Work for free? Don’t you dare!

By: Alison R Bowyer   Freelance Copywriter  

If you’re a freelance creative, you’ve probably at some point been asked to work FOC (free of charge). 

You’ve probably already seen blogs and videos poking fun at the concept of working for free, the point being that you wouldn’t expect to be given a free takeaway on the promise you’ll pay next time if you like the taste. 

The same goes for writing (or designing, photography etc). If a client wants you to produce creative work, they must pay you for it.

There are some scenarios where working for free may do you some favours. For example:

  • Building a portfolio. Although it can be argued that you can do this just as well by writing a regular blog, which will also attract traffic to your website.
  • Writing test. I’ve done this once and I got the job. It was for a large brand and I figured it was worth the risk. Only you can decide when it is and isn’t appropriate to do this.
  • Charity work. Maybe there’s a cause close to your heart and you want to offer your services. As well as making a difference, you can feel warm and fuzzy inside. It’s also a great way to build up experience. Just make sure you set a few boundaries first.

 

just-say-no-pixabay
No need to over explain when turning down free work.

Despite those examples, I still believe that working for free is a bad idea. If you’re tempted to work for free, it’s easy to understand why. 

Getting those first few clients can be a tricky business, and you can sink into a sort of depression in the early days if the enquiries aren’t coming thick and fast. This is when you’re at your most vulnerable to falling into the black hole that is working for free.

Seasoned piss takers People that ask for free work often have a knack of making it sound very tempting. You should hear alarm bells if you hear any of these phrases:

“It will get you more exposure.”   Um yes, more exposure as someone who works for free.

“I don’t have any money to spend right now, but I’ve got big plans for future.” And so do you. Working for free isn’t going to help you achieve them.

“This is a big opportunity for you.” It really isn’t.

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There’s no excuse for being a mug. You deserve to be rewarded for your time and expertise.

When you’re starting out and your confidence is a bit low, it’s easy to grab hold of one of these carrots and convince yourself that you’re working your way up to where you want your business to be. 

The trouble with doing this is you’re likely to lose more confidence, get treated badly and start to feel resentful. You may even give up on self-employment and slink back to full-time paid work, with your tail between you legs, feeling that you’ve failed.

If any of this sounds like you, have a word with yourself. Because working for free means that you are handing over your talent and expertise for the good of someone else’s business. Your pain, their gain. Where’s the sense in that? . 

There are plenty of things you can do instead that will increase your confidence, improve your business and get you on the road to finding good, solid, cash-paying clients.

  1. Update your website and social media channels Are you visible on line? Do you have a website with easy navigation, concise writing and a clear call to action? Are you listed on appropriate on-line sites for your industry (for example, Pro Copywriters’ Network for copywriters). Spend some time going through everything and improving it. Ask a friend or colleague for feedback, and spend time looking at other websites. Don’t copy them, work out how you can make yours stand out and make it different. 
  2. Get blogging If you’re working in marketing, copywriting or social media, the chances are you’re already advising your clients to blog regularly. So practice what you preach. Blog consistently, even if it’s just once a week or fortnight to start with. Deliver something that is interesting to read and useful. Give away free advice. Try to be helpful to others in the same industry as you. I know, it hurts to do that when you’re trying to acquire new clients. But you’ll be getting your name out there, and there will be a ripple effect. People will start to know you. And of course, adding regular content to your website will help you get found on search engines. Just remember to share your blog on social media. Don’t have a website or social media? Back to point 1! 
  3. Continuing professional development. Read, read, read. Always keep learning. Even if you think you have all the knowledge you need for your chosen field, there’s always new stuff out there. Train for a qualification if you have the time. But if you don’t have the inclination (or money), there’s so much information out there for free. Look for people in your chosen field and read their blogs. They’re probably handing out their own advice for free. Learn from it. But don’t get carried away and pinch their content. Think about how you can incorporate that information into your business without being a copycat.

    Podcasts are another fantastic tool for learning, especially when you’re on the go. I listen to them in the car, waiting for the kids to come out of school and when I’m cooking dinner. 
  4. Take a walk. Not very original, I know. But if you’re going through a quiet phase, do something that benefits you and your business. Walking is great for your physical and mental health, zaps stress and anxiety, and clears your head for new ideas. I recently sprained my ankle and had to give up walking for a few weeks and it made a huge difference to my productivity. So I no longer begrudge taking 45 minutes out of my business to walk every day. It keeps me fit, generates ideas and sparks creativity.

