Even a freelancer needs a break – the importance of taking a holiday

First things first, I’m going on holiday! *watch Fi do her little happy dance*

My holiday wardrobe has been updated. I’ve dragged my teens round the shops until they gave in and agreed to buy new clothes (“No, you can’t spend the holiday in jeans and a hoodie. You’ll scare children in the swimming pool.”). We’ve even arranged for the dog to stay with Grandma.

All that’s left now is to let you all know that my last day at work will be Thursday, 16th August and then I’ll be away on a jolly until Monday, 3rd September.

I won’t be reading or answering work emails during that time, so if you do drop me a line don’t feel neglected (it’s not you, it’s most definitely me relaxing with a cosmo somewhere Greek or reading in the back garden) if I don’t respond until I open up shop again.

I could leave this post here but I thought I’d share with you three of the reasons why I’m so excited to be going away (besides the time to catch up on my reading and cocktail-quaffing).

I’m excited because I know that when I return from my hols and settle down to work again, I’ll be a better freelancer and writer. Here’s why:

Exhaustion

Ok, I’m not keeling over, yet, but equally I need a break. As freelancers, we’re probably most prone to overwhelm from doing it all. We do the work (in my case, writing), keep track of our finances and fill in our tax returns, market our businesses all over the place, and generally do it all.

I don’t have a back-up team to sort out my invoices, maintain my website or wear any of the other business hats. It’s just me.

Emotionally, psychologically and sometimes, yeah, physically too, we need a break so our brains can go to mush for a week away from our business life.

Mush is good. For a week. Possibly with cocktails.

Perspective

Another effect of ‘doing it all’ is that we can become so close to our business, so caught up in the day to day routine and concerns, that we lose the ability to see the bigger picture.

If you’re nose up against a tree, that’s all you can see. The beauty and wonder of the forest glade beyond and the paths leading from it are out of sight.

When we lose perspective, we lose the opportunity to look ahead and plan where our business is going. Is what we’re doing actually working? If not, how could we improve it? What new opportunities are there out there? What’s happening in the world beyond our four walls?

When I’m away on hols, whether it’s abroad, at the local Haven site or just taking a break at home, I can see the bigger picture because I’m not nose-down to my keyboard.

Bring back the love

It’s all too easy to begin to take our business for granted, even to dislike it. Maybe a client is impinging on our weekends, or there are unpaid invoices. Perhaps it’s just the constant workload which is getting us down. Whatever it is, it can rob us of the enjoyment we used to take in our work.

And here’s the thing. If you’re like me, you started down the path of self employment because you wanted to work at something you love, something you know you’re good at and that makes you feel worthwhile.

Taking a break, and removing all of those annoyances, means that when I return to work I’m happy to be there.

*

So there you are. My reasons for not feeling one tiny morsel guilty for taking a holiday.

Have a wonderful remainder of the summer. I shall see you in September.

Stock Photos: Where I find mine

When I started my online existence, many years ago, the only photographs I used were my own, haphazardly taken on my mobile phone or the occasional holiday shot. I’m sure I’m not alone in that.

Nowadays, I do, on occasion, use my own photos, but for the most part I reach out to the people who do this kind of thing professionally, supplying stock photos, either free or paid for.

Paid For

The first company I came across when I began my search for stock photos was iStock.

Their photos are royalty-free so as long as I adhere to the conditions of the related  license, I can pretty much use them how I wish.  iStock supply a wide range of photos, illustrations and videos and I’ve never failed to find what I want on their site.

Free

More recently, I’ve come across a lot of stock photo suppliers who provide their photos for free. Some of these businesses charge for a section of their photos while offering free ones as well. Other businesses offer a completely free service.

The selections offered by each of these are generally smaller than that offered by iStock but with the increasing number of stock photo providers out there, I can usually find what I want if I search a number of these websites.

If you do use free stock photos though, make sure that you adhere to the related usage conditions. Some of the photos will ask for an attribution link (basically, a link back to their website or at least a mention of where the photo came from), while others ask for a cup of coffee or sometimes nothing at all.

