you’re not being very effective.” There’s plenty of tips in there and plenty of reasons behind, and they’ve got quotes from people like Marissa Mayer talking about why this kind of thing doesn’t work for them. I really think, honestly, sometimes I want to shake people when they’re like, “Oh, do you have any tips for new freelance writers? Not going very well.” And you can spot like 50 things immediately that they’re doing that are completely daft, and you’re like, “Oh, God, I wish that we didn’t work in a sector where we’re encouraged to screw ourselves over.”
PW: And what I like about this post is that it’s not being 100% prescriptive. It’s not saying “never answer the phone.”
LH: That would be nice, wouldn’t it?
PW: Yeah, never finish your to-do list. But what it’s doing is kind of countering almost the popular wisdom.
LH: Yes, the myths, isn’t it?
PW: Yeah, with some facts. Like one of the things they suggest is a sign of being inefficient is blocking all interruptions. And that’s the kind of thing that some days I really need there to be nothing other than my work. Otherwise I can’t make progress. But other days having a radio on in the background or staring out the window for a few minutes —
PW: Yeah. – can give me a boost. And it says interruptions can work like fuel for your brain, and that’s exactly it. And so it’s not saying “never do these things” or “always do these things.” It’s just presenting an alternative view point so that you could question the authority of these rules.
LH: Definitely. And I think it’s helpful, as well, to have a list like this for people who might be running around like scalded cats because they’re working too much for too little. Because if you’re in that situation you do need to be as effective as possible in order to carve out a bit of time in which to reform your business as a profitable fair endeavour for yourself. And if you’re being ineffective as well as overworked and underpaid, you’ve no chance, of course. So that is my recommendation.
PW: I like it very much.
LH: Thank you very much. I like you, too.
LH: So that, listeners, brings us firmly to the end of A Little Bird Told Me episode 68. I really hope you’ve enjoyed this episode. I’m genuinely hoping that the advice that we’ve given will be taken in the right vein, because it’s a very emotive topic, and it’s frustrating not only to see businesses exploiting writers but to see writers being complicit in that, either wilfully or just through desperation.
PW: And this conversation that we’ve had on the podcast is a conversation that we’ve touched on at least once a week between us, isn’t it?
LH: It is, isn’t it?
PW: And so this is – I think it’s about 18 months since we first did an episode on working for free.
LH: 64 episodes have gone past between. So we’ve limited ourselves.
PW: And so this has been brewing for a long time. So if we sounded more scathing than you might expect, do take it in the spirit in which it was intended, which is that we don’t like people getting screwed over, and we don’t like people being exploited because we think that if you can write well, then that should be recognised and that can include monetary recompense. And there’s nothing to be ashamed of.
LH: No, it isn’t. And I think that’s one thing that we do want to say, is that you can feel guilty for charging fairly for your work, and you absolutely shouldn’t. You absolutely should not.
PW: And so thank you very much for listening. I have been Philippa Willitts…
LH: … and I have been Lorrie Hartshorn. And we will catch you next time.
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.
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.
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…
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 —
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.
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 (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.
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.
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…
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.”
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…
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 —
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.
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.
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.
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.
PW: And I have been Philippa Willitts…
LH: … and I have been Lorrie Hartshorn, and we will catch you in a fortnight’s time.
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!
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 (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 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.
Working from home might feel like an endless opportunity to work in your pyjamas, but there are times when it is really important to think about your visual appearance – including the appearance of your website and social media profile pages. In this episode, Lorrie and I talk about lots of aspects of your visual presentation, including how you need to prepare for Skype conversations, and how to choose a business name.
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!
LH: Hello and welcome to Episode 36 of A Little Bird Told Me: the podcast about the highs, the lows, and the no-nos of successful freelance writing. You can find us on the web at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com and there you can subscribe to the podcast via RSS feed, iTunes, Stitcher Smart Radio or just there on the Podomatic page itself.
It’s so worth clicking the subscribe button because you’ll get a notification as soon as our new episodes are out. Don’t miss it.
On the Podomatic page itself you’ll also find the links to our Facebook page where you can come and chat to me and Pip and ask us any questions you might have and give feedback on the episodes you’ve listened to so far, and you’ll also find links to our websites and our social media feeds, as well as to other episodes, transcripts and show notes, many of which are actually handy links to resources for freelancers.
I’m Lorrie Hartshorn.
PW: And I am Philippa Willitts and today we’re talking about visual clues to professionalism. As a freelancer, you are your brand, so – for better or worse – how you present yourself, and what your web presence looks like, will be judged. And while we all know that you might don a suit for an important client meeting, there are actually a lot more factors to consider. So today we are going to cover these different issues of visual presentation, and we are going to start by looking at what you call your business.
LH: Yes, one of the biggest decisions you make when you’re starting out as a freelancer is whether to trade under your own name or to create a company brand that customers will use instead.
Spelling Challenges and More! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
PW: Yes, this can be a really big decision, and somebody actually asked our advice about this on our Facebook Page a few weeks ago. What I said then still stands actually: my advice was that first of all you should start by thinking about your real name – is it common or unusual? If you’re called Jane Smith, then calling your business JaneSmith means you will never be easy to find in the search engines. People might have to scroll through pages and pages to find you, which they just won’t do. On the other hand, having a name like mine – Philippa Willitts – where nobody can spell EITHER of my names, never mind both of them, leads to problems with web addresses.
LH: Yes, I have a friend who’s just making the transition from salaried to freelance and she’s facing the same issue – her surname is of Czech origin which leads to all kinds of mispronunciations and spelling issues. I bet you get issues with the ‘l’s and ‘p’s in Philippa as well, don’t you? And maybe even ‘f’s?!
PW: The number of spellings of my name I’ve seen throughout my life is really quite outstanding. When I was a teenager, I started going, “One ‘l’, two ‘p’s, two ‘l’s, two ‘t’s, four ‘i’s.” It’s the bane of my life in many ways, and it is one of the reasons I went with PhilippaWrites – it’s so that people would only have to spell one of the two names right, and it was also clear what I did.
PW: Now, if I was starting again I might not choose it though. At the time I chose it, I hadn’t really researched, and wasn’t aware of the sheer number of people who use the “firstname + writes” as their business name! Going in the area of specialism, if you have one, can definitely work – I’m also Social Media Writer which says a lot more.
LH: No, I’d back you up on the difficulties that come from using your name as your business name – Lorrie Hartshorn is a nightmare to spell.
PW: Of course because there are two…three immediate ways that I can think of to spell your name!
LH: I was going to say, keep counting!
PW: Yes, I said, ‘two’ and then immediately came up with more!
LH: Yeah, I’ve been referred to as Larry Hawthorn before. But people generally call me Lorraine. There’s no indication anywhere that my name is Lorraine – and indeed it isn’t – but no, that’s what I get called.
As for whether I’d stick with my own…I don’t know whether to call it my business name or not. I tend to refer to myself as ‘That Wordy Bird’ on social media and that’s had some really good feedback – people find it cute, fun, memorable, but the problem is that I’ve taken on some writers to help me. So I’m struggling to know whether I’m misrepresenting my business. I don’t think it is, and I think I’d like to keep ‘That Wordy Bird’ on, but it’s something I have to think of – and it’s another thing to bear in mind I suppose.
PW: Yes. In terms of the woman who approached us on Facebook, Lorrie: you had some other suggestions about trying to find a business name…
LH: I did because what we struggled with…we’ve spoken to this woman a few times and she’s lovely but, much as you’d like to help someone, you can’t name someone else’s business. And I think we were keen not to do that.
PW: Yes, I think we wanted to give her some starting points to bounce off so she could come up with names for herself.
LH: Yeah, and although it might seem obvious objectively that there will be problems with certain approaches to coming up with a business name, it can be a minefield when you’re in the ‘trying to come up with a business name’ phase.
So when it comes to thinking of a name for your business, the things I would say you should take into account are:
– Firstly, your personality and your way of working. So if you’re super serious, maybe a fun frivolous name isn’t for you; maybe Firstname Surname Consulting is for you. But if you’re bubbly and you find yourself chatting about random stuff, maybe something a bit fun and catchy. Whatever works for you.
– Do you want to be a sole trader or a company? Will your brand voice be an ‘I’ or a ‘we’? As I say, I’m having trouble with my name now that I’ve taken on writers to help me and moved into an agency set-up. I’m still a sole trader but I work with other people. How visible do I want that to be to clients?
PW: And I think in legal terms, we’re both sole traders although this isn’t going to be an episode where we look into the benefits of sole trader vs. company, but sole trader is generally an easier status to manage. The accounting is simpler and that kind of thing. But it’s worth thinking about – we’re not the people to advise you but there’s plenty of information about that. And it’s different in different countries, of course.
LH: The advice I was given by my accountant is that unless you’re earning an awful lot of money when you’re starting out, there’s no real tax benefits to being a company, at least here in the UK.
PW: Yes, that’s similar to the advice I read everywhere. Unless you’re setting up something complicated, then be a sole trader. You can always upgrade, as it were, to a different status if necessary.
LH: And this is the thing – you don’t have to. Someone I know who’s been freelancing for nigh on 35 years is still a sole trader. You don’t have to. I suppose ‘upgrade’ wasn’t the word for it – it’s not a case of sole trader not being as good as a company; there’s no cap on earnings as a sole trader, as far as I’m aware. So yeah, I’d recommend starting out and going from there.
PW: Yes, don’t complicate things for yourself.
LH: Yes, not unless you really like tax, in which case, help yourself!
LH: So the next thing I’d say to bear in mind is your target audience. Will you be B2C or B2B? Obviously as a writer, you’re likely to be B2B, but I mean will your clients be B2C or B2B. Will you be specialising in a certain sector? If so, maybe your name needs to reflect that. If your clients are in the fashion and cosmetics sector, then your name should be different than if your clients are in the financial and legal sector.
PW: Yes, I mean, my Social Media Writer ID is very specific. Possibly too specific because I also do tech writing, but it gives people an immediate idea of what I do, which is helpful.
LH: Yeah. Definitely – your branding is straightforward, clean lines, social media writing, does what it says on the tin. And yeah, to me, that’s good branding. But if you were targeting magazines to write about food and travel, it wouldn’t work at all.
PW: Definitely, and this is why I have the two different identities. It does work because I love the tech writing but I do also do magazine journalism and opinion writing, which can be on all sorts of subjects.
LH: Which takes us on to the next point, I suppose, which is what services are you offering? I see certain freelancers marketing themselves as, say, “[Name] Media”, while others go with the more simple, “[Name] Copywriting Services” or “[Name] Content Marketing Services” Be aware that your name needs to suit you as you grow – don’t limit your service offerings if you think you’ll be able to train up and expand your service offerings. If Pip had started out as Philippa Willitts Blog Writer, then she’d be a bit stuck now.
LH: Another thing to consider is: do you have a whimsical story behind your transition into freelancing? Maybe there’s a theme you could use that represents something important to you. For some reason, I see stock photography of a little unfurling seedling on lots of copywriting websites, and that plant gets everywhere! The point I’m trying to make is that that seems to represent how they feel about moving into freelancing.
PW: And sometimes having a slightly unusual name will provoke conversation. If you give someone a business card and it says your name is Seed Copywriting, that can be a talking point.
LH: Yes, I’ve also seen things like “Cherry Red Marketing” which sound lovely and could be a nice tack to take if you fancy a more abstract name. If you do go with something fun, make sure it’s not something you’d be embarrassed to announce to friends and clients alike!
PW: Yes, and there are a few things to check, also: try saying the name out loud and make sure it can’t be mistaken for something rude. Check how it looks as a URL, and make sure it doesn’t contain inadvertently rude words. Lorrie and I have worked as receptionists and secretaries. So with a business name, you have to imagine picking up the phone and saying it. So do check!
LH: True, and I suppose one thing to consider is how does it work with social media?
PW: True! Is it already taken? Is the URL available?
LH: Getting the giggles here thinking about some of those terrible URLs, like Pen Island (penisland.com!). And did you see the hashtag for Susan Boyle’s album launch (#susanalbumparty).