I’d love to hear your experiences about working for free or being asked to work for free. Do you have any ideas to add to my list of things to do instead?

Until next time.

Alison

Alison is a Freelance Copywriter based in Milton Keynes. She specialises in web content and business blogging. For more information about Alison, click here.

 

When copywriting and caring collide…

If you’re a parent carer running a business, or thinking about it, this is for you…

I’ve read many articles about juggling parenthood with running a business. And I love them. It’s great to share thoughts and ideas.

I can relate to some of the experiences and advice, but my parenting issues are a bit different to most. My son has autism and learning difficulties.

I’m not saying my life as a working parent is harder, but it’s certainly different.

And when I read articles about juggling parenting and self-employment, there’s a tiny voice in my head saying, “What about me?”

Lately I’ve been wondering how many other self-employed peeps there are out there, simultaneously navigating their way through the world of business and special needs parenting.

All our children are different, and our experiences are different but I’m hoping some of the following would be helpful. At the very least, I’d love to hear your own experiences or tips.

  1. Acceptance

This could be a whole blog in itself! What do I mean by acceptance?

Firstly, I mean acceptance about your child’s disability. That means accepting that they won’t change their behaviour or needs to accommodate your business and schedule. You’re going to have to work around them!

Because their care comes first, always; so it’s a case of working out when you can focus on your work and how much time you have available.

For me, this means only working on client stuff when my son is at his special school. He’s extremely well-supported, so I can drop him off at 9am secure in the knowledge that I’m unlikely to hear from them during the day.

He sleeps well at night. This is a huge bonus, because it means I get to sleep too. In the early days, I would take advantage of this time to work on my business (more about this in point 2!) but I’ve come to realise that sleep is super important, and my productivity during those school (client) hours is far greater if I get 7 solid hours of zizz.

Secondly, acceptance about what you can realistically achieve.

In the early days, that might mean just one or two hours a week. That’s a good start.

Don’t worry if it’s a tiny amount of time. Just focus on what you want to achieve and try your best to do it. Yes, it might take longer than you would like. But it’s something. And in my view, something is better than nothing.  Even if you just manage to read one 10 minute blog about setting up your dream business, that’s a step in the right direction.

I’ve given up thinking about how much more I could achieve if I wasn’t a parent carer. To be honest, if it wasn’t for my son, I doubt I would have had the guts to go freelance anyway. I’d probably be 9-5ing in some faceless corporation by now, and bitching about Bob from Accounts. I have a lot to thank my son for!

  1. Self-care

Voice of experience speaking here!

You might be surprised just how excited you feel about starting your business, especially if you’ve felt dragged down by the stress of sorting out a diagnosis or suitable education for your child (experiences will vary hugely depending on the disability).

So what do I mean by self-care? I’m talking about the basics! Sleep, eating at the right times, drinking water and getting some exercise. I know how challenging this can be. The needs of your child can be overwhelming. But it’s important to try.

balance
A retreat would be nice! But I’m talking about the basics here – eat, sleep and exercise.

It’s surprising how invigorating thinking about something new can be. If you find time to study, read and plan your business, you might find that you have a new lease of life.

And that’s when it becomes tempting to neglect your basic needs in favour of putting everything into your business, on top of your caring role.

Please don’t!

Your child and business depend on your health. Take care of yourself the best that you can.

  1. Get help

You can’t do it all yourself. So get help if you can. This will mean things to different people.

helping-hands

My greatest help is having my son educated in a special school. He’s well supported, so I can relax when he’s away from me and his anxiety at home is reduced. I also take advantage of the playscheme his school offers in the holidays and as he gets older, I have will have options available for after-school club and further respite.

I also pay out for extra help with the mundane stuff. That means paying someone to help with the ironing during busy times, and someone to help with the dog walking. That’s enough for now, but my son’s getting older and what I need will change.

If you can’t justify paid help, try negotiating with family members. Draw up a rota of who does what. If you have other children, get buy-in from them. My older son (who doesn’t have a disability) has assigned jobs in the house, for which he’s awarded merits that go towards treats or experiences in half-term.  (Update: he’s now hit the teenage years, so increasingly this means cash incentives!)

  1. Make time for your heartbreak

I mean it.

