End of Year Reflections of an Editor and Writer

Editor looking into the future

 

Around about this time of year it becomes apparent that we’re all human, and sometimes something’s got to give.

This year, for me, it was Christmas cards (again) and house decorations (again).

It’s not that I don’t get into the Christmas spirit, it’s just that I haven’t got into the Christmas spirit. Let’s just say that when you have a ton of work to do and no time to bingewatch Christmas films, it just isn’t the same.

The Perfect Christmas

I tend to leave work around a week before Christmas and start back in the first week of January (hey, I rarely get a proper holiday during the rest of the year), but this year I’m having to work right up until Christmas Eve (I know, boo hoo, poor me).

So, I’ve decided that:

  1. I will enjoy the time off I give myself.
  2. No one will actually notice that I haven’t sent Christmas cards (again). I may, however, send New Year cards instead. They will actually mean more as people will be over the ‘ten ton turkey’ that the festive season usually turns into, and a non-Christmassy, upbeat card may help blow away some January blues.
  3. I will not berate myself for taking on some really interesting, if demanding, work.
  4. I will not berate myself for taking on work that will help pay off a disgustingly huge (for me) credit card bill (I know, I know …)
  5. I will try to get as much done as I can before Christmas, then put away the computer for a minimum of four days.

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For freelancers this time of year can be quite depressing. Unlike our gainfully employed colleagues the Christmas parties can be thin on the ground (the Northern Editorial Christmas Shindig this year was taking time out to go and see Wick Players’ Panto; we like to support our amdram rivals) and there’s nothing quite so sad as a party plate for one complete with a bottle of Prosecco drunk through a straw.

But for freelancers the festive season can also be quite liberating. The Christmas/New Year lull is the perfect time to look over the past year and see how it’s gone. We can see what has worked, what hasn’t and what has potential.

Freelancer with a Christmas wreath

I’ve realised that:

  • This year has been pretty good for me.
  • I’ve worked on a really interesting variety of projects, from business documentation, academic papers and a white paper to a few fabulous memoirs, a charity book and a rather wonderful cookbook, among others.
  • I’ve said no to a number of projects that weren’t my thing, said no because I didn’t want to over-stretch myself and said yes to some projects that were out of my comfort zone – none of which killed my business.
  • I’ve had fewer jobs that fell below my self-imposed minimum wage, due to better quoting practices and sticking to my guns (there will always be some that fall short, for various reasons).
  • I’ve had blogs read, shared and commissioned by others.
  • I’ve enjoyed meeting up with colleagues old and new, and know that I have friends around the globe that know how it all works.

    coffee and a book

With this in mind, for me, what has worked has been: sticking to my business plan, not saying yes to poorly paid work, and stepping back before immediately saying ‘no’ to something.

What hasn’t worked: I’m still not there with getting my quoting system right and I’m still too quick to give added extras to clients (the clients often don’t realise, but my bank account and timesheet does).

What has potential? Well, I’ve gained more work on memoirs and histories this year (which is something I love) and think it’s something I could take on more of.  I’ve also done more designing too, which has the potential to grow.

business plan

This is all well and good, but there are still improvements to be made. So, my New Year business plan includes:

  1. Taking more time out for myself, to look after my mental and physical health and to be present for my family.
  2. Being selective with new work that comes in. I’ve proved to myself that it can work, so I will only take on work that interests me (unless I have unexpected bills that necessitate me to take on work outwith my joy zone).
  3. Taking on new copywriting work. It’s something I enjoy and pays relatively well.
  4. Taking time out to work on a personal writing project.
  5. Quoting fairly and competently, whilst taking into consideration my qualifications, experience and value to the client.

coffee notepad pen

Taking time out to reflect like this doesn’t take too long and can be a really valuable insight into your work. So I’ll leave you with this:

  • What has worked well for you?
  • What could you do better?
  • What is showing potential?
  • What should you stop doing?
  • Which direction do you want to go in next year?