PW: Recently, when Margaret Thatcher died, the hashtag #NowThatchersDead and that provoked a big reaction, “Oh my God, Cher’s dead!” and Cher had to come out and say, “I’m not dead!” So that’s the kind of thing you have to be careful about.
LH: Yes, it’s a tough choice, and I’d definitely recommend running your ideas in list form by a few trusted people, just to make sure there are no unfortunate connotations with any of them! Check their reaction – read out a whimsical and amazing name and see what happens. I know that here in the UK, Moonpig has done really well, but I wouldn’t want to call a copywriting firm Moonpig. Or Cloud Hippo!
PW: You’d have to have a very good story behind it.
LH: That’s a good point actually. If you went to a networking event and someone said, “So why are you called Cloud Hippo?” and you said, “Dunno, just sounded cool.”…
PW: “Me and my friends were really drunk and we were putting words together and we liked that one!”
LH: Hahaha! Yes, so be a bit sensible and don’t embarrass yourself.
PW: Now, the name of your business is important, but it’s actually not the most vital part of your identity. There are some really successful freelance businesses with frankly embarrassing names, and there are others whose names I wished I had thought of myself but that have very little success. The name is important but it has to be part of an overall package.
PW: Another important piece of the visual puzzle you create is the photos you use, and this can be your Twitter and LinkedIn headshots, the photo you send to places you are writing for to put in your profile, your Facebook cover photo and any pics of yourself on your website. So, smiley? Serious? Or light-hearted?
LH: It’s a difficult one, isn’t it? When you’re in a salaried position, having your picture taken for the office website can be embarrassing; when you have to have one done for yourself, it can be mortifying. I think the thing to remember is that it’s not about pretending you’re someone different, so if you’ve got a nice picture of yourself smiling, that’s fine. What it is about is deciding what’s appropriate. If you have a nice picture of yourself smiling over the fourth pitcher of pina colada, maybe don’t use that picture, or use it on your personal Facebook and check that those privacy settings are up.
A half-drunk glass of beer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
PW: Yes, it might feel like you’re being “injecting personality” by showing yourself downing a pint in one go, surrounded by cheering friends, that’s not necessarily the kind of personality a client wants to see when they are considering working with you!
LH: Definitely not! A pet hate for me is cheesy head-shots. And particularly – people have social media pages now, and I’ve seen people have a little head-shot as a profile picture and a giant head-shot behind as a background image.
LH: There’s a social media expert I’ve seen who has *the cheesiest* headshots ever – pure cheddar. In one, they’re bursting through a bit of paper and making a really weird “Argh!” face, and it’s just odd. They’re looking to one side, mouth wide open, teeth showing. And while I can’t deny it’s caught my attention, the attempt to make something so contrived – it’s clearly a studio shot because who has a candid shot of them coming through a piece of paper?! – look natural and spontaneous (they’re not even looking at the camera!) wouldn’t make me want to hire that person. To me, it’s not fun or cute; it’s just kind of unprofessional.
PW: Another important thing is that your public pictures are of decent quality. I see sooooo many pictures that are pixellated or blurry, or with a background full of conflicting colours or a big crowd of people, then avoid using these too. Make sure the photo is clean, that if it’s a head shot then your head is clearly visible
LH: Haha, it kills me that we have to specify this!
PW:…and that people don’t have to struggle, when they look at it, to understand what is what.
LH: I dread to think! But yes, all good points. And just thinking about what you’ve said: if you’ve got a picture that’s blurry but you think you look a bit fit in it, don’t go to Picasa and turn it black and white, and high contrast. If it’s a blurry picture, it’s a blurry picture; I don’t care how gorgeous you look in it – it’s not appropriate for work.
PW: And nowadays, camera phones are exceptionally good, so either you or one of your friends will have a decent camera. As long as the photo in the end looks good.
LH: I’ve seen people who’ve forked out for headshots. That said, there’s no need to get expensive photography if it’s beyond your price range. Headshots can be expensive and you might not have those funds. Get a friend to take some nice, clear, non-blurry pictures of you wearing something smart, and you’re all set. And stay away from funky photography effects unless you know what you’re doing and it’s in-keeping with your brand.
Because remember, people will be contacting you and seeing you as the person in your ‘work’ images, so give them as professional and neutral a feel as possible. We all build up a picture of someone – I defy most people to say that they don’t go and have a look at what someone looks like – I’m always interested to know who I’m speaking to. Be neutral, be professional and remember to smile.
PW: Another situation where you have to think about how you look, and what your surroundings are, is if you have meetings with clients on Skype. If you use video chat during these meetings, then you will be expected to not be in your pyjamas, lying down in bed. Clients know you work from home, so they won’t necessarily expect formal office attire and a plain white background, but it is worth taking a moment to consider how you are presenting yourself when you do have video chats. Also, whether you use video or just audio chats consider background noises – don’t have the TV or radio on in the background, and take care – and I know this from podcast recording! – even with things like whether the washing machine is on a noisy spin cycle or not!
LH: I’ve taken Skype calls before where I’ve still had messy hair or a slouchy t-shirt on: I actually pop a piece of paper over my webcam so that, if I accidentally hit ‘video call’ instead of ‘audio call’, my clients won’t be horrified!
PW: Yes, post-in notes can be very good for that as well. Something I do about 10 minutes before a scheduled video chat is to turn on my webcam so I can see exactly what’s on show, and exactly what the client will see. It actually helps me to spot things I hadn’t noticed, because I’m looking at it with fresh eyes.
LH: That’s actually a really good idea. I don’t tend to do video calls, but that would definitely help reassure me if I did.
PW: Yes, I don’t tend to do video calls either, but once in a while they are necessary. When dealing with other freelancers, I’ve had them say, “Please can we not do video chat? I haven’t got dressed yet!” and I’m happy to oblige!
PW: Now, something else to bear in mind, in terms of how you present your business visually, is the appearance of your website and social media profiles. Looking again at social media, make sure you have made the best of the opportunities that Facebook and Twitter offer you for personalising your profile and Pages, with the header images and so on. These aspects aren’t as important as your head shot, but they contribute to an overall feel. Then, looking at your professional website, think about the layout and background, and the font and font size too.
LH: Yes, and I think it’s important to make sure there’s a synergy between your website and social media feeds. So if you have monochrome social media feed with a splash of pink, don’t go for a beige website with a scrolly font.
But in terms of fonts, it’s something I wrote about on my blog recently. I do a lot of fiction reading because I do literary editing – and a lot of what I read is on blogs. And a lot of the blogs I come across have a black background with red font, or a black background with lime green font. And unless I have to read whatever it is – which is rare – I just click away. I can’t deal with the glow – it gives me a headache.
PW: Someone I know had a lime green background with white font, and it was actually painful.
LH: It’s called ‘halation’ out of interest – the glow you get from light font on a darker background. Now, I don’t have any visual impairments, but that causes me massive issues.
Now, in terms of font, it doesn’t even really matter to me if you go serif or sans serif…
PW: Yes, there are views all over the web about that, so just go with what you think.
LH: Yes in my view, as long as you stick with a font that people can read and are happy to read. I visited a copywriting site fairly recently and bounced straight back off the page when I saw that the writer had chosen a squirly handwriting font to go with her cutesie 1950s theme. While a cute theme can work – it’s a risky choice but it’ll get you noticed – keep your font readable.
PW: Yes, and readability is particularly important in terms of web accessibility. Like Lorrie, I have visited sites that I bounced straight back away from because the font was either too small, illegible or there wasn’t enough contrast to read it easily, and although I am short-sighted, my vision is fine when I wear my specs. However for people with reduced vision, these kinds of things make your site impossible to navigate, so if they are a client looking to hire you’ve instantly lost some potential work before you could even start to sell yourself.
LH: Yeah, I mean black or dark grey font on a pale background is always going to be your best bet, in my view. Studies that I’ve read do seem to indicate that a high contrast – although not too high – is the best option.
PW: Yes, I believe the best contrast advice in terms of accessibility is black on a pale coloured background. Black on white is too ‘contrasty’ and can cause difficulty for some people, so although I haven’t looked it up in the last year or two, the advice last time I researched the best practice was black, or dark coloured font on a pale background.
LH: One thing it’s important to remember in terms of your online presence is that people will sometimes search for you and, even if they don’t actively search, people will sometimes find you. And by you, I don’t just mean your carefully designed website – I mean your Twitter, your Facebook, your Pinterest or your blog. It’s very hard to be invisible on Google nowadays, so it’s important to control your social media feeds and make sure that anything you wouldn’t want clients to see is tucked away behind your privacy settings.
PW: I’ve read a few interesting blog posts recently about whether or not freelancers should be friends with their clients on Facebook, and although they all presented a “pros and cons” approach, I strongly identified predominantly with the “no, don’t do it!” side of the advice!
LH: God, yes, 100% agree. Do not befriend your clients! You might think you’re charming and marvellous, but a whole host of factors are going to come into play.
PW: My Facebook account is very much a personal one, I talk nonsense, I post about trivialities, and it contains photos and details that just aren’t appropriate to bring into a professional relationship. Not because they’re scandalous…
LH: They are. Pip’s Facebook is a hotbed of decadence and scandal.
PW: …but just because they’re not at all relevant to the work I do. This is exactly why I have Facebook Pages for my business, so that people who want to follow me or keep in touch can do so there. I need social media spaces where I can switch off, and that includes my personal Facebook account, and my personal Twitter account. I have my Facebook Pages, my professional Twitter account, and my LinkedIn account to network with clients and prospects, and to promote my work.
LH: And it’s nice that you don’t put all your work stuff on your friends, as well. I’ve dealt with individuals and sole traders previously who don’t get the difference between a Facebook profile and a Facebook page.
PW: And it’s an important difference!
LH: That’s the point I was trying to make earlier – I spent about an hour trying, unsuccessfully, to try and explain the different between profiles and pages. And as far as I’m aware, they’re still using their Facebook profile as their personal and professional Facebook presence. Even if you don’t say something actively offensive, most of what you say will be irrelevant, so it’s best to limit your communications to when you’re tuned in. Jokes, sarcasm, flippant comments can all be really hard to translate. If you have one shot to attract a client, that’s just not going to work.
PW: As Lorrie said earlier, making sure your privacy settings are carefully managed is vital. There’s no point me not friending clients on FB if they can just do a search and see everything I post anyway! I know that some clients have “subscribed” to me on FB, so I do some “public” posts, just so they have something to see! Those tend to be quite generic ones that won’t offend anybody or give too much away about my life, but that they might enjoy seeing.
LH: One thing I would say is that you don’t need to panic about wiping every trace of yourself off the Internet. Things like my blog and my creative writing are visible if you search for my name because I wanted my creative writing to be published under my name, and that’s not an issue. My writing is my writing – while I wouldn’t go and say to my clients, “Hey, take a look!”, it’s not something I’m interested in hiding. The same goes for my feminist articles – while they might not be to every client’s taste, they don’t interfere with the work I do, nor are they something to be ashamed of or bashful about.
PW: Yes, absolutely. I am always aware that, if somebody looks hard enough, they can find parts of me online that I might not promote with my professional work, but which also don’t get in the way.
LH: That being said, it’s important to remember that, if you’re a freelancer, the lines between professional and personal do get blurred. Like it or not, freelancing is a bit of a lifestyle, in my opinion, so you have to be a bit careful about what you post. A good way to get a bit of freedom if you want to be more controversial in your personal dealings is to use avatars that don’t show you, and pseudonyms. Or, as we mentioned earlier, to trade under a business name. But even that might not be enough if you’re posting something that clients might find really objectionable in your spare time.
PW: Yes, if you’re creating a “why I hate all my clients” tumblr, a pseudonym might be in order. 😉
LH: God, yes!
PW: So we’ve looked there at how clients and potential clients might view you if they see things that aren’t on your professional site. It’s an important thing to bear in mind because the vast majority of my work comes from online connections.
LH: So, I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode and found it helpful. It’s now time for the A Little Bird Told Me Recommendations of the Week.
