Tag Archives: Self-employment

Podcast Episode 13: How to be Responsive and Flexible Without Losing the Plot

Here is another solo episode from Lorrie, talking about how freelancers can plan all they like, but they have to be responsive and flexible because at any stage you might get a phonecall or an email which will change your to-do list entirely!

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Hello, and welcome to Episode 13 of A Little Bird Told Me, the podcast about the highs, the lows, and the no-nos of successful freelance writing.  I’m Lorrie Hartshorn with a bit of a cold this week so my apologies in advance for any sniffles and snuffles.  Today, I’m going to be at least try and sniffle my way through a podcast that will help you work out how to be a more responsive and flexible freelancer and how to deal with whatever comes your way without sacrificing time management and prioritization skills.

Basically, we’re going to be look at how to take on as much as possible without losing the plot.  This is another solo episode so you’ll have to tune in next time to hear me and the lovely Pip chatting together I’m afraid.

English: Jump! Deutsch: Spring!

English: Jump! Deutsch: Spring! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before I start I do want to remind you that if you head over to ALittleBirdToldMe.Podomatic.com you can subscribe to the podcast in any way that suits you really. We’ve got RSS Feed, we’ve got iTunes, Stitcher Smart Radio.  You can also find links to our Facebook page so you can come and have a chat with us on there as well as links to my personal Facebook, Twitter feeds, and my website as well as all the same links for the lovely Pip.  So if you’re missing her and can’t wait until the next episode head on over, subscribe, and you’ll be the first to hear when a new episode comes out from the pair of us.

Back to the responsive flexible business, the first thing that I really would say is that being a freelancer is all about being responsive and flexible.  In a lot of the other episodes that Pip and I have recorded we’ve talked about how you can build up business, and gain new clients, and win new contracts.  But what I really want to talk about today is how to juggle those clients and how to keep them happy.  How to keep yourself happy as well, because there’s no point freelancing if you’re not getting any benefits from it.

You’ll need to know how to deal with a workload that absolutely will fluctuate all the time and you’ll definitely need to know what happens when things don’t go as planned.  Now, flexibility as most of us know, can be one of the biggest plus points for working for yourself.  The minute you say to somebody they go, “Oh, you lucky thing.  You don’t have to commute in the morning, you don’t have to go out in the rain, you don’t have to do A, B and C.”

It’s true, it can be great.  If you’re like Pip and you don’t particularly like Sundays you can just arrange things so that you work through Sundays and take Wednesdays off as a bit of a midweek weekend.  Try doing that in an office, it wouldn’t happen.  But, like many things, flexibility has a price.  In order to deliver the best work and the best service possible to your customers, you do sometimes, and I would perhaps say often, have to be flexible in a way that will suit your clients rather than in a way that actually suits you.

I’m not talking about sacrificing your life, but you do need to be able to handle what your clients throw at you whether that’s a week’s radio silence when you really needed some work from them, or a full length novel manuscript and you scheduled the publisher by Friday while you’ve got loads of other stuff on, or a press release that needed to be out yesterday and wasn’t.  But, how do you meet the demands without letting your entire schedule fall apart.  That’s really what we’re going to be dealing with today.

The first thing I really want to talk about is managing your schedule which, for me at least, is an absolutely vital part of being flexible and responsive.  It doesn’t sound like it at first, managing a schedule, that doesn’t sound like flexible and responsive that sounds very structured.  But, bear with me, I promise it really, really does help.

I start every working day not just with a gigantic cup of coffee, but with a list of tasks.  Everything I get in my inbox in the morning goes on the to-do list.  As we’ve discussed previously, I prefer written to-do lists but you can get programs and software that will help you keep a digitized to-do list.  As I said though, I use a written to-do list and I combine that with the use of the starred list in my Gmail inbox which is where you can add important mails to a shorter list by highlighting a little gold star next to them.

Once everything is down on my list, it’s a question of deciding what has to happen first.  It’s not really a case of you must do all this now, now, now because that’s never going to work but some things are essentially, some things aren’t.  Some things need to happen straight away and some don’t and it’s up to you to decide which is which.

What I find actually is the common fear with many freelancers, myself included sometimes if I’m a bit stressed is not clearing a to-do list.  But in all honesty though, I very, very rarely clear a to-do list now.  That’s not because I’m badly organized or not very productive.  I can’t remember the last time I cleared a to-do list because when you work for yourself there’s always more you can doing.  There’s always more stuff you can stick on your to-do list.  If you clear it you’re probably not on top of all the proactive stuff you should be getting done.

It’s worth noting at this point that you should always, always put aside a few hours a week to get your admin and your housekeeping done so business development and social media, because remember that’s what brings new clients in.  But yes, managing your to-do list, the key thing really is to get your urgents done and then to work through as many of your fairly urgents as possible.

What I will say is don’t feel pressured to try and get work in early if you don’t have to.  Say you’ve agreed to a deadline with somebody of two weeks for a piece of writing, use that time.  If they want the work in two weeks feel free to take the two weeks.  Obviously, if you get it done sooner because you don’t have that much on that’s fine.  But, if you have other pieces of work with shorter deadlines dropping into your inbox while you’ve still got seven to 10 days left on the bigger project, by all means take a bit of time.

A big part of managing your schedule and making sure you don’t end up working late and weekends all the time is to get on board with some productivity techniques.  Use your working hours to get as much done as possible.  Pip and I recommended a range of software tools in Episode Eight I think it was, and we’ve also talked, and talked, and talked about accountability days which are our babies.  I like to think we invented them, and I’m not going to do any research in case I find out that we didn’t, but yeah accountability days for us at least are great.

We log on in the morning, say good morning to one another via email, tell each other what we want to get done in the next half hour or hour, depending on how often we want to check in and then try and make sure that we hit the target.  It really does help to keep you on track.  As Pip and I have discussed before, it’s amazing how much more you get done if you put your mind to it and if you focus on ticking off one task at a time.


Stress (Photo credit: Alan Cleaver)

If something does come up, and life happens especially when you’re a freelancer, because you aren’t working for one company you’re working for a number usually, if you have to deal with something straightaway, say a client wants to phone you for [inaudible 6:56] try and leave the task that you’re currently working on in a sensible place.  Finish the half hour time slot, or finish your paragraph, or whatever.  Just try and leave the piece of work in as sensible a state as possible because then when you come back to it you can try and get done what you needed to before the interruption happened.

As most freelancers listening will know, there can be several if not numerous unexpected events in any one day.  That’s just the nature of the beast when it comes to freelancing so do try and not panic.  If you panic you’re likely to let your whole schedule go out of the window.  But if you say, “Okay, that interruption is dealt with, now I have to get on to this.”  If it helps, redo your to-do list, rearrange things but try not to panic.

Another of the big factors in being responsive is excitingly enough, managing deadlines.  I know, thrilling.  But really, honestly, truly, the best way to avoid missing deadlines is to make sure you don’t set any that you can’t keep in the first place.  Basically deal with prevention rather than cure.  It might sound really, really obvious but the thing is if you’re new to freelancing or you’re struggling to find work, it can be so tempting to offer really, really short deadlines in a bid to win clients in the same way people offer really, really low prices.  It’s actually counterproductive in my experience at least.

It can go both ways, depending on the client, depending on the type of work you do, and depending on the project in question.  Some people will be impressed by an ultra quick turnaround.  I’m not convinced that it’s great for you though as a freelancer because what it is worth remembering is taking too little time for a piece of work can have some really, really bad effects on the quality because not only do you have less time to do your research and less time to actually put pen to paper if you’re a copywriter, or fingers to keyboard but you’re also putting extra pressure on yourself.  You need to ask yourself whether delivering the work on a such a short notice is sustainable over the long term.

Another thing to consider is that even if you can squeeze a piece of work into an impressively short time span with no detrimental effects as far as you’re aware you might be dealing with a client who is not impressed by it.  As I mentioned in Episode Nine I believe, you can actually come across as desperate or a bit shoddy by presenting a potential client with a really, really short deadline in a bid to impress.  They might be wondering why haven’t you got anything else on, or surely you can’t be doing a good job in that space of time.

That’s not to say it can’t work.  I’ll be fair.  If you deliver one or two services that require a consistently short amount of time and you don’t have to push yourself too hard, you could certainly make a super quick turnaround part of your offering.  You know, 24 hours, 48 hours, whatever, same day even, six hours, it depends on what you do.

But, if you need to take into account longer pieces of work or the ad hoc pieces of work that really, at least for me, [a pit 9:56] to my self employment, you might find that offering to take on any piece of work with set turnaround or really, really short turnaround you’re actually setting yourself up for burnout.

Really, just weigh it up, if you know that you can deliver your best work on a really short deadline, feel free to go for it.  Take it as one of your recipes.  For most people though, I would suggest hedging your bets and offering your clients a more measured deadline.  Just deliver it with confidence.  If they ask why give them a reason, “I want to produce quality work and I need X amount of time to do it.”  And, most likely they’ll go for it.  Just keep an eye on the industry standards and make sure you’re not super slow and you should be fine.

Now, this does feed into another important factor in being flexible and responsive as a freelancer and that is communication.  Sticking with the theme of deadlines, if you do find that you have taken too much on and it looks like you’re not going to make a deadline that you’ve set with a client you need to assess the situation as soon as possible and decide what to tell your client.

There are a number of things that you need to be considering when you start hearing warning bells and that’s firstly, can you get the work done by putting in some extra hours?  If you can, can you get it done without it impacting on your other work and your other clients?  If you can’t, what are you going to tell your client?  Now my suggestion would be this, if it’s a one off and you can get the work done without mucking the rest of your work load up, do it because losing out on a bit of sleep isn’t going to kill you, rearranging a trip to the cinema is not going to hurt you.  But, if you can’t do it you can’t do it.

If you’re ill, if you have a super important family event to go to, or if completing this one piece of work on time is going to muck up really important deadlines for the rest of the week, make your choice carefully.  If it is a no go and you’re going to have to rearrange a deadline that you’ve already agreed to tread very, very carefully.

I’m not going to charge you for palm reading here, you can expect your client to be unhappy.  I can tell you that without knowing your client.  Even if they don’t say as much to you it’s just not ideal, is it?  If you’ve arranged for somebody to give you a piece of work on a set day you organize things around that.  Just as when you’re a freelancer you organize your schedule around the pieces of work you’ve got coming in, your clients will be doing the same so they’re not going to be best pleased.

To clients with whom you’ve got a good ongoing working relationship, it might be a huge deal especially if it’s not a usual turn of events, you know, if you’re normally punctual in getting the work to them.  For one off clients though, no matter how punctual, and decent, and marvellous you are with everybody else it’s likely to be really damaging to your reputation with them particularly and with anyone else if they talk about it and they probably will.  So as I say, tread really, really carefully.

As I said before, assess the situation.  Don’t go and tell your client what they don’t need to know.  If you manage to get in a piece of work by the skin of your teeth and you wake up the next day looking like the living dead because you’ve had so much coffee and you’ve been up all night they don’t need to know, Twitter doesn’t need to know, Facebook definitely doesn’t need to know.  What’s more is perhaps you need to just get a bit of rest and plan your time better in the future.

Equally though, if you’re going to miss a deadline do not leave your clients guessing.  The golden rule, explain to your client as soon as you’re sure you’re going to be late what’s happened, why it’s happened although, keep it brief they don’t want a massive sob story, and more importantly what you’re going to do about it.

Now, you’ll need to take your clients lead on the third one.  If they can wait for the work, you [inaudible 13:34] of apologizing and asking them to do just that.  If it’s appropriate offer them a discount, or if you’re really, really late waive the fee completely and just take it as the price of salvaging a bit of your reputation.

What you should never, ever do though and this has happened to me a few times recently, and it’s so annoying is let the deadline come and go without a word.  As I say, this has happened to me a few times recently now actually where I’ve hired a freelancer for a piece of work and the deadline has arrived and there’s been absolutely no word from the freelancer.  It is so rude, and it is so unprofessional, and it actually ended up being me that has to email the freelancer and say in a really British way, “I’m really sorry to chase on this, but the work I’m paying you for, where is it?”


stress (Photo credit: bottled_void)

It’s horrible, it’s so awkward.  As Pip can vouch, it really does sour the situation and it doesn’t make me want to hire somebody again.  As a freelancer don’t do it, don’t let people sit there wondering what’s happened to the work they’re paying you for.  If there’s any way on God’s green earth that you can get word to your client that things have gone bottom’s up you need to find it and you need to do it.

If the client can’t wait for the work, consider whether there’s any reasonable way to help them resolve the situation.  That is if they want you to, they might just tell you to get lost.  If you really can’t juggle your work any other way and slot the work in, consider doing something that I’m going to talk a bit more about in a minute and that’s delegating the work to somebody that you trust. If not, if they’re not happy with that, it’s time to just hold your hands up, apologize really sincerely, and accept that you might just have lost the client.

I mean, you can certainly try and win them back with an email and an offer, or waiving a fee, or what have you and I would suggest it because otherwise it can look a little bit like you didn’t care about them in the first place.  But, if they were looking for a one off piece of work rather than a repeat arrangement it may just be adios amigo, they might just be gone and you’re just going to have to try and improve your working methods in the future.

When you find yourself pushing deadlines on a regular basis, there’s something wrong.  Now, it might not be you it might be your client that is the problem.  If you have one or two clients who consistently drop work on you at the last minute and who are causing you problems in meeting deadlines for your other clients you really do need to consider your position.

Now, from the top of my head there are two ways you can go on this.  If the client gives you regular work that pays well and you enjoy working for them, you can choose to reduce the amount of work you’re doing for other clients and concentrate on giving work to this one particular client.  Now, that does approach something like salaried employment but if it suits you it’s fine.

To inject a level of predictability into your schedule it might be worth having a chat with the client and consider working for a retainer, or agreeing up on a set amount of work per week or per month, whatever works.  If you’re not getting regular work from them or if it’s not paying well, or you just don’t want to dedicate that amount of time to them, there are a number of things you can do.

Firstly, if it’s just a lack of notice is a problem you can always phone them.  You can always phone them for a chat and say, “Look, I owe it to all of my clients to produce quality work in line with deadlines that have been set and I include you in that.”  Try and establish what the problem is, why the work is coming through in such short notice.  See if there’s anything they can do about it, see if there’s anything you can do about it.

The ideal outcome of the call is that you’ll be able to come to some sort of arrangement with them where you’ll take work on but you’ll have a little bit more notice.  Alternatively, and it’s something that Pip and I have discussed previously and it’s what I just mentioned earlier, you can consider partnering up with a number of other freelancers whose standards you absolutely know are good.

If you receive a piece of work from a client on a short deadline you can then get in touch with your new colleagues, to see whether any of them are going through a bit of a dry patch.  If somebody has a quiet afternoon, or a quiet come of days, they might be happy to take some work on.  You can hand it over for nothing, because you’re grateful they’ve taken the work on and they’ve got you out of a sticky spot, or if it’s more of a regular thing, you can arrange some kind of fee or commission with them.  That’s something you’ll have to work out between the pair of you, but it’s actually really a nice way of filling in short dry spells within your week and it can help to build up really friendly working relationships with other self employed people.

Now, delegating work is something that has to be handled really carefully, because you do still owe it to your client to deliver work that matches up to the quality that they expect from you.  If nothing else, you need to remember that the work is coming through on your name.  You recommended that person, you’re handing the work over, your client is paying you and I assume you will therefore pay the person who has actually taken on the work.  So you need to make sure that your client is happy with the arrangement before it goes ahead.

If one of your freelance colleagues does undertake the work the onus does remain on you to carry out some quality control.  So if it’s a piece of copywriting you need to proof read it before you send it to your client.  If it’s a press release and there’s a certain way that your client prefers to have those formatted, you need to make sure it’s all in line with their expectations.  As long as you have [inaudible 18:51], it can be a really, really good way to free up some time and keep working ticking over.  You know, keep your clients happy without burning out.

I hope this little podcast will give you some good ideas about how to be a bit more flexible and a bit more responsive in your day-to-day life without really letting your schedule suffer as a result.  It really is a case of balancing existing tasks with new ones that fall into your lap, and they will fall into your lap several times during the day.  To come back to it, for me, the to-do list is king really.  Cross things off, add things on, redo it.  I love a nice clean to-do list.  Redo it as many times as you need to to get the urgent pieces of work done.  When they’re dong go on to the fairly urgent ones.  If you get more urgent ones in, rearrange things again.  There’s no limit to the number of times you can do this.

Make sure that you factor in as well time for your housekeeping such as admin, invoicing, social media, and business development.  Also, make sure that you take time off because a burnt out freelancer is absolutely no good to anybody and you end up getting less done in the long term.

As ever, thank you so much for listening.  Don’t forget to go to ALittleBirdToldMe.Podomatic.com and subscribe so that you can hear everything that the love Pip and I have to say.  You can leave us reviews on iTunes, you can leave us comments on Stitcher Smart Radio.  You can come and have a chat on our Facebook pages or on our Twitter feed.  We’d absolutely love to hear what you think.

You can find all of my details and all of Pip’s details on the podomatic page.  As always, a transcript will be available as soon as my fingers can manage it. I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn and Pip and I will catch you next time.

Podcast Episode 11: Overcoming Isolation as a Freelance Writer

In this week’s podcast, I talk about the problems that freelancers can face with isolation – working from home alone can lead to cabin fever, so I discuss plenty of tips for making sure you maintain social contact while still getting all your work done.

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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Links Mentioned in This Episode

Why I hired a girl on Craigslist to slap me in the face…

UK Jelly


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Hello, and welcome to Episode 11 of A Little Bird Told Me, the podcast about the highs, the lows, and the no-nos of successful freelance writing. I’m Philippa Willitts and today I am doing another solo episode and I’m going to be talking about how to overcome isolation as a freelance writer, or freelance anything really.

Before I start, I want to remind you that if you go to ALittleBirdToldMe.Podomatic.com you can subscribe to the podcast in a number of ingenious ways such as RSS, iTunes, Stitcher and you can also find links to our Facebook page. As well, you can find links to my various websites and social media presences. So please, head over to ALittleBirdToldMe.Podomatic.com and sign up and get in touch.

Working at home

Working at home (Photo credit: gibsonsgolfer)

Like I mentioned, I’m going to be talking about overcoming isolation. Working from home is brilliant in many ways. There’s no need to set out early in the morning on a freezing winter day in the rain to catch a crowded bus to work. You don’t have a dress code, you can basically just stumble downstairs in the morning and you’re already at your desk. If you want to take an early lunch you can do it. If you want to start late and finish late you can do it. If you want to work Sundays instead of Wednesdays, one of my own favourite things, you can do that too.

There’s no office politics, no one eavesdrops on your phone calls and let’s face it, there’s no heart sinking moments when that unbearable colleague walks through the door. However, that being said, working from home isn’t without its problems. You don’t have annoying colleagues in the room but, you also don’t have supportive ones either. You don’t have to trudge to the office in the morning but, you also risk not leaving the house at all. When your home is also your workplace, isolation is a big risk factor that many freelancers face.

So, what steps can you take to overcome isolation? My first suggestion is lunch dates. You need to eat lunch in order to fuel your brain for the afternoon ahead so why not once a week arrange a lunch date with a friend, or a former colleague, because when you work at home it’s really easy to get into the habit of grabbing a sandwich and eating it at your desk because taking half an hour or an hour can feel a bit pointless.

However, if you take an hour or two to go out and socialize over lunch it can do you a world of good. You get to see your friends. They’re probably in a similar situation even if they don’t work at home, at their desk they may be tempted to just grab a sandwich and work through so it’s good for both of you and you get to see your friends.

On a similar note scheduling social time specifically is a really good idea because it’s easy to promise yourself that you’ll take an afternoon off but then some work will come in or it’s raining, or you just don’t feel like it so your planned walk in the park, or trip to the shops starts to look quite a lot less appealing. But, if you’ve scheduled the time in your diary and preferably arranged to meet other people during that time it’s a bit harder to cancel so you’re more likely to go out and rediscover what having human company is like.

You don’t need to feel guilty about taking time away from work because chances are if you have a change of scene and some good conversations with someone you care about you’re going to come back refreshed, full of ideas, you might have seen something that sparked your creativity. So it’s not a negative anti-work move, it’s actually good for you socially and for your work.

The next tip is don’t always email. When you need some information from somebody the easiest thing is to just drop them an email. It’s what we do all the time, “Hi, do you have that document?” “What time do you want to meet on Friday?” It’s quick and easy to just send them an email. However, breaking that habit and making a phone call instead, just perhaps once a day, it can be a great way to break through the monotony and have a conversation once in a while.

Why not ring and say, “What time do you want to meet on Friday?” You’ll hear a human voice, you might have a chat, and it’s all good; do it. We kind of forget that before 15 years ago that is what we did, we rang people or heaven forbid saw them. You don’t want to make a phone call for every single email you have to send, but once or twice a day why not pick up the phone.

