Freelancer Friday – What makes a readable blog post?

30 Day Blogging Challenge Day 5

Blog post visitors are tricky beasts! We are told that we have a very short time in which to grab their attention and persuade them to stay on the blog. How can you ensure that your blog visitors might be tempted to stay? When you are a freelancer, it can be even more important – you rely on your blog to showcase your talents and your business.

Aim the subject towards your readership. It’s no good blogging about upholstery if your audience is here to learn about freelancing. Freelancer, make the subject relevant to your intended audience and even more important, use relevant images too.

 

Images

Pick your images for the impact that they will make, as well as their relevance to the blog post. I look for either bright colourful images that are not too distant or too fuzzy for the size that I need them, or distinctive black and white images can work well too. Either way, the subject needs to be clear and the background works with the picture rather than against it. I always think that the pictures you choose are individual to you and really enhance your post.

Paragraphs

Break your blog post into smaller chunks or paragraphs. When you change the subject, change the paragraph. Keep the paragraphs short and don’t use too many connectives – better to have short clear sentences. You can also divide your blog post up, using subheadings which help your reader to have a clearer idea of what the blog post is about.

Don’t worry too much about a ‘tidy’ blog post at the point of first draft. It is more important to get your thoughts and feelings on the page and shape the post. Once you have said what you want to say, then you can go back over it and polish it.

How long should your blog post be?

Blog posts are tending towards the longer end at the moment: lengths of 1,000 words or more are not uncommon. This is due to the super power of a long blog post to keep you on the page for longer (which is a Good Thing according to Google). This is wonderful for the more wordy among us, but I’ve always found that my blog posts find their own length – they just seem right when they’re done.

By the way, if you can tie blog posts together and do a series, so much the better. Hopefully you can keep bringing back your visitors for more.

Finding your voice

The most interesting blog posts for me are ones where you can hear the author’s voice. For example, I can usually hear Sarah Arrow’s voice reading her blog posts and anyone who knows her would probably do the same. My voice is not so well known, but when I use anecdotes from my life, I am at my most real. I would also say that this can be quite scary to do. Don’t be afraid to change names and make people unrecognisable to themselves, but a little storytelling can help a blog to change from a so-so blog to a post that people will remember and may come back to read again.

Finally, find time to post! You are a fine one to talk, I hear you say to me and you are right. I have been guilty of not finding time to post to my blog. I am making up for it with 30 days of blog penance and I am enjoying it – so far. Finding a rhythm and time to post ensures that when that client comes across your blog, it doesn’t look like a ghost town. You want to be present in your blog and that can only happen when you post.

So enjoy your time on the blogging challenge and keep going!

What tips do you have for making your blog readable? Please share in the comments below.

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3 fears you face as a business owner and how to work through them

We have all experienced fear. That uncomfortable moment when the pit of your stomach falls through the floor and a feeling of dread creeps over you. Fear is a healthy response to stepping out of our comfort zone. Sometimes, however, the emotion can take over and paralyse you, which can prevent you taking action.

 

 

 

 

 

But what if you let fear rule your actions?

Fear of starting a project

It can be possible to be afraid to start something. You take that normal piece of business advice, which is to formulate a plan – and then you plan and plan and plan. Or you research, research, research. You are so busy planning and researching, that you don’t ever start. Ever.

Answer:

While it’s good to plan and research, the time does eventually come when you need to start to do something. How will you ever learn if you simply stay safe? No one can plan for ever and sometimes you just need to get something done.

Find a small step and just take it. Make that first step to that thing you want to do and then follow it with another and another. If it helps, break down the whole process into small steps, just make sure that you then follow through and take action too!

Fear of not being able to carry out the work

There can be a real fear of taking on too much and not being able to fulfil your work demands. This especially applies if you are working in a service industry. You might be afraid that family demands could mean that you are unable to work, or if other demands on your time increase the pressure. How can you give 100% to your work when so many other things threaten to take over?