PW: For people who are interested in journalistic writing I found a really amazing resource about how to deal with sourcing information. It comes from Reuters, the news agency, and is a really comprehensive list of 23 vital aspects of dealing with sources, interviews, quotes, privacy, honesty, and it is clearly fairly up to date because it also includes the ethics and practicalities of dealing with social media as a source of information. It’s a long read, but if you are working in journalism, news or newsy opinion writing it’s absolutely packed full of information. So I’ll link to that in the show notes.
LH: That’s a really good recommendation. In the current era of blogs, everyone can turn their hand to journalism and investigative writing – and indeed so many people do. What I find, though, is that people who do blog and use social media as a way of building a writing platform – and who want to be part of the commentariat – aren’t doing it properly, responsibly and in the right way. Rather than just an opinion piece, a bit of a rant, possibly libellous…
PW: A few misquotes…
LH: Yes, the damage from that can be huge.
PW: And like you say, because so many people blog – and it’s known as citizen journalism – there are a lot of people skipping journalism school and going into journalism. I did that, so I’m not criticising it, but one of the things about journalism school is that you learn those kinds of things. This was a particularly good resource for me.
LH: My recommendation this week is based on a comment someone made to me recently about how he couldn’t be a freelance writer because he doesn’t have a degree.
Now, for the sake of disclosure, Pip and I both have degrees. And it is useful – it shows clients you’ve reached a certain level. In my opinion, though, although it might be harder to be a freelance writer without a degree, I’ve never been asked to prove I have a degree. I’ve never been checked or even asked. So that’s not to say that having a degree isn’t important experience. But I don’t think that if you’re a good writer with a good level of English, that you should write yourself off.
PW: Yes, my degree is only tangentially related to what I’m doing now. Without wanting to be overly political, as student fees go up and up, more people without degrees will be making their way into the work place.
LH: Yes, what are people supposed to do if they don’t have a degree? Which brings me on to another point: writers with a degree shouldn’t consider their learning done. My recommendation, to get round to it, is an online learning resource, called Coursera, which allows you to take University courses from a wide range of institutions online – for free!
While most of the Universities featured are from the US (it’s a shame no UK unis have got involved yet) there are some from Europe, and a few Asian ones. Most of the courses range from 2 to 12 weeks, so you’re looking at a proper learning experience, and there are a wide variety that would be extremely helpful to any freelancer, whether or not they’ve reached Uni-level education. You’ve got courses like, “Content Strategy for Professionals” and “Understanding media by understanding Google”, delivered by Universities like Harvard. So really up to date course materials.
So there’s no reason you can’t bring your learning right up to date – and no reason you shouldn’t whether or not you have a degree already.
PW: it’s incredible to have access to the kind of teaching materials we can find online now. Even a few years ago, it was hard to find something good quality, but now – to have these often top of their field people teaching you for twelve weeks shouldn’t be underestimated.
LH: The net is so big that we can sometimes forget how much there is out there. One of the nice things about Coursera is that you can actually build a portfolio and show it to people; keep a record of what you’ve done. With Alison.com, similarly, you can download a code to show you’ve done a course.
But yes, Coursera: I think it’s great. If you don’t have a degree, don’t be disheartened. Neither of us has had our degrees checked. Don’t lie if someone asks you whether you have a degree – it’ll be the one time someone checks. You can say to a client, “I don’t have a degree, but here’s a list of courses I’ve taken in the last year.”
PW: Yes, that’s similar to what I said in my last episode about writing without clips. Don’t say, “No, I haven’t written about that.” and leave it at that; say, “No, I haven’t written about that but I have done X, Y and Z.”
LH: Yes, and the thing with Coursera is that we’re looking at courses from good quality institutions.
So yes, thank you so much for listening. Really hope you’ve found what we’ve shared today useful and interesting. If you have any ideas or feedback, come and have a chat with us – you can find all the links to our Facebook page and social media feeds at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com. We’re very friendly, so feel free.
I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn…
PW:…and I’ve been Philippa Willitts, and we’ll catch you next time.
We ran out of storage space for our earliest episodes. But fear not, we have made these many, many hours of freelance writing goodness available for just £10. If you want access to them all, please click Add to Cart and buy through our e-junkie account for instant access.
Freelancers need to constantly market themselves and their services in order to keep the work coming in. To make sure that your self-promotional efforts hit the mark and don’t put potential clients off or even offend them, Lorrie and I made this podcast episode to summarise some of the most crucial dos and don’ts for four different marketing platforms.
We ran out of storage space for our earliest episodes. But fear not, we have made these many, many hours of freelance writing goodness available for just £10. If you want access to them all, please click Add to Cart and buy through our e-junkie account for instant access.
In order to be taken seriously, and to progress, in a freelance career, we need credibility, but how do we prove to potential clients that we know what we are doing, and that we can be trusted with their work? In this podcast episode, I go through ten top tips to gain credibility and become respected as an authority in your chosen area.
And finally, please ‘like’ us on Facebook to be the first to hear our news and to talk with us about what you hear on the podcast!
Hello, and welcome to Episode 31 of A Little Bird Told Me: the podcast about the highs, the lows, and the no-nos of successful freelance writing.
I am Philippa Willitts and today I’m going to be talking about how to build your credibility as a freelancer or as an expert in your field.
When somebody is looking for a writer they may have four or five websites open for different writers and you need to give them some clues to show them that you’re trustworthy, that you know what you’re talking about and so in this episode I’m going to talk about different ways you can build your own credibility.
Now first of all, apologies that this is slightly late; I have been ill and then when trying to record this morning I had workmen across the street making this noise…
Cheers fellas, just what I needed!
So slightly late but here.
Anyway, to make sure you never miss an episode of A Little Bird Told Me go to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com because there you can subscribe to the podcast which means that rather than trying to remember every Tuesday to tune in you’ll actually be notified on your chosen platform, whether it’s Stitcher or iTunes or whether you use an RSS reader. You can also find a link to our Facebook page, so go over there, like us and say hello, and there are also links to my own and Lorrie’s various social media profiles and websites and such.
So anyway, I’m Philippa Willitts and today, as I mentioned, I’m talking about credibility.
Writing (Photo credit: jjpacres)
If you put yourself in the position of, say, a marketing manager for a business and they want to hire a freelance writer to write them a couple of blog posts a week. So they do some searches and find some writers’ websites. They’ve got to then make a decision about who to hire and part of that will be based on how credible you present yourself to be. If you’ve got lots of links to other writing you’ve done that can help but there are other ways that can imply a level of credibility that can really help you get work and establish yourself as an authority in writing or in your specialist area, if you specialise in a particular subject or style of writing.
So I’m going to go through various different ways that freelancers can build their credibility and some are quick fixes and others are quite long term plans but it all depends on why it is you want to. It may be something that if you build up over several years you can end up a real kind of name in your area or it may be that you’re just aware that your website’s a bit lacking in something and you want some quick fixes that you can do to start making a difference straightaway really.
The first way to demonstrate that you are good at what you do, because, you know, the client who’s looking for someone just doesn’t know that, you have to prove it, and a really effective thing is referrals. If somebody you already work with recommends you to somebody else that’s instant credibility. They can go, “That PR guy really likes what Philippa does so chances are she’s alright. I’ll hire her.” If you can get a referral from somebody else you already work with or have worked with in the past that’s great and it doesn’t actually have to be a client necessarily, it could be a colleague or somebody you’ve partnered with on a project. If you’ve worked with a web designer on a big website redesign where you’ve provided all new content then next time someone asks that web designer if they know of a good copywriter they can refer people to you as well. So it’s a really good way to make a start really on your credibility. If other people recommend you then you’re probably doing something right.
The second idea is very similar actually and that is recommendations from other people. Now this isn’t necessarily the same as referrals, although it might immediately sound like it. What this can be is things like colleagues and clients who leave you a review on LinkedIn for instance, who will click those new little boxes that say you’re good at whatever it is you do. You can also have a section of your website dedicated to the reviews and comments you’ve received from former clients. You have to be careful with that; you probably need their permission, certainly if you’re going to name them and certainly if you write for them in a ghost writing type capacity rather than under your own name. You’ve got to be careful but that kind of thing can be really helpful.
Image via CrunchBase
If you want to get more reviews on LinkedIn there are different ways to go about that and one that a lot of people do, which probably isn’t the best way, is to just send your LinkedIn contacts a message saying, “Please recommend me” and it’s not a good move. It’s people who receive the message, you know there’s nothing in it for them. They’re busy, why would they take time out of their day to write you a recommendation? You might be contacting people you’ve never worked with. I’ve had LinkedIn messages from people I’ve never worked with saying, “Please can you recommend me?” and I can’t because I don’t know what they’re like to work with or how good they are at what they do.
A better way is to think carefully about people you’ve worked really closely with who know you quite well and who you know quite well and just writing them a recommendation; write down how they are to work with, write down what they’re good at, be honest but obviously positive. They can choose whether or not to put it on their profile, it doesn’t appear automatically, but often if you write someone a recommendation then within a week or two they will reciprocate and write one for you as well. It’s a better way of going about it than just randomly asking people to do it because, you know, they’ve got better things to do, whereas if you show willing first then you’ve got goodwill on your side.
There are dodgy ways of getting reviews as well. You can pay people on Fiverr, and presumably other websites as well, to record a video talking about how wonderful you are or how great your book is and it will cost you $5, but actually it could cost you a lot of business because these people do hundreds and thousands of video reviews, and so if somebody is looking at your website trying to decide whether to hire you and they see someone saying how great you are but they recognise them from eight other sites that they’ve looked at where that same woman or same guy is saying just how good the person is it will not only not convince them that you’re good, it will destroy your credibility instantly I would think. If I thought somebody had faked a review in that way I wouldn’t trust them at all. I wouldn’t want to hire them in any circumstances. So it’s not just that it wouldn’t be helpful, it could do your reputation some real damage. People would wonder what you’ve got to hide, it’s no, just don’t do it.
The next way to prove yourself to potential clients is simply your website. You have to make it as good as you possibly can; make sure there are no typos on there, make sure there’s no weird formatting in different browsers. You’re a writer so it doesn’t have to look spectacular in terms of visual design. If you’re a designer then it does but if you’re a writer you know it’s great if it looks spectacular but that’s not what people are looking for. Instead the words, the writing, the text has to be really, really good. I’m never content with my own websites. Every time I look at them I end up changing a bit of text but hopefully it just keeps improving over time, but if you want to persuade people that they should hire you to write then make your website content not just persuasive but impressive.
The other thing about your website is it provides an opportunity for you to link to your other writing. If you write for a blog under your own name link to that, if you write articles for constant content you can get a code for a little widget that you can put in your sidebar that’s got links to all your recent articles. It’s more difficult if you do more ghost writing than writing under your own name.
I know I write blogs for several companies under their name. My job is to write the content really well and then it’s theirs. Lorrie and I talked in the finance episodes we did about the fact that my general rule with copywriting is that as soon as their invoice is paid then they own the writing, it’s entirely theirs. They can say it’s written by themselves, by me, by the Queen, it’s entirely up to them.
So that is more difficult because you can’t link to these blogs and say, “I wrote that” if you’re ghost writing. So you need to think of some other ways to get published with your own name. So this might be writing guest blog posts for a couple of big blogs, it might be getting a couple of articles published in magazines and linking to those, particularly if you have a specialist subject this is a really good way to get clips if you specialise, or whatever area you specialise in there will be blogs dedicated to that subject and if you can get a few posts on those that really show that you do know what you’re talking about then people in that sector of business may well read those blogs and recognise your name and that is where credibility really begins to build.
Another idea for website content is something I mentioned earlier, is a page of people I’ve worked for, or a section of people I’ve worked for. Now, again, this can be varied depending on who you have worked for and how open you can be. I’ve done some work for some quite high profile clients for which I had to sign non-disclosure agreements; so as much as I would like to name them and say, “I’ve written for companies x, y and z”, and it would look impressive, I can’t do that. There are other companies where I can. I haven’t got one of these pages. It’s a tricky one. I know Lorrie and I have talked about it a few times just amongst ourselves, not on the podcast I don’t think, about the fact that it does look impressive if you look at a copywriter’s page, a copywriter’s website, and they have a section for people they’ve worked for and it’s got big companies, big national or international brand names and you do, that gives credibility, which is what we’re talking about. You do think, “Wow! If she’s written for Marks & Spencer’s you know she must be good.” You make assumptions and that’s what building credibility is about quite a lot of the time, is kind of creating the right assumptions in people.
