Breakfast, not late night snacks, hold the key to managing your weight

Do you eat breakfast? Or do you eat late at night? When you eat your food could be the key to enabling you to manage your weight more effectively.

A team of scientists conducted a study to see if the timing of meals mattered when people were trying to manage their weight. They wrote about their study as an open access article in PLOS Biology journal. The scientists, from Vanderbilt University, USA,  assembled a group of people to test their theory.

The participants were middle-aged and older people,, who had a variety of measured BMI (body mass index), who had their metabolism monitored in a whole-room respiratory chamber over two sessions, each 56 hours long. The study was designed as a random crossover experimental study. The scientists made sure that lunch and dinner were offered at the same times: 12.30 and 17.45pm, but made the timing of the third meal different. In one of the sessions, the third meal was breakfast, offered at 8am, while in the other, the meal was given as an evening snack at 10pm. The amount of time between meals overnight, was the same length and the type of food eaten was the same. The subjects also had the same activity levels in both groups.

All participants experienced both sessions. They were asked to monitor and record their sleeping habits the week before the experiment. They were assessed by a doctor before going into the chamber. The room had a set rate of oxygen and carbon dioxide flowing through it to enable the participants’ respiratory rates to be measured. They had lights on at 7am and lights off at 11pm.

The scientists found that the group that ate the late night snack burned less fat overnight than the group who had eaten the meal as breakfast. The respiratory rates between the two groups were also different. The scientists concluded that our biological clock works better when we eat in the morning rather than when we eat late at night. Eating late could delay our metabolism and cause the nutrients from the food to be stored rather than burned.

So the next time you reach for that late night snack, you might want to hold off until breakfast the next day!

I write medical blogs for one of my clients. I like to include interesting studies here, particularly if they have relevance for the freelance life.

Do you prefer breakfast or supper? The answer may have an effect on your metabolic rate.

Johnson, C.H., et al., Eating breakfast and avoiding late-evening snacking sustains liquid oxidation, PLOS Biology, February 2020

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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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Should you use Free Business Search Engines for your Small Business

30 Day Blogging Challenge Day 4

There are lots of free business search engines around. Many have been going for years. They often offer a basic free listing, which can offer improved visibility if you decide to pay for their service. How do you know if their paid-for service is any good and how can you make your free listing worth taking the time to do?

 

 

 

 

 

Adding yourself to free business search listings seems a no-brainer on the surface. You can usually put in contact details and a few details about what you do, for the the princely sum of time. The websites will usually try and upsell you to a paid listing, but it is up to you to decide whether it is worth it. Check out the paid listings – do they get enough for their money? Fill in as many details as you can and make sure that you include things such as a photo, your website and social media details.

Many of these websites bring new entries to the fore after paid-for accounts. It can therefore pay to go back every couple of weeks and amend the free listing, to see if it brings you back to the top of the list.

Here are a few that I have used: (Disclaimer – there are no affiliates in this post – just my opinions!)

FreeIndex

Pros:

Able to search for keywords in an A-Z list.

You can set up an email alert when the website receives quote requests for something that is similar to your business

The website has a fresh, clean design with colour pictures and is easy to navigate.

You can search, using a number of terms

The website gives you an author image, key services for search terms and the chance to write a description of your business.

Customers can also leave reviews and the latest reviews are shown on the landing page

Premium or paid listing enables you to be listed above non-premium members with a super-highlighted listing, an extended search radius and more keyword tags. You also get alerts before non-premium members and the ability to upload more photos and videos and they also stop advertising nearby businesses which offer the same services on the same page.

Cons:

The free listing does advertise nearby businesses that offer the same service lower down the page

You really need reviews to keep the momentum going, but it does say when the page was last updated, so keep updating it.

My opinion:

I have had 1 client through this page – but he never left me a review, so my reviews are 0. I don’t get many leads from it either. At the moment I maintain the profile, but is it worth it?

Might be worth trying for a new business, or if you’re offering a popular business that people are looking for like leaflet drops.

Google My Business

Pros:

Works well with a Gmail account

Able to post blogs

You get statistics from the posting each month, which say how many visitors you had and the bounce rate

Google is a pretty big search engine

Cons:

Can’t think of any really, except I have not had clients through it yet.