If you find that you’re getting cabin fever and you’re sick of the sight of the same four walls, work somewhere different for a while. Go out to a coffee shop, go to the library and do some work there. You might find that you’re more focused but also, just having people milling around and being in different surroundings can do wonders for your state of mind and for the work you do.

You might cringe a bit at the thought of those guys in Starbucks with their Macs but they do it for a reason. It’s quite nice to have someone bring you coffee and to be in a bustling environment once in a while rather than the solitude of your home office. The library similar, especially if you’re a writer, they’re full of books and information what more could you need.

They may not have Wi-Fi but if they don’t, you’ll probably get even more work done. There are books everywhere, it’s writer heaven and they’re all free which is even better. I generally tend to be too self conscious to set up in Starbucks to work but, setting up in the library is brilliant.

Collaborate [11/52]

Collaborate [11/52] (Photo credit: Brenderous)

My next suggestion is something that Lorrie’s talked about before which is collaboration. It can be a good idea to collaborate with fellow freelancers to offer a more complete service. So freelance designers for instance, because web designers are often times asked to recommend copywriters. Copywriters are sometimes asked to recommend web designers. There are also times when working together on a bigger project can be really valuable.

If you make connections with other freelancers, perhaps local to you, although with the Internet they don’t have to be local to you, they can be anywhere in the world. But, if you collaborate with them and make some really good connections you both benefit and it’s great for business to have those kinds of collaborative relationships. But collaborating with other professionals can break down isolation problems as well.

Now, the next suggestion is one that seems to divide people. Some people love the idea, others hate it and this is co-working spaces. These are where people who work from home can get together and all work together in the same room. They are events that might take place weekly or monthly, they can be in a variety of places but what they’ve all got in common is people who normally work alone can all work together.

Now I attend a co-working space in the city I live in. It’s weekly but I can’t always attend that often. However, when I do go I thoroughly enjoy it. Some weeks it’s quite chatty, other weeks everybody has strictly got their head down and getting on with lots of work. Either way being in the company of other people is great. It’s a whole different situation and I’m quite often very focused when I’m there and I get a lot done.

Some people’s criticism of it is that I think they worry that it might be really chatty and it’s more of a social event than a working event. But, the ones I’ve attended even where some people are chatting, others have headphones on and are working away so even if some people are chatting it doesn’t mean everybody is you can get a lot of work done and you can just get the benefit of being somewhere with other people.

Another feature of co-working spaces is they can offer the beginnings of a collaborative relationship. Some of the coders that attend the one I go to collaborate on work and I am now looking at working with the venue to provide some workshops soon. Now, that was a really unexpected lovely benefit of attending these events. I’ve met some really nice people.

The one I go to is called Jelly. There are Jellys all over the country, all over the world I think but there are other types of co-working events. Google your area and co-working and see if anything comes up and you can try it. I was really nervous the first time, I didn’t know what to expect but it’s been great.

Something to bear in mind when thinking about isolation is accountability. That’s a bit of a sideways reference I suppose but, it’s definitely related to isolation because being entirely isolated can make it hard to keep yourself accountable and make it hard to achieve everything you’re trying to achieve. Keeping yourself accountable does very often involve somebody else. Lorrie and I have mentioned before that we have what we call accountability days once or twice a week or a fortnight.

We basically email each other either every hour or every half hour with what we’ve achieved and what we are doing next. It’s a really effective way of keeping us focused. Some people go quite a lot further. A guy called Maneeshi Sethi writes a blog called Hack the System and recently he wrote a post about how he hired someone to slap him in the face. Honestly he did! What happened was he put an ad on Craigslist looking for somebody who he would pay to sit next to him, they could do their own thing, as long as they kept an eye on whether or not he was working.

What led up to this was that he had used some software to see how much time he was wasting and he was really horrified by his results. I suspect a lot of us would be. So for some reason what came to his mind was paying somebody to slap him and he did it. His productivity increased from an average of 35% to 40% up to 98% on the day that the slappy person, I’m loathed to say slapper was by his side. It’s a fairly extreme example but what it does go to show is it’s harder to waste time when somebody else is keeping an eye on your progress.

Now rather than hiring somebody to sit next to you and carry out acts of violence, why not get together with somebody periodically. You could sit next to each other and encourage each other to keep focused. It can work wonders for your productivity and help to beat feelings of isolation as well.

Networking is an important factor in being a freelancer, being self employed. But, it doesn’t just have to be a business benefit, it can be a really good opportunity to socialize as well including meeting possibly other self employed people who will be in a similar situation to you. I attend networking events, I’m not brilliant at them I have to admit, I’m forever striving to improve how I do them. But, they’re a great way of meeting lots of people who quite often have something in common through your work.

They can have many kinds of benefits and bonuses from a business point of view. You can make contacts, you might get some work as a result if you meet someone who needs just what you’re offering. You’ll probably swap lots of business cards but also it means you spend two hours talking to people, making conversation, chatting. It’s not just good for business it’s good for freelancers to make sure they get out and meet new people.

The next point is easier said than done but it’s keep the work coming in. Basically the more work you’ve got the less time you’ll have to feel lonely. Having a good structure to your day can also really help to keep your mind on work rather than thinking about how much you want to chat with someone.
I’m one of these people who functions very well on her own but there are points where I realize I haven’t had human contact for way too long and that’s not healthy. But sometimes if I’ve just not got enough work I kind of mistake that for feeling feed up personally. I’m not, it’s just that I don’t have enough to do so, if you keep a steady about of work coming in this is obviously easier said than done for a freelancer, but if you can do your best to do that it will help with pangs, I think.

Now, social media it’s not the same as meeting up with people face-to-face but getting yourself on Twitter or Facebook, wherever your friends are basically, can be a really positive way of interacting with people when you’re home alone. Mutual support, interesting links to click, and just silly things to make you laugh. They can all make a positive difference.

Similarly online forums for freelancers or local business forums can provide advice and support that can be really beneficial. Even start a podcast, the conversations that Lorrie and I have around our podcasts, not to mention once the recording is finished on Skype, are really good for mutual support and plenty of gossip. Lots of people, not just freelancers, who can’t get out and about rely on social media for social contact.

I know lots of disabled people who can’t get out and Twitter for them is a life line. Even if you’re in a different situation and it’s just work that you do on your own, having somewhere, be it a supportive forum, or friends on Twitter or Facebook, or wherever it is that works for you where you can go and let off steam or get some advice is really valuable so don’t write it off just because it’s not face-to-face contact.

The final tip is join, join, join. Join groups, join classes, join societies. These can be work related or they can be entirely unconnected with your work. Do you want to learn about bird watching? Do you want to improve your dancing? Do you want to improve your professional development? Go for it. Do it. There will be something that you can join that will force you to meet other people, probably once a week, and having that as a regular event in your diary will be brilliant.

You’re learning new skills, be they work ones or personal and you’re forcing yourself into a new situation with new people. There are things like Geek Up which is where web developers can get together and just socialize because a lot of web developers are freelance and work on their own. I know various people who attend Geek Up and really get a lot out of it.

There are that kind of group for all sorts of professions and all sorts of interests, and skills, and situations. Check out your local college, look for adult education centres, and look for societies and groups. Lots of towns and cities have one of those cafes where there’s a notice board with notices about all sorts of things. I can think of the exact one in my city. Go and have a look at the notice board and see if anything takes your fancy. Then, sign up and do it. Don’t think about it endlessly, just do it.

I hope some of those will give you some good ideas about how to combat any isolation you might be feeling if you work at home on your own. Freelancing is brilliant. I love the flexibility, I love working from home but, sometimes you really do need human contact with somebody else. When you’re self employed you have to make more of an effort with that than most people do. Plan things, don’t be vague, plan it specifically and mnemonically to do it.

Thank you very much for listening. Don’t forget to go to ALittleBirdToldMe.Podomatic.com and subscribe. You can also leave us reviews on iTunes, comments on Stitcher, or on our Facebook page too. We’d love to hear what you think. Also, go to the Podomatic page to check out the show notes where I will link to places I’ve mentioned on this podcast and you can also find how to contact me.

I’ve been Philippa Willitts and I will see you next time!

Podcast Episode 10: Harnessing the Power of We for Freelancing Success #bad12 #powerofwe

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In honour of Blog Action Day 2012, Lorrie and I have created a podcast episode on their theme of The Power of We, and how it can help freelance writers. Have a listen and let us know what you think!

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Philippa: Hello and welcome to Episode 10 of A Little Bird Told Me – we’ve reached double figures – hurrah!

Lorrie: Woohoo!

Philippa: This is the podcast where two freelance writers chart 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 details about the podcast, including how to subscribe via RSS, with iTunes or with Stitcher Smart Radio. You can also find a link to our Facebook page, where you can like us – and if you do any of those things, subscribe or like us on Facebook, you’ll be the first to know when we’ve got a new episode out, so you won’t miss a thing. I’m Philippa Willitts…

Lorrie: …and I’m Lorrie Hartshorn, and today, we’re podcasting in support of a really great cause – Blog Action Day. Since 2007, Blog Action Day has been uniting bloggers, vloggers and anyone, really, with an online presence, and encouraging people all over the Internet to blog about one important global topic all on the same day.

Now, this year’s subject is ‘The Power of We’, and although it’s a bit of a cheesy title, it’s a great one because there’s so much to say. Pip and I wanted to get together – which is very apt for the Power of We! – and record a podcast that reflects our thoughts and feelings on the topic.

Philippa: We have talked before about the fact that both of us really benefit from working together on the podcast, and also from the mutual support we give each other on a day-to-day basis, really, whether that’s when we have accountability days with each other, which we mentioned in Episode eight, I think, we also check things out that we’re unsure of, or just offer each other an opportunity to offload!

Lorrie: And my God, don’t we take advantage of it?

Philippa: We certainly do!

Lorrie: Whether it’s email or Twitter, there’s usually a message from Pip somewhere around and I know I return the favour, so it’s all good! But, our podcast, really, is just a collaboration in what can otherwise be quite an isolating job. We tend to think of it as keeping your competitors close but your colleagues even closer, as it were. There are a lot of freelancers and sole traders out there who seem to operate under a big dark cloud of constant suspicion and they’re pretty cagey when it comes to talking to other freelancers. But, while there’s some wisdom in keeping clients and your business techniques under your hat sometimes, it’s really exhausting to have to be on your guard 24/7.

Philippa: It really is. And the fact is, if you are helpful to people, others have a tendency to be helpful to you back.

Lorrie: It’s true. It can be counterintuitive first because someone has to take the first step and be helpful first, and not everyone’s going to reciprocate. But, at the end of the day, as a freelancer or sole trader, you can’t win and do all the work in the world. It’s not possible. I think we’ve gained much more from collaborating than we ever could have from regarding one another with squinty eyes across a room – or across a social media platform, in this case!

Philippa: It’s so true! I quite often get emails from people saying they want to be a freelance writer and asking for advice, and I do try to be as helpful as I can, because I did the same to a few people when I was starting out and they were kind enough to offer me some really useful help and advice, so I feel it’s important to pass that on too.

Lorrie: Yeah, I have a bit of a different experience with that. When I was setting up – I started freelancing when I was at University and it was on a part-time basis – I felt that I couldn’t approach anyone for help because I’d be begging information from people. I realise now, 10 years on, that that’s not the case.

It can be easy to be a bit stand-offish with other freelancers – and wannabe freelancers, in this case – because building up a successful freelance career really can be hard and you get visions of them swooping in, becoming this copywriting wizard that you can never be and stealing all your clients – but, really, it’s a good idea to help one another out. While you do have to be careful, there’s plenty of advice you can share that will help someone else build up their business without having a single detrimental effect on your own.

Philippa: Definitely. And this is just one way in which “the power of we” really does benefit freelancers. A sense of solidarity and mutual help and support empowers individuals to access information and make connections with others. But there are wider benefits from harnessing “the power of we” too, for freelance writers.

Lorrie: Yeah, I mean, if you consider the success of some of the best businesses out there, it’s never really the result of one person working alone – it might be when they’re setting up, but sooner or later, it’s not just one person anymore. I’ve rarely met anyone who has all of the skills necessary to deliver a range of services without any assistance, or advice or input from someone else.

You and I, Pip, for example, have different strengths and skills – we’ve got quite a different skill set even though we’re both copywriters and editors, we sort of lean in different directions. While it’d be easy to become envious of one another if we were that way inclined – I could think, “Oh, well Pip’s got a more innate understanding of social media than I do!” and you could think, “Oh, well Lorrie understands narrative technique better than I do!” But, the fact that we’ve got an open and honest dialogue with one another means that we’ve both actually got twice as much information at our fingertips, which is never a bad thing for business.

Philippa: Exactly! In episode four, I think it was, we talked about whether or not freelancer writers and editors should ever work for free. We both felt really strongly that, except for the odd incidents or doing voluntary work deliberately for a non-profit, writers and editors should always insist on being paid for their work. Because working for free, or for a very low fee, it devalues your skills and abilities, but also devalues the skills of other freelance writers who are trying to make a living.

Lorrie: Yeah, in the weeks that followed that episode, we had so many discussions across social media with other freelancers – not necessarily just writers and editors. There was that cake-baker wasn’t there? Tsk, I say “cake baker” – I’m obviously not an expert! “Confectioner” would be the word – I’m quite ashamed now, as a wordsmith, that I came out with “cake baker”!

Philippa: Well, she does bake cakes! Sometimes it’s just good to say it as it is!

Lorrie: Haha, thank you! You know, everyone I spoke to – both on and offline (as you can well imagine, I took this topic to the end of its possibilities!) – was outraged by the idea that there are people out there who have the cheek to ask writers and editors to work for free. But, this isn’t a rare thing – that was the most shocking thing of all – that it’s a very, very enduring belief that working for free is both necessary and desirable.

Philippa: Yeah, I think if you’re not aware of certain freelancing websites or that kind of culture that’s grown online, then it is really shocking to hear that people are expected to write 1,000 words for $5. Offline companies wouldn’t dream – if they’re not very savvy online – of hiring a writer for that amount of money and, yet, online, it’s become a cultural norm, really.

Lorrie: Definitely – I had a meeting with a new client the other day and I mentioned it to her; she was appalled! She was so, so shocked, and she was actually wanting to pay me for the meeting I was having with her because some people just don’t have that mentality. Unfortunately, though it’s just something that’s come to the fore at the moment.

When it comes to the Power of We, Pip and I really wanted to talk about the fact that there’s strength in numbers: the idea that by sticking together and adhering to a list of standards, freelance writers, editors, what have you – can help to alter the state of the market.

Philippa: Yes, because it can be so difficult when you are on your own, to stand up for your right to be paid a decent wage for the work you do.

Lorrie: Definitely.

Philippa: Yeah, some clients put the pressure on to accept lower fees – I’ve had emails saying, “Well, this person will do it for $5, why won’t you?”, but strength in numbers is a really powerful thing. And without wanting to come across all lefty, it’s also why Unions exist for people with regular jobs! It’s not something unique to freelancers.

Lorrie: Definitely. And I think a lot of clients don’t really understand what goes into the process of, say, translation or copywriting or editing. They see someone doing, as you’ve just said, “the same thing” – which, of course, never really is the same thing (it’s just a hash-job version of what you do) – and they want to know why you can’t price match. It’s a real shame.

Recently, I joined a really good business forum online and, although it’s got some really great information and topics on there, I was so, so disappointed to note that one of the threads recently was someone who was a self-identified copywriter offering articles in return for backlinks

Philippa: Uuuuugh!

Lorrie: I know! I really wanted to just say to him, please listen to our podcasts!

Philippa: Oh that’s so depressing! Yes, he clearly needs to tune in!

Lorrie: It’s true – it is depressing! And it was clear to me, as a copywriter, from his description of himself that he’s not a professional copywriter – he referred to “doing a bit of content writing in between other projects” and stated that he normally charges between about 0.9 and 1.2p per word.

Philippa: Ugh, alarm bells!

Lorrie: Yeah, and yet, there he was, getting so many positive responses – this was a massive thread. Everyone was like, “Oh, yes, me, me, me – I want free articles!” And if you’re a full-time writer, you can’t compete on those terms and still pay the bills. And as I mentioned in Episode 9, you need to compete on quality instead, otherwise you’re on to a loser.

Philippa: A particularly depressing thing about this is that a lot of people who want some website content or whatever just won’t know the difference between hiring someone who “does a bit of content writing between other projects”…

Lorrie: Uuuugh!

Philippa:…and hiring someone who really knows what they are doing. This is why they then think start to that writers asking for decent pay are being greedy!

Lorrie: That’s it – and they lose sight of the fact that this is a person who’s trying to pay their bills. All they see is, “Why is that person asking so much money when Person X wants to do it for free.”

Philippa: I should say at this stage that neither Lorrie nor myself charges extortionate fees!

Lorrie: I think people – clients – lose sight of the fact that everyone deserves to be paid for what they’re doing. They’ll see one person saying they can do 50 articles for two dollars, and then you don’t want to do the same thing and they don’t stop and think, “Would I want to do hours and hours of work for about £1.50 an hour?” – no, they wouldn’t – of course not – but they lose sight of that and they just want you to price match.

You just can’t argue with people like that on the face of things. People who hire freelancers for nothing, and there are so many of them out there, or for less than a penny a word will soon find out – well, this is my hope, anyway! This is the plan I’m sticking to! – they’re going to find out that they’re not getting the results they’re after, they’ll have sales letters that don’t work and email campaigns that no one will open. And this is when you step in as someone to whom copywriting isn’t just a time-filler – it’s not something you do “between other projects”, it’s something you’ve trained long and hard to be able to do properly.

Philippa: I think often you can only prove your worth by producing great quality copy. Reassure them you’re worth it, and then prove that you’re worth it!

Lorrie: There’s no nicer feeling, really, than getting a first communication back from a new client when you’ve sent them a piece of work and finding out that they’re really happy with what you’ve produced for them. I had it recently – I wrote some sales copy for a brand new client and got some really positive feedback. And it never gets old, and that’s because I researched my topic and I sat down and spent a concentrated amount of time getting the content just right.

Philippa: It always scares me – opening the first email after I’ve submitted something, especially to someone new but it feels amazing when they open it and they’re really pleased!

Lorrie: Haha, definitely! The fear is always there – and I think it should be, because it drives you to do well.

Philippa: You don’t want to get complacent.

Lorrie: But, as we’ve mentioned previously in a couple of episodes, it can be so hard not to drop your standards and say, “Yeah, alright then, I’ll do you one piece of work for free,” or “OK, then, I’ll do you a special discount.” When, you know, why? That person doesn’t deserve a discount just for giving you business – they’re hiring you, they’re getting something in return! But, as we say, it can be so hard not to do that when you see other people doing it

It’s easy to lose sight of what’s reasonable and what’s not when you’re spending hours every day on these freelancing sites and business forums and you can see people offering what they’re calling ‘the same’ work as you for peanuts. Which brings me on, actually…

Philippa: Haha, that was a beautiful link!

Lorrie: Haha, I know! I was quite pleased with that, actually – it was like, “Ooh, actually, next bullet point!”

Philippa: It was flawless!

Lorrie: Thank you – I genuinely am! But there’s a movement I’m a bit of a fan of, actually – Pip and I discussed it the other day – called, “No Peanuts for Translators”. It’s quite an informal movement – the website’s a bit chaotic – rather than anything big or official, but it’s quite a heartening thing to have found.

Philippa: Yes, I had a look at their site after you told me about it and it’s certainly based on a really great philosophy. For listeners, we will link to the site in the show notes if you want to have a look at it.

Lorrie: Yeah, do go along. It is just for translators, but Philippa and I are working on something for copywriters and editors – and other freelancers, actually – something a little more generalised, and with our own take on things, rather than just a carbon copy. But yes, for translators and interpreters, it’s great.

Really, what we were impressed by was that the mission statement, if you like, empowers translators and interpreters to resist lowering their rates, to communicate their standards to existing clients and to explain to potential new clients – and colleagues (which I’ll come back to) – why they’re not prepared to work for unreasonably low rates. The aim, as outlined in the site’s mission statement, is to create sort of a provider-led market rather than a market in which clients can drive down prices again and again until they’re at a tiny, weeny level.

Philippa: That’s so important. There are problems with a lot of the freelancing websites on the internet for this very reason, but there is one that I write for quite regularly – and I think Lorrie has as well – called Constant Content.

And while it’s not perfect, because you’re doing on-spec work rather than commissioned work, what’s good about Constant Content is that they have a minimum amount that you’re allowed to charge. And it’s quite a low amount, their minimum, but the principle is good – they encourage you to ask a decent amount for your work – and that’s really important, and sadly unusual.

Lorrie: Definitely – I know you’ve just said it’s quite a low rate…

Philippa: I think it’s seven dollars…

Lorrie: Yes, it’s seven dollars an article and, yes, that’s low but, compared to what some people charge for an article, it’s bloody not!

Philippa: Plus, they are perfectly happy for you to charge $100-200, or whatever you deserve. And what’s lovely is that, when you get an email that your article’s been sold, you know you’ve got $100-150 on the way. Which is great!

Lorrie: This is it – they’ve got a list of average prices. I think, for the full rights to one of the longer articles, it’s $120.

