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Today’s a good day.
I won the Being Freelance Community Non-Employee of the Week Award (yaaay me!). It was announced by Steve, our glorious leader, this morning. The fig rolls shall me mine.
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After all the lovely comments about last week’s post I thought this week I’d give you a little insight into life in the far north of Scotland. And a book review.
I’ve been living here 20 years this week and I’m still not used to driving a 5-hour round trip to go shopping in Inverness (our nearest city and place with shoppy shops). The 4-hour each way train ride is a no-no at this time of year as it’s often a replacement bus service. Urgh. Besides, you do the maths. Five-hour round trip or eight?
But yesterday we had to drive down. It fluctuated between -4 and -6C. The roads are twisty turny. It was beautiful, but the sun was in my eyes. And also in the eyes of the lorry driver driving north, who stopped on the apex of Berriedale … a hairpin bend that frequently shuts the road when lorries get stuck. One of the two roads into Caithness. I expect the cars and lorries coming up behind him had a lovely time.
I stopped four times on the way south as the windscreen wash froze in its nozzle and the wipers smeared salt all over the windscreen. Fun that.
But we made it to the city.
Apart from the fact that while my daughter was off getting her hair dyed with beautiful flame colours I nipped for a coffee and finished a brilliant book.
The Art of the Click by Glenn Fisher is a gem. And if you write for business (either your own or as a copywriter) I reckon this book should be on your bookshelf.
Now, I haven’t written any direct-response long copy. Yet.
But this book is inspiring. And I genuinely mean that. After reading it I just can’t look at copy in the way I used to. Hell, Glenn’s even got me looking critically at all the emails that fly into my inbox. On any given day you’ll have me nodding at my phone, or making sucking ‘Oooh, that’s bad’ noises.
I’m now actually reading those annoying emails that come through after chancers have harvested my email address. I’m still deleting them, but I’m dissecting them before I do.
I’ve got a few copywriting books on my shelves. I’ll admit, I’ve not finished all of them (mostly because they were so dry). This one is different.
I like the writing style. That’s probably a given considering what the book is about. Fisher writes the way he speaks. I like that. I do that too.
He’s not sanctimonious, he doesn’t preach and he doesn’t make you feel stupid. But he does make you think. He even gets you to write out a long-form document so that you can dissect it later in the book. (Hint: it takes a bit longer than the half an hour he reckons it might take, but it’s worth doing.)
Basically, this book is like chatting over coffee with a mentor. It’s the equivalent of a day school. The one where you leave at the end of the day with a new point of view and a skip in your step. Not the one where you struggle to stay awake and have to nip to Costabucks for a triple-strength espresso before you go home.
I even constructed a three-page mindmap type thing as I read through the book. It made me that nerdy.
*As I write, a letter has come through from the garage where I bought my last car. It’s quite a good one. I wonder if they’ve read the book? It got me intrigued (there’s some ‘Good News’ about my car, perhaps it’s worth more as a trade-in than I thought?), but unfortunately I can’t afford a new car right now. Shame that.*
When you read this book you’ll find out how to improve your direct-response copywriting. You’ll learn:
There’s more in there, but you should buy the book. I can’t give away all Glenn’s secrets.
This is *the* best copywriting book I’ve read. Hands down, the best.
So did I get back home again?
If you’ve stayed with me this long you’ll remember I was in Inverness, finishing this rather fabulous book.
Well we made it home. But only after I succumbed to the lure of the shops. I came away with stuff that I really shouldn’t have bought and a cast iron skillet. Hey, it’s useful, you can put it in the oven and everything.
When I filled the car with petrol (6p a litre cheaper than up north) I plonked in some neat screenwash that actually said it was ok to -10C rather than the paltry -5C that froze in its tube. And we left early to make sure we got back up that hairpin bend without sliding back down the hill (or over the cliff edge).
I can’t justify all the money I spent, but I reckon that skillet helped us hold the road that bit better.
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I’ve been awol for a while.
Did you notice?
It’s been a mad two months and something had to give.
That something was my blog.
Now, normally I would apologise, but for the sake of all things healthy I’m not going to. Sometimes you just need to go with the flow.
