There’s an image of a freelancer. You’ll have seen the one. A happy-go-lucky, tousle-haired professional, steaming drink by their side as they type into a laptop in the window of a coffee shop. They’re smiling.
Oh, and there’s the one sitting in their kitchen, cup by their side, sleeping dog at their feet as they look at their phone. There may be a pile of papers nearby, or a pad and pen for when inspiration strikes.
Or the one as they cross a street in an exotic location, messenger bag slung jauntily across their shoulder as they dodge traffic, laughing because they’re on their way to the next six-figure job meeting.
Or, perhaps, the one where they’re sitting on a sofa, one dog sleeping at their feet, another on the sofa next to them as they type into their laptop while drinking builder’s tea and eating homemade bread for breakfast.
Oh, hang on, strike that last one. It’s me right now.
You see the popular image of a freelancer is usually one of those.
What you don’t often see is the image of the freelancer tearing their hair out when a client fails to deliver material on time, or gets snarky, or adds new items to the brief or changes the deadline without warning (or talking money), or lies to them, or simply disappears (sometimes without paying). You don’t see the frustration and anger, the being treated as an employee rather than a businessperson, and the huge pile of shit that can often descend just when you thought the job was a good one.
You also don’t see the dishevelled house when deadline looms, the family and friends talking about your ‘job’ as if it’s a hobby and the stress caused by constantly searching for work.
Don’t get me wrong – being an independent businessperson can be the best thing and the worst thing in the world, but most of us wouldn’t change it for anything.
If you’re a freelancer you need a freelance support network.
Being a member of a professional society or two, which usually have wonderful, valuable forums for support and encouragement, is a no-brainer. You will meet people in your profession who will understand what you are going through in your niche.
A support network made up of people outside your expertise can be extremely valuable.
A non-exclusive network can help you understand what other freelancers are going through, talk to experts in fields you might not come across in your normal working life, and can be a sanity lifeline.
It’s the freelance equivalent of getting out more!
There are networks that meet virtually as well as in-person, and they appear for all kinds of freelancers. Sure, there are groups that meet in LinkedIn or on Facebook, but the best ones are those that dive across social networks and become a true tribe.
I’m a member of three, and they all provide help, support and encouragement in equal measure. You might find your own, but to show how a support network can stop you being isolated, I’ll mention them here.
Being Freelance started in 2015 with Steve Folland’s podcast. He started his vlog in 2016 and opened up the Being Freelance Community on Facebook in 2019. Steve is an audio and video creator and his infectious personality, in just over a year, has helped create a group of 1,700 like-minded members. I’m one of the very first members, and have to say I love it.
We’re called BFFs, love biscuits (mine’s a fig roll, thanks), and help each other out. We chat about anything and everything, from picking the collective community brain to having a giggle over silly things that only freelancers would understand. We also celebrate our wins.
Early on Steve started the Non-Employee of the Week Awards, where he celebrates members of the community (I’m proud owner of number 9) and announces the winner from the ‘car park of dreams’. It really is a special moment.
We now have a virtual book club too, where we collectively pick a book, read it then meet up on Zoom to talk about it. Hey, we did this before Zoom became a ‘thing’ during the pandemic.
The Being Freelance Podcast is one of the best around for freelancers, with guests talking through all aspects of freelance life. They’re not boring, or salesy, or corporate – you just get good, honest chats with fellow freelancers to make you feel a little less alone.
Founded in 2016 by Ed Goodman (a freelance social media trainer) and Annie Browne (a virtual assistant), the Freelance Heroes Facebook group has grown to a whopping 9,500 members. The group exists to allow freelancers to chat and share tips in a safe, comfortable environment, and has a real-life meetup in the autumn in Wolverhampton (but like everything else in this plague time, it’s had to be postponed this year until November).
There’s a Freelance Heroes Day every year, which is today, May 16th, so get on over to your social media of choice, look for the #FreelanceHeroesDay hashtag and get sharing with other freelancers. The aim is to pay tribute to the 2 million UK freelancers, build their network and expand knowledge of the freelance industry. It’s huge.
You can also join the community via the Freelance Heroes website and become a paid up member if you fancy (with some extras that the Facebook group doesn’t have access to).
Atomic is run by Andrew and Pete, and is a paid platform to help small business owners and entrepreneurs grow their business in a smarter, more sustainable way. They, too, have a Facebook group for members and is a small, exclusive group that packs a punch.
