productive freelance writer

How I became a productive freelance writer

I worked as an employee until I had my first baby and never considered starting my own business before this life-changing event. I was productive at work because I had a boss and targets but how would I behave when I was my own boss? Could I be a productive freelance writer while looking after a baby?

You know what? I loved it and I thrived!

I quickly realised that if I was to be successful as a freelance writer and copywriter, I needed to learn a few productivity tricks – I had limited time and I needed to make a decent income.

productive freelance writer

Yes, like other freelancers, I also read loads of articles on how to be productive when working from home BUT many of these didn’t work for me mainly because I am a different person and the only time I had to work was when my baby napped.

I didn’t have blocks of time like others just a couple of hours between feeds when bub slept.

Working at night while bub slept wasn’t an option in the first few months because…night feeds! I’d be a zombie during the day and I’m not a very nice person on little sleep.

6 productivity tips I've learnt in 6 years as a freelance writer Click To Tweet

Here are 6 productivity tips gained and learned over 6 years I’ve been working as a freelancer stay at home mum:

Tip 1: I don’t work fixed hours

..as it leaves me feeling frustrated. I’m not in a 9-5 job anymore so I don’t try and work those hours. Instead I work in my own time. This may look different every day, but I’m meeting deadlines so when I work is not an issue.

For example, some nights I used to work from 10 pm-2 am because I couldn’t work during the day. I stopped doing that once my baby slept during the night.

I factor life into my deadlines Click To Tweet

Tip 2: I factor life into my deadlines

I’ve always set deadlines 2-3 weeks ahead to cater for my child being sick or other unforeseen circumstances.

If an editor or client comes to me asking for a rush job, I consider the payoff vs the cost. Is the $300 fee worth my health? If not, I pass it on to another writer, I earn some good karma and likely to get reciprocal work from them later.

Tip 3: I practise self care

When life and work gets busy, it’s more important to look after me because two little humans depend on me. If I fall apart, so does the entire household.

I make time to read, watch TV, play or talk with my kids and exercise. When I find myself scrolling aimlessly through social media, I put my phone down and do something I’ve been meaning to do for days like brainstorm story ideas, read a book or simply breathe and have quiet time.

Tip 4: I refill my creative tank

The endless and thankless chores and looking after a newborn tends to kill brain cells during maternity leave. To counter the monotony, I took up gardening and read more blogs, books and articles. I have maintained this 6 years later. The time away from writing fuels my creativity and makes me happier and more productive when I have deadlines.

Tip 5: I switch off from technology

When I’ve faced frustration at not getting enough work, or sometimes feel envy at another freelancer’s success, I’ve switched off from endless social media feeds for a few days. It gives me perspective and I always experience a breakthrough on what I could be doing differently in my business.

I’m also much more productive when I’m not constantly checking Facebook or scrolling through Twitter. So when I have a deadline, I simply close my browser and get on with it. No blocking apps for me!

Staying connected produces noise in the brain leaving no room for productivity or creativity. Click To Tweet

Tip 6: I don’t compare myself to others

I’ve found comparison analysis and envy has killed my productivity and love for writing – when I indulge in it.

I work myself into a panic thinking I’ll never be as successful as the others.

Stopping to breathe (I can do this), keep the big picture in mind (earning an income from home and flexibility), my circumstances (two kids and a husband that works long hours) helps me keep the comparison analysis beast in check!

So what if someone is earning 6 figures freelancing? I’m happy with my own income levels and the type of work I’m doing.

What is your best productivity tip? Tweet it to me @rashidatayabali

using humour in copy

Funny guy: Is your business scared of using humour in copy?

I belong to an awesome group of copywriters on Facebook. A common thread I often see is how business clients are afraid of using humour in their business website copy and social media.

Personally, I remember only two clients over the last 5 years who’ve actually requested I write funny and quirky copy for their new websites. Dream client!

using humour in copy

I’m actually a big fan of writing content which shows wit and personality because differentiation is crucial when it comes to winning and keeping customers. If you’ve read Steve Jobs’ book, you’d know that man thrived on being different all his life – would we ever have Apple if Steve had decided not to stand out or do something drastic?

Add playfulness to your business copy:

• You’re one faceless provider out of a possible thousand in your industry. Witty content makes you memorable.

• Humour makes you more likeable –  do you recall clearly who the funny and popular guy was in your school? I like people who poke fun at themselves heaps better than people who insist on telling me how great they are (cue jargon).

• Jokes and comedy shows are popular because they make people laugh – think Ricky Gervais and The Office or his recent Optus ad.

Humour is important in life – laughter is the best medicine!

• Humour makes you approachable and human – two qualities clients like when it comes to choosing who to buy from.

• It makes your copywriter’s life much easier. Corporate jargon makes us grumpy and whinge.

