Tag Archives: Self-employment

Podcast Episode 26: How to turn down / disconnect from a client or supplier without losing your professionalism or gaining an enemy

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As well as saying yes to clients, customers and contractors we also sometimes have to say no. However working out exactly how to do this tactfully can sometimes be tricky. In this episode, Lorrie and I talk about several situations where you might need to say no, and how to go about it.

Show Notes

No More Useless Meetings – Liz Sumner

Carol Tice – @TiceWrites

That’s Not What I Wrote! What to Do When You’re Hit With Heavy Editing – Sophie Lizard at Make a Living Writing

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Transcript

How to turn down / disconnect from a client or supplier without losing your professionalism or gaining an enemy

LH: Hello and welcome to episode 26 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 freelance writers, editors and whatever, really!

PW: Now, the first thing we want to do is apologise for not getting an episode out last week. We really try hard and normally get one out every week but, occasionally, we can’t both find a time where we’re both free to record. Our windows didn’t match up, we were really busy, so we’re very sorry about that. We’re back now!

Two Women in an Office

Two Women in an Office (Photo credit: cali.org)

Today we are talking about something that might initially sound counter-intuitive to a freelancer, and that is how to say no to a client, how to turn down work, and how to disconnect from someone who either wants you to work for them, or who you have worked for before. However, learning how to say no and respect your own boundaries, both professional and personal, is really important. Other times we might need to say no to other types of people, like suppliers or other freelancers – I even spent some time having to say no quite persistently to a local freelancer I’d connected with on LinkedIn who practically spammed me about joining a local networking group. So it comes up a lot, but mainly we will be talking about dealing with clients, because this is what comes up most for the average freelancer (and the above average one).

PW: I am Philippa Willitts…

LH: …and I’m Lorrie Hartshorn. And the first thing we’re going to talk about is how to turn down an invitation to a meeting.

PW: Mmmm..

LH: Poor Pip! The “mmm” says she’s speaking from experience! Now, when it comes to turning down meetings with people, lots of us struggle. We Brits in particular – and we women in particular – are socialised to be nice and polite, but when you end up accepting an invite to a meeting you don’t think will be useful, and you’re too polite to cut the meeting short once you’re there, you can end up wasting an awful lot of otherwise chargeable time. One meeting can eat up half a day, and if you’re lucky, you just get your time-wasted; if you’re unlucky, you can end up being mined for information you don’t want to give out, including details about your business, contacts and clients, in a bid to keep the conversation flowing.

PW: Yes, sometimes we might have been slightly misled about the purpose of the meeting, and other times it just becomes quickly clear that we, and the person we are meeting with, are not going to be able to work together, for any number of reasons. We might just have had different expectations, we might work differently, or we even could just find that we dislike the other person. Not that anyone could dislike myself or Lorrie, though.
LH: Of course not, we’re completely lovely! Going back to what you said, I’ve actually been actively misled in the past, by someone who was keen to get a meeting with me, and to whom I’d already given the brush-off via email and phone. When I realised that the apparent reason for the meeting was actually fake, to all intents and purposes, it really annoyed me. Needless to say, I cut that one short!

PW: Yes, much as we can try to judge someone’s character or motives, it doesn’t always work out the way we’d want it to. Also, other reasons could just be that it would involve a lot of travelling and the discussion could easily take place by phone, for instance.

LH: I spotted a really helpful article by a woman called Liz Sumner, who describes herself as a coach, planner and facilitator. On her website, Liz outlines how to determine whether a meeting is worth having. Entitled No More Useless Meetings, the article (which is quite old but still useful!) actually discusses how to have productive meetings. But, the same rules can be applied, I think, when you’re deciding whether you want to have a meeting at all.

LH: Firstly, she says you should ascertain the purpose of the meeting. Then decide whether a meeting is the best way to achieve that aim. Secondly, identify the desired outcome – imagine the best possible result of the meeting, and the changes you’d like to see follow it. Thirdly and finally, in this case, if you decide to meet with someone, actually design the meeting. Outline exactly what you want to talk about, and in which order. And I would add, identify what you don’t want to talk about as well to make sure the meeting doesn’t get steered in that direction.

PW: The idea of designing the meeting is a good one. It makes sure that neither you nor the other person is going to turn up expecting something unrealistic. By doing this, you are both agreeing, in advance, the purpose of the whole thing.

LH: Definitely – defining what you want from a meeting can feel a bit bold and pushy when you’re first starting out, but it’s a sure-fire way to make sure no one gets their time wasted – not just you, the other person as well. If you ascertain what the meeting’s going to be about but you don’t think it’s worth a trip out, which involves travel time, travel costs, the cost of any drinks or food you purchase, plus the time spent getting suited and booted. Some of us women wear different things in the house than we’d wear to a meeting – heels, put make up on, do our hair…

PW: Are you suggesting that when you’re at home, you’re not wearing a smart suit and heels?!

LH: Do you know, I read an article about this the other day. I hate to say it, it was one of those “mompreneur” articles – I hate that word!

PW: Mmhmm.

LH: Haha, I know Pip’s making that noise because, like me, she hates the word ‘mompreneur’. If you’d like to know more about why we do, come and chat to us on Facebook – this probably isn’t the platform for it! But yes, this article was pretty patronising – something like, “top 10 rules for mompreneurs working from home”, and it was saying that you should never work in your pyjamas and that you should always be suited and booted. It’s ridiculous – I’m not going to sit there in a trouser suit at my kitchen table, with my stiletttos digging into the lino.

PW: Get spaghetti on it at lunch-time!

LH: Yeah why not?

PW: I mean, if that’s what you want to do, then do it – but there’s certainly no obligation. For me, at least, one of the joys of freelancing is that it doesn’t matter what I’m wearing.

LH: As I mentioned in one of the early episodes, I can’t work in my PJs – I have to get up and sorted – but that doesn’t involve wearing a suit! So, to go back to the original point, what you can do is explain that your time is limited but that you’d be happy to have a brief phone or Skype meeting. Because phone contact cuts out a lot of the small talk, I find it’s also a good way to force – in the nicest sense! – people into letting you know what they’re really after. There’s only so long you can string out a phone conversation.

However, there are going to be some meetings you just don’t want to attend – on the phone, in person, via Skype, via email. I’ve had invites from fellow self-employed people that I’ve got to know on social media, for example. Some of the connections have been really useful but, in other cases – and I’m being brutally honest, here – there’s been no discernible gain for me in the situation – for a variety of reasons. And while I’m happy to help and advise fellow freelancers online, I’m not one for arranging lunch-dates that have no mutual benefit. I’ve done it in the past and I’ve been left feeling cheated and exploited.

PW: That’s it. Plus that will change from occasion to occasion. While it might be a lovely thing to do when you have some down time, but equally if you are having a mega-busy week and you spend three hours doing something that feels pointless or exploitative, you are bound to be resentful about that!

LH: A lot of the advice you see out there, for declining meetings, is usually – I think – a bit too soft. It’s often that you should let the other party know that you’re busy at the moment. However, there seems to be little advice out there for if you just don’t want to meet the person at all.

PW: Yes. And back to the whole British thing, I think a lot of us (myself included), would be tempted to go with, “Oh, I’m really sorry, I’m busy on Friday!” rather than try to tackle it in a way that might look bolshy or unreasonable, by insisting that actually, we just don’t want the meeting to happen.

LH: Yeah, it’s really easy to lose your nerve at the last minute, particularly if the other person is quite authoritative or a really good speaker.

PW: Or, indeed, just really keen! That always makes me feel guilty!

LH: I heard from one of our listeners the other day – I actually had a meeting with someone who listens to this podcast – that he thinks you’re too nice and too soft! I think this proves it! 😀

PW: I’m just the right amount of nice, actually 😉

LH: Yeah, I reckon you’ve got it about right. Then again, I’ve seen you in fierce mode!

PW: This is true, you have. So trust us, I can have my moments if I feel I’m being badly treated, or indeed if somebody else is!

LH: Yes – she’s very fair and very lovely. And as well you should be fierce when you need to be! Being polite is one thing; being taken advantage of is quite another, and woe betide anyone who trifles with Philippa!

LH: My take on saying no to meetings, to go back to the point, is that it’s no good making vague, “Oh dear, busy at the mo but we really must do this…um…some time…” kind of noises, because if the person really wants something from you, they’ll make sure to rearrange, which takes you back to square one. So, iff you’re not interested in working with that person in future, there’s nothing to stop you saying, “Thanks for the invite – however, that’s not really a direction I’m looking at taking my business in at the moment. I’ll let you know if there are any changes of plan.” So the ball’s in your court. Or, “Thank you, but that’s not something I’m going to be interested in.” You can obviously pad it out with comments about being busy to soften the blow a bit, if you think it’s necessary, but I do think a core of honesty is the best way to empower yourself and get the message across that you just don’t want a meeting with that person.

PW: Yes, a phrase I’ve used a few times is, “I just don’t have the space for that at the moment”, or similar, just making clear that I am not only busy, but that I’m prioritising other things – it’s not something I am willing to squeeze in. How you say it is also important. There are people who will refuse to take no for an answer, such as sales people. If you get the impression that the other person might choose to not “hear” your refusal, you have to make sure you sound firm and uncompromising. You have more important things to do than to send several, “no, really!” emails to them! So say it in a way that makes it very clear.

LH: So the next thing we want to talk about is something you’d perhaps feel even more delicate about, and that’s saying no to a client who can’t pay enough

PW: This will happen, from time to time, though most often it will be them that says no to you when they hear your prices. They’ll ask you for a quote and they’ll tell you you’re too expensive.

LH: It can actually sting the first time someone tells you you’re too expensive – it can really knock your confidence. In my episode about raising fees, I did mention that raising fees can help you attract higher-paying clients and ‘turning off’ lower paying clients. But the first time someone says, “Ooh, no…” they’re not always very delicate about it!

PW: “You charge WHAT?!”

LH: “Oh my God, that’s extortionate!” Haha! But yes, it can be a knock to your confidence.

PW: Definitely, so yes, most times it’ll be them who turn you down. But sometimes, instead of you telling them your price, you might ask what their budget it. And sometimes, it’s nowhere near the price you expect, so you’ll be in a position where you need to turn them down. In theory, they could up their budget, but if it’s so far below what you’d expect that you’d just say no, it’s not usually realistic to come to a mutually beneficial agreement.

I did read a brilliant response that someone suggested for this situation – if someone is hoping you will write for pennies. I think it was Carol Tice from Tice Writes, suggested saying to them, “Feel free to come back to me when you are in a position to pay professional prices”. I love it!

LH: Ouch! Very much ouch! Like anything, there are different levels of pay in copywriting – some people can’t afford as much as others, and that’s absolutely fine. But, as you say, some people are asking for the moon on a stick and offering a couple of quid in return. At which point, a pithy remark like that would be quite tempting!

PW: Isn’t it?! So yes, as we have discussed on this podcast numerous times, you have to work hard in this job, and undervaluing your skills and capabilities is an absolute no-no. Don’t even consider work that pays a pittance, and be sure to be clear with people who expect you to work for nothing, or virtually nothing, about how unwilling you are to do that, so that you don’t have to waste any more time on them, frankly, by not being absolutely clear during the first contact. Just because someone’s a friend of a friend of a friend, they’re not entitled to ask for a ridiculously low rate.

LH: It’s amazing to be how many more people – even over the last few years – are willing to ask for work at an exploitative rate. They’re willing to say, “Can you do this for £10?” and I’m like, “Would you do it for £10?!”

But I think it’s important to distinguish the micky-takers and people who just can’t afford you. There’s nothing to stop you, in that case, to stop you saying, “That’s a bit below what I’d ask, so I don’t think we’re going to be able to work together on this, but if you try X person or X website, you might be able to find someone a bit more in your budget.”

PW: Yup. Another situation where you might find yourself syaig no to work is if work comes your way that you really don’t want to do for ethical reasons. Sometimes some work might come our way that we really don’t want to do, and sometimes this due to an ethical dilemma. We’ve each got our own ethical standards, and they will differ from person to person, but a situation can occur when someone asks you to do some work that clashes with something you believe strongly in. It might be that it’s for a company you hate, or on a topic that you are really opposed to. What each person does in this situation will vary, but it is a really valid reason to say no, if doing the work would make you feel uncomfortable or ashamed.

LH: Yeah, there’s definitely no point taking on work you really object to ethically. It’s not fair on you or the client, because there’s no way you’ll be able to submit your best work for, say, a gambling firm if you’re a strict Muslim, or a meat-packing plant if you’re a committed vegan.

PW: Exactly. However this situation can be especially difficult to deal with, because if you are open about your reasons for turning the work down, the client could reasonably understand you to mean that you think they are being unethical or unreasonable. So it has to be done carefully, especially if it is with somebody who has given you a lot of other work – stuff that doesn’t raise your ethical hackles! – and who you hope to work with again.

PW: When I’ve turned down work for moral reasons, while it might be tempting to say, “OMG I can’t believe you expect me to write about THAT!”, it’s not the way to do it. Instead, saying something like, “I’m going to say no to this piece of work because it is a really uncomfortable subject to me”, or “The subject of this particular piece of work is something I am opposed to, so I won’t be able to write it”. If they are a client you otherwise work well with, this should normally be received well. And if they’re not, then it doesn’t matter!

PW: Quite often, a good client will know if they are suggesting something controversial, and will check with you anyway whether you are happy to write it. This makes it a very easy discussion.

LH: I think one important point to make here harks back to something you and I have discussed in the past, Pip, and that’s writers refusing to write about anything other than their absolute favourite subjects – usually something really niche. We’re not suggesting you reject 99% of your incoming work because it’s not part of your artistic vision – we all have to write about things that aren’t the most interesting, it’s just part of the job and it pays the bills.

PW: Yes, that’s true. What we are talking about here is somebody asking, like with Lorrie’s example, a vegan to promote a meat packing factory. Something that would actually cause them to lose sleep and question their morals. We are not talking about someone who would really prefer to only ever write about travel refusing work just because it’s not about travel.

LH: The next area of saying no we wanted to talk about is saying no to suppliers who are too expensive. Now, it’s worth noting before we go any further with this segment, that “too expensive” is usually a subjective thing. One person’s too expensive is another person’s perfectly reasonable.

PW: Absolutely. We see this all the time as freelancers – those who enquire about your prices tend to have wildly different expectations and can be equally horrified or amazed by the very same figure!

LH: If you’ve done your research, though, you should know which sector of the market you’re targeting, and know in yourself – when you’re having a nice confident day at least – what a reasonable fee would be in that context.

LH: When I made the transition from single copywriter to my now mini-agency set-up, I had to advertise for copywriters to join my roster. I got a lot of responses, many of which were from people asking for far more per hour than I was able and/or willing to pay. So, it was up to me to tell them that I wasn’t going to hire them. I didn’t want to give lip service to people who’d spent time applying to me, sent me their CV and information, etc., so I was honest. I thanked them for their interest and explained that their requested salary was too high for most of my clients (I have a lot of SMEs on my books). And as I mentioned in my last episode, on how to raise your freelance fees, the one thing you shouldn’t do is apologise. No matter what service you’re declining, you can be perfectly polite and say something like, “Thanks for getting in touch” or “Thank you for the quote” and then add, “I’m afraid the price you’ve given me is more than I was hoping to spend, so I’ve decided to go with someone else.” If they’re significantly out of your price range, you can also say that to prevent them coming back with a marginally lower quote. Make sure you leave no room for wiggling in the way you close your email (I’m assuming you’re communicating by email, but the same goes for phone or face-to-face chat), but be friendly, polite and thankful that they’ve taken the time with you.

PW: Yes. You might be hiring a web designer, or other copywriters, or even buying equipment. You are as entitled to say no to them, as they are to you. When I had to buy a big chunk of equipment to make my office more accessible, I had dealings with several different suppliers, and the quotes I got varied massively. When you’re faced with a difference of several hundreds of pounds for – in that case – exactly the same equipment, it’s very easy to say no to people. It’s the same thing if someone is providing a service, or equipment where the price difference is less obvious – we’re still allowed to choose who we like to hire, just like people choose us.

LH: Definitely. A lot of it will be based on feelings or how someone deals with you. It was quite telling to me that some of the high-earners were extremely friendly and open when I got in touch and said they were out of my budget, while others were horrible, quite belligerent and, in some cases, actually a bit whiney about it! Never an attractive thing! I had one person get in touch asking for significantly more than anyone else at all…

PW: Worth noting that that person had literally no copywriting experience, and yet the amount she wanted per hour, was way more than most other copywriters would actually charge.

LH: That’s actually not the person I was thinking about, but now you come to mention it, that’s the most belligerent person I encountered. It was very much, “Oh. Right. Oh, well if you’re not going to pay me that, then I suppose I could accept less, but I’m not happy about it.” And this is a person with no experience, no specialist area, no knowledge of SEO or B2B copywriting – they just wanted to make the transition and seemed to think I should do them a favour. No, no, no.

The person I was actually thinking of got in touch asking for close to £100 an hour, which for SME clients is out of the ballpark. When I said no, you’re way out of my clients’ reach, they asked me what I’d pay and I quoted a figure that was a world away. And they went, “Oh, well I’d go for that!”

PW: Hahaha!

LH: What a chancer! While the more professional ones had confidence in their fees, others had just been trying to get as much as possible. If that sounds like you, please go and listen to Pip’s episode on setting your fees.

PW: And I think what you said about the more professional ones saying, “OK, thanks, never mind” – you do get used to doing that when you give someone a quote; some will say you’re out of their budget. And you learn quite early on that that’s how it is, and to those people you send a polite reply saying, thanks and good luck with the project. Can you imagine if you responded with a snarky remark or, “Ignore my quote and I’ll charge you 10% of my original fee.” It doesn’t work.

LH: It’s now a luxury to get a response to a pitch email sometimes! I got in touch with someone recently – through a pitch email – and suggested they take me on for a trial. They got back in touch, said, “Like your style – let me think about it.” I left it for a month and checked back in, in a friendly confident way, but still giving them a get-out clause if they needed it – nothing apologetic or hesitant, but something like, “How are you feeling about going ahead with this? Is it something you’d like to move forward with or not something you’re looking at for now.” And they got back in touch to say they weren’t looking at working with me for now, but thanks very much. No one felt bad, we all know where we stand and it’s all good.

PW: That does relate well to a point I want to make, which is that I always endeavour to treat anybody I deal with in my working life with respect.

LH: God, yes, absolutely 100% vital. And I don’t understand why people sometimes don’t!

PW: Absolutely – even on a purely mercenary level, even if they can’t afford me this week, they might have found a massive investor by next week and hire me. If, instead, you’d gone, “Ha! You think I’ll write for THAT?!”, then they’ll find someone else. Or the person whose company doesn’t want to hire you based on what they perceive to be high fees might, next week, move to a different company with a more flexible budget. You don’t want to have been rude to them. I got a new client last week because, 5 months ago, I’d done him a favour. I hadn’t had anything to gain from it at the time, but I did it and it took quite a lot of time. Now, 5 months later, he needs a writer and he came straight to me.

LH: That’s brilliant, and it really does prove that a professional working manner pays dividends.

PW: Definitely. It makes good business sense, and also it means I don’t feel bad about myself by the end of the day. I’d hate to get to 5pm and think, “I was rude to four people today!” It’s a win all round.

LH: So the final thing we want to discuss is saying no to, and moving on from, long-term clients or customers.

PW: One of the hardest ‘disconnect’ situations you might find yourself in is having to say no, or say goodbye, to a long-term client. There could be any number of reasons that this could occur – you might up your prices and they can’t afford it, or they might have a change of direction you’re not happy with, or a change of staff, or any number of things really.

LH: I touched on this in my solo episode about raising your fees, actually, and I read a number of articles around the topic at that time to see what other people’s takes on ‘breaking up with’ clients were.

PW: Yes, you handled it well in that episode, particularly looking at the difficulty of raising prices when you know that your longest-term client is actually your least affordable one now.

LH: Some people were suggesting that loyalty should always win out, and that you should never lose a long-term client because your fees have gone up. I can definitely see where they’re coming from and, as I mentioned, my longest-term clients have the lowest fees for exactly that reason: I try to limit most of my fee increases to new clients, who start out with me on a higher fee rather than experiencing an increase. But at the same time, I have raised the fees I charge to them because…inflation!

PW: I remember talking about this with you at the time you were starting to increase your prices, and it is such a tough situation to deal with.

LH: Definitely, and it’s something I really wanted to find a solution for that would work for both me and my clients. One way I’ve dealt with it is to shift from a copywriter to an agency set-up. I now – with the permission of my clients, of course, and with NDAs in place! – subcontract most of the work for a few lower paying clients to copywriters who are junior to me. The work gets done to a high standard, I pay those copywriters a fair wage, and I proof-read and edit everything before it goes back to the client, and I give feedback to the copywriter who’s done it. The client gets work, the copywriter gets training and I save a huge amount of time. It just allows me to keep the client on and prevents the client from having to start all over again – after years – with someone they don’t know.

PW: You’ve worked out a really good solution. However some people wouldn’t be in a position to sub-contract work, or find a way around it. So if somebody comes to the eventual conclusion that a client is unsustainable – if they are unwilling to even consider raising your fees even as your offerings have improved – they need to somehow, ideally tactfully, withdraw.

LH: Going back to what you said earlier about doing your now-client a favour, it’s one of those times where I think it’s good to be helpful if possible, even if you feel you’ve been treated a bit shoddily. If I hadn’t been able to sub-contract the work out, I would have done my best to provide a hand-over service to the client by sourcing – although not taking any responsibility for (as a bit of a caveat!) – another good copywriter to do the work at the fee I was previously accepting. That way, you’re retaining goodwill with the client and winning a new friend, or strengthening a friendship, with a freelancer.

PW: That’s a really good point. Make suggestions of other copywriters you would recommend. Don’t just leave the client in the lurch. Also, if you can, then give them plenty of notice. If you have written 5 blog posts a week for a client for 3 years, it’s really not on – if at all avoidable – to just say, “Oh, by the way, from next week you need to find somebody else!”. I mean, you’re not under a contract as an employee, but in terms of making it as easy as possible, it’s a good thing to do. You want to leave with goodwill between you if at all possible.

LH: Definitely. The ideal situation is that your client will say bye-bye, and then three months down the line (or three days down the line!), they get back in touch saying they miss the knowledge you had of the company, and the work you provided to them, and that they’re willing to negotiate a fee you’re happier with.

PW: “What was the fee you wanted again…?”

LH: I got an email from a client the other day, just saying, “Help.”

PW: Hahaha!

LH: It’s nice to know you’re needed!

PW: Very much so! This whole discussion does feed into an overall situation where it is quite tricky to be self-employed. You have to be responsive all the time, but not reactive. You have to be really, really nice to people but not walked all over. You have to say yes and no and yes and no, sometimes in the same conversation. There is a lot of nuance, and sometimes conversations with the same person need to be judged and pitched differently.

Always keep in mind both how you want to be treated, and also how you would want to be treated if you were in the other person’s shoes. And for me, if I was asking someone for something unrealistic or unreasonable, I would rather someone told me, rather than fobbed me off for fear of embarrassment or awkwardness. So sticking up for yourself does not have to mean treating other people badly. And being friendly and professional does not have to mean always saying yes, even when something is not in your interests.

LH: Absolutely. Sometimes you have to say no to retain your self-respect. I lost my first ever client recently – and it was, to be honest, someone I was more than happy to lose – because I objected politely to being paid significantly and consistently late. The client was offended by me suggesting pre-payment options and sent me the first snotty email I’ve ever had about my work, which was a nasty surprise. But, it just goes to show that even if you’re 100% reasonable – and I think I was! – you can’t always win.

PW: It’s true. And I supported absolutely Lorrie’s challenging of them, and her horrified reaction to their response! Sometimes, no matter how well you handle something, the other people don’t play ball.

