Making time to take time off

If you’re a freelancer like me, chances are you’ve got friends and family who think your work life involves rolling out of bed around noon before spending a few hours in front of your computer in your pajamas.

After more than 30 years hustling for my next gig – first as a musician and since 2004 as a journalist and copywriter – I can tell you that nothing could be further from the truth.

For most freelancers – myself included – anxiety over where the next pay check is coming from keeps us on a perpetual search for new projects. That’s on top of making sure we keep current clients happy by producing consistently high-quality work and (too often) politely chasing overdue invoices.

Sometimes it feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day just to keep the ball rolling.

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That’s why it took me almost 30 years to take a real vacation. In fact, last summer was the first time in my adult life that I completely closed my business to take time off.

And guess what? The sky didn’t fall in!

Instead, I returned refreshed and ready to dive back in.

In fact, the experiment was so successful that I decided to do it again this year – for a week in July and another in August. I escaped to Lake Huron, and left my laptop at home.

Here’s how I made it work:

  1. I planned my time off well in advance, so I could manage my workload accordingly.
  2. I gave existing clients plenty of warning so we could make sure nothing fell through the cracks while I was away.
  3. I honoured my time off by making sure I could complete projects before I left, or by asking clients to extend their deadline by a week or two. I learned there can be a surprising amount of wiggle room – if you ask.

Then, I cleaned my office, turned off my laptop – and left it at home.

Did I check emails from my phone while I was away? Yes – once in the morning and again at night.

Did I get sucked in to new work? No. I simply explained that I was away from the office for a week and would follow up upon my return. Then I made a note for myself so I didn’t forget!

Did I lose any gigs by giving myself a break from the daily grind? I probably lost out on a couple magazine assignments because the editorial deadline simply wouldn’t work on my end. Did I burn my bridge with my editors? No. They totally understood.

Will I do it again next year? Absolutely! In fact, I am hoping to treat myself to a few quick getaways this fall and winter. The reality is – life is short, when it comes to work almost no-one is irreplaceable, and if you don’t make time to take time for yourself, it just won’t happen.

Where do you think I should go on my next non-work-related adventure?

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Working on your website? Here are 5 reasons why you should never leave your words to the last minute.

It happened again. Someone contacted me looking for copy for their new website. After a general discussion about the project- how many pages they needed, whether I would be starting from scratch or polishing existing content, and who the target audience would be – I asked a simple question:

“When do you hope to launch the site?”  Their answer: “By the end of the month.” Less than three weeks away.

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Don’t leave your words to the last minute.

 

I get it. People spend a lot of time working on design – their logo, colour scheme, and a wire frame. They may arrange a photo shoot and even have a video produced. The words? Those can get dropped in at the end.

Here’s why that’s the wrong approach:

1.  A good looking website is important. It needs to be easy to navigate, and function properly. But even the most stunning photographs won’t sell your products and services if your words aren’t up to snuff.

If your message isn’t clear you’ll lose sales. Period. Getting to the heart of what you really want to say, who you are saying it to, and what you want those people to do, takes effort.

2.  After 15 years in the business, I’m pretty good at writing copy that is ‘on brand.’ But, I’m not a mind reader. My favourite clients are the ones who treat my first draft as just that – a FIRST draft. If something I’ve written doesn’t sit quite right, they let me know. And sometimes words read differently on the screen.

I’m always happy to take another run – or two – at your copy. A bit of back-and-forth can take some time, but the results are worth it.

3.  SEO. Your web designer should be ensuring your site is optimized ‘behind the scenes.’ But to help with organic search, your copy needs to be SEO-friendly too. Someone needs to research keywords and phrases. If you don’t’ have a list to send along, that someone will be me.

4.  I know a little about a lot of things, but I’m probably not an expert in your field. In an ideal world, I’ll spend a few hours checking out your competitors’ websites to get a feel for your industry.

5.  I’ve got regular copywriting clients, and I’m a contributor to a handful of magazines. I’m blessed to have ongoing work, but that means I’ll be writing your website copy while I’m juggling several other projects. I’m a queen of time management and I love what I do, but I also have a life.

Here’s one final copywriting misconception that I hear on a fairly regular basis:

“I only need a few sentences, so it shouldn’t take very long.”

In reality, it  can take more time to write 60 words than 600. Why? Because if space is limited, every word counts. Those short, snappy phrases have probably gone through dozens of rewrites.

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It can take time to write those short, snappy sentences.

My advice to anyone working on their website? Give you copy the attention it deserves. Start thinking about your words at the outset. And if you’ll be working with a professional copywriter, reach out right away.

As for the person who contacted me this week? I’m going to squeeze them in to my already-full calendar. Happy writing!