However, there can be ethical issues around privacy and confidentiality and I know Lorrie and I have both been a bit torn on this. Is it do you need to contact each company, which companies do you mention, do you mention the small companies that might not be that impressive, do you want a long list, even if it’s tiny companies, or do you want a list of six or seven people that are well known? It’s difficult but sites that do have that page, that have impressive companies, it gives a good impression.
Tip No. 4 is, again, related to the previous one and I mentioned being able to link to clips which is, you know, previously published articles and such. This does really help and actually the better the… the more high profile the publication or the website the more impressed people are, understandably. I can say I’ve been published in The Guardian and Independent websites and New Statesman and people think, “Oh, she knows what she’s doing”, which I like to think I do, and so sometimes even if these aren’t your target markets it may be something that you can work towards, that you can aspire to really, but you might want to start with, say, pitching guest blog posts to smaller blogs to gain confidence but pick the biggest ones or the print magazines in your area to really aim towards because it does immediately make a good impression.
Studying (Photo credit: Skakerman)
No. 5 tip about how to gain credibility is to make sure that if you’ve done any training or study you let people know, mention it on your website. I’ve got a whole page on my website dedicated to the study I’ve already done and the on-going training and study that I do. I want people to know that I take my job seriously and that I’m committed to continuing to improve and to grow and showing that I undertake regular training does help that, and also if somebody’s unsure about whether I’m really qualified to write about a particular aspect of, say, social media, which is one of my areas, they can look at my training and study page and see that I keep on top of the latest social media training all the time. It helps them to believe that you take your job seriously, that you have an in-depth knowledge of your subject rather than just a very vague one and that you know what you’re talking about really.
Another link to this is certification. Do you have any kind of professional certification? Are you a member of some guild of copywriting or editors’ association? If you are make sure people know. Put it on your LinkedIn page; put it on your website. If there’s a little logo that you can put in your sidebar then do it. It helps people to gain in confidence.
Tip No. 6, and this is a form of social proof, which is where people react well to the implication that other people support you, which is why if you see a blog post and you’re not sure whether to Tweet it or not and then their, ‘Tweet This’ button has a little note that says, “This has been Tweeted by 2400 people you’re more likely to hit ‘Tweet This’ than if it says it’s been Tweeted by two people. We react well to what we believe other people react well to and so showing that you have certification is a form of social proof because it means that someone else has also recognised your capabilities.
Now Point No. 6, I think we’re at, is another form of social proof, which is awards and prizes. If you have any awards or prizes that you have won that relate to either writing, proofreading, editing, whatever your area is, or that relate to the topics you write about then display them on your website, mention them if it comes up in conversation. If you write about cookery and you’ve won a national baking competition that will make people want to hire you to write for them about cookery. The award you won or the prize you won gives other people confidence that you do genuinely deserve to be taken seriously in your specialism.
Social proof is effective in all sorts of areas of life and it’s particularly relevant in the area of credibility and being taken seriously.
In the introduction I mentioned that some of these tactics for gaining credibility were a longer term plan rather than a quick fix and this is one of those. It’s quite a big, long term plan but when it works it works really, really well. So you have to decide how much time you want to invest in this and the possible benefits you can get out of it.
So Tip No. 7 for gaining credibility is to create your own products. Now by products I don’t necessarily mean a physical thing. Something like a podcast or writing a book both take lots of hours for lots of months to get right and to be respected but if you do put that time in then the returns can be really, really rewarding.
Lorrie and I have made this podcast now for… this is the 31st episode and we spend hours a week recording. I spend a good four hours a week doing the audio editing. Lorrie spends I don’t know how many hours a week doing the transcription. It’s not something we just throw together. Yeah, that’s not even mentioning the planning actually. This takes a lot of hours for both of us every week but we’ve invested that because we think it’s because we enjoy it, we like providing useful information, but also it proves to anyone who listens, hopefully, that we do know what we’re talking about; it builds our credibility. The fact that we’re co-hosts of a freelance writing podcast automatically makes people think, “They must really know about freelance writing” and they can listen to it and hopefully that will cement in their mind what they think of us as a result of it.
Writing a book is similar. Now some people find that there’s more credibility in being traditionally published. Other people prefer the control you can have with self-publishing and self-publishing does have a bit of a bad reputation. I know some people are trying to challenge that. Guy Kawasaki has started calling it artisanal publishing to make it sound a bit better and it’s a debate that will go on for ever.
So traditional publishing may be considered slightly more authoritative. Self-publishing you keep a lot more of the money. Either way if you write a book and publish it, be it an e-book, a paper book, whatever, this makes people see that you do know what you’re talking about. If you’re the food writer I mentioned earlier who’s won a national baking competition, if she then writes a whole book about how to decorate cupcakes then that, again, cements her credibility. People think, “Wow! She won that big award. She’s written for BBC Food magazine and she’s written a whole book about cupcakes. This woman knows what she’s doing.”
Now like I said, these kind of products, podcasts, books, all sorts of options really, are big undertakings. They take a lot of time, a lot of energy and a lot of persistence but, like with many things, the more effort something takes the bigger the rewards will be. So if you do want to be freelancing still in three years’ time and you want by then to have a bigger name and be more in demand and be more known for your particular specialism then creating a significant product is a really good way to build your authority, build your credibility and make people believe in you.
Tip No. 8 is another one that not everybody will agree with, which is completely fine, and that’s to specialise if you choose an area that you want to write about that you already know a lot about. Maybe you studied medicine at university and decided not to become a doctor you can specialise in health writing and you’ll be respected because you have a medical degree, you’re a doctor and you will be able to get a lot more not just work but work that’s probably better paid because of your credibility if you work in health and medical writing. If you do general copywriting you won’t be able to demand better fees because the fact that you’re a medical doctor makes no difference when you’re writing about town planning or the latest film.
So specialising, especially if you can prove that you actually are a specialist in that area, can lead to more interesting work I find and better paid work because people are happy to pay more if they can get someone who really knows what they’re talking about in a certain area, but also specialising is a good way to build your credibility because you’re trying to be the big fish in a pond that’s a lot smaller than just business or commercial or blogs. If you want people to start saying, “Yeah, she’s good” you’ve got a much better chance of that if you’re writing about just, say, travel than if you’re writing about everything. If you only approach the magazines in your specialist area then you can really get to know the editors and become their ‘go to’ person when they need a particular article, whereas if you write an article for anybody and everybody there’s just no way to build yourself up as a specialist, and specialist implies credibility immediately.
Point No. 9 about gaining credibility is good old social media. You can make sure that the Tweets you send out show that you know what you’re talking about, you can mention the work you’re doing on Facebook, but also, and probably more effective, is things like communities on Google+ and groups on LinkedIn where you can go into a group of freelance writers or of food critics, or whatever your area, and contribute to discussions that gets your name out there. Again it shows people that you know what you’re talking about. So don’t do it if you don’t know what you’re talking about. If you don’t know what you’re talking about then you can’t specialise in that area yet until you do, but presuming you do know what you’re talking about Google+ communities, Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups are all great ways to demonstrate that you can do what you say you can do and that you do know what you say you know. Don’t just contribute to writing groups. Look for where you want to be, what areas you want to be writing about and go to groups in that area as well. Make your name familiar to the people who have the power to hire and fire you.
And a final point, Point No. 10, about building credibility as a freelance writer is once you’ve got it or once you’re starting to get it don’t lose it by doing something stupid like submitting bad work or getting a reputation for being a diva or giving in work late, or even things like promising more than you can deliver.
If you work really hard to build up a reputation, if you work really hard to prove to people that you’re credible, that you know what you’re doing, that you really are a specialist in the area you say you specialise in that’s a lot of work and to throw that away by being careless, by planning badly, by taking too much on, by not communicating with your clients you’ll lose it instantly. Clients can’t be bothered with somebody who regularly submits work late. If you submit work late once but that meant they missed a deadline they won’t bother using you ever again. Once you start building credibility don’t lose it. Do your best. You can only do your best but do your best to maintain the image you’re portraying and prove people right. If they put their trust in you make sure that your behaviour merits that trust.
So that’s 10 points about gaining credibility as a freelance writer and now it is time for my Little Bird recommendation of the week and it’s a bit of a light hearted one this week. It is a Twitter account called GooglePoetics and you know when you do a search on Google and it gives you dropdown options for what people commonly search for, or what it suspects you might be searching for, people are spotting poetry, I guess found poetry in some ways, in some of the dropdown predictions that Google are giving out and some of them are really quite beautiful. So head over to @GooglePoetics to have a look at the screenshots of spontaneous Google poetry which are just lovely and a bit of light relief. As an example one person did a search for ‘I wish I knew’ and it auto-completed in the following poem:
I wish I knew how it would feel to be free
I wish I knew how to quit you
I wish I knew then what I know now
I wish I knew Natalie Portman
So there we have it. Enjoy your Google poetry recommendation of the week. The link will be in the show notes.
I’m sorry if it’s been a bit choppy. I’ve had to stop and start a lot of times either because of power tools across the road or because I’ve needed to cough and sneeze for a while, but that’s how committed we are to this podcast. We come at you when we’re ill and when there are workmen.
Thank you for listening. Do check us out at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com. Subscribe, leave us ratings and feedback on iTunes and Stitcher and anywhere really. Tell your friends that we exist. Like our Facebook page. Come say hi to us on social media.
I have been Philippa Willitts and we will see you next time.
We ran out of storage space for our earliest episodes. But fear not, we have made these many, many hours of freelance writing goodness available for just £10. If you want access to them all, please click Add to Cart and buy through our e-junkie account for instant access.
In this brilliant solo episode, Lorrie goes into detail about how to prepare for starting out as a freelance writer, and what to do and where to go to start finding work.
There are several ways to make sure that you don’t miss out on A Little Bird Told Me.
And finally, please ‘like’ us on Facebook to be the first to hear our news and to talk with us about what you hear on the podcast!
Hello, and welcome to Episode 29 of A Little Bird Told Me: the podcast about the highs, the lows, and the no-nos of successful freelance writing.
You can find us on the web at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, and there you can subscribe to the podcast in any number of ways, including RSS, iTunes, Stitcher Smart Radio or on the Podomatic page itself. You can also find the link to our Facebook page, where there will be plenty of tips, tricks and topics – that gets easier to say every time! – to enjoy. And you can also find links to my websites and social media feeds, as well as those of my lovely co-host Philippa.
I’m Lorrie Hartshorn and today’s episode is a solo one, which means that you’ll have to tune in next week to get another fix of the lovely Pip. This week, I’m going to be taking things back to basics a little bit, and talking about what to do if you want to become a freelance writer but you don’t really know where to start. This episode is actually in response to a query from one of our listeners, Tracy, who got in touch via our Facebook page and asked for some advice on this very topic.
Writer’s Stop (Photo credit: Stephh922)
She wrote: “Could you do a show for those of us who want to become freelance writers but have no idea of how to do that? I don’t even know how to get started.” Which is actually a pretty brave thing to admit to. It’s actually really common that freelance writers feel stumped at first – there’s so much to consider when going freelance that I’d be worried if you weren’t a bit overwhelmed at first.
I’ve had a think, and come up with a few tips to help you get started.
Ask yourself why you want to go freelance: are you a good writer? Do you have a genuine understanding of what a freelance copywriting career is like? Do you understand the different kinds of writing there are out there? Do you have realistic expectations when it comes to working from home? Do you understand fully that turning your passion into a full-time, self-employed position can really put a dampener on it? Are you ready to be your own marketing team, admin person, finance department, training and development team? Are you self-disciplined and pro-active? Do you try and find answers for yourself before you ask others? You’ll be working on your own for the vast majority of your time as a freelance and your clients expect you to have the answers – often to questions you’ve no idea about. But they’re paying you to know your stuff, so your knowledge, your research skills and your motivation have to stay right up there.