LH: Yes, we were both pretty surprised, weren’t we? Here are three easy options that will allow you to pay the same, get the same work but also enable me to get paid on time – for once! Who would think it’d be so objectionable?

PW: But actually, it just goes to show that we can only ever control our own responses in a situation. We can do our best, but other people’s reactions can be disappointing and surprising. So, at the end of the day, what is most important is that we are happy with our own reactions and behaviour.

LH: Totally agree. No matter why you’re saying no to someone, make sure you treat them how you’d appreciate being treated and – unless you encounter a complete plonker as I did recently – you should be on the right track!

PW: And that leads us to our A Little Bird Recommendations of the week! Now, my recommendation is a blog post about how to handle being heavily edited. Now this can apply to any kind of writing – if you send a manuscript off to a publisher and it comes back covered in red pen, or you send an article to a magazine but when you buy a copy it barely resembles what you wrote. With commercial work, if you send it off and they come back with loads of changes…it’s a shock and it can feel quite insulting. It can be difficult to know how to handle – some edits you might not agree with.

LH: I’m interested to hear the reactions to this, because I’m an editor and I’m usually on the other end.

PW: Yes, it points out that editors are just doing their job. “Ask yourself these questions,” it says. “Are opening and closing paragraphs redone but the mid-section unchanged? If so, they may be aiming for stronger reader engagement and it’ll be worth your time figuring out their tactics.” Next, “Are paragraphs reshuffled? If so, learn their preferred structure.” And that kind of thing. Those kinds of questions can really help if you’re writing again for that publication, client or project.

LH: Absolutely – and you could even use it as leverage. “I have a new idea for an article, I’ve written for you before and I’m familiar with the structure you prefer.”

PW: Exactly. So looking at things like…I think this is an American thing, but there’s a whole ‘readability’ thing where a lot of US websites feel they should be readable to a certain age group, and it’s usually very low, so any long words are immediately cut out. I don’t agree, but if a website cuts out any word more than six letters long, you’ll know for next time. It teaches you how to learn for the future, talks about how to take it like a professional and discusses what to do if you’re edited by someone who hasn’t edited before. So there’s also some advice for that – saying you might be able to argue your point if you want to in that situation.

PW: There are also loads of good comments, so it’s well worth a read. It’s called, “That’s Not What I Wrote – what to do when you’re hit with heavy editing” and it’s on the Make A Living Writing blog – I’ll link to it in the show notes.

LH: Sounds like a brilliant article, and I’ll definitely check it out. I do a lot of literary editing, and people are even more vulnerable than usual as writers. If I have to go through and “red pen” it, I feel terrible. But I do have to – that’s what they’re paying me for. But yes, anything that can make it easier for anyone to accept edits, is definitely worthwhile. That article sounds brilliant, and it’s good to know that people shouldn’t take edits personally. Unless someone’s edited it in a way that misrepresents you or is unethical, then you can just revoke permission for them to use the work.

PW: Yes, if it’s not misrepresenting you, and it’s not absolutely horrible, just let your ego go.

LH: My recommendation this week is a brilliant little social media search tool called Topsy. Topsy can be used for a number of things, but – as I discovered in a recent article (I think it was on Copyblogger!) – it can be a life-saver when it comes to finding guest blogging opportunities.

LH: Pip chatted about guest blogging in her solo episode a while back and gave some brilliant tips on how to approach a site or publication, how to ensure your content is good enough quality, and what the benefits of guest-blogging are. But, time is limited, and what I don’t think got covered was what to do if you’re out of ideas for guest posts.

PW: It can happen! It’s an episode on its own – what to do when there’s nothing left to say and you’ve written everything!

LH: By searching for “guest post” in inverted commas (Pip also covered how to do these kinds of searches in another episode and adding in your subject of choice, you can use Topsy to identify guest blogging opportunities across the social media web. Using similar search parameters to Google, you can limit your search by time period, so you’re not putting yourself forward for out of date opportunities.

LH: This same search technique can also help you to come up with topics for posts on your own website. While you don’t want to copy someone else’s article or blog idea – do not plagiarise someone, it’s a horrible thing! – Topsy allows you to see how often posts have been shared, so by studying the activity on there, you can learn to predict what kind of post might be a good choice to drive traffic to your site via viral marketing – basically, by getting people to share it! So yes, it’s fab, very usable, and it taps into Google+ and Twitter.

PW: That’s great – I’d come across people talking about Topsy; I’ve not used it but I’ll definitely check it out now.

LH: So this, listeners, has been episode 26 on how to turn down, disconnect and turn down anyone you might want to diss and dismiss, in the nicest possible sense! We really hope you’ve found the advice useful and that you’ll feel more confident in saying no to things that don’t suit you – low prices, meetings you don’t want, people you don’t want to work with or topics you don’t want to write about.

PW: It’s been an interesting one for us to research, plan and record, because it’s a difficult situation. Getting all this advice in one place will hopefully help! Do check out our website at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, you’ll find the show notes and links there, plus all our websites and social media accounts. Make sure you subscribe as well, find us on Facebook. Thanks so much for listening – I’ve been Philippa Willitts..

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

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

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This solo episode by Lorrie is the third in our series of three podcast episodes about money. In episode 23, I talked about how to set your freelance writing rates, and in episode 24 we discussed the practicalities of things like invoicing, chasing clients and setting payment terms. So today, Lorrie talks about under what circumstances you should consider raising your rates, and exactly how to go about it.

Show Notes

The Key to Creating More Remarkable Connections

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

Subscribe via RSS

Subscribe via iTunes

Find us on Stitcher Smart Radio

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

Transcript

 

Hello, and welcome to Episode 25 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 another solo effort. As I speak, the lovely Pip is probably out and about, doing something unimaginably exciting but fear not, she’ll be back with me next week for another dual episode. For now, listeners, it’s just me and thee.

GBP Fluorescence

GBP Fluorescence (Photo credit: kevincollins123)

Today’s topic is the third and final of our money-oriented episodes. If you’ve not listened to them in order, I’d definitely recommend you go back and have a listen – we started out with Pip’s solo episode, 23, in which she discussed how to decide what to charge – basically, how to come up with a decent pricing strategy for your work.

Then, in our last episode, we discussed how to go about actually getting paid – things like how to send an invoice, whether to go for pre-payment, how long to give someone to pay – the sorts of things you don’t really know, naturally – and it’s best not to pluck these things out of the air. We tried to take these things in a logical order, you see – deciding what to get paid, learning how to get paid and, now, what to do when you want to get paid more! This is generally the order it’ll happen in in real life as well, so no need to thank us – just realise that we do think about these things in a bid to give you the best advice possible!

When you’re starting out as a freelance copywriter, editor, proof-reader, anything really, it can be baffling when you try and decide what to charge. You see top end copywriters charging, say $500 an hour, then there are those people (I use the term loosely!) who inhabit the slimy bottom layer of freelance sites like Elance, charging ridiculously low prices. If you’ve listened to our previous podcast episode, you’ll know this is a particular bugbear of mine. The lowest I’ve seen – and this was a genuine offer with several very enthusiastic takers – was 15p (that’s 15p UK!) per 500-word article. So when I say that freelancing rates for copywriters vary, I really, really do mean it!

But, because Pip already covered how to devise a pricing strategy in her last solo episode, I’m not going to cover that again. What I want to deal with is just how to go about upping your rates.

So, first of all, why increase your rates?

There might be a number of reasons you might increase your rates.

– You might have been charging too little in the first place (it’s an easy mistake to make, especially when you’re starting out and want to secure any and all work going!)
– You might have more expenses to meet
– You might have too much work coming in, so as I mentioned in my last solo episode, you might want to – for want of a better word – sift out the lower paying clients.
– It might just be time for a pay-rise

Now, the last one sounds a bit arbitrary, but it isn’t. It’s important to remember that, when you’re self-employed, your career path can be a little harder to define. Whereas in a salaried position you might start out as a copy assistant, before moving on to junior copywriter, copywriter, senior copywriter and so on, as a freelancer, you’re just a copywriter. Forever.

But, as I’ve just hinted, that doesn’t mean that you actually stay the same. If you’re serious about your freelance copywriting career, you’ll be engaged in continuous training and development: reading, research, seminars, webinars, online training courses, offline training courses…there’s always something you can be doing to improve and expand the services you offer to clients. And, as you progress, it’s a reasonable thing for you to start commanding a higher fee from your clients. And that’s why I say it might just be time for a pay-rise.

But, the thought of increasing your fees can be a worrying one, particularly if you’re a copywriter who works with a range of regular, long-term clients.

The fear is always there – that the next pound or dollar you add to your fee could be the tipping point for a client, who’ll walk away and find someone else. And yes, if your client is looking for the cheapest deal, there might come a time when they decide that what you’re charging is too much for them. But, if you follow the tips I’m going to give you in this episode, you should be able to avoid that in most circumstances, at least, and start earning the kind of fees you deserve for your work.

50 British Pounds Sterling

50 British Pounds Sterling (Photo credit: deg.io)

So, first of all, make sure you’ve got a pricing strategy in place. As I say, you’ll need to listen to episode 23, which is Pip’s solo episode, if you’re not sure how to go about doing this. It’s one of my favourite episodes, genuinely, and it’s by the lovely Pip, who’s brilliant at breaking things down. She’s had training in delivering training, so she really is very good at breaking down what’s essentially quite a complicated topic. Have a listen: it really will help you if you’re stuck on how to decide what to charge for which services. The key point about a pricing strategy is that it’s not just a set of figures that you pluck out of the air. There are ways to determine how much you should be charging, so have a listen to episode 23 and come back here if you don’t know what they are!

So, the first tip I’d give you when you’re thinking about increasing your rates, be clear with your clients about how the increase will affect them

When you inform your clients that your fees are going up, it’s important to be clear with them. If you normally communicate with your client via telephone, give them a call and then follow up with an email, so it’s there – it’s a permanent record. If you normally email them, send them a message and then follow up with a call if necessary (so, it’s the other way round). Stick to your normal communication method, then follow up.
It’s important at this point to make the transition to a higher fee as easy, clear and justifiable as possible. You also need to let your client know that they’re valued by you, so think carefully about how you word your communications with them.

While I wouldn’t suggest walking your client through exactly why you’ve decided to charge what you’re charging, it’s important for you to outline clearly how it’s going to affect them, and what they’re going to get for their money. But, while you’re doing this – remember two things: one, be honest with them and two, don’t apologise.

As I’ve progressed as a freelance copywriter, my fees have increased. I ask far more from a new client now than I would have done ten years ago. And, while in retrospect I think that my fees from ten years ago were far too low (which is a very common thing!), there’s no way I should have been charging then what I’m charging now. My skills are hugely improved, my knowledge has increased, I have more years of experience and commitment behind me.

So, when it comes to my long-term clients, I value their loyalty and that has to stand for something. I’ve had a number of them on my books for years now, so I’m not about to charge them the same that I’d charge for a new commercial clients. I’m not going to increase the fees I charge them by a huge jump. However, there did come a point where I was charging one client considerably less than any of my other clients, and I had to increase my fees to make it worth my while keeping that client on, and dedicating a large amount of time every week to working for them.

So, I had to come up with a figure that would suit me but not price me out of my client’s reach, for loyalty’s sake. I sat down and considered all of the following:

– my client’s budget and sector
– how long I’d been working for them
– how many pay increases I’d had since working for them
– how many hours work I did (or indeed, do!) for the client each week
– how much more I could be earning if I did the same amount of work for another client each week
– why I deserved the pay increase

In the end, I came up with a logical, ultimately justifiable figure, and I set about emailing the client with a proposal. It’s important to do this in a professional way, even if you chat with the client on a daily basis.

 

In my email, I explained that, like any other business, I had a pricing strategy that allowed me to keep my business flourishing. There’s no shame in that: I look after my business. I reiterated how important the client was to me, and outlined the fact that I’d not increased my fees for around two years. I detailed some of the training I’d been undertaking and described how the pay increase would allow me to continue to deliver even better results to that client in future. The increase was included in the email as an easily digestible percentage figure, you know – increased by X% – and it wasn’t something overwhelmingly large.

I bullet-pointed all of the information and submitted it, topped and tailed with the same kind of friendly communication that my client’s come to expect from me on an almost daily basis.

The response came back and it was a positive one. No one’s going to cheer about having to pay more for something, but the price was considered fair for the work I deliver and the communication was appreciated. And that’s the result you’re looking for.

So, to sum up, when you decide to raise your fees, you need to be a number of things.
Firstly – clear. Clear with yourself and why you’re doing it. Clear in your own mind about why you’ve gone for that particular figure, or percentage increase. And clear with your clients about how it’ll affect them.

Secondly, be confident. Be confident in your services, and know in yourself that what you’re charging is the right amount. If you’re not sure about it, you’ll have a hard time convincing anyone else. Do your research, position yourself carefully in the market – find a nice middle ground between ridiculously high and ridiculously low! – and that will help you to feel confident that you’ve made the right choice, even if you lose some clients. Be confident when you’re informing clients old and new about your rates – you’ve got nothing to apologise for, and confidence helps you to be professional.

And thirdly, be consistent. Offer your clients consistently good value for what they’re paying. Offer them consistently good work. If a client can rely on you, that’s one more reason to pay you what you’re asking.

Also, be consistent in what you charge a particular client, and how and when you increase your fees with them. It might be that you charge different clients different amounts based on their spending capacity – I charge charities less than commercial clients, for example, and I know that Pip charges charities and students less – but be discreet about this (not secretive, just discreet!) and always keep a record of what you charged who, and when. Clients will know, realistically, that your rates might vary, but if you end up mixing clients up and getting your rates wrong, or trying to implement another fee increase after just six months because you’re mistaking one client for another, it will make you seem sneaky and underhand. So keep close tabs on your finances and on what you charge different people.

So, I hope this has been a helpful guide on how to go about increasing the fees you charge for your freelance writing services. We all want to make as much money for our time as possible – there’s no crime in that – but it’s good to really assess your actions so you can be sure that both you and your clients are getting the best deal possible.

As I mentioned in my previous episode, increasing your rates can actually be an effective way to cut down the number of low-paying clients you have – it might sound mercenary but it’s the nature of the beast. As your career progresses, you can’t afford to fill your working day with work for a client who pays you just a third or a quarter of what someone else could. It doesn’t make any sense. You need to let your clients find someone more affordable if you’re getting too expensive to them – the solution isn’t to keep your rates low forever. It’s not sustainable.
Increasing your rates will leaving your clients free to find someone more affordable – and to manage your time better. By freeing up some time and spend more of your working day focusing on the clients who can afford you, you can ultimately improve your offerings, cut out any rushed pieces of work, halve the stress, and spend more time on the training and development you’ll need to progress, in time, to a point where you’re able to attract and cater to even more highly paying clients. It’s a cyclic thing.

Before I go, it’s time for this week’s Little Bird Recommendation. I’ve been thoroughly told off by the ever-reliable Pip for repeatedly forgetting to include one in my solo episodes. So, this week, I’m being good – I’m making a concerted effort!

 

When introducing Little Bird Recommendations, Pip and I have said that we might share tools, videos, blog posts, or tweets. I realised I hadn’t yet featured a tweet. So, I noticed a tweet recently that was being retweeted a lot, and I really liked it. It was a tweet by someone called Michael Scott Monje Junior, and he wrote, “Look, I might be the odd man out here, but I think calling yourself a social media guru is the opposite of effective…” and it’s been retweeted and favourited left, right and centre.

 

I think it’s an interesting insight to effective and non-effective communications on social media. If you’re calling yourself a guru, for some people, that’s pretty obnoxious. Someone contacted me on Twitter and said, “Do you know what an anagram of social media guru is? A ludicrous image. Go figure!” And it’s true, we all know the types who frame themselves as social media experts – and they might well be, but when someone blows their own trumpet so hard, it’s hard to believe in them and to actually like them.

 

I think it’s really important – especially on social media, where the clue’s in the name – to be likeable. And it got me thinking about an article I saw on Copyblogger recently, called The Key To Creating More Remarkable Connections. Put aside the cheesy title, it’s actually a decent blog post – as most on Copyblogger are. The post talks about authenticity and goes through how to create a professional, authentic online persona. It has some great tips on balancing personal and professional stuff, how often to promote yourself and be salesy, and it basically outlines the content mix for you. I find it a really good guide actually, when I’m wondering whether to be more jokey, more professional, and how often to link people to my website.

So I hope that that recommendation is useful to you, and enough to appease the wonderful Pip, who quite rightly reminded me that I’d forgotten the Little Bird Recommendations over the last few solo episodes.

So, for more of our podcast episodes, including the two previous episodes on money matters, please do go and subscribe to the podcast. You can get regular updates via iTunes, Stitcher Smart Radio, RSS feed, or Facebook – or you can sign up on the podomatic page itself, at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com.

I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn – thanks so much for listening, as always, and Pip and I will catch you next time.

 

Podcast Episode 24: The Art of Getting Paid as a Freelancer

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

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If the thought of sending invoices, chasing unpaid bills and negotiating payment terms fills you with horror, this episode of the A Little Bird Told Me freelance writing podcast is for you. Working out exactly how to word those awkward emails and at what stage to introduce your payment preferences are discussed here, as well as tips on getting paid on time. Have a listen, and let me know what you think!

Show Notes

Plain English copywriting contract

F*** You Pay Me

How to write the perfect email subject line

How to write magnetic headlines

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

Subscribe via RSS

Subscribe via iTunes

Find us on Stitcher Smart Radio

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

Transcript

LH: Hello, and welcome to Episode 24 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 internet at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, and there you can subscribe to this wonderful podcast in any number of ways, including RSS feed, iTunes, Stitcher Smart Radio or just on the Podomatic page itself. You can also find the link to our Facebook page, where you can come and have a chat with us. There will be plenty of tips, tricks and topics to enjoy, and of course we’d love to have any questions from you. I’m Lorrie Hartshorn…

An example of a cheque.

An example of a cheque. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

PW:…And I’m Philippa Willitts! This week we are going to talk about the art of getting paid. Now,  as a freelancer, this can run incredibly well most of the time, but at other times it can become a pretty tricky topic. So, we are going to look at invoicing and negotiating payments, as well as what to do if somebody always pays late, or doesn’t pay up at all. Unfortunately it does happen, and if you have freelanced for any length of time you have probably come across it.

LH: It seems to be an inevitable part of a freelance career that you start out afraid to put your foot down. Now, we’ve discussed it before when talking about setting deadlines, for example: too often, as freelancers, we’re worried to tell a client, “This is how it is.”

PW: Yes, you get so scared of losing clients when you start that you daren’t be at all assertive at first – and you agree to all kinds of ridiculous things!

LH: It’s true – you can spend months or years even wondering what’s going wrong, and actually thinking that freelancing isn’t a sustainable way of making a living.  It’s not for you, it’s not working. You might find yourself working through the night to get something finished in a ridiculously short space of time, or – as we’re talking about this episode – find ourselves consistently dissatisfied with the way we’re getting paid.

LH: Late payment is a bit of an inevitability in the world of freelancing. While you can put methods in place to protect yourself – and we’ll outline these over the course of the episode – there’ll always be someone who thinks that they deserve to get your work on time, but that you only deserve to be paid for it when they feel like it. And unfortunately that might be never.

PW: That’s it. These situations are going to occur – hopefully only occasionally – but when they do, you need to know how to handle it.

LH: True! You have to have an arsenal of ways to deal with this. We can’t 100% protect you from it – it’s good to know how to deal with it because it will happen. So, the first thing we’re going to talk about is when you’re starting out, how to introduce new clients to your preferred payment methods

LH: As I say, when you start out as a freelancer, you’re generally more accommodating and more lenient than when you’ve got a few years under your belt. Pip and I are a little bit jaded by now…!

PW: Haha, yes – we take no nonsense by this point!

LH: It’s zero tolerance from where we’re standing. But when you start out – and I think it’s fair to say that most of us are the same – i can seem really terrifying to lay down your payment terms for the first time, but it’s something that I’d recommend you get sorted as quickly as possible. You’re going to have to do it – trust us on that! – so it’s best to get used to being up-front with clients as early on as possible. Then no one’s confused about anything.

PW: Yes, you can feel a bit, when you start out, that, “This is my art! I shouldn’t be dirtying it with money!” and forget that you’ve got a gas bill that needs paying. You do have to come to terms with the fact that people are going to pay you for this, and that it’s not bad to ask to be paid when that’s the agreement.

LH: Haha, I have heard from some people that, “Ooh, I don’t want to be paid for my writing!”

PW: Yes, I don’t want to sully it!

LH: By all means, tell your clients to pay me instead – I’m happy with that!  So, yes, when I’ve not worked with a client before, I try and secure a 50% down payment on the project before it starts. Now, if you’re looking at a single piece of work that’s worth, say, £20 it might not always be worth splitting the cost in two – in which case, it’s up to you to decide with the client whether you to get payment in advance or payment afterwards. This can depend on a lot of things, such as how well you know the client (they might be a friend of a friend, or they might be someone who’s contacted you via your website and whom you’ve never heard of before) or on what experiences you’ve had with other clients in the past.

PW: Absolutely. With new clients, I sometimes insist on full payment in advance, actually. It depends on various things, and often I have to admit it’s down to a gut instinct. I do appreciate that if I’m their new writer, they don’t know me any better than I know them, so they might be suspicious that I might take their money and run, just as I might be suspicious that they’d take my writing and run! Like you say, it’s often not worth splitting it in half if it’s a small amount, so looking at full payment upfront is another option.

LH: True – when you start working with someone new, one of you has to go out on a limb. For the sake of my new clients’ peace of mind, I have a page of testimonials on my website, which can also be viewed in situ on LinkedIn as proof that they’re real – they’re attached to someone else’s profile, so new clients can see that I’ve not just written them myself. It goes some way to reassuring clients that I’m a reputable service provider.

PW: That’s a really good idea.

LH: Another thing I’d say is that it’s important to remember is that asking a client to pay up front isn’t about making an assumption about the client’s character – even if you’re going off a gut instinct, it’s nothing personal at all, and if you ask for up-front payment, you’re not insulting someone or implying that they aren’t trustworthy. No decent client is going to be seething about the fact that you want to get the payment sorted.

PW: No, not at all. Often, I find clients are more reasonable than I was going to be, if you know what I mean. A few months ago, I was negotiating some possible work and the client wanted to see what I could do. He said, “Oh, if you write me two test articles…” and I thought, “Oh, here we go…”. And then he said that he’d pay me for the two test articles, which was great.

LH: I had the same thing happen to me, actually – I completed a couple of test articles for an agency and they just sent me a purchase order number afterwards, so I was like, “Ooh! Thanks!”. I knew they were a reputable company, but you’re so used to it being one of the most common scams – someone asks you for a test article and a couple of weeks later, the article ends up on the net.

PW: Yes, yes. And at this stage I would also recommend that, especially if you are doing the work before being paid, make sure you have full contact details for the client. If they are representing a reputable business then you don’t have to look too far to find out how to contact them, but if they contact you with a yahoo.com email address and a username where their real name should be, don’t do any work until you either have contact details, or payment. Should it get to the awful situation of trying to claw money from them, you have no hope if you don’t even know their name!

LH: Good point! It sounds really obvious but when you’re just starting out, you’re probably so busy cheering to yourself that you’ve finally attracted a client on board that you can easily get carried away and forget to protect yourself. Make sure you have contact details, make sure you visit the website they’re talking about. Be a bit careful. You don’t want to make judgement calls on people but you need to be as careful as possible.

PW: And equally, you might expect the worst and be pleasantly surprised. A guy contacted me from a Yahoo address, with no real name – all those things we’ve talked about – and he wanted a series of 12 articles on health related topics, which is a subject I specialise in. He didn’t want to give me too much information, so it looked a bit suspicious. So I sent him my invoice, he paid up, I did the work and he was really pleased with it. So it goes to show that you shouldn’t automatically write people off when they don’t have an email address for their own domain name, for example, but it’s still best to be cautious.

