It started with a tweet …

Errol Brown, singer with Hot Chocolate

"It started with a tweet ... who'd have thought it would end so sweet?"

Today is Valentine’s Day. For me, it’s been a very good one already. It started with a nice surprise: a lovely card and some delicious Hotel Chocolat treats from the missus that I found hidden in my T shirts drawer.

Then, part-way through the morning came another surprise. An email from a young Swedish woman that confirmed the start of our new relationship. A working relationship, I hasten to add. I’m emphatically a one woman man and always will be.

This email is the culmination of a journey that started with a tweet less than two weeks ago. I’d just started to follow a few new people on Twitter as part of my attempts to expand my client base. One of these people mentioned that she was looking to hire copywriters. It was late on Friday afternoon, and I was initially hesistant, but I decided to reply to the tweet to express my interest.

When I checked my email later that evening, I had a reply from her with more information. It sounded like a really interesting opportunity, and I responded to her request to send examples of my work, and a quotation for the kind of jobs they wanted me to take on. All of this happened on the Sunday, and then by the following Tuesday I’d had an email to suggest the company would be interested in working with me in the future. That was followed by LinkedIn connection requests from my initial contact and her CEO. I was impressed by the way they’d used social media to assess my credentials and get in touch.

Today’s email confirmed they’d love to work with me and laid out more formally the types of jobs they’d like me to do, and the terms etc. I’m delighted, because they seem like an exciting company to work with, and the way they want me to work will fit in perfectly around what I’m doing for other clients. Throughout the process my contact with them has been very warm and friendly as well as thoroughly professional.

So I have now expanded my client base into Europe for the first time, and I’m excited about the prospects ahead. It just shows how more proactive use of social media can yield results, for recruiters and freelancers alike.

I’m very grateful to Twitter for enabling me to make this contact and begin this new relationship. I’m hoping that, to adapt the Hot Chocolate song that inspired my headline:

“It started with a tweet …. who’d have thought it would end so sweet?”

Have any other freelancers and copywriters out there had any similar experiences of social media providing them with new client opportunities?

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The waiting game

Freelance is great … apart from the wait

WAIT sign

What are you waiting for?

I’ve been a freelance business writer now for just over 8 months. It’s almost certainly been the best thing I’ve done in my career.

I love it.

I love:

  • the chance to work on a wide variety of projects
  • the flexibility of the working hours
  • working with clients in a number of different industries
  • getting great feedback from satisfied customers
  • being my own boss

But there are some things I’m still getting used to. In particular, the ebb and flow of the workload. And the unpredictability. Even with three regular clients, some weeks it’s hectic, and other weeks it’s eerily silent.

So, what do you do when the work doesn’t come in?

That is rarely, if ever, an issue when you’re an employee. Up until last May I worked for ten years as a writer for a technology company and never had a single day when I wasn’t busy. At least a bit busy. And when things were slack, there were always lots of colleagues you could talk to.

But the nature of freelance means that there are peaks and troughs. Days when no-one needs you.

How do you handle that?

What do you do while you’re waiting?

I’d be interested to hear from more seasoned freelancers about what they do in such situations. As a newcomer, I’ve found this quite a challenge. Yes, I can hear all of you who aren’t self-employed grumbling “nice problem to have”, “wish I could have a day off” etc.

But the point is, you don’t get a day off. You just don’t get paid.

I follow a lot of copywriters on Twitter: many of them are freelance, and some of them talk about staying in bed, going to the pub or just having fun on days when they’re not busy. They may be joking. But if not, I envy them.

I still have that ’employee’ work ethic that doesn’t let me relax and take the day off when I don’t actually have any work to do. That’s not a humble brag: it’s actually a right royal pain in the arse. I’d rather just turn around and say: “Right, I’m having fun today. I’ll take my phone in case anyone calls or emails, but I’m taking the day off.” But I don’t. I try to. But then I start to feel guilty. Naughty, even.