Here are the ones that I go back to time and time again:

Membership Sites offering free stock photos

In my search for beautiful stock photos, I came across two membership sites that offer free stock photos, regardless of whether you join up as a member, although obviously membership provides you with even more free stock photos. These are:

Apart from one photo (so far) on this website, all the others are stock photos from one of the above suppliers because as a freelance writer, I just don’t have the time to stage and take beautiful photos like the ones in the image at the top of this blog post. I’m too busy writing.

What about you? Where do you source the photos for your business from?

Release the Kraken: Content marketing with a dash of Monster

At Christmas, my husband bought me a bottle of Kraken dark spiced rum. Since then, it has sat on my shelf unopened, not because I don’t like spiced rum (I really do) but because the bottle itself is just a joy to behold. Look.

Kraken dark spiced rumIf the name wasn’t enough to net a writer like me (cue Laurence Olivier – more recently Liam Neeson – as Zeus demanding that the Kraken be released on the innocent Andromeda), then the design of the bottle is sure to seal my fate.

There’s the handles, and the balance of the dark rum against the light background of the label, and best of all, there’s the image of the Kraken itself.

But even better than this, the company behind Kraken haven’t simply produced a beautifully packaged product. They took that hint of a story (whether your Kraken is the beast from Clash of the Titans or the monster that battled Captain Nemo) and built a website that continues to delight, as well as obviously sell delicious rum.

For instance,

  • They tell ‘The Horrid Tale’ of the rum’s naming after a possible encounter with the Kraken.
  • There’s a dramatic and delightfully tongue-in-cheek video offering proof of the existence of the Kraken.
  • There are cocktail suggestions. I may well try my hand at The Perfect Storm (rum and ginger beer).
  • You can join their League of Darkness by taking a quiz. In essence, this is their mailing list but who wouldn’t want Kraken emails?
  • Then, there are the wallpaper downloads such as the one featured at the top of this post.
  • The Kraken game – a downloadable simulation app for nautical manoeuvring.
  • Oh, and there’s a shop where you can buy more rum, plus all kind of Kraken adorned items such as an umbrella, iPhone case, various t-shirt designs, Kraken bookends and even household wallpaper (I’m still working out which room in my house needs decorating next).

All of this wonderful stuff serves 4 main purposes:

  1. Keeps people coming back to the website by entertaining and providing them with so much more than just rum.
  2. Involves the audience in the ‘story’ of the Kraken, making them feel that they are part of something.
  3. Encourages interaction with their audience who in turn recommend Kraken and advertise it by using the wallpapers, buying the products, and peopling the Kraken social media accounts. Plus, some of them like me might blog about it.
  4. Sells rum.

This is branding and content marketing with imagination, flair and fun. You don’t have to like rum to appreciate how well Kraken have marketed their product and even if you don’t sell rum, or monsters, there’s sure to be a lesson here for any business.

I’ll leave you with one of their videos. Enjoy. I’m heading out to buy some ginger beer.

I’m a business, just like you

These days the internet is full of experts and yes, I have to admit that if I want to find out how to do something (find a recipe, train a dog, lose weight) then more often than not, I turn to my friend Google.

When it comes to business advice, it’s just the same.

Whether you want advice on email marketing, staffing issues or money laundering regulations, it’s all out there. Some of the advice is helpful, informed and current (the HMRC website, for instance, although a little vague in some areas is reliably up-to-date) but equally there is some questionable advice out there too.

So where do I sit in all this? How am I justified in offering anyone a copy/content writing service? Why should you read my business advice blog posts?

Here’s the thing. I’m a business, just like you.

I have to adhere to all the rules and guidelines that any business has to. There’s the tax return, the website upkeep, marketing, data processing regulations, and all the other ingredients of running a business.

My advice comes from a place of knowledge, not just in creating content, but in starting and running my own businesses.

What did I learn this year?

  1. Like most of you, this year I had to reframe my businesses to make sure they complied with GDPR – privacy policies, customer consent, related emails, the way I store information, etc.
  2. I changed the way I used LinkedIn. Whereas before it was more of a ‘placeholder’ for my online presence, now I use it as a way to network and reach out.
  3. I re-assessed my use of social media. With the algorithm chances of certain social media platforms, I decided where I would concentrate most of my effort (and it isn’t Facebook).
  4. I learned that it’s ok to take time off from making blog posts when work is really busy, and clients take priority (hence the lack of blog posts in May).
  5. Finally, I learned that I don’t have to follow all the business advice out there if it isn’t suitable for my business or personality.