Philippa: Yes, and articles do sell at that price – I’ve sold articles at that price.

Lorrie: Ugh, I haven’t yet, but I’m quite new to the website.

Philippa: Yeah, it’s great but it does frustrate me sometimes because you can do quite a lot of work for seemingly no benefit but, once it’s up there, you don’t have to do anything. Someone can buy it and you get a lovely surprise. And what’s good about them having a minimum price is that it protects writers from themselves, really.

Lorrie: Yes – it’s true. The problem in a lot of cases, though, is that it’s not just clients who are driving down prices, as we see from the copywriting example above – and I hate to call him a copywriter because he’s not – is that freelancers are often complicit in bringing down market conditions.

Philippa: I agree, but I think the nature of the market encourages that.

Lorrie: Yeah, unfortunately. But No Peanuts also discourages sourcing work in ‘translation mills’, as I call them, such as ProZ, GoTranslators etc., and for agencies, actually. It’s become quite the thing for anyone and his dog to set up a ‘translation agency’, which a lot of the time, it’s just someone with a front-end website and a database of translators that they’ll regularly try and exploit. And I’m not saying the same thing about all agencies but, for new translators and new graduates, it can be difficult to distinguish one from the other and find a reputable agency rather than one that will rip you off.

It’s the same for copywriters, editors and for other freelancers as well, actually, you’ve got sites like freelancer.com and elance.com. Prices are driven down and down, to the point where it’s often impossible to get work that will pay the bills.

Philippa: it’s true.

Lorrie: So yeah, the No Peanuts scheme is a bit chaotic, and it’s lost its way a little bit, I think, but the fact is that there’s strength and identity in numbers than if you’re on your own. Even though the No Peanuts scheme is now just floating in the water, it gives freelance translators and interpreters a more legitimate way of refusing to lower their rates – you can have a badge for your website, you’ve got a mission statement you can adhere to. It just takes the pressure off a little bit; you can refer people to the site and say, “No, I’m sorry, I’m part of the No Peanuts movement and I can’t lower my rates any further than that.”

Philippa: Yeah, because if enough writers and other freelancers refuse to write for pennies, then clients will just have to up their game. What I would love – ideally – is that every writer in the world would stop writing for rubbish pay

Lorrie: Yes please!

Philippa: Yes indeed! People would have no choice but to pay people what they are worth. But even if completely eradicating low pay in that way is an unrealistic dream, then just knowing that there are people who will back you up and will reinforce your worth is important.

Facilitation Working Group

Facilitation Working Group (Photo credit: suenosdeuomi)

Freelancing work is often done alone, by its nature, really, but when we can make connections with others, be it in real life or online, we can strengthen each other’s resolve.

Lorrie: Definitely. I’ve had as much strength from my clients as I have from other freelancers, actually. Having a client sit there in front of you and say, “Do you know what, that’s disgusting – I’m prepared to pay you what you’re asking; I think you deserve to be paid for your work.” can be such a boost. You might not even realise you’re in need of that boost to your self-esteem and confidence but you are, because as we say, freelancing can be really isolating.

I mean, for example – for a couple of days ago, or maybe weeks, now, I was blind copied into an email from a fellow translator recently, and I get the impression that she was basically just using me as a way of whistling in the dark and boosting her own confidence (which is 100% fine with me!).

The email was to a translation agency that had offered her some work that was way, way below her very reasonable minimum rate (that’s how you charge for translation – it’s per source word, so per word in the text you’re going to be translating).

From her email, it was clear that she’d already explained to them on several occasions what her rates were but nonetheless, they were still asking her to drop her rates to 0.2p per word…

Philippa: Ouch!

Lorrie… for medical note translation! So that’s likely to be hand-written stuff, medical terminology…

Philippa: Very specialised.

Lorrie: Exactly, you don’t just pick that up while you’re sitting in the bath – you have to sit down and have a good read about these sorts of things. So anyway, in her email, she reiterated her minimum rates in the email, she highlighted the fact that she’d asked them previously to stop emailing her and offering her unreasonable rates. She signed it off professionally – she wasn’t rude – but it was 100% clear what her standards were – basically, the agency ‘got told’. I just wish more freelancers, myself included, had the courage to send emails like that rather than just brushing it off!

Lorrie: Yes, it gives you a massive boost to your confidence. As we’ve said before, it’s sometimes really hard to be as assertive with clients as you sometimes have to be, simply because you are your business. You feel like you’re going to be judged or attacked because you’re just one person who’s saying, “No, I think I’m worth more than that.” It’s one of those times when a bit of distance and objectivity really helps – you think of yourself not as Lorrie or Philippa, but as ‘my business’.Philippa: Yes, I mean, harnessing the Power of We does mean we have people we can check things out with. I know that both Lorrie and I have, on more than one occasion, emailed each other and said, “I’ve just got an email from someone who wants me to do x, y or z. Am I being really unreasonable to think that’s not OK?”. And by doing this, we can talk out what is happening, really, and if we come out of the conversation saying yes, they are being unreasonable, it feels much easier to refuse the request because we know it’s not just us!

Philippa: We are going to be talking more, in an upcoming episode, about dealing with isolation as a freelance writer, and sticking up for ourselves in this way is yet another reason why combatting any isolation we may feel is a good idea.

Lorrie: We’ll also be looking at how to be assertive without being unprofessional, and I reckon the topics will be more closely linked than you might think at first!

Philippa: Yeah, yeah. Something I’ve said before, and I’ll say again, just because somebody accepts low pay does not mean they are a bad writer.

Lorrie: No, that’s true.

Philippa: It could be that they live in a country where the cost of living is very low, so they can afford to ask for those fees and don’t suffer as a result. Or it could be that they really need to be charging more but simply don’t know how to break out of the elance / guru.com type trap. Some badly paid writers are great, some are awful – but that can be the case with well-paid ones too! What I want is for all writers to feel empowered to ask for the wages they deserve.

Lorrie: Exactly – and that’s not an unreasonable thing to want, I don’t think. After all, we have a minimum wage when it comes to salaried employment. We’ve all got bills to pay and it’s only fair to earn something that’s at least somewhat in line with living costs where you’re based.

As I mentioned earlier when I was talking about the No Peanuts movement, I think the key thing is for freelancers to harness the Power of We to try and alter the way the market works. And if one person stands there and shouts about the low wages they’re offered a lot of the time, it’s true that they’re likely to be priced out of freelance work. People will at them and think he’s more expensive than Copywriter X, best not go with him. If, however, we take a leaf from No Peanuts’ book and understand that, without the Power of We, we’re all going to end up working for peanuts, I think we’ll be on track for a much fairer deal.

Philippa: Absolutely, absolutely. This is such a big issue in freelancing, and it’s not one that’s going to be solved quickly. But in order to try and solve it, we really do have to join together and support each other – as friends, colleagues, fellow freelancers. Trying to price other people out of the market does no one any favours, including ourselves because we might go, “Wahey, I got the job in the end!” but you’re not even making the minimum wage as a result. And this is why we really wanted to talk about this again, but specifically in the context of Blog Action Day and the Power of We.

Lorrie: Definitely – if you start pricing other people out of the market, as Pip says, you’re pricing yourself out of the market. It’s going to be costing you money to allow clients to lower the market rates – you’re paying for your own demise, really.

Just with a bit of collaboration, just by saying to clients, “I really appreciate you paying me a fair wage” and by saying to other people, “It’s fine for you to ask for money for that.” Or, BCCing someone into an email where you tell a potential client that what they’re offering is unreasonably low and that you’re not interested in working for peanuts. All those things added together can really help to shift the market.

Philippa: Definitely. So, on this Blog Action Day, do visit the link to Blog Action Day, which will be in the show-notes, and have a look at the other blogs and vlogs and podcasts that have been submitted – I think it really has the potential to be a really interesting selection of writing. We’re really glad to have been a part of it, and we’d love you – especially if you just found us through Blog Action Day – to go across to our website (alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com) and keep in touch with us there. You can also find links there to Lorrie’s website and social media feeds, and my websites and social media feeds, so say hello – we’d love to hear from you!

Lorrie: Yeah, absolutely. Do come and say hello and remember, while you’re listening to this podcast, we’re doing what it says on the tin – it’s the Power of We. You’re sitting there, somewhere else in the world…or standing there…or doing goodness knows what, we don’t want to know!

Philippa: Hahaha!

Lorrie: And you’re listening to two other freelancers, and you’re getting ideas and support from other people; that’s why we do this podcast. It’s all about linking up with other people in the network and we’re so grateful to each and every person who has a listen. We’ve had some really good news – we’ve reached number three in the Podomatic careers chart…

Philippa: Yay!

Lorrie: Yay! This is episode 10 – we’re really happy to have reached that milestone – and we hope to carry on for as long as you want to listen really. So, as ever, huge thanks for listening! I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn…

Philippa:…and I’ve been Philippa Willitts, and we’ll see you next time!

Podcast Episode 9: The Sad Smell of Desperation

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

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

Small scream

Small scream (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Podcast Episode 8: Essential Software and Online Apps for Freelance Writers

Episode 8 of the podcast is ready for your listening pleasure! In it, I talk with Lorrie about some pieces of software, apps or websites which really help us in the day to day running of our freelance writing businesses.

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.

Add to Cart

Software and Links We Discuss

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

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


Philippa: Hello and welcome to Episode 8 of A Little Bird Told Me – the podcast where two freelance writers chart the highs, the lows and the no-nos of successful self-employment. You can find us on the web at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com and, on that page, you can find out how to subscribe to make sure you never miss an episode. You can subscribe by RSS, with iTunes or with Stitcher Smart Radio, and you can also find a link to our Facebook page.

I’m Philippa Willitts…

Lorrie: And I’m Lorrie Hartshorn. And today we are going to be talking about Software and Online Applications that can be useful for Freelance Writers. Now, there are some brilliant applications out there that can really help you improve your productivity and, in some cases, we’ve included some that will actually broaden your service offerings by, for example, enabling you to send email marketing campaigns out.

Philippa: In the course of working as a freelance writer, there are lots of tools available, both online and as software downloads, that can really make life easier. A lot of them are even free or very low cost, so Lorrie and I decided that we wanted to share some of our favourites today.

Lorrie: Definitely. As a freelance writer sometimes, you can feel that all you need is your dictionary and your Word file and that’s it – you want to be a writer, pure. There’s this impression that any apps are really going to make life more difficult because, of course, you have to learn how to use things at first. And it’s true: if you don’t choose the right apps, they can just add to your workload as you work your way round the internet and round your desktop trying to remember to use them all – that’s how you know you’ve chosen the wrong ones! But, if you choose some that are simple to use and straightforward, and they’ve got a lot of fans, you can get some really great results and you’re on to a winner.

Philippa: Yes, definitely. I’ve downloaded apps and software before because they have been recommended and they took much more time to take care of the app than the work itself does in the first place! The trick, really, is to find the ones that suit your working style and also match up with the tasks you need to manage.

Lorrie: Definitely, it matches up to what we’ve said in all of the previous episodes that you have to find a way of working that suits you. Same with social media – don’t use Facebook or Pinterest if they don’t suit. And then same goes for applications, whether you download them or use them online.

Now, a lot of the applications we’re going to talk about today are actually there to help you boost your key working skills, rather than doing something super complicated and all-singing and all-dancing. As I say, we have included some that will help you deliver specific business services – such as MailChimp, which I’m going to talk about in a minute. Others are just there, though, to make life easier.

Philippa: Yes, and they’re not all apps for writing. They cover all sorts of areas that are really useful when you’re freelancing. The first one we wanted to mention is Google Docs, which has recently been rebranded as Google Drive. Now, what this does is offer the ability to produce documents, share them and collaborate with other people. You can also upload files and folders to Google Docs and store them in the cloud.

Now, Lorrie and I use Google Drive all the time for this podcast! It’s how we do the vast majority of our planning. We have a shared document with ideas for future shows and we create a new document and share it for each new show. We can both work on the documents separately or at the same time, and if you do it at the same time, you can see any changes the other person makes, live on the screen in front of you.

Lorrie: Yes, that’s actually one of the best features about it – I can be in the Google Doc (I still call it Google Doc, even though it’s Google Drive!)…

Philippa: Hard to remember now that it’s changed!

Lorrie: I keep thinking, “No, it’s not Google Drive, it’s Google Docs!” I’m strangely loyal! As we’re in the document, I can typing away, and chatting to Pip at the same time and jotting down any ideas I have. And what we’ve done, as Pip says, is create a list of topics that we want to cover in future.

And what Google Drive allows for is an interactive, organic element to the growth of ideas – when you’re on your own, you can only have so many ideas. When there’s someone to bounce off, and bounce different thoughts off, you can come up with something really good.

Now, there are negative some aspects. I’d logged into the Google Doc last night and there’s a little pink square in the corner that says, “One other viewer – Philippa Willitts”. And it could only be Pip because she’s the only person the document’s been shared with apart from myself. But Philippa didn’t say anything – she just lurked there in the corner for a while! And it made me rather paranoid. What I realised however, was that Pip wasn’t being sinister; she’d just logged into the document and gone off doing something else for a while. I think it turned out that you were watching a programme…?

Philippa: I was, I was watching a video. I’d just left the page open.

Lorrie: Well, it kept me on track with what I was doing because I thought, “I’m being watched!”

Philippa: Hahahaha!

Lorrie: There was no time-wasting for 45 minutes! I typed you a couple of messages, like, “Helloooo? Pip?” and put them in big bold letters, but I worked out that you weren’t there and that I could go and get a brew – it was a relief, I have to say.

Philippa: Yes, I’m not that scary!

Lorrie: Generally, though, Google Documents – or Google Drive, now – is great, and it’s great to have someone there for immediate feedback.

Philippa: Definitely – like Lorrie said, if we’re both in the document together, we really do bounce ideas off each other and we come up with a lot more ideas than we started with.

We don’t just use it for word processor-type documents either. As soon as we have finished recording, the first thing I do is upload the raw audio file to Google Drive in case of some kind of horrific computer failure! Then when I’ve finished editing the audio, I upload the mp3 file; I share that with Lorrie so she can access it to start transcribing. It really is invaluable, and if we were dealing with everything through email, there’s always that problems of having lots of versions of the same word processor document, and the mp3 files would be too large to send to each other – that kind of thing.

Lorrie: Yes, it’s not just easier to send documents to one another, and it’s not just more secure in terms of storage, as you say, it also saves space on your hard drive and helps to prevent your computer getting bogged down with unnecessary and huge files – particularly audio files in our case, they really are massive, so it’s great to have somewhere remote to store them.

Philippa: Yes. Google Drive definitely makes my life so much easier. What we’ve mentioned is how helpful it is with podcast planning, but you can expand that to any number of areas of your working life; it’s invaluable really.

Lorrie: Yeah, I have a friend who uses it instead of having any kind of word processing software on his computer. He doesn’t have Word, or anything resembling Word, he just uses Google Docs…or Google Drive! I keep saying Google Docs – if anyone related to Google Drive is listening, I’m going to get sued. Sorry!

Philippa: Brilliant!

Lorrie: Another app we wanted to talk about today is Focus Booster and this is an application to help you increase productivity levels. While you might be thinking, “I do enough already, thank you very much!” that might well be because you get up, you work through and you carry on working until late at night. And then you sit there and think, “I’ve still got loads of work to do”. This is what a lot of freelance writers do and it’s really not a good idea; it’s not good for your work, as your energy levels will dip and you’ll start to make stupid mistakes, and it’s not good for your soul, either. Who wants to live in their office, even mentally? Who wants to be switched on 24/7? I don’t.

Philippa: Absolutely.

Lorrie: Now, Focus Booster – what’s nice about it is that it’s a pretty simple application that’s based on the pomodoro working style, which means “tomato” – it’s a little tiny type of tomato, so it just means ‘bitesize’ really. And what the working style advocated is that you get your head down for 25 minutes and then take a five minute breather, which is really important for refreshing your mind. Have a drink, go and have a wee, stretch your legs and giving your hands a break from typing. I don’t know about you but I get really bad repetitive strain injury in my hands if I type too much.

Philippa: I don’t know loads about the pomodoro technique, but from what I do understand, it makes the five-minute break as important as the 25 minutes of work.

Lorrie: Definitely, you have to build it in. Otherwise, you get less and less effective as you go through each 25 minute period because you’ve not had a break. You really have to push away from your computer, go and do something else. Humans aren’t designed to sit still and type for hours and hours; that’s not how we’re built.

When it comes to Focus Booster, there’s an online app and a downloadable one, and they’re pretty much the same – basically just a sleek little timer that’s set for 25 minutes. It gives you a happy little ‘tick, tick, tick’ for a second and is stays quiet for the remainder of the time. I know that sounds really obvious, but that’s really good because there are some timer apps that actually tick for the whole 25 minutes!

Philippa: Oh my God, that must be unbelievably annoying!

Lorrie: It really is – I tried one, I can’t even remember the name of it, but it was like there was a bomb on my laptop! Like, “You must get this piece of copywriting done, otherwise the whole house is going to go!” I was sitting there in a panic for 30 minutes; it was just too much pressure. But no, Focus Booster is polite; it’s nice and discreet.

Now, apart from being polite and discreet, there are a number of reasons I really like focus booster. Firstly, as I’ve just mentioned, it helps me to be more productive in my working hours so I can switch off when it’s ‘home time’ – at least for me, I have to separate home-time and work-time. I also feel better for having got more done during the day, and I can mentally relax. As well as putting the laptop away, I can put the thoughts away. I don’t have to sit there thinking about what I have to do the next day, so when I do get up, I can start the day with a fresh head rather than thinking about what I didn’t get done the day before.

Philippa: This is really valuable. When you’re freelancing it can be easy to get into a pattern of not properly starting, and not properly stopping, and instead just kind of drifting in and out of work mode all day, every day. Finding a way to make a clear distinction between working and not working is something I have phases of finding quite difficult at times. So anything that helps with that will reduce your overall stress and increase your productivity as well.

Lorrie: Definitely – I’m definitely not saying, “Do more work”, I’m just saying, “Do work more effectively.”

Another reason I like applications like Focus Booster, is that I never usually take on a piece of work that’s going to take me less than 30 minutes – just for productivity reasons and invoicing reasons. If I do take on a piece of work that’s a little tiny thing, it’s either because I’m doing it as a favour or because it’s for a long-term client whom I invoice frequently. In that event, I can just add little 10 minute jobs on to another piece of work when it comes to billing and accounting for the time.

But, I only invoice from 30 minutes upwards and I keep track of the work I’ve done in a day with an Excel file – just a nice simple one that contains details of what the work is, who it’s for, how long it took and whether it’s been completed, signed off and invoiced and what have you. Focus Booster is actually really good for motivating you to get through the little 30-minute jobs like press releases, blog posts, news articles, web pages, and it’s also really good if you want to dedicate a bit of time to something ongoing like business development via social media. I don’t want to fiddle about with it all day. So, 25 minutes scheduling some updates is great – I have a lot of Google Alerts that I want to share via my social media feeds, so 25 minutes a day scheduling some of those helps to clear my inbox and keep my social media ticking over. So yeah, thumbs up to Focus Booster!

Philippa: Excellent. So I guess, as well as keeping you on track and helping with invoicing and things, it would be quite good if you’ve got a list of tasks to work through.

Lorrie: Definitely – in combination with Focus Booster, that’s the perfect way to stay accountable for work you’re doing.

While we’re on the subject, accountability really does work – obviously, as you know Pip, when I’m not using Focus Booster, I’m using you for accountability purposes! I’m sorry to break it to you – I’m just using you. You knew all along!

Philippa: I use you too, so it’s alright!

Lorrie: I forgive you! So, for any listeners who aren’t Pip and me, I’ll explain a bit. We have what we tend to call an accountability day, sort of every couple of weeks, where we clock on in the morning, say good morning to one another by email, and set ourselves targets.

I’m not sure about Pip but I’ll have a to-do list that I want to cover during the day. I prioritise everything just while I’m having my coffee in the morning and I’ll decide what I want to do in each 30 or 60 minutes, and I’ll tell Pip what I hope to achieve by the end of each slot. And it really helps me to stay on track.

Philippa: Yeah, it’s great. What we tend to do is say, “OK, I’ll see you at 9.30” or whatever time. And then, at that time, we send each other an email. I’ll say, “By half past ten, I’ll have researched this article and finished the introduction.” And Lorrie will say, “I’ll have finished this press release and started a case study.” And so at half ten, we email each other again to say whether we’ve completed what we said we would, and what our next tasks are.

Lorrie: Definitely. It helps me, particularly, to really motor through a lot of work – I’ve got a lot of little bits from a number of clients. It’s easy to sort of, once you’ve finished one piece of work, take five minutes – even if the piece of work was only 15-20 minutes. It’s easy to stop and think, “I’ll just read one of the papers, have a chinwag on Twitter…” Not that either of us talks a lot – no, not at all!

Philippa: No…

Lorrie: And it’s good, it’s a good reason to get to know other freelancers, as Pip and I have done. For the rest of the time, or if you’re anti-social, there’s Focus Booster.