Nicole Laidler helps people grow their success one word at a time. To see what she’s been writing lately, visit her at Spilled Ink Writing & Wordsmithing

Women who #MakeAnImpact

I’ve been too busy to blog this month, so I missed getting this prepared and posted in time for International Women’s Day on March 8. Luckily, I discovered that women (rightly) get more than 24 hours of recognition.

In the US, Great Britain, and Australia March is Women’s History Month.

For some reason, here in Canada we celebrate women in October. The theme for 2018 was #MakeAnImpact.

As a freelance journalist and copywriter, I am fortunate to meet and write about many amazing women. Here are four who made an impact during 2018.

Nicole Haney

Nicole Haney

Nicole Haney traded in her office job for her kitchen. Photo: London Inc. magazine. 

Many people dream of leaving the security of their office job to launch their own business. Nicole Haney actually took the leap, trading in her desk at Ivey Business School for her kitchen.

As the founder of Boho Bakery, she’s been sharing her passion for healthy and delicious snacks with an ever-growing customer base. I interviewed Nicole for the March, 2018 issue of London Inc. magazine – just as her Boho Bars business was taking off.

You can read the full story here.

Today, Nicole has achieved her goal of breaking into the Toronto market. You can now find Boho Bars in more than 20 retailers across the GTA.

I’m a Peanut Butter lover myself, and I usually have a few bars handy as a healthy snack-on-the-go. Keep your eyes on Nicole and her Boho Bars – if they are not already at a supermarket or health food store near you, chances are they will be soon.

Nicole Girotti

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Nicole Girotti doesn’t let a busy career and family life keep her from learning. Photo: Western Continuing Studies 

Like so many women, Nicole Girotti wears many hats. She holds a full-time position at Western University, is an instructor at Western Continuing Studies  (WCS), and is the mother of two young children.

If that wasn’t enough, Nicole is also a WCS student where she has completed numerous professional certificates and is working towards several more.

I interviewed Nicole about her commitment to learning, and the challenges of juggling work, studying, and a family.

You can read my story here.

For Nicole, there’s no such thing as a “perfect work-life balance.” I love her honesty, her energy, and her determination to keep on growing.

Alison Konrad and Mirit Grabarski

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Alison Konrad & Mirit Grabarski study workplace diversity. Photo: Nation Wong. 

Lots of people talk about gender and diversity in the workplace, but Professor Alison Konrad and PhD candidate Mirit Grabarski actually study it.

For them, diversity is more than a buzzword. It’s a social justice issue and a way to create a more equal and tolerant society.

These strong, smart women also work and teach at Ivey – and I had the pleasure of interviewing them for the school’s In Touch alumni magazine.

You can read that interview here.  If you make it to the end, you’ll get to my favourite part where they answer the question:  If you could give your younger self advice about navigating the workplace as a women, what would it be?

Their response might surprise you. And it got me thinking – whether you’re male or female, what would your answer be?

Nicole Laidler is a story-based copywriter, freelance writer, and word strategist based in London, Ontario. See what she’s been writing lately at www.spilledink.ca 

Freelance Writing: What’s love got to do with it?

It’s Valentine’s Day. If you’re paired up, congratulations! Hopefully you’re happy, and your Valentine will spoil you with a token of their appreciation – whether it’s a card, a box of chocolates, flowers, a fancy night out, or a fun night in.

I don’t have a Valentine, so I thought I’d mark the day by sharing a few thoughts about something I do love: words.

Love

After 15 years writing for a living, I still love words! 

2019 marks 15 years since I graduated from J-school and launched my career as a freelance journalist.

It’s hard to believe that in 2004 Facebook was in it’s infancy.  Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and Snapchat had yet to be launched, and mobile phones were simply used to make calls. Today, we carry the world in our pocket and spend far too much time worrying about our virtual life.

The media landscape has also changed beyond recognition since 2004. In fact, my alma matter – Western University – no longer offers an MA in journalism. It’s been replaced by a Master of Media in Journalism & Communication , which is an interesting commentary on the blurring of the lines between actual journalism and PR.

Somehow I’ve manage to write continuously through all the upheaval.

Like any job, there are days that seem to drag on forever. But overall, I feel incredibly lucky to be able to do what I do. So in honour of Saint Valentine, here are three reasons why I’m still in love with freelance writing:

The variety.
I’ve written about everything from cheese to concrete. I’ve interviewed farmers, CEOs, artists, researchers, and the odd politician. Some weeks I’ll be working on a magazine article (or two), website copy, and social media posts for several different clients. Every day is different.

Some projects may be less exciting than others, but the brain-numbing ones won’t last forever and a great story may be just around the corner.

