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

5 tips on how to make working from home a success

A friend recently decided to streamline and simplify her professional life by relocating her business from a traditional storefront into the finished basement of her family home. Great move, I thought. She’s got a loyal clientèle, a strong social media presence to attract new customers, and an effective on line store.

She’s also got a partner and two young children, so the change makes sense for her family too.

I know a thing or two about running a home-based business and a household. Spilled Ink Writing & Wordsmithing has been based out of my home office since 2004.

Working for myself, and on my own, has given me a 10-second commute, autonomy, and the flexibility to walk my dog in the middle of a sunny day. But merging home and office can have its challenges, and definitely isn’t for everyone.

Skye

Being able to take this beauty on a mid-day walk is one of the many perks of working from home!

So here are five tips on how to make working from home a success.

Create a dedicated work space
I am fortunate to have a dedicated office. When my workday is done I close my office door – and it remains shut until I am ready to tackle the next day’s to-do list.

The biggest pitfall of running a home-based business is allowing your business to dominate your home. If you hope to achieve any sort of work-life balance it’s vital to create a space that separates the personal from the professional.

small home office

A home office doesn’t have to be large, but it does need to be a dedicated area separate from your personal living space.

Don’t work on the sofa. Don’t work in bed. Don’t work at the kitchen table. Even if you live in a bachelor apartment, set up a desk and chair and call it your office.

Don’t eat lunch at your office desk. Don’t watch Netflix on your office laptop. Your work space is for work. Your personal space is for family, friends, and relaxation.

(Still not convinced? Then ask your accountant about the benefits of claiming a home-office deduction on your tax returns.)

Create a work schedule
With your office only steps away, it’s easy to work at any time of the day and night. Having the flexibility to arrange your work schedule around your family schedule is great. Never taking time off work to spend with your family, not so much.

If you’re an entrepreneur, you’re busy. If you’re an entrepreneur and a parent, your schedule is probably in overdrive. If you’re an entrepreneur and parent with a home office, you may never sleep.

You need – and deserve – time off. Decide how much you want to work and when you want to do it, and then stick to your schedule.

Remember – if you answer client emails at 11 pm, that’s what they will come to expect. Unless it’s a real emergency your reply can wait until the morning. You’ll sleep better. They’ll probably email at a more reasonable hour the next time. If not, it’s time to find a new client.

Just do the work
With the kitchen just steps away from your office, it may be tempting to take a break and empty the dishwasher. Or fold the laundry. Or pick up your son’s dirty socks.

And with no boss looking over your shoulder, it’s easy to lose a morning to Facebook.

Doing dishes

Your dirty dishes can wait until your workday is finished….

If you don’t have the self-discipline to focus on your work without the threat of being fired, then having a home office may not be the best choice for you. Getting up from your desk for a quick break or having a proper lunch at your kitchen table (or out with friends) is fine – but losing your day to housework or social media is no way to grow a business.

Dress for success
Working from home means you can roll out of bed and hit your desk in your pajamas. Right?

Wrong.

You may not need to wear a button-down suit to work from home, but you should still dress in a manner that makes you look and feel like a professional.

Find your tribe
Working from home means you don’t have to face the creep in the next cubicle or deal with a narcissistic boss. But it also means you miss out on the camaraderie of a traditional work environment.

If you’re a social person, a home-based business may not be for you. The truth is, working from home can be lonely and isolating, and you may find yourself having long conversations with the family pet.

It’s important to make an effort to get out of your home-based office. And this means more than just going for coffee with your friends. You need professional colleagues who can offer advice and support. You need new customers, who won’t find you if they don’t know you exist.

Networking

Make time to get out and meet new people!

Set aside a few days each month to attend meaningful networking events, or join a professional organization.

There are also plenty of virtual groups on Facebook – and they can be a wonderful resource – but nothing beats meeting people face-to-face.

Maintaining social interactions is good for your mental health, will keep you motivated, and will help forge the connections you need to enjoy long-term  business success.

If you work from a home office, share your biggest challenges and helpful hints in the comments below! 

Nicole Laidler is passionate about helping people grow their business, one word at a time. She is a story-based copywriter, marketing & website copywriter, blogger, and content consultant based in London, Ontario, and the owner of Spilled Ink Writing & Wordsmithing. 

 

Take 5 with Kelsey Ramsden

This week started with a smashed cell phone, which put me behind the eight ball work wise. But I decided to honour my commitment to attend a breakfast meeting with Mompreneurs London on Thursday – and it was well worth the effort.

This month’s speaker was Canadian businesswoman Kelsey Ramsden.