Ask yourself if you’re a good writer as well as a good communicator:
Are you comfortable communicating with people at all levels – including board level – as a representative of your own company? Are you able to sweet talk people face-to-face and over the phone? Are you ready to schmooze and flatter and laugh at people’s jokes and find the one thing you can relate to in a conversation with a potentially important prospect at a networking event? Or would you clam up? Can you chase leads? Can you negotiate rates, deadlines and contracts to suit you as well as your client, while coming across as assertive and fair rather than petulant? The last thing you want to do is fail to really take on board all these challenges – it’s better to face them before you get started so you can identify and hopefully tackle any gaps. Many of these skills can be learnt – so don’t be horrified if you’ve never done this stuff before. But, if you’re listening and thinking that this all sounds like your worst nightmare, there’s definitely an issue.
Ask yourself whether you’re good enough as a writer: this sounds like a pretty harsh piece of advice, but the key to being a successful freelance writer has to, of course, be having the right skill set. As Pip and I have said many times before, decent grammar does not a copywriter make. There’s a lot more to it – read blogs by any freelance copywriters and you’ll get a good idea of what’s involved – but at the end of the day, you do have to have that basic talent – as well as the ability and the stamina to carry on writing and improving your writing every working day for the rest of…well, forever! You need to be able to express yourself (and your client, and a marketing message) through writing, and you need to be able to do it well, relatively quickly, and time and time again.
Ask yourself if you’re in a secure enough position to go freelance. Even if you’re going freelance for all the right reasons and you reckon you’ll be great at it, life happens. As Pip and I have mentioned before, it might take ages for you to find clients. Clients might take ages to get back to you. You might have to wait a month (or more if you’re writing for magazines) before you get paid. In the meantime, bills need paying and life needs living, so think carefully and take a good look at your financial situation before you go freelance. Don’t take a “carpe diem” attitude to it because you’re likely to spend the next three months sleeping on someone else’s sofa and eating rice and carrots.
Writing (Photo credit: jjpacres)
Of course, working around a full- or part-time job means that you’ll have to do your freelance writing in the early morning or in the evening – or just whenever you find yourself with a free moment (kiss goodbye to lunch breaks!). But, it’s a good opportunity to work out whether freelancing is for you. It’s a good chance to see if you work well under pressure and whether your writing is still flowing after three or four weeks of boring press releases or brochures or websites. Better still, it’s a safe opportunity, and it won’t leave you penniless if it doesn’t work out.
So, if you’re sure that you’re ready to be a freelance writer and you’ve got as many of those challenges I’ve mentioned covered as possible, it’s time to take some steps towards actually getting started. Again, I’ll try and keep this brief, but once you’ve got these ideas down, you can go off and do your research at leisure.
Make sure you’ve got all your basics in place before you go freelance – will help you hit the ground running (service offerings, hourly or other rates, business plan, marketing plan, website, social media feeds, CV…) Starting a freelance career with only a vague idea of where you’re headed and what you’re doing isn’t necessarily a fatal mistake but it’s likely to be a costly one, and one that will waste a lot of time for you. You need to be sure about what you’re going to be doing so that as soon as an opportunity arises, you know where it fits.
So what are you going to do for the first month of your freelance career? The first three months? The first year? What training are you going to do? If you’re stuck on how to set goals for yourself, I’d suggest having a listen to our first podcast of 2013, which was all about how to set SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-sensitive and timely – goals.
What services will you offer? Will you have one main service and some little ones, or a range of equally balanced services? Do you know how to edit (and it’s NOT the same as copywriting, so don’t assume!) or proof-read?
Have you got your website and social media feeds up, running and populated with interesting and engaging information? Have you positioned yourself well in the market by looking at your competitors? If there’s a particularly sector you want to work in, do you know who the big players are and who their movers and shakers are? Do you know your trade press publications? Do you know the most popular websites and blogs in that area? These are all things you need to know in order to build a big picture of the world you’re going into. Knowledge is power.
What kinds of writing will you be doing? Do you have a unique selling point – or USP? Are there any sectors you’re going to target specifically? Are there any areas you don’t want to work in? I, for example, learned early on in my career (when most of my work was translation) that I’m not cut out for writing legal stuff. I don’t enjoy translating contracts and it’s not something I feel able to deliver well on. However, if you had, say, a couple of years’ experience as a paralegal – or if you’d taken a law degree – you might well find that this could be a specialist service you offer. Legal writing. So you’d research that area, find out how other people are marketing themselves and try and go one better. Better website, better SEO, better offerings, better testimonials, etter rates, whatever.
While I’m not going to be able to cover all of the points I’ve mentioned here, if you have a look through the back catalogue of episodes that Pip and I have recorded for you, you’ll see that a lot of it is covered in really good detail. We’ve talked about the skills you need as a freelance writer, we’ve talked about how to set your rates and then improve them when the time comes. We’ve talked about on- and off-site SEO, which gives you a really good idea on how to market yourself across digital channels. There really is a lot to learn if you have a listen, so be pro-active and have a root through the archives!
Create a reputation: it can be easy to get caught up in the whole, “I don’t have experience so I can’t get experience!” train of thought when you’re starting out. But, in my opinion, it’s just a matter of keeping on looking for the right opportunities and continuing to market yourself. I’ve seen a lot of people advising freelancers to build a portfolio of work by working for free – and while it’s a fair point, it’s not something I think is necessary. I think that, if you create a strong online brand, and you back that up with sustained marketing efforts and a professional persona, you’re on the right track. I don’t accept that working for free is a necessary starting point, and I’d question any for-profit company that wants you to give them writing in return for vague things that won’t pay the bills, like “exposure” or “experience”.
But, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t work at building your reputation. Get yourself on a forum or a blog and leave insightful comments. If you’ve had salaried positions before – or even informal freelance gigs – email or phone the person you worked for and ask them for a testimonial. Get them to endorse you on LinkedIn. Don’t be afraid to show you can do a good job. Make sure the copy on your website is spot on. Take the assertive approach – represent yourself as the expert you want to be (and should be training to be), market yourself consistently and I’m confident you’ll be able to build a reputation as someone people should consider hiring.
If you want more information on working for free, Pip and I did cover in detail why we both think that’s a bad idea in episode four. We did point out that volunteer writing or guest-posting on blogs is a good way to fill the gap – if you really feel like you want to get some real life experience and some articles to show new prospects, then these are effective ways to go about it. What we’re really warning against is 1) thinking that working for free is an inevitable rite of passage for freelance copywriters and 2) thinking that for-profit companies have a right to get work from you for nothing. Start out as you mean to go on, and value yourself. It’s a good way to get other people – clients! – to do the same thing.
Immerse yourself in freelancing – and learn about the great resources out there
Writing (Photo credit: Pascal Maramis)
One of the great things about setting out as a freelance copywriter is that it’s almost completely free. You definitely pay for it in other ways – time, stress, a super steep learning curve – but in terms of initial financial outlay, we’re lucky in that the only things we absolutely really need to pay for are a domain name and hosting for a website. In this day and age, it’s not really OK to have a site with some long-winded name, so choose a domain carefully and get your site up and running. WordPress is a really easy-to-learn tool and an easy-to-manage CMS system – both Pip and I use it for our websites and blogs – so I’d definitely recommend you get on there and start having a play around as soon as you even think you might go freelance. I upload work for several clients directly to their WordPress, so it can actually come in handy for other reasons as well.
But yes, to go back to the point, while you might be living off savings while you get started as a freelancer, the costs are minimal if you’re pro-active and finding freebies doesn’t mean skimping on quality. Social media marketing is free. Signing up for newsletters from brilliant sites like Write to Done and Copyblogger is free. Chatting on forums (or fora, if we’re being correct) is free. Asking advice from other freelancers, as our listener Tracy has done, is free. Producing content for your site, free. Finding creative commons licensed images to spruce your articles up – free. Training courses on sites like Alison.com and Open Learn by the Open University – all 100% free. So there’s no excuse not to absolutely max out all of these resources as you build a freelance career – and to keep on doing so as you progress. Training and development is hugely important, so don’t let it slide. When you’re the only person representing your business, and you’re the only thing between you and bankruptcy, you can’t kid yourself and you can’t pretend. You need to knuckle down and educate yourself.
Finally, finding work:
We’re all totally different, so the way we find work will differ. You might be looking for B2B clients, you might be looking for B2C clients. You might want to write for magazines and newspapers, you might want to write for charities, social enterprises and non-profits. And just as your target market will differ depending on your strengths, weaknesses, preferences, personal experience etc. so will your method of finding work. The best piece of advice I can give you, once you’ve got your own house in order with website, marketing etc., is know your target market and put yourself in people’s ways. That might mean collecting data from a sector specific conference and emailing people you’d be interested in working for. It might mean going to a networking event and collecting business cards. It might involve cold-calling and taking 100 rejections until you get a “maybe” from someone. It might involve adding people on Twitter at a time when you know their company is going through some big changes. Or connecting with someone on LinkedIn. Or bidding for jobs on reputable copywriting sites like peopleperhour.com or constant content.
There’s no magic formula, sadly, otherwise way more people would be freelancers. The key is to know what you’re doing, to manage yourself and your time (and your money!) wisely, and to pitch and market yourself consistently. We’re talking hours every day while you’re getting started – and remember that this will never stop. As Pip said in a recent episode, your little black book of contacts will never be full.
So, I really hope that this has been a useful introduction into how to get started as a freelance writer. As I said, this is in response to a query we’ve had from a listener – we really do take feedback on board and we’re happy to cover the topics that you want to hear! We’ll be ploughing ahead with our own podcast calendar in the coming weeks, but if you’ve had a listen to this and you think there’s a question you’d like to ask, why not pop by our social media feeds? Both Pip and I are on Facebook and Twitter, and we’ve also got a Facebook page for the podcast itself, so we’d love to hear from you.
In the meantime, let us know what you think to today’s tips. Are they spot on? Have I missed something crucial out? Drop us a line and tell us what you think. Tell us how you got into freelancing. Share some of the mistakes and wins you’ve had along the way. Help out listeners like Tracy who are just taking those first few steps.
I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn, and as ever, thanks for listening – we’ll catch you next time.
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There are lots of myths and fallacies around about what being a freelancer really involves. In this podcast episode, Lorrie and I talk about 11 of the most prevalent ones, and thoroughly debunk them!
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Writing (Photo credit: jjpacres)
LH: Hello and welcome to episode 28 of A Little Bird Told Me: the freelance writing podcast about the highs, the lows, and the no-nos of successful self-employment. You can find us on the web at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, and from there you can subscribe to the podcast in any number of ways, and you can also find the link to our Facebook page, which is full of information about past episodes and topics of interest to freelancers. I’m Lorrie Hartshorn…
PW: And I’m Philippa Willitts, and today we’re going to be discussing the 11 biggest myths about freelance writing! There are an awful lot of things that people believe, some of which are true and some of which are so far off the mark that it’s slightly ridiculous. So what we’re going to go through today are our top 11 myths about professional copywriting in particular.
LH: I think it’s important to say at this point that they’re out top 11, not because of some complicated mathematical thing, but because they were the first things that made us go, “Oooooh, and that!”
PW: Yes, we don’t have algorithms! Haha!
LH: No, but I think we’ve been in the business quite a number of years between us – and quite a number of years each, actually – so I reckon that “things that make us go ‘Ooooh’” is a pretty good measure.
So, my first myth – and it’s based on my experiences as a recruiter in the copywriting industry – is that if you’ve got the internet and a basic grasp of English, you can do it!
At the risk of being melodramatic – and I did try and think of better examples for this! – this is like saying if you’ve got a pencil and decent eyesight, you can be Leonardo Da Vinci. OK, OK, I know we’re not artistic geniuses, but the number of times I’ve had people apply to me and say, “I have no copywriting experience at all but my grammar is pretty decent”. Honestly, it’s happened A LOT.
