Every Tuesday at 11am, I run a Quick Fix Clinic over on my Facebook page, where freelancers, newbies and wannabes (nothing wrong with a wannabe!) can get personalised advice on the challenges they’re facing.
In QFC-2, we looked at how to take a holiday from your freelance or small business, how to keep freelancing through chaotic times, and how and where to start marketing yourself as a new freelance writer.
How to take a holiday from your freelance or small business…
First up, I’ve had a query from someone who wanted to know how to find time for a holiday. She’s in a situation lots of us know well: she’s worked really hardto build up her relatively new business, and she’s won a few clients, all of whom she (understandably!) wants to keep happy. Problem is, all the hard work over the last year or so has meant she’s not had time for a break, and she’s close to snapping point. So – if you’re about to burn out and you need a break, but you’re worried your business will go down the pan – or that you won’t be able to actually take the time off you need – what can you do?
1) Permission: Give yourself permission to have a holiday. Businesses do it. Employees do it. You can do it too. This may well be a big emotional decision for you, full of worry and panic – bear in mind that it’s not likely to have the same significance for your clients. More importantly, it’s good to remember that you are not your clients’ employee. It’s healthy to set boundaries and to be unavailable sometimes. As long as you’re not suddenly leaving your clients in the lurch, there’s nothing to get worked up about.
2) Prep: Do your prep in advance: schedule in a week or two where you really put your foot to the floor. I’m not talking about completely exhausting yourself, but try to get as far ahead as you can with things like regular blog posts, regular pieces of work for clients, social media scheduling and anything else that you have to do frequently. An extra hour or two here and there with a good, long to-do list and plenty of quick wins to hit will make the world of difference. Consider outsourcing if it’ll make life easier – you might make a bit less money, but weigh up whether it’s worth it.
3) Money: I’m sure you don’t need a lecture from me on finances, but if you’re stressing about the hit your wallet is going to take while you’re away from your desk, consider choosing less popular holiday times and locations. This is particularly pertinent for newbie freelancers and self-employed folks; things might be tighter at the start than they are a couple of years down the line, so a short winter city break or a trip out East making the best of youth hostels or Air BnBs might be a lifesaver. There’s no point splashing out if you’re going to panic – either halfway through your holiday or when you get back.
4) Communicate to your clients. Once you’ve decided to take your hols, make sure you let your clients know. Don’t apologise, remember – you’re as entitled to a break as anyone, and while it’s nice to feel essential to a client, it’s not healthy to have them fall to pieces if you go away for a week or two. Let them know when you’ll be back at your desk (tip: don’t make it the morning after a long-haul flight) and make sure you’ll fulfilled your pre-agreed commitments to them before you go. One thing I’ve done in the past is include the contact details of a fellow freelancer in my Out Of Office reply in case of urgent work; this was pre-agreed (of course!) with the woman in question, and the favour was returned when she needed a break, too. No one contacted her, but I felt reassured to know that my clients could see I was considering their needs.
5) Remember: if you’re taking a break, take it. Don’t respond to client communications while you’re away; try not to even check them. If you’re out of the office, you’re out – everyone needs a break, and you’re likely to come back far more refreshed if you’ve made the most of it.
How to keep freelancing when you’re surrounded by chaos…
Second question from the inbox: how to keep going with your business when you’re surrounded by chaos – whether that’s illness (yourself or someone else), upcoming maternity leave or building work in your home.
When you work for yourself, there’s paradoxically more and less flexibility than in salaried employment. In the short-term, you can take a day off when you like, work outside of usual hours etc. and stem off short-lived chaos that way. But when it comes to longer-term issues that stretch on for days, weeks, months, salaried employment offers you more protection – compassionate leave, annual leave, sick leave, HR etc.
So, if you’re self-employed and facing down a tough time, you have to be canny. In short, here’s how to handle it:
Re-assess your work-flow. Let clients know if you think work’s going to be delayed – as soon as you can. Re-consider taking on more work at the time; consider giving longer lead times if you do. Take a look at your schedule and see if there’s anywhere you can win back time. Consider outsourcing things like admin if you’ve got that option.