LH: Definitely, you can only go off past experience, so don’t rely on someone 100%. The more you look, the more you learn and the more your ‘spidey sense’ can start tingling. As the years go on, you can still be wrong but your instincts will help you.

PW: And you don’t do any harm by being a bit more careful

Just Pay The Invoice

Just Pay The Invoice (Photo credit: industriarts)

LH: Yes, as long as you don’t say to them, “Wow, you look dodgy – here’s my invoice. Sorry love, nothing personal!”

PW: Hahaha! Another issue to look at when we want to get paid, it’s also worth looking at the different types of payment that are out there. I’m quite happy to be paid by Paypal, for instance, in certain circumstances – it’s instantaneous, it’s pretty reliable, and it’s especially handy for my clients who aren’t based in the UK. In those cases, I like it a lot.

 

PW: However if you are being paid a decent amount, the fees they extract from the payment can start to be quite prohibitive, so my preferred method of payment for UK clients is a simple bank transfer. I do also accept UK cheques, but with one notable exception I’ve never been paid in that way. I think it’s pretty archaic now, but still useful if that’s how a client likes to work. It’s a bit slower and involves a trip to the bank, but it’s really no big deal.

LH: Yeah, I stick with all bank transfers. I do have a client who’s based in the US and she’s pretty trustworthy, so I’m happy to accept cheques from her. Until recently, I was banking with a building society, and it was pretty difficult to arrange international transfers as they need to be made via a bank. I also don’t like using PayPal more than I have to, for the reasons you mentioned just now. So yes, cheque can work, but again, make sure you’re protected – I made sure I received the cheque before I started any work, and there was no problem.

PW: Sure, and also check with your bank about whether they charge for international cheques – some do, some don’t. Check the cheque situation! There are also going to be the odd situation you may encounter when a client is in one of the countries that PayPal refuses to deal with. There are some alternate payment providers that deal with those countries, but make sure you don’t get scammed – do your homework.

LH: So the next thing we want to talk about is how to decide on a payment period. Now, my payment period depends on the client. Most of my regular long-term clients get a payment period of 30 days, and most of them pay promptly – long before they reach the due date. Another client I know does their accounts weekly, so I invoice them every Tuesday for payment on Wednesday or Thursday. Their payment period is reduced to seven days accordingly.

LH: Now, other clients might do their invoices at the end of the month, in which case, this needs to be taken into account. A number of agencies that I work for arrange payment of invoices at the end of the month, so even if I send something in on the first, I know it’s not going to be paid until the 30th or 31st.

LH: This is actually a pretty problem-free payment method – the longest you’re going to have to wait for payment is 30 days or so, all being well, and invoices that you submit later in the month will also be paid at the same time. So if you submit something on the 22nd, you’ll only have to wait six days.

PW: If you’re very new to this…I remember the first time I got asked for an invoice, years and years ago. Someone approached me, wanting to buy one of my photographs, and they asked me to invoice them. I went, “Um…OK!” and then googled, “How to send an invoice.” And it really is that simple, actually – just choose one that’s appropriate to your country, just so the terminology is right, pick one that looks nice or has the fields you need, and you’ll get the hang of it. If just the word ‘invoice’ fills you with fear, don’t worry!

PW: Now, for regular clients I tend to send out monthly invoices on the first of every month. For more ad hoc work, I send my invoice along with the completed work. You will find you get into patterns with different clients about how it works. Also, for the journalistic and media work I do, I have a LOT less say in how the payment system works! They have long established procedures and you just have to lump it. In my commercial work, I have a lot more control over my own terms and conditions. So, especially because I do commercial work as well, I really notice the difference.

LH: Yes, you do have to have a certain level of flexibility when it comes to payment times – at first, any less-than-savoury clients might be able to pull the wool over your eyes with stuff about their accounts department, but as you get more and more used to freelancing, you do start to see patterns and, basically, your bullshit radar gets a bit more sensitive! As I mentioned, agencies tend to pay invoices at the end of the month. And as Pip says, media organisations are often a bit dogmatic about their accounts and take a lot longer. So take note of how you’re paid, so you can detect whether something seems out of the ordinary.

PW: Speaking of clients trying to pull the wool over your eyes, my accountant has been very helpful at decoding the nonsense I get from accounting departments. I tell her what they say, and she says, “Oh, that means they’re pretending they’ve paid but they haven’t yet”, or, “Oh, if they say that it means they know they’re going to be late but won’t admit it”. It’s quite funny that there’s a secret language for all this stuff that I’m not normally privy to!

LH: I think your accountant could make a lot of money from an exposé on this kind of stuff!

PW: Ha ha! I’ll suggest it to her! And of course there will always be circumstances where someone genuinely messes up, like we all do from time to time, and they legitimately forget, be off sick or whatever. That’s fine, you have to live with that, but perhaps be more clear for the future about how to avoid it.

LH:  Definitely – you can’t operate a one-strike and you’re out policy – as Pip says, people muck up from time to time. Maybe they’re off sick – if it’s a one-off, then you don’t need to do anything. If they’re off a bit more often, maybe see if you can CC someone into your emails. Even if a normally reliable client forgets to pay you on time more than once, there are things to do before you get to the “No more Ms Nice Freelancer” stage. The first step is reminding them. The second step is finding out if there’s an issue. The third step is seeing what you can do to help – maybe you could communicate with the accounts department directly. Maybe you could send them a reminder a few days before the invoice is due. Talk to your client.

PW: Communication is key.

LH: Definitely. So, now we’ve talked about how to be flexible, it’s time to talk about how to chase payment when it hasn’t happened. Now, the first thing I would say – and it’s not actually chasing per se – is give someone a chance – don’t chase on the very morning payment’s due. Three, two, one…no invoice? Get on it!

PW: Oh, absolutely. If nothing else, the bank computer might be having a glitch and the payment will appear in another 10 minutes! I give a few days grace at least – most often longer than that, to be honest.

LH: Yeah, I tend to give five to seven working days, and take weekends into account. The second thing I’d say is check and double check your account to make sure you’ve not been paid. Don’t just give it a cursory glance, as the company paying you might not be the name you’re used to associating with that firm – it might be a parent company paying you. Or, they might have combined two invoices together, so the figure you’re expecting to see might not be there. Cross check the company and amount before you get in touch with client.

PW: This can be so confusing. A lot of small businesses also ship out their accounts. If they don’t use the invoice number or their usual name, it can be really confusing! But cross-referencing the amounts I have been paid and the dates can help a lot.

PW: Sometimes it does get to the point where you have to start chasing a client for payment. It’s unpleasant, but there are ways you can do it that make the process easier, not just for you but also for the client. Always start by being really polite about it – if your first email to them is, “Oy! Where’s my money?” then you’re not going to open a dialogue with them! They might have been off sick or something when the payment was due to come out. So start by just enquiring – mention that you were expecting to have received the payment by now, and you were wondering if everything was ok at their end. Always attach a copy of the invoice in question again too, just to be clear about exactly what you’re chasing.

LH: Yes, 100% agree. Even if you’ve done it a thousand times with other clients and 100 times in the same morning, and you’re feeling very jaded – because it can feel really unfair! – remember to give every client the benefit of the doubt. There’s no point getting  belligerent , especially not at the start, because it’s going to alienate your client, show you in a bad light and possibly wreck your chances of getting paid at all – if you’re client’s a bit that way inclined.

PW: Ooh, belligerent is a good word, by the way.

LH: Thanks, I like it!  I do have favourite words sometimes! So yes, when you’ve enquired, your next step depends on how the client reacts.

PW: If you don’t get a reply, or if they promise to pay you today and don’t, then after a dialogue with them (as best you can manage, depending on how they react – or whether they reply at all) you might need to get a bit more direct. Again, still not rude, just more insistent that you have completed the work – or whatever the agreement was – and that you haven’t been paid as agreed. Don’t feel shy about pointing out that they did agree to this!

LH: Yes, when it gets to that point, I start talking about the fact that my work was (and usually always has been) submitted on time, often on very short deadlines. I mention how long their payment period was, and how late they are. I mention any previous promises to pay, (“I’ll sort it tomorrow, I’ll pay you today” etc.) and finish off with a very direct request that they pay and confirm payment immediately. It’s a shame to have to cut the pleasantries but, while you shouldn’t be rude, it’s a little false to keep including small talk at that point. Normally, emailing a client, I’ll have a bit of chat with them. But once you’re past that dialogue, don’t be apologetic or worried, because if someone is not responding to your communications about them not paying you what they owe you, then you don’t have to be super friendly. Again, as Pip’s just said, this is *after* a dialogue has taken place.

PW: Yeah, I think mentioning the date is a good point. I sent an email today – bear in mind it’s January – saying, “I refer to my invoice of August 2012…”

LH: That’s ludicrous. That’s last summer!

PW: Absolutely. I will also sometimes withhold work if a payment gets very late. I let them know it is done, and ready, and as soon as I receive the payment I will send it to them. I really, really, really hate having to do this, but there doesn’t seem much else I can do sometimes. And that only works with regular work, of course. But yes, if there are real problems, it’s something you can use. I don’t like it, but it’s something you can use as a last resort. I’ve even told clients that I don’t like it!

LH: Yes, I think that that’s a good example of the open communication. It’s not good cop vs bad cop, from “Oh hi, how are you?” to “Where’s my cash, now now now!”

PW: Yes, and you’re not a robot. Humanising yourself can sometimes help to get through to them.

LH: Yes. I think it’s acceptable sometimes to, for want of a better phrase, to play the guilt card. As Pip says, you’re not a robot. If your client has let you down and left you out of pocket, I think it’s OK to let your client know how seriously they’re inconveniencing you.

PW: Yes, when you get to an accounts department of a medium sized business, they’re paying freelancers but they’re also paying massive distributors and suppliers etc. and they may forget that there’s a human at the end of the email who’s being really inconvenienced – it can make a difference.

LH: Yes. But choose the recipient of your sob story carefully – only be open with people you have that kind of communication with!

LH: In terms of other ways of protecting myself from late payment, what I’ve started doing – and it’s something we’ll talk about in a bit more detail in a mo – is including a clause in my writing agreements that reverts copyright of a piece of work to me if payment is late by more than a certain amount of time. That way, the writing belongs to me, not the client, unless they pay for it.

PW: So, while often it’s just something that’s been overlooked, sometimes – as in the case of my August invoice! – things are getting really ridiculous.

LH: Yes, when flexibility crosses the line into bare-faced cheek, we need to talk about what to do when someone keeps paying you late. When someone is starting to take the proverbial, there are tell-tale signs. As we mentioned earlier, you’ll recognise these more easily as time goes by. But, things like a failure to answer your calls or respond to your emails. Excuses that don’t really hold up. Seeming indifference to the fact that you’ve not been paid for the work you delivered to them – these aren’t very good signs at all, and you’re within your rights to note them down in your little black book and to decide how you want to progress with that client in future. You might want to solve the problem – you certainly want to get paid! – but it’s time to question whether you want to work with them again in future.

PW: God, I had one client use the same excuse twice! They’d obviously forgotten they’d used it before. It wasn’t something awful like the death of a parent, but it was clearly their stock excuse.

LH: My father’s died! Again!

PW: Haha! Another sign is if they are normally very quick at answering emails, and all of a sudden they are not available, it may be time to get suspicious.

LH: Yes, it’s horribly clichéd, isn’t it? You wouldn’t believe that a full-grown business person could resort to something like hiding from emails and phonecalls, but it’s usually what happens if someone’s planning on skipping out on a payment.

LH: So, if a client is a persistent late payer, the first thing I tend to do (and I mean in terms of progressing with the working relationship, rather than chasing them) is to reduce the length of the payment period so I can keep a closer eye on what’s coming in and when – and that’s IF I want to keep that client on in future. The fact is, I don’t want to spend a month knowing full well that a client will pay me late and that I’ll then have to start chasing on a weekly basis thereafter. It prolongs an already awkward process.

PW: Another thing to remember is that nowadays, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking email is the only option. Actually, in these cases, it’s good to pick up the phone. You’re harder to ignore, and you’re more humanised. They have to face it a bit more. And you may finally get to the truth of what’s happening – when you get them on the phone, they might just say what the problem is.

LH: It can be difficult sometimes. Pip and I don’t enjoy cold-calling people, and chasing payment over the phone can feel similar, can’t it?

PW: Uuuuugh! That’s how much I enjoy it!

LH: Haha! I think it might be a generational thing – email feels like the appropriate method of contact.

PW: Yes – and I totally worry if I’m interrupting someone, and I feel like I should email first to check it’s a good time.

LH: And you get round to the first point: that it’s not nice to chase for money. And for those clients who are trying not to pay you, it’s not nice to phone that kind of person up and chase them for money. You can only hope it embarrasses them into paying you!

LH: If you decide you want to carry on with a working relationship with a bad payer, a good suggestion that was made to me by a fellow freelancer was to encourage clients, and particularly late payers, to buy “credit” from you.

LH: So, a client can pay you, say, £100, and you complete work to that value. Once their ‘credit’ is getting low, you send them a reminder. I do work this way very occasionally – it tends to be for new clients who want a one-off job doing, say, a website rewrite. I’ll give them a time estimate (and this feeds back into Pip’s last solo episode, so if you haven’t listened to that already, go and do that straight after this!) and ask them to pay 50% or 100% of that up front. Once I’ve used all the hours they’ve paid for, I send them a time-sheet (and obviously the work!) to let them know exactly what they’ve paid for.  If more time is needed, this is then added on; if less time is needed, it’s subtracted from the remaining balance.

PW: The credit-style idea is a really good one. I think it’s not one you’d want to use all the time, but I can see it working really well in some situations.

LH: Yeah, it’s just to protect yourself. The recommendation was made to me when I was complaining to my friend about not being paid by a particular client again.

PW: Now, another thing I probably don’t do often enough is setting out formal written legal agreements when you’re setting out with new clients or renegotiating with current clients.

LH: Yeah – I do it sometimes, not other times. Some of it does go off gut instinct with me. As I said earlier that’s not a judgement on the client – it tends to go off recent experience, whether I’ve been paid late a lot recently – things like that! But yes, it’s a nice idea to protect yourself with a copywriting agreement. I spotted one, and it was the Plain English copywriting contract by John McGarvey – it’s a really, really plain English document, very down to earth, and it outlines what’s expected of both parties. I’ve looked through it, I found it a bit patronising but I can see it working for one off clients, sole traders who aren’t up to date with legalese and stuff like that. You’ll want to tailor this agreement for yourself, but if you get your clients to sign something, you’ll know where you stand.

PW: Also, the video that got me into a lot of trouble at *that* networking event, called F* You Pay Me, is all about the importance of contracts to protect yourself against shady clients. Links to both these things are in the show notes. When I first started thinking about contracts, I wondered if it would seem overly formal. But the best recommendations I’ve seen – one self-employed guy has a general contract embedded in his website, and in his email signature, he says that, “By working with me, you agree to these terms”. Or, you can send an agreement over with your quote, and say “Agreeing to work with me assumes you agree to these terms”, it just softens it.

PW: Yes, even if I don’t send an official legal document, I always try to send an email to all parties, summarising the agreement we have come to verbally, so that everybody is clear. If they agree with my summary, we start work from there. If not, we adapt it until we all agree. But it stops people backpedalling, and also it protects the client to a degree as well, they have exactly what we promised to do written down.

LH: While you can tailor a project agreement to suit you, the thing I’d suggest in all instances is that you protect your copyright.

PW: Some freelancers also build late penalty fees into their contracts with clients. If the payment is a week late, 10% is added to the total; if it’s 4 weeks late, 30% is added on, or whatever. As long as the client has signed the contract, then they are likely to try and pay on time! I have never done this, but I would probably consider it if I was involved in a massive project, especially if it involved working with other freelancers as well or needing to pay other people.

LH: Yes, I’ve never used a late fee but I would if I thought it would help. But yes, I’d definitely suggest, in all instances, that you protect your copyright – as in, your rights to a piece of writing. If a client isn’t planning on paying you at all – and sadly, there are some like that – a late penalty or the threat of a late penalty won’t have any effect on them: it’s just one more thing they’re not intending to pay. However, if you stipulate in your agreement with them that late payment means that the rights to a piece of work revert to you, your client has a lot more to lose. Any attempt by them to use the piece of work they’ve not paid you for will result in a breach of your intellectual property rights, and it’s not a situation that many clients will want to find themselves in.

PW: Yes, absolutely. Similar to what Lorrie said, I just keep the copyright until I’ve been paid. I always clarify that the copyright moves to them once I have received payment. Until then the copyright is mine. (For commercial work that is, it’s different with media and journalistic stuff, again). But for commercial work, especially ghost writing, like blog posts published under clients’ names, that’s my agreement with clients. Once they’ve paid, it’s theirs entirely – until then, it’s mine.

LH: I might start implementing that actually – it just cuts out a step.

PW: Yes, and it’s not hard to implement. Nothing changes hands, so it’s easy. There is also, in the worst of worst case scenarios, the option of taking the client to court. Now, neither of us has any idea about legal advice – we’re not lawyers – but this is a pretty drastic action. This will work differently in all different countries, but be it the Small Claims Court here, or whatever, it’s a pretty drastic action, but if you want to do it on principle, or because you simply want to be paid for the work you did, it could be worth considering – as long as you never want any repeat business from that client again!! You really, really have to be at a stage where you are happy to burn your bridges to take this step, but would you really want repeat custom from someone who refused to pay anyway?

LH: No, you don’t want that sort of person on your books. The amount of stress caused by chasing late payments, it’s just not worth it. One thing I would suggest before you get to the point of going to court – and it’s not like we’re suggesting that you go from chasing payment to BAM – court summons! – is that you should get someone, say a debt collection agency, to try and get the payment first. I heard this can be a really effective step but, as Pip says, this isn’t something to be tried unless you’re happy to lose your client.

PW: It’s now time for our Little Bird Recommendations of the week. My recommendation is related to one of Lorrie’s previous ones – the website, Unbounce, which is full of information on sales pages, conversions and things like that. Now, all last week, they had a theme going on about email marketing conversions. And last Thursday, they wrote a great post about writing the perfect email subject line. Now, this is interesting because, when you have a whole page of copy to write, you can be very persuasive and emotive. But when you’ve got only an email subject, you have no room to mess up. Now, apparently the average working professional receives 100 emails a day – I can agree with that, I probably get more. I now archive more emails than I ever read, but sometimes, an email that would normally get archived just has something about the subject line that makes me open it.

PW: This post goes into the science of it. Subjects between 28-39 characters had the highest open rate in a study of 200 million emails. So yes, it goes into some of the very tested things plus some of the more stylistic things you need to know. And it has a six-step method to improve email open rates, and if you do any kind of sales copy – and I’m sure a lot of it would apply to blog titles as well – or if you have your own email mailing list, it’d be really helpful as well. Plus, this post is an infographic, which I love – I’ll post the link in the show-notes, so you can see the whole thing.

LH: It’s interesting what you said about it being useful if you have your own mailing list. What you don’t want to do is alienate your mailing list. People don’t really realise how valuable legitimately acquired data is. If you start sending emails to people with rubbish spammy titles, they’ll click spam on you and you’ll end up blacklisted.

LH: My recommendation is a fairly similar one. It’s a series of posts by Copyblogger.com. I love their posts – and their emails are brilliant as well. They give you a proper summary of their posts, they’re not annoying or spammy, and you go over and get a really good article.

PW: Copyblogger is one of those sites where I’ve never read a post that’s disappointed me.

LH: So yes, Copyblogger is great, but the series of posts I want to recommend is called “Magnetic headlines” and it’s a series on how to get your article, press release, blog post headlines all right. And it makes a huge difference to how many will click and read what you’re telling them, and how much traffic you’ll get.

PW: Yes, you’ll see these headlines spinning down social media and you’ve only got a moment to get it right.

LH: Yes, it’s super important and super difficult – you’ve got a two-figure number of characters to get it right in; if you get it wrong, people aren’t going to click. So in the Magnetic Headlines series, and these are all full blog articles, and they’re very informative and accessible, Why You Should Write Your Headlines First, How To Write A Killer ‘How To’ Post, Seven More Sure-Fire Headline Templates That Work.

PW: Lists are really popular as well.

LH: Yes, and choose an unusual number – steer clear of things like five or 10 (just a free tip from us there). People like unusual numbers! But yes, these articles are a really comprehensive guide to giving the right first impressions. And they’re by Brian Clarke, who’s the CEO of Copyblogger and he really knows what he’s talking about. Copyblogger articles are really good, and this is an 11-part series. As we’ve talked about, training is really important as part of your freelance career…

PW: Yes, and it can just be reading something like this, instead of going back to University!

LH: Yes – so sit there and have a proper active read of these; get a pen and paper and really engage with the articles and keep your skills up to date. My next solo episode will be on how to command a higher salary as a freelancer; integrating training and development into your regular routine is absolutely crucial to increasing your salary. So yes, take good note of the things we recommend – they’re all things we’d look at ourselves; we don’t just throw stuff out there!

PW: And I think that listening to the A Little Bird Told Me podcast can legitimately be included as part of your training!

LH: As long as you cite us – and come and say hello!

PW: Yes, we know we’ve got loads of great listeners, but then we go to our Facebook page and we’re all lonely again. So come and say hello – you’ll make two Northern lasses very happy indeed. So we hope that what we’ve covered today will be some help in helping you to negotiate payments, payment terms, payment types, and also how to handle things if someone pays late, particularly repeatedly. If you have any comments or questions, let us know. If you want to find our contact details, they’re all at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com. I’ve been Philippa Willitts

LH: …and I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn, and we look forward to talking to you again next time.

 

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

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When starting out as a freelancer, negotiating the tricky world of how much to quote to potential clients can seem entirely bewildering and confusing. How do you pick a number? Do you charge per hour or per piece of work? And are the numbers you are quoting realistic?

Deciding what your hourly rate should be, how much to charge for a press release or a direct marketing package and how to avoid falling into the pitfalls of asking for too little are all discussed in this solo podcast episode.

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Transcript

Hello and welcome to episode 23 of A Little Bird Told Me: the podcast about the highs, the lows and the no-nos of successful self-employment.

I’m Philippa Willitts and today I’m going to be talking about how to decide what to charge as a freelance writer. This is solo episode, so I’m here without my usual co-host Lorrie, but we’ll be back with a dual episode next week.

Now, different people listen to this podcast in different ways. So, the best place to find us if you’re unsure is at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com. That’s where you can find all the links to suvscribe via RSS, iTunes and Stitcher. You can also find a link to our Facebook page, as well as all of Lorrie’s and my websites and social media links. So do that, no matter where you’re listening to us right now, check us out in those other places to make sure you never miss another episode.

Sample invoice

Sample invoice (Photo credit: bjmccray)

I’m coming to you today from a very snowy city, which makes me incredibly happy to work from home. I don’t’ have to deal with all the cancelled buses, and slipping all over the place – it makes freelancing very enriching and rewarding on days like this! So, anyway, as I said, today I’ll be talking about how to decide what to charge. Setting your own rates when you’re starting out as a freelancer can be very confusing. I know I was so confused when I started: I didn’t know how to charge, what to charge, what was reasonable…I just had no idea. Luckily, I had some very well established freelance writers who helped me a lot.

I didn’t want to know their numbers: it didn’t matter so much to me what they charged. What confused me was the process: how did they get to that figure? And thankfully, like I say, some really helpful people explained it to me, so I’m going to go through the process with you today. And, actually, in two weeks’ time – in Lorrie’s solo episode – she’s going to be talking about how to increase your rates. But what I’m talking about today is how to set your rates initially.