Now, a good knowledge of English and an internet connection is the bare minimum requirement to even putting fingers to keyboard. But it’s nowhere near enough: it’s YEARS OFF being enough. You need to understand what you’re doing, not just the theoretical stuff behind the words you might end up using. And I’m not being glib – I have two language degrees, so I’m not reducing them, or language degrees, or language skills to nothing, but writing isn’t the same as copywriting. Copywriting – and content writing, because they are different – is what you do when you understand a product, a service, a client, an audience, a platform, plus all the market research out there on your particular topic or theme. It takes years of effort and training to become a good content or copywriter – not just goodwill and an open Word document!
PW: There’s all that understanding that Lorrie’s mentioned that you have to have in mind for any piece of copywriting work, plus all the theoretical understanding as well. Like Lorrie said, you can’t just have the theory, or you’ll really struggle, but the theory does have to play a part – you can’t just go, “Oh well, I can write good stories!” for instance. Although we are going to go into that later, I believe…?
LH: Yes, we are. So, on to the next copywriting myth we’re going to explode…
PW: OK, the first one I chose is that freelancers just mess about all day and don’t do any real work.
LH: Haha, I wish!
PW: After the last few weeks I’ve had, I cannot dispute this strongly enough!
LH: She really, really can’t! Haha!
PW: Poor Lorrie’s my accountability partner and she knows every single piece of work I’ve done.
LH: Inside out!
PW: And there have been a lot! And, you know, sure, I can choose my own hours and I don’t have to wear a suit, but that doesn’t mean the work we do isn’t real work, and it doesn’t mean I don’t bother doing any at all. My bills need paying, just like everyone else’s do, and if I did no work I wouldn’t get paid.
LH: Yeah, it always makes me laugh when people say, “Ohh, come on – just nip out with me!” or “You’re so lucky, you can do what you want all day.”. I’m always like “Yeah, if I want to starve next month!”. You have to be so disciplined, especially – and I do! – when you’ve got people who don’t really ‘get’ working from home and so can be a bit of a bad influence when they want you to hang out during ‘work hours’. They see you sitting at home doing ‘something’ on your laptop, and from an outside perspective, it’ll just look like you’re messing about on the internet.
PW: Yeah, often the vast majority of the research you do will be online. So it might look like you’re reading Wikipedia for fun, but you’re actually getting access to scientific articles on something you don’t yet understand.
LH: I love that we have to specify that we actually read Wikipedia for fun. Someone could look at us and go, “Oh, she’s just reading Wikipedia for fun again…” and it would be true.
PW: Yeah, and it’s not that freelance writers don’t procrastinate, because we certainly do, but no more than any other professional who has internet access. So what about myth number three?
LH: Myth number three: you can quit your job and start making a living as a writer tomorrow. Wrong! Haha! Both Pip and I, and every other freelance writer I know, started out small and worked our way up. I worked full time for years while I learnt the ropes, spending time learning about marketing, administration, writing, grammar, editing, summarising, paraphrasing, SEO, sales copy, B2B copy, B2C copy…you name it. That’s just a fraction of what I’ve learnt over the last ten years. And it’s a bit of a tragedy, because I’ve known a number of people who quit a job on impulse, with the idea of making it big – they’ve ended up moving back home with their parents while they try and work out why they’re not making enough to cover their weekly snack budget, let alone their rent.
PW: And that’s the last thing as an adult that you ever want to do – I never could.
LH: Great if you’ve got the option, but I think it’s far from what most people would want.
PW: I saved for a while before I started freelancing full-time, because you can’t expect to jump into it and get a full-time salary. At least three months’ salary is what I’d recommend saving before you leave your job or whatever.
LH: Absolutely. There’s no guarantee that where you hunt for clients will be rich pickings, or you might find clients in an unusual sector, so research will be needed. Or, you need to set up meetings with people, or you chat to someone and they seem really keen but then say that they’ll get back to you in three weeks.
PW: Or, someone says, do the work now and I’ll pay you at the end of the month. Often the best way to do it is to start building up freelance work while you’re still doing other paid work. And hopefully you get to the point where you’re making enough on the side, and have enough clients, that you can make freelancing into your full-time position.
LH: You tip the balance eventually. There comes a point when you have to take the plunge eventually. There came a point when I was working full-time where I had no more free time because I had so much freelance work. I would suggest to anyone considering going into freelance work that you don’t give up your day job until you have so much freelance work that you can’t carry on with both.
PW: That’s it – when you realise you’re too busy or you’re earning more on the side than you’re earning in your day job, that’s the ideal time to take the leap.
PW: So, on to Myth Number Four: “I wouldn’t be able to get a business to hire me, I don’t have business contacts or experience!” I thought this too, but then I started marketing myself. Most copywriters don’t start out with a black book full of business contacts, but that’s what marketing is for. That’s the way you let people know you exist, and if you are persuasive you might get the gig. Yes, I was astounded the first time it happened too, but once it does, and you do it again and again, you get more and more business gigs and then the contacts start! Similarly, you might never have worked in a particular sector, but given the variety of business sectors you will end up getting work from, you’d have to have a really chequered work history to have worked in them all! That’s why the skill that’s just as important as being able to write is being able to research. You learn the niches as you go, if you need to.
LH: Definitely. I started out with the contacts I had, then friends of friends, alongside marketing myself. What it’s meant is that I have B2B experience in waste management, recycling, environmental services and renewables, and that’s blossomed organically, and then I have dots of experience in other sectors because you never know who’s going to get in touch.
PW: That’s one of the joys of freelancing – you have no idea what a new client will want from you.
LH: I do love it, but when a client gets in touch – particularly by phone – and says, “Do you have any experience in…cupcakes?!”
PW: “I like eating them!”
LH: Or, “I could have, for the right client!”
PW: Haha! “What is it exactly you’re after?”
LH: Yes, “Tell me more about you…please!” But yes, it’s organic and, as Pip says, you don’t start out with a book of clients who are sitting there waiting for you to get in touch. Often, it’s just about putting yourself in people’s way, so keeping an eye on markets, content marketing trends etc. is a really important thing to do. You start to be able to predict who might need content marketing services from you and that way, I’ve found social media really good – I can start following people in that sector, and without spamming them, or being salesy, I’ll get contact from them, saying, “How brilliant that you just added me on Twitter!”.
PW: Yes, and it looks like an accident, but if they knew what had gone into it – how many times you’d read their LinkedIn and social media profiles, but if you do it right, it looks like a lovely coincidence.
LH: So yes, it’s about filling the black book. You won’t have a full one when you start out and, if you do, you should’ve started a lot sooner!
PW: And it’s never full, either – if you think, “I know everyone in my sector”, you’re really limiting yourself. You should always keep your eye open for new people, even when you’re too busy to take more people on, you should always be nurturing those relationships because you’re going to need them eventually.
LH: Definitely – don’t discount anyone. Your book won’t stay full because, just as clients might grow and decide they need a copywriter, but then they might grow again and decide that they need an in-house copywriter – and it’s bye-bye you!
PW: Or, they might see how you do it for six weeks, then go, “OK, I’ve learnt now.” And do it themselves. And it might not be ideal for us – or them, to be honest – but it does happen!
LH: So, on to the fifth myth! If you’re talented enough, your clients will find you. It’s not true. It doesn’t matter how talented you are, your clients won’t find you unless you put yourself out there.
PW: Yes, why would they? I remember, when I started out, I decided to create a website, so I did and then I was like, “Tadaaa!” And then I kind of went, “Oh no!” and it all struck home – why on Earth would anyone find it and just give me work? What was I thinking?! My whole plan collapsed into logic! You may be the best writer on the topic of sociological research, but if nobody knows, it doesn’t matter.
LH: And if you’re not engaging with anyone, no one cares. People want to work with you, rather than working with your website. To be honest, creating a website is the bare minimum of what you need in terms of marketing, but the fact is that I’ve seen frankly mediocre copywriters do really well because they put themselves out there. Their branding and marketing and online and offline presence…it’s all fabulous.
PW: Often it is those who shout the loudest rather than those who are the best.
LH: Statistically, if you get all that work and you do an OK job, you’ll do fine. What you can’t afford to do as a copywriter is to be an ‘author’ – and I am a creative writer as well, so I’m not trying to slate anyone – and get a bit precious. “I don’t want to promote myself – I want my work to speak for itself!”
PW: And that may well be OK if you’re Ian Rankin, Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, but when you’re not those people it’s unlikely to happen. And in commercial copywriting, it’s just not going to happen. People won’t be reading your press release just because it’s so beautiful.
LH: So Pip, the next myth please!
PW: The next copywriting myth is that company x, y or z will already have writers on their staff, so there’s no point approaching them. You might be surprised, actually. Lots of businesses feel they can’t justify paying full-time copywriters, and are happier outsourcing their work. Or they might have marketing staff who normally write their copy, but who sometimes need people to take their overflow. Even the biggest of companies use freelancers, and the only way you’ll know if they’ll hire you is to approach them. Writers and PR staff are – unfortunately for them – the kinds of people who have been made unemployed in downsizing initiatives, so you might be more likely to get this work as a freelancer than as a staff writer. So despite the recession, you might actually be more likely to get this kind of work as a freelancer rather than a staff writer.
I’m doing some work at the moment for a big internet company that I can’t name – you’d think companies that size would have writers in house, but you’d be surprised.
LH: Just to go back to one point you’ve made about companies having marketing staff who need overflow writers. I’m more familiar with B2B than B2C, to be honest, but what you’ll often find is that your marketing managers and directors are friends of friends, or relatives. Now I don’t mean to put them down – they’ll usually have a really in-depth knowledge of the sector and that’s why they’re there – or they’ll have been pulled in from a sales-marketing role somewhere else. A lot of these trade/industrial companies don’t have too deep an awareness of the softer side of marketing. To them, marketing will be doing a poster, doing a flyer, getting in Yellow Pages…
PW: TV ads…
LH: Yes, so that kind of marketing manager – or director – aren’t the best people for writing copy. Often, the literacy levels aren’t that great, the grammar might not be fabulous, or they might just not have time to sit down and write something. And again, social media is greatly untapped in the B2B sector.
PW: Yes, definitely. Another way you might end up being hired by a big company might be even more indirect that what Lorrie just described – you might end up getting taken on by a marketing agency. And those agencies tend to take on a lot of copywriters. It’s often through agencies that we end up doing work for the biggest clients – if you contacted one of these huge companies, they might turn you down, but via an agency you’re in with a chance.
LH: We should point out at this point that you should never try and contact an agency’s clients directly if you’ve been taken on. When you work for an agency, you’ll probably sign something that will make it illegal for you to do so, but even if you haven’t, it’s just really, really bad practice. You’ll get blacklisted for it by everyone.
PW: Definitely. So, what was your next myth pick?
LH: If you enjoy writing, you’ll make a good copywriter. Now, it might sound a bit counter-intuitive but actually, in some cases, the opposite is quite likely to be true. I’ve encountered people in the past who are avid writers, full of fabulous ideas, able to build up characters and a story from nothing, and superb at shocking readers with a fabulous twist in the tale. So when you get someone like that being asked to draft a B2B case study about dairy farming technologies, suitable for industry experts and high level stakeholders, it can be a big culture shock.
Now, I’ve also seen people whose idea of ‘creativity’ and ‘artistic vision’ – something we mentioned earlier – gets in the way of both their work and their freelance career. To be blunt, not much of the work I do as a freelance copywriter gets anywhere near my ‘artistic vision’. In my spare time, I enjoy literary fiction, poetry, cinema and feminism. At work – and yes, I am at work even if I’m at home – I can bang out a press release about waste management technologies for local councils faster than you can eat a bowl of cornflakes. Because it’s what I do at work. I can also put aside the fact that I love writing, and do my tax returns. Or my marketing. Or my research. Or my training. It definitely isn’t enough that I love writing. Sometimes, it feels like that could get in the way of my copywriting.
PW: Yes. There are definitely transferable skills. The ability to write a story can be really important for commercial copywriting as well as in creative fiction writing – it’s great for sales copy, for humanising a brand. There are skills that are relevant to both, but if you only want to do fiction, and write short stories and novels, you may well be an extremely frustrated copywriter because you won’t get from this what you get from that. Now I know Lorrie and I both do commercial work, while I also do media work and Lorrie does literary work, but we both spend a lot of time on the commercial stuff.