Philippa: Definitely – I mean, we’ve done accountability days a few times now and it is alarmingly effective! We’ve both got to the end of the day exhausted but having completed so much work. There’s something about making yourself accountable to somebody else, rather than just yourself, that really focuses the mind.

Lorrie: True – but the problem is, I’ve been so productive on one of our accountability days, I took the next day off! Hahaha!

Philippa: Hahaha!

Lorrie: I was so tired, and I got so much done, I just went shopping! Let that be a warning for everyone: don’t rest on your laurels once you’ve been productive, try and keep it consistent!

Philippa: I use them… I have to play mind-games with myself sometimes, just so I can get stuff done. I remember, there were a couple of articles that day that I was a bit intimidated by in advance, so what I kept saying was, “By the next check-in time, I will have…” and I set myself bite-size chunks of that piece of work, knowing full well that, once I started writing, I’d be fine and it’d flow and I’d be able to finish it. The thoughts of setting myself the finished task was too overwhelming, so instead, I set myself small bits of it. Once I started, by the next check-in, I’d completed the whole thing. Very helpful indeed!

Lorrie: Yeah, I completely agree. I end up with intimidating pieces of work – I’m sad to say, because some of them are really boring! Sometimes you get a subject you’re not interested in; I call them ‘fried egg subjects’ – your eyes just slide off that page like a fried egg. And you have to focus – you can’t afford to mess around and do something else when you need to focus on a tough topic. I have clients in the B2B sector; I’ve dealt with stuff on nutraceuticals and starches and stuff – it’s so, so boring sometimes. It can be interesting, but when you have a heavy, heavy piece of work, it can be really daunting. So, set yourself a chunk of it to do and then if you get more done, it’s a bonus. If you don’t, you’ve at least made a start.

Philippa: Yes, work can be intimidating for a number of reasons – we could perhaps go into this properly another time. It could be that it’s very important, for a very important client or newspaper. Or yeah, it might be boring, very big, very small, whatever. There are all sorts of reasons but finding out what works for you in those situations is very helpful.

Lorrie: Definitely.

Philippa: The next piece of software we wanted to mention was Open Office. Open Office is a free suite of tools which is a powerful alternative to Microsoft Office and other similar document software. It has a word processor, spreadsheets, database functionality and lots more, and it can open files that are intended for Microsoft Office, so things like .doc, .xls, and plenty more. Lots of different file types, which is useful when clients might send you a file of keywords or document titles. You need to be able to open it – it’s never a nice feeling when you have to reply and say, “Can you send it me in another format?”

Lorrie: “Can you copy and paste it into an email?” is my favourite!

Philippa: I started using Open Office when I got a PC which didn’t come with Office. I quickly learned that it wasn’t some kind of cheap, pale imitation – it’s actually a really effective and useful programme.

Lorrie: Mmhmm. When I bought my PC (I know there’ll be a lot of Mac users out there wincing at that we’ve both got PCs! But we’re defiant, Mac users, you can send us all the hate mail you want…I actually really like Macs, my husband’s got a Mac – I’ve just not converted yet!), so yeah, when I got my PC, it came with Microsoft Office, which is great. In terms of functionality, it’s a good suite. But, I say that like it was a freebie – it’s never a freebie. Microsoft Office is really expensive, so there’s no doubt it’ll have been added into the overall cost of the computer. But yeah, I’ve used OpenOffice on and off for years and I’ve literally – literally – never had a problem with it. I’ve used it for personal use and when I was working as a secretary, which means that I had plenty of opportunity to really get in there and explore its functionality. I’ve used the database, the document writing software…for a free software suite, it’s excellent.

Philippa: Yes, in fact when I have a choice between Open Office and Microsoft Office, I choose Open Office every time. It’s less heavy on the system, it does conversions to pdf much more efficiently, and it is a well-supported programme as well.

Lorrie: Yes – you’re right. It can compete on a level with paid-for software suites with no issue. As you say, it’s not just good for a freebie, it’s good full stop. And it’s interesting you should bring up the impact that the programmes have on your system because, when you’re just using your computer for recreational purposes – you log on of an evening, check your emails, do a bit of gaming, whatever – you can afford to be a bit laissez-faire about what you have on there. But, when your laptop is your job, you absolutely can’t afford to have it freezing and crashing all the time – and I speak from experience. That’s it, then: you can do absolutely no work.

Philippa: When I was trying to learn how to use spreadsheets earlier this year (I’m quite impressed that I got to 35 without using a spreadsheet but it became a necessity!) – and, for a pretty techy person, I struggled way more than is acceptable with spreadsheets, so I was doing a lot of searching for answers! I was able to find lots and lots of online information and guides for Open Office. There are forums, information pages, blog posts, and even loads of YouTube videos, all with instructions that can help. That’s the benefit of a piece of software being really popular, and it being free really is the icing on the cake.

Lorrie: I’m thinking of recommending it to my dad, actually. He’s just started his own business and he came round for a bit of a tutorial the other day. He’s a bit further behind than I’d suspected at first. I opened an Excel file and said to him, “This is how I maintain my invoices and my projects and what have you.” and he looked at it and said, “Is that the internet?”

Philippa: Hahahaha!

Lorrie: And I was like, “No, Dad, it’s not the internet, it’s an Excel file.” If that was the internet, we’d all be so perpetually disappointed – log on, and there’s just a big empty file. But no, for someone like Dad, I think something like Open Office, which has a range of training materials and resources for it, would be ideal. I don’t want him to go and spend a fortune getting Microsoft Office installed. Really, he’s only going to use it to create files that are Word or Excel based.

Philippa: Yeah, there’s very little functionality that the vast majority of people use in Microsoft Office that isn’t available in Open Office. The only one I can really think of that’s significantly better in Microsoft Word is the tracked changes function, if you’re proof-reading or editing.

Lorrie: I do rely a lot on tracked changes but I think that’s just because I’m used to it.

Philippa: Yes, definitely. I quite often edit other people’s work in Google Docs, partly for the ease of sharing, but there are some clients very specifically want tracked changes and there isn’t a good equivalent for that in Open Office. But other than that, I really would recommend it for the vast majority of people. Because it’s free, you can try it and, then, if you still decide you want Microsoft Office, then go ahead. You haven’t lost any money by giving Open Office a go first – and I think there’s a good chance that most people would get on fine with Open Office on its own.

Lorrie: Yeah, unless you’re going to be doing any extended editing…I edit work that’s 80,000 – 100,000 words, in which case, I need the tracked changes function. But most of my copywriting work is no more than a few thousand words at most, and Open Office would be completely fine for the vast majority of it. Totally fine.

Philippa: Yep. So, like I said, even though I now have Microsoft Office on my computer, I still use Open Office the vast majority of the time, so that’s why I wanted to suggest that particular one. Lorrie, what’s your next suggestion?

Lorrie: My next suggestion is the charmingly dubbed MailChimp. Makes me a little bit sad that it’s called MailChimp…

Philippa: Yeah.

Lorrie: But it’s so adorable, it gets away with it. It’s got a lot of personality. Right, MailChimp: when you start to get a little bit busier as a freelancer, and you’ve got your business website up and running, what a lot of people are a bit lax on – which is a shame – is building up a mailing list. Even if you’re not sure what you’re going to do with people’s data – and I don’t suggest doing anything dodgy with it – I’d recommend you start collecting it and storing it nice and neatly and confidentially for future business development opportunities. Now, obviously you can’t just go around scraping people’s email addresses off the internet – it’s bad etiquette and it’ll get you into hot water.

Philippa: And, I think, in Europe, it’s actually illegal.

Lorrie: Yes, I imagine it would be. Certainly in some ways, it’s illegal. I think you can get round it, for example, if you’re connected to someone via LinkedIn – you can go and scalp their information from their profile, or you can do it via people’s websites and get their contact details from there – there’s nothing to stop you emailing them.

Philippa: Yes, it’s about doing it in bulk, isn’t it? That’s where the issues come in. And it’s just bad etiquette, legal or not, it’s bad etiquette to just start blasting out bulk emails to people who haven’t asked for them.

Lorrie: That’s it – you have to make sure people opt in and one way to do this is to build a ‘newsletter sign-up’ plugin into your website. By allowing people to sign up to receive news from you, you’re not only able to get their data, you can legitimately justify contacting them and sending them information about you and your services. And when people have opted in to hearing from you, they’re less likely to click “delete”.

Philippa: Yeah, yeah, and also – if somebody visits your website just once, they might find it interesting but may never come back again. But if, while on your site, they spot a ‘sign up’ box, and sign up to your mailing list, you have a way of periodically reminding them of your existence basically! This way they are much more likely to come back, and to remember you when they need a writer.

Lorrie: Definitely. When I visit many websites, actually, I often don’t go back. It’s not because the website’s bad, it’s just that the web is so huge and I have so much to do on there, and so many things to research, that I just forget really good websites. I’ll visit someone’s site and think, “Ooh, this is really good” but then, obviously, information pours into my head and I’ll forget them. But, if I sign up to someone’s newsletter, and I get a mail from them in a few days or weeks, it’ll send me back to their website. So don’t think that just because someone’s visited your website once, that they’re going to come back if the content’s good enough – they won’t, necessarily.

Philippa: Yeah, like you, I’ve undoubtedly forgotten some fantastic websites. I add so many things to my Google Reader that it’s just too overwhelming to ever open! So I faithfully subscribe to blog after blog and, then, occasionally read the top ten posts in various categories and I miss out on dozens of things because, like Lorrie said, there’s so much on the internet that’s good. It is hard to keep track.

Lorrie: Definitely. My bookmarks are in a similar state. I bookmark so many good sites and then I never go in my bookmarks because it’s huge! When I click on that drop down box, it’s taller than the page! So there’s not really much I can do with it. I go in there occasionally, but basically, a newsletter is a great way to get people to keep thinking about you.

So, when I mentioned getting a newsletter plug-in for your website, Pip and I have discussed this previously – there are lots and lots of plugins (which is a way of adding functionality to your website) for WordPress – which is the content management system both Pip and I use for our websites – that can allow you to do just what you want, from improving your social media to getting people to sign up for a newsletter.

So, once you’ve got your website set up to enable visitors to sign up for your emails, you need to start thinking about your newsletters and email marketing campaigns. MailChimp, to get back from my tangent, is a free application that helps you to create mailing lists, plan your email marketing campaigns, it will even help you develop attractive emails, avoid spam filters and – perhaps most importantly – analyse how successful your campaign has been – or your newsletter. So, did anyone open the email with that hilarious subject line you included, or did it go straight to the junk because you weren’t as funny as you thought you were? Or that special offer you sent out – did that tickle people’s fancy or were they not bothered?

Philippa: There are lots of options for mailing list management, but MailChimp is the one I use as well. I have to admit that initially I went with it because it is free if you have fewer than 5,000 subscribers, but now I have spent more time using it, it is really user-friendly and has an attractive and very usable interface. And like Lorrie said, so many features for measuring and tracking your campaigns, so you can see what works with your demographic and what doesn’t.

Lorrie: Absolutely. By reading the reports that MailChimp sends you after each campaign – it really is that helpful – you can get to know your contacts and learn what works for you and what works for them. This is a step that a lot of freelancers actually tend to miss out – instead, they try one type of marketing, then they don’t bother to analyse the results and then never try it again. That’s one-step marketing and it’s something I’m going to talk about in one of the next couple of episodes, so stay tuned for that exciting stuff.

But yes, the great thing about MailChimp is that it’s absolutely gorgeous; it’s got a little chimp in there and it sends you interesting links and things. You can switch it off but it’s half of the fun. It’s pleasant to use, it’s easy to get email marketing and e-newsletters right with MailChimp. It’s totally free, as Philippa says, and there are some brilliant resources on there that will walk you through all of the app’s capabilities step by step. And just, one final thing, really, to go back to WordPress, MailChimp can actually be integrated with your WordPress based website, so that when someone signs up, the information goes straight to your MailChimp account, which makes building mailing lists really simple.

Philippa: Definitely, and there are probably people listening, thinking, “I don’t have time to write an e-newsletter – oh my God!” but one thing I recently discovered on there is that you can set it up with an RSS feed so…the RSS feed for, say, your blog – you can set up an email campaign where, perhaps, once a week, or once a month, the people who’ve signed up to your e-newsletter will receive a mailing with the latest posts from your blog automatically – without you having to do anything. And you can choose some attractive layouts and a good structure for it. I think writing an e-newsletter in full is probably better in terms of building a relationship with the people on your list but, if you don’t have the time or the inclination to do that, using something like the RSS auto way of doing it is better than having a mailing list and not sending anything out, or not having a mailing list at all.

Lorrie: Yeah, it’s brilliant. I don’t think you could get an application that makes it much easier to follow up with a bit of email marketing, whether that’s an email marketing campaign specifically, with an offer, or a newsletter. MailChimp is great, and it’s free, and I’d recommend anybody sign up with it.

Philippa – Now, the next tool we want to look at is Boomerang, and it’s a tool that you can use with Gmail. I use Gmail, partly because I have some Gmail email addresses but also, I have all my website address redirected so they all arrive in my one Gmail inbox. It coordinates everything, basically, and has such great functionality that I wouldn’t want to use any other set- up.

Now, with Boomerang, its main feature is that it enables you to schedule emails that you need to send. Because I sometimes work slightly odd hours…

Lorrie: Haha!

Philippa: Understatement! I don’t want to give a bad impression by sending off some work at 9pm on a Thursday evening, or 7am on a Sunday morning. I just think it doesn’t look very professional to be sending off work at weird times of day because, if you’re B2B, you’re mainly sending work to people in offices. However, trying to remember that on Monday morning I need to send off 3 articles, and on Tuesday I should send some marketing emails, just added stress to my already stretched mind! It was just one more thing to try to remember.

Lorrie Yes, your to-do list can end up huge if you add in all the little itty-bitty emails you need to send out, and it puts extra pressure on you. If you turn up to your desk – or kitchen table in my case – on Monday morning and you have a massive to-do list and half of it’s emails, they might only take 30 seconds to send, but you’re faced with a huge ream of tasks to do – it’s not good. So yeah, Boomerang is brilliant.

And, while it’s pretty obvious, I suppose, to say that you don’t want to send your emails out at any old time, but there’s not just the professionalism reason. Your open / conversion rate is never going to be great if you send a sales email late on a Friday afternoon.

Philippa: That’s so true.

Lorrie: If you send something you really need to convert, and you really need to work with people, you need to choose your time, and the best time would be about half eight in the morning on a week day, in my opinion.

Philippa: Quite often mid-week I’m seeing my success with, but I guess it varies.

Lorrie: Yeah, Wednesday and Thursday are always nice days.

Philippa: Yeah, that’s what I’m finding.

Lorrie: After the hump.

Philippa: Hahaha!

Lorrie: No, it’s true! Monday – people hate Mondays. Tuesdays – people have decided, “Alright, the week’s started, there’s nothing I can do about it so I might as well do some work.” And they’re too busy. Wednesday – they’re getting a bit bored of working, they’re like oh, enough of this now, where’s the weekend? Thursday, they’ve already mentally clocked out – they want your email, something that’s not work.

Philippa: And the thing is, with Boomerang, you can test this with your own market. So, try sending out a particular email at 8.30 on Monday morning, try it with a different group at 2pm on a Tuesday afternoon – it’s a way of seeing what’s most effective.

Lorrie: Yeah, split testing is really important – like analysing your email marketing campaigns afterwards, it’s something that a lot of people miss out on doing because they think, “Oh, I don’t have time for this jazz!” but, if you do a bit of research, once you know, it’s done! So, when you do finally have a quiet day, don’t do what I did the other week, and go shopping and get some really nice bargains (I really did get some nice stuff actually!). But no, spend some time, do some split testing, and see what’s what.

Philippa: The way is works is that Boomerang sets up within your Gmail interface and adds an extra option to your sending options. As well as your usual “Send”, “Save” at the top of a message, it adds “Send later” and when you click that, you can choose what time, and what day, the email should send. Then you can forget about it. As well as specifying an exact time or date, you can either specify an exact time and date, or you can choose an option like “tomorrow morning” and it will randomise the time.

The first few times I used it I was totally neurotic that it wouldn’t send and it would disappear into the ether, but it is actually great (I hope those aren’t famous last words!). It really takes the pressure off, knowing that one little bit of your work will be done for you.

Lorrie: Yes, you can tick it off, can’t you? But, as you say, it does take some time to get used to automating things – you find yourself double-checking (I was the same when I started scheduling tweets, for example) but when you know you’re dealing with a quality interface like Boomerang (or Tweetdeck, which is what I use to schedule my tweets), it really does take the pressure off.

Philippa: The other thing that Boomerang can do is offer you the option to “boomerang” a message (which means, to make it reappear in your inbox) if you haven’t had a reply in a set period of time. This isn’t a feature I use very much, actually, but it could come in really handy for following up pitches. If you want to re-email somebody who hasn’t replied within a week, or a fortnight, say, you can get Boomerang to make the message reappear to you in a week’s time.

Lorrie: This is something that would be really useful for me at the moment. I’ve had a number of potential clients recently get in touch, say, “I’m interested in your services, can we chat?” Now, I’ve got back in touch with them and it’s gone a bit quiet, so I’ve followed up with them and they’ve said “Oh, yes, definitely interested. I’ve got A, B, C situation going on at the moment. Can you get back in touch with me in a week, two weeks, a month?” I have a potential client at the moment whose mother is over from Australia at the moment, and she’s going – Boomerang would be perfect for that. At the moment, I’ve had to use Google Calendar and set myself a reminder.

Philippa: I don’t know about you but, when I look at my Google Calendar or my diary, I don’t want stuff like that in it. I want to be able to glance at it to see if I need to go anywhere, or to see if I have a big meeting. I don’t want little pop-ups saying, “Send an email now.”

Lorrie: Yep. It’s the same as having emails on your to-do list, as we said earlier, because they’re just itty-bitty pieces of work that should just be taken care of by themselves. As you say, I don’t want my inbox or calendar clogged up with, “Send this email, check that email.” It’s a pain, so that’s definitely a functionality that I haven’t used yet but will in future.

Philippa: Yeah, it’s one I should start using more often. Now, for the details: Boomerang is free to use for up to 10 messages a month. If you choose a personal account, for $4.99 a month or a professional account, for $14.99 a month, you can use it for unlimited messages and get a few other features such as the ability to use it on your mobile and also to send recurring messages. But yeah, that’s Boomerang – I’ve used it for ages and I think it’s brilliant.

Lorrie – The final application I’m going to feature on this one is called Remember the Milk – and it’s another one for boosting your core work skills. It does what it says on the tin – it’s an app that will help you to remember important tasks throughout the day, it’s effectively a to-do list, but digitised. So, while some tasks can be scheduled and forgotten about, some need to be kept in mind, by way of a ‘to do’ list – Remember the Milk is a lovely simple app that – as I say, it does what it says on the tin.

Now, it’s not to everyone’s taste, something like Remember the Milk. I know that both Pip and I can be a bit traditional when it comes to to-do lists – and that’s fine, whatever works for you.

Fairly recently, Pip wrote a guest post on a blog, and she was waxing lyrical about her whiteboard – and you might think “Hmm, whiteboards – how can you get enthusiastic?” but I was there in the comments section, like, “Yes! Whiteboards – God, they’re brilliant!” I’ve got a big whiteboard and a big corkboard, and I totally agreed with Pip!

Philippa: And you weren’t the only commenter to agree, either – it’s clearly an unspoken passion! Hahaha!

Lorrie: Boardaphiles! Honestly, I do really like my whiteboard! But however you do it, a well-managed to-do list is a massive help; it helps you to see what needs doing, what needs to be prioritised – you know what needs doing, you just don’t know which order to do it in. And it’s good, as Pip mentioned earlier, for playing mind-games with yourself. If you can stick something on your to-do list and you can then cross it out, it’s a bit of a boost.

I tend, mostly, to use a paper list and Pip tends to use a whiteboard – I just get covered in ink with my whiteboard, a lot of the time, so it’s a bit of a love-hate relationship. So, Remember the Milk is definitely worth a mention, particularly for those of you who are out and about a lot, or who just prefer to keep everything digital.

Philippa: I seem, actually, to be the only person on Earth who didn’t get on well with Remember the Milk! People are so excited and passionate about it. But I’m not sure why, I just found it kind of unwieldy and did better with a paper list, a whiteboard – like Lorrie mentioned – and a basic Notepad document!

Lorrie: Oh, so this is how it is. This is how it is, Pip – so you mention all your wonderful apps and then I mention one and you diss and dismiss it!

Philippa: I tried to like it! People say how lovely and marvellous it is – I really tried but I just found it annoying, and it was actually adding tasks to my day! Like, Oh God, I’ve got to go and check Remember the Milk now…!

Lorrie: Hahaha! Remember to check Remember the Milk!

Philippa: And it’s funny because most people do think it’s marvellous. I just don’t, really!