I learned a lot more too, but I hope this shows you that we have a shared experience.

So, if my advice helps you, then brilliant. If it’s not your kind of thing or relevant to your business, well, thanks for reading, and that’s brilliant too.

And just in case it helps, I’d like to introduce you to some of those ‘experts’ I personally find helpful and turn to time and time again.

My Experts

The Freelance Lifestyle – run by long term freelancer Emma Cossey “to provide freelancers with down-to-earth support and practical advice”.

A Branch of Holly – run by ‘Holly’ to offer help with your online presence. I love her videos.

Talented Ladies Club – founded by Hannah Martin and Kary Fisher, the TLC website offers advice on work, life and so much more, with blog posts from hundreds of contributors.

Social Bee NI – Louise Brogan offers advice on building your online business. I especially find her podcasts helpful and a great excuse to switch off from work with a coffee.

Creative Boom – founded by Katy Cowan for creatives and their businesses, this is an inspiring website offering a mixture of posts on creative projects and business advice.

Jess Creatives – Jess offers advice on branding, online strategy and design.

Marie Forleo – Marie is an inspirational entrepreneur who isn’t afraid to clown around or give tough advice. Her videos, whether offering business tips or life advice, always make me smile.

GDPR – are you ready?

GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) is a topic that’s been worrying a lot of small businesses over the past few months. It comes into force on 25th May this year (yes, next month) and affects anyone “who has day to day responsibility for data protection”.

You can find the Information Commissioner’s Office (ico)’s advice here.

One of the people who have reassured and informed me the most on how to prepare for GDPR is small business legal expert Suzanne Dibble. In her own words, “it’s not quite as scary as the headlines make out”.

If you haven’t prepared yet or you’ve started but would like to check that you’ve got everything correct, then Suzanne runs a GDPR group on Facebook, has a GDPR training webinar that you can watch, and a GDPR compliance pack that you can purchase from her website too.

For more articles on GDPR, have a look at the following links:

Suzanne Dibble:  Don’t be afraid of the GDPR wolf – what is GDPR?

The Telegraph: How SMEs can prepare for GDPR

Business Matters: Simple ways to make your website ready for GDPR and The GDPR & its impact on businesses in the UK

Talented Ladies Club: How can you protect your mailing list from GDPR?

How to be authentic in business (and why I was terrible at selling make-up)

Authenticity in business is a phrase I hear a lot these days. Whether it’s being used as a response to hard-sales and cold-calling or a method to build trust with your customers, it sounds wonderful but perhaps a little vague. What exactly is it to be ‘authentic in your business’?

My past life as a Virgin Vie lady

When my children were toddlers, I signed up as a rep for Virgin Vie. Remember them? They’re not around anymore but, as the name suggests, Virgin Vie was linked with the Virgin Group. They sold cosmetics, body care products, jewellery, in fact everything that their American and firmly established rival, Avon sold.

At the time I lived in a small village where everyone knew everyone else’s grandma and outsiders, like my family and me, were looked at as somewhat odd. Despite my ‘oddness’, I made a number of friends and when I started out in my new capacity as a Virgin Vie lady I somehow persuaded them to hold house parties where I could display my glamorously packed and somewhat overpriced wares.

While my husband tackled the children’s rebellion, sorry, bedtime, I dressed up, applied my Virgin Vie make-up and generally coiffed my appearance, leaving my house later with a goodie bag of, well, goodies and my heart stuffed far up past my tonsils.

It was the same for each party. I would be greeted by the evening’s host and introduced to the party-goers, then I would lay out an attractive display of shiny goods and make my presentation.

I always made a decent amount of sales and repeat orders generally followed. In fact, I had mums stopping me at the school gates to place orders. My supervisor was happy with me. My husband was pleased that I was bringing in money. My status as ‘odd’ seemed to melt away (or it was now an acceptable oddness). Yay – go, me!