Your child has a disability. It hurts. That never goes away. The fears for their future, wondering what caused their disability (I’m speaking as an autism parent here) and absorbing how much your world has changed. It’s always there, just underneath the surface.

chris-christmas
My beautiful boy.

As time goes on, you don’t think about it all the time. But every once in a while, something happens or someone says something, and reality of your situation slaps you straight in face. Sometimes when you least expect it.

However busy you are, however successful your business is, whatever other great things happen – just respect your own feelings about this.

It’s okay to feel really shit about this thing that you just can’t change; your child’s disability.  Sometimes you’ll be cool about it. Other times you’ll feel sad, angry, frustrated, depressed. Acknowledge your feelings. They’re real – as real as it gets. And only by accepting that, can you embrace your situation and build a positive life (and business).

  1. Be the best you can be

Be yourself. And be good at what you do, at work and at home. Work hard at building your business, and giving your child the care and quality of life they deserve.

Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t be open about my caring role. Life has shown me that it changes people’s reactions towards me. It might even lose me business from time-to-time. But I’m okay with that.

Over time, I’ve come to realise that being a parent carer is a strength, not a weakness. And clients like to know who they’re working with. I’m the reliable type, so if I think I can’t meet a deadline or put the amount of work needed into a project, I don’t take it on in the first place.

Parenting a child with autism has taught me about communication, patience, empathy and given me the courage to carve out a different life to the one I thought I was going to live. My achievements might be small, but I’m proud of them. 

How does it work for you?

If you’re a parent carer, who also runs a business, I’d love to hear from you. What are your challenges and coping strategies? Do you have any tips to share?

Alison x

 

 

Enjoy this post? Feel free to share on social media and with anyone you know who would find it useful.

About me: I’m a Freelance Copywriter based in Milton Keynes. If you’re struggling to find the time, or inclination, to write engaging blog posts for your website, I’d love to help. 

There’s a simple form on my contacts page or you can call me on 07809 599055 (if it goes to voicemail leave a message and I’ll get back asap).

 

 

 

Writing website content? Tips for start-ups and small biz owners.

start-up-2017

By: Alison R Bowyer     Freelance Copywriter     alison@mkwordstudio.co.uk

Bite-size writing tips for small business owners: how to write content for your start-up website

So you’ve had a great idea and you’ve decided to take the plunge and become self-employed. 

One of your first priorities is to work out how best to market your business. Maybe you’re already networking like mad, dabbling with social media and eagerly awaiting your new business cards to arrive in the post. Exciting times ahead.

And now you’ve got your head round that website builder and you’re having loads of fun designing a cool website to promote your service. Everyone needs a website, right?

It’s easy at this stage to get carried away with the look and design of your website. But don’t underestimate the power of words.

When a reader visits your site, there’s a very small window of opportunity to grab their attention and keep them interested.

Design is important, but ultimately it’s the words that have the power to engage your reader and persuade them to choose you over your competitors.

Your Home page will need to grab attention and compel your reader to keep reading. The About page is an opportunity to tell the reader more about you and your business, while your Services page should go into more detail about what you offer and crucially, the benefits of your service to your reader.

It’s important that your writing is accurate and grammatically correct. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking that it needs to read like an essay for A Level English. Grammar rules can be broken to create more of an impact (such as starting a sentence with ‘And’).

It’s okay to inject your own personality into your writing and write as you would speak to your clients. Whether you’re writing B2B (business to business) or B2C (business to consumer), it shouldn’t really matter.

The point is you’re writing for your fellow human beings, so write in a clear, concise style that’s easy to read and understand.

It might help you to thing about it as talking rather than writing. Think about the words and language you use in everyday conversation and go with that.

There’s no need to pull out the Thesaurus and find a posher word for the one you want to use (notice I said ‘use’ not ‘utilise’).  Use everyday language that the reader can relate to.

Show a clear call to action on every page, so your reader knows exactly how to contact you. Make it easy for them!

get-found
Show the world you’re a professional at what you do.

I’m no expert on design and my own website and blog are deliberately simple in design, so that the focus is on my words.