The flexibility.
I started a full-time communications job the day after I graduated from J-school. I was also a regular contributor to several different local publications – which have all since folded or eliminated their freelance budgets.

Once my son was born I made the decision to leave the 9-to-5. At the time, it didn’t make sense to return to work just to pay for day care.

I’ve been extremely fortunate that my freelance income never had to pay the bills. But it always provided me with my own money and a connection to the outside world.

I’ve worked early in the morning and late at night. I’ve brought my laptop to the hockey rink and to the beach. I’ve done interviews from my car (parked, of course!) Last summer was the first time I closed my office for an official vacation. No one fired me – and I’m doing it again this year.

The ability to set my own hours and control my work load is one of the big advantages of working freelance. I wouldn’t trade this flexibility for the world.

The opportunity to learn.
Writing a wide variety of copy for so many different clients means that I now know a little about a lot of different things. This career path definitely takes an open mind and a willingness to learn!

I’ve also learned a lot about the art of writing over the past 15 years.

When I went to school, I studied journalism. It was a great foundation. I was taught how to research, interview, fact-check, and tell stories. But it quickly became clear that freelance journalism was not where the better-paying jobs were at.

So, I learned about PR, corporate communications and copywriting. I read books, attended seminars, and took online courses. And guess what? I discovered that I enjoy this type of writing too. And people seemed to enjoy working with me.

Today, I’m still learning. I’m currently enrolled in two online courses and I’m sure I’ll take many more. As the world of corporate communications and journalism evolves, I want my skills to keep up. And besides, it’s fun.

So  from this grateful freelance writer to you – Happy Valentine’s Day! What do you love about your job?

Nicole Laidler is the owner of Spilled Ink Writing & Wordsmithing. She’s passionate about helping people tell their stories, build their brands, and grow their success one word at a time. Visit her website to see what she’s been writing lately! 

 

2019 Word of the Year

I’ve read that 80% of New Year’s resolutions are broken by February. That’s one reason I decided to replace the annual to-do (or not-to-do) list with a single word.

My word for 2019?

INTENTION.

Here’s why:

Last year I said ‘yes’ to nearly every opportunity that came my way. I met a lot of new people, did a lot of new things, and had a lot of fun. But sometimes I found myself pulled in directions that drained my energy and left me feeling overwhelmed and frazzled.

The reality is, there are only so many hours in the day. I want to spend my time focussed on the people and things that really count.

So this year I’ve decided to be more intentional about what I take on.

My word for 2019…..

I hope I’ll still have the opportunity to say ‘yes’ to plenty of new experiences. But before I commit, I’ll try to ask myself the following questions:

  • Will this opportunity or experience move my life in the direction I want to go?
  • Does it align with my values?
  • Is it going to bring me joy?
  • And finally – What’s the time commitment?

It’s about being mindful of the life I hope to create, and the people I invite into my world. I’ll check back in 12 months to tell you how it goes!

What’s your intention for 2019?

Nicole Laidler is a story-based copywriter, content consultant and freelance journalist who loves to help people grow their success one word at a time. To see what she’s been writing lately, visit her at www.spilledink.ca

The top 3 of 2018

If you follow my blog, you may recall that 2018 was my “Year of Momentum.” And the last 12 months have indeed been a time of tremendous change.

I’m officially a free woman, successfully organized a meaningful and joy-filled bar mitzvah for my son, and shifted my mindset from being a mom-who-also-writes to being a mom-who-also-runs-her-own-business.

I have an accountant, a CMS, and an HST number. I’ve grown the copywriting side of my business and discovered that I actually enjoy writing website copy and (ghost) blogs. And while this shift means I have fewer bi-lines to share, it was still a challenge to narrow down my top-three favourite stories of 2018.

Here they are, in no particular order:

William Older
I actually got to write two stories about William Older for London Inc. magazine in 2018, and I’m sure I could write a dozen more. Originally from England, he purchased London’s long-neglected Lilley’s Corners in June 2017 with a plan to reinvigorate the entire block.

William Older - Photo London Inc Magazine

William Older at Lilley’s Corners. Photo: London Inc. 

I drive past this corner several times a week on the way to the hockey rink. At some point I noticed the sidewalks were being kept clean. Then the exterior was painted. I decided to do some digging, which led to this story about Older’s vision for an arts and small business incubator.

I watched the space develop over the summer, and by the fall I was able to write a follow-up, which you can read here.

As a long-time Londoner, it’s inspiring to meet someone like Older. He may not be one of the “big boys” in the local development community, but he’s been able to bring about a big change in a neighbourhood that’s been ignored for too long. I’m looking forward to seeing what he will do next!

The Old Stone House
This is another story about part of our local history. In this case the subject was an old stone house built by two brothers who emigrated to Lucan-Biddulph in the mid-1800s.