Answer:

Strangely, the answer to this one is planning! Know the hours you have to work and make sure that what you take on will fit inside them. Always allow a little extra for the unforeseen event and keep the communication with your client flowing. It is true that life has a habit of tossing little problems in your way and no one can guarantee that they will always be able to fulfil the work, but you can mitigate it as much as possible by ensuring that you keep a good grasp of what needs to be done. If this means making an old-fashioned timesheet to ensure you give enough time to different projects, then so be it.

Fear of not being good enough

No one knows all the answers when they’re just starting out, but there can be a real fear of being found out! What if the people you network with, realised just how much you are finding it hard to keep on top of everything? What if your business fails in a spectacular way? How can you say that you are an expert when you have only just started?

Answer:

Everyone can feel this way sometimes. It is one of the ways we put pressure on ourselves. However, we can choose to listen to the disparaging voice in our head, or we can tell it a few home truths. Just because you have this fear, doesn’t make it true. We need to find ways to counteract the voice with logic and calmness.

One way to help this is to have a good friend, who knows what you do, how hard you work and what it has taken to get there. A conversation with them might just be the antidote you need to a doubtful voice inside your head.

What fears have you faced while running your own business? How do you manage to face them down and still get things done? Comment below.

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Freelance Writing – How to Prepare to Meet with a Client

A client has made contact and they are looking for someone to do some freelance writing, freelance web design or some other kind of work. There’s just one catch: they want to meet in person. What should you do?

Preparing to meet with a client

Nine times out of ten, freelance work is contracted through online contact. Clients can find you through a website, through a professional association or just through sheer luck. They’ve made that contact and it’s looking good – but they want to meet up.

Some people prefer to meet in person if they are going to hire someone for a job. You would expect to go for an interview if you wanted a job – this is a similar situation. Here are some tips to help you get that job.

  1. Find somewhere that you can both get to easily, to meet. If you are reasonably close by, perhaps a nearby city might be a good idea. You should not have to spend a fortune to meet a client unless they are reimbursing you. Meet at the local coffee house, where it will be easy to find through a search.
  2. Leave in plenty of time and do your best to arrive on time. Swap mobile numbers just in case there is a problem and if you found that you couldn’t get there, give as much notice as possible.
  3. Dress appropriately. Ripped jeans and dirty trainers are not really an image that you want to project. You may be freelance, but a potential client is expecting someone who is able to project a professional image. Dress in a smart-casual way, not necessarily a full suit, but definitely smart trousers and a shirt, if male and looking as though you have made an effort if female. Aim to make a good first impression.
  4. Know how you’re going to recognise each other.
  5. Order a drink, sit down and get down to business. Get to know each other. Is this someone you can work with? What is the scope of the project? The pay? Freelance work should pay enough to cover your costs, but you can also take into account how long the job is likely to last. Sometimes it is worth finding out the budget before you meet up to avoid wasting someone’s time.
  6. Don’t let the meeting take too long. Say what needs to be said, find out what you need to know and then part amicably. You may walk away with the job or you may need to wait to find out, like an interview, but be polite and leave a good impression.
  7. If you are waiting for an answer, but haven’t heard, it is definitely worth following up in 48 hours.

Good luck! Meeting a client for the first time can be nerve-wracking, but some of the best working relationships can come from people who have actually met in person rather than just communicated through email. Be prepared to meet your clients and hopefully more work will follow.

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There’s no such thing as a free lunch – should you write for free?

Actually, there is such a thing as a free lunch! My church put on a free lunch on the first Saturday of every month. They offer soup, fresh crusty bread and cakes, and it is very popular. Some of the homeless people in the town are waiting eagerly outside, at 12 pm, ready to come and eat and stay until the end, at 2. I have known people who are struggling, who are down on their luck, or just not making ends meet that month, come and enjoy a free hot meal. Not even a collection is taken – it is completely free.

However, when you are setting out as a writer, where do you find opportunities to write, if not for free? There are job ads everywhere, offering internships, voluntary positions, or even, the old chestnut, more paid work will be along soon! How do you know whether this is a position that will give you good experience and bring along better things, or whether you are just being taken advantage of? Here are three opportunities, where you might consider offering your services for free, and three where you would be well-advised to stay clear.

Take it!

