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 It’s been replaced by a Master of Media in Journalism & Communication , which is an interesting commentary on the blurring of the lines between actual journalism and PR.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! 

 

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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.”

intouch-rick-spring-2018

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.