I’m taking a couple of weeks out from blogging: I need to refresh my batteries, finish the work I need to do and drink copious amounts of Baileys and Rock Rose Gin (not together, that would be minging).

Have a lovely festive season everyone, be kind to yourselves and remember – freelancers need rest too (unless you have two corgi puppies … in which case, you may never sleep again).

corgi pups @northerneditorial

Why Words Can Kill Your Business (And What To Do About It)

Words on a cafe wall

 

Your business thrives on words.

Ok, you might think I would say that, being an editor and all, but stop for a minute.

How do you get your message across to your clients and customers?

Fabulous, eye-catching images and words. Lots and lots of words.

Your words define you and your business.

Business words

Your brand identity is defined by the words you choose.

Your company culture is defined by the words you use.

Your customer focus is defined by the words you use too.

 

Words can entice, excite and entertain. Or they can confuse, alienate and drive away business.

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Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty: bad writing can kill your business.

For example, how are your emails being received?

Email communication

The problem:

You don’t get to the point.

The point gets lost in jargon.

The point gets lost in meaningless drivel.

The emails are so long getting to the point that the reader loses the will to live.

The solution:

Don’t worry about getting straight to the point. Your recipient probably has a million and one things to do other than read your mailing. Lower the chances of them hitting the delete button by telling what you need to tell in a straightforward, professional manner.

Ditch the jargon, unless it’s absolutely necessary. If your recipient is unsure what you mean they’ll delete. Use plain language. No one ever complained about easy to understand emails.

Stop the waffle. Seriously. Just stop it.

Avoid the tl;dr culture. If you have a special offer, let your recipients know sooner rather than later. If you have something to tell them that will benefit them, tell them at the beginning. If your emails are so long they aren’t going to be read, split them up.

contact us emails

Top tip: If you find that your business emails are taking up too much time, they’re being binned before they’re read and are not giving a return on your investment – simplify the process by spending time creating templates that you can reuse. A few hours of template writing will free up your time later on and will make things so much easier for you … just remember not to leave in dummy text!

But it’s the same for all your business writing.

Your website is your virtual shop window. It’s also a way to talk to your customers and make them feel valued. Common business writing mistakes that will lose you customers and cost you money are:

Spelling mistakes

Incorrect information

Broken links and bad navigation on your website

Complicated language, jargon and inconsistencies

Information overload

As well as all the points I noted above.

Brochures, flyers and advertising material, along with your website and business communication, need to be straightforward and to the point, without forgetting that your customer is your main focus.

Here’s how you fix it, and make your business words work for you:

  writing for business

  • Take your time and really read what you’ve written. Seek out spelling mistakes and fix them, and if you’re not good with words, hire someone who is. Spelling mistakes and sloppy writing will lose you business. Seriously.
  • Take time to write your business information. Research, draft, write, read, rewrite, read, rewrite again if you need to. Don’t just write something and stick it out there (unless you’re writing very quick, to the point, blog posts that don’t pretend to be anything else).
  • Focus on your customer, not yourself. Make things as easy as possible for them. Use words they will enjoy reading, and words that are not overly complicated. Using plain English is NOT dumbing down, it’s making your writing as easy as possible, for as many people as possible, to understand.
  • Don’t tell your customers too many things all at once. Let them digest each nugget of information before they move on. And give them the choice to know more – don’t force it down their throats. Use separate pages for each area of your business.

There’s a reason that copywriters and editors exist. You may be a whizz at your business, an engaging entrepreneur with fabulous ideas, or a nuts and bolts trader of essentials, but you may be rubbish at writing. Hey, not everyone is good with words. That’s why we train to be good editors and writers. I’d make a rubbish entrepreneur.

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While your business thrives on words, try not to make mistakes like these:

The online wine shop I happened upon in my search for a fizzy German wine made from strawberries (a favourite of mine back in the 1990s when Safeway stocked it for £1.99 a bottle!), where well-known varieties of wine were spelt incorrectly. I left without purchasing. I never did find that wine.