UK Business Forums

More of a forum than a listing, but it is still very active. You are welcome to browse for free and even ask questions, but there are areas that are members-only for a fee.

Pros:

All kinds of businesses are covered here and whatever your question is, you are bound to find it answered.

Newbies can ask questions and have them answered

They have regional forums for different areas of the UK

They include social enterprise in the forums

It’s current and still well-used

Cons:

The Marketplace where jobs are posted is for paid members only

Have you found any free business listing websites that have been good for your business? Please share below.

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How to Invoice as a Beginning Business Owner

30 Day Blogging Challenge

Day 1

As a beginning business owner, one of the most important things to get over is your delicacy around money. If your business is to survive, it is important that you get paid.Some businesses start out with accounting software, and invoicing can be a part of that – set up a template, push a button and the invoice is automatically sent. However, when you do not have fancy software, but just your own laptop and a spreadsheet, what then?

 

 

 

 

 

I need to say at the outset, that I am not an accountant and that I am not able to offer tax advice. All I can do is walk you through what I have done as a sole trader and freelance business owner. Continue reading How to Invoice as a Beginning Business Owner

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What systems does a beginning freelance business owner need?

Setting up as a freelance business owner can be quite exhilarating – that rush of being your own boss and working as much or as little as you like, however there are some things that you will need to get organised. There is no one else to do it, it’s just you. What kind of systems will you need to get your freelance business up and running?

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

 

 

 

 

 

Billable hours

Work out how many hours a week you wish to work. Fit them in-between the school run, walking the dog, unloading the dishwasher – stop! By all means get jobs done as well, but the most important thing is making sure that you have some hours that you can use to get work done. You can organise yourself as you wish. If you work best waking up very early in the morning and stopping work at midday, then do that. If you prefer to sleep late and work into the evening, that is fine too. Your work schedule is your responsibility and as long as you can get your work done, then nobody is going to worry about the hours you keep.

Marketing hours

You will need to set aside some time for sending out queries, pitch for work, sending out your CV and all the other things that need to be done. You may wish to network at an expo or go to a business festival, but know where you can start to find clients.

Time off

Nobody can work for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Do set aside some time that is untouchable, the equivalent of a weekend. When the time is, depends on the work you are doing. Working with overseas clients may mean unsociable hours for the country where you live. Just make sure that you plan some time so that you can recharge your batteries.

Invoices

Know in advance what you need to charge in order to pay your bills. It is up to you to negotiate a wage that you can live with. I will cover this in more detail in another blog post, but for now, you need to set up an invoicing system so that you can get paid.

Decide how you can accept payment. This may mean by Paypal, direct bank transfer or some other means. Invoices are legally required to have certain information on them and it is worth checking out what is needed for your country. At the very least, you should have your contact information, the client’s contact information, the work done and the price. You should also explain how you are to be paid and how long the client has to pay.

Some word processors offer an invoice template which you can customise for yourself and fill in. I would suggest saving a template for each client, so that you can quickly send the next invoice. I set up a code for each client, for example Joe Bloggs would be JB01 – the first invoice for Joe Bloggs, the second one would be JB02 and so on.

There are some great accounting packages out there and some freelance business owners might just prefer to set up some software to help them. It’s a great option, if you can afford it, but for people starting out, you can begin with a spreadsheet.

Contacts

Freelance business owners need contacts. Keep a spreadsheet of all contacts made and the date made. Part of freelancing is meeting people and keeping contact with them. If you can keep a list of people and when contact was last made, it can help you make sure that no one gets lost. You can keep different lists of contacts for different subjects.

Marketing contacts

You might like to keep a separate list of marketing contacts – people who may be interested in your services or business but have not bought from you yet. Again, keep dates and a note of when you were last in contact.

Email list

Starting an email list is one of the most important things you can do as a small business owner. It enables you to keep in contact with people who have already bought from you and might again. Don’t just use it to sell, but offer interesting news items, networking events and industry news. Keep it simple but interesting and always include an opt-out. Also make sure that you understand and conform to GDPR guidelines.

Tax

Register your business for tax purposes and understand how many times a year you will need to put in your accounts. Finance software may produce your tax return for you, but if you are using a spreadsheet, you will need to put in your own return. When things start to take off, it may be wise to engage the services of an accountant to help make sure that your tax affairs are in order.