Except, I didn’t feel any level of ‘yay’. I felt, well, wrong. Being a Virgin Vie rep gave me an excuse to get out of our toddler-invaded house on an evening, dress up, go to parties, and contribute towards our household income. There was nothing wrong in any of that. It just wasn’t me.

Don’t get me wrong. I love a night out and a reason to dress up as much as anyone else but combining it with sales and sometimes having to put on a false smile (like when one parent spent the evening ranting to me about how Power Rangers was turning her son violent) while I described the virtues of a product I would personally never use, had me screaming inside.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a rep for a company such as Virgin Vie or Avon.  There are a lot of hard-working, successful individuals out there  making a living from just this kind of opportunity and I applaud them.

It wasn’t the role itself that was wrong. It was me in that role because I wasn’t being the ‘real me’. I was putting on a false face to represent a brand I didn’t believe in.

This is where ‘authenticity’ comes in. The authentic me enjoys dressing up but equally is happy to go bare-faced, and dress in jeans and a t-shirt. Make-up is a nicety, for me, not a necessity, so I couldn’t, in all honesty, sell it in the way that Virgin Vie wanted me to.

I’m also not a natural salesperson. I’ve learned how to sell over time, but in a way that feels ‘authentic’ to me, and I never like to sell something to someone that I feel isn’t of true value to them.

So how does authenticity work in business?

For me, being authentic in how I operate my business means,

  • Doing what I say I will do. Remember the Ronseal advert, “Does exactly what it says on the tin”? My point in a well-sealed nutshell.
  • Selling and providing a product or service that I believe in, and that I believe is of value to my customers.
  • Being reliable so that my customers know what to expect from me.
  • Being responsive. If a customer, even a prospective customer, goes to the trouble of dropping me an email or leaves a comment on one of my blog posts, I answer back, even if it’s only to say thank you.
  • Presenting myself on this website, in my blog posts, in emails and across my social media accounts in a way that sounds like me. I don’t pretend to be anyone other than Fi.
  • Being consistent, in the content I create and the regularity in which I post that content here on my blog, in emails or across social media.

And here’s the good bit. When I act in an authentic way, I grow more confident in my abilities, my business and ultimately, in me.

So, what about you? How will you be authentic in your business today?

Why I price by the job (not the hour)

I’m going to start off by saying that every copy and content writer is different. Some may charge by hour, by day or, like me, by job. I can only tell you what I do and why.

Remember on my home page where it says ‘friendly content and copywriting’? Well to me, friendly means treating each customer as an individual and providing a personal service to them. I want to know how I can solve your problem and fulfil the job you bring to me.

When you approach me with a copy or content writing job, I won’t have a price for you immediately. This is because I need to know all the details of your job first.

The factors that I will need to consider include:

  • Do you know exactly what you want, or do you just have a vague idea? If it’s the latter, I may need to take time to develop your idea with you.
  • Before I can begin the job, are there other factors that need to be put in place by you, your business or other freelancers? For instance, you approach me to write new content for your website but before I can start on that, you and your website developer need to plan out what pages will be on your website and what purpose each of those pages will serve.
  • How much creative time do you want me to put into the job? What I mean by this is how much idea generation do I need to do? Are you looking for one piece of writing or three options of how a customer email, for instance, could be written? Do you want me to pitch ideas to you before I even begin on the writing?
  • If I’m writing about a topic or industry that I’m unfamiliar with, I’ll need to add in time for research. If this is the case, how much research can you supply me with, even if that just means the best research sources to use?
  • Do you have a deadline for the work to be finished by? Is this negotiable?
  • How many customer amendments to each draft are to be included in the price of the job, and how these amendments will be communicated, including timelines.
  • Will I be required to attend meetings? I may include these as part of the job price or charge them separately.
  • Will there be any third party involved, such as the website designer I mentioned above, whom I will have to collaborate with and depend on time-wise?
  • Are there any other tasks involved, such as sourcing images?
  • Is this a one-off job or part of an ongoing and regular order?
  • Do you want me to use keywords and write with SEO in mind?

All of these considerations will help me to work out exactly how to price your job.