So, what do I do? I sit at my desk and wait. While I’m waiting:

  • I tweak my website
  • I write the occasional blog post
  • I check my email and phone
  • I research potential new business opportunities
  • I read a book in between checking my email and phone
  • I go to the gym at lunchtime
  • I do my accounts and admin tasks
  • I get lost in Twitter
  • I turn Twitter off because all the other writers seem to be super-busy and still have time to write kick-ass blog posts
  • I check my email and phone again

And that’s OK. Because it’s usually the odd day here and there, and then all of a sudden things are busy again.

How do you respond when your patience is tested?

But just recently the trough has lasted a little longer. I’ve just finished two big projects for regular clients, and there’s nothing else coming through for a couple of days. I am also waiting to see if my quote for a significant project for a potential new client has landed me the job. It was nice to be asked to quote for it, but in doing so, I’ve had to curtail my usual chase for new business to ensure I have time to do the job if I get it. Nothing unusual there, that happens when you’re freelance. But when there’s a work lull at the same time, the waiting game takes on more significance, gets more frustrating, and tests your patience just that little bit more.

Except this time, I’ve changed tactics. I’ve had an epiphany. Instead of waiting, I’m going to get on with some writing. Just for me. Just because. The path that has led to me going freelance started when I took a three-month sabbatical in May 2010 to start writing a novel. I’d never done it before, but loved it. I worked really hard every day and even at weekends. For no money.

I got a third of the way through it, including some ruthless redrafting and then I had to go back to work. The draft has stayed on the shelf and in the Dropbox ever since.

You’d think it was a no-brainer to go back to the novel whenever the work dried up a little, but it wasn’t. I’d think about it, then the cycle of feeling guilty and naughty would start again. So I went back to pingling and waiting again. Until yesterday.

Give yourself permission to get creative

Yesterday I resolved to give myself permission to start writing my novel again. I’d got stuck at a certain point, and after allowing myself to go back and investigate things yesterday afternoon, I realised what I need to do to get unstuck. I need to rip up a chapter and a half and start them over again. By the evening I was getting excited by the prospect, and started having new ideas for the first time in ages.

And today I’m getting stuck into writing my novel again. As soon as I’ve blogged this. Until the work starts trickling, or flooding back in again.

Wish me luck!

Are you waiting patiently?

How do you handle the waiting game?

Is it time you gave yourself permission to do something you’re really passionate about while you’re waiting?

Ed Miliband error proves why accuracy is important

Oh dear.

Ed Miliband

Uh-oh. B(l)ack to Basics for Ed Miliblunder

The Labour leader must have thought it was such a good idea at the time. “Bob Holness has died: better show people I care by tweeting my respects.”

But in his haste to get the message out there, he made a rookie error that resulted in an embarrassing faux-pas:

@Ed_Miliband Sad to hear that Bob Holness has died. A generation will remember him fondly from Blackbusters.

Ooops. A bad mistake to make at any time, but in the week that you’ve been berating one of your MPs for her own Twitter misdemeanours regarding racial matters, a classic and costly Miliblunder.

On the one hand, you could argue that we’re all fallible and make mistakes, but on the other, ‘o’ and ‘a’ aren’t really close enough on a keyboard to plead user error. And besides, you’re making a public statement as a major politician, even if it is in 140 characters.

Check before you tweet!

The resulting furore has mainly been light-hearted: many people have had a few laughs at Ed’s expense on Twitter via the #EdMilibandGameShows hashtag, but at a time when the media spotlight has been shining so brightly on Diane Abbott and Miliband these past few days, he surely could have done without scoring such an unnecessary own goal.

To compound the error by tweeting a four-letter expletive imploring people to leave him alone shortly afterwards does him even less credit than his shoddy typing and lack of attention to detail.

The ability to proofread, and the importance of accuracy should never be underestimated.

They can save your reputation, and possibly your job!

And if it turns out that his Twitter account was hacked, and the ‘error’ was planted maliciously, as some have suggested, then it’s a timely reminder to take social media security seriously too.

The point remains: a single letter in the wrong place can cause you all sorts of bother!