But here are a few basic tips (for more advanced advice, look out for blogs by website designers):

  • Black print on white background is easier for most people to read.
  • If you have a background image, make sure the writing isn’t obscured by it (one of my clients had their contact number in dark blue text on a lighter blue background, but it was almost impossible to read).
  • Break your copy up into short paragraphs. Too much block text is off-putting to some readers.
  • Check links work properly and that your website is easy to navigate. Again, if it’s a DIY website, ask a friend or family member to check it and give feedback.
  • Images can support your writing and make the page more attractive to the reader, but make sure they work well with the words. And if you don’t do your own photography, be careful of copyright (don’t steal images from other websites or Google).I use Pixabay, which is an excellent resource for restriction free images. There’s no charge either, though there is an option to make a donation via Paypal.

Be original. It’s okay to get ideas from other websites, but don’t pinch the content. Think about what you want to say and put it in your own words. If it’s an old idea, try to approach it from a different angle.

Finally: proofread, proofread, proofread. There’s evidence to suggest that errors on your website can lose you business. So take the time to read it carefully. If you know someone who spots spelling errors a mile away, ask them to read it for you. A second pair of eyes is invaluable; it’s always easier to spot other people’s mistakes.

Taking the time to write clear, persuasive content for your web pages will give your site the best chance of turning readers into customers. And once your site’s gone live, remember to keep adding fresh content to build your following and get found on search engines.

This is your opportunity to show the world that you’re a professional at what you do. Grab it!

Until next time.

Alison

Alison is a Freelance Copywriter in Milton Keynes specialising in web content and blogging for business. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why it’s okay to turn work down

By: Alison R Bowyer    Freelance Copywriter    November 2016

I recently wrote a blog about my first year in business. One of my tips was to trust your instincts and turn work down if it doesn’t feel right for you – even if you don’t know where the next job is coming from!

Last week, I had to put that piece of advice into practice.

It pains me to turn work down.  Frankly, who do I think I am?  A client offers me an opportunity and I should snap it up there and then. 

But there are times when it’s okay to turn work down.  The more obvious reasons are well-documented. For example:

  • If the client is only interested in the cheapest deal
  • You don’t ‘click’ with the client from the outset – or worse still, they criticise other professionals
  • You’re not comfortable with the subject matter (if it’s outside your own moral boundaries, forget about it)
  • The client has no idea what they want – avoid, avoid, avoid

I’ve certainly made the mistake of being pressured into work before that has turned into lots of hassle for not much in the way of returns, so my radar is up at all times.

But none of these applied to the situation I found myself in last week.

On this occasion, the brief was a little outside my usual comfort zone and the deadline was tight.Read any articles by the great copywriters who generously share their knowledge and the advice they will give is to say a big, fat “yes” to something new.

I agree with this, up to a point. As a copywriter, you should be versatile and able to grow alongside your business. But what if you are already over-committed?  What if the client is a great brand and you don’t want to fluff it? What if the deadline is scarily tight, and if one things goes wrong, everything could come tumbling down like a stack of cards?

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This was the situation I found myself in. I will only take on a project if I am confident I can deliver on time. I want happy clients who will come back again and recommend me. So the decision to turn down the job was easy.

The tricky part was how?  How could I turn down such a great opportunity without causing offence?  And retain a good relationship with the client for the future?

So, I was honest.  I took a deep breath, called the client and explained the situation. 

I told them I would love to take them up on the offer.  But it was a new area for me, I was genuinely too busy to meet the deadline and I only wanted to work with them if I had the time to do the additional research I would need to do to ensure I did a great job.

There was a silence on the end of the line; a few seconds, but it felt like a lifetime.  And how did the client respond?  Beautifully.  They thanked me for my honesty; we had a lovely chat and parted on good terms with the agreement that maybe we could work together in the future.

What a great response. I was so impressed that I immediately looked round for someone else who may be able to help them. Why not? There’s plenty of work out there, it’s good to share! And I made a another great contact in the process.

I expected to spend some time this week reflecting on my decision (and wondering if I had made a mistake!)

As it turned out, a routine visit to the opticians on Friday resulted in a trip to eye casualty this weekend and I am now nursing a poorly eye.  It’s not serious, but had I taken that project on, I would have struggled.

I’m glad I listened to my instincts.

I’d love to hear from you if you’ve been in a similar situation.  Do you struggle to turn down work?  Or, like me, have you learnt the hard way that sometimes it’s necessary to say, “Thanks, but no thanks”?

Have a great week.

Alison

Alison is a Freelance Copywriter in Milton Keynes offering a range of services, including blogging for small businesses.  For further information visit www.mkwordstudio.co.uk