So the short answer to why I price by the job (not the hour) is that I want to treat you, your business and your job as an individual.

If you’re interested in discussing a copy or content writing job with me, please fill in my contact form to get in touch.

7 reasons to have a business blog

Does the thought of blogging for your business fill you with dread or, like me, are you a blogging enthusiast?

I’ll admit it now, I love to blog. I blog for my other business, I have a writer’s blog, and obviously there’s this Fi Phillips Copywriter blog too. I’m never happier than when I’m tapping away at the keyboard creating my latest blog offering.

There are some wonderful business blogs out there, many that I visit on a weekly basis, but equally I come across business websites that are blog-less, or worse still, have started a blog but not posted in months (sometimes, years).

I get it. Maintaining a blog requires commitment, ideas and time. Worse still,  revealing your personality in a blog article can be scary.

I’m not a writer.

My business takes up all of my time. I haven’t a second to spare on writing blog posts.

I’m not interesting. Why would anyone want to read my blog posts?

I wouldn’t know what to write.

Those are just a few of the reasons I’ve heard from business owners. All of them are honest  reactions and I totally understand, but with a little forward planning and a dollop of self-confidence, any business owner can develop a healthy blogging habit.

Still not convinced? Let me explain how writing a blog could benefit your business.

  1. Build a bridge between you and your customers

So you already have your bank of customers. Some come and go. Others provide you with regular work. You can’t just assume though that they’ll remain to be your customer forever. To maintain your working relationship, you need to do three things.

First, you want to stay at the forefront of their mind so when they next need to use your kind of services or buy the type of product that you sell, you’re the one they go to.

Second, you need to build on your relationship with them by adding extra  value.

Finally, you want to stay in touch with them and keep them up to date with any developments in your business.

Writing a regular blog post can fulfil all of those.

  1. Prove to prospective customers that you could work together

You know your business and exactly what value you can offer to a customer, but anyone new who comes across your website or social media doesn’t.

Posting regular, relevant and authentic (it sounds like you) content to your blog begins the process of introducing your business to any prospective customers or contacts, and the more they come back to read your next blog post, the more they’ll come to know and trust you.

Blogging is your chance to get your foot in the door of anyone new, grab and hopefully maintain their attention.

  1. Answer your customer’s questions

What do your customers regularly ask you about?

What kind of problems do they have (especially problems that your business can solve)?

What are the challenges of your industry and the business world in general?

What’s in the news that might raise questions?

What do you think needs further explanation?

Add value to your customers and readers by providing the answers they need. It might be about your business and how you can help them. It might be about the latest trends in social media. It might even be to do with how their own business is developing.

Listen out for possible questions in conversations, physical or emailed, with your customers and contacts. Pay attention to the news and any forums or business groups you’re involved with.

You could even make it a regular feature of your blog – this month’s customer question.

Fi’s tip: If you can’t think of any customer questions to answer, then ask. Send out an email to your mailing list or post on your social media, asking what questions they need you to answer.

  1. Show your personality and tell your story

Remember when I mentioned in point 2 about posting ‘authentic’ content. That’s how you show your personality, by writing your posts and social media in a way that sounds like you.

Regardless of whether you provide a service or sell a product (or both), very few people like faceless organisations. People like to buy from people – people they understand, people they feel they could get along with and, ultimately, people they trust.

Share your story. That doesn’t mean you have to write a full and revealing autobiography of your life. It could be,

Share as much as you feel comfortable with, but enough to show that you’re a human being too.

  1. Create content that you can share (and that can be shared by others)

Don’t just write your brilliant article and then leave it sat lonesome on your blog.

  • Share it on your social media. I use Facebook, Twitter and Google+.
  • Mention it in your mailing list emails. In fact, it’s a great reason to send out an email. “Look, guys. I just posted this on my blog.”
  • Re-share your posts every so often, although not to the point that it turns into spamming. Also, do not duplicate your content. Google will penalise your website.
  • When writing a blog post, link back to your past posts if you feel they’re relevant.
  • Even if you can’t do this for every blog post, make the majority of them ‘ever green’, that is, about subjects that aren’t seasonal or linked to current news.

Each blog post should be the start of a process, not just the end product.