  1. A local charity is looking for someone to help with writing some articles for the magazine. It is a subject that you know something about, and you would like to write more about. Yes – especially if you are looking for some clips for a portfolio. This kind of thing is fine, especially for smaller, local charities. The only time I would be hesitant, would be if this were for a charity that could afford to pay. Also, make it clear that it would take second place to paid work, and limit how much you produce for them.
  2. A friend is starting up a business and wants to set up a website. They are looking for help to put content together. You agree to write some pages for them, if you can link to their website on your portfolio. Yes – but with provisos! Not everyone chooses to work with friends – it can be a fast way to lose a friendship! Decide on the scope of the work before you start – how many articles, and know how long it is going to take you. Again, free work should only be done after paid work is done.
  3. You decide to join an article-writing website. The article titles are chosen by you, so you can write about what you want, and the website puts advertising on your articles. You can collect the money for the advertising, once it reaches a certain amount. Your articles are passed by an editor before being published. Again – a qualified yes! This is something that I did, when just starting out. I liked the idea that the article had to be passed by an editor, so that meant it had to pass certain style guides. It taught me how to write a headline and how to write for the web. I made a little money out of it – but don’t expect to get seriously rich from this kind of set up! Also do some research before joining such a website – some are better regarded than others. It’s best to check out reviews first.

Don’t Touch it!

  1. A company posts on a job board, looking for writers. They suggest that the opportunity will be great exposure and experience for a writer – but they can’t afford to pay yet. They say that there may be payment somewhere down the line… no! The problem is, that you don’t know the person and you have no idea about their circumstances. They may be telling the truth, but they may not. Stay clear or be taken advantage of!
  2. You are emailed by a person you don’t know, out of the blue. They offer minimal compensation, but ask for a free trial of your writing to check whether you are up to the right standard. Not recommended! If they receive enough writers willing to do a free trial – will they need to pay at all? They may have emailed you, but you have no guarantee that this work is going to be worth your while. I have occasionally sent over a trial piece – but on the understanding that if they want to use it, I want to be paid for it!
  3. You offer an article to a publication that pay for print and online pieces. Their reply tells you that they won’t be paying you because your piece will published as a blog post. You are a new writer, looking for clips – what do you do? This happened to an experienced freelancer who pulled the piece rather than give this publication free work. They would not have offered the work if they had thought that they would not be paid. This feels like a scam – and you should value your work too much to be taken in by it. If something doesn’t feel right – then walk away. There will be other opportunities.
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7 retro blog posts you might like to check out

7 retro blog posts

When you’ve put a lot of effort into writing your blog posts, it can be difficult to lose them off the top page and awkward for visitors to your page to find and read them, unless of course, they found them through searching a specific topic in Google. So it is good to occasionally write a blog post review to search through your blog and find some of the highlights that may enjoy seeing the light of day again.

I have enjoyed searching through my blog and finding some of my highlights from recent years. Many of these were from a 30 day blogging challenge I undertook in 2016. Definitely think it’s time for another one!

  1. Great Hero Character Names

In this blog post, I wrote about some of my favourite character names in novels and why I liked them.

2. My Top 10 Fictional Villains

What is a hero without a villain to try to foil them? These are some of my favourite villains, but I know there are many more.

3. Writing Prompts, Story, part 1 and Story part 2, and Editing a Story

I’m cheating here – there are actually 4 blog posts in one go: writing prompts and parts 1 and 2 of a story. I had fun creating this. Then I wrote a further blog post, explaining how I might edit the story, having read it back and analysed what I had written.

4. Procrastination and the Writer

This blog post was one of the most popular on my blog at one point. I think it chimes with most people who want to be writers.

5. 30 Ways to find Blog Post Ideas

For those days when procrastination is at its highest…

6. Six Girl BFFs in Fiction

I love a story with a really good girl BFF in it and here are some of my favourites.

7. Ten of the Best Bromances in Fiction

You can’t leave the boys out! Here my top ten bromances in fiction too.

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How to start using Twitter as a Freelance Writer

One of the main things about becoming a freelance writer is the need to network and connect with other writers and clients. How successful you are in connecting with people is partly dependant on getting to grips with social media and learning to use it to your advantage. Here are some tips on getting the most out of your social interactions.