So, the first stage in setting your prices is working out what you want to earn – and indeed, what you need to earn. There are two main ways of charging, which I’ll go into later, and that’s to charge hourly or by project. But whichever you choose, you have to start by working out how much you need to earn.

So, do you want to earn £200 a week? £500? £800? Choose something realistic, don’t underestimate – you’ve got to consider your bills, your expenses, all that kind of thing. So once you have a figure of how much you want to earn per work, you need to work out how many hours a week you want to work. After that, look at how many hours per week you need to spend doing non-chargeable work, so things like invoicing, admin, marketing, updating your website etc.

Then – and don’t worry, this episode isn’t all maths! –  minus this number from the number of hours you want to work as a whole, you will be left with the number of “writing hours” you have. You may want to work 40 hours a week, 15 of which will be spent doing non-chargeable work. Then, divide the amount you want to earn by this number of writing hours, and you have your hourly rate. If that sounded complicated, do rewind and listen again. Essentially you need the number of hours you can spend writing per week, and how much you want to earn per week. To make it a simple calculation, say you want to earn £200 a week and write for 10 hours, then your hourly rate is £20.

Now, some people prefer to do calculations by monthly or even annual earnings, but it follows the same pattern. If you work things out and you don’t feel confident about whether or not the rates you are charging are reasonable, do an online search for other freelancers and take a good look at their rates. If nothing else, you will reassure yourself with the fact that there are no “set” rates for anything! Some people seem to charge a fortune; others seem to charge virtually nothing. But looking at others’ rates, or indeed rates recommended by industry bodies or professional societies, can help you to work out whether your own rates are fair and reasonable. Having said that, don’t look at the rates writers charge on freelancing sites like Elance and freelancer.com. They will lead you to believe that you have to sell your soul and virtually pay other people to get work. It’s not unreasonable to want a decent hourly rate, but those kinds of sites will lead you to believe it is.

Money

Money (Photo credit: Tax Credits)

Some people like to set their rates just slightly below their peers’. So if everybody seems to be charging £50 for a particular piece of work, then charging £48 can actually put you at an advantage. There are a lot of clients who would go with you simply because you’re cheaper, even if it is by a very small amount. However there is also psychology at play here, and it can also have the opposite effect, with potential clients assuming that you charge less because you are less talented or capable.

When I first started out, a very well established freelance copywriter very kindly gave me some much-appreciated advice. One of the things she told me was that for big corporate clients, those with massive businesses, you should actually consider upping your rates a bit. Not, as I initially thought, because they could afford it, but in fact because if you approach them with very low rates then they won’t take you seriously, and they won’t think you are any good at your job.

So pitching your price exactly can be a tricky business, and it might be that you change your rates when you are getting established, over time, as you get more of an idea of how it all works, and that is completely fine.
So, it’s now time to look at the different options you have for charging. There are two main ways to price your work, and they are to charge hourly, or to charge per project. First, I’m going to look at charging hourly. Now, this isn’t how I work – but Lorrie, my usual co-host, tends to work with hourly charges, so the first thing I did was to ask her why – and what the benefits were.

First of all, she works with some agencies and they charge by the day so for her, it’s easy to calculate the fees she needs to charge with an hourly rate rather than a project one. She also says, “I find that, say, a press release or news story can vary in terms of length, research etc. so I prefer to charge exactly what it cost me out of my day. If it took less time, I genuinely do charge less so, over time, clients get to see the give and take from this, and it builds trust.”

Finally, she says, “I do a lot of training and development, and I try to keep my skills polished. No matter what they’re hiring me to do, or write, or edit, they’re still hiring me, so my rate remains the same.”

So that was Lorrie on why she prefers hourly charging. So let’s look more deeply at hourly charging. Now, one benefit of hourly charging is that you’re kept safe from a project suddenly taking a lot longer than you expect.

If you get commissioned to do a normal blog post but it turns out to need several interviews and lots of hours of research, you’re safe in the knowledge that you’ll be paid for all the work you do. The risk with that, though, is that, as you become better at your job and more adept at what you’re doing, you actually risk being paid less and less over time for the same work. Because, if when you start, a blog post takes you two hours, but you only need 45 minutes once you know that client better, you’re doing the same or better work but getting charged less.

Going back to the benefits, it’s also good if you’re new to freelancing, and you don’t know how long certain jobs are likely to take you. You might have experience writing articles and blog posts, for example, but if you get asked for a case study and you’ve never done one before, it’s really hard to work out a “per project” fee when you don’t know if it will take you 20 minutes or four hours. So, charging hourly does offer safeguards for a freelancer.

However, I choose to charge by project. The way I work out what to charge per project is to go back to that initial calculation of what I want to earn for an hour’s work, then work out (as best I can) how long different pieces of work are likely to take. So, if writing a press release would take me three hours, then it would be three times my hourly rate. If something else takes me half an hour, then that’s half my hourly rate. I find that clients often feel reassured because they know they are not going to get an unexpectedly large bill – it feels kind of like asking that client to write a blank cheque if you say, “Yes, I’ll do this work for you, and you pay whatever I charge you in the end.” They tend to want to know in advance how much they’ll be paying.

Cash

Cash (Photo credit: BlatantWorld.com)

Now, the way you work this out might vary. You might set a price per 500 or 1000 words of writing, or proof-reading. For instance, I have a set fee for 1000 words of proof-reading. I have a set fee for a 500 word blog post. That kind of thing. You also might charge per item – which might be per press release, per website rewrite, per case study etc. I have a mixture: I have press release and case study fees, and I also have number-of-words fees for website copy and things like that.

You do have to be a bit more careful, when charging per project, to make sure you have ALL the details of what is going to be involved – how much research, will you need to conduct interviews, how big will the end product be, is the topic familiar to you, will you need to collaborate with others, such as designers, SEO people? That adds a lot of time. If a client comes to you with a big project, they’re all things you need to be able to work out in advance so you can come up with a quote about how much it’ll probably cost.

Another thing about charging per project is that some people offer packages: a set price for, say, eight blog posts per month, or a set fee for a press release and case study on the same topic. This is a good way to expand the work you get, give you experience in wider areas, and persuade clients to order more than they might have originally intended! Not in a sly, exploitative way, but they might see the benefit – like, “Oh, a case study to go with that press release would be great – we could put it on our website and in our annual report.”

So, that’s why I charge per project. I feel clearer knowing exactly what I’m getting; it makes quotes easier; it reassures clients that they’re not going to get a massive invoice, and we all know where we are. However, as Lorrie explained, she much prefers to charge hourly in general. So, it all really, really depends on what you feel comfortable with, what your clients react well to. Perhaps even try a bit of both when you start out, and see which you prefer.

When looking at how to set your fees overall, I can’t stress enough how important it is to factor in self-employment related costs, because – unlike in salaried work –  you’re not being paid for admin time, holidays, equipment etc.  Also, if you’re in the States or other countries you will want to factor in things like health insurance. So make sure they’re included in your original calculations. Other things to bear in mind is that you are entitled to charge extra for rush work. You might want to add 50% to your fee, or whatever suits you – again, I’m not giving you numbers, but more how you go about coming to figures that suit you.

As long as it’s agreed in advance, you can also charge more for late payments. It’s also important, when talking to new clients, to be clear how many revisions are allowed, and how extra revisions will be charged.  A lot of people include one or two – if the client wants more, if you’ve agreed in advance that they’ll be charged at a certain rate, you won’t find yourself being taken advantage of by a client on their sixth revision because you didn’t specify in the first place.

Also, if you have a very specialist subject, you may find you can charge more for specialised work that few people could do.

Even if it’s not specialist work, don’t ever undervalue your talents and your skills.  Stick to your guns. Don’t be bullied or persuaded into reducing your rates, especially on spurious promises like, “Oh, if you do this, we can bring you a lot more work”. That very rarely happens, but even if it does, they’ll probably argue with you about price again. Extra work isn’t in your interest if it’s all at a very low rate.

You might decide to lower your rates for, say, non-profits, but if actually the majority of your clients are non-profits then this becomes unsustainable. If you want to, then do offer discount or mates’ rates if you really want to, but don’t feel obliged to. Particularly, don’t feel obliged to take on, say, more than one “mates’ rates” project at a time. I reduce my fees for non-profits, and on proof-reading for students. But, if I found that the majority of my income was based on proof-reading for students, that would be unsustainable, so be careful.

So, I hope that’s answered a few of your questions about how to set you rates for freelance writing. Whether you go with hourly rates, project rates or do different ones for each project, the important thing is to go with one that works well for you. A system that’s easy for you, so if someone contacts you wanting a quote, you can respond pretty quickly. But also, one that’s fair to you – don’t offer stupidly low prices to get work and end up not being able to pay your bills at the end of the month.

Let us know what you think. Pop over to our Facebook page, contact us on social media. All the links are at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com. We love to hear from you – we know we’ve got some brilliant listeners all over the world and we love to get your feedback. So I hope that’s been helpful! I’ve been Philippa Willitts, and I look forward to seeing you next time!

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

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

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Newspapers yellow

Newspapers yellow (Photo credit: NS Newsflash)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PW: Hahaha! Killing our swans!

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

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

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

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

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

PW: And it’s just not news, is it?

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

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

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

PW: Ha ha ha!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PW: Or “An industry source says…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PW: You meanie! At the end of…hahah!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PW: Hahaha, and it’s so true!

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

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

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

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

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

LH: So, I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn…

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


Podcast Episode 21: Managing Freelance Projects and Planning your Time

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This is a solo episode from Lorrie, where she talks about time management and project planning as a freelancer.

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Transcript

Hello and welcome to episode 21 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 and today’s episode is another solo one. This week, I’ll be talking about how to get your project management skills sorted so you can lead as peaceful a freelance life as possible – which is what we all want really!

Firstly, I’d like to apologise – I’ve got another cold! If you’re a regular listener, you’ll know this is the second cold in 21 episodes, and I’m feeling really sorry for myself. Hopefully, though, the huskiness won’t be too much of a distraction but, as I say, I do apologise!

While one of the lovely things about freelancing is the fact that you can start to be more flexible with your working hours (you don’t need to commute, you can go out in the day and make up the time in the evening), there’s no denying that, for many freelancers, there’ll be periods when you’re overly busy. Like, getting up at 5am and working ‘til 8pm busy.

 

Monitoring and Control project activities

Monitoring and Control project activities (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’ll probably be some people listening now, shaking their heads and tutting and thinking that I clearly don’t manage my work very well if this is a reality for me, and that’s OK. The fact is, when you’re a freelancer, reality changes very rapidly and very frequently! Some weeks, nothing but a couple of old tumbleweeds will come rolling into your inbox. Other weeks, you’ll be absolutely buried in work – if you’re offering some good services and marketing yourself right, that is. Depending on the industry you’re in, there’ll be a natural ebb and flow to your week, month, year, plus a whole host of unknown variables on top of that.

For the last two weeks, and the week before Christmas, I’ve been absolutely snowed under. Clients like to tie up loose ends before year’s end, and get stuck in straight away in the New Year. I choose to work through – and to take work on from clients – because I don’t really celebrate Christmas, and it’s a good chance for me to get ahead with work, marketing, training, personal development, tax returns and all that jazz.

It’s not just over the holidays that you’ll find yourself facing a battle to fit all your work in. Freelance writing is, by nature, quite up and down, as I say, and you’ll often find yourself wondering how on Earth you’re supposed to plan things when they just keep dropping into your inbox with a minute’s notice (or less!)

Well, the fact is, you can’t plan that kind of incoming work. But before you switch off and curse me for giving this podcast such a fraudulent title, listen up. What you can do is this:

Firstly, plan round it
Secondly, come up with some rules and stick to them.

By plan round it, I mean this.

Every freelancer has a number of regular commitments that come round every day, week or month. Think about it – just off the top of my head, my daily commitments include: clearing my inbox in the morning, redoing my to-do list, having my breakfast and lunch, going for a quick walk and scheduling social media updates.

Those are things I have to do every single day. So I plan them. I know exactly when those things are going to happen, and anything else that comes in goes around them. They’re my absolute daily essentials and, although I’ve tried snipping them out of my schedule when I’m really busy, I’ve come to realise that it’s not worth it. If I skip breakfast, I’m tired all morning. If I don’t clear my inbox and sort my to-do list, I’m in for a chaotic day. I’m grouchy if I don’t get my lunch, and I get stir-crazy and uninspired if I don’t get out of the house at least once a day.

Same goes for the couple of exercise classes I go to every week. And the same goes for the afternoon of creative writing I’ve started putting aside on a Friday. Same again for the weekly business development session, and the day of admin, finance and housekeeping once a month. You see my point.

Which brings us quite neatly on to my second point: come up with rules and stick to them. Unless I have commitments that are physically away from my work and out of the house, say a client meeting or a networking event, those daily essentials are non-negotiable. You wouldn’t expect a shop or a business to sack off their lunch-break to deal with you, would you? Well, likewise – clients can wait while you get your lunch and midday recharge. It’s not an unreasonable thing for you to have commitments: you’re a business like any other, so you need to work out what your company rules are, so to speak.

Sometimes, you’ll need to be tough with yourself. It might be that a client is pushing you to do more, or to do something more quickly, and you feel panicky saying no. Or, it might be that you’re the problem, and that you’re tempted to bend or break some of the rules because you’re feeling stressed. That’s fine as an exception – life happens and you do sometimes have to be more flexible than you’d like, but try and keep things in perspective, and stick to your ground rules wherever possible.

So, once you’ve got time for these regular internal commitments blocked out in your diary, you should be able to realistically assess how much time you’ve got for incoming work. You might be able to effectively block off more time if you’ve got regular clients who tend to give you a certain amount of work every day, week or month, too.

So, if you know you’ve got six press releases to write for a client each month, try and work out how long they’ll take you: from research, to drafting, to editing, to sending. That way, you’ll know how much time is accounted for with that client. Regular clients should be looked after – don’t short change them by missing deadlines or handing in rushed work, because you’ll end up jeopardising your working relationship with them.

When your regular internal and external commitments are blocked off, then – and only then – can you work out what to do with the rest of your incoming work.

 

Project Management Lifecycle

Project Management Lifecycle (Photo credit: IvanWalsh.com)

To be able to do that, you need to get a few key skills down pat. Firstly, you need to be able to prioritise – to look at the various pieces of work you have coming in, to decide which are the most urgent, to estimate how long they’re going to take you, and to order them accordingly.

There are other things to take into account as well – let’s not be mercenary, but if a piece of work is being offered at £300 while another is offered at just £50, it’s pretty clear which one is more desirable. But, at the same time, it might not be that simple: perhaps the lower paid piece of work is coming from a client who hires you every few months, whereas the £300 is from someone who only wants a one-off job. These are all things you have to weigh up. It’s a skill that comes over time, but by learning which order to get your incoming work done, you’ll be able to boost your productivity and make the most of your time.

Secondly, you need to be able to focus. Pip and I have chatted about this before, and it’s something that I struggled a bit with when I started out. I’d have 20 tabs open in my browser – anything from the Guardian, to an online browser game, to an online dictionary, to some research materials… you get the picture. Everything I was interested in, I would open.
The problem was, whenever I got bored or a bit stuck on a piece of work, it was so easy to hit CTRL tab and have a look at something else that it was taking a long time to finish a short piece of work. Sometimes it wasn’t boredom – it’d be my brain thinking about another piece of work: I’d be worrying about something I’d got coming up, whether I’d find time for it, and a hundred other things. But the result was the same: things were taking three or four times as long as they needed to and it was eating into my working week.

Now, I’ve realised that, although I’d often rather be reading the paper than writing about LED lighting, I value my free-time too much to be wasting time and mucking up my diary by not really focusing on the piece of work at hand.
So, when I’ve started a half-hour or hour-long session of work according to my diary, two things happen:

Number one, wasted windows get closed: Twitter goes off, Facebook follows suit, the Guardian gets closed and even my email inbox. Number two, if it’s a big piece of work that I’m really having trouble getting started on, I’ll often email Pip for an accountability session. Getting started really is the hardest part and, because I want to stick to my schedule, letting her know what I hope to achieve in the next 30 or 60 minutes makes me get stuck in.

The third skill you need as a freelancer is learning how to say no. This isn’t always a straight-out “No” – sometimes it’s a readjustment of the suggested terms.

When you start out, you’ll find that it’s easy to get into the habit of never refusing any work or imposing any conditions on a project. You’re scared that, if you do, you’ll never get any again. It’s a legitimate fear – clients are fickle, especially one-off clients, and if you turn someone down, or offer them terms they see as unfavourable, they might not come back: it’s true. But, you can’t do everything, with the best will in the world, it just doesn’t work.

There are a number of things you can try before you say “no” out right. Sometimes, a longer deadline will do. Other times, the deadline is so short, and it’s non-negotiable, so that a higher rate is appropriate – I considerably higher for work that needs to be completed over a weekend. Bear in mind, I mean work that is given to me on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, rather than something that was given to me in plenty of time but hasn’t been done because of the way I’ve organised my week – otherwise, I’d just leave everything until Saturday and retire at 30!

It does sometimes happen that a client will be overly demanding, expecting you to drop everything and deal with them first. As before, don’t take it personally: assess it objectively. You need to assess the pros and cons of this, because it’s absolutely not a good way to run your week. So ask yourself: one, is it worth it and two, does it keep happening? If it’s worth it, in terms of a long term or financial gain, and it’s an exception rather than an annoyingly repetitive state of affairs, you could try and have a rejig of your other work (it’s not always possible, but you can try). If not, as I said previously, suggest a readjustment of terms or politely refuse the work, explaining quite truthfully that you’re booked up. They might not like it, but you’re not being unreasonable.

The fourth skill I think is essential is knowing how to set realistic deadlines. As before, many new freelancers (and many experienced ones, actually) feel pushed to give clients really short deadlines. Pip and I have talked about this before, so I won’t go into it in too much detail, but make sure you take some time to discuss project details with a client before you give a deadline. Don’t let them rush you into agreeing to get a piece of work done in a week if it’s more likely to take you 10 to 14 days. Often a client will ask you for a deadline very early on in a conversation because they want to start mentally preparing their work around it, so make sure you value your time as much as they value theirs. We’ve all been there and there’s no amount of coffee that will make 6am starts and 2am finished look good.

The fifth point I want to talk about is boosting your creativity. Now, it might sound like an arty farty sort of thing, but as a freelance writer, you’re in a creative job so you need to make sure you’re not mentally burnt out. As I mentioned before, I have to get out at least once a day – simply because staring at four walls can be soul destroying. Likewise, I try and arrange a working lunch every week or so, and I go to a couple of day-time exercise classes every week, because it breaks my day up.

Similarly, I try not to finish work any later than about 6pm. Immediately after I’ve done for the day, I’ll turn my laptop off for a while, which gives me time to recharge my (and its!) batteries. Relaxation is important, as is sleep, as is good food and good company. Remember, freelancing is supposed to bring you flexibility, so make time for things that keep your head happy. Eat a proper cooked breakfast, go and work in a lovely little cafe for an hour or two, pop out for a brisk walk: while these things feel luxurious, they’ll do you the world of good. I can’t count the number of times I get a text from Pip as she’s off into town for a quick stomp in the fresh air – and what’s more, she always comes back full of energy and good ideas. You can tell from the tone that she’s happier, which means that she can get stuck into work that previously seemed daunting. And I’m exactly the same, so we must be doing something right!

If you find yourself chronically over busy, it might be time to consider increasing your rates – and that’s something that Pip and I are going to talk about in more detail in one of the up-coming episodes. If you’re finding that new clients (or indeed regular clients) are giving you more work than you can deal with, it might actually be that you’re too affordable – and this taps into what I was saying earlier about it not being mercenary to prioritise higher paid work.

You can’t do it all, so for the sake of your career, you need to make sure you’re getting the best rate possible for your time. Keep your eye on other freelancers to see if you can work out what they’re charging (some won’t mind telling you, others will keep it under their hats), have a look at rates (although don’t take too much notice of rates on freelancing websites, as many of these will be ridiculously low) and don’t be afraid to quote high if you’ve got too much on.

If it’s a case of increasing your rates for a client you’ve already got, as I say, Pip and I will be talking about the best ways to manage this process, but for now, all I’ll say i be diplomatic but not apologetic. You’re a business and you’re offering a service that people are clearly happy to pay for. Let your client know in the kindest of terms that your rates will be increasing, and expect that you might lose some clients. In any event, your work should even off and you should find yourself with less work and more money, which is always good.

So, I hope this episode has helped you to look at a few new ways of managing your time and projects as a freelancer. There’s so much to be gained from successful project management – both for yourself and for your clients. Cut out the distractions, plan your time, and you should find that you’ve got more space to breathe, and your clients are getting what they want when they want it. With no panic, which is great!

For more of our podcast episodes, which cover everything from the essential skills needed by freelancers to how to set SMART freelance goals for the New Year, please do go and subscribe to the podcast. You can get regular updates via iTunes, Stitcher Smart Radio, RSS or Facebook – or you can sign up on the podomatic page itself, at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com.

I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn – thanks so much for listening, as always, and Pip and I will catch you next time.

Podcast Episode 20: Goal Planning – Your Freelance Aims for 2013

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It’s the first day of a brand new year, so it is time to make some goals and set some aims for what you want your freelance business to achieve in 2013. In this episode, Lorrie and I discuss why goal-setting is a good idea, and we discuss some of the best ways to ensure that the goals you set are ones you can stick with. Enjoy, and happy new year!

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Show Notes

Moo.com

Understanding Advanced Search using Google Search

Transcript

LH: Hello and welcome to Episode 20 of A Little Bird Told Me – the podcast about the highs, the lows and the no-nos of successful freelance writing.

 

Resolutions 2012

Resolutions 2012 (Photo credit: simplyla)

You can subscribe to the podcast in a number of ways: just visit our podomatic page, at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com and subscribe via RSS feed, iTunes or Stitcher Smart radio – or just on the Podomatic page itself. That way, you’ll never miss another episode. Additionally, there you can find the link to our Facebook page and to the numerous websites and social media feeds of myself and the lovely Pip. I’m Lorrie Hartshorn.

PW: And I’m Philippa Willitts, and welcome to the first A Little Bird Told Me of 2013! 20 episodes in – I’m not sure we when we started that we ever thought we’d get to this point – but the podcast is happier and healthier than ever, with lots of listeners and the number 2 spot on Podomatic, which is amazing! Today we’re going to be talking about setting goals for yourself as a freelancer, goals for both you and your business, starting out with why setting goals for yourself is so important.

LH: While lots of people might be just getting over their hangovers and setting out their New Year’s Resolutions around now, the kind of goals we’re talking about are those that will help to move you and your business forward. And, unlike New Year’s Resolutions, they’re not designed to be conveniently forgotten about at the earliest possible opportunity like that whole “I’m going to go to the gym four times a week!” one that I totally didn’t resolve to do!

PW: Or don’t eat chocolate ever again.

LH: Yes! Someone said to me, “Why don’t you give up chocolate for a year?”

PW: Why on Earth would you want to do that? You might get hit by a car in August and spend your last moments wondering why you’ve missed out on eight months of chocolate.

LH: Can you imagine if it you got hit by a Cadbury’s truck?

PW: That’s a beautiful short story.

LH: Thank you! I might note it down!

PW: Yes, so like Lorrie said, resolutions tend to last about a week or two, whereas setting goals can be a really useful exercise to make sure you are achieving the things you want to achieve, and going in the right direction. It can help you to stay motivated, as well, and can make sure you do tasks you might overlook otherwise.

LH: Yeah, definitely a good way to keep on track. So, first of all, what types of goals might freelance writers set – or freelance anythings, for that matter? It makes sense to split your desired goals into two areas: personal development and business development. Personal development would include things like training, courses, research and all kinds of things that will help you to improve your knowledge and skills. Business development aims are wider goals, really – what you can do outside your writing and editing savvy to make sure you win clients, keep current clients (and yourself!) happy and grow your business, improve your marketing as time moves on.

