Tag Archives: Writer

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.

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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.

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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 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!

Introducing the Writers Helping Writers Collective

Spreadsheet email

Spreadsheet email (Photo credit: Christopher S. Penn)

Last night, on Twitter (follow me @PhilippaWrites), I got into an interesting conversation with @thewritesprite. She followed me, and I told her that I liked her username. She joked about how difficult it had been to choose one, and we started to talk about how, despite writing for other people for a living, writing for ourselves can sometimes be hard.

There are, of course, other times when another writer’s input can be very valuable – for instance it is nigh on impossible to proofread your own work. You are too involved with the text and it often takes a fresh pair of eyes to spot mistakes. And sometimes a writer can craft a catchier Twitter bio about somebody else than they can about themselves.

We talked about how great it would be if there was a way for writers to help each other out in these circumstances. My imagination took flight and now the Writers Helping Writers Collective exists.

The way it works is this:

  1. A writer joins the Writers Helping Writers Collective google group.
  2. They then have access to the WHWC spreadsheet.
  3. If a writer needs help with something, they fill in 4 columns of simple information in the spreadsheet.
  4. They then post about this to the google group (by email or on the site).
  5. Another writer, who wants to help out, goes to the spreadsheet and fills in 4 more columns of simple information.
  6. They then email the original poster directly, and the help happens.

It’s that simple. Members are asked to help out another member before asking for help themselves, although while the collective is establishing itself this won’t be enforced too strongly, because most members will be new. Overall, members are asked to help one or two people for every help request they submit.

Are you a writer who wants to join a new, exciting community? Are you aware that there are some tasks that you struggle to do on your own website? Do you want to offer help to fellow writers on small, manageable tasks?

Join the Writers Helping Writers Collective now and help to build a vibrant, co-operative community for writers online.