Old Stone House

If these stones could talk! 

An assignment for Our Homes London & Middlesex magazine, it’s not hard journalism. But it was fascinating to peek behind the doors of an original Ontario farmhouse and to see how its current owners – descendants of the builder – managed to bring the space into the 21st-century while respecting the past.

You can read about the transformation of the old stone house here.

Rick Gleed – Back to School
I first met Rick Gleed almost 20 years ago. He’s one of the most successful commercial real estate brokers in the region. So when he decided to go back to school for an EMBA at the age of 64 I thought: “That might be a fun story for the Ivey alumni magazine.”

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Rick Gleed. Photo: Ivey Intouch magazine

The editor agreed and I had the pleasure of interviewing Rick about his decision to step back into the classroom after 47 years.

Intrigued? You can read my story here.

A theme emerges
Now that I’m writing this blog, I notice a common link between my top-three of 2018. They are all about individuals with incredible vision, courage, and dedication.

And speaking of vision, I recently wrote my business plan for 2019. One of my goals is to blog on a monthly basis. I guess we’ll see how that goes!

For now, I wish you all hope, peace, and joy  – whatever you celebrate.

 

Saying ‘yes’ to women supporting women.

A while back I was invited to be part of a November 1 fashion show in support of Kellee Student Education Foundation Africa (KSEFA) – a volunteer organization that offers educational support for women in South Sudan and Nairobi, Kenya.

FAshion Forward

I’ll be walking the catwalk for this SOLD OUT fashion fundraiser.

As part of my commitment to say ‘yes’ to opportunities that come my way, I agreed. But being a journalist, I wanted to learn more about KSEFA and the women it supports.

Turns out, the organization has ties to my home town thanks to a friendship that developed between Kellee Jacobs and KSEFA founder Lino Madut Angok. Kellee is the daughter of London-based image and style consultant, Sue Jacobs.

Kellee and Madut

Lino Madut Angok and Kellee Jacobs.

Kellee is currently living in Nairobi where she works as a monitoring and evaluation specialist for the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM). We recently connected by email so I could learn more about how our evening of style will help women half-way around the world.

KSEFA doesn’t have a website. Can you tell me a bit about the initiative?
KSEFA was founded in Nairobi in 2010, but began operations under Lino  in 2012. The program supports the education of women aged 24-40 from South Sudan who may not have had access to learning. It also offers technical training, including sewing and tailoring. There are also elements of peace programming, a focus on women and youth, and counseling and coaching of what is sometimes a traumatized group.

KSEFA is registered as a non-government organization in South Sudan and is awaiting registration in Kenya. The cost of registration in Kenya is quite high, so any available funds have previously been prioritized for actual educational programming. With funds coming in soon, Lino hopes to be able to continue classes and pay the registration and legal fees for the formalization of KSEFA in Kenya.

How did you meet Lino?
Lino was a student at Sud Academy in Nairobi, a school originally for South Sudanese refugees who cannot afford school fees in the Kenyan school system. I met him there in 2008 when he was in the equivalent of Grade 11. We spent three years working together at the school to develop small, high-impact projects like building a science lab, creating a sustainable water access and purification system, and a scholarship program that allows students in Grade 12 to join a neighbouring school for their final year so they can graduate with diplomas.

How will the November 1 fundraiser help support KSEFA? 
All of the funds raised in London will support two learning locations helping South Sudanese migrants and refuges living in Nairobi, Kenya

With the funds raised, Lino would like to be able to provide small incentives to volunteer teachers at each location, as well as pay some small fees to the churches where classes take place. He will also purchase school supplies like chalk, pencils and books to be shared by the students.

Tell me a bit about the women who are supported by KSEFA.
Many have come to Nairobi from the refugee camps in northern Kenya. Others have come directly from South Sudan, displaced by the last 5 years of war and economic collapse in their country.

These women are interested in learning to help support themselves day-to-day in a fast paced urban environment – at the supermarket, with documents they are required to understand, on immigration and legal issues. They need to have a basic understanding of literacy, English, numbers, math, and their rights. This school is not a formal education centre that teaches the full Kenyan curriculum, but rather a stop-gap that provides otherwise unavailable opportunities to give people the knowledge they need in order to survive.

Lino teaching

KSEFA teaches literacy and math skills to help women in their day-to-day lives.

Of course, I’m not the only local entrepreneur involved in this fashion fundraiser. In fact, I’m honoured to be in the company of such an amazing group of sponsors and participants:

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Check out these incredible sponsors! 

We all owe Sue Jacobs and Allison Stephens a huge THANK YOU for being the driving force behind this amazing opportunity! Keep an eye on my Facebook page for photos….coming soon!