Lorrie: No, as we mentioned at the start of this podcast, if it makes life harder for you, it’s just not worth it. Yeah, I do still prefer my notepad – as in, my actual physical paper pad – and I’m not sure, maybe that’s because I tend to work from home rather than cafes or shared working spaces or what have you. And I do tend to stay put as much as possible during my working hours. I don’t have too many meetings in person because my clients are all over the place, I tend to have Skype meetings, e-meetings or phone-calls. So, there’s minimum opportunity for me to lose my notebook if I don’t have to drag it around with me very often. It’s nice actually, to have to write something rather than type it for a change!

Philippa: Yes – as writers, most of us do very little writing with a pen, so it is nice!

Lorrie: It’s true – it’s like, “What is this thing, leaving a stain on a bit of paper? It’s marvellous!” I think, though, for people who are out and about a little bit more often than me, Remember the Milk is one of the best to-do apps to go for. While I’m not super enthusiastic about it because I like my paper, it’s got over 4million users, and I think that’s because it is so ‘no frills’ and because it can be synched with any number of online platforms and technologies, including Gmail, iPhones, Google Calendar, Blackberry and Outlook. Really anything you can think of, it’s pretty capable.

What that means is that you don’t just have to use it for assignments like, say, a piece of copywriting that you’re going to sit down at your laptop and do, you really can use it for all sorts because you can tick things off and add things on while you’re on the go – sitting there in a bus or on a train. You don’t even have to be connected to the internet – you can download the app and manage your list while you’re offline.

Philippa: Well, it’s certainly a very popular app and just because I didn’t get on with it, that doesn’t mean that you won’t. So, give it a go – so many people find it really helpful.

Now, before we go on to the final app we’re going to talk about, I just want to make a short apology if the sound quality has just changed. We’ve had to go on to a separate call because…Lorrie’s husband needed the headset, really! Haha!

Lorrie: How dare he – he stole my headset microphone. It’s actually his, but still, he stole it from me. So, I’ve got my face up against the laptop and I’m hoping that the internal mic will see me through until the end of the podcast. But, as we say, apologies if it’s gone a bit fuzzy or unclear!

Philippa: The final app we’re going to talk about it is my final pick – a tool called Rapportive.
I first heard about Rapportive through Pat Flynn, who runs the smartpassiveincome.com website. If you haven’t checked that out, by the way, it’s great – he’s got a brilliant website, podcast, YouTube channel – he’s everywhere and he’s very good, so if you’re interested in issues of passive income, check it out. Anyway, he was the person who first told me about Rapportive and it’s a tool which, like Boomerang, works through Gmail, but its role is to manage the relationships you have with people. It is really quite ingenious, and also free.

When you have Rapportive installed, whenever you open an email, there is an extra panel on the right side of the screen and that panel contains social media links to the person whose email you have open. Obviously it only displays profiles that are publicly linked to that email address, but it is really useful to have direct access to someone’s Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn profiles as soon as you hear from them, just on the side of the screen from their email.

Lorrie: That’s true, it does only deal with public profiles

Philippa: Yes, it doesn’t do anything creepy like finding things out about people that you shouldn’t.

Lorrie: This is it – I mean, if you’ve got a client and, all of a sudden, Rapportive tells you that they’re down as @sexybeast69 on Twitter…

Philippa: Hahahaha!

Lorrie: …you’ve got a bit more than you bargained for but, I suppose, in that case, you can be a bit more delicate in what you talk about. Joking aside, it’s really good and it’s a great way of tracking people across social media platforms.

Philippa: Definitely. The panel that appears also displays information about the person’s website, which is usually the URL and a summary of the site, pulled from the meta tags. You are also provided with any public contact information from Google Contacts.

The final feature that Rapportive offers is the ability to make a note, within the Rapportive panel, about the person who sent you the email. Now, this is totally private, so the person you are making a note about won’t see what you have written about them.

Lorrie: Hahaha! I dread to think what you’ve got written about me – “Dreadful woman I record a podcast with sometimes.”

Philippa: “THAT woman!”

Lorrie: Hahaha!

Philippa: And this note-taking ability is useful in a number of ways. Firstly just as a reminder, for instance, “I met this person at the networking event in September at the town hall” or “I worked with this person at such and such a place”. If, like me, you have a bad memory for names, this is invaluable!

Lorrie: That’s actually reminded me of something – I made contact with someone a couple of days ago and they were interested in my proof-reading services. He asked me whether I’d phone him after the weekend, so dutifully, I phoned him back and it became pretty obvious that he couldn’t remember who I was. And he did this brilliant little trick – I even told him it was brilliant when he phoned back! – he said, “Oh, I’ve got another call coming through, can I phone you back in just a second?” and he phoned me straight back and was like, “Right! Lorrie! Proof-reading!” I knew immediately what he’d done, and he knew that I knew, and he was actually pleased I was so impressed. Rapportive, though, would obviously stop you having to do that.

Philippa: Hahahahaha!

Lorrie: Another nice thing about Rapportive is that it’s situated where your adverts would normally be.

Philippa: True!

Lorrie: That’s really nice for me because I’m sick of seeing adverts in my emails. It’s really good to have some useful information for your eyes to glance over if you’re emailing someone or phoning them, rather than there being an advert.

Philippa: That’s really true. The note-taking capability can be especially useful for a freelancer. In the notes section you could add information about why the person contacted you, or if you have worked for them before you could even make a note of whether they paid on time, or were easy to work with! It can be a good reminder if there’s a client from a while ago, that you might have to be a bit strict with.

To have all of this information available within a few seconds of opening an email from somebody really is extraordinary. If I do some really interesting work with a client, when I open their email I am reminded by the Rapportive panel that they are on LinkedIn so I will often go straight there and add them (in fact you can do this directly from the Gmail panel). Also, if I can’t quite place somebody their most recent tweets, also listed in the panel, often give me a clue and even entirely outside of work, if I get an email from a friend I can instantly see from their most recent tweets what is going on for them!

Lorrie: That’s nice – I tend not to use Facebook for personal stuff anymore; I’m a little bit concerned about the privacy issues, so I tend to use it just for business now. But that does mean I miss out on people’s day-to-day updates, so Rapportive is a nice space-filler for that.

Philippa: Yes, and like I said, it’s free, so out of all the apps I’ve mentioned, I might recommend this the most strongly. I would definitely recommend giving it a go if you feel you might need a hand managing your contacts. If you value the screen-space you might not enjoy Rapportive quite so much, but it’s easy enough to uninstall if you don’t like it.

Lorrie: Yeah, it’s one of these easy add-ons to Gmail. To get popular as an app developer, you’ve really got to be slick. So, something like Rapportive, which is hugely popular, is very user friendly – it’s a pleasant user experience, the functionality’s great, it’s not intrusive, it gets rid of the ads. So yes, thumbs up for Rapportive!

Philippa: So I hope that we’ve been able to give you some ideas, and also to highlight that you don’t have to spend a fortune on tonnes of software in order to function as a freelance writer. Many tools are free or very low cost, and the worst that can happen is that you don’t really like them.

Lorrie: Yeah, totally – nothing to add!

Philippa: I will make sure I put links to all the apps we have suggested in the show notes, so do pop over to our Podomatic page so you can get hold of those, as well as find out how to get in touch with Lorrie or myself on social media or our own websites, and also to subscribe to this podcast.

Lorrie: Definitely. The address again is alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, and the transcript will be available when my fingers are feeling friendly enough to type it up, and that will also be at the Podomatic page. Yeah, like we say, have a look at our social media feeds and websites, get in touch! Let us know if there’s an app you enjoy using that we haven’t mentioned, or let us know if you hate one of the apps we’ve included – and tell us why!

Philippa: Definitely. And in the show-notes, we’ll also list some links to other blog posts that recommend other tools for freelance writers – and freelancers of all kinds, really – so if you want more ideas than what we’ve given you here, there are plenty if you look at the links we’ll provide.

Now, we have some great episodes on the way – we’ve got more solo episodes coming up: next week, there’s a solo episode from Lorrie. We’ve also got some dual episodes coming out – we’re hoping to alternate between dual ones and solo ones but we’ll see how it works out. Now, whatever way you normally listen to podcasts, make sure you subscribe to A Little Bird Told Me. As we say every week, you can subscribe by RSS, iTunes, Stitcher Smart Radio – do it, then you’ll be the first to hear when we have a new episode out.

Lorrie: Definitely. I think all that remains to be said, as ever, is thank you for listening. It’s been a pleasure. I’m Lorrie Hartshorn…

Philippa: …and I’m Philippa Willitts, and we’ll see you next time!


The Relentless Marketing of a Freelance Writer

Promotion brainstorm

Promotion brainstorm (Photo credit: tamurray5)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Podcast Episode 7: Freelance Writing – To Specialise or Not to Specialise

This is the first of my solo podcast episodes – Lorrie and I are going to do some individual ones as well as continuing with the ones we do together, so I really hope you like it!

Tune in for information about whether or not specialising is a good option for freelance writers.

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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Freelance Writing – To Specialise or Not to Specialise

Hello and welcome to Episode 7 of A Little Bird Told Me – the podcast about the highs, the lows and the no-nos of successful freelance writing. I’m Philippa Willitts and I’m here today without my usual co-host Lorrie Hartshorn.
There’s no need to worry: Lorrie and I haven’t had some kind of horrific argument with me winning custody of the podcast. What we wanted to do was have a chance to add to the dual episodes by also creating individual episodes on topics that one of us might know more about than the other, or be more interested or specialised in. We are going to carry on with the dual episodes too, while adding in these shorter individual ones.

social wordle

social wordle (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

So, what I’m going to talk about today is whether or not freelance writers should specialise in a particular niche, or whether they would do better to be a generalist, knowing a little about a lot of things. There are certainly positives and negatives for each option, so I’m going to look at the various issues involved.

Now, personally, I’ve got a strange, but effective, combination of specialist and generalist work that I do. I market myself as able to do both, and have separate websites, one for general copywriting and one for more specialist work.

On my philippawrites.com site I promote my abilities to do a wide range of freelance writing tasks. I share links to my media writing, social media and SEO writing, blog posts, everything, really that I write. I also have a page on there about my proofreading and editing services, my educational background, and the different types of freelance writing I can do, such as press releases, blog posts, web copy – that kind of thing.

Then I have my specialist site: socialmediawriter.co.uk, where I explain that I specialise in writing about social media, SEO and internet marketing. I have a lot of expertise in these areas, so creating a separate site purely dedicated to them makes a lot of sense.

So, why would a writer choose to specialise? Firstly, the specialist expertise and knowledge that you have can mean that you can justify charging higher fees. Instead of being one freelance writer amongst thousands, you can grow to be a big fish in the small pond of your specialism! This means that your name is more likely to get known, particularly amongst the people who might be interested in hiring you, because it is easier to make contacts if you have particular targets in mind rather than just any business.

People are also more likely to refer people to you if they know you are a specialist in a particular area. For instance, while I am happy editing any kind of non-fiction documents, and happy editing fictional short stories, I know I do not have the specialist knowledge to do justice to longer fiction, such as novels. I also know that Lorrie specialises in literary editing, so I would feel completely confident referring any enquiries to her that I felt I couldn’t deal with. If she did not have that expertise, there would be no immediate reason to choose her over anybody else. Similarly, if somebody received an enquiry about some writing that involved some really in-depth knowledge about social media that they knew they didn’t have the expertise to cover, I might be the person to pop into their mind because I do specialise on that subject. That side of things does make it very hard for generalists to compete with specialists.

Having a website dedicated to your specialisation also makes it much more likely that you will start to appear in search engine results when somebody is searching for a writer in your niche. Generalist copywriting sites might list, say, “food writing” amongst many other examples of topics they can cover, but a whole website about food writing is much more likely to rank highly.

There are also benefits to specialising in terms of what happens when the work starts to come in. Firstly, there is often less research required because you’ve already got all the background knowledge you need. If I get a general copywriting task about, say, garden furniture, then the first thing I have to do is research garden furniture – I need to find out what’s available, what is currently on trend, how much it costs, what particular concerns customers have – all that kind of thing. Whereas if I get a niche commission about Pinterest, I already know what Pinterest is, how it works, who its primary users are, how companies are using it to promote their work and so on. So I can get straight onto researching the exact topic the client needs.

Some writers… rather than specialising in a particular subject, specialise in a type of writing. This might be e-commerce sales pages, or press releases, or scripts for sales videos. The same benefits – and the same drawbacks – apply, really, whether your specialisation is a topic or a style of writing.

But, there are also some really valid reasons for not specialising. The first is if there’s simply no area in which you feel you have a lot of expertise or interest. You have to be quite fascinated by your specialist area because it will hopefully end up being what you spend most of your time writing about. If nothing springs to mind to focus on, it is perhaps not the right time to think about specialising.

Another point is that specialising does, by definition, really, limit the work you might be awarded. If somebody wants copy for 10 pages of a website, and only one of those is in your specialist area, you might have “niched yourself out” of getting a commission to write the other nine! By offering general, non-specialised services, you can open the market up massively in terms of the types of work you can get. You might also be more likely to keep a steady stream of work coming in if you do not limit your topics or types of writing to one or two particular areas.

Another point against specialising is that you will find that the work you get will depend on the ongoing success of the market you have specialised in. If you have been writing about film photography, and only film photography, for years, then the massive explosion of digital cameras and corresponding reduction in interest in film photography will have had a significant impact on the amount of people who want to commission work in your area. Of course, people do still want film photography writing although, relatively speaking, it’s become a much smaller part of the market.

social media

social media (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

Trends can change quickly, and if you have failed to take this into account then something that’s a thriving market today could reduce in size dramatically with new fashions or technological advances. It’s one of the reasons why specialising in social media, I have to keep an eye on all the social media trends – I can’t just focus on say, Facebook or Twitter because that’s not adequate in today’s market, and because there will – at some point – be a day when Facebook and Twitter have become what MySpace is now. And if I’m not on top of the newer platforms, then I’ll be in trouble!

Offering general freelance writing or editing services does certainly keep life interesting, because you could be working on an entirely different subject every day or every week. It keeps boredom at bay!

If you do decide you want to be a freelance writer with a specialist subject, there are certain things you must do, and skills and knowledge you must have. Especially if you are expecting to be able to charge higher fees, the expertise you have has to be up to scratch to justify that.

There are various ways to develop – or claim – expertise in a niche. One is through education or training. If you have a degree in Sports Science, then sports or health writing could be an ideal specialist area for you. Similarly, the jobs you have done can inform your writing so if you used to be a teacher, education writing could be great, or if you have been a nightclub DJ then people will respect your opinions about, and writing on, music.

Having worked in the area you specialise in can have more benefits than that, actually, which is that you probably already have contacts in the area. If you left your job in Human Resources, say, to become a copywriter, then who are your former colleagues and employers going to go to when they need their website copy rewriting? You’re the obvious choice.

However you can’t rely on past learning or work experience to keep you going in a specialist field. This is especially true if you specialise in areas like SEO and social media like I do, as these are areas where there is new information daily. To keep on top of my niche, I listen to many hours of podcasts a week, I attend training and webinars regularly, and I read and read and read: everything I can find in these areas. The sheer amount of time I have to spend just to make sure I don’t miss any new developments, and to make sure I understand exactly what people are doing, currently, with Twitter or how they are using Google Plus, is huge, so don’t underestimate the need to not only have a lot of knowledge to specialise, but also time you’ll have to spend a lot and energy you’ll need to stay up to date, especially in fast-moving fields.

For me, a nice combination of general and specialist work suits me really well. I get the opportunity to really geek out about SEO and social media, and work with people who are as knowledgeable and passionate as I am on the subjects. But I’m also able to get those wonderfully random assignments about anything and everything that keep life interesting and fresh.

If you are doing the same, I would strongly recommend having separate websites for your specialist work and your generalist work. If you want some ideas about that, do check out my two sites: PhilippaWrites.com and SocialMediaWriter.co.uk. You can certainly link from one to the other, but the SEO will be better if they are separate, and people wanting your specialist work will be more convinced and take you more seriously if you have a dedicated website in the area.

Generalist working can be a good back-up plan if you are not getting enough work in your specialist niche, or if interest in that subject wanes in general. And being a generalist is not in any way ‘lesser’ than being a specialist, so don’t pursue a specialism just because you think you should. It’s like the difference between a family GP and a specialist neurologist: both have very different, but very important, roles to play and neither could work without the other.

So, hopefully that’s given you some things to think about when thinking about whether or not to specialise as a freelance writer and, if so, how to go about it. Let me know what you think. If you go to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com. You can find links to my websites, and how to contact me. You can also – from that page – subscribe to the podcast to make sure you never miss an episode. You can do that by RSS feed, iTunes and Stitcher Smart Radio. The links are all on our podcast page, which is at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com.

I’ve been Philippa Willitts – make sure you tune in for the next episode, and thank you very much for listening!

Podcast Episode 6: Offsite SEO for Freelance Writers – Attracting Backlinks and Collaborations by Being Brilliant

In the last episode of the freelance writing podcast, we talked about what you could do on your website to improve your SEO, and in today’s we are talking about the things freelancers can do to attract backlinks and improve off-site SEO.

Listen, enjoy, and let us know what you think!

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For accessibility reasons, and just because some people prefer to read, we have provided a transcript below

Philippa: Hello and welcome to episode six of the A Little Bird Told Me podcast, where two freelance writers talk about the highs, the lows and the no-nos of successful freelance writing. You can find us one the web at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com and from there you can find all the links you need to subscribe, whether by RSS, iTunes or Stitcher Smart Radio. You can also find a link to our Facebook page for the podcast and also our individual websites, social media links and that sort of thing.

My name is Philippa Willitts and I’m here with my co-host Lorrie Hartshorn. In episode five, we started to talk about SEO – or search engine optimisation. We discussed some of the ways you can improve where your website appears in the search engine results by what is called ‘on-site SEO’, which is things you can do with your website itself to help you rank well.

In today’s episode, we’re going to talk about off-site SEO: all the other things you can do to help your website rise up the search engines.

Lorrie: So, we’ve talked a little bit about on-site SEO, which is what you can do on your website to help improve your search engine optimisation. However, there’s a lot you can do off your website as well – so, off-site SEO – to help improve things further.


Backlinks (Photo credit: ivanpw)

Philippa: Absolutely. Now, off-site SEO is predominantly focused on back-links that is, links from other sites to your website. When Google, or the other search engines, are making decisions about where different websites should rank in their search results, one of the things they actually look at is how many other websites link to them. Because, if many top quality websites link to your site, Google considers that your site must be a respected authority, and ranks you more highly. In theory!

Because, historically, this fact has been abused and websites gained rankings by getting really spammy links from spamming blog comments, forum profiles and low quality article directories. And so, spammy sites that were getting a lot of these spammy links were ranking better than good quality sites that just had a few incoming links.

So, as a result, and continuing with their ‘animals beginning with ‘P’’ updates, this year, Google introduced the Google Penguin update, and this actually started assessing the quality of the backlinks to a website, rather than just counting the number of backlinks. Sites with lots of spammy backlinks are now being penalised, and there are desperate SEOs going round emailing other sites and begging them to remove the links to their sites.

Lorrie: Yeah, I’m not surprised. Because it was getting to the point where the most highly ranked sites were spam directories – just lists and lists of links. You can understand Google’s perspective. It’s completely irrelevant and if people go on to Google and that’s all they can find, it’s no good for anybody.

Philippa: Yeah. Because, from Google’s point of view, if someone searches with them and gets rubbish results, they’ll go to another search engine. So, it’s in Google’s interests to make search results work for people who are doing the searching because it is annoying when you search for something and you just get spam.

Lorrie: And this is really what we’re saying – it’s in everyone’s favour for you to work with Google. There are plenty of guidelines out there on what you can do to be a decent website owner.
In terms of actually developing quality backlinks, you can actually combine this with another aspect of successful freelance working, that I believe Pip and I have referenced at least obliquely in previous episodes, which is the creation of ‘colleagues’. And I’m saying ‘colleagues’ with giant air quotes around it because, as a freelancer, you don’t have colleagues. You’re not in an office. However, the work can be very isolating, so it’s in your interest to create a network of people you can talk to and share ideas with, as Pip and I have done – we’ve become very close.

Now, as a writer, you’re often asked by clients to recommend other freelancers. When they see you doing a good job, they think “Ah, this person knows what they’re talking about, maybe they’ll know someone who can deliver another service to me.” Now, I’m often asked whether I know a graphic designer, a decent software developer, a good editor etc. and, by building up strong relationships with some of the best individuals you can find in these fields, you can improve your own service offerings and network – so you’ve got people to talk to and people to recommend when clients ask you, but you can also develop a strong backlink network for your website.

And, I think it’s good to be discreet about doing this – although not secretive because that always comes over as sneaky – and to restrict yourself to freelancers whose reputations you trust, but you can actually contact someone and say, “I like what you do, I’m a copywriter/editor, you’re a designer/software developer – my clients are often looking for that kind of thing, how about we recommend one another? Some people have link pages on their website, some people are happy to give you a page of your own on their website. It’s whatever works for the both of you, it’s a collaborative thing.