The local restaurant who advertised in our post office, on the little TV screen that blinks at you as you’re waiting to send off your parcels, and who couldn’t spell the name of the street they were situated on. Probably wouldn’t affect trade that much, unless someone who wasn’t local was trying to find the establishment, but it’s just sloppy.

The well-known department store that accidentally missed out a digit and sold an expensive necklace for only $47. Huge mistake, which was honoured before anyone twigged what had gone wrong.

The British bank that right now has a glaring typo on their home page. I won’t put up a link as hopefully it will have been rectified by the time this post is made live. Let’s just say there’s a Northern Santa who doesn’t like surprises, but a dictionary should be on his gift list. People, respect your business and we might respect yours.

So, if you want to make the most of your business, keep potential customers engaged and have them return for more here’s what to do:

Seek out, locate and destroy spelling errors.

Keep things simple and avoid jargon unless it’s needed and expected.

Use plain English wherever possible.

Respect your clients by investing in your businesses writing.

Write for your clients, not for yourself.

Take time over your content.

And if you need professional help find a copywriter to write your content, an editor to help you polish your content and a proofreader to give it that final check.

It’s not as expensive as you may think, and good content is key to a successful business.

Contact me if you think I can help your business to thrive.

Work Life Balance – or the Puppy Pomodoro Technique

Work Life Balance

A decent work / life balance has been uppermost in my mind recently.

It’s been three weeks since we picked up the puppies, and in those three weeks I’ve finished off a large editing project, taken on and finished a small proofreading job, started a small copy-editing and writing job, accepted two new book copy-edits and given out a few quotes.

It’s all very comfortable and very interesting. I’ve staggered my work to fit my life.

Ok, I’ll never reach the heady heights of the rich and famous, but I know I can comfortably fit work around my life, and not the other way around.

I knew these first couple of months were going to have to be ‘comfortable’ as getting one puppy is hard work, and having two is ever so slightly worse.

So, for a bit of personal interest (hey, I’m not interesting but you may find this enlightening), I’ve approximated my last few, mad, weeks into one generic day.

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6.30 a.m. The puppies wake up and bark to let me know they need a pee. I drag my sorry ass out of bed and go and let them out of their crate. There are two gorgeous faces peering up at me, at least I think they’re gorgeous. I’m really not a morning person, so after 6 hours sleep (if I’m lucky) I can barely focus on their cute corgi faces. Ok, honesty time – after barely 6 hours sleep they’re cute but ever so slightly demonic. Less demonic, though, than two weeks ago when it was a 3 a.m. pee call.

7.00 a.m. I give up on going back to bed, so through blurry morning eyes I pick up my iPad and read up on some coursework (until I can afford to do my creative writing MA I’m carrying on with OU courses – Design Thinking is what I’m studying at the moment).

8.00 a.m. Feed the pups, get washed and dressed before popping them back in their crate and driving my husband to work.

9.00 a.m. Make myself a pot of industrial strength coffee, fire up the laptop and see what my email is looking like (generally about a dozen or so emails from retailers telling me what I absolutely must buy today or else face FOMO and become terminally depressed with the state of my life). Delete those idiot emails about things I can’t afford and don’t want, then look over the remaining interesting ones (if there are any).

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9.30 a.m. Get myself another cup of coffee from the pot and open up my first job of the day. By now the curious corgis are either sleeping after a mad half hour of chasing and trying to eat each other’s faces off, or I’ve managed to distract them with a chew toy or four. Even in the world BC (Before Corgi) I never usually started work until around 10 a.m. (did I mention, I’m not a morning person?).

10.00 a.m. Yaay. The puppies are probably asleep, work starts properly and I seem to be more productive. Possibly because I only have a small work window before the demons are awake again.

12 noon. Lunchtime for the pups. They’re on 4 meals a day at the moment as they’re still little, and they LOVE their food. They jump up and down to get at their bowls: they’ve perfected the ‘sit’ and are learning ‘down’ – but ‘wait’ will have to wait until puppy training as they are too excited.