PW: I agree that’s a good way to divide them up. I’d add an extra area though, because it ties in to one of my own most important goals for this year. Because we know, as freelancers, how work and not-work can easily merge into one big half-working situation, so I’d add a work-life balance section, because one of my goals is… *drum roll* to take a whole week off in one go. Not divided up, so two days here and there, but a whole week in one go, and in a very planned way so I can get extra work done the week before and inform all my clients in advance. But a whole week off in one go. Radical, eh?

LH: Haha, it’s the sort of thing I’ve only ever dreamed of! But no, you’re right – joking aside, I’ve done it a couple of times. Freelancers, like anyone else, we’ve got the right – and the need – to take a really good stretch of time off in one go. It’s important to recharge your batteries, so yes, let’s go with three areas, then – personal development, business development and work-life balance.

PW: Awesome. In order to start setting goals, you need to know what you are aiming for. Otherwise they might be a bit pointless and lead you nowhere. Ask yourself where you want to be this time next year. Do you want to be earning more? Do you want to have specialised more? Do you want more regular clients? Or, equally valid, do you love everything as it is, and want it to be just the same? If you know where you want to be, you can start to make a plan to get there.

LH: Yes, I think people tend to have vague hopes for where they want to be in a year’s time and they’re happy to see where the road takes them when it comes to achieving them. Sometimes, if you’re in a salaried position in a company, that’s an OK tack to take. The company you work for will develop externally of you, and you can base your own development on where that takes you. Say, whether you decide to spend more time on training and development, whether you decide to work towards an internal promotion or whether you decide to change companies – or even career.

LH: If you’re freelancing, though, you don’t really have the luxury of ruminating on your goals for the year. You are your business, and you need to keep those plates spinning. Setting realistic, sensible and forward-looking goals is a great way to do that.

PW: Absolutely. The way I’m looking at it, in terms of my own goal setting, is that there are big goals and there are small, regular goals. So you might set a bigger goal, that by the end of the year you will have had 4 short stories accepted for publication in anthologies. That can be broken down, so you know that if you get one accepted every three months, you are on track to succeed. Alternatively, you can set smaller, regular goals, such as an aim to contact 20 new prospects every month, or earn £2,000 a month. Rather than aiming for one massive achievement, committing to regular, smaller achievements can help it to stay realistic and feel attainable.

LH: This is it – it’s a question of eating an elephant, isn’t it?

PW: Hahaha, it is!

LH: I’m hungry, I’m sorry! I’m vegetarian, which is more worrying still!

PW: I’m not, but I really like elephants!

LH: You want your goals to make a real difference to you by the time a year’s up – it’s a good stretch of time, but time is easy to lose – but that doesn’t mean you have to go charging in and trying to transform your life in one fell swoop. In fact, I’d agree with Pip on this and recommend smaller goals that add up to one big one over time. If you make your goals bite-size and regular, they’ll be far easier to incorporate into your already busy life.

PW: Yes, and if you have one massive goal to achieve by next January, it’s pretty easy to ignore it until…say, November! Whereas if you need to something this week, then next week, then the week after. It makes it easier to keep on track.

LH: Definitely, I keep a paper diary as I’ve mentioned before and I’ve gone through my diary at the beginning of the year and blocked off Friday afternoons for creative writing. Once it’s blocked off, it’s achievable.

PW: Absolutely, like Lorrie says, making a huge change isn’t what we’re talking about. You can’t realistically expect massive change overnight.

LH: So, when it comes to sitting down and figuring out your goals, you might feel a bit stuck. Which ones to choose? Which ones to pass up? Why? After all, how do you know if something’s a good goal to have? Pip and I want to recommend a goal-setting method that’s used by many organisations as a way of outlining KPIs – or key performance indicators – and making sure that goals are achievable and easy to keep track of.

PW: That’s right. It’s one of the most well-known ways of goal setting, and it’s called the SMART framework – it helps you to set goals which are specific, measurable, attainable realistic, and time sensitive.

LH: Yep. While it is sometimes tempting to dismiss templates like this as cheesy ideas, there’s a reason they’re so popular: it’s because they’re effective. As I mentioned earlier, it’s not a good idea to try and wing it when it comes to a freelance career and being self-employed. So, even if you feel a bit silly or cynical when it comes to setting goals in line with a specific framework, as I did at first, like the SMART method, it’s still worth sitting down and actually spending some time doing it.

LH: The fact is, if outlining a few goals in line with the framework is difficult for you, your business is probably lacking a bit of direction. And remember, spending a few hours on something like this might feel like a waste of time, particularly in the busy New Year period, because it’s not earning you money, but it’ll set you up really well for the year ahead.

PW: So if we start by looking at specific, then in terms of one of the possible goals we mentioned, let’s look at pay. Do you want to earn £30,000 this year? “Earn more” is no good, choose the wage you want to attain. A target for earnings is also nicely measurable – it’s easy to tell whether you’ve met your goal or not.

PW: Other specific and measurable goals might be that you want to send 5 pitches every week, or gain 5 new clients.

LH: Probably not five new clients a week, though!

PW: Haha, no, I meant in general, perhaps regular clients!

LH: Phew, I was starting to think I was lagging behind quite significantly in terms of marketing there!

PW: Setting goals which are attainable and realistic is very important. If you’ve earned £12,000 this last year and your aim for 2013 is to become a millionaire, then I hate to break it to you but you’re unlikely to succeed.

LH: you cynic!

PW: I know! You might, of course, but as goals go, it’s not that attainable or realistic.

LH: Definitely. There’s always this big dream, especially when we read about lucky ducks who’ve become overnight millionaires, but you’re setting yourself up for disappointment if you don’t keep your goals realistic.
For this reason, I think it’s important to brainstorm a few ideas when it comes to trying to find attainable goals. On the one hand, you don’t want to rest on your laurels and end up with a five-year plan that consists of “Do the same as last year”, then “Ditto, ditto, ditto, ditto.” That’s cheating, so don’t do that!

Writing Resolutions

Writing Resolutions (Photo credit: Tojosan)

You need to devise goals that are aspirational but not entirely out of reach; goals that motivate you because you can visualise ways to achieve them, maybe three, six or twelve months down the line. On the other hand, though, while you should have to reach for your goals – and use them as a means of advancing – don’t go reaching for the stars unless you’ve got a space ship. This isn’t a film, it’s a business, so keep things sensible. What I’m saying, really, is that it’s crucial to find a balance.

PW: Yes, if you set them too high, you’re likely to look at them go, “I can’t do it.” Whereas, if they’re too easy, it might keep you ticking along nicely but if you want to progress, you won’t if your goal is, “Do a bit of work once a week.”

Goals which are timely are those which have a particular length of time in mind for when you want to achieve them. Going back to wanting to have 4 short stories accepted into anthologies. That’s a nice goal, but if it’s in general you will have no motivation to make it happen this year. As a goal to achieve before the end of the year, you will be much more proactive. Similarly do you want to earn £30,000 this year, or in total for the rest of your life?! So, set time limits. When goals have a time limit, this helps them to be measurable too. All these different factors play into each other to create goals that are pretty resilient.

LH: Absolutely. I think this touches on a really important point that’s worth reiterating. While goals should be a really positive, motivating way to start your New Year, there’s no point spending a half-day or day outlining them if you feel comfortable sacking them off a week or a month later. That’s another reason it’s so important to make sure you address all of the factors above – if you choose unsuitable goals, you’re more likely to think (probably correctly) that they were a bad plan in the first place and shouldn’t be stuck to.

PW: Absolutely. Once you have set your goals, you need to stick to them or, as Lorrie has just said, they are a pointless exercise. Think about the things that, in general, help you to stay accountable. Some people make sure they tell other people their New Year’s Resolutions, so that if they are caught smoking, or eating pizza, they can’t pretend they weren’t supposed to!

LH: Yeah, accountability is a really important thing. I like to make quite a thing of my annual goals by writing them down on a really big bit of A3 card in my office. Also, for smaller goals, the fridge – no kidding! – is a really good place to have them. Particularly personal goals. I head to the kitchen several times a day – for tea, lunch, dinner, snacks, whatever – and to have the goals there where everyone can see them and I can be reminded of them really does help.

PW: Something that can help me is having something that reminds me of why I chose that goal in the first place. If I’ve lost my motivation and can’t be bothered, then being reminded that I’m doing this because of x, y and z can boost my enthusiasm for the project again! If I don’t want to send out another pitch but I can contextualise it and remember why I’m doing it, it’s a boost.

LH: Ooh, you could have your one-week holiday destination there on a lovely postcard!

PW: Yes! Setting up a regular time each month, or each week, to monitor how you are getting on is a good idea.

For instance on the first of each month I do all my financial stuff. I think I’m going to add goal monitoring to that day each month. I can review whether I am meeting my goals, exceeding them, or failing entirely. If you revisit them in this way then you can decide if they actually need revising – if by April you’ve had 6 short stories accepted, then change your goal to keep going.  Whereas, if you’ve had none by September, then perhaps aim for 2 by the end of the year in that case. There’s no point stubbornly sticking to a wrong goal just because it’s what you decided on the 1st Jan.

LH: definitely – and this is one more reason your goals should be measureable.

PW: Absolutely. Regular reviewing and monitoring can help you to check your goals are realistic and attainable, and if one is clearly very wrong, it gives you the chance to do something about it. It can also give you a kick up the bum if you’ve got lazy on one or two.

LH: it’s true – t’s easy to get lazy at the best of times. Also, if you’re new to goal setting and freelancing, it’s a bit of a shock to the system to realise you’re the only driving force behind your own career. It can be scary, and New Year can be a scary time anyway and a lot of people tend to have real existential crises – “What am I doing with my life? Where’s this all going? What does it all mean?” But by having it all bullet pointed nicely and what have you, you can see what you’re doing, go back and revisit it. As Pip says, don’t stick with something if it’s not working – give it a go (hopefully the tips in this episode will help you come up with some goals worth sticking to!) but don’t stick to something arbitrarily if it’s not working.

LH: The next thing we want to discuss is what to do if you don’t stick to your goals. And, as Pip just said, making time to assess your performance in line with your goals should make it easy for you to see how you’re getting on. Again, as with the setting of the goals in the first place, don’t try and cheat your way out of your assessments.

PW: You’re only cheating yourself! Haha!

LH: It might well be tempting to skip a weekly or monthly goal check, especially if you know 100% that you’ve been really flaky on one or two (or even all) of them, but you’re only kidding yourself. The sooner you look at your goals, the sooner you can iron out any problems.

If you find that all’s not well in the homestead, you need to work out what’s happening. Depending on how you work best, you might want to sit down on your own and have a little ‘heart to heart’ with yourself on why something’s not gone to plan. Or, if you have a trusted person like a partner, colleague, friend or family member, maybe sit down with them and try and pinpoint the issue.

It might be that the original goal is fine – you’re just not quite going about achieving it in the right way. Or, it might be that the goal needs some tinkering. I think that’ll often depend on whether it’s a small, medium or large goal – if you find that you’re in month six and your plan was to earn £30,000 in the year, but you’re only on £5,000, there’s obviously a real issue that might need you to shift one of the goal-posts as well as altering your working methods as well.

PW: Yes, an important point to make here is that reviewing and possibly revising them is not to be used to get out of a task you’re bored of. It’s strictly for goals which it has become clear were totally out of whack, one way or another.

LH: Good point. If you get three months in and find that your goal of keeping better track of your finances by having a weekly session with your online banking interface and your spreadsheets is boring, it’s not an excuse to lay your hand across your forehead and bemoan that, “This is not for me…this was THE WRONG GOAL” As long as a goal is going according to plan, leave it alone and just do it.

LH: The next thing we wanted to talk about is what to do if you’ve achieved/exceeded your goals. As Pip mentioned above, achieving your goal early isn’t an excuse to sit back and relax for the rest of the year. There are different ways of dealing with a goal that’s been met, and it’ll very much depend on the type of goal. Say you started the year wanting to earn £30,000 in the twelve month period, and you achieve that sum by month nine, there are two ways of looking at the situation. Either you go on and try to continue earning at the same rate (never a bad thing!), and increase your desired earnings for the next year, or you can take a little time and concentrate on other things. Or, invest some of the ‘extra’ funds in more training and development. Better still, treat yourself to a few nice things – life is for living, after all 😉

PW: Or, you could take my goal to an extreme and just take the final 3 months of the year off!! Not if you ever want your clients back, however.

LH: Yeah, I can’t see many of my clients welcoming me back with open arms after a three-month break!

PW: That is one of the fears of taking time off, isn’t it? If they need to find another copywriter to cover you for a week, then they’ve got another copywriter on their books!

LH: What I’ve always tended to do is mention the holiday *way* in advance and prepare, say, news articles before the week or two weeks comes around. The last thing we want is some other copywriter coming in and smooching up our clients!

PW: Yes, that’s absolutely my plan actually. Warn regular clients, and do as much in advance as I can.

LH: As long as you know when you’re going to be off, you should be fine – you have a good level of communication with your clients, they know from experience that you’re committed to keeping the work at a good standard and they know you’re flexible, punctual and accommodating.

PW: Aww thank you! And yeah, that’s the thing. It’s not like I’ve taken no time off this year, it’s just that it’s been a bit ad hoc – if I was having a quiet week I’d have a few days off. This is different because it will have to be planned far in advance.

LH: And you’re quite entitled. While being a freelancer is a bit different to being salaried, in that you are your business, you’re still very much entitled to some time off. I think, as well, there’s a tendency to think too big when it comes to taking time off. Because you’re used to being so busy when you’re self-employed, and to carrying the whole business, you feel like the world will end when you don’t check your emails for a day or so.

PW: Even an hour!

LH: Haha, I didn’t want to say it, but yes! The funny thing is, though, that other people don’t even notice – it’s sod’s law! You have to remember that people aren’t sitting there focusing on you, you, you. Think about it – I don’t send an email and then sit there wondering when that one person will get back to me. I expect a delay of some hours or days, depending on the query.

PW: It’s true, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that sitting in your inbox is your DREAM assignment, with a 25 minute acceptance limit.
LH: This assignment will self-destruct in T-minus five minutes…

PW: Exactly!!

LH: Joking aside, I think a nice, specific out-of-office will tide you over absolutely fine for a week 🙂

PW: I haven’t told you this yet, but my auto-responder will probably say, “If you have a copywriting emergency, please do contact Lorrie”!

LH: Um, thanks?! Good to know I’m recommendable. Maybe I can be your Little Bird Recommendation for the week!

Little Bird Recommendations

PW: Lorrie, as transitions go, that was SEAMLESS. Beautifully done.

LH: Why thank you! Just one more reason to recommend me, I guess 😉

PW: Maybe next time! So what’s your recommendation this week?

LH: So, this week, my recommendation will be put to shame by Pip’s, but it’s nice and simple: business cards! I got caught out last week when I met a prospective new client, reached into my hand bag for a card and realised that I’d changed my handbag. For new freelancers, I’d recommend you get on the internet and have a look for free business card samples. My personal favourite is Moo.com – they offer 10 free business cards, totally personalised, so get them, and stick them in your wallet!

PW: Like you say, when you go out shopping, you’re not actively looking for clients, but you do want to be prepared. I do keep some in the back of my diary, as back up, really.
Now, my recommendation is a course I took recently. I found it on Alison.com and I think it’s fair to say that the quality on there varies a lot. But this one, I loved. I am a bit of a search geek, so when I saw they had an “Advanced Search on Google” course, taught by a guy from Google, I couldn’t resist. It didn’t disappoint. I already used a few of the tips, such as putting a minus in front of the terms you don’t want to include. I remember, I got glue ear once, and searched for it on Google, but realised most people who get it are toddlers and babies, so I searched for “glue ear” minus babies, minus toddlers, minus children!
Another one of the advanced search functions I use is searching within a certain time frame. For example, if I need current statistics, but I google and find results from 2009-10, that’s no use. So I search within the last week or month. But there were so many more tips and tricks and they’ll help me a lot in the searches I do when researching articles. Even if you’re strangely not like me, and excited by searches, you can still benefit from this course. The link’s in the show notes at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, the course is free – it’s about four hours of video, perhaps a bit less.

LH: And please, if you’re interested in search, please, please get in touch with Pip because she needs some like-minded friends! Please don’t make me to talk to her about search any more. When you decide to become a freelance writer, you think, “Ah, writing! I like that, I can do that!” but what you don’t realise is how much you’ll have to baby step clients through finding up to date, relevant information for their stories.

PW: that’s often why they hire you – because they don’t have time to do it.

LH: It’s also something to pop on your CV and on the training section of your website. People like to think they’re getting value for money, and if they see you’ve just taken a course, they’ll like that.

PW: Plus, people hire me to write about search so it’s my duty to take training on it. Also, I love it!

LH: Haha, I knew that was the real reason! I can see you rolling around in search print-outs.

PW: Life wouldn’t be interesting if we all liked the same kind of thing.

LH: True, we both love grammar, for example.

PW: Me too! What I really find interesting is when someone whose first language isn’t Eglish uses a particularly word order or grammatical formulation because that’s how they’d normally do it in German or Swedish, for example.

LH: That’s a service I offer, actually – it’s called target text only editing. So, you’ll have a text that’s been translated from, say, Swedish to English, and there’ll be mistakes in there that, if you have no knowledge of Swedish, you won’t understand why they’re there or what they’re supposed to mean. So it’s a cross between translation and editing, really, and it’s something I do offer because I can see why someone’s put what they’ve put, take it back to the original language and try and decipher what was meant.

PW: I used to know the only Welsh to Swedish translator in the world!

LH: That’s fabulous!

PW: There wasn’t a whole load of work, but what there was, she got! She was Swedish, went to Uni in Wales and as well as picking up English, perfected Welsh as well.

LH: Right, anyway!

PW: So yes, we’re both geeks in our little…well, big ways!

LH: So, we hope you’ve enjoyed this podcast and that it’s a really positive way of getting into the swing of things for 2013, by setting some goals that will help drive you and your business forward.

PW: And come over to our Facebook page and tell us what your goals are!

LH: Yes, tell us how you’ve used the SMART framework to come up with some self-employment goals. Pip and I might share some of our own as well.

PW: Thank you so much for listening, we really hope you’ve enjoyed this episode. I’ve been Philippa Willitts…

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

 

Podcast Episode 18: How to Network Like a Ninja

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Networking. It might not be your favourite thing, but it’s pretty much essential for any freelancer. In this podcast episode, Lorrie and I talk about  why networking is important, and how best to go about it. Like a ninja, obviously.

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Show Notes

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Transcript

Episode 18: Networking like a ninja!

PW: Hello, and welcome to Episode 12 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, and you can also find the link to our Facebook page. I’m Philippa Willitts…

 

English: High Speed Business Networking Event ...

English: High Speed Business Networking Event by JCI Français : Événement de rencontres d’Affaires à très haute vitesse organisé par la JCI et l’association EGEE (Entente des Générations pour l’Emploi et l’Entreprise) en partenariat dans les locaux de France Télécom (Paris, Gare de Châtelet – Les Halles en 2006). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

LH: Today we’re talking about something that doesn’t seem to come naturally to a lot of writers and copywriters, and that’s face-to-face networking. Even if you’re not a natural networker, it’s a really valuable skill to have and one you can learn and improve on as your business grows. By following a few easy rules – and we’ll cover these in the course of this podcast – you can turn networking from what’s basically a necessary evil into something that really works for you and your business.

PW: Networking is not my favourite thing, I find it awkward, and getting the right line between self-promotion – which is pretty much why you’re there – and not being pushy – which puts people off – is hard. Because I’m so averse to being pushy I have a really bad tendency, at networking events, to make polite conversation, listen to what other people have to say, and do a very poor job at marketing myself. However it is something I’m constantly working on. I go to these things fairly regularly – at least partly so I can improve – and also, because it’s actually pretty vital as a freelancer, especially if you primarily do commercial copywriting.

LH: It’s interesting that you say that you go to them for practice, because it’s very much like going for an interview just for the experience. Networking events can be quite daunting, and what you mentioned about going along but just listening to other people is exactly the kind of thing this podcast episode will hopefully help our lovely listeners to avoid. There’s no point going to a networking event if you get there and find you can’t make it work for you. You really have to know how to ‘work the room’, to use a horrible bit of salesy speech there, you have to get in, get done and get out because other people are certainly going to. And yes, while networking might not be your cup of tea – it’s wasn’t mine at first, but I’ve got used to it really – but it’s hugely important for a number of reasons.

PW: One thing that’s really important is that, going into these events thinking, “I must sell myself!” is obvious and offputting. It’s important to let others talk too, and listen. If you go in and say, “Hi, I’m a copywriter and I can write your website for you!” and they’ve just had their website done, you’re of no interest to them. But if you properly listen to them talk about their business, you’re in a great position to identify what their needs are. So you can tailor your offerings to what they need. If they say, “I’ve had a new website done, but I’m wondering how to let the press know.” Then, you can talk to them about how good you are at writing press releases.
So a good way to pitch yourself right is to listen first, then talk.

LH: As long as you don’t both just listen first. Really quiet networking event! But no, you’re right, listening’s really important; people can tell straight away when you’re faking it – your eyes glaze over and if you’ve got nothing insightful to offer by the time they’ve finished speaking, they’re going to know you weren’t listening.

One thing I would add is that, as a copywriter, you ahev to be a good listener. The information you’re going to use is going to come from the client, so you need to be able to email or phone someone to elicit that information. So if you don’t listen properly at a networking event, you’re not setting yourself up for a good future working relationship with them.

PW: You’ll probably get three sentences from them, initially, and you’ll have to fill 24 pages. So what you have to do is get good at asking the right questions and reflect things back, listening properly until they’ve said everything you need to know. It’s quite a difficult skill to develop but it’s a valuable one.

LH: It makes people feel valued as well. It makes people feel like you’re investing time in them, and it’s great for building up trust at networking events. People like talking about themselves and they like someone who makes it easy for them to do that. No one wants to feel like they’re boring everyone silly.  You don’t have to pretend to be fascinated by everything they’re saying, but if you’ve chosen an appropriate event to go to, you should know who’s going to be there and have done some research to ensure that you know what people are selling or producing, and to know where you’re headed in the room so there’s plenty of interest to you.

PW: One thing that’s vital before attending a networking event is to prepare an Elevator Pitch. The idea behind this is, if you were to get into an elevator with Bill Gates, your elevator pitch is the perfect summary of what you do that would get you from the ground to the top floor in order that, by the top floor, Bill Gates would be investing in your business.

This is basically a summary of your business and what you offer, condensed to the amount of time it takes to go up a building in a lift. If you can shrink what you do and what you offer into a perfectly worded 10 seconds, once you’ve mastered it, you have a really good place to start when face to face networking. I adapt and update my elevator pitch all the time. It’s a bit like my website – I’m never 100% happy with it but the more I use it and the more I practice it, the better it gets. At networking events, you need to make a quick impression at a networking event, so if you start by stumbling over, “Yeah, I’m a writer…what do I write? All sorts of stuff really, whatever you need writing I can write, and….” then people will lose interest straight away. They don’t have time to listen to you ramble.

LH: I think there are two, maybe three types of people at networking events normally. One type is the people who don’t really know why they’re there, so they lose interest very quickly. The second is the normal people, I’d like to say, like you and me…

PW: Hahaha, that’s optimistic!

LH: Haha! Well, you’ve got to be! Live in hope, yeah? But the third type, I think, are very aggressive salesy people. If you don’t hit them straight away with a confident pitch, they’ll give you an amused smirk that says,

“Why are you here?”

So, yes, for me, a confident delivery makes all the difference. I’m small, I’m female, and many networking events are very man focused. The last one I went to, I went with a 49-year-old woman, and we were asked, “What are you girls here for?”

PW: Uuuugh!