Now I’m not saying you have to turn into an industry joker and get your clients laughing all the time BUT injecting some fun into your business content definitely makes you more likeable, memorable and a top choice for when someone wants to buy something.

Simply, people like doing business with people they like. People remember who made them laugh.

According to Hubspot, online followers love those brands which make them smile and entertain them.

In our copywriting world, I think no one does humour better than this copywriter and author of Confessions of a Misfit Entrepreneur. As a result, Kate has a large following both online and offline. She’s witty and so likeable that you can’t help but buy from her.

Twitter research shows that if a person sees something that makes them laugh, they’re likely to remember you when it comes time for purchase. This is a whopping 72% of people – now who wouldn’t want this type of statistic when it comes to sales?

How NOT to use humour in content

One thing to be careful of when using humour to write copy including social media posts is…you don’t want to try too hard.

Using humour wrongly in your business can be a double-edged sword and turn off your audience. Find out what people want to hear/read/see and what actually makes them laugh, not what you or your social media manager thinks is funny.

No one likes that guy who laughs at his own jokes – whether online or in real life. You want to be the cool gal or dude who gets called over by others in a party immediately when they see you so they can listen to you. Don’t be that person who’s forever looking to catch someone’s eye to share their latest (according to them hilarious) anecdote.

Yes I like Oreos…

Oreo cookies are famous for coming up with posts that people like and relate to. They are currently sitting at 846,000 followers on Twitter. This post made history when it was tweeted during the Super Bowl in 2013. I still remember it almost 4 years later.

What do you think of using humour in business copy? Has it worked for you in the past? I’d love to know in the comments. Or tweet me @rashidatayabali.

self doubt copywriter

How to kill the self doubt monster as a copywriter

I sit in front of my screen, my email is open and a job I pitched for has come through. I would be happy except I don’t know anything about the industry and have a vague idea about how to copywrite that specific document.

self doubt copywriter

I contemplate emailing the client to say I’m too busy etc.

Self doubt threatens to crush and overwhelm me. “Why did I start this whole writing business? I should have stuck to what I knew,” I berate myself.

I allow myself 2 minutes to wallow in self doubt and pity and I pull myself together by asking myself one question: How hard can it be?

I can’t credit this brilliant insight to my own thinking. It was a manager in a previous job who used to counter any obstacles thrown in mine and her path by saying, “How hard can it be?” and I’ve adopted this saying every time I’m faced with a challenge that I know nothing about.

Self doubt and imposter syndrome leaves many of us, especially women, feeling terrified – of moving forwards, of growing, of learning something new.

So in this post, I’m going to share my own tips and learnings with you on how I overcome this the self doubt monster frequently.

1.Wallow in self doubt (but only for a certain time)

I allow self doubt to paralyse me for exactly – 2 minutes. Then I pull myself together and start thinking about what I know about the project instead of what I don’t know. As for the ‘what I don’t know’ I head to trusty Google search to become an expert on the subject.

Tip: Do not allow self doubt into your mind for more than a few minutes, decide on the time, panic in those minutes then firmly chuck out the monster. The longer you let it stay in your head, the bigger it will grow.

2. Ask for projects that make you uncomfortable

I sometimes ask for writing projects that I know will be a huge learning curve – just so I can feel uncomfortable. Why would anyone want to do that? Well, if I’m uncomfortable it means I’m learning heaps and absorbing even more. That usually translates to great copy for the client because I’m bringing new insights and learning.

“How hard can it really be?”

If the amateur cooks in Masterchef weren’t learning and growing over the 12 weeks, imagine how boring the show would be. To watch Matt only ever cook duck or Elena never learning how to present her food beautifully. What’s the point?

3. Learn about what you don’t know, then learn some more

Thank God for Google.

I learnt this trick early on in a previous job where I was often thrown into the deep end without any warning. If I was given an unfamiliar task, instead of panicking I’d Google it and then apply my own insights and experience.

Result: Praise from managers and a realisation that you can find anything on Google as long as you look for it.

As long as Google is around, no one needs to panic. If you’re writing about roofing (which I did for the very first time recently, read up on what makes a great roof).

Learn all you can about the new industry – after all that’s why you became a copywriter in the first place, for variety is the spice of life m’dear.

4. Ask a mentor/writer friends for guidance

If you’re a writer and not part of any support group like this one I belong to, you’re SILLY.

In this age of digital isolation, you need a close-knit network of other writer friends you can rely on to moan and whinge but most importantly ask for advice on exactly the situation facing you now.

Don’t underestimate the group cheering power of an online community. If online communities are not your thing, then choose a real, live person IRL but don’t isolate yourself.

I have saved myself hours of agonising because I belong to this group and others on Facebook.

5. Eat the elephant, one mouthful at a time

I’m not sure who’s said this but it’s clever. When faced with a huge task, break it down into chunks, tackle the chunks one at a time. With any copywriting project, write down what you know then find out what you don’t know, filling in the blanks.