Editorial Calendar

An editorial calendar helps you put together a list of subjects for your blog or for other companies. It’s good to keep a list of ideas for blog posts. You can keep website urls for reference and date when the blog post was published. It means that you should always have a steady stream of ideas for what to write next. It is also worth keeping a list of content that you publish and the urls so that you can promote them easily.

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Starting from the beginning as a freelance business owner

Starting a freelance business could be a dream

There is something very attractive about being a freelance worker – being your own boss, dictating your own time, tea breaks whenever you want and the joy of working in your pyjamas if you wish, however life is never that simple. When you have a job, you are given targets and work to do, but you know when and where the money is coming in that month. As a freelancer, you are responsible for finding your own work and bringing in your own money. You need to account for your money and arrange to pay any taxes or pensions. If you are in the US, you need to arrange healthcare. It can get very complicated if you just launch in without thinking things through.

Here are some tips for starting from the beginning as a freelance business owner:

  1. Set up systems – know where you are going to keep track of invoices and expenses, contacts and marketing. Keep it simple to start with – a spreadsheet for finances and one for marketing. Notify your local tax authorities that you are starting up a business and be prepared to submit accounts according to your country’s tax schedule.
  2. Decide who your clients are going to be. Know your ideal client – what they are looking for, what they will need doing, what do they look like? When you know who your ideal client will be, then find out where they hang out, as you need to be able to reach them.
  3. The easiest way to begin marketing is starting out with friends and family. Reach out to them, let them know what you are doing and ask them if anyone they know is looking for a freelancer. Any past co-workers that you are in touch with, should also be contacted. People who know you are the easiest to talk to at the beginning.
  4. Get some rough ideas of what to charge – there are lots of websites offering to help you decide what to charge but it is best to look at professional organisations for freelancers – they will often have a guide to help you decide what to charge. You can charge by the hour, per word (if writing) or per project. Per project is often the best way to charge, but you do need an idea of how long something is going to take. Allow for changes and feedback in your calculations.
  5. Have a contract. There are lots of contract examples to be found on the web. Look for something close to what you need and adapt as necessary. Never start work without written confirmation that the client is happy with your quote and an agreed deadline. You should also consider a deposit that is non-refundable should the client back out of the work.
  6. Set up a website. Every business should have a website that helps to showcase what they do. It can be as simple or complicated as you wish. Make sure that your website is clear on what you do, and make sure that people can contact you through your website.
  7. Start a portfolio. A portfolio is simply examples of your work that people who are looking for a contractor like you, can look through to help them decide to hire you. In the beginning, there may not be many samples of work, but do keep it up to date with any work that you may do. Include links and make sure that it can be reached via your website.
  8. Start marketing. Keep your Linked-In profile up-to-date. Post on your website and Linked-In and any other social media that you may use. Advertise on free business websites, reach out to local traders or other companies that you may come across.
  9. When in public, i.e. on social media, act like a professional at all times. You never know who is watching.
  10. Get some business cards printed and go to some networking events. Meet people and talk to them about what you do. Start to look for other ways to market your business, even when you’re busy. In order to keep work coming in, you need to keep marketing.

These are just some of the tips that I would give someone starting out as a freelancer. What tips would you give?

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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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Seven Tips for Creating a Freelance CV

Creating a freelance CV or curriculum vitae is an important part of your business. It sets out your experience for potential clients and enables them to understand where your previous work could help them in their business. It can also help to establish you as someone who sees their writing as a job and not just a hobby.

There are plenty of websites that can help you write a CV, so do look around and read a number of author’s ideas on how a CV should look. There is no one perfect way to write one, although professional CVs should contain a number of things.

  1. Include your personal details including address, email and a phone number by which you can be reached. You want the person who is reading your curriculum vitae to be able to contact you if they have some work for which you are a good fit. Make sure that your email and phone number are up to date and include Facebook business pages, Twitter account and any other social media accounts that you use for work. You should have separate accounts for private and business use.
  1. Open with a statement that includes the kind of work that you have been doing and some of the strengths and skills you have. For example:

      “Sarah has been a freelance writer for 7 years. In that time, she has worked with many clients and companies to create strong content that delivers interest and information. In her current role, she also manages social media on Facebook and Twitter, curating relevant content and interacting with other users on behalf of the company.”