LH: I think, if you weren’t careful, you could end up resenting the work that is actually your job.
PW: Yes definitely. I mean, we both work hard to involve other interests in our paid work, and that’s why people contact Lorrie for literary editing; it’s why I write for newspapers and magazines as well. But if you only want to write for The Guardian or you only want to do literary editing, you’ll be frustrated writing for BP and, as Lorrie suggests, you might not be any good at it. Even if you’re brilliant at the other stuff.
LH: It’s important to add that you should consider your freelance work in the same way you’d consider a salaried position. You wouldn’t go into an office and spent six of eight hours doing a half-hearted job and thinking, “Oh, I wish I was writing about something else.” You go in, you do your job, and you do whatever you want after you’ve done your job. That’s the way it goes. It’s not fair on your clients if you try and somehow shape the work they need you to do into what you wish you were doing. Most people would prefer not to do a job, I think – we’d all love to do exactly what we wanted all day, every day. Sometimes I don’t want to write about dairy farming!
PW: And similarly, in previous jobs, we might have gone in and not wanted to do that. It happens.
LH: Exactly. You do a good job. And don’t try and turn copywriting into writing – it’s not the same thing. So, on to the next myth, Pip!
PW: OK, this next myth is something that worried me for a while, and that’s if you do commercial writing you’re a big fat sell-out! Now, the reason I worried about this is that the ethics of what I do are incredibly important to me, so I had to get it right. So, I started right in my business plan, with a long spectrum, with my ideal jobs on the right hand side, and the writing I would never do and companies I would never work for, on the left.
LH: That could be really depressing if you didn’t stick to it!
PW: Yes! I put as many things as I could think of onto that spectrum, from my perfect assignment through to the stuff I wouldn’t do if I was about to starve. Now, the variety of work situations I’d be faced with was much wider than I had anticipated, but each decision has been fairly easy to make, from an ethical point of view. The fact is that there are companies you could write for, or writing you could do, that would go against your own ethics, and those are the companies, or the assignments, that you turn down. Then you’re not selling out. And that’s different for everyone. But, it might be that you decide you can only write for non-profits or companies that promote fair trade, or whatever it is, so those are the companies you market yourself to and deal with. When a multi-national that uses child slavery approaches you, you say no thanks, and you haven’t sold out.
LH: I don’t really have much to add – it’s the perfect way to approach it. OK, yes, you could write for someone who you don’t agree with but you’d feel horrible afterwards. You’d get a few quid in the bank but, and I know I keep going back to it, you wouldn’t do the best job for your client.
PW: No, you absolutely wouldn’t. That’s not to say you can’t write things you disagree with in general, or about things you’re not that interested in…
LH: No, and you don’t have to represent your own point of view – on the contrary, you’re supposed to be representing someone else!
PW: Yes, that’s the whole point of hiring you! And so, we will always have a job or two that just isn’t our thing, but that’s not the same as something you’re fundamentally opposed to. There are ways – even if you have very strong ethical beliefs – to still go about the job without feeling like you’re selling out. What’s your myth number 9, Lorrie?
LH: Myth number 9 is something we covered really early on, and that is you have to work for free at the beginning.
PW: Oh, one of our favourite topics!
LH: Cheeky, nasty copywriters will tell you this. Cheeky, nasty wannabe clients will tell you this. It is not true. Don’t work for free. I’ve never worked for free and I’m doing perfectly well, thank you very much. People will say, “Work for free and I’ll give you a LinkedIn recommendation! And you can put the testimonial on your website! And you can put the work in your portfolio!”
PW: And in reality, you’ll never hear from them again because they’ll have moved on to the next naïve freelancer with the same spiel.
LH: And you’re left with what. I’ve rarely used a portfolio – and when I have, the work I include is from my best clients in relevant industries. People don’t want to see some little out-of-context bit of writing that you did once for some randomer off the internet. That’s not what it’s about. And working for free won’t pay your bills, neither will a LinkedIn recommendation. So don’t let people encourage you to work for free. People sometimes get quite nasty about you wanting to be paid for your work, actually. As though you’re being above yourself!
PW: Yes! And in the episode we did on this topic, we did acknowledge that there are nuances – you might write free for a charity, but that’s volunteering – it’s a different thing. What you don’t do is volunteer for Mr Internet Marketer who’s going to make a profit from your work. And like Lorrie said, they’ll make you feel like you’re unreasonable for wanting to be paid. You’re not – do believe us. Being paid is reasonable, it’s to be expected and you’re not wrong.
LH: The power of shaming, for some reason, has entered the copywriting industry. When you want more than 15p per article, people go, “Oooh, you’re expensive!” and you go, “Oooh, you’re not the write client for me!”
PW: Haha, yes! “Please go away, I don’t want to have this conversation with you!”
LH: So, Pip – on to the penultimate myth!
Blue alarm clock (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
PW: Now this is one I wish was true. I so wish it wasn’t a myth! And it’s that you never set your alarm clock again! How I wish this was true! I set my alarm clock most mornings, and I resent it just as much as anyone in a conventional job does! Much as I do enjoy working my own hours of choice, I still have to work constantly with people in all sorts of office jobs, and they expect me to be around the same hours they are. And also, the depressing truth is that when I make an early start, I’m more productive. On the positive, if I need to start work really early, say at 7.45am, I can set my alarm for 7am, whereas if I was in an office job, it’d be more likely to be a 6am start.
LH: Yes, either you get up and be available to your clients, or you don’t. It doesn’t look good to reply to a client at 11.30pm, no matter whether you’re a night owl or not.
PW: Likewise, it doesn’t look good to reply to a client at 11.30am and say, “Sorry, I just got up.”
LH: Yeah, I’m coming to terms with it, but I’m definitely an early bird. I’m just more productive in the morning, whether I like it or not. I’m useless late at night.
PW: You see, I’m OK late at night – I’m rubbish in the middle of the afternoon and then I’m back at it by the evening!
LH: And I know we’re sharing these little secrets here on the podcast, but you don’t go and tell your clients that.
PW: Yes, if you know you’re rubbish in the afternoon, set deadlines for 1pm or 5pm!
LH: Yes, I have breakfast meetings a lot. I don’t have mid-afternoon meetings because I know myself and I know that they’ll be hanging over me all day, even if I’m looking forward to them. I’ll be thinking about them all day – I was always the same with exams.
PW: You have to get to know your own patterns.
LH: Yup. So whether you set your alarm for 6am or 9am…I wouldn’t suggest going any later unless you’ve got very unusual clients or, say, you work for people in the States, set your alarm clock because you have a job to do!
PW: And so our final myth…what is it, Lorrie?
LH: I feel really bad now, because it could be seen as a bit of a downer. And I don’t mean for it to be because I love my job and I love working for myself. But, myth number 11 is that working from home – and I mean the ‘at home’ bit rather than the writing – is an easy gig.
Now, it’s one of the biggest and most enduring myths, which is why I left it for last – it’s an ‘umbrella’ myth for me: the impression that what we do on a day-to-day basis is a bit of an easy ride.
A salami sandwich (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
On the face of it, working from home is a pretty sweet deal. You get up when you want, you go to bed when you want, you work when you want. You don’t have to commute, you don’t have to choose between egg mayonnaise and grated cheese every lunch-time. But, flip it around. You get up, and you stay in the same room or house all day, every day. You have to make a special effort to leave the house, and usually you’ve got to find a reason for it as well. After all, when most people leave the house in the morning, it’s to go to work – not anywhere else. So, if you work at home, a quick resentful walk around the block might be all you can think of! I mean, where else are you going to go? You don’t want to waste too much time, but you need to get out for the sake of your sanity. When you get home, it’s silent. You’ve got no colleagues to bounce ideas off, no hustle and bustle, no jokes, no birthdays, no team-building exercises, no friendly boss for advice and to share your worries with. There’s no training department, no HR department, no accounts department. You’re it. And that’s the essence of working from home – it’s a definite trade-off, and it’s not for everyone.
PW: I do love it. Every problem that Lorrie’s highlighted is absolutely valid. I get to points where I’m climbing the walls and I’m forgetting what other humans look like. And it gets ridiculous but I wouldn’t swap it for an office with other people. However, just because it suits me and lots of people are jealous of me for doing it, doesn’t make it perfect. It can be lonely and you can miss the banter, or just having someone to bounce ideas off. If you’re writing something and you have no idea whether the subject heading is brilliant or awful, having someone at the next desk to talk to…Lorrie and I use each other for that, in many ways. We email throughout the day to be accountable, but also to check our work with each other. It’s not that we hate working from home – we both thoroughly enjoy it – but that doesn’t make it a walk in the park.
LH: Definitely, and I wouldn’t want someone really sociable and really doing OK in a salaried job to quit and think that they’re going to start working from home and it’s going to be a whole world of fun. Because you have to be realistic. You’ve got the difficulty in separating work and home life, plus – and I speak from experience! – the whole convincing-other-people-you’re-actually-working thing.
PW: Aaaaaall the time!
LH: Yes! You’re consistently reminding people that no, you can’t go shopping, no you can’t chat with them on the phone for 45 minutes and no, you definitely can’t watch their kids or take delivery of a package they’re expecting, and it’s not as simple as it looks – you end up offending people. So, there are definitely huge plus points to working from home, but please don’t kid yourself or you’ll be in for a shock! If you’re not sure about it, do something else rather than going 100% freelance.
PW: A lot of companies are more open to the idea of emplyees working from home one day a week now, and more are allowing it and finding that people react well to being trusted. And the ideal policies tend to say, “As long as you get the work done, it doesn’t matter if you get it done at a slightly weird time.” So if you are considering working from home, why not talk to your HR department and see about working from home? Still doing work for your salaried job, of course, but just to see how you get on with it. If it goes well, increase it. It’s a good way to see if it suits you.
LH: I have heard really good things about doing that, but I think I’d find it unsettling. For some reason, I can’t quite say why. I now work for myself, and that seems better for me. But yes, as Pip says, it does seem to be working well for quite a few people now.
PW: Yes, and given how much snow we’ve had recently, employers have had to face the decision of letting people work from home or not having any employees for that day. I think generally, as an employer, the more flexible you allow your staff to be, the more likely they are to be loyal to you.
LH: I agree, actually. Although have you seen on the news websites, Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer has banned working from home. And, there are loads of articles about ‘telecommuting’ (which is what they call it in the States) and working from home being a bad idea. I’d question the wisdom of her decision, to be honest, I think this has probably been a resented position to take.
PW: Yes, because there was a lot of expectation about what she was going to do. When she took the Yahoo job, people were giving Yahoo a bit of credit, wondering if she could lift it back up. This is an interesting move with that in mind – it seems like a retrograde move, to me. And it does go to show – and people find this when they’re allowed to work from home in their normal jobs – it’s not all as easy as it sounds.
LH: I wonder if it’s just not been working to have people working from home on a part-time basis. I don’t want to tar people with the same brush, but when friends in salaried positions have a snow day, they do just sit and watch a bit of day-time TV – there’s a “Hehe, I’ve got a day off school!” mentality. I wonder if the novelty hasn’t yet worn off. But, we’re just speculating.
PW: Yes, we are. Now, it’s time for the Little Bird Recommendations of the Week! My recommendation is a very handy tool called Zemanta. I first came across is as a WordPress plugin, but there’s a much better way to use it. Now, Zemanta is a way of adding context to your blog posts and you can install it as a WordPress plugin, but you can also install it on Firefox or Chrome – it’s much better that way. And then, whenever you write a blog post, Zemanta will suggest photos that can accompany your post, tags you can use and also links for certain keywords in your post, so maybe to a Wikipedia definition.
Now I first had this as a plugin on WordPress, but the problem with that is that plugins slow down your site load time. Site load time is now taken into account in your Google ranking, so you don’t want to mess about with that. Plus visitors get bored waiting for more than a few seconds. When I first used the web in 1995, you’d have to take a book or magazine. You’d click on a link, read three article and then the page would load. I’d set myself up with two computers at Uni, so you could have one going to one link, and one going to the other. These days, happily, people don’t do that. I was looking at some statistics the other day about travel websites and apparently, if clients have to wait three seconds, the vast majority will go to a different site. So yes, have Zemanta as a browser plug-in. It’ll also work on Blogger, Type-Pad, Tumblr – all the major blogging platforms. And all the images are all legal to use – either Creative Commons or public domain. It’s called Zemanta, it’s entirely free and I’ll link to it at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com.