LH: I was like, “Business – same as everyone else! So yes, for me, confident delivery is everything. As we’ve mentioned before, there’s no shame in owning your own business, and owning the fact that you own your own business. You’ll look unprofessional if you get blushy and worried about describing the services that you offer. Go in there, ignore your nerves and make sure you’re well prepared.

PW: If you want people to believe that you’re the professional you say you are, then you have to present yourself in that way.

Another vital, vital point about networking events, probably the biggest piece of advice I can give you – trust me on this – is, well, go and listen to episode 14, “Mistakes We’ve Made”, and hear my awful error. Seriously. It involves foul language and a massive internal censor failure! So yes, if you just want one absolutely, “Don’t do this at networking events.”, go and have a listen.

LH: It helped me, actually. I went to an event recently, and it was in my head the whole time. I was worried that it was going to be one of those things that was in my head so much that I’d actually end up saying it – but eventually, all was well, everything went well, and I have you to thank.

PW: So, there are quite a few benefits of Networking Events and we wanted to talk about those. Firstly, they get you out and about.  We’ve talked a lot about combatting isolation – we had an episode dedicated to that topic specifically – episode 11 -, and also it comes up regularly in other episodes – freelancers can get very isolated if they live and work at home. Even the most antisocial of freelancers needs human contact once in a while, and networking events are a good way of getting yourself out there. You meet other people who are self-employed and have the chance to promote your business and meet people who can help you too.

LH: Yeah, I think this is another reason to research the events you’re going to go to – don’t just go to any.

You’re supposed to enjoy yourself, at least a little – it’s not supposed to be Hell on Earth, you’re supposed to able to make valuable contacts and stretch the benefits out over the long-term. So if you really research, you can end making some really good contacts – people you’ll come back to again and again, people you can network with, collaborate with, share tips with – anything really. It’s brilliant for getting you out and about as long as you go to the right events.

The second benefit of networking events we wanted to mention is that face-to-face communication is really powerful. It might seem sort of counter intuitive hearing a writer saying that, but it just changes things up really.

With an email, for example, you have a whole range of tools under your belt, but with face-to-face communication, you have tone of voice, a smile, you’re in front of the person so they can’t escape or just click delete on you – there’s that boundary of politeness really, they can’t just get rid of you! You smile at someone, you disarm them – not literally, obviously…

PW: Haha, ninja networking!

LH: Haha, not my kind of event, but don’t let me judge! But yes, face-to-face communication does open channels that an email might not.

PW: Yes, if they’ve just got an email from you, they can hit delete. But, if you’re there in front of them, unless they are a ninja networker with a wide array of violent moves, they have to listen for a bit, as Lorrie says!

LH: This is true – they’re a captive audience, especially if you get them backed up behind the coffee and biscuits, or catch them while they’re behind their stand. They can’t just say, “No!” and walk away. This is why your elevator pitch is so important – it’s your ninja death star, and you can get your prospects quickly!

PW: The third benefit we identified is that networking widens your exposure and increases brand awareness. People, especially business people, hear and see and read about lots of local business, service providers, whereas if they’ve met you a few times or gone home with your business card. If you then email them, they’re more likely to remember you. It makes your brand more sticky in their mind.

LH: One thing I would add is that you should get yourself some lovely business cards. It’s really worth it, even just 100 to start off with. Get something really nice and hand it out – make sure you’re not shy about giving your card, shake hands with people, give them your card, because then people have a physical reminder of you after the day.

PW: Another benefit of face-to-face networking events is that it’s more personal than a pitch email. You’re a lot more memorable if you’re face to face than if you just send out an email which could be from anybody. If they can picture you in your mind, it humanises the person behind the pitch.

LH: Definitely, and it taps into what we said about listening to people when you meet them. If you pay attention, shake hands, make good eye contact, give open body language, or give your number, or arrange a coffee, they’ll remember you. There are lots of things you can do by email, but these aren’t those, so change things up.

PW: Definitely. When someone’s in front of you, you can respond to them a lot better: if they look bored, you can change tack. If they seemed bored but perked up when you said something in particular, you can work out that that’s what they’re interested in. They’re more likely to remember you as a human rather than an email, and to remember that you were talking to them personally.

LH: That’s it – it’s great when you’re face to face with someone to talk about how your services can help their business success.

PW: Yes, and that doesn’t mean telling them about everything you do. It means listening to them and spotting what they need.

LH: Yes, otherwise, it’s overwhelming. So, the fifth benefit of face to face networking is something we’ve touched on already, and that’s that your audience is more receptive: people are actually there for that specific person – they’re not sitting down having lunch when they receive your email; they’re not having a coffee when you give them a sales call. You’re all there for the same reason.

PW: Yes, people go there knowing that they’re going to promote their work, but also knowing that other people will be promoting their work as well.

LH: Do you know, the last networking event I went to, I went with a friend and client. When we got there, we homed in on the biscuit and coffee station because that’s where everyone wants to be. We started doing the rounds, after a while, and we came to these two tiny men, gripping a table and looking terrified. I went to them and I was chatting to them, but they were like rabbits in headlights, so I started out with a “Tell me about yourselves!” kind of opener. One of them looked at me and said, “Oh  no, you’ll have to talk to him about that!”. The other one, his eyes sort of rolled back in his head and he gave me a huge long list, and I tried to get some interaction going, but he was unstoppable. There was no reason for me to be there at all, and that’s someone who really wasn’t receptive, but only through terror.

PW: I’ve met loads of people who just list what they do, or the history of their company. The last event I was at, I got talking to this guy who was saying, “Yeah, I do this, and in 1980, we opened, and in 1984, we changed premises, and then in 1992…” and I was just standing there, not knowing what to say. And even I’d had something to say, he wasn’t up for listening. All the way through, I was wondering what I could offer him, and there was nothing!

Open Coffee Cardiff, Free Business Networking ...

Open Coffee Cardiff, Free Business Networking Event (Photo credit: YODspica)

LH: A pillow and a brandy!

PW: He didn’t have a website or any written material, so I clearly can’t help him.

LH: I suppose it’s a point though: you stood there and listened to him, which proves how receptive the audience is – especially British people.

PW: It’s true! I stood there for ten minutes and said barely 20 words. It was hard work.

LH: Yeah it sounds it – and I suppose it takes us neatly on to benefit six, which is that networking helps you hone your presentation and verbal communication skills for a change. Because obviously, what we normally work with is the written word.

PW: When you’re used to doing most of you communication in a written way, you get used to being able to edit things or coming back to things – or even nipping on to Thesaurus.com. You get used to having time to think things through. When you want to be impressive verbally, it’s quite a different set of skills.

LH: yeah, you have to brush off the dust bunnies and come out of your hole – “Hello world, I’m still here!”

PW: Yes, and just be a lot more spontaneous.

LH: I don’t think a lot of clients realise what a massive gap there is between written and verbal communication. While you might be very comfortable with one, ie. Written communication, verbal communication is very different. I can go a whole day without speaking if I’m alone in the house. So yeah, getting your presentation skills sorted and boosting your verbal communication skills, it’s a great opportunity.

PW: Yeah, and most of the people you’re with aren’t master after-dinner speakers, so they won’t worry if you stumble over a word. So it’s a good way to reminding your brain to be quick, persuasive and to do it without planning.

LH: Good point. And face-to-face, you can smile if you forget a word, or say, “You know what I mean” and rescue the situation with visual clues.

PW: Definitely, definitely. The final benefit that we thought of was, actually, as well as meeting people who might want to hire you, you can also meet people you could work with too. I know Lorrie’s having a website redesign at the moment. You might go to a networking event and meet a designer. Or you might need a lawyer and meet one there. There’s a good chance that you can meet people who offer those services at a networking event.

LH: I tend to find, actually, that graphic designers, web designers and software designers networking in a very similar way to copywriters. Although we deal with different things, I think we’re a similar breed. But it tends to be quite a friendly networking experience, dealing with designers in particular. The way of working is quite similar and it’s quite beneficial to make these contacts, actually, as writers often need to recommend designers and designers often need to recommend writers.

LH: One thing I would say, and it comes from personal experience and personal frustration is that you should only really make connection with people you’re interested in. And when you do make good contact, honour that with an email or phone-call.

PW: Yes, don’t be tempted to blast an email out to all 38 people you met saying, “Hey, great to meet you yesterday, hire me!” – it doesn’t work.

LH: Yes, personalise your email communication. Email your matches as soon as you get back, while you’re fresh in their minds, and try to organise the next step with them. Don’t take it too far – as Pip just said, don’t be all, “Hire me, hire me, hire me!”

It’s good to take it easy, though – suggest coffee or a working lunch if you need to chat more. If they’re further away, a Skype call might be the way forward. Reconnect with them!

PW: Definitely. It’s also important to remember that you might meet someone and think they’re perfect, but they might not remember you as well – so give them a little prompt about who you were and what you discussed. It’s not personal, it’s not that you did a bad job, it might just be that you weren’t immediately what they were looking for.

Something I do, immediately after the event, is to write a note on the business cards I’ve collected – usually the date and where I met them, but also any other pertinent points that you might want to remember. You might think you’ll remember, but a week later, you don’t.

LH: I always think after events, that I’m going to start an excel file and type all the info in, but do you know what, that’s what business cards are for! Get a box, put some dividers in there and, as Pip says, put some notes on the cards and keep them in one place.

PW: I know some people swear by these phone apps where you can take a picture of the cards with your phone – it can extract the info and store it all, so if you want something more hi-tech, it’s worth looking into.

LH: I suppose even without an app, you could keep jpgs on your computer. A bit of a faff for me, but it could work.

I think I’d sum up about business networking events by saying, “Don’t be fake.” Don’t fake interest in people, don’t waste people’s time. Not everyone’s going to hire you, so choose your targets.

PW: Similarly, don’t feel obliged as though you’re going to hire someone if you’re not.

LH: True – you can be friendly and receptive, but let people know that, you know, “Thanks for your time, not really something I’m looking at at the moment. Don’t say you’re interested in hearing from someone if you’re not; don’t say you’ll contact someone if you won’t.

PW: And be aware that the things you might get out of the event might not be clients – there are all the benefits we mentioned above. Even if you go and you’re rubbish, you’ll be better next time!

A few weeks ago, we started the Little Bird Recommendations, in which we both share something worthwhile with our listeners every week. So, my Little Bird recommendation this week is a blog post. Quite often, if you submit work, you can be really confident with your a magazine article or a short story, the editor will nonchalantly add, “Oh, and send a photo and a short bio too, ok?”. I don’t know what it is about the words short bio that strikes fear in the heart of many writers, but lots and lots of people do find them incredibly difficult to write. Similarly with “about me” pages on your website. So my recommendation is a blog post entitled Writing About Yourself When You Hate It and it’s from Angela Booth’s Fab Freelance Writing blog, but don’t worry about remembering that, just check the show notes and there will be a link there. She gives some great advice about how to write about yourself, specifically to do with author bios, and anyone who finds themselves cringing when asked to write one should find it really useful.

LH: I’ll certainly give it a look – I often have to send them with my creative writing.

PW: Yes, it really does strike fear into people’s hearts – considering you’ve just written 2,000 words for someone, it’s funny that another 75 is so scary!

LH: I think it’s easy to be contrived when you’re trying to write an author’s bio. I can only speak from a creative perspective, really, but it’s difficult. It’s very much like trying to be taken seriously with your business: you want to be taken seriously as a writer, but creative writing can be quite embarrassing in a way because it’s quite intimate. You want to come over as someone who’s seriously a good writer, because you’ve been published, so you must be quite a good writer, but at the same time, you don’t want to take yourself to seriously, so here’s a funny anecdote about me but, OH GOD, what if they don’t find it funny? What if they think I’m a loser?!

PW: People always want a comedy last line, don’t they? “And I spend too much time with my cat!”. It’s hard to pitch it right – sometimes you read brilliant ones, but other times you think, “I see what you were trying to do, but oh God…”

LH: I spoke to the editor of a literary journal recently, and he’d received a submission email from someone who’d taken the liberty of including their own author bio, which was fine. The problem was, they’d tried to branch out with the humour into the email, and they’d started it with, “Dear Probably Intern…”

PW: Ohhhhh, dear…!

LH: And it’d gone to the owner of the intern, who reviews all the submissions personally. You’re not really showing much faith in the journal you’re submitting to, but nice attempt at humour! The guy who runs the journal is really nice, actually – we were chatting on Twitter and he really didn’t know what to do with it!
But yes, a blog post about writing about yourself when you hate will, I’m sure, be an absolutely God-send, and I’ll certainly have a look at it.

PW: Well, the link’s in the show-notes!

LH: Haha, thank you!  My recommendation this week is kind of the opposite of Pip’s, for me – it’s something that doesn’t come that naturally to me, and that’s direct marketing copy. I love creative writing, but this stuff isn’t my cup of tea. So, my recommendation is for copywriters who write for the web – particularly those who write direct marketing copy or sales pages: it’s called Unbounce.com, and it’s the blog that’s a treasure trove for copywriters. There are loads of articles on there on how to create brilliant landing pages, very regularly updated, on how to optimise your SEO, and loads more. The emphasis on the blog tends to be on conversions – ie. sales, so it’s a great place to go to improve your skills in persuasive sales copy. It’s quite a hard topic – direct marketing copy actually looks really bad – it’s the kind of stuff that looks so bad that it’s good.

PW: I think most copywriters will be called on at some point to do direct marketing copy and it’s a really specific skill – you can just guess it, and think, “Oh, this is persuasive.” – there’s almost a science to it, and you’ll need tips. Any copywriter could really benefit from having a look at this site.

LH: Yes, more than just tips, you’ll need a recipe! Everything on a sales page – the headings, the sub-headings, the font, the font size, the images, the captions…who would think that the captions were the second most important thing on the page?

PW: Yeah, a lot of it is quite counter-intuitive. You’d think that surely the colour of the ‘buy now’ button would be the last thing to matter, but you’d be wrong. It goes to show that on a sales page, everything has to have a purpose. Through really studying how to convert from experts, you can make every word in your sales copy do a job.

LH: Definitely, so my recommendation this week – in which I’ve been doing loads of sales copy – is undoubtedly http://unbounce.com/blog/. It’s brilliant for improving your skills in persuasive sales copy, it’s great if you’ve just got five minutes, it’s brilliant.

PW: Sounds great – just as you’ll be checking out my recommendation, I’ll be checking out yours.

So, we hope that this episode will help you to approach your next networking event with a ninja mentality. I’m not sure how well that really flows through the theme, but we like and it’s alliterative, so damnit, we’re sticking with it! Hopefully this will push you to attend your first event, or to get a better result if you’ve already been to a few.

LH: This is it! Be a ninja, get the results you want. Get people with your elevator pitch and don’t let them escape. This will help you improve your skills, and it’ll get you out of the house. Get yourself on eventbrite.com, which is great for free events, so have a look. Usually, these events have social media pages, so get researching, prepare for them, go along and use the tools from this episode to make the most of them once you’re there.

PW: Go to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com and subscribe by RSS or on iTunes or on Stitcher Smart Radio. We know we’ve got some brilliant listeners because we get brilliant feedback on Twitter, but our Facebook page is a bit lonely!

LH: and we’re ninjas – we can find you. So subscribe, please!

PW: And then, because I’m feeling demanding, you should tell your friends. You can embed this podcast on your website – that would be ace!

LH: Give us a Christmas present, come and say hello!

PW: I’ve been Philippa Willitts…

LH: and I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn, and we’ll catch you next time!

Podcast Episode 16: How to Avoid Letting Things Slide

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

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When you’ve got a lot on your plate, it’s easy to discount the bits that seem less urgent. However, letting the day-to-day management of your freelance writing business slide is a recipe for disaster, so in this episode of A Little Bird Told Me, Lorrie and I discuss the aspects of freelancing that you need to keep on top of, as well as tips and tricks about how to do this. As if that wasn’t enough, we have a interview with Sally Bramley, an Occupational Therapist who has some wise words about keeping motivated and accountable in self-employment.

Show Notes

Links and sites we mentioned during the episode:

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Podcast Episode 14: Mistakes We’ve Made

In this episode of the podcast, Lorrie and I come clean about some of the mistakes we’ve made during the course of our freelancing careers, as well as some of the boo-boos we’ve seen other people make. You don’t want to miss us cringeing our way through this one!

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

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Transcript

Philippa: Hello, and welcome to Episode 14 of A Little Bird Told Me, the podcast where two freelance writers talk 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 find out all the multitude of ways to subscribe to make sure you never miss a future episode.


You can also find links to our Facebook page and to my and my co-host’s various social media profiles and websites.  I’m Philippa Willitts.


Lorrie: And I’m Lorrie Hartshorn, and my cold is gone.


Philippa: Yay!


Lorrie: Everything is good again.  So today we’re in a cheery mood and we’ve decided to change things up a little bit.  The whole A Little Bird Told Me podcast is all about how to succeed as a freelancer writer, so all the things you can do and not to do make sure that your self employment goes as smoothly as possible.  What we thought we’d like to do this episode though is talk about some of the ultimate boo-boos that Pip and I have made along the way.


Philippa: It might be astounding to hear that we’ve made them but it’s true.


shocked

shocked (Photo credit: apdk)

Lorrie: It’s true, there’s been boo-boos.  As we’ve mentioned a couple of times before, mistakes are horrible, they’re unpleasant, but they’re a brilliant, brilliant learning experience.  Pip and I have been freelancing for eons so if there’s anything we’ve got plenty of besides skills, experience, and professionalism of course, it’s horror stories.  Lots of them.  So it will be safe to say we’ll be talking about the mistakes that we’ve made, mistakes that we’ve seen other people make because really, there’s nothing better than a car crash moment and you look at someone and say, “Oh, thank God that wasn’t me.”  Hopefully, it will give you some insight into what can happen and how you can avoid it, or if you can’t avoid it how to kind of recover from it if it does happen.


Philippa: Absolutely.  In this podcast we both give advice which is based on our experience and our knowledge.  But the fact is some of that experience and knowledge really does come from us not getting it right.  We get it wrong, we’ve both made mistakes some small some big and we thought it might be useful to share some of those embarrassing moments with you.


Lorrie: I’ll get the first and most unpleasant one for me out of the way.  It’s about making a good first impression.  I had a meeting with a potential client, and I’m pleased to say that they are now my client rather than just being too horrified to employ me, but I didn’t leave enough time before I went to this presentation.  I turned up extremely sweaty and red in the face and I then had to go and present a marketing strategy in front of a room full of directors which was just awful.  The room was dark, they put a spotlight on me and then I was there shiny, and red, and embarrassed, and getting hotter and hotter the whole time and just hating the world and wishing for the hall of shame to swallow me.


But it didn’t and I had to stand there for a good 40 minutes dripping and growing sweat patches all over my clothes.


Philippa: Oh, poor thing.


Lorrie: It was the worst thing ever.  Eventually one of them looked at me and went, “Do you want to sit down?”  And I went, “Yes, I do.  I do want to sit down.  At this point I want to sit down under the table.”  Oh, it was so awful.  But I was going to say what it learned me, because [inaudible 3:52], what it’s taught me is that you need to leave enough time for meetings.  You need to double check Google Maps before you set off.  Even if you think you know where they are find out which floor they’re on, find out if there’s a lift, cover all eventualities because it was excruciating and I was literally in the spotlight on one of my worst professional moments for a good 40 minutes.


Philippa: I had an almost moment like that because of similar lack of preparation really.  I was doing an interview with a woman who was reasonably high profile in the area she works in and it was a very important interview.  I was meeting her at the hotel she was staying at and I had spent pretty much the whole week preparing for this interview.  I had read and watched every other interview she’s ever given, I found out everything I needed to do.  What I didn’t double check that the hotel which I thought she was the hotel she was in.


Lorrie: Oh, no.


Philippa: She had given me the name of the hotel and I Googled it and found the street it was on and left it there.  I got to town and I went to the hotel only to find it had a different name than the one I was looking for.  So I just assumed because of the street name and because I knew there was a hotel there, I assumed it was there.  I had to go into that hotel to ask them where their competitor was, I bet that went down well, and it was about another five minute walk.  Thankfully, I got there just in time but it would have been much preferable from my point of view to have gotten there five minutes early and have been able to get myself together for a few minutes before the interview started.  But yes, always double check.  Even if you think you know where you’re going always, always double check.


Lorrie: I’m so glad you didn’t actually mash it up at the last minute.  I didn’t mash it up but it was sheer compassion on the part of the client that meant that I didn’t mash it up because I gave everything to be there on time.  I was there on time, I had prepared the whole week, and it was a decent presentation and we’ve had a great working relationship since then.  But every time I try and go in now and see them face-to-face I remember it.  I remember being there and looking like some sort of beached jelly fish.


Philippa: I think from both those examples, we both have that feeling of horror of what if because, we were both in a situation where we pulled it off but we equally might not have done.


Lorrie: Definitely.


Philippa: That feeling is really horrifying.


Lorrie: And it won’t go away.  That’s why it’s been such a good learning experience is I can still feel the same way. When we have meetings in the same room, I’m there.


Philippa: To remind you.


Lorrie: I’m there thinking of, “Oh past me, please get this presentation right.”  It’s just the most awful feeling.


Philippa: Another area where I got it wrong a couple of times is definitely marketing.


Lorrie: Yes.


Philippa: When I started out I really didn’t know much about how to market myself.  Like many people, I built myself a website and thought, “There we are.”


Lorrie: Yeah, that’s quite common I think.


Philippa: Yeah, it really is.  That’ll do it.  Then of course you start and go –

Lorrie: Where are the clients?


Philippa: Yeah, why am I expecting people to suddenly hire me on this basis and realizing how ridiculous it was.  So, I started doing that kind of panic research and trying a bit of everything which is never really a good idea.  You want to focus in on something until you find out whether it works or not.  But, because I was panicking a bit, I was doing bits of this and bits of that.


Some of them were very successful and I still use them now and others failed entirely.  In some respects that’s fine because the thing with marketing is a lot of it will fail.


Lorrie: Of course.


Philippa: Just by its nature.  It’s very unusual indeed to send out some pictures and get 100% positive response.  So, you have to do some that won’t work in order to find the bits that do work.


Lorrie: Yeah, people are often surprised to find that say a 1% or 2% conversion rate is absolutely amazing in a lot of fields actually.


Philippa: Definitely.


Lorrie: If you pay for some advertising, or if you send out an email marketing campaign, to get a 2% conversion would be stunning.


Philippa: I think when it becomes a bigger fail, even bearing that in mind, it’s like you say conversion rates tend to be certainly under 10%, is where it actually cost you a lot of money or taken you a lot of time.  That’s when it feels more of a fail than just a low conversion rate.  I know Lorrie and I have both mentioned in the podcasts before, that we both tried something independently of each other, we just had the same idea and it bombed similarly for both of us, which was to choose a business website and proof read a page or two of it and then contact the owner of the site to say, “I was just having a look at your website and I thought you’d want to know that on this page you’ve got a couple of typos.  If you want, I can proofread the rest of your site for you.”


Both of us had either no responses or negative responses.  The problem with that is we had taken quite a lot of time to do the proofreading in order to make the initial contact.  That is where in my opinion, it becomes a fail rather than just a lack of conversion because, we did hours of work for no return.


Lorrie: Definitely.  I felt really hard done by when I did that because I think we took a slightly different approach.  I popped a page on my website which is still there but won’t be by the time I’m finished recording this podcast, that’s what reminded me, that said I would happily do a free proof read and content analysis of a couple of pages on peoples’ websites, they just had to get in touch with me.


So although I got some contact details from it I found that I would do the proofreading and then never hear anything back or get a thanks very much have a nice life from people.  So they were happy to take the work and that really did teach me something, that people are very, very happy to take work from free from you and I suppose I was a bit naïve when I started out because I didn’t think people would have the nerve to do it really.


Philippa: Yep, people like a freebie.