Do you use Twitter?

Do you use Twitter personally? What is your attitude to meeting people through social media. It is easy to be wary and restrict interactions with friends when it comes to our own personal accounts, but the whole reason for using social media for our business means that we need to reach out to others that we will not necessarily know. You may need to change your mindset in order to use social media effectively.

Where do your clients hang out?

I can remember attending an interview for a builders’ merchants who were looking for a social media person to build up their Twitter accounts. I didn’t get this job, but I still wonder whether builders actually have time to hang out on Twitter and pick up their offers. Most businesses these days offer email, many send out newsletters and have a website, usually developed by a third party, but Twitter and Facebook are very personal choices that not everyone wants to use. Check whether potential clients that you want to contact are choosing to use the method of social media that you are planning to use.

Where do you begin?

Choose a username that reflects your business. All the social media make it very easy to set up an account and the hardest thing can sometimes be finding the right name that has not already been taken.

Set a profile picture and a cover picture too. Most social media accounts also give you the option to reach out to people from your contacts list, so that you have a ready-made list to start connecting with. It is best to set up your profile as fully as you can.

Write your first post and publish.

Check in with your account regularly and monitor the activity. There are tools available to help schedule posts to help save time, depending on the form of social media.

What to post?

Social media is great for promoting your blog posts, website, offers and promotions, or just for sharing an article that you found useful or news. Decide how often you want to post. Posts should never just be self-serving promotions but full of useful information for others. Keep in mind the people that you want to reach and what they might be interested in reading about, or the knowledge that they might like to acquire. When you post, include a link and an image if possible.

You can also share videos, podcasts and infographics. You can curate news to post, writing the headlines in your own words and including a link. This can be a useful way of posting more often. Keep it relevant to your business and make it useful to your clients.

Social interaction

The most important part of social media is the social bit! Each form of social media has its own way of interacting. Twitter allows likes, replies and retweets. Retweeting other people’s tweets is a good way to begin your interactions. Follow people and their tweets will show on your feed. Look for people and companies that align with the people you are trying to reach. Thank people for following you and use hashtags.

Hashtags enable your posts to be found by interested parties. The most popular hashtags will appear when you start to type a word after a hashtag. Choosing one of the more popular ones will help people find you. Post regularly and follow up when people try to contact you. Some companies set up automatic replies to people who follow them, to let them know that it is appreciated. This can be a good idea, but make it a thank you and possibly a freebie that you offer rather than a hard sell.

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Freelance Writing – How to Write Great Product Descriptions for a Website

One of the many freelance copywriter jobs available is to write product descriptions for a website.

Writing Tools by Pete O'Shea on Flickr CC
Writing Tools by Pete O’Shea on Flickr CC

This is a description for each product on an e-commerce site which describes the product, gives a potential customer information on the product, often including dimensions and colour choices as well as materials that it is manufactured from. There can be some scope for creative writing as you describe the product to enable the customer to make a buying choice. A product description will be required for each product on the website, so this job could potentially last a long time, especially if more products are added to the website.

The first product description writing job I got was in the early days of my freelancing career. I was required to write descriptions for a sports and workwear clothing company. The descriptions were written in an Excel spreadsheet which was useful to enable me to know if I had used the exact same description before. There were about 800 products to describe, so it was time-consuming and I had a deadline to keep. I managed to make the deadline, but only by getting up early in order to finish the writing. The vendor was pleased and I was glad that I had managed to finish, but it was hard work.

More commonly these days, product descriptions are written straight into a content management system or CMS. The person who hired you will tell you what they want in each field, so you should be given instructions as to what to write. The information can include a product number or SKU, a product name, manufacturer, and a description.

The description is usually what takes the time. Each description should be unique. It’s not enough just to copy and paste the same description over again. This product information is seen as updating information by Google – new content which encourages the search engine to search the website, so rewriting website product descriptions can be helpful to your search results. The descriptions should not match other similar websites so the more unique the content the better.

However customers need to be able to match the information to what they are looking for. As much information about the product as possible needs to be included such as dimensions and colour choices.