Philippa: Yeah. For instance, a couple of months ago, I did some work on a client’s website. The client was a web designer and I basically rewrote his site with SEO. And he was so pleased with the work that he said, “In my work as a web designer, I get asked all the time to recommend a copywriter – can I recommend you?” and I was like, “Of course I wouldn’t mind – that would be lovely!” Doing that job was one way of connecting with him. There are other ways, like Lorrie said, but yes – it works for him because he knows he has someone he can trust, it works for me because I get referrals. Everyone benefits, really.

Lorrie: Yes, as Pip said, this is a person she had built up a relationship with him, she’d done a good job for him: that person trusts her judgement and is happy to recommend her. What I would say is that it’s important to restrict yourself, and not to go asking people you have barely any connection with if you can do a mutual link with them. The last thing you want is to spam people and make yourself look desperate for any and all back-links or, which is possibly worse, to affiliate your site with someone whose content or service offering is really, really questionable and could get you blacklisted – either by clients, who think “What are you doing with this person?” or by Google, because there’s something dodgy on that website?

Philippa: Yes. This is slightly off-topic but it’s just reminded me of a slightly strange situation I had a few weeks ago…

Lorrie: Why does this always happen to you?

Philippa: I don’t know, but it always does! I followed a copywriter on Twitter and then, a few hours later, she followed me back. She then sent me a tweet saying something like, “Hi, good to make a connection with you. I’ve got lots of excess work on at the moment, would you be interested in taking some of it on?” So, I said, “Sure, yeah, email me.” And then, I thought, “How strange – she’s literally just followed me on Twitter ten minutes earlier, and she’s offering to pass work over to me. She doesn’t know anything about me – she doesn’t know if I’m any good by that stage – we’d literally just made contact.”

And so, then, I thought, “Is this a good idea from my point of view?” It’s certainly not a good idea from her point of view – I mean, I would have done a good job, but she didn’t know that.

Lorrie: Oh, I don’t know – you’re pretty terrible!

Philippa: Hahahaha! Oof, you’re mean!

Lorrie: It’s true. How strange, though. Do you think she was taking a cut? Do you think she was trying to pass on work and then…

Philippa: That’s the thing. And then I started thinking that, just from that one connection, my impression is that she must be quite flakey. And so then I thought, “If she’s willing to pass work over to someone she doesn’t know, then this perhaps isn’t someone I want to associate myself with professionally because…how much respect does she have for the work she’s giving in?

Lorrie: Yes, on face value it looks great: “Do you want to take some work off my hands?” – yes absolutely, it’s all work. But as you say, she doesn’t know you from Eve.

Philippa: Yes, and that kind of attitude to her work, I didn’t want reflecting on me in the end. As it was, she never got in touch after that, which I was quite relieved about. But yes, it was strange, and that was an example, I think of trying to establish a relationship in the wrong way and for the wrong reasons.

Lorrie: It’s like walking up to someone in the bar and just kissing them. Like, “Hello, never met you…snog, snog!”

Philippa: Haha, or just saying, “We need a secretary from Monday – do you fancy it?”

Lorrie: Hahaha! That’s probably a better analogy than my “snog snog” analogy, although I stand by it.

Philippa: Yes, absolutely!

Lorrie: Of course I do. Once I’ve committed to an analogy or a tangent, I’ll go with it to the end. But yes, how strange that she’s got such a casual attitude to freelance work when you absolutely wouldn’t do that with a salaried position.

Another way to establish decent backlinks to your website is to get links from directories, although it’s important to research those directories to make sure that they’re reputable.

Philippa: Yes, there are hundreds if not thousands of article directories on the internet but, nowadays, there’s only a handful, really, that are worth bothering with. Many people think that one called ezinearticles is the only one worth bothering with, but there’s also GoArticles and a couple of others that are reasonably highly regarded. Most aren’t.Ezinearticles have got stricter recently about the articles they accept in a bid to make it worth publishing to.

The way that they’re supposed to work is that you publish an article to their site, and it has a section called the resource box where you can add your links to your site. Now, the way it works is that anybody has the right to republish your article, as long as you’re credited and the resource box is included. In theory, this can increase your backlink total as more and more people republish it if it’s a good article, and your resource box appears at the bottom. In practice, people often do break the rules and publish it without the resource box, and there is also the risk that the sites which are republishing them are low quality and this will have a negative effect on your SEO.

Lorrie: Yeah, it’s something you’ve really got to be careful about. What I was actually thinking about when I mentioned directories was service directories, as well as article directories.

Philippa: Ah, of course.

Lorrie: Again, if you find a reputable service directory, say, for the town you live in or the services you offer, it can be worth linking to yourself from there. One website that we’ve mentioned a few times, and not always in the most flattering terms, so I suppose I’m eating my hat a little bit here, is LinkedIn. And, in a way, this acts in a similar way to a service directory in the sense that you can list your services on there in the form of an online CV. And, as long as you keyword it up and add in lots of specialisms, it can act as a really useful way of showing people what you can offer.

On LinkedIn, it’s possible to add your website to your personal profile. You get about three or four boxes you can put links in – mine have my professional website, my Twitter, my Facebook and our Podomatic page. LinkedIn registers these as links but instead of displaying anything useful, it just puts “Twitter”, “Facebook” or “Website”, which is no good, because if someone searches for the word ‘website’, you’re not going to rank.

What some people don’t realise, though, is that links from LinkedIn are quite valuable, and that they do count as backlinks to your website. And LinkedIn is a huge website, it gets a lot of traffic, which can be really useful to you. Now, one way to capitalise on this is to use one of the boxes…and there’s an option to click on the drop down box and register this link as ‘other’ rather than “website” or “Twitter” or “Facebook”. And then, instead of entering the name of your website, you can enter a key search term, such as “SEO Copywriting”. This way, you’re creating a link from a really high profile site that features an important keyword for your own website.

Philippa: That’s a really good idea! Twitter profiles, as well, can also be a useful way to get a backlink to your site, as can Facebook Pages, Google Plus profiles and Pinterest accounts – anything like that, really.

Another good way to get backlinks to your site, as well as building relationships with other website owners, is to publish a guest blog post on somebody else’s site. If you feel you’ve got something valuable to offer a website, contact site owners. Now, really only do this if you think you have something valuable to offer them! Do not do guest posts purely for the links, the site owners know and they don’t want to be used in that way. Do it because you have something of value to say, and to give, and consider the backlink to your site to be an added bonus, really.

I’ve written a few guest posts for some reasonably prominent freelance writing blogs, and it was a great experience to work with the women that run the blogs was great, I got lots of really positive feedback about my posts and, also, I do get a fair amount of traffic from the links at the bottom of those posts, so as well as providing good content for them, I do get a nice bonus of backlinks and traffic too.

Lorrie: Absolutely. I think you make a really good point about the fact that it has to be quality content. It’s amazing how many people seem to forget that when it comes to online activity. If you’re a professional writer and you’re writing rubbish, it doesn’t look good! I really can’t stress this enough.

Philippa: Hahaha! It doesn’t help your business!

Lorrie: No! If you contact a website owner and say, “I’ve got a really good article and it’s about four lines, and it’s about how night follows day” or some other unexciting topic that everyone knows about, you’re going to look stupid. Even if they do publish it, you’re going to look an absolute fool.

But, if you do it well, I really do think the benefits are two-fold: you don’t just get the direct clicks from the website, as Pip says – that’s people come and have a look at who you are and what you offer – but it does also help you to build up a store of reputable results for your name. I get a lot of people saying to me, “I Googled you.” Or, if they’ve spotted me on Twitter and they want to know a bit more about me without asking me…because people are always scared that I’m going to correct their grammar! People say, “Ooh, I didn’t want to talk to you because I was scared you’d correct my tweet” – because that’s how I get my kicks, apparently! Haha! But yes, if the Google results are linked to informative, worthwhile, engaging content, and then your website’s at the bottom, you’re upping the chances of your newest potential client being exposed to your work – and your good reputation, and then your website. If you’ve got your “contact me” page on there, it’s in the bag.

Philippa: Absolutely, and you start to get established as an authority in your area, which is so valuable for your business, especially online based businesses.

Lorrie: In terms of building up your reputation as a bit of an expert in your field, it’s good to embrace your own strengths and skills from time-to-time. As we’ve said before, we Brits are pretty bad at doing this – we sort of hide in the corner and say, “Yes, well I suppose it was alright really! I suppose that, yes, it was rather well done!”, but it’s alright to shout about your achievements now and again.

A good way of doing this is to announce them officially via a well-written press release. A lot of people don’t think about press releases. I suppose I do because a lot of my clients want them…

Philippa: Yeah, it’s interesting because press releases are things I write for other people but it never occurred to me that I could write a press release about my own business. But it’s absolutely right.

Lorrie: It’s true. Like anything else, there are a couple of guidelines. Firstly, and this taps into what we’ve said about online articles and guest posts and things, you need to make sure you actually have something to talk about. “Freelancer gets up at 8am” is not press release worthy!

Philippa: Hahaha! Although it might feel like it if you do!

Lorrie: It certainly does! I was thinking, “No, no, 8am’s not too early!” but it really is! Haha! Yes, so you need to make sure the people and organisations you send your press releases to are actually a relevant target for it. Depending on what the subject is, you might decide to tell the local press, in which case it’s time for a bit of easy research on Google. Alternatively, you might send it to a database of followers – people whose contact details you’ve got from your website, so clients, corporate partners, suppliers, colleagues. And you can send your news to them in the form of an e-bulletin – if they’ve opted in to receiving correspondence from you.

Philippa: If and only if!

Lorrie: That’s for people you know – if it’s for the press, by all means send them what you want, just don’t do it too often because they’ll just block your email address.

If you do decide to head down the route of delivering a press release to people, I really can’t…honestly, this is my phrase of the podcast, I think, I cannot stress this enough – or over-enunciate it enough either! – learn how to write a press release first! Now, I can almost see Pip wincing but press releases…it’s amazing how wrong people get them.

Philippa: It is. They are a very…what’s the word? They have such a strict format and, for whatever reason, while the format of other things might be more relaxed or changeable, a press release has a set format that you have to adhere to. It’s just how they are. You just have to.

Lorrie: I wrote a press release once for a client and, I’ll admit it, they said, “I don’t like it – I’m going to do my own!” And I thought, “OK…fine…”. And they forwarded it to me along with about 100-150 other people. They forgot to BCC everybody, so everyone got everyone else’s email address, which is a legal issue in itself. But the press release had pictures embedded in the text, bubble font at the top, no date on it – it was just immensely awful.

Philippa: I actually have a list of instructions for myself for press releases, just because there are so many little bits that have to be included. So, just to remind myself that you have either an embargo date or ‘for immediate release’ written at the top. And, all those little points that it’s easy to forget and that you must not forget – so yeah, I actually have instructions for myself to make sure I don’t miss any of the formatting out.

Lorrie: Exactly – because if you’re a member of the press, you get hundreds and hundreds of press releases

Philippa: Even if you’re a blogger – I can speak from experience – we get press releases all the time.

Lorrie: I bet you can spot immediately which are well written and which aren’t.

Philippa: At a glance.

Lorrie: So, a press release isn’t just any old bit of writing – it’s a serious piece of work, and an official announcement. So if you muck it up, you’re not really announcing your news, you’re just announcing to the world that you’re completely inept. So be warned! It can be a great thing to do to drive traffic to your website. If other publications, like local press, pick it up, it can end up on their websites. Backlinks are great, but if you get it wrong, God help you.

Philippa: Yeah. Another way – and probably the best way, actually – to get good quality backlinks is to stop thinking about “How can I get backlinks” and gaming the system, and instead, publish content that is so awesomely brilliant that other websites just can’t help themselves and link to you because it’s so good. Like with on-site SEO, if you concentrate on providing brilliant information that’s presented in an interesting way, others who love it will link back naturally.

Lorrie: Completely. As we’ve previously mentioned on this podcast, perhaps Episodes 1 and 2, it’s important to go with marketing methods that suit you. Like we’ve said before, don’t get yourself on Facebook if you’re never going to use it, and don’t start tweeting if you’re going to stop again three days later. The same thing can be applied to creating back-links to your website: external sites like YouTube, Pinterest, Tumblr…they’re all a great way to create back-links to your site – I know that you, Pip, use Pinterest…

Philippa: I do!

Lorrie: I don’t – I hate Pinterest! I use Tumblr to create backlinks to my creative writing blog, for example

Philippa: Yes, I noticed that the other day – Tumblr’s a really effective way.

Lorrie: So these are all a brilliant way of creating backlinks to your website if – and this underlines a point we’ve made already – you’re actually posting some quality content. If you’re using YouTube, for example, don’t upload crap. Don’t upload junk videos to YouTube and expect relevant traffic to come flooding over to your website.

Equally, as I’m sure Pip can testify, if you get on Pinterest but post nothing of interest, you’re not putting the interest in Pinterest, or working the system properly. You’re just wasting everyone’s time, mostly your own. So, as Philippa says, forget about working the system, and do something that you enjoy and can stick to. That way, it’s sustainable, and it’s far likelier to have better results.

Social Media Mess

Social Media Mess (Photo credit: KEXINO)

Philippa: Yes, I really like Pinterest. I mainly use it in a personal way – I pin recipes I like the look of, and cartoons that I like, but I do have a writing board and a social media board, where I post relevant. I get a good number of clicks through from those but, if you’re like Lorrie and you hate it, don’t force yourself to do it just to get some clicks – value your time more than that.

Lorrie: I suppose I’m a bit harsh saying I hate Pinterest…

Philippa: Well, no, we’ve all got our preferences and that’s fine!

Lorrie: I like it for about five minutes, then I think, “What am I doing?” It’s not that I don’t know how to use it – I follow people like you and I see what you’re doing – but I think basically, I can’t maintain the interest for long enough.

Philippa: And I think that would show, if you’re really forcing yourself to do it, you probably wouldn’t get good results anyway. The same point applies to this podcast. We started this podcast for many reasons – we wanted to share our knowledge and experience and help other freelance writers, we wanted to promote our work, and so on. But an added benefit of the podcast is that we get backlinks from the podomatic website. We provide the links to our sites primarily so that, if anyone listens and wants to get hold of either of us, via our websites or – more commonly at the moment – our social media accounts, they can do so easily. However we also can’t deny that backlinks from a popular site like podomatic doesn’t do us any harm!

Lorrie: It’s true – and it’s not something to be ashamed of. The point is, we spend a good amount of time every week planning what we’re going to cover, thinking of topics, researching, asking people what they’d like us to cover. We take our time thinking about it, having a good old chat and, hopefully, covering some really good topics. We’re not publishing junk.

Philippa: There was a phase a couple of years ago where, in order to get backlinks, people would get some awful text to voice reader to read their blog posts out in some robot voice and then publish them as podcasts. As a podcast fan, it was horrible to see a new podcast post and think, “That looks really good!” and then it would be one of those. Urgh, it was horrible! Thankfully, I’ve not seen too much of that recently, but that’s the kind of thing you don’t want to do.

Lorrie: No, and as you say, we’re only on Episode 5 of this podcast now, but it’s something that’s really had a number of benefits. I know I speak for both of us when I say it’s been a really great way to develop organic discussions across all of our social media. For myself, it’s attracted a lot of people to my website. I’ve made new contacts on Twitter, it’s been really helpful for a number of my professional services – actually the copywriting, editing and proof-reading. If people talk to you, or listen to your podcast and find you helpful, they remember you for it. The same obviously goes for guest posts and blog comments.

Philippa: Yes, it’s been the same for me. I’ve made some really great new contacts and had some amazing feedback about the podcast too – yeah, it’s great!

Lorrie: Yeah, this week has been amazing for feedback, and it’s really given us a good idea of the kinds of topics people would like to see covered so it’s a sustainable thing.

Philippa: We’ve talked before about blog comments as a way to make people aware that you exist. Blog comments are also frequently abused by spammers (as anybody with a blog will know!). Commenting on blogs is not a great SEO tactic on its own. Most links in blog comments tend to be what is called “no-follow” links, which means that the site owner is essentially telling Google in its code that they do not want them to consider this link to be any kind of recommendation. But, that’s not to say they are entirely useless – if you post helpful and useful blog comments, you’re likely to get clicks from them. And then, if people like what they see, you might get a genuine backlink recommendation.

Start to think creatively about how you can attract people to your site, and how you can be so brilliant that they want to link to you from their site. Currently, infographics are currently a very popular way of sharing information

Lorrie: I love them!

Philippa: I do, too, in an unhealthy way!

Lorrie: Haha! It’s true, you do post a lot – but I always click them!

Philippa: I’m obsessed! But yes, people always do click them. And, a little tip here – if you post an infographic on Pinterest, it’s nearly always impossible to read so people always click on the pin to go to the original site. Little tip there!

Lorrie: Ahh, very sneaky!

Philippa: The creator of the infographic usually allows it to be shared on anyone’s blog as long as there is a link back to their original site.

Lorrie: Yeah, it’s not even always an active link, is it? There’s sometimes just a little graphic at the bottom but, again, it’s better than nothing.

This actually might be another place where a good relationship with a graphic designer can come in handy – it’s something I’ve been considering. Collaborating on an infographic of your own can be a great way to get your name out there. There’s a couple of things to think about. If you want to share the glory with the designer who designed it – as I suspect they’d prefer – have a look for someone on Twitter or LinkedIn, then chat to them about a mutually beneficial collaboration. You can add some mutual back-links into the deal – mention them on your website, “Just worked with this amazing designer!”, they can mention you, “Just worked with this amazing writer!” to make it a more positive experience for you both. Alternatively, if you’re a bit of a megalomaniac like Pip…

Philippa: Hahahaha!

Lorrie:…and you prefer to have just your name attributed to that piece of work, get in talks with a designer, get a contract in place – really important – deliver the content and then pay them to design you something really lovely that you can then promote across your social media. It would be worth getting Pinterest for that.

Philippa: Yes, definitely. The thing is to come to arrangement with the designer, as Lorrie says, so you either share the credit for the infographic or, if you come to an agreement with them that you will have ownership of the original design as part of the contract, then the backlinks – and all the glory – can be all yours!

Some other ideas for backlinks: Some people create a powerpoint presentation, or a pdf document with embedded links, on a subject that they specialise in. They then post it on document sharing websites – Scribd is the most common one – and if the document is really useful they can get a lot of clicks from there. Similarly, we mentioned Pinterest earlier. If you’re interested in promoting your site on Pinterest, make sure you use attractive images on your website, which you can then share on Pinterest, and, if other people like them, they’ll repin them, which constitutes another backlink. Really, there’s an endless number of creative ways to gain links to your website.

Lorrie: I think that’s it. Rather than gaming the system and weaselling your way to the top of Google like a sneaky beast, actually just come up with some decent ways of getting natural traffic – attract people, not search engines. Search engine optimisation will follow. A lot of tips on here are about that – it’s just about creating quality content and attracting people in an organic way.

Philippa: Be brilliant! Be as brilliant as you can and, some day, someone will spot your brilliance and share it on Twitter. Then someone will see it and think it’s great and link to it from their site. And then someone who likes their site will follow the link and share it on Facebook. What Google is looking for is that kind of process.

Lorrie: You can’t design a network of links that’s that complex. When something’s picked up naturally across social media, it moves so quickly – you’ll be everywhere. On my personal Twitter account, I get retweeted a lot because I’m quite the rhetorical genius when it comes to be angry – I can get angry and eloquent very quickly when it comes to topics I’m passionate about (politics, feminism, whatever) and it gets you retweeted hundreds of times.

You can apply the same kind of thing to your professional account – I posted something the other day, and it wasn’t mine so I gave credit to the person who created it, and it was a post about how to decide what kind of social media suits you…using bacon! And because it was so strange and weird…Brits love surrealist humour, don’t they? If you want to take a picture of bacon, you should be on Instagram, if you want a bacon recipe, go to Pinterest. I’m eating bacon – that’s Twitter, I like bacon – that’s Facebook. It was really just a good way to explain what the social media feeds do and people like it – it’s a professional account but it’s a bit of light relief for the middle of the day.

Philippa: And whoever created that will be really benefitting from having created something that really clicked with people, and then that you shared and that other people shared via you.

Lorrie: Yes, so be interesting, be funny, preferably be both, and it should work for you.

Philippa: It can be difficult to be so brilliant when you’re describing your services that the content will be shared, you can have a blog attached to your professional site. I have a blog attached to my Philippa Writes site, as well as my Social Media Writer site, actually. So that I can post things of interest that aren’t immediately relevant to ‘The Business’ that need to be on pages of their own. Like, posting episodes of this podcast, for instance.

Lorrie: Yes, I do the same thing – it’s a nice way of attracting traffic, making sure you have regularly updated content on your website and building up a bit of context – people like to know who they’re dealing with. You post something interesting and relevant and a bit witty, they know who they’re dealing with; they know you’re a personable sort of person, if you can say that. It just gives a bit of context – even if it’s not something you wouldn’t give a page over to, it’s still allowing you to update your content regularly, which is great for SEO, and it gives an insight into what you find funny, interesting or amusing. It helps to build you a 3D profile and people like to know who they’re dealing with.