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12.15 p.m. A quick dive back into work.

1.00 p.m. Lunch. By this stage I’m not bothered about eating, but we mooch around to see what food is in the house. There will probably be a sandwich, or Super Noodles, with not a vegetable in sight (unless you count the vegetables in Branston pickle). There will also be a huge mug of Yorkshire tea … or as I like to call it … tea.

A proper cup of tea

1.30 p.m. Now is the time to try to figure out how to stop teething puppies from barking. We do a little puppy training with treats, let them chase around (preferably without the face eating) and count the days until we can take them out for a proper walk on a pavement and not on our sodden clay garden that’s threatening to turn into a quagmire. There’s usually an accident that needs seeing to – oh, the joys of toilet training when your puppies like to eat their training pads rather than pee on them.

2.00 p.m. Sleepy pups again means getting back to work. I’ll either carry on with what I was doing or switch things up and do something different. If deadlines aren’t too tight I’ll get on with some coursework. More tea is drunk.

If the puppies wake up they become my canine Pomodoro partners. Work comes in 20 minute bursts in-between taking them for a pee, clearing up any accidents and trying to keep them entertained. Their latest love is a Kong filled with a frozen banana, peanut butter and yogurt mixture. The only problem is that I froze the treats in ice cube trays that produce cubes much too large for the Kong opening. The next batch will be made into logs I will meticulously measure (and score!) to ensure I don’t run the risk of slicing my hand open every time I try to cut one in half.

puppy treats

5.00 p.m. Time to feed the corgis again and wind down work.

5.30 p.m. The pups are crated and off I go to pick hubby from work.

As I’m not doing panto this year (oh, my, God, it is so strange not being out at rehearsals all the time) my evenings are fairly mundane.

6.00 p.m. Figure out what to cook everyone for tea, start cooking and probably try to tidy up some of the mess that has accumulated. My house is a total, complete mess and will never get any better until everyone else pitches in or I win the lottery and buy a bigger house. This is my only puppy-free time of the day. While I’m cooking I’ll either read up on coursework or watch Jenna Marbles videos on YouTube.

7.00 p.m. Eat tea and watch some TV. We’ve just finished the Miss Fisher Mysteries on Netflix, so it’s now Scorpion or Zumbo’s Just Desserts. I have Zumbo’s cookbook and have never had the time to set aside a day for making any of his creations, so I like to watch cookery programmes and pretend I’ll someday get the time to devote to exciting cooking.

The rest of the evening is spent on social media or doing various work-related bits and bobs, while trying to figure out, again, how to stop teething puppies from eating each other’s faces off and/or barking all the time.

9.00 p.m. Puppies have their supper and go to sleep. But not for long, soon they’re up and bouncing.

my corgi pups

 

12 midnight. Finally, the puppies are put to bed. I spend half an hour getting them settled then get to bed. If I’m really lucky this might happen half an hour earlier. As they’re little, and I’m a bit of a night owl, I figured it’s probably better than putting them, and me, to bed earlier and having to wake up at 3.00 a.m.

I sleep fitfully for, if I’m lucky, 6 hours before groundhog day starts all over again.

So, despite being on puppy duty all day, I’m still managing to work. The Puppy Pomodoro  is working quite well, and as my deadlines are purposely loose at the moment, if my brain starts to turn to jelly I can down tools for a few hours and leave things a while. Just yesterday I watched La La Land on Netflix and actually enjoyed it (although I did have to get up and down numerous times to see to the demons, so will have to watch it again).

I’m now looking to fill up my calendar for the first quarter of 2018, and like a mad woman have ordered a new suite. I have a feeling the Puppy Pomodoro Technique may then require the addition of bubble-wrapping the wooden sofa legs before play resumes – what on earth were we thinking? Contact me if you need your writing polished, or have a copywriting assignment for the new year.