Prioritise your existing clients. Chaotic periods are not the right time to be doing loads of business development: firstly, you don’t need that stress, secondly, if your output isn’t as good as it normally is, you won’t make a great impression. Older clients with whom you have a good working relationship will appreciate open communication about any changes to your situation, and will probably be more sympathetic than you’d think. Work with them to find a way through.
Stay organised: to do lists may save your life in times of trouble. Couple these with phone notifications, calendar alerts, email reminders (tools like Boomerang for Gmail are great when things are up and down) – whatever you need to keep you ticking over. The less stuff you have to keep in your head, the better.
Stay Healthy: much easier said than done, but it’s important to try. Stress takes it out of you like nothing else, so try to eat as well as you can, drink plenty of water and get as much sleep as possible. As I say, much easier to say than do, but it may well make the difference between you staying afloat and going under. If you do get poorly, apply the above points – communicate with clients, outsource where possible, do what you can and make space for self care.
How do you start marketing yourself as a newbie freelance writer?
Hi! I have a question, which is going to be incredibly broad – where are the best places to get started? I’ve done bits and pieces of freelancing, but if I want to ramp it up and gain new business copywriting clients, how do I do that? It seems… overwhelming. Ha. (I warned you!) x
A good place to start is by narrowing down whether you prefer to write B2C or B2B – for those who don’t know the terms, business-to-consumer or business-to-business. The style of your writing, the kinds of writing that are needed and your best client hunting grounds will be determined (not fixedly, but primarily) by that.
In my copywriting work, I focus almost exclusively on B2B – it wasn’t necessarily a conscious choice, more of an organic development, where my clients talked to other people in the same/similar sectors, and the more B2B work I did, the more I got, IYSWIM.
Generally speaking, your B2B prospects tend to be more on the old-fashioned side. My lot – trade and industrial (woo – shout out to the waste management crew!) – tend to join LinkedIn and decry it as That Modern Doodad; best way to reach them is cold-calling, expos, direct marketing (email), snail mail.
Your B2C bunch tend to be more cutting edge – Facebook, Twitter etc. so it’s more important to keep your social media feeds looking spangly for them. They’re more reachable online, generally speaking, and more open to the importance of marketing, but they also tend to have a monopoly on the softer subjects that people want to write about – home and design, retail, entertainment/restaurants, so there’s more competition.
A good way in for both types of clients is via agencies, which is something I’ve talked about on here – small-to-medium, regional (i.e. non-London) agencies are often receptive to friendly overtures on Twitter and LinkedIn; have a look at their website, see if their client portfolio is a good fit and find out who’s who in-house. Work at building a relationship with them online, then once you have, you can ask whether it’d be OK to send over your details and a few examples of work. You don’t need to make it look like a job app – try and approach more on a level of equals – but it’s good to be professional. When I’ve hired, I’ve had some (scuse the language) shit-hot messes sent to me, and while I’m friendly and chilled out, they went straight in the bin.
Another sneakily handy way of finding clients if you’re looking for a particular industry is to look up expos and conferences online. Often, the website will have a list of confirmed attendees – nothing to stop you scalping that information and sending some tentative proposals if you can’t get there in person >:)
On the home side, ramping it up can involve stuff like:
– keeping your socmed feeds updated and relevant. As I say, choose your platforms carefully – I literally never got a single B2B lead via FB, for example.
– keeping your website neat, optimised and updated.
– doing some training – if you’re looking at business writing, thorough knowledge of how to write press releases will be essential, for example
– Setting yourself SMART goals – aim to send off a certain number of introductions per month, or win X number of clients per quarter, or earn X per week.
Marketing yourself actively (i.e. aggressively, consistently but not obnoxiously!) really is key – I can’t stress it enough. If you’re a good writer, you’re already ahead of the pack; it’s just a question of putting yourself under the right people’s noses!
Hope that’s all been helpful! Join us next week, Tuesday at 11am over at www.facebook.com/creativecontentcoach for answers to your own big questions!