Philippa: Yes, because at the end of the day, people are hiring a human being. There’s a reason there’s no freelance writing software, it’s because they want a person to do it. If you can show a bit of personality, that attracts some people.

Lorrie: I think, as we’ve said, it’s all about being natural.

Philippa: yeah, don’t force it. Don’t send a spun article to 800 directories – you’re fooling no one. Don’t put keyword-stuffed content all over your website. Just be brilliant – that’s my message for the podcast – be as brilliant as you can, and it will work.

Lorrie: True. You’re a freelance writer, so now’s the time to prove you can write quality content.

Philippa: Definitely. So, we’ve covered a lot there about search engine optimisation. We hope it’s been useful. Make a start! Do some of the on-site SEO ideas we’ve given you, and start thinking about some of the things you can do with the rest of your site, your work and your social media profiles to get attention for the right reasons.

Lorrie: So, really hope you’ve enjoyed this podcast. As ever, thank you for listening. If you want any more information on either of us, you can go to the bottom of our Podomatic page and all the links are down there. As Pip says, we’ve included some information this week just to make sure you’re not lost with all the new words and phrases we’ve used. Because everyone’s learning, so if there’s anything you don’t understand, it’ll either be at the bottom of the podcast or you can contact one of us on social media. We don’t bite – I don’t correct people’s grammar when they tweet me, I’m pretty nice. If there’s anything you want to discuss, anything you didn’t understand, or an idea or an opinion, let us know.

Philippa: Yep, drop us a tweet, come on our Facebook page! Do it!

Lorrie: Do it. So, I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn…

Philippa:…and I’ve been Philippa Willitts. Thank you so much for listening and we’ll see you next time.

Podcast Episode 5: SEO for Freelance Writers – Attracting the Right Kind of Attention with Onsite SEO

Here is episode 5 of A Little Bird Told Me, the freelance writing podcast. In this episode we discuss on-site SEO, i.e. the things that freelance writers can do on their professional websites to attract the best kind of search engine attention.

Have a listen, and let us know what you think!

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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We always try to provide a transcript, to make the podcasts as accessible as possible, so here is the transcript of this episode.


Philippa: Hello and welcome to Episode Five of the A Little Bird Told Me 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 there you can find all the links you need. You can subscribe to the RSS feed, you can subscribe at iTunes and Stitcher Smart Radio. There’s also a link to our Facebook page. I’m Philippa Willitts…

Lorrie: …and I’m Lorrie Hartshorn, and today we’re going to be talking about how to improve your SEO. So this is SEO for freelance writers, and how to make sure your website’s attracting the right kind of traffic.

Philippa: So keep listening for tonnes and tonnes of information. Before we start, we wanted to mention that we’ve had amazing feedback from the last episode. Looks like talking about being asked to work for free really touched a nerve with a lot of people. And it wasn’t even just writers and editors – we even heard from a professional cake decorator on Twitter who was asked to bake and decorate a cake in return for the ingredients. Like we talked about, she felt her skills were really devalued, just being asked to do that.

Lorrie: Well, you would if someone’s suggesting that years of study and expertise is worth the same as a few eggs and some flour. You’d feel pretty ticked off by that, I’d imagine.

Philippa: Exactly – I’m good at baking cakes but I’m useless at decorating them. It’s really hard!

Lorrie: No, mine always end up an absolute disaster zone, so I generally end up going for the rustic, undecorated cake.

Philippa: Yes, deliberately.

Search Engine Optimisation. Search Engine Opti...

Search Engine Optimisation. Search Engine Optimization (Photo credit: Hobo!)

Lorrie: Of course, yes. Through choice! I’m actually in talks with a number of writers and copywriters at the moment on the subject of working for free and being asked to work for free, so I’m pretty sure that, listeners, this won’t be the last you hear on the subject from us.

Philippa: It will go on and on, because it’s an issue that goes on and on – that’s the thing.

Lorrie: It does go on and on! I was asked, just after recording this, whether I’d be happy to translate 26 pages from French to English on a military skirmish!

Philippa: I saw the tweet – it was horrifying!

Lorrie: In return for gratitude!

Philippa: And then he posted another tweet, saying something sarcastic about, “Oh, it looks like translators are trying to earn some money!” as though that’s a really unreasonable thing for them to want to do.

Lorrie: Yeah, I think his tweet was something along the lines of, “I didn’t realise there were so many cash-strapped translators out there!”

Philippa: That’s it!

Lorrie: I’m not strapped for cash – I just don’t want someone taking the mickey!

Philippa: And then he was really passive-aggressive, like “Oh, I suppose I’ll have to do it myself now…”

Lorrie: “It won’t be very good, but I guess it’s the only way.”

Philippa: You can’t be upset that other people won’t do it if you’re then going to complain that you have to do it.

Lorrie: Well this is it – it’s not even our work, is it? You don’t want to do your own work for free, but you then expect someone else to do it for free – it’s just ludicrous. I listened again to Episode 4, and the number of times I used the words ‘ludicrous’ and ‘ridiculous’ was…well, ridiculous!

Philippa: Both of us are quite bad at ‘definitely’ and ‘absolutely’ as well. We should just pick one at the beginning of each episode.

Lorrie: What, a word to include or a word to ban?

Philippa: A word to include. Every time we agree, we should say, “Indubitably” for the whole episode.

Lorrie: I think I’m going to avoid doing that.

Philippa: Really? You’re no fun.

Lorrie: I know, I’m a drag…anyway, what I was going to say before we went off on one of our now famous tangents, is that, listeners, if you do have a story or opinion you’d like to share with us, we’d love to hear from you. You can find all our contact details at the bottom of the page at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com

Philippa: Do it – we want to hear from you. Now, today we’re going to talk about SEO. SEO stands for search engine optimisation, and whether you’re British or American depends on how you spell it; we spell it with an ‘s’. It describes the things that a website owner can do to help their site to show up in the search engine results. This is increasingly important because, the higher you up in the search engine results, the more clicks you are likely to get for people who search for relevant terms to your business.

Lorrie: That’s right – after all, nobody wants to search for a copy-writer in their area – either their geographical area or their area of expertise, or the subject they want covering – and find you, the perfect person, eight pages down in the search results! They’re not going to look that far down, so you need to make sure you’re easily spotted.

Philippa: Yes, there are statistics that I don’t have my hands on right at the moment, but basically, if you’re number one, you get 60% of the clicks, then #2 and #3 get 20% and 20%. After that, it’s mainly hopeless.

Now, there are two types of SEO – on-site SEO and off-site SEO. So, first of all, we’re going to talk about “on-Site SEO”. This means the things you on your website to help Google and other search engines to understand what your site is about. This includes the content you post and how you post it, and a few other ‘behind the scenes’ things that can be a bit annoying but are definitely worth doing.

Lorrie: That’s right – we’re going to focus on some of the easiest and most effective techniques for SEO in this podcast.

Philippa: Yup.

Lorrie: Because there are people who make a career out of telling you that they have a magic recipe to get your website to the number one spot on Google and keep it there, but at the end of the day, there are about 1,000 things you can try and you’d spend all day at it if you’re not careful. Or, you can end up paying someone a fortune to do it for you.

Philippa: Because, also, there are very reputable SEO companies but lots of really dodgy SEO practices that will not only not help, and will waste your money, but they can actually damage your site’s position in the search engine rankings. So even if you just have an understanding of what’s needed and you still decide to go with an SEO company, you can still question them in relation to what needs doing.

Lorrie: Absolutely.

Philippa: Now, to build a website, there are lots of different content management systems – or CMSs – you can use: WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, that kind of thing. We are both most familiar with WordPress, so this next bit is mainly relevant to that.

If you do use WordPress for your site, there are lots and lots of free plugins available to help you manage your on-site SEO. They will mainly help you to create the right tags and description for every page of your site, so that the search engines have a clear idea of what your intentions are.

My current favourite SEO plugin, and it’s a very well regarded one, is called WordPress SEO by Yoast, which is spelt like ‘toast’ but with a ‘y’. Now, this plug-in is really comprehensive, and it can look a bit intimidating at first but it has instructions are clear to follow. The other bonus with this particular plug-in is, because it covers several areas of SEO, it also avoids the need for having several different plugins all doing different bits of it, because plug-ins can sometimes clash and slow your site down, so the fewer you have, the better, generally. If you use other plugins other than that one, you want to make sure that they will help you to firstly, set meta tags for your posts and pages; secondly create a sitemap and thirdly control how the outbound links from your site – so the links that you place to other places – are perceived by the search engines.

Now, what those things exactly mean would be too complex to go into for this podcast, but in the show notes at the Podomatic page, I will add some links that will explain what all that means. For now, you just need to know that that’s what needs to be done, really.


google_logo (Photo credit: keso)

Lorrie: The transcript for this post will be available as well, so you’ll be able to look through it and find exactly what we’ve been talking about.
Philippa: Good point.

Lorrie: As Pip points out, content is one of the most important things to consider when you’re trying to improve the SEO on your website. However, it’s important to remember that it’s not just for SEO purposes that you have a website, it’s so that people can visit, have a look at the services you offer and get in touch with you. So in terms of content, you need to balance search engine optimisation with readability, and a good yardstick for doing this is to ask yourself why you’re writing something.

Now, new, relevant and regularly updated content will help your website’s SEO – it’s undeniable. However, if you’re writing something and you’re thinking to yourself, “There no point to this except for improving my SEO.”, you’re going to risk producing text that’s really reader unfriendly, and that’s going to be copy that’s unusually wordy, horribly long sentences and really unnatural sounding ‘keywords’ like, for example, “Manchester copywriter” stuffed in the middle of a sentence, is unlikely to attract or keep the attention of a potential customer. They’re going to get bored, or confused, or they’ll know what you’re up to and will feel patronised, so it really is important to find a balance.

Philippa: Yeah, I think people underestimate just how obvious it is when someone’s done that. If you get to a website that says, “If you’re looking for a freelance writer in Sheffield, I’m a freelance writer in Sheffield, who can do your freelance writing in Sheffield because I live in Sheffield and I’m a freelance writer!” And yes, it’s full of freelance writer and Sheffield keywords but nobody’s fooled and, for goodness’s sakes, you’re trying to sell yourself as a writer – if nothing else, you want your website to read well.

Lorrie: This is true. So, a few quick ideas on SEO content for your website: it’s a good idea to keep your keyword rich content higher up on your web-pages. So, this has got a couple of benefits – it does make it easier for the relevant parts of your web-page to be picked up by search engines, and – while this isn’t SEO, it’s still a good thing – it does help to maintain reader interest. You’ve got your most relevant content at the top, it’s easy for the reader to find, your whole web-page isn’t stuffed to the gills, you know, you can spread these keywords out a little bit.

Equally, it’s a good idea to include bullet points on your pages rather than horizontal lists. So instead of embedding a list of services in a sentence, like, as Pip said, “I’m a Sheffield copywriter, and I offer copywriter, proof-reading, editing, whatever else…” – rather than popping those in a horizontal list in a sentence, it’s worthwhile including them in bullet points to make those a little bit clearer for your reader and help them get picked up by search engines.

Philippa: Definitely. Headings throughout a piece of text are very useful too. They do help readability because they break the text up, but also, Google looks out for the h2 and h3 html tags that indicate to the browser that these are headings. And, search engines will give more importance to text which has been highlighted with these tags. So get your keywords in that kind of context and that will help.

The title, as well, that you give to blog posts and the pages of your website are very important too. Be clear, in your titles, what the post is about. Basically, help Google to help you!

Lorrie: Absolutely. Don’t sacrifice keywords for…charm, really. Just as I’ve said “Don’t sacrifice readability for keywords.”, it’s important to be practical about it as well. A lot of writers are tempted to be quite literary and witty, but if you’re being witty and wordy and wonderful at the expense of keywords in your headers and titles, you’re going to lose out.

Similarly, include some links in your content, and make sure the anchor text – which are the words your reader can click on, what you’ve highlighted and turned into a link – is actually relevant. So, if you’re wanting to link to a site about graphic design, for example, make sure your link is something specific like “Graphic designer in Manchester” rather than what everybody puts, which is “click here”!

Philippa: Yes. What’s quite funny is that, if you google ‘click here’, the top result is for Adobe Reader for PDF documents, because every time anyone offers a PDF on their site, they say if you don’t have the right software, you can get it if you ‘click here’, and use that as the anchor text.

Lorrie: Haha, that’s brilliant. So, unless you’re feeling particularly ambitious today and you’d like to compete with Adobe on clicking services, and offer your clients the best clicks, do make sure you keep your links relevant. It’s fine to include a few words in your link – it doesn’t have to just be one word; you can link a phrase or short sentence rather than a single word – but make sure it’s not too long.

Philippa: And also, mix it up a bit. Don’t always use “Manchester copywriter” or the same anchor text, because it doesn’t look natural to the search engines and that will make them suspicious. The odd ‘click here’ can actually help with this, making it look more natural. But as Lorrie says, don’t make that your primary anchor text of choice!

Lorrie: True – Pip’s completely right. If you highlight every single instance of ‘Manchester copywriter’ or ‘SEO copywriting’ on your website and turn it into a link, people start to get the impression, even sub-consciously, that you’re a bit of a spammer.

Philippa: Yup, it’s true.

Lorrie: It’s not nice – people don’t enjoy reading if they’re constantly interrupted by the same phrase being highlighted – because linking a word or phrase does highlight it – then, they’re going to lose focus on what you’re trying to sell to them, so just be a little bit careful.

Philippa: Definitely. Another good way to approach your SEO is to ask yourself what people might be searching for if they want your services. So, use that, or a of it that’s perhaps more natural in your headings, titles and meta-tags. So, if someone was trying to find you, what might they search? They might search for “Freelance editor in Scotland” or “web design specialist”. Make sure you get those words in, like Lorrie said, not in the spammy, keyword-stuffing way, but naturally. But do get them in.

Lorrie: Definitely. There are plenty of techniques out there that people will a little bit sneakily try and use to get their site ranked highly by Google. One of these is to fill the site with content that’s searched for regularly (and you can use your imagination as to what this is) and to try and disguise the fact that they’ve used this on the website.

Philippa: Yes, and there are sites you can go to to see what the most searched terms of that day are. It’s “Kim Kardashian” a depressingly high number of times – I don’t even really know who she is – or whatever the news story of the day is. Or, slightly ruder things.

Lorrie: Yes, usually slightly ruder things. I believe that Kim Kardashian has a link to slightly ruder things.

Philippa: That may be part of why, then, yes.

Lorrie: So, if people are wanting to artificially boost the content on their website by including lots of exciting, naughty things that certain people search for, this can either be done by ‘hiding’ the information in the metadata, so, back-stage on your website, or by inserting it in teeny-weeny letters at the bottom of your page. Or, by masking the content against a background by using a font of the same colour, so it’s effectively invisible – so, white text on a white background. This white text might read, “Free porn” or whatever.

I cannot suggest strongly enough that you do not do this. Google and other search engines have algorithms that will pick up on this kind of thing extremely quickly, and your site will end up black-listed. In the meantime, you’ll be attracting all kinds of irrelevant traffic, and possibly dangerous traffic.

Philippa: Yes, because even if you did somehow magically make it on to the front page of Google for people who are searching for Kim Kardashian, what use would that be anyway? People would click your link, see that it wasn’t about Kim Kardashian, and navigate away again. I mean, the chances of that Kim Kardashian fan also having an urgent need for a freelance writer right at that moment is pretty low.

Lorrie: You watch, this time next week, I’ll be blogging for the Kardashians and you will be eating your hat.

Philippa: Will I?

Lorrie: Possibly! YouTube video, actually: Copywriter eats hat.

Philippa: That would get hits, actually. Anyway! Last year, in a bid to get rid of the spammier sites, Google introduced an algorithm update called Google Panda. And what this did was start to reduce the search engine rankings of sites which had low quality content. This might mean badly written content, or content that’s copied or spun from elsewhere, or those sites that, thankfully you don’t see quite as much of nowadays thanks to this, with just one page of very sparse content. On the positive, good quality, original content is rewarded by search engines now more than ever.

Lorrie: Definitely – and as a freelance writer, you have absolutely no excuse. Not from a search engine point of view, and not from your readers’ point of view either. It really is worth just getting some decent content on your website.

Philippa: Absolutely. And another quick point about on-site SEO is internal links. Use internal links – that is, links from one page of your website to another page on your website – use them, use them carefully, don’t overuse them. But say, for instance, on your homepage, as Lorrie said, you’re using bullet points to describe that you offer proof-reading, copywriting and editing. What you’d want to do, for each of those keywords, is link to the relevant page of your site. So, your proof-reading page, for example.

Lorrie: Yes, that’s what I’ve done.

Philippa: Yes, me too. This obviously helps with usability. If someone comes to your site because they want your editing services, and they see a reference to your editing services, they don’t want to have to navigate to the top of the page again to find the link. But it also – going back to the anchor text we mentioned earlier – is useful to get a relevant anchor text with a link. Obviously, internal links don’t count as much from Google’s point of view as external links – as we’ll go on to explain – but they are useful, and use them wisely. Don’t over-use them, as with anything really.

Because SEO is such a complex topic, there’s way too much to cover in just one episode. So, in this episode, we’ve given you plenty of ideas to make a start on helping you with your on-site SEO. Tune in on Friday for Episode 6, in which we’ll discuss off-site SEO, which includes things like getting links to your website from other places, and making a good impression.

Lorrie: So, really hope you’ve enjoyed this podcast. As ever, thank you for listening. If you want any more information on either of us, you can go to the bottom of our Podomatic page and all the links are down there. So, I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn…

Philippa: …and I’ve been Philippa Willitts, and thank you so much for listening. We’ll see you next time!

Podcast Episode 4: Hot Topic: Writing and Editing for free – is it ever OK?

Episode 4 of the A Little Bird Told Me podcast is now live! Listen below, or on our Podomatic page, where you can also find all the links you need to find myself and Lorrie all over the web.

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Edited to add, we now have a transcript!

Episode Four of A Little Bird Told Me: Writing and editing for free: is it ever OK?