LH: I think that has to be one of your best recommendations, to be honest. I’m quite resentful – firstly that I didn’t know about it, and secondly, that it’s not my recommendation. My recommendation this week is another blog post from WriteToDone.com and it’s all articles about writing. Aside from Copyblogger, that site is one of my favourites. This article is called Expertise vs Humility: A Writer’s Battle Royale, and it’s been really helpful for me because I’ve recently been advising clients on developing a voice and a brand. I’ve had one particular client who has needed to balance her expert voice with being warm and lovely – she works with children a lot, so her persona needs that careful balance. She wants people to know what she can do, but she doesn’t want to alienate people. It can be difficult not to ride roughshod over other people and bring too much academia into your writing. If you’ve got a lot of weight to what you’re saying, it can be difficult not to be too arrogant.
PW: Especially if you’re British. This is a real issue – Brits hate people who are overly self-promotional. If someone goes on about how brilliant they are, we don’t go, “Oh, aren’t they brilliant?”, we go, “Oh, aren’t they full of themselves?” It’s a national trait, and it’s not a very attractive one.
LH: I’ll defend it slightly. I went on a subscription spree around the blogosphere the other day, and I’ve now unsubscribed from most of them now because it ticks me off so much to hear about how great someone is and how they won the day. I hate it. What I actually thought you were going to say was about how Brits can come across as quite cold in our writing. I imagine that, if we’re experts on something, we can seem quite dry to an audience who’s used to effusiveness. Going back to the post, it says that expertise and humility can go hand in hand, and that humility is an endearing trait. It’s true – I mentioned it recently. People don’t like someone who’s full of themselves – it doesn’t convert well so unless you’re looking at really hard-sell copy, it’s important to get a good balance. Now, this post has some really handy tips. It’s quite a long blog post but the writing is really engaging and accessible, and I think it’ll really help people who are looking to develop a good voice.
PW: It is a tricky balance, and I’ll definitely look up that author when I look at that article. Getting the voice right can be tough, especially in sales writing that’s not ‘hard sell’, so that’s a really good recommendation – thank you!
LH: It’s been really helpful to me, primarily for B2B writing because sometimes it’s hard to write about, say, LED lighting and still come across as a human being.
PW: Yes! Often, when you research an article, you’ll only use say 10% of it. A mistake I see a lot is people saying, “I’ve learnt all this, so I need to get it in.” There’s lots of balances to be found, to be honest.
LH: So I think that just about wraps it up for this episode of A Little Bird Told Me – that’s episode 28, and we’ve been looking at the 11 biggest myths of freelance writing.
PW: Now, are there any other myths you think we’ve missed? Is there something you believed before you started out, or something people say to you a lot that you find ridiculous? If so, come and chat on our Facebook page, which is linked to from our Podomatic page. Or come and have a chat on our social media – all our social media profiles and websites are linked to from there. We love hearing from listeners.
LH: We do – we love having a chat, as you may have noticed. Let us know if there’s a topic you’d like us to cover in future, let us know if you’ve hated this episode! So yes, thank you very much for listening – I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn…
PW: And I’ve been Philippa Willitts, and we’ll see you next time!
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Having “too much” work is usually seen as good news for a freelancer, but it can become overwhelming and stressful at times. In this episode of the A Little Bird Told Me podcast, I talk about how to cope with feeling like you just have too much on your plate, and aren’t sure how to manage.
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Hello, and welcome to Episode 27 of A Little Bird Told Me: the podcast about the highs, the lows, and the no-nos of successful freelance writing.
I’m Philippa Willitts, and today I’m going to be talking about coping with feeling overwhelmed as a freelancer. Before I start, I want to tell you that you can find us on the internet at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, and there you can find links to subscribe to this podcast in any number of ways, including RSS feed, iTunes, Stitcher Smart Radio or just on the Podomatic page itself. You can also find the link to our Facebook page – we love to hear from you and Facebook is just one way to do that. On our Podomatic page, you can also find links to our social media feeds and websites. I’m Philippa Willitts and I’m here without my usual co-host Lorrie Hartshorn as this is another solo episode.
Stress (Photo credit: topgold)
So, as I said, I’ll be talking about feeling overwhelmed. It happens to us all at times – maybe you’ve had a tonne of work arrive on your desk, or you might just be panicking at the kind of enormity of what you’re doing, running your own business, managing everything yourself, being responsible for your own pay packet…that in itself can be overwhelming!
It’s not always easy to manage your workload as a freelance and it’s hard to say no, particularly if your workload is quite insecure and you don’t want to say no to anything in case you never get any paid work again! And because of that, sometimes we can end up with just too much on our plate. There are so many different skills and tasks you have to master, you can start to panic. Other people might just withdraw, say, “I can’t do this!” and switch off, or just procrastinate for a while – we’ve probably all done that!
So when you’re feeling overwhelmed, the first thing is to work out exactly what you have to do and when you have to do it and when you have to do it. You might feel like you know this because it’s all in your head in long mental lists, but actually, breaking tasks down into their components can make them immediately feel much more manageable. Divide up a piece of paper, chalkboard, whiteboard, whatever way suits you, for the next few weeks. If you know you have to write three blog posts by Tuesday, a sales letter for Thursday, four press releases for Wednesday…just write down every deadline you’ve got over the next few weeks. Then, you can start to rationalise that actually, although some of it may be a stretch, the massive mix up of work in your head isn’t quite so confused and overwhelming.
What you can also do is start to plan out when you’re going to do what. You might have a few deadlines for Monday and then loads of deadlines on Friday. Planning out which pieces of work that are due in on Friday are going to be done on which day…divide it up so you know what you’re doing on Tuesday, Wednesday. You’ll realise that having 12 deadlines for Friday isn’t quite as scary as having three deadlines a day between now and then, for example.
If you’re still overwhelmed, look at each task and break it down further. Rather than saying, “Press release”, break it down into “research press release”, “double check client’s preferred format”, “leaving for 24 hours and proof-reading properly”, “writing out a plan, filling that out and reviewing it…”, “adding notes”, “checking format”. Breaking tasks down into the smallest components possible really helps me, I can look at a task and think, “OK, I have to research this”, which is smaller and easier but helps me get to the overall aim of getting the press release done.
Different people prefer different ways of planning – it might be a to-do list on paper or a mega complicated computer programme. You might follow the GTD (Getting Things Done) system, or your own preferred way of managing and planning. Now’s the time to really make the most of your systems and do everything you can to make your next few weeks as planned and organised as possible.
Another thing to remember when you’re feeling overwhelmed is that you mustn’t used that as an excuse to not take a break – even just 10 minutes away from your desk, popping outside, making a cup of tea or listening to the radio can clear your mind and give your brain and your fingers the rest they need to carry on. And usually, even if you think you can’t spare 10 minutes, it can really clear your mind so that when you restart you will feel more in control.
Something else to consider – and it might seem a bit strange when you’re panicking about work – is to surround yourself with calmness! Make your desk neat and tidy, so you don’t get stressed just looking at it, control your to-do list – if it’s eight different pieces of paper, each with three different tasks on, it just doesn’t help. Also, if it’s full of things that might be nice to do but aren’t actually necessary, when you’re overrun with work, take those off it. Make sure your list reflects just exactly what you need to do. Other things can come back on when work slows down.
Also, in terms of feeling calm, don’t be tempted to drink eight double espressos to keep going – it’ll just give you the jittters and make you feel more stressed than you already do. If you really want to help, try something like chamomile tea, but to be honest, it’s so gross I can’t recommend it!
Another thing to consider, if you’re feeling panicked and overwhelmed, is to ask for help. This can be to ask for someone’s advice or support on how to cope with how you are feeling. I know that Lorrie – my usual co-host – and I do this quite a lot. We’ll send the other one an email, going, “Argh, I can’t manage, I have too much to do!” and the other one will reply with reassuring words or useful advice. Sometimes, just getting someone else’s perspective can really help.
The other way to ask for help is actually to ask for practical help, if there are any work-related tasks you could pass on to somebody else. This might be paying a friend to do your accounts for that week, or hiring a VA for 3 hours to find information for your research, or fact check and proofread your articles. These are quite handy, one-off ways of dealing with a massive workload, even if – in the normal running of your business – you don’t need to hire staff to help you out.
There are also tasks that are important but don’t take much mental energy. So, things like doing some filing, transferring figures into a spreadsheet, double-checking article formatting so they’re all the same…so those kinds of tasks can be good for those points of the day (tends to be mid-afternoon for me, where I just think, “I can’t think, I can’t do anything!”). You still feel good that they’re done but you haven’t had to use any precious mental energy, so you can use that for writing later when your energy picks up again.
Now, when we’re overwhelmed, there’s a massive temptation to multitask. But focusing on one thing at a time is a lot more productive and a lot less hectic for your brain. Trying to multitask when your mind is in a panic is destined for disaster. So, don’t be mentally planning one article while writing another, and keeping half an eye on your email inbox, all at the same time.
We all kind of do this, but try your best to keep your focus back and think about what you’re doing before moving onto the next thing. It’s calmer, it’s more productive and you tend to do much better work.
Overwhelmed (Photo credit: Walt Stoneburner)
Now, the next suggestion for managing overwhelm as a freelancer is certainly easier said than done, but it’s really helpful if you try to reframe how you perceive what’s happening. We all get caught up in, “Oh my god I’ve got too much to do!”, while forgetting that having a lot to do is really a sign that your freelance writing business is going well. It means you’ve either got a lot of clients or that the clients you’ve got really value you and are sending extra work your way. We get caught up in the moment and panic, but if you step back,and reframe, you can think that people like what you’re doing, that you’re marketing yourself well, and that you’re doing a good job. It’s often a good thing even if it doesn’t feel like it when you feel like you’ve done nothing but type for days.
And at some point, maybe within a week or a month, your workload will calm down and you’ll get some breathing time. But don’t just stop! It’s the ideal time to get on top of those regular, predictable tasks that you might have been skipping when things were hectic. Sending out marketing information, managing your social media feeds, replying to emails that might have been overlooked…it’ll get you back on track with what you were doing and then, the next time you feel overwhelmed, you’ve already got ahead and you can get on with the writing work.
So while feeling overwhelmed can be awful, hopefully these tips will help you manage it when it feels bad. Sometimes, feeling overwhelmed can give you a real buzz; it’s not necessarily a 100% bad experience. If you’re getting on with it and doing a good job, it can feel brilliant, boost your confidence, focus on things that are important.
But if it does start to feel stressful and unpleasant, do consider planning things, breaking things down, getting your to-do list under control, taking breaks, asking for help, using points where you feel like you can’t think to do repetitive, dull tasks, aiming for uni-tasking rather than multi-tasking, and trying to reframe what’s happening in a positive light, and hopefully that will help make the experience a bit better when stress overwhelms you.
Now it’s time for my Little Bird Recommendation of the week. This week, it’s a TED talk. Now, you’ve probably come across TED talks – they’re speeches that are usually under 20 minutes, often under five, that are inspirational, clever, funny, informative, and if you just search on Google or YouTube, there are hundreds of the things about any topic imaginable.
The one I’m recommending this week is by Renny Gleeson, and it’s called “404: The Story Of A Page Not Found” and it’s about those dreaded error 404 pages you find when your page cannot be found. We’ve all seen them and they’re kind of frustrating. This talk kind of reframes them – Renny Gleeson talks about some brands that have turned it around and made their 404 pages fit in with the whole ethos of their website, whether they’re funny or meaningful. The real message of this video is that things can go wrong, and we all make mistakes that can be dreadful, but it doesn’t have to be a disaster – as long as you handle it well, it can be a positive thing. And so that’s my recommendation this week – if you go to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, there’s a link to the video there.
I really hope you’ve enjoyed this podcast. I’ve been Philippa Willitts and we’ll see you next week.
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