  1. Take your very own slice of the internet and own it

It’s fine, in fact incredibly helpful, to use social media to promote your business, but when you use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or whoever else to raise your visibility, you’re handing over complete control to them, their rules and their algorithms.

Having a website, and a blog, means that you can control what appears there. You don’t have to worry about word count, or whether your title is deemed to be ‘click bait’. You don’t rely on likes, shares or any other deciding factor on whether your post is seen.

Rather than considering your blog to be a second rate citizen compared to your social media accounts, see it as the ticket to visibility and SEO (search engine optimisation) that it is.

  1. Get in front of that traffic

Although you may update and alter your website from time to time, it generally won’t change. Once someone has visited, and discovered all the information they need, there’s no real reason for them to look at it again.

A blog that features regular, relevant and well-written posts provides that reason, and the more a prospective customer visits your site, the better the chance that they’ll become an actual customer.

There’s another benefit to repeat visitors too. If they keep coming back to read your blog posts, then they obviously like them. If they like (hopefully ‘love’) your blog posts, then they won’t want to miss them.

Cue the ‘subscribe to my mailing list’ button.

 

Blogging doesn’t have to be a chore when you see it for the valuable business tool that it is. Why not have a go? Let me know how you get on.

 

How and why I chose my logo

Using a logo offers a certain professionalism to any business website or materials. It channels a business’ personality, builds  familiarity and trust, and hopefully makes you stand out from others in your industry.

People remember you and your business when they see your logo, so isn’t it the obvious thing to create a logo that you’re proud of?

When it came to picking my logo, I wanted something that reflected my personality – creative, straightforward, friendly.

The ‘creative’ element came with my choice of colour. Orange is traditionally connected with creativity. It’s ‘friendly’ too.

The two fonts I used, the white FP and the black full name, reflect two parts of my personality trio too. The white handwriting-style font is relaxed and approachable (friendly) whereas the black writing is plain and easily legible – my ‘straightforward’ element.

Seeing as my logo will appear in all kind of places and not just my website where it’s obvious what I do (you only have to look at the website address – fiphillipscopywriter – to get an inkling that, yeah, she probably does some copywriting), I wanted it to be clear what services I offered.

I didn’t want to leave anyone who saw my logo in any doubt what I did for a living so I added the words beneath my name,

Content – Copy Writing – Social Media

with a dot in between each phrase in the same shade of orange as the circle that the white FP sits on.

One of the reasons that I wanted the orange circle with white writing was so I could create a button from it, still recognisable even when separate from the entire logo, for site icons and on other materials.

I also produced a version of the entire logo and the button in a shade of grey for times when colour might be distracting or not possible.

Finally, I put together a style sheet of all the colours and fonts in my logo so that I can use them for future marketing materials and to match against any images I may use.

I like my logo. It feels like me, and even if I do say so myself, I’m proud to present it to the world.

Who is Fi Phillips?

Yes, who exactly is this woman and why does she think she can help you?

Fi PhillipsThis is she, or should I say ‘me’.

This is probably the only image you’ll find of me on here because, like I said on my ‘about‘ page, this website isn’t about me. It’s about how I can make a difference to you and your business.

Still, I really should introduce myself before we get to know each other.

Fi Facts

  • I was brought up in York – the walled Roman city with the Minster (rather than a cathedral),  the chocolate factory, and the wonky medieval houses on oddly named streets such as Whip-ma-whop-ma-gate and The Shambles.
  • When I was 7 years old, I stood at the top of our street and thought to myself, “This is as mature as I’m ever going to be”. Not much has changed.
  • I’m a literature graduate. Not much to say about that. I like words.
  • I’ve lived in 17 houses or flats so far. The next one will be our forever home – fingers crossed.
  • I’m based in North Wales, just over the border from Chester – the walled Roman city with the cathedral (not a minster), the 13th century Rows (covered walkways of shops) and Eastgate Clock.

I’m a wife, a mum, and a dog-owner (although on occasion I do wonder if the dog owns me). I’m also a playwright (you can find my deadly scribblings at Murdering The Text) and an avid wordy.

So there you go. That’s me – Fi. Nice to meet you.