Using Photos

You might be asked to collect and upload photos. You need to make sure that the website owner has the right to use the photos as they may be copyrighted. You may need to own a copy of an image manipulation programme as many websites have been optimised to suit a particular size of photo. This may also mean always using a landscape-orientated photo as opposed to a portrait photo.

It takes time to get into writing and uploading product descriptions, but once it becomes second nature, it can be a great job. You will quickly find yourself becoming knowledgeable about the products that you are writing about. You will probably be asked to upload a few descriptions and have them checked out before continuing with the work. This is a good idea as you can check that you are doing things correctly before getting too far into the work.

It can take a little time for your boss to check over your work and let you know that you are good to go. They may have some suggestions for you to improve your work. Try and follow them as much as possible and if necessary, have them check over your work again. It is better to get it right from the start than find that you have been doing it wrong halfway through the work.

Pricing

Some companies are looking for a fixed price while others want to pay by the hour. Certainly by the hour will give you a more true idea of how long it will take. Some bosses will want you to achieve a certain target number of product descriptions an hour while others will want to negotiate a price for the whole project. Don’t undersell yourself. Writing product descriptions is hard work and slow going in the beginning while you are getting used to what is expected of you. Your hours will almost certainly be more than you expect.

So, DO

  • negotiate price before you begin
  • make sure that what you are doing is what the vendor wants
  • include the time it takes to resize photos and upload them
  • make every description different
  • act professional in your dealings with your boss

but DON’T

  • be late delivering your work. If a problem comes up then talk to your boss and let them know.
  • just plough ahead without checking that your work is ok
  • get upset if you don’t get things right straight away. Everyone needs to know whether what they are doing is right and this is particularly important in copywriting
  • expect it to be easy straight away
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Day 17: 30 Day Blogging Challenge – Testimonials about my Work

What Others Say

I decided to go into freelance writing following a change in physical circumstances and a realisation that I needed something that meant I didn’t have to stand all day.

The happiest place on earth by Peter Dutton on Flickr CC
The happiest place on earth by Peter Dutton on Flickr CC

I have a steady but not spectacular stream of work and a supportive husband which enables me to keep freelancing. I have enjoyed talking to lots of different clients over the years but have only met 3 in person. I have always tried to ask for testimonials, but not everyone responds. However those who do are very kind and complimentary. My paid work is as a freelance copywriter, writing blogs, web content, product descriptions and anything else that my clients require. The variety of the job is the thing I love about it.

One of my first jobs was for a local website developer. I worked on blog posts and articles on a number of subjects. Lee Davies was a small business owner who built and developed websites local to me and he first asked me to do two articles – one on marble and one about granite. I asked him for a testimonial at the end of a job where he asked me to write some content for his new website and he kindly agreed:

“I have utilised the copywriting services of Sarah Charmley on numerous occasions, and have found that the standard of work has been excellent. Sarah has provided articles and web copy on a wide range of subjects, the content has been focussed and well thought out. Without exception, deadlines for the copy have always been met and in most cases arrived ahead of schedule. Highly Recommended.”

Lee Davies, WebPageOne Solutions Ltd

Thanks, Lee, I enjoyed working with you too. This recommendation has long graced my Portfolio page.

A number of people I have worked for, have never got around to putting pen to paper to give me a recommendation, although I usually try and ask. One who kindly did, has put a review up for me at freelancers.net:

Sarah has freelanced for us on a regular basis since the beginning of 2014 to create product descriptions for our ecommerce website. We have always found Sarah to be a diligent and speedy copywriter, who produces content to a consistently good standard. I would recommend Sarah without hesitation if you are looking for a reliable and good value freelancer.

Clare K.

I began by uploading product descriptions to the website, but was offered the job of social media manager for the website last year. I really enjoy the job, researching and writing regular blog posts on health and promoting them via social media.

I got some great praise about two months after I had started work. They had previously had an SEO company writing their blog posts for them, but they had to come up with the ideas for the posts. I research and write all the blog posts myself. I got this great praise passed on from their other director:

Btw our blogs are WAY better than before, i actually read half of them now, genuinely interesting…

To those of you out there who work with freelancers, if they ask you for a review, do take time to let them know you appreciate them – it can really make a freelancer’s day!