Atomic is for freelancers seriously wanting to up their game, and has the largest amount of training I’ve seen in one place, covering all aspects of business. From tips and tricks for getting new business, to how to set up a mailing list and becoming more confident, if there’s something you want to know, it will be here. And if you do find something that isn’t there, tell the team and they’ll be on it.
There are tailored all-day training pathways, masterclasses and quick bits of training to fit in while you have a coffee. The training is great for everyone.
Every year they have a real-life meet up in Atomicon in Newcastle, which had to quickly move online this year (wonder if you can figure out why?). But next year is set to be epic.
The community is supportive and knowledgeable and even impressed me, a Yorkshire lass who isn’t easily impressed. There are regular Zoom meetups for some virtual contact, to pick Peter and Andrew’s brains, meet members and generally talk through the ups and downs of freelance life.
You can join Atomic at the moment (16 May 2020) for only £1 , get all the details here, and tell them I sent you if you join up, we’d love to see you over there!
There are other networks out there, but I’ve highlighted the three that I love (and I wouldn’t recommend something I didn’t love). In these really weird times, freelancers now more than ever need to help each other out.
As a freelancer, joining a network:
When I heard that John Espirian was writing a book, I’ll be honest, I was a bit torn.
I first met John on my very first day at my very first SfEP conference (now CIEP). I’d been editing for a while, but didn’t *feel* like an editor yet. I felt like a total imposter. I felt out of my depth and a bit like any minute someone was going to throw me out of the door for being a fake.
Then John came over to say hello and put me at ease. He’s got an infectious smile and an attitude that’s relentlessly helpful no matter who you are.
See, it was there long before he made it part of his Content DNA.
So, why was I a bit torn? Well, whenever I review a book (or anything for that matter) I’m totally honest. I don’t believe in bullshit (that’s part of my DNA), and I have a habit of telling it like it is. No matter who it is. Everyone gets treated the same with me, whether you’re the CEO of a multi-million-pound company or a lone-wolf first-time author. ‘Celebrities’ are just people, and, to me, everyone is just a person with feelings, successes and insecurities. Basically, and I hope he’ll forgive me for this, I was worried that it might be a bit … rubbish.
Not because I thought he’d write rubbish, but because lately I’ve been reading a lot of stuff that deals with business and written content. And it’s all the bloody same. It all tends to be by self-styled ‘experts’ who have found the secret to success and want to share it with you. Quick fixes that will bring in the bucks and make you irresistible to clients. Meh.
You buy the books, read the websites, try to implement the ‘tips’, then end up feeling overwhelmed as you try to sift through the filler and find the nuggets that will deliver on the promises.
For me, at least, Content DNA doesn’t pretend to give a quick fix. The contents are easy to implement and, importantly, they don’t have to be done all in one go for you to move forward. This book is full of common sense. There’s a 30-month mindset to get your head around. There is absolutely no overwhelm.
So as I head into the review let me make this point again … if you’re not prepared to listen to common sense, and if you want a quick fix NOW, this book probably isn’t for you. However, if you want to read a business book about content marketing that gives relentlessly helpful common sense, with a sense of humour, that will help you build your brand identity with confidence, then I reckon you can’t go wrong with a copy of Content DNA.
‘Your brand must reflect the truth about who you are, what you stand for and what shape you want to portray to the world’
After reading some business books lately, this is a breath of fresh air. The last book that I read, with the Being Freelance online book club (which I won’t mention here), felt like I was reading a novel, written by a very preachy ‘expert’. It didn’t even finish it – it was too heavy and not at all inviting.
John’s book is written very much as he talks. It’s chatty, but not waffly, clear and easy to read. It’s a bit like having a mini John sitting on your shoulder talking to you.
But he also knows that not everyone has time to sit and read a book straight through, so every chapter begins with ‘the main takeaway’ that explains what the chapter is about. It’s a paragraph set apart from the body of the text, so if you need to dip in you know if you’ve hit the right chapter.
I’m a sucker for a nice looking book. There has to be a good ratio of white space to text – this makes it easier on the eye and attractive to look at. John has obviously worked closely with Catherine Williams, his book designer, to create something that’s as attractive as it is informative. This book won’t give you eyestrain, the font is very easy to read, and the page has a nice, fresh, clean layout that I found appealing.