Not everyone is comfortable using the third person, but some argue that it can look more professional. In the end, it is a personal choice. I have seen some great CVs that also write in the first person. The important thing is that you think about the client that you are approaching and include some work experience in the area that you are hoping to work in. How long should it be? As long as it needs to be. Some application forms seem to expect you to write a 2,000 word essay in support of your application, but I feel that this can be a bit much to wade through and also could be repetitive to write. Write as much as you need in order to explain what you do and how you could fit this role.

2. List out the relevant jobs that you have undertaken, together with a brief explanation of how you fulfilled them. If you have done hundreds of jobs, then you may need to choose the most relevant. If you apply for a number of different jobs such as editing, proof-reading or content writing then you may need to create a different freelance CV for each situation. You could also include links to content you have written if you wish.

3. Take a look at your CV each time you are preparing to send it out and make sure that it matches the client or job that you want to send it to. Be prepared to alter it to ensure that the client understands what you are offering and that it is relevant to them.

4. Include the highest level of education that you undertook and the qualification. You can also include any relevant courses that you have since done. Even though my degree is not strictly relevant to my work now, it is good that employers can see that I am educated to degree level.

5. Including a skills section can enable voluntary work to be included if it has not been included in the main work experience section. Make sure that the skills you include are relevant to the application.

6. Testimonials – ask previous and current clients for testimonials so that you can offer snapshots of what others think of your work.

7. References – if you have clients who would be willing to be a reference for you then include their contact details on your freelance CV but do ask them first.

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How to work at home and get stuff done

Working from home sounds like the ultimate dream – no motorway car park to negotiate, no need to wear tight uncomfortable clothes – you can even work in your PJs if you want and you have 24 access to a fridge! However in order to stay focused and get your work done, you may have to be a little more organised.

Here are some top tips for getting on with work when you’re working from home.

1. Have somewhere to work. You need a clear space of desk, kitchen table or laptop stand to work. You need to be able to keep the things you will need close to hand, and you need to be able to use your printer or scanner when necessary. This means that you will also need access to plug points. It can be somewhere like the kitchen table where things get cleared away each day, or you might like to create a work station that can stay as it is for whenever you have some work to do.

2. Find a comfortable chair. Try to set up your workspace as ergonomically as possible to suit you and your needs. Make sure that you are not straining joints like wrists, that you are sitting with as good a posture as possible and that you take time to walk around at regular intervals.

3. Take time to exercise. There are a number of studies that point out that sitting still all day is not what the human body was designed to do. Do some stretches, go for a walk (or walk the dog) or take some other form of exercise.

4. Remember to shower and change into clothes. Tempting as it sounds to stay in your onesie all day, it does not help to put you in a work mood. In order to get work done, sometimes you have to take care of yourself and then get on with the day.

5. Check emails only once or twice a day. Three times if you’re addicted. Remember to turn email notifications off so that you can work undisturbed.

6. Turn social media off too. Social media managers get some leeway on this – it’s part of the job! However remember to keep on the client’s social media and away from your own unless you have scheduled it in.

7. Organise your paperwork. One of the most important things about working from home is to keep track of your income and expenditure, keeping paperwork filed and organised for those all-important tax returns.

8. Keep on top of your invoices. Set aside time to make sure that you generate and send invoices out. Don’t forget to chase any late payments.

9. Try and set aside definite times for work and times for housework. It can be hard to work with a pile of washing up behind you, so either get it done before you start work or agree with yourself a time to get it done. Sometimes I enjoy the fresh air and hang up the washing at the same time. House work can be done in small chunks as a way of getting away from the keyboard for a bit.

10. Connect with like-minded people through social media and find your own ‘watercooler’. It can seem lonely at home on your own if you are used to being in a busy office. However the internet is a great place to find other people who are doing the same thing that you are doing. Find your people and swap ideas.

Finally, the best thing about working from home is the flexibility. If the day is clear and you want to go out for a couple of hours and take your camera, you can do it! You choose your hours and as long as you get your work done, you set the pace and the schedule.

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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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