Philippa: Welcome to episode four of the A Little Bird Told Me podcast, where two freelance writers talk about the highs, low and no-nos of successful self-employment. You can find us on the web at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com and from there you can find all the links, subscribe to us via RSS feed, at iTunes as well as at Stitcher Smart Radio, as well as the link to our Facebook page. We really want lots of new Facebook likes so we can start having some really interesting conversations on there.
So, I’m Philippa Willitts…
Lorrie:…and I’m Lorrie Hartshorn, and today we’re going to be tackling the first of the A Little Bird Told Me “Hot Topics”. These Hot Topics are going to cover things that affect freelance writers, copywriters and editors, and the topic we wanted to tackle this week is based on something I spotted on Twitter and immediately contacted Pip about, and had a bit of a rant about..
Philippa: She did indeed – and I agreed with her rant!
Lorrie: Which is good! It’s good when people agree with me – I like this! I mean, we don’t always agree but this is why this one is such a good Hot Topic – because we really do. The topic we’re going to be covering is writing and editing for free. Now, there’s a lot to say on the subject but, as an editor myself, I particularly wanted to cover something that I spotted on Twitter, as I say. Now, I was scooting around on Twitter, having a nosey in one of my Saved Searches – as I mentioned in Episode Three, I have a few Saved Searches on there – and I spotted a person on there who was putting out an advert for professional book editors…
Philippa: …which sounds like a great thing.
Lorrie: Yeah, it’s right up my street. So I thought, “Ooh, let’s go and have a look!” So, I went on his website – really professional looking website, really, really nice – and there’s an ad on the front page, entitled, “Calling all editors”. Now, it says, “Calling all editors – I’m looking for an editor for my next book. The qualifications are simple: you need to be an experienced editor, have excellent grammar and writing skills, preferably be a science-fiction fan with a deep background in the genre…” – whatever ‘deep background’ means – and, then, here’s the crunch, “…As an indie author, this is not a paid position.” Now, putting aside the dodgy grammar on that sentence – and we’re not really putting it aside: I hate it! I hate dodgy grammar – it says, “As an indie author, this is not a paid position but I will lavish praise and chocolate on the lucky person – lucky person!! – as well as a very nice mention in the foreword, as well as a personalised first edition of the book.”
Philippa: Wow…!
Lorrie: I know, can you believe it? “Please respond via email to blah-blah – I’ll be contacting all applicants via telephone, so please include your complete contact info.” And he’s actually put this ad repeatedly on Twitter, and on his website, and he’s looking for a professional editor to edit a full-length manuscript for chocolate!
Philippa: And it starts off quite well – “Looking for an editor for a book…qualifications…experienced editor…” I think, yes, Lorrie ticks that box, “…excellent grammar and writing skills…” Yes, she ticks that box. I’m not sure how much of a science-fiction fan she is, but I have enough faith in her other qualifications that she’d be perfect for this job. And then it goes on, “…and praise and chocolate.” This is a whole book – presumably a whole novel?
Lorrie: Yes.
Philippa: …and a key point is that, once the book’s ready, this guy will be selling them for money. He’ll be getting paid for his work.
Lorrie: Not in chocolate. Not in praise. It’s just ridiculous – if the book’s going to make money, why is there nothing for the editor? Because editing a book, you sometimes change it significantly – that’s why you’re there. This guy describes himself as a ‘best-selling author’. His books are costing anywhere from 99 cents to sixteen dollars for a copy, each. And if he’s making any money at all – absolutely any – then, I mean what does he think editors pay the bills in? Chocolate? It’s ridiculous. “Oh sorry, I can’t pay my electricity bill this month, but I can praise you.”
Philippa: Hahahaha! I should totally try that for my next bill: “I’ve decided to pay you in praise – you are lovely!”
Lorrie: “Yeah, and there’s a Dairy Milk in the post.”
Philippa: Hahaha!
Lorrie: It’s ludicrous honestly – and he’s looking for an editor because he obviously realises that his book needs looking it. Everybody who writes needs an editor; I completely believe that. It’s just ludicrous.
Philippa: But not paying his editor – or not paying his editor – he’s really demeaning the work that editors are doing. I don’t know whether he perhaps doesn’t grasp what a big job it is – and what an important job it is, as Lorrie says. This isn’t just checking his punctuation – being a fiction editor can involve massive reworking. It does, it demeans the work that editors do.
Lorrie: Definitely. And I think I’ve got even less faith in him than you do. Because how can you not realise? As an author, if you’re putting out an advert for “experienced editors”, you know damn well those people do that for a living. You know that’s their day job, and I think this guy is exploiting the fact that so many people are competing for literary editing jobs – I think it’s absolutely disgraceful, and one point I would want to make is that – as Pip mentioned in Episode One of A Little Bird Told Me, this isn’t something you have to go through as a freelancer. You don’t have to work for free to prove your skills and to be taken seriously. You’re working, this is your day job, you’ve obviously spent time building up your skills and gaining qualifications – don’t work for free.
Philippa: Absolutely. And the context we talked about in Episode One was about low pay – we were talking about not working for insulting pay – so to suggest that someone should work for no pay is even worse than that. I mean, even if you’ve not got tonnes of experience, if you can do a good job, you deserve to be paid for it.
Lorrie: Absolutely. Another point is that he’s not even respecting his readership. He’s out there on Twitter saying he’s a best-selling author. A decent editor costs money. You pay peanuts, you get monkeys – or you should! It seems like if you pay peanuts, you get editors at the moment! If you want a freebie editor, where’s the incentive for them to do a good job? And then, he’s going selling a book that’s been edited by someone for free to his readers for $16!
Philippa: Yeah, and there’s a parallel issue as well – because self-publishing on Amazon is really easy now, it means that independent publishing has got a bit of a bad reputation because there are lots of books full of typos, bad punctuation and stories that don’t flow or just don’t work. And because of that reputation, a lot of indie authors are working really hard, genuinely, to overcome that bad reputation. And they’re doing that by making sure they employ editors and several proof-readers. But if you want someone to edit for free, that doesn’t help the reputation that indie authors have – it reinforces the idea that quality isn’t the top priority for independent or self-published authors.
Lorrie: Exactly – there are really, really differing views on indie authorship and self-publishing. There are plenty of traditionally published authors out there who say it’s basically a disgrace, and that people shouldn’t be publishing like this because look at the resources that publishing houses have to put into a book. Graphic designers are getting annoyed because people are designing their own covers, authors who’ve been published down the traditional route are getting annoyed because everybody’s calling themselves an author, and it’s people like this who are the issue. There are genuinely some talented people out there who self-publish and use that as a legitimate way to get their really decent work out there. For someone like me (I do creative writing and I do editing) to see someone like this cutting corners and thinking that the work that comes out at the end will be of the same quality.
Philippa: Definitely. As well as writers wanting editors to work for free, there are an awful lot of business owners and websites that want writers to work for free. The excuse is often “it’s really good for exposure; it’ll get your name out there.” And I think there’s an element of that with the editing as well. I think this guy thinks that somebody being in his foreword, thanked for editing his book, could launch their career. But in fact will his book launch your career? Will a website getting its content for free launch your career? It won’t.
Lorrie: No, it just won’t. If this book is going to be so magnificent, he should be paying you to edit it. If it’s not going to be that good, then why is your name being in the foreword going to make a blind bit of difference to anyone? It’s just not. But as Pip’s just said, a lot of companies actually want writers to produce content for free, as well as edit it. And this is actually a business plan for some start-up companies: they just don’t factor in the content costs at all, or they’ll make it into an ‘internship opportunity’ or a ‘volunteer opportunity’ that’s ‘great for your CV’ and it’s really, really not.
Philippa: Definitely – and some are even more sly than that, actually. They’ll go to lots of writers websites and say, “Can you send me a sample? I’m building a site on this subject. If you could write me an article on subject X, I’ll make a judgment on whether I want to hire you.” But they’ll go round lots of different writers websites asking for cleverly chosen samples and end up with a website full of content having paid nobody and having never intended to pay anybody.
Lorrie: I actually think I’ve been the victim – and I say ‘victim’ because I feel pretty cheesed off! – of someone like this recently. I can’t ascertain for sure whether this has happened, but I was asked to edit a number of academic articles, which I did – as you say, ‘for a sample’. Now, this is something you do have to expect – you have to give someone a sample, it’s not something you can avoid unfortunately. However, I sent these samples off – carefully edited – and I’ve not heard anything back. And I’ve contacted this person again, and again, I’ve not heard anything back. The project start date was supposed to be the start of September and it’s now the seventh, and I’m starting to get a little bit annoyed and to sniff out that there might have been some sneaky business going on. Time will tell.
Philippa: I think one good tip for writers is to have your own samples ready rather than writing their choice of sample. With editing though, it’s harder.
Lorrie: You can’t avoid it.
Philippa: You can’t send a good piece of work and say, “This was rubbish but now it’s good because of me!” That is trickier, I hadn’t thought of that. I know, for myself, if I’m asked for writing samples, I do have a few things in a zip file, and obviously lots of links on my website so people can see. I haven’t ever been asked for proof-reading and editing samples, so I’d never really considered it from that point of view.
Lorrie: Yeah, from the writing perspective, it’s great to have a portfolio ready so that no one can rip you off. But as you say, with editing, it’s pretty unavoidable because the subjects can vary so widely – as of course they can with writing – and people will generally just send you a sample of text and say, ‘Show me what you’d do with that.’
Philippa: Getting work for free isn’t even a great business plan from their point of view. The writer isn’t going to put their all into the task, your whole website will be written in different styles, you’re certainly not going to build a good relationship with anyone, writers aren’t going to talk highly of you to colleagues – it’s not a good plan even from the business point of view. You might get some free content in the short-term, but in the long-term it doesn’t work at all.
Lorrie: I think, a lot of the time, it’s the hallmark of a business that really just doesn’t care. Again, it’s the same as certain dodgy indie authors giving everyone a bad name – I’ve noticed a lot of start-up companies based online that basically work this in as part of the business plan. They don’t care about their suppliers – in this case, writers – they don’t care about their clients, they don’t care about the content on the website. All they want is a site that will shoot up the Google rankings because it’s got a lot of new content on it. As a writer, you have to wonder if a business like this is going to succeed and if it’s really something you want to be involved with. It seems more like a money-making scheme rather than a business that’s going to succeed long-term – and do you really want to put your name to something like that?
Philippa: Absolutely, absolutely. We understand that, quite a lot of the time, start-ups aren’t exactly rich. But the point is, if you have a business plan – especially if it’s around something like a niche website where the majority of the work is the content – and that includes money for a WordPress theme and money for SEO, then money has to also be allocated for that content.
Lorrie: Yeah. I mean, if you’ve got friends or family members who’ll write you some content for free, fine – absolutely great. Or, if you can offer someone you know something in return, say, if you write something for me, you can have this. And if they’re happy with that, again, fine. But really, if you’re looking for a professional writer or editor, paying them isn’t optional.
Philippa: Yes. Another thing I’ve seen quite a lot of is…I’ll get an email saying, ‘If you do this job for free, I’ll pay you loads for the next lot of work that we give you.’
Lorrie: Oh, “…and there’ll be loads more work coming down the tube as well!”
Philippa: Absolutely, and it never ever happens. Don’t believe it – this is a tactic to get work from you for free. If they get that work from you for free, they’ll find someone else to get the next work for free. You’ll never see them again, and certainly not to be paid.
Lorrie: No, you’re damaging your reputation. They’ll never come back to you, you’ll never be able to ask them for money and you’re damaging the market for other people – they’ll go and find someone else to trick, and ask them to work for free, and it just goes on.
Philippa: A big offender in this is Huffington Post, which is a very big website that I’m sure most people have heard of. They don’t pay their bloggers – I believe they pay their staff writers – but most of their content comes from bloggers. And recently, the site was sold for $315million, so some bloggers took them to court, and they estimated that $105million was the value of their unpaid work. One of them said, “Huffington Post is nothing without the bloggers who created the content” and I tend to agree with them, to be honest. If I click on a Huffington Post link on Twitter or something, it’s nearly always to a blog post. I try to avoid it actually, as they have really obnoxious pop-ups, but that’s irrelevant!
But yes, 9,000 writers took them to court – that’s how many people they had working for them for free. And they actually lost their case because they’d agreed in advance that they were going to write for free for a for-profit company. But I think it was still a good case to take because a lot of people weren’t aware at that point that a lot of the content they were reading from there was free. I know a number of people who blog for the UK Huffington Post now, and I’m deliberately not on principle. There’s no justification in my opinion for a website making that amount of money to not pay the people who are getting people to click.
Lorrie: No. Sometimes it’s very difficult to stick to your principles because, for example, Huffington Post is huge now – you’d love to be able to say, ‘Oh, I wrote for Huffington Post’. That being said – and it’s not really to put the blame on the bloggers – but if everyone had stood back and said, ‘No, you’re a for-profit company and I want to be paid for my work’, they wouldn’t have been able to do it. And we’re saying, we don’t know how they can justify it, well, of course they can justify it because everyone seems to be willing to work for free! The whole business plan behind Huffington Post is that people will give you free content and you make loads of money out of it – great business plan!
Philippa: Yeah, and as Lorrie said, we’re not blaming individual writers who do it. We understand that it might be good exposure to be on Huffington Post – a couple of bloggers have made it big as a result of being on there, although it’s a couple out of thousands, really, and a lot of people have probably been tricked by being sent one of those emails we talked about earlier. We’re not blaming individuals who do it; what we’re angry about is that people are asking it of us, really.
Lorrie: I think one thing I would say is that the acclaim that comes from saying you’ve written for Huffington Post is now going to have a shelf-life because now that Huffington Post has been exposed a for-profit company that resolutely does not pay its bloggers, really, where’s the struggle in getting your work on there? I wouldn’t think of someone who writes for Huffington Post, “Ooh, that person must be a really good writer” – I’d think, “Oh, Huffington Post got them too.” I’d think that they don’t really discriminate because, with free content, you can’t really sniff at it. I really would wonder now how much of a benefit there is for bloggers writing for Huffington Post. I guess that’s just my take on it.
Philippa: I think the very first bloggers probably did get very good exposure when the site got big but now, there are so many – and we’re not saying they’re not good quality, there are some great quality ones although I have seen some questionable quality ones and you do get associated with that.
Lorrie: I deliberately don’t read it because I question its ethics, to be honest.
Philippa: Yep. One option that’s sometimes offered to freelancers instead of – or as part of – being paid is revenue sharing or profit sharing, where the client might say ‘We’ll pay you 50% of your set fee but you can then share 50% of the profits’. Some say, ‘We can’t pay you anything but you can have 50% of the profits.’ And, this can be tricky for freelancers to negotiate. I was offered a revenue-sharing deal a few days ago and turned it down, for various reasons. But mainly because if a product or site or business doesn’t work, then you might be promised 50% of the profits, but if there are no profits, you’ll receive 50% of nothing, which is nothing. So, if you are looking at revenue-sharing, it’s really important to make sure that they’ve got a marketing plan in place and a decent platform to launch the product from.
There are some copywriters who will only work for a percentage of the revenue because they’ve got such faith in their sales copy, so certainly not everyone objects to this method – some people it works very well for.
Lorrie: Yeah, I think there are a lot of things to be considered. As Pip said, 50% of nothing is nothing. So, if this person or business isn’t going to make a penny, then neither are you. And what’s worse is, depending on the copyright deal you might have signed, they could walk away with the rights to the content you’ve produced, so if they come up with another business in future, they can take all your copy and you don’t necessarily get any money from that if it’s attached to a different venture and you’ve signed over the rights to it.
The profit-sharing niches that I find to be the most popular tend to be the really, really hard-sells, so things like Forex – foreign exchange trading – internet marketing products, health and fitness products. It tends to be online products for sale on marketplaces like Plimus and ClickBank, and it’s whatever suits really, in my opinion. It’s usually very, very hard-sell copy – I’ve written some before, it’s not my cup of tea but, you know, it works for some people…
Philippa: You do it very well, though!
Lorrie: Thank you!
Philippa: I’ve seen some of it, it’s very impressive!
Lorrie: It’s awful, isn’t it?
Philippa: Yes, horribly impressive! Hahaha!
Lorrie: I was really hoping you weren’t going to bring that up. But thank you! Hahaha!
Philippa: I think we have slightly differing views on how wise profit-sharing is, and I think that’s because we’ve had slightly different experiences with it. The times I’ve been approached, it’s not been by people I’ve had any good relationship with, and I think that’s where your experiences might be a bit different.
Lorrie: Yeah, I know we discussed the last deal you were offered – you have to assess every deal on its merits. If someone contacts you out of the blue, you’ve got no reputation to go off, you’ve got no relationship to base your judgment on, and their product and marketing plan doesn’t look very strong, then it’s obviously a no-no. I think my thoughts, in brief, are that profit-sharing deals aren’t usually ideal. It can work with certain niches – as I say, usually the hard-sells – and it’s better than nothing as long as it isn’t literally a percentage of nothing. In which case, it is just nothing!
Philippa: Yes. I think I’m slightly more cautious. You do have to be working with someone you’re 100% confident can make the product happen, and work, and sell. Otherwise, you might just end up doing tonnes of work for no return.
Lorrie: It is definitely a huge risk. I think the only time I’d really recommend is when you either have a long-term vested interest in the product or person, in which case the risk is that you’ll have a fall out and then what to do? Or, when the person has a good reputation for running successful product launches on online sales platforms like ClickBank. You know, you’ve heard of this person before, they’re number one in the market place. You know, a person like that can’t afford to rip you off and they generally don’t. They’re usually very, very generous as long as you can produce something that is absolutely top of that niche. And it has to be spot on. You have to be a very good, very experienced copywriter to get in with one of those people.
Philippa: Yes, and especially in the internet marketing niche, reputation is everything, so they’re not going to want to risk their reputation on one product launch.
Lorrie: No, and they’re not going to want to go with you unless you have a sturdy reputation as a hard-sell copywriter. You’re going to have to have a website set up specifically targeting someone like that, so usually it’s not the sort of thing I’d go for.
Philippa: In the past, I’ve actually seen marketers say to sales copywriters that not agreeing to profit-sharing means that they don’t have faith that they’ll write a persuasive sales letter, like, ‘If you’re going to do a great job, there’s no risk for you – so why wouldn’t you?’
Lorrie: of course, yeah!
Philippa: If nothing else, there are many more factors to a successful product launch than the sales letter itself.
Lorrie: You’re right – it’s a ludicrous assertion to make and shows no understanding of online marketing at all. If you’re launching a product on an online marketplace, there are so many things that can affect it – the mailing list, the list of people mailing out for you, the JV package – that’s your joint venture package, the incentives you’re offering other people to sell your product…
Philippa: In an affiliate…
Lorrie: Yeah, it’s affiliate marketing. Even the launch date – if it clashes with something important or there’s been something terrible on the news, it can all affect your launch.
Philippa: Yes. The design of the site, the SEO that they carry out, the product price – the list is endless really. Like Lorrie said, having a good relationship with the partner is vital because then you can have confidence that they’re going to do those things right. You can see the marketing plan before you agree to anything. And you can have faith that they’re not going to run away with the money as well.
Lorrie: Which is always nice!
Philippa: It is!
Lorrie: Although, in this field, it doesn’t seem that expecting to be paid for your work is very reasonable! Well, according to some people…
I think we’ve covered a lot of topics in a short space of time and, really, what Pip and I just wanted to drive home to all you writers, copywriters and editors is that you have to value yourself and put measures in place to make sure you get paid for the work you do, and that you’re not being taken advantage of.
Now, what I would say, to sum up, is that you should never edit a text for free if it’s a full-length manuscript. If you choose to edit a friend’s work as a favour – and I do that all the time, I have friends who do creative writing or they’ve got business websites – then that’s great. Or, as I said previously, if you have a mutual arrangement where you’re exchanging writing for something other than money – say, photography, graphic design, software design, whatever – that’s one thing. But to start giving your work away for free, that undermines what you’ve spent years learning to do and it creates an unstable marketplace for yourself and other editors. If indie authors are allowed to drive down costs to zero, then what are we going to do? You can’t suddenly start demanding money after that – you’re just going to end up with a really awkward situation where editors are expected 100% to work for free.
Philippa: Similarly with writing – you might decide to do some free or low-cost writing for a charity or a site that’s entirely staffed by volunteers, which I do, but if the person you’re writing for is making money, you should be paid. That’s all there is to it.
Lorrie: I completely agree. If you want to support a cause by volunteering time or skills, that’s no different if the skills you’re volunteering are copywriting or editing, especially if it’s a topic you feel passionately about. I’ve not been paid for my writing on feminism and, Pip, you’ve done a lot more than me. A lot of stuff on disabled activism, feminism, sexuality, for free – or not much money – but that’s your choice. No one’s expecting you to do it.
Philippa: Yes. The bottom line is that if you’re writing or editing for a living, you need to be paid for it. It’s what ‘for a living’ means, really!
Lorrie: Yes, we’re putting the ‘free’ in ‘freelance’ here.
Philippa: Because devaluing your skills does no one any favours, except perhaps the person getting the freebie, but as you said above, not necessarily. But working for free won’t pay your bills. Having your by-line on someone’s site or book also won’t pay your bills. As Lorrie pointed out, it devalues the work of all editors and writers, and creates an impossible market to work in.
Lorrie: You’re completely right. I think the last thing I would say is that – and this is for the people asking for freebies – if you’re asking someone to give you their time, effort and professional skills for nothing, you really need to take a look at yourself and your business plan. The guy I started this podcast talking about is all over Twitter, saying, ‘Support indie authors! Fill your Kindle with the work of those writing for you!’ What a bloody cheek! What a cheek!
Philippa: Absolutely. You get the best work from people you work with in equal and respectful partnerships.
Lorrie: It’s true. To openly admit on your website and on Twitter that you’re making money – $16 a book! – while offering absolutely bugger all to people who are editing your work, and whose work you actually need, it’s completely disgraceful. What’s worse, he’s tried to make out that it’s somehow cute – ‘Oh, I’ll give you chocolate and lots and lots of praise!’ – or that it’s somehow inevitable because he’s put, ‘As an indie author, I’m not paying.’ It just won’t wash. If you don’t want to get paid in chocolate, don’t offer it to your editors.
Philippa: The ‘as an indie author’ is such a weird thing to say. Does it exempt him from his rent? Or any other expense? No, it doesn’t – so he needs to pay for the editing that he wants, that he needs.
Lorrie: Exactly, it’s such a cop-out. I’m quite tempted to get in touch with him and then invoice him, saying ‘this is what I would have charged you.’ It’s ludicrous and I really don’t want other freelance writers and editors to fall for this sort of rubbish.
Philippa: I think we have two points, really, that come out of this, the first is that, if you’re a freelance writer or editor, value the work you do and charge accordingly. And the second point is that if you’re trying to get work done for free, like editing a whole novel or writing a whole website, just have a think about it. Would you do all that for free for someone else? It’s not acceptable, it’s not OK.
Lorrie: I think that pretty much sums it up – it’s not ok.
Philippa: Well, I think we’ve warned in the past that we have some strong opinions, and there go a few of them. Let us know what you think! Visit our Facebook page, which is linked to from alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com. Go to our Facebook page, tell us what you think: do you agree? Do you disagree? Have you been ripped off in the past? We want to hear your views.
Lorrie: You can also let us know what you think on Twitter – we’re both on there and the details of our accounts are on the bottom of our Podomatic page. Again, get in touch, have a chat, let us know if you’ve been ripped off or had a good come-back for someone who’s expected you to work for free.
Philippa: Definitely, and if you’ve enjoyed this podcast, make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss the next one. You can do that on alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com as well, all the links are there that you need. So thank you so much for listening!
Lorrie: I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn…
Philippa: …and I’ve been Philippa Willitts…
Lorrie:…and we’ll hopefully see you next time!