Having an index also gives John brownie points – if your book is good enough to be taken seriously, then it’s good enough to have a proper, workable index. As a trained indexer I can’t help but look at the back of the book, and the index, on the whole, works well. There are a couple of long strings in there that could probably have benefitted from a few more subheadings (for example LinkedIn and social media), but that’s major nit-picking on my part. No one other than an indexer would probably notice. I’m going to give a virtual ‘high five’ to the indexer – recognition where it’s due (indexing is not easy to do).
When you read the book, you’re being led through what can be a complex subject with ease and humility. John explains how he started, and how he arrived as a respected LinkedIn expert and technical writer. He dips into content marketing with quotes and examples by the likes of Mark Schaefer (author of KNOWN, The Content Code and Marketing Rebellion) and never talks down to the reader. In fact, John shies away from calling himself an expert, but by reading this book you know that’s exactly what he is
One of the joys of this book is that each chapter is just as long as it has to be, and moves logically on to the next. The chapters aren’t long, so they’re easy to read on the go if you don’t have much time, but they’re packed with helpful, actionable information. You can easily read a chapter in your lunch break.
‘A fancy catchphrase is useless if it has no relevance to what you do’
This book doesn’t just tell you how to go about finding your Content DNA, it shows you. It’s packed with examples and little exercises to get you thinking about your business. I love the ‘Define your brand values’ chapter, because it’s short but powerful and the ‘Your tagline’ still has me thinking –it’s one part of my business I’ve never managed to sort out (‘Drinking all the coffee, so you don’t have to’ wouldn’t say much about what I do for my clients). The chapter on personas (or pen portraits) is also spot-on. I love getting back to my storytelling and creating my customer characters.
Unlike some business self-help books, this one doesn’t spoon-feed content. John guides you through what to do and what not to do, and shows what’s helpful and what isn’t. Probably because John’s a technical writer, he manages to make everything sound simple. He gets you thinking in ways that make it easy for you to implement your own DNA (the building blocks of your brand) into your business. He takes into account how to deal with social media, how to stay the same shape no matter where you are, so your clients and potential clients can spot you no matter where you pop up, and how to write good content.
‘Don’t assume that a couple of glossy marketing brochures mean you’ve created a brand’
This is actually a book I wanted to read, and enjoyed reading. At no time did I think ‘Urgh, better get this book read then’. I wanted to see what John had to say next. It was like sitting down and having John talk you through it. It’s basically all killer and no filler.
The one thing I didn’t like about this book was that I couldn’t find anything wrong with it.
I know John in real life. He knows I wouldn’t give him an easy ride. If I found a flaw I would point it out (you’ll remember at the beginning I said I was worried that it might be a bit rubbish). Hell, even the interviews at the back of the book are worth reading. I suppose if you weren’t interested in the research he did for the book you might gloss over these interviews, but they give great insight into other experts – I especially liked the interview with Col Gray; I’ve been following his work for a while so I’m not surprised he helped with John’s rebrand.
This is not a get-rich-quick book. If that’s what you want, this book is not for you.
If you want to use the information written down here, you’re going to have to put in some serious work. It will take time. You are going to have to really look at your business and the way you do business.
If you’re looking to help your business stand out, learn about what makes you and your clients tick and want to learn to be consistent and congruent, then hell, yes, buy this book. I highly recommend it.
Content DNA gives you everything you need to set off on the right path. The book is based on the advice that John gives his clients, and I’ll tell you now, it would cost you a hell of a lot more than the price of this book to get a private consultation.
I can honestly say I loved this book. And I think it will become a go-to reference guide for people serious about building a great business that stays true to the core building blocks they’re going to create as a result of reading it.
You can pick up your copy here, or ask your local bookshop.
Notes on life and living from a Scottish writer in Caithness. Quiet lifestyle, travel, books, the simple things and home.
Plowing through Life in the Country...One Calf Nut at a Time
Sara Donaldson | Copyeditor | Copywriter
Beauty | Fashion | Lifestyle
Thriving on your own
No-bullshit business and marketing advice for creative entrepreneurs
A business perspective on writing
Dares for shares, views for spews and likes for falling off trikes. If you are looking for a challenge; this is the place to be...
Sara Donaldson | Copyeditor | Copywriter
You can take the girl out of Glasgow. Entertainment Reviews from a Wee Scottish Wife and Stepmum living in Finland.
Emma and Richard blogging from the Curtis Brown Book Group
On editing, freelancing, writing ... and life
English Language Professionals
This is not just about weight loss, but achieving it has never been so easy.
A Library of Literary Interestingness
Ryan Miller: author, blogger, and father who can't draw hands
Sara Donaldson | Copyeditor | Copywriter