Kelsey Ramsden

Canadian business maven Kelsey Ramsden was this month’s featured speaker.

This mother of three was named Canada’s Top Female Entrepreneur by Profit and Chatelaine magazines in 2012 & 2013. She has founded and run everything from a construction company to a monthly play subscription service, holds an MBA from the Ivey School of Business, and is an in-demand business coach and speaker. And that’s the extreme Coles Notes version of her resumé.

See why I went?

Instead of simply presenting a prepared talk, Kelsey took questions from the audience. She answered with a refreshing mix of candor, humour and no BS honesty.

My journalism ears pricked up. Instead of taking conventional notes, I began to jot down newsworthy quotes.

In no particular order, here are my top five takeaways from Kelsey Ramsden:

On the biggest lesson learned as a business woman:
“Check your ego”

On developing a marketing strategy: 
“Move the closest people closer to the line.”

On selecting an online marketing platform:
“Human interaction converts best.”

On launching a speaking career:
“Learning how to speak is a different skill set from having something to say.”

On time management:
“To find time, steal it from somewhere else. The world will not end if your laundry does not get done.”

Words of wisdom for the week ahead!

What is the best business advice you’ve ever received? 

Nicole Laidler is passionate about helping people achieve success by helping them share their stories with the world. See what she’s been up to at Spilled Ink Writing & Wordsmithing. 

The six numbers you need to know about social media

One of the things I love most about being a copywriter and content consultant is getting to work with fantastic people – like the team at Elm Hurst Inn & Spa and Idlewyld Inn & Spa.

We’ve worked hard over the years to boost the Inns’ social media profiles, with active accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram, in addition to a monthly blog.

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So much social media…so little time!

But I confess – it’s been a bit of a learn-as-you-go process! I’m not a big believer in growing an on-line audience through boosted posts, paid advertising, or ‘like and share’ contests. My philosophy has always been that it’s better to speak to a smaller group who are actually interested in what you have to say than to shout to a crowd who couldn’t care less.

So, I was delighted to hear London Social Media Coach Geoff Evans say practically the same thing at a recent seminar I attended with Elm Hurst front desk manager (and fellow social media administrator) Michael Willemsen.

I’m not going to share Geoff’s insights and tips to get your social media rocking, because that’s his job…but I will reveal six numbers he shared that you must know if you’re running a business with a social media profile.

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Knowing these numbers will help you stay on target with your social media.

15
When it comes to social media, Facebook still rules the roost. Canadian users spend an average of 15 hours a month reading, posting, and sharing their stories.

That compares to the 15 minutes a month most people spend on LinkedIn.

51 
If your business is in London Ontario, there are 51 million Facebook users within driving distance of your front door.

30
Facebook is getting middle-aged spread, with most users now aged between 30 and 49. If you’re going after the kids, you’ll find them on Instagram or Snapchat – until the next big thing launches.

65
Facebook is also going gray. The fastest growing demographic on Facebook is people aged 65 or older. Think retirees with lots of spare time, and grandparents wanting to stay in touch with family and friends.

20
Congratulations! You’ve got a lot of fans! But if you think they’re all tuned in to every post, think again. Thanks to the Facebook news feed algorithm, only 20% will actually see what you’ve got to share. (So don’t worry too much about repeating yourself.)

50
Most people on Facebook follow 50 pages. That’s a lot of posts, which is why Facebook does its best to edit your news feed based on previous interactions. Hence the rise of click-bait. But that’s a blog for another day.

What is your biggest social media challenge? 

Nicole Laidler is a story-based copywriter, marketing & website copywriter, content consultant and blogger based in London, Ontario. See what she’s been up to at Spilled Ink Writing & Wordsmithing. 

5 Networking Tips for Dummies (like me)

I’m not a big believer in making New Year’s resolutions. But this year, life threw me a curve ball. Let’s just say that I’ve been turfed from my comfort zone, and the time has come to set a few professional goals for the year ahead.

Getting out of my (home) office and building my professional network is at the top of my list. Since that’s a bit vague, my goal for 2017 is to attend one networking event or professional development session each month.

The only problem is, I’m a bit of an idiot when it comes to making the most of networking opportunities. Luckily, I know I’m an idiot. But back in September I attended a conference for women entrepreneurs where business coach Susan Regier spoke about just this topic.

susan-regier

Susan Regier is a successful marketing & business coach, content writer, and speaker. 

So as a reminder to myself, here are five tips that I took away from her presentation:

Set a Goal 
We all live busy lives. So be clear about what you want to get out of the event before you even set foot through the door. Do you want to meet a specific individual? Build professional knowledge? Or make a work connection? How will you introduce yourself? What will you ask others? The key, Susan says, is to be prepared.