Any paid work so far in January.
I also didn’t panic.
If you know anything about me, by now you’ll know I’m not a bullshitter. You’ll also know that freelance life doesn’t always run smoothly and that an end of year/start of year assessment is a good thing.
So I thought, especially for all you new freelancers out there, I’d show you how it really can be. And why it’s good to have money in reserve.
There are reasons why there’s been no work so far this month:
So, you can see it’s been a very, very slow month or two.
It’s not just me though, it seems to have been much the same for a lot of freelancers and independent consultants. Perhaps it’s just that time of year, but I personally haven’t seen things this bad for quite a few years.
Like I said earlier, I didn’t panic. I still have enough to pay the bills, but it’s times like these that make every solo practitioner look closely at their business.
You have to ask yourself:
In the no-bullshit, trying to be helpful spirit of things I’ll show you how I answered these myself.
Honestly, it’s probably a bit of both. Being remote I have to work extra hard to network and let people know I exist, but generally January is not a good time. Looking back at my accounts, January is always slow. This has been the worst January since 2015 though.
I’d say it could be a mix of the wrong time of year for finishing projects that require an editor or writer, and the fact that everyone is reaching the end of their budgets. Especially if clients’ accounts run from January to December. Of course it’s different for every client type.
Or it could be that the right people actually don’t know I exist. I’ll look at this later.
Ok, this is something that I need to address. The jobs that didn’t come through were ones that relied on goodwill and a kind of ‘gentleman’s agreement’. They didn’t come through because the work fell through, and to make it worse I didn’t take a 20–50% up-front non-refundable deposit like a lot of my colleagues. Guess what I’m going to do from now on?
I guess my answer to this is no. However, it’s something I’ve been working on in my CDP so I know I’m moving forward. Professional development isn’t all about the skills that help you do your actual work, it’s also the professional development of being an independent contractor.
Actually, yes. But business plans take time – mine’s a yearly plan and the year isn’t over yet.
As part of my business plan I am going to stop offering a few things and add a few. However, this has got nothing to do with the abysmally slow month. From my records for the past few years I know that my services on offer are fine, and that they are evolving.
Hell, yes. Probably. But perhaps those clients I’m aiming at are possibly less aware than I’d like them to be.
So my end of year/start of year assessment shows that market forces are largely at work, but my marketing could do with a kickstart. I’m not panicking yet as I’m working on my marketing skills (something I’ve always been bad at for my own business), but if I were a new freelancer I might just be bouncing off the walls at the moment.
If you find, like me, that work dries up or is slow in coming, there are a few things to do.
As we’ve seen, an assessment is a good place to start. Take a look at your business, answer some questions and don’t try to fool yourself. See how other freelancers are doing: is your network finding things tough too?
Try to make sure that you have some cash set aside in case of a dry spell. I know, it’s easier said than done, but it can help dispel the initial panic.
Have a look at some alternative means, such as sending out emails to old contacts or new ones. I even considered those dreaded content mills. Seriously though, I decided to have a quick peek at some of them and hell, unless you’re really desperate … (let’s just say, they may fill a gap but the fees on offer are insulting to a professional with skills). Louise Harnby, a lovely supportive colleague of mine, has a fantastic resource on her website that gives some great ideas for finding work when you really need to. It’s a webinar that can really help you get out of a spot. And you don’t have to be an editor or proofreader to take advantage of her advice, this works for everyone.
At the end of the day, dry spells happen to most freelancers. You just have to be prepared for them and make the most of them. Yes, I said make the most of them.
Try to take a positive view of the situation and use the time wisely. Use it to review, redirect and renew.
Review your practices, business plan and marketing strategy
Redirect your energies into what can bring in the money you need
Renew your contacts if you can, or your business goals.
Me? I’ve used the last month positively, to take a deep dive into my business. It can be quite scary to break from the timetable (my business plan review usually takes place around May), but it can also be liberating and an eye-opener. And I haven’t finished yet.
I hope your January has been kind.
Everyone needs a CTA, so here’s mine. If you fancy working with me, contact me. Don’t be shy, let’s chat about your project.
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