Lorrie: A freebie yes, but getting in touch with somebody and saying, “Can I please have this free content analysis,” and you get back in touch with them and give them – you know, I sent good 1,000 word documents over to get no response.  I chased a couple of times and said, “Oh hi, I just wanted to know if everything’s okay?”  I got, “Yeah, thanks it was fine.”  I said, “Alright then, thanks for letting me know.”


That’s taught me that certainly freebies, keep them to the minimum unless you need to offer a freebie.  They are a very short boost, the freebies, so if you’re absolutely desperate for more work and you really need to raise your profile very, very quickly then offer a limited time freebie that you know you can deliver.


Philippa: Yeah, and that won’t take hours and hours.


Lorrie: Yes.  Yeah, don’t feel stingy by offering something small.  I suppose that takes us onto something else that can be a little bit of a mistake when you’re freelancing and that’s offering too much work for too little money.


Philippa: And, it is so common especially, when people are just starting out.  But, even people who are established aren’t immune from sometimes miscalculating how long a piece of work will take, or just making a mistake with calculations and offering too much for too little.


Lorrie: Definitely.  You can find yourself actually paying to do work at some point.  If you take your overheads into account, and you take how much other work you’re turning down into account, it can actually cost you a lot of money and I’ve done that.  I’ve sort of charged far too little and then combined it with another newbie fail by failing to sign an agreement before entering into the work.  I can hear you, you’d be like, “Oh yeah.”


Philippa: Yeah, when I first started out I took on a big piece of work for very little money and it was because I was in that, “Oh my God I might never get any work ever come in.”  So, when someone offered me some work and suggested a price I mistakenly thought that that would be better than not taking it.  But the fact was, for the whole 5,000 words I resented every sentence because, I knew how badly I was being paid because by then it became clear how much I was getting hourly and all that and it was just horrific.


I did the work because I agreed to do the work and I did it for the price I had agreed on but, it really taught me, it was a kind of sweat shop shock really that I had to value myself for more than that.  While it might seem in the short term better to take badly paid work than no work, the fact is if you refuse that either they will pay you more because they really want you or they won’t.  But, it gives you time then to spend marketing yourself and getting paid work.  If you’re stuck in a contract with badly paid work your time is full and so you’ve not got the opportunity to find better work.


Lorrie: That is it.  I think there’s a fear with newbies, and I can certainly admit to it myself, I didn’t want to start making demands.  That was my fear, I didn’t want to say to people, “I’m not starting the work until I get a down payment.”  Now, for larger projects, not for ongoing projects, but for larger one off projects I take a down payment.


Philippa: I do similarly with new clients as well quite often.


Lorrie: Yeah.  It’s a very sensible move to make.


Philippa: It is.


Lorrie: You imagine the worse things.  You imagine thinking, “Oh, my client is going to think I’m so rude.”  But, it’s just business.  It’s just business.  I take a down payment because I’ve had people not pay me up to 800 Pounds before and because of no contract in place, this was when I was really starting out, I’ve done an incredibly amount of work for literally no money because there’s nothing in place to make sure that they pay me.


Philippa: I’ve found that if you’re just very matter-of-fact about your demands – demands sound like a very demanding word, but if you’re just very matter-of-fact –


Lorrie: Yeah, they’re requirements, aren’t they?


Philippa: Yes, that’s a better word, “I will submit the work once I’ve received payment,” or whatever your own terms are, “Copyright switches to you once I receive payment,” or whatever it is.  If you just state what they are people rarely pick me up on it, people rarely challenge them in my experience.


Lorrie: No, on the contrary I think it’s actually quite a professional thing to do.


Philippa: Yeah.


Lorrie: If you present someone in writing with a list of requirements from your end, they know that you’re serious about what you’re doing and they know that you know what you’re doing.


Philippa: Similarly, a client sometimes has a list of requirements.  Maybe they’ve been burnt before by freelancers or something, but I quite like it.  I know where I am and I can agree or not and they’re usually very, very reasonable.  It’s things like, “Deliver the work on time.”


Lorrie: Actually give me the work if I pay you.


Philippa: That’s it.  So I’m not offended and I don’t feel like someone doesn’t trust me or whatever if they have requirements and similarly if you present them in a similar way, other people don’t tend to get like that either.


Lorrie: No, absolutely.  People have accounting departments, and human resource departments, and they need paperwork often, that’s all it really is.  They need to know what they’re going to get and how much they’re going to pay for it.


Philippa: Exactly, exactly.  And, who will own the work once it is completed and that kind of thing.  There are lots of little small embarrassing mistakes I’ve made over my life.


Lorrie: I was hoping that we were going to get off the embarrassing ones and just talk about the more sensible ones.


Philippa: Oh no, there are plenty more of those.


Lorrie: Oh no, here we go.


Philippa: Little small ones that don’t have a big impact on your business but still just make you cringe.  One of those for me is I manage all my email through one Gmail account.  I’ve got about 12 email addresses and that’s not an exaggeration, it’s ridiculous.  So, I get everything forwarded to one Gmail account and from that account I can also send from the other email addresses and that kind of thing.


Lorrie: Sure.


Philippa: If I receive an email to say my Philippa@SocialMediaWriter.co.uk account, then when I reply to that through my Gmail it automatically applies from that account so I don’t need to think about it.  The result is if sometimes I send an email, even to reply, but in fact is a first email I forget to change in the drop down box to the correct account and so I’ve sent a few, a few –


Lorrie: I notice your voice breaking on that.


Philippa: A few emails in my time, from my personal account.  It’s not awful.  Thankfully, my personal account isn’t named something horrendous like SexyBabe84 or anything like that, but it’s still somewhat embarrassing in a professional capacity.  Also, I do work quite hard to keep my professional and my personal quite separate.


Lorrie: Sure.


Philippa: So it’s one of those mistakes that is easily done and I spot it about five seconds after I’ve clicked send.


Lorrie: That’s always the way.


Philippa: I hate doing it but it has happened to me a few times.


Lorrie: Luckily, I have not actually done it but again, it’s the near miss thing where I’ve sent something – I was with Yahoo for years.  It’s not as bad as BlueYonder or Hotmail, but it’s still a bit old fashioned.  But, I was resisting the fact that Google is so sort of omnipresent now.  But eventually I left Yahoo and I went to Gmail.  The way that emails are stacked when you open a mail trail, when you want to forward something to somebody and not reply it keeps it in the same thread.


Philippa: Yes.


Lorrie: So there have been a number of times where I’ve had horrible clients, or clients doing something really, really frustrating and I’ve just wanted to really vent my frustration and I’ve emailed you Pip obviously, and just said, “In confidence, am I completely wrong in thinking this person’s being a bit weird or am I reading this the wrong way?”  Then for about five minutes afterwards I’ve thought, “Please tell me I didn’t send that back to the person.”


I’ve done that in my personal life never, touch wood, in my professional life.  But when I was about 18 I sent an email, it was one of these university ones, and we’d just gotten to university and everyone was working out who liked whom, and who was friends forever and who was just never going to speak again.  I sent an email to somebody sagging her off and I sent it to the wrong person.  Rather than send it to the person I wanted to send it to, I sent it to the actual person saying, “Oh, she’s annoying me so much.  I don’t think I’m going to speak to her much anymore.  I think this is it.”  You know, real 18 year old drama and it went straight to her.  From that, thank God it wasn’t professional.


Philippa: There is something that saves me on a daily basis from this kind of thing and it’s a little add on you can use with Google where you can undo sending.


Lorrie: Cool.


Philippa: Yes, I know.


Lorrie: You’ve got me excited.


Philippa: All it does, and you can set the timing yourself, I think I’ve got it set for five seconds, and for five seconds after clicking send you’ve got the option to undue sending.  All it does basically is delay sending it for five seconds.  But the fact is that nine times out of 10 you spot that you haven’t included the attachment you said you would, or that you’ve spelt somebody’s name wrong, or that you’ve sent it to the wrong person, often you spot those things the moment you click send.  So with this little add on in Gmail where it would normally say, “Message has been sent,” it just says, “Message has been sent, click to undo,” and for five seconds has a link to undo.  If you get there quick enough, you get it back and then you can fix it.


It is that thing of you do spot it the moment you click send so that for me is a lifesaver, or I’d do a lot more of –


Lorrie: I’m certainly going to go in and install that.


Philippa: Do it definitely.  You know, that classic, “Please find attached,” and then there’s no attachment.


Lorrie: Definitely.  Gmail actually tells you now doesn’t it, it picks up if you’ve mentioned attach.


Philippa: Yes.


Lorrie: That’s another reason that even though I’m not too keen on the thread organization in Gmail, I do prefer it very, very much.  I will be going in and installing this because just as I’m thinking about it I have been known to send vest regards to people and vest wishes.


Philippa: Similarly, I also have been guilty of sending tweets from the wrong account.


Lorrie: Yeah, I’ve done that.


Philippa: I have my personal Twitter account and I have my professional Twitter account, and I also run the Twitter accounts for two non-profit organizations.


Lorrie: You’re basically most of Twitter.


Philippa: I am most of Twitter.  99% of it is me.


Lorrie: Good marketing strategy though.


Philippa: Although Tweet Deck is a lifesaver in the terms of I don’t have to have four different browsers open, I can manage all the accounts from the one place, and it’s quite easy to highlight the account you want to send a particular tweet from, but the fact is that when you’re a bit on autopilot there are occasions where I’ve sent the wrong tweet from the wrong account.  Sometimes that’s fine.  They’re not that much [inaudible 24:12] but they’re not contradicting each other so it’s not usually the end of the world if I send something through my personal account that was meant for one of the non-profit accounts because I tend to agree with what they’re campaigning about.


More embarrassing is if I send something personal through my professional account.  There are ways you can sign certain petitions by sending a Tweet and I’ve done that with embarrassing consequences at times from the wrong account.  It’s rarely the end of the world, but it’s certainly embarrassing and it makes you feel a bit incompetent when it happens.


Lorrie: Definitely.  I do use Tweet Deck now as well, you’ve finally converted me.  It was just too difficult having even just two browsers open at the same time.  The thing with Tweet Deck, lovely though it is, is it defaults to one account so obviously, one of your accounts has to be the main account.  For some reason, I think it’s just a glitch, or I might follow one person from both accounts and in that case when you reply to somebody’s tweet sometimes both or all of your Twitter accounts are highlighted so this person receives the same tweet from about four different accounts that they’ve never heard from.


Then obviously, they want to go and see who’s been talking to them and they head over to my personal account and it’s full of feminist rhetoric and angry responses to the daily mail and things like that.  It’s a bit of fun but it can be a bit of a shock to people when they’ve just been reading about my copywriting.


Philippa: Exactly.  If I send something to my personal account about the latest content marketing strategies, it’s irrelevant but nobody really cares.


Lorrie: That’s it.


Philippa: If I send something to my professional account about, I don’t know, being annoyed –


Lorrie: [Inaudible 26:06] do you.


Philippa: [Inaudible 26:09] trying to get across the seriousness without implicating themselves.


Lorrie: Don’t worry, I’ve already implicated myself.


Philippa: If I send something to my professional account about being annoyed with a client or being stressed about not having enough work or too much work, or whatever it is.


Lorrie: Oh, those would be the worst

English: graphic convention of manga, sweating...

English: graphic convention of manga, sweating, used to represent feeling anxiety, confusion, embarrassed, and so on. 日本語: マンガの表現技法。汗。不安、困惑、戸惑いなどといった感情の表現。 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

.


Philippa: That’s more problematic.  Thankfully, touch wood, which I am.


Lorrie: I’m touching all the wood within reach at this point.


Philippa: I’m leaning on a desk so much of me is in contact with wood.  That hasn’t happened, but it’s easy to do and I can see why it does happen.


Lorrie: I suppose it’s on a similar vein and I am going to implicate myself, I don’t really mind at this point you’ve all heard that I sweated my way through an initial client meeting so how much worse can it get.  When I started a Facebook page for my business I was reading up on how to get sort of more followers in an organic way rather than do that whole follow me, follow me, follow me and then buying followers [inaudible 27:13].


So I was reading these articles and it said, “Why not invite people you know?”  I thought, “Fair enough,” because most of my client base is sort of from a friends of friend, colleagues of colleagues, people I’ve worked with kind of origin.  I went to my Yahoo account, as I mentioned earlier, and I selected the people from my address book that I wanted to inform about my professional Facebook page and I clicked send.  I deselected all the randomers that I had spoken to over a good five years with that email account and I went on my merry little way.


All of a sudden I started receiving emails and likes from people I hadn’t heard from in years.  As it transpires, Facebook had a little promotional tool of theirs that had sent the email to everybody I had ever emailed or who had ever emailed me in five years.  Estranged family members, ex-boyfriends, people that I no longer speak to for a multitude of reasons, people I used to work with, people I never used to work with, everybody.  The builders, the window cleaners, the gardeners, everybody, thousands of contacts received this SPAM email about my Facebook.


Silly me, well actually I don’t think silly me, I’m going to stand by it.  I went on my personal Twitter account which is in no way connected to my professional Facebook account, there’s no link between the two and I basically had an, “Oh shit moment.”  I was like, “Oh my goodness.  Oh, no a horrible horrible moment.”  I mentioned, and I didn’t name anybody but I said, “Oh this awful person just tried to like my Facebook page.”  And then I got a Tweet from the awful person.  They must have Googled me and found their way to my personal email account because there they were saying, “I hope I’m not the awful person you’re referring to,” and they were.  I went, “Oh no,” and they wouldn’t go away they tried phone me, texting me, and emailing me for days afterwards.


Philippa: I nearly invited an ex that I don’t speak to, to connect with me on LinkedIn the other day.  I finally agreed to let it sign in with my Gmail account so it could find people I’d had contact with to request connections and it did.  There were loads of people most of whom I didn’t know who they were.  They were presumably somebody who’d sent me an email once.  It seemed to scrape everybody.


So I was going through this immense list.  There was this kind of check all option and so I did that and then went through unchecking the odd person either I really didn’t know who they were or they had nothing to do with anything I might do professionally.  Of course, once you’ve scrolled down 30 or 40 people you start paying less and less attention to what you’re clicking and unclicking and yes, I very nearly invited an ex that I had a bit of an acrimonious break up with to make contact which, if nothing else, would have provoked a really awkward conversation with that person.


Lorrie: Oh, how awful.


Philippa: Thankfully, it’s another horror of the almost.


Lorrie: I wish it was just an almost.


Philippa: I did spot it, but the horror of what may have happened if I hadn’t still sits with me.


Lorrie: No, I have the horror of what happens if it does happen and it is horrifying.  I felt like my stomach was going to drop out of my feet.  It was the worst thing, honestly ever.  I just sat there and went, “Oh no,” because it wasn’t anything I had done.  I had unchecked everything and it was Facebook.  Oh, I loathe Facebook sometimes because I don’t know whether it was a glitch, I don’t know if it is something they do that is a little bit naughty to try and get more people on there, but it caused me huge, huge problems.


Luckily, I hadn’t said anything awful on my professional account but what it also did was invite people to be my friend at the same time.  So what that does is give people access to all your personal information on Facebook.  Again, luckily my Facebook is fairly neutral.


Philippa: One of the whole points of having a professional Facebook page is that you can keep the professional and personal separate.  So there might be people who you would really like to like your Facebook page but connecting with them on your personal account is a whole other thing that you probably don’t want.


Lorrie: Exactly.  My privacy settings on my personal account are sky high.


Philippa: You’ve got it so locked down and understandably.  More and more people are doing that.


Lorrie: Like you say, for good reason, but yeah, it was excruciating, it really, really was.


Philippa: Other social media no-nos that I see quite a lot is a professional account, even a LinkedIn account which is pretty much entirely professional, or professional pages with awful profile photos of you falling out of a night club.  Not you, falling.


Lorrie: I was going to say, “When did this happen?”


Philippa: Of people falling out of a night club or being a bit sexy.


Lorrie: Or, the duck face.


Philippa: Yeah, exactly duck face.  That’s fine on your personal account, it’s fine on your Facebook personal profile but on your LinkedIn account, no it’s not good is it.


Lorrie: Sexy web cam pics.  I’ve seen somebody who I know is a really, really, really good professional person.  Very, very skilled, very intelligent and I had a look and their profile picture is a murky webcam picture that’s taken in sort of half light and yeah, this person is doing duck face.  For anybody who doesn’t know what duck face is, poor Pip, she clearly has bad experiences with ducks or duck faces.


Philippa: Duck faces, ducks are fine.


Lorrie: I like ducks actually, but yeah, duck faces which frankly do a disservice to ducks, are when people stick their pouts really, really far out and try to be blasé about pouting.  It’s a very, very weird thing so I might actually link to it in the show notes.


Philippa: Do, although I’m sure people, as soon as they hear it, will know exactly what we mean because it’s so prevalent on Facebook in particular.


Lorrie: Definitely.


Philippa: It’s just that every girl seems to have the arm outstretched phone above the head.


Lorrie: Yes, always the arm and in the bathroom.


Philippa: Yes, the bathroom.


Lorrie: Always in the bathroom or in front of the bathroom mirror.


Philippa: The thing about having murky profile photos or just inappropriate ones, 10 years ago that was kind of okay because  lot of people didn’t have digital cameras and would have to scan a photo and scanners weren’t very good and all that.  But these days, you get more photos from people’s phones on one night out than you might have had in your entire digital photo lifetime.  Until a few years ago there were digital photos everywhere.  There were opportunities for digital photos everywhere and there were few excuses these days for having an inappropriate profile picture, I think.


Lorrie: Absolutely.   Carrying on from the theme of really embarrassing profile photos, I’d like to think I’ve never really suffered from.  My personal Twitter account as a weird one sometimes, but it’s nothing excruciating, is embarrassing profile information.


Philippa: Oh, yes.


Lorrie: So whether it’s your Twitter profile or your LinkedIn profile headline, or commonly actually, people’s websites.  For some reason people feel the need to tell people on their professional websites everything about them, and their hobbies, and their interests, and what they get up to and particularly in the copywriting sector, or communications, or editing.  There tends to be this over share tendency with stuff that they write.


Philippa: I think it’s difficult because we’re always told, and it’s correct, we’re always told that we need to inject personality into what we do.


Lorrie: Definitely.


Philippa: That people hire a person as much as they hire a copywriter and that by portraying you as a well rounded individual you’ll do better.  That’s good advice however –


Lorrie: There’s a big however.


Philippa: There’s a line and some people don’t even seen the line.


Lorrie: To some people the line is a dot.  Like you said, it’s good to inject a bit of personality.  I write fiction and there’s a number of times I’ve had to sort of provide people with an autobiography of myself.  You have a look through other people’s autobiographies to get an idea of what’s a good idea and what isn’t.  Often it’s nice to inject a little bit of humour into them. Mine’s got a little bit about trying and failing to write the great British novel and I read somebody else’s that said they had been on the Zombie Walk recently, but it was one line and it was an oblique reference.


Whereas, I’ve been on people’s website and the most recent example I can think of is that somebody had dedicated a paragraph to the fact that they write Harry Potter fan fiction on their copywriting website.


Philippa: Oh, no.


Lorrie: For those people who aren’t particularly savvy about fan fiction a lot of it is quite saucy.


Philippa: It is.  It’s quite often an erotic – people carry on a story from the end of the Harry Potter books, or the Twilight books, or whatever and turn it into a more adult thing.  I mean, that’s where the infamous 50 Shades of Grey, that started off as fan fiction so that gives you an idea of what fan fiction can be like.


Lorrie: This is it.  Or, if you disagree with the original author’s choice for couplings for example, if one character ends up marrying a different character and you think they should have gotten with the other person, then your imagination can go wild in your fan fiction.


Philippa: Which is fine.


Lorrie: That’s fine.  It’s fine for [inaudible 38:49].  I was a bit worried about mentioning this in this Podcast in case people were like, “Hmm, I wonder if she does fan fiction?”  And I assure you I do not.


Philippa: And even if you did –


Lorrie: It would be fine.


Philippa: It would be fine but it also wouldn’t be on your copywriting site.


Lorrie: It certainly wouldn’t be on my copywriting website.


Philippa: If instead you were a writer of erotic fiction and had a website dedicated to that, then it could possibly have a place.  But, on a copywriting site, or a web design site, or anything like that there are lines and you’ve got to think.  You do want to inject personality but you’ve got to think, “Is this what my clients are trying to find out about me?  Is this something I would want them to know?”


Lorrie: Unless there’s a great big untapped niche for Harry Potter fan fiction purchasers than I would suggest not including it on your website unless you know there are companies out there who will buy your Harry Potter fan fiction for a handsome sum.  In which case, by all means offer it as a service otherwise, perhaps stick to your blog.


Philippa: I fear that the 50 Shades of Grey phenomena may encourage more, and more, and more fan fiction than necessary.


Lorrie: It already has.  Honestly, literary work has become interesting in the last few months I’ve got to say.  I believe a number of people that I’m actually friends with have been asked to edit stuff that’s a little bit more adult.


Philippa: Yeah, I’ve edited some erotic fiction.  It was an interesting process, I quite enjoyed it.  But that was very good, it was good quality it wasn’t fan fiction.


Lorrie: Good quality writing is good in whatever form even if it’s a bit eye opening.


Philippa: Back to mistakes we’ve made, probably my worst one by far I’m mortified when I think about it.


Lorrie: I was looking forward to this.


Philippa: I was at a networking event, a face-to-face networking event locally.  I was taught you kind of do the rounds of the room and you talk to various people and I got talking to a guy who is a lawyer and he works with small businesses on writing contracts for their work.  He works with sole traders and freelancers as well.


I was chatting with him saying, “This is pretty interesting.  I’m aware it’s something I need to formalize more in my own work.”  So I was chatting with him and earlier that day I had actually watched a video about why freelancers need good contracts in place and so that came to mind.  I made what had to be my most misjudged comment in my entire life.


Lorrie: I have no idea what it is but I’m tickled waiting.


Philippa: This video that I had watched, it had gone a bit viral understandably, and I’ll link to in the show notes and it was called F*ck You, Pay Me.


Lorrie: Oh dear.


Philippa: But not F*ck You, Pay Me it was the full word you, pay me.  Now, the F word doesn’t offend me, I’m quite a sweary person at times.


Lorrie: It’s true, she is.  The editing is unbelievable.


Philippa: So for some reason while talking to this lawyer at a networking meeting I said, “It’s funny we’re talking about this because I watched a video only today.  It was very good and it was called Fuck You, Pay Me.”


Lorrie: Oh, no.


Philippa: I said it and then the look on his face was pure horror.  There was no amusement.


Lorrie: You think you’d get a little bit, “Oh dear.”


Philippa: You think he might be slightly amused, perhaps taken aback because it was [inaudible 43:09] I shouldn’t have said it.


Lorrie: For sure.  Pure horror.


Philippa: Pure horror.  He looked at me like I had just punched his child in the face and couldn’t get away fast enough.


Lorrie: Could we just say at this point no children have been punched by Pip ever.


Philippa: No, not a single one.


Lorrie: It’s not something people expect from her at all.


Philippa: Yes, it was awful and it was my fault.  When you’re speaking to someone you don’t know in a business context you don’t use the F word and yet, for some reason, my internal sensor didn’t switch on in time and I said it and it was horrific.  So learn from me, if you’re talking to a person you don’t know at a business account and they’re a lawyer and they’re a middle aged man in a suit, I’m making judgments there, but it all plays in doesn’t it – don’t use the F word.  Just don’t, even if it’s a title of a video.  It’s a very good video, I’ll link to it, but yes, please learn from my mistake.  I’m mortified just thinking about it still and this was months ago.


Lorrie: How awful.  I remember saying once, in an interview actually and I got the job, but I mentioned that I couldn’t be asked for something.  That went down equally well as you could imagine they just went, “Hmm,” and carried on.