Leave Your Friends at the Door
Susan points out that you’ll never meet new people if you spend the entire night chatting with your friends. Force yourself to walk the room and introduce yourself to someone new. This is your chance to expand your horizons – don’t waste it!

Find Common Ground
Networking events are not the place to make a sale. Rather, they are an opportunity to make a genuine connection with a stranger. Susan suggests looking for common ground by asking things like: Where did you grow up? What is your favourite travel destination? Do you play any sports?

Give Value
According to Susan, the best way to get value is to give value. That means being willing to help others without expecting anything in return.

Make a Great Second Impression
Everybody knows that first impressions count. But whatever happened to the follow up? If you make a connection with someone you’d like to build a relationship with, Susan says it’s crucial to reach out and make a second great impression.

Note to self: Work on your second impression! 

I’ll be attending my first professional development / networking event of 2017 later this week.

Wish me luck!

Nicole Laidler is an award-winning copywriter and feature writer and the owner of Spilled Ink Writing & Wordsmithing. When she’s not out on an interview or crafting copy she can usually be found walking her Newfoundland dog or trying to keep warm at her son’s hockey games. 

 

How to generate more news coverage for your upcoming arts event

As some of you may know, I have covered the London and area classical music scene for more than a decade, writing regular music columns for several different publications over the years: Scene, ArtScape, The Beat, and most recently Eat Drink.

And as my deadline approached this month, I once again found myself wanting to bang my head on my computer screen. Why? Because several sources were simply not responding to interview requests.

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I currently write The Classical Beat column for Eat Drink magazine.

As a freelance classical musician turned freelance writer, I’ve been on both sides of the divide. I know that artists live busy lives and often juggle multiple jobs just to make ends meet. I know that most arts organizations can’t afford to splash out on expensive advertising campaigns. And I’ve heard the complaints about the lack of news coverage given to local arts events.

I don’t want to paint everyone with the same brush. Some arts organizations are fantastic to work with. Others, not so much. This blog is directed towards those in the second category, as well as anyone looking to see your name – and news – in print.

Have a website, and keep it up to date
In 2016, there’s really no excuse not to have a decent website. Whether you’re an individual performer or a larger ensemble, it’s simply an investment that you can’t afford not to make.

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People won’t find you if you don’t have a website….

It’s equally important to keep the information current, and to ensure that it’s accurate. Don’t forget to include contact information. (And if your website uses a contact form, make sure it actually reaches an inbox that someone checks!)

Friendly tip: Websites like Eventbrite now make it easy for anybody to sell tickets online. If you’ve got an upcoming concert, why not set up an account and link it to your own site?

Make a media list, and keep it up to date
Pay attention to who is covering the arts in your area, and make a media list. Don’t rely on generic info@ email addresses – who knows where they go? Try to find contact information for the individual reporters.

Friendly tip: Most newspaper websites list individual contact information…you just have to find it. Try scrolling to the very, very, very bottom of the Home Page. That’s where they like to hide the link to the Contact Us page. When in doubt, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone to ask for a reporter’s contact information.

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Do some detective work to track down the emails of individual reporters.

Then, when you’ve got an upcoming event, let the media know. A formal news release is great, but a friendly email with some key information can also do the trick.

Give enough lead time and understand the news cycle
It’s the first week of October, and I just filed my November / December Classical Beat column. I’ll soon start working on a story that won’t be published until Spring 2017. That’s why it’s so important to get your information up on your website as soon as possible. I can’t cover your upcoming concert if my story was filed last week.

Having said that, most newspapers will only cover your event the day of, or if you’re lucky, the day before. Same goes for radio and television.

Respond to interview requests
There’s nothing worse than sending out interview requests and leaving phone messages that are never returned. (Other than finally hearing back two weeks after the story has been submitted.)

We’re all busy…but please respond quickly so we can find a mutually-convenient time to chat. If an email interview works better, just let me know and I’ll send my questions along. Please don’t make me chase you, or have to stalk you on Facebook….

Be prepared
Have the list of repertoire ready, as well as the names of any special guests. If you’ve got bios, send them along. High resolution photographs? Even better!

Take some time to think about what you’d like the public to know about your event. If you think you’ll be nervous during the interview, jot down some notes. If the reporter doesn’t ask about something important, just go ahead and tell them. And if you go blank and forget a crucial detail, send a follow-up email.

If you’re an artist, or part of an arts organization, what challenges do you face getting the word out? 

Nicole Laidler is a London, Ontario based freelance writer and copywriter and the owner of Spilled Ink Writing & Wordsmithing.