When you’re faced with self doubt as a copywriter, remember the monster will only get as big as you let it.

It’s definitely in your head. Repeat: How hard can it be?

choosing the right copywriter for your business

The ultimate guide to choosing the right copywriter for your business

Copywriters scare some folks, while other businesses remain oblivious to the value the right copywriter can add in terms of customer retention, attraction and engagement.

Choosing the right copywriter for your business can be a hit-and-miss but by taking the right steps, it’s possible to find someone who you can work with without it causing you massive headaches.

choosing the right copywriter for your business

In this post, I share the types of questions I frequently get asked by clients who are looking for copywriters to help with various writing projects (and what you need to ask before hiring a copywriter).

How many years have you been writing?

The number of years your copywriter has been in business is indicative of how good they’re – experienced and established copywriters often deliver work quickly, are professional with great clients in their portfolio and have the right systems and processes set up – plus they have a nice looking website.

Sloppy copywriters will quickly and simply go out of business!

Some copywriters starting out may be inexperienced or have writing experience in other niches.

If your copywriter is a young ‘un, but you really want to work with them, start them off on a small copywriting job like blog posts to see if their style suits your business.

Trust me, you’ll know.

What relevant experience can you bring to my business?

Copywriters are a rare breed because we have the ability to learn, and learn quickly about different industries to create solid copy. But if you want a techie writer, then a writer who specialises in parenting magazines may not be a good fit.

Can you send me some writing samples?

Many good copywriters have copywriting portfolios available on their website. If not, you should always ask for different examples of their writing before hiring them e.g. brochures, blog posts, website copy.

There’s no point in hiring a blog writer to write technical reports – especially if they’ve never done it before.

Can’t be bothered to Google Search because heck all these copywriters sound exactly the same? Try this copywriting directory or this article on where to find them.

Can we get together for a meeting?

I’ll tell you a secret: We copywriters are more comfortable talking to clients across email and rarely on the phone.

But we can be persuaded to get out of our tracky dacks and ugg boots occasionally to meet you in person (warning: it varies from copywriter to copywriter).

I meet clients without charging them for the meeting but they’ve confirmed it’s a done deal before we meet face-to-face.

Any other face-to-face meetings with a new client are charged per hour. After all, you wouldn’t expect a GP to meet you for free in the first visit right?

How much do you charge?

Some copywriters charge by the hour, others charge per project. Many copywriters can give you a rough ballpark but it’s only after preparing a full copywriting proposal for your specific project that we can work out how much it’ll cost to the last cent.

Ps: We are not dodging your question or being difficult on purpose.

There you have it, the checklist or guide on what to ask your copywriter before hiring them for your business.

What other questions would you like included in the list?

Masterchef lip smacking content

How watching Masterchef can help you create lip-smacking content

I love #MasterchefAU, it’s one of the only TV programs that actually adds some value to my life – I enjoy the nail biting and drama during the cooking, the gasps and sympathy for the contestants who are messing up.

The contestants are wholesome and nice to each other (no backbiting drama here) while the judges are fair and provide good, on-the-spot feedback.

Plus I’m always eager to see what eye-pleasing suit Matt Preston is wearing.

Similarities between Masterchef and copywriting

While watching an episode on the Invention test, I concluded the Masterchef formula for creating a winning dish is similar to creating content for a business or a client.

So if you’re a small business owner wanting to create his own content or a copywriter looking to improve their copywriting skills, I recommend watching an episode of Masterchef.

Masterchef lip smacking content

Think about a typical challenge;

  • There’s some anxiety and nerves experienced by the contestants because they’re dealing with a new challenge.
  • Ingredients are chosen by the contestants or by the judges. Often they have to ‘hero’ a particular ingredient.
  • The judges provide a brief which the contestants follow.
  • The winning dish meets the judges’ brief, has no flaws and pleases the eye.
  • The cook who often wins, is in control throughout the process, has planned what they’re going to cook, knows their ingredients and the processes.
  • The winning dish often has the cook’s personality added to it and presents well.
  • The dish of the day is memorable and what the judges say they’d like to order again.

See where I’m going with this post?

If you’re a small business owner who wants to create engaging blog posts or popular social media posts, follow the winning formula below to create extraordinary content your customers will love.

Prepare for the cook-off

You’ve never created content before but you need it for your business. Where to start? How do you create content that gets your customers buzzing?

Read and research the type of content competitors are creating on their social media pages and websites – what’s popular with the target audience? A post that generates negative comments is as useful as one that oozes positivity.

Think of your own brand and business – what do you want to be known as? What’s your brand personality? Tackle some common issues faced by customers using humor for example. If you create a blog post on ‘10 funny things customer service professionals have said to customers,’ follow that thought to your social media pages, spinning it in different ways using a slideshare or infographic.