Philippa: The initial thing was me going, “Oh, I shouldn’t have said that.”  But then it was his reaction that really made it 100 times worse.


Lorrie: Like, “No you really shouldn’t have.”


Philippa: Yeah, I could not have misjudged it more badly.  It was as bad a misjudgement as is possible to make.  But thankfully, I wasn’t looking for work from him I was more interested in possibly using his services actually to get one off full proof contract drawn up rather than winging it.  I’ve got a reasonable one but I’m sure a lawyer could tear it apart.


Lorrie: Especially that one.


Philippa: I was possibly interested in using his services.  Thankfully, I wasn’t trying to get him to use mine.  But, oh, don’t.


Lorrie: I had an excruciating moment recently but luckily, after what we’ve said in the last episode or two about luck and how it’s just not a big part of freelancing, luckily this person is a friend and I was doing some work for him for free for a favour.  We access one another’s fiction writing, we read one another’s fiction writing and offer reviews.  It’s a really nice sort of friendly working relationship.


We were talking about writing scary stories.  It’s a little bit before Halloween and I was in the midst of something spooky.  So we’re chatting away and he said rather than coming up with a spooky story as a whole what he was doing was making a document full of spookiest scariest possible things he could think of and then he was going to write short stories around those.


Well I thought, “What a great idea.  Brilliant.”  Because I tend to start a short story and just see where it goes.  For longer pieces I do pen them out but for short stories I just sort of wing it and then do some editing afterwards.  So I said to him, “Go on, send me your scary ideas because I really want to be scared.”  He said, “No, no, no they’re too scary.”


I thought he was joking at first because we were chatting on Twitter on my personal account and I kept going, “Please, please, please.”  Eventually other people on my Tweet feed who didn’t know him were like, “Come on, please.  Send us the scary stuff.”  I was sitting in bed and I had already terrified myself by writing a scary story that succeeded in scaring me.  It took me ages honestly, because every time I got to a scary bit I was like, “Oh, I can’t it’s just too scary.”   So at least my readers know I do suffer for my art.


Eventually, after so much warbling he was like, “Okay, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.”  So, I open the email anyway and I was reading through and I don’t really want to give too much away about his idea but I thought it was hilarious.  I was like, “Oh, you tricked me.  After all this time you’ve sent me something really, really funny.”  I was weeping with laughter, it was so funny.  It was late at night and he was about to go to bed and he said, “I’ll send you a little bit of the document now.”


So I got in touch with him on Twitter and it was quite sweary I was like, “Oh you,” in less than nice terms, “You, I thought you were going to send me some really scary stuff.  This is Fing hilarious.”  And it turns out it was actually the scariest thing he could ever think of.


Philippa: Oh, no.


Lorrie: It was actually generally the scary stuff that he had been so nervous to send me.


Philippa: Because it was so scary.


Lorrie: So scary and also he was embarrassed that he was scared by it.  I still wasn’t taking him seriously, I was still absolutely convinced he was having a laugh with me.  So I was like, “No, you’re so funny.”  It carried on and he was like, “Seriously, this is harsh dude.”  I’ve never felt as such a failure as a literary editor in my life.


One of the services I provide is developmental critiques and people send me a synopsis and a 10,000 word extract of their writing and I tell them what I think of it and how they can improve it.  Sort of assessing the marketability of the writing and I absolutely shredded it just because I thought it was so funny.  I swear honestly, I was convinced he was trying to make me laugh.  I felt so bad.  I’ve apologized to him so many times but he was like, “Yeah, I won’t send anything to you when I’m feeling a bit delicate next time.”


I can’t tell you how bad I felt.  I think you’re getting a sense of it.  I felt so bad.


Philippa: Yeah, I feel for you.  In work there’s a mistake I’ve made a few times, not when freelancing but in other work that I can see could certainly happen in freelancing and that is pretending that I’m further on in a project than I actually am.  If you’re manger says, “How are you getting on with that thing?”  And you go, “Oh God, I’ve forgotten to do it.”  So you go, “Yeah, I’m getting on fine I’m about half way through.  I’ll get it to you in a bit.  But it becomes problematic that you then realize that you need more information from them and you have to go, “Actually…”


Lorrie: Yeah, somebody didn’t send the vital document over and you’ve said you’re half way through.


Philippa: I’m half way through but could you resend me the title?  Would that be alright?  Thank you.


Lorrie: Just so I can double check.


Philippa: Exactly.  Can you resend your whole instructions I just want to cross reference them?


Lorrie: Who was the client again?


Philippa: I’ve done that in a job I have not done it as a freelancer but I know plenty of freelancers who have because you don’t want to imply that you’re running late and your clients don’t want to think that you’re rushing their work.  So it could be tempting if someone says, “How are you getting on?”  To say, “Great, nearly there.”


Lorrie: A bit of a auto response really.


Philippa: That’s it and then you’re stuck if you do need more information on something you’ve said you’re already done.


Lorrie: You’d have to word yourself extremely carefully to get out of that one.


Philippa: Yeah, definitely.


Lorrie: Something that feels similar and I’m not sure why or if it is, but on the subject of sort of getting enough information for a project often with clients, as we’ve mentioned in one of the earlier episodes, you’re not necessarily dealing with one person in the company you’re dealing with several and some are better than others at sending information over.  Some are notoriously bad for it even in house.


Occasionally, I don’t think this is something that I’ve done but I know it’s something that I’ve come extremely close to doing, chasing people for more information and feeling a bit of an attitude with them because really, how are you supposed to write something without the necessary info and then finding that they’ve already emailed you.  There’s nothing like a smug person, “Do you just want to check your emails because I already sent you that.”


Philippa: Often, that could happen with someone that is notoriously bad at sending information.  You might make an assumption without double checking.  If it’s normally someone who is normally very reliable and you can’t find the info you double check.


Lorrie: Of course.


Philippa: But if it’s someone who is notoriously bad you are more likely to jump to the conclusion, “Oh, here we go again they haven’t sent it.”


Lorrie: This is it, always, always check your inbox.  As I said, I almost did it the other day, a client company who is terrible at sending information.  They’re rubbish at it.  You’ll send them something and they’ll send you back question marks, or they’ll say, “Oh you need to ask such and such,” and I had no access to that person.  There’s all these reasons that I can’t get the information that I need for the work they want.


I was on the verge, I had even typed out the email, “I’ll do this as soon as I finally have some information from X person.”  And I looked down and again, I’m sure Gmail sent it for me, it was a Gmail issue, it was sitting under the email I was typing.  It was just tucked in there and I think our emails had crossed and it just popped in the bottom.  It was there so I deleted the email thankful that I had taken a bit of time over it and that that person who is notoriously bad at sending over information wouldn’t have any ammo to use against me.


Philippa: There’s a mistake that I’ve made several time and it’s not strictly a freelance writing mistake.  As well as the freelance writing that I do I’ve got a few small websites that earn a bit of affiliate income which is just a nice bit of passive income really so little bonus extras.  More times than I care to remember, and it tends to be late at night, I get generally over excited with the best idea I’ve ever had and this is amazing.


Lorrie: The one that is going to make you a millionaire.


Philippa: It’s just going to be perfect and how has no one else thought of it.  So at 1AM I buy about six URLs for the amazing, amazing websites I’m going to sell.  I wake up the next morning and just go, “Oh God, what am I going to do with those?”  I bought www.TiredAndFedUp.co.uk.


Lorrie: Deals for freelance copywriter.  It’s just what you want to be telling people, “You know what?  I’m tired and I’m bored.”


Philippa: I don’t even know what I thought it would be but it was a brilliant idea at the time.  Late at night it was fantastic, I had plans galore.  That recently came up for renewal and I said, “No, please don’t renew it.”  Thankfully because it was a .co.uk it only cost me about a few pounds for two years.  But, I’ve done that so many times.


I get my URLs through a website called 1and1, I looked through my 1and1 account and I’ve got my useful ones that I use and then I’ve just got so many that I look at –


Lorrie: It’s a shame.


Philippa: I got, “Oh why did I ever think that was a good idea?”


Lorrie: I think I’ve got www.TheLoveBooth.co.uk up for renewal soon.


Philippa: That’s brilliant.


Lorrie: And I think it’s not going to get renewed.  It was a good idea.  I’m not going to tell you what the idea was in case somebody steals it and then I resent them forever.  But if anybody out there would like to purchase www.TheLoveBooth.co.uk by all means it’s up for renewal soon so stay tuned.


Philippa: As well as mistakes we’ve made we also see plenty of mistakes going on around us.


Lorrie: Yes, it’s far more interesting territory for me because it means that my embarrassment is over and I can start pointing at other people and going, “Oh, thank God I didn’t do that.”


Philippa: So true.  One I see quite often is famous or not so famous people who go onto Twitter with the intention of doing a vanity search and basically search for their own name to see what people are saying about them.  This can be a good idea if you’re running a business, it’s really good to see what people are saying about you.  But, it’s not unheard of for people to get it wrong and instead of typing their name into the Twitter search box they actually put it into the status update box and send a tweet with their name, just of their name.


There’s a politician in the UK with the rather unfortunate name of Ed Balls and he did this once.  He sent a tweet that just said, “Ed Balls.”  I saw it so I retweeted it and I added, “Philippa Willitts,” at the start and lots of other people did too.  The thing is, the poor guy, this was about two years ago he did it and I still about once a week see it retweeted it’s just Ed Balls saying, “Ed Balls.”  If you’re going to do a vanity search that’s fine but put it in the right box for goodness sake.


Embarrassed

Embarrassed (Photo credit: mloberg)

Lorrie: I bet Ed Balls doesn’t do anymore vanity searches because that will probably be the most common tweet that comes up for him.  It’s not quite on the vanity search front but the British Red Cross, the person that manages their Twitter account and to all of my knowledge still manages their Twitter account did something that Pip and I mentioned earlier which is getting their personal and professional accounts mixed up.


Now, the British Red Cross has hundreds of thousands of followers so it’s not like Pip and I with a few thousands each.  It was fairly late at night and we will add an article about this into the show notes, but the British Red Cross announced to its hundreds of thousands of followers that it was ready to go out, drink lots of beer, and get completely slizzered.


Philippa: Slizzered.


Lorrie: They were ready for a hot party time and they were going to get slizzered.  They mentioned the brand of beer and the brand joyfully retweeted it.  They were like, “Oh, good God this is the best endorsement ever.  A British first aid charity has just recommended going out and getting paralytic on our beer.”  Luckily they handled it really well.


It was a bit of a PR triumph actually.  I think they made some comment about keeping people away from their Twitter feed when they were getting slithered.  It all went well but it was so funny at the time.  You just felt so sorry for that person because there’s no way you could get a tweet like that back before it had been retweeted by hundreds and hundreds of people.


Philippa: In a similar vein something I see quite a lot is people trying to copy and paste URLs into a Tweet or an email and they don’t pay attention to what they’re actually pasting and they’ve copied the wrong thing. I’ve seen people emailing, “Please check out my website,” and then a recipe, a whole recipe, or something just unrelated.


This one case where a guy was on his company Twitter account and sent out a URL to a porn site that he’d obviously copied and then perhaps copied something else and it didn’t click properly or something.  But, he lost his job.


Lorrie: I’m not surprised.  I’m really not surprised at that because a lot of people are offended by porn so it’s kind of a case of, “Sorry, you’ve got to go,” in that case.  I’ve done it before but luckily the URL I posted was nothing sensitive although I really, really didn’t want to post it.


I had contacted somebody, and it was somebody I know fairly well, but at the time I was keeping my fiction writing a secret because I was feeling a little bit nervous about getting out of copywriting and into fiction.  It’s a lot more intimate, writing something from yourself than writing a press release for someone else so I was keeping it under my hat while I was getting into the swing of things.


I was in the middle of telling this person, “No, sorry you can’t see my blog.  I’m not telling you where my fiction writing is.  But, here’s another website,” and I sent my blog URL.  It was the most awful thing.  I don’t know whether he saw it but he didn’t mention it.  It’s totally possible, sometimes he’s a little remise on noticing things but we’ve never spoken about it.  It was just so excruciating because it’s one of those moments I really could have fixed with that Gmail undo thing because as soon as I sent the email I just had an, “Oh, no,” moment.


Philippa: It’s awful, it’s awful.


Lorrie: It really was.


Philippa: Another thing is that people kind of forget that if they say one thing to you and are on Twitter saying the opposite you know.  If they say, “I’m going to pay that invoice right now.”  This is an exaggerated example but then they go onto Twitter and go, “Ha-ha-ha, I’m not going to pay that invoice for a week.”  You can see it.


Lorrie: You’ve got some really dastardly clients haven’t you.


Philippa: That hasn’t actually happened, but it was all I could think of.  It’s that kind of, “Oh, sorry I’m really busy this afternoon,” for instance and then they’re on Twitter talking about Carnation Street.  People, don’t forget that if you’ve got a visible profile or a visible Facebook page, just be sensible don’t be stupid.  If you ring someone up and they’re trying to pretend that they’re not in the pub and they blatantly are, don’t lie.  You’re quite entitled as a freelancer to an afternoon of and say, “I’m not working this afternoon I’ll call you back on Monday.”


Lorrie: No, no I’m just in the office.


Philippa: Exactly.  Do you know there’s a pub in Sheffield that’s called The Office.


Lorrie: Oh, lovely.


Philippa: I think it’s ingenious because you ring home and go, “I’m going to be home late I’ve got to stay late in the office.”  Isn’t that clever?


Lorrie: That is good actually.  I though actually you were going to say something really, really ingenious, not that what you said wasn’t ingenious.  But, I thought you were going to say something along the lines of actually you can wave a little flag and everybody will stop making a noise so you can actually pretend that you are home.  That would be great, wouldn’t it?


Philippa: That would.


Lorrie: If you had a pub that was very freelance friendly and you could just stick your hand up and be like, “I’ve got a call.”  That would be a life saver.


Philippa: I think we’ve covered quite a few mistakes that we’ve both personally made or both personally almost made and you learn just as much from almost making a mistake as you do from actually making it.


Lorrie: Yeah.


Philippa: The point is everybody will make mistakes, everybody will.  You can be as good as you want but it’s going to happen.  The point is getting out of them alive, trying to do as little damage as you can when you make them and mostly learning, learning from it.  Don’t assume which hotel on a particular long street it is.  Don’t say the F word to the man you don’t know.


Lorrie: Don’t turn up late to meetings, or almost late because you don’t have time to go and check your makeup in the mirror, check that you’re not sweating all over people.  There’s nothing worse than a wet handshake.


Philippa: That’s it.  That’s just some of many mistakes that Lorrie and I have made in the course of our careers and there will be more to come no doubt.  I’m sure we could repeat this episode every few weeks and there would be more.


Lorrie: I really, really hope not.


Philippa: Let’s hope not.


Lorrie: It’s a question, a lot of time especially, as you go on and you learn from the mistakes that you do make, it’s prevention rather than cure if you possibly, possibly can.  A lot of the mistakes really are just a result of not being prepared or having a lapse in judgment.


Philippa: Yes.


Lorrie: It’s a momentary lapse and you’ve just got to get yourself into the write habit, you really, really do.  Once you’ve done it you’re at least minimizing the chances of absolute agony and it is agonizing when you make a horrible, horrible mistake.  But what I would say is that if you make a mistake don’t try and bullshit your way out of it, really don’t.


Philippa: If you need to apologize, apologize.  You’re not going to lose face, you know, you made a mistake.  So say, “I’m really sorry I shouldn’t have done that.”


Lorrie: If it’s needed.  If not, have a laugh at yourself.


Philippa: Yes, absolutely.


Lorrie: Don’t take it too seriously if you don’t need to.  Apologize for any inconvenience or hurt that might have been caused, duck and cover for a while if you need too, lay low while the storm blows over if you’ve got to.  But at the end of the day, we all do it.


Philippa: Yep, it’s true.  Now, what we want to do now is introduce a new segment that is going to be part of every episode of A Little Bird Told Me from now on.  It’s the Little Bird Recommendations.  I feel we should have a jingle.


Lorrie: Da-da-dada.


Philippa: What we’re going to do each episode is both of us are going to choose something that we want to recommend to listeners.  Now this might be a blog post, a podcast, a grammar tip, a piece of software, a website, a plugin, anything really that we thought was worth sharing.  So Lorrie, what’s your Little Bird Recommendation this week?


Lorrie: So my first tip, it’s an important one but it’s really, really simple, but it’s something that I’ve noticed recently, sorting out your emails.  Two things, first as we’ve already mentioned, I think in one of the early podcast, an email signature is a great way to get a little professionalism into your communications and as we’ve already said it’s a great way of getting in a link to your website and your social media feeds.


Secondly, the autoresponder.  This is something I’ve really been thinking about recently.  In the last few weeks I’ve emailed a number of different freelancers about a number of different things but always with a view to actually hiring them.  On every occasion I’ve had nothing but silence.  Nothing but silence.


I understand that people, particularly freelancers, and particularly those doing sort of manual work which is what I really wanted which is window cleaners, gardeners, builders, that sort of thing, they can be out and about.  So I waited for a day or two, waited over a weekend and then when you hear nothing you go elsewhere.


But what’s also happened is the minute I go elsewhere I’ve had an email back from the original choice going, “Oh, I’m really sorry was away.”  If I had known they were away and if I had known when they were going to come back via an autoresponder I would have waited for them because they were my first choice.  So as it is they’ve missed out on business because I’m not going to go to somebody and then say, “Oh, sorry my original choice has got back to me.”


Philippa: No, no you can’t.


Lorrie: But if you’re like me you can’t afford to just go chucking clients away.  So my tip is this, if you’re going to go out of the office even for a day, even for half a day, let your clients know.  You don’t need to tell them all because they might not get in touch with you that day, but schedule your out of office autoresponder.  With Gmail you can schedule them so far in advance that you can just do it and forget about it.


Philippa: That’s really good advice.  I mean, if you’re a freelance writer or something changes are you’re at your computer a lot of the time.  But like you say, if you’re a window cleaner we understand that you’re not going to check your emails every half hour and that’s fine, but if you don’t get a response within a day you don’t know if that’s they don’t care, or if they don’t use that email account, or if they’re full up.


Lorrie: Or, out of business.


Philippa: Yeah, exactly or, whether they’ll be there the next day sorting it out.  That’s a really good tip.  My recommendation is something I only discovered yesterday but it’s brilliant.  I was doing some proofreading and I was editing a document in Google Docs.  Now, most of us, however much you might know and understand about language and grammar, most of us have certain mental blocks and for me one of them is complimentary with an i versus complementary with an e.


Lorrie: Oh, okay.


Philippa: Now, if you’re saying something nice to someone that’s a compliment with an i, I know that.  But there’s also complimentary meaning free and there’s complementary meaning things that go well together and I can never remember between those two which is spelt with an i and which is spelt with an e.


Anyway this came up in the document I was proofreading in the content of meaning goes well together.  So I knew I needed to double check whether the client used the right spelling or not.  So I highlighted the word and I was going to copy it into a Google search and do some research but when I highlighted it and right clicked what I discovered is there is an option called research that word.


Lorrie: Oh, brilliant.


Philippa: If you click on that it starts at the top with a definition and then underneath that is links to the thesaurus page for that word.


Lorrie: Oh, that’s really handy.


Philippa: For instance complimentary with an i, the top is a definition, adjective and then it has a few synonyms and then there’s loads of websites like Merriam Webster Dictionary, Free Dictionary, grammar sites, thesaurus sites.


Lorrie: It does it all for you.


Philippa: Wikipedia even, they all appear just to the right.  You don’t have to go into a separate page.  If you want to know more you can click links to those other sites. But for me, I did it, I found out that the client had used the wrong spelling because complementary with an e means goes well together so I changed that and I was able to fix it without leaving the Google Doc I was in.


Lorrie: Sure.


Philippa: So that’s my Little Bird Recommendation.


Lorrie: That’s brilliant because it’s one of those things that you need to be able to pick up on yourself and you need to be able to not waste too much time because spell check is not going to get it.


Philippa: Exactly.  I could have picked up a dictionary and looked it up and I could have done a Google search for the word, but sometimes you’re so busy that saving 10 seconds is still important.


Lorrie: Sure.  It’s not so much the 10 seconds it’s the process, it’s the fact that you have to stop the process that you’re doing at that time and start a different process and then get back into what you were doing.  You know as well as I do that once single click on the Internet when you’re in the middle of a really, really boring document can be fatal because you think, “Oh, I’ll just check my Twitter.  I’ll just have a look at the news.  Oh, what’s this?”


Philippa: Exactly.


Lorrie: You get distracted and you might lose a really good idea or you might just not go back to the document even though you really need to get a bit more done.


Philippa: With paper dictionaries I have a particular problem that a lot of linguistically minded people do which is if I look something up in a paper dictionary I’m reading it for 20 minutes because I then look up another word, and then another word, and then another word.


Lorrie: It’s like, “Oh, that one is nice.”


Philippa: Exactly.  People last but I can read a dictionary quite happily so yes, that’s a relief for me.  If I use a paper dictionary I will be distracted.  Yeah, like Lorrie said if you go into a separate tab and look something up there’s always something because yeah, you’re out of the original document so you mind as well check Twitter, and you mind as well check your email.  Whereas, if you can remain within the document itself and get the information you need just on the right hand side it’s handy, it’s quick, and yeah it reduces distractions considerably.


Lorrie: So I think that just about sums up our A Little Bird Told Me Recommendations.  We’d love to hear any recommendations that you’ve got over the coming weeks.  We are happy to feature them if we think they’re good.  If they’re a bit rubbish, sorry no.  You’ve got to be cruel Pip, you’ve got to be cruel.


Philippa: Cruel to be kind.


Lorrie: It’s true, we’re not having any rubbish recommendations.  We really, really hope that you’ve enjoyed the podcast.  We hope that baring our souls, if nothing else, has given you a bit of reassurance especially if you’re having a bad day or if you feel you’ve mucked up royally and nothing is ever going to be okay again.  It will.  It’ll be fine.


Philippa: Take heart, we’ve all done stupid things.


Lorrie: That’s it.  Usually, things work out better than you think.  Look at British Red Cross, that person lived to get slithered another day.  I sweated my way through a presentation under the spotlight and that client is one of my best clients now.  We’re human, we’re all human so try not to worry.  If you do worry, come and worry with me and Pip.  Come and have a chat with us.


Philippa: Exactly.  I got the wrong hotel but I still got a cracking interview because thankfully I was a few minute ahead of myself in the first place.  I swore at a man but that didn’t prevent any work I was going to get because I wasn’t going to get any work from him anyways, it wasn’t that kind of conversation.


Lorrie: Sure.


Philippa: Sometimes you might swear at a man and lose work and that would feel even more horrendous.


Lorrie: It’s not the end of the world.


Philippa: It’s not the end of the world, things happen.


Lorrie: There’s ways and means of repairing situations.


Philippa: There are.


Lorrie: Even if there aren’t sometimes it’s okay.  We’re all still here, the world’s still turning it’s all good.  The podcast is still podcasting, the most important thing.


Philippa: That’s the most important thing.


Lorrie: It is.  It is, as long as this keeps going we’re all fine.  If you have any worries at all or if you have any horror stories you want to come and share –


Philippa: We want to know your horror stories.  We’ve bared our souls and we want you to do so now.


Lorrie: Come and share with us. You can find all the links to our social media feeds, you can find the link especially to the Podomatic page which is ALittleBirdToldMe.Podomatic.com and you can find our Facebook page from there so come and have a chat with us.  Tell us what you’ve been up to.  Tell us what you think of the podcast, the good, bad, we want to hear it.


Philippa: If we get any particularly good embarrassing mistake stories we will share them next time.


Lorrie: Which is a huge incentive for you to share them with us. The whole world will know so it’s all good.  I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn.


Philippa: And I’ve been Philippa Willitts and we will see you next time.