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Five Tips to Finding your Freelance Writing Style

Busy Day by Debra Roby on Flickr CC“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” Richard Bach

The internet has opened up a lot of opportunity to writers to earn money from freelance writing. The beauty of freelance is that you don’t have to give up your day job and dive straight in, but that you can use your spare time to explore freelance writing to see if it is for you. One of the most important things you can do is to learn about your freelance writing style. This takes a little persistence and practice, so here are some tips to help you.

  1. Find time to write. Keep notebooks in lots of different places so that you always have something on hand to write on, or use the notes on your phone. This is even better if you are able to sync your notes with your computer because then they will be backed up and you can work on them some more. Even 10 minutes can be productive if you come to it ready to write.
  2. Write about what interests you. Write about an interesting event that has struck you or an interesting news story. Sometimes just a news headline can be enough to spark that creativity. Or you can write a description of an interesting character and put them in a story.
  3. Read. Find out about writing styles. Learning how to structure your work is very important in freelance writing. Read up about how to write headlines and the differences between blog posts and articles. Look up different types of blog posts and work on examples of each type. Practise writing articles. When I began to write, I started by submitting content to a number of websites which would edit the articles before they went up. This was a great way to learn how to do things right.
  4. Follow some writers who seem to be doing things right. You can learn a lot from other people. Be wary of bold claims from some people who just seem to be after your money, but there are some excellent freelance writers out there who give really worthwhile advice. You will also probably be able to follow them on Facebook and Twitter. You can get yourself known to them by commenting on their blog and asking questions. These people can offer a lot of experience and you can learn a lot.
  5. Take your time to learn about freelance writing. If you are interested in building up a career in it, then it is worth spending the effort to research it and find out more. There are some good email courses available but always check out reviews before committing to buying a course.
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Four More Qualities of Successful Freelance Writers

Some people just find writing hard work. The physical effort of putting pen to paper or fingers to keypad just does not do it for them. They are unsure that what they are doing is correct and they find the very act of writing a chore. Other writers love it. They enjoy the physical act of writing, whether it’s on a computer or with a favourite pen and paper. They love the feeling of the words flowing out from the brain and onto the page.

By David Turnbull on Flickr CC
By David Turnbull on Flickr CC

Does that mean it’s always easy? No. Writers’ block is very real and it can sometimes be difficult to find just the right word for the sentence, or to work out exactly what it is that you want to say next, but the enjoyment of the physical act of writing just doesn’t go away, no matter how many words you write. If this is you, then you have the potential to be a freelance writer. Here are some more qualities that you will need:

  1. You enjoy learning about new and different things

If you want to write for a living and get paid for it, then you learn to write about many different things. Sometimes Writing Gurus suggest that the best way to get paid is to find a niche and become an expert writer in that niche. If in a previous life, you were an accountant or an insurance agent, then you might well have a niche if you can blog about your knowledge in an accessible way. Most of us do not have that background, however, so we need to discover what we enjoy writing about, and most importantly, what we can write well about. The ability to discover new, reliable sources as knowledge for what you have been asked to write is a very important part of being freelance writers. A future niche may grow out of that work, if you are engaged to write a lot of material in that area.

  1. You have confidence in Your Writing

Writing confidently is part of writing well. Knowing what you want to say and making sure that it reads well is important to a freelance writer. Offering your work through an editor can help you gain confidence in your writing. It is important that you let others read your work, as they can spot errors that you might not.

  1. You can Proofread Your Writing

On the subject of errors, it is important that you can spot simple grammatical and spelling errors. Spellcheck is a great tool and even those freelance writers who are confident in their writing, use it, but sometimes it will miss a homophone, or a word that sounds the same, but is spelled differently and has a different meaning.

  1. You can Take Criticism

Most freelance writers who have had any clients have not always produced every piece of work perfectly. Quite often a piece of work will be returned with requests for revisions. It’s how you take it which is important. Your client knows what they want, and if you are lucky, they will ask for it. It’s your job to write what they want so no matter whether you disagree with them or not, you should write to their specifications. Always be professional and polite because these clients are paying you to do a job. Always turn in the best work that you can do.

 

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