‘Hero’ a specific business advantage

Sometimes business owners know what makes their business special, other times you need a fresh pair of eyes like those of a copywriter to bring out those qualities. Brainstorm the ‘ingredients’ you think makes your business special and see if they can help you differentiate yourself in your field (be honest!).

For example, your business may have some great talent like a social media expert who gets interviewed in the media or guest blogs; profile them to help your business stand out.

Always write a copywriting brief

Writing content without a brief is like trying to replicate a recipe blind – save yourself the stress.

In the brief ask why you are creating the content? What’s special about what you’re offering? Without a brief you may create content that no one likes or responds to. As a small business owner, you want people to react to your blog posts, social media posts or tweets not have them disappear into a corner of the cyberworld.

Create a content writing system and process

Follow a process, create great content consistently and in a timely manner so that you reach as many people as possible. If you have a writer in-house, ask them to create an editorial calendar and include topics for the next six months, schedule tweets and Facebook posts to keep the momentum going.

Be open to feedback

Rarely does a Masterchef contestant do well by ignoring George and Gary’s feedback. Listen to what your customer is saying, tweak content and present in a way they want to consume it. For example where are your customers? On Facebook or Instagram? Do they like short posts or longer, more informative blog posts?

Be authentic and create from the heart

Do you like eating bland food? I don’t.

I like my food balanced between sweet and sour, a kick of chilli and some crunch. What’s the point of writing bland content that no one reads? Inject your own voice and business personality into it, don’t be afraid to experiment with different voices.

Be open, raw and honest (so your customer can’t help but connect with you). Masterchef uses this ‘humanness’ to keep their viewers hooked.

Present your ‘dish’ well

Well presented content is easy to read, doesn’t overwhelm the reader and doesn’t try to pretend to be something it’s not.

All winning recipes on the Masterchef shows are beautifully presented – can you hear Matt saying presentation, presentation, presentation?

Your content should have customers eager to dip into the next serving.

Next time you want to create content for your business, think of the way a Masterchef would approach creating a delicious, memorable and award-winning dish.

Answer the question: What makes you and your business extraordinary?

What did you think of this post? If you liked it please share with your fellow Masterchef watchers who might also be copywriters or business owners.

 

 

small fish in a big copywriting pond

Why I like being a small fish in a big copywriting pond

When I started freelance copywriting, I took it one day at a time because I had a newborn to look after. I enjoyed every client and feature article I wrote, took my time and learnt as much as I could.

small fish in a big copywriting pond

Sometimes I had multiple deadlines and after a sleep deprived night (nights!), I was hunched over furiously pounding out words and trying to keep it together. NOT FUN!

4 years later, I have two full days where I take my time to learn, write, blog and network with others on social media and I have two to three clients who give me repeat work.

I may not be making more than what I made in my full time job some months but I’m enjoying working on different projects and slowly building up my client base.

Sometimes, seeing other copywriters land big jobs or seeing their impressive resume does make me a little envious but on the whole, I like being a small fish in the vast pond of copywriters and here’s why:

  1. I have only one or two copywriting projects going on at any one time, so each copywriting client or project gets my individual attention and devoted thinking time.
  2. During slow periods, or just when I’ve completed projects, I pitch feature article ideas to publications and look for new markets or businesses to target.
  3. I love the writing process, not just the end result. I’m proud to say many of my first drafts are accepted by the clients without significant changes.
  4. I have time to network on social media from which I’ve won jobs or touched base with new clients.
  5. I take the time to sit down with clients and know exactly what they need – no rushing through the process. I’m a big believer of letting ideas percolate in my brain.
  6. I’m passionate about other things apart from writing, and being a small fish means I have time to do other side projects; like that novel which is currently sitting at 40,000 words.
  7. If I think a client is not suited to my style of work, I refer them on to other copywriters rather than struggle with the job, deliver less than stellar work and resent the client.
  8. I prefer to develop a longer working relationship with one client rather than once-off work from 5 different clients.

Being a small fish has allowed me to spend maximum time with my little boy and grow a business around him.

I don’t see the point of telling him “No! I have to work, shoo!” when he’s asking me to get down on the floor and play cars with him.

That’s why I started a home business in the first place – give myself the flexibility to play cars with him whenever I want (correction: when he wants).

Sometimes, the thought of growing bigger does cross my mind. However tempting it is (like that choc bar that constantly calls out to me in Woolies), I turn my back firmly on the idea – for now.

I’m happy where I am in my business, and feel no need to grow.

I’m also not yet ready to stop enjoying my work and feel the pressure of deadlines breathing down my neck like Dementors.

What would you prefer to be? A small fish in your business niche or one of those big, fat fishes?

ps: A small disclaimer is that I can be a small fish thanks to my hubby who makes enough to support us and buy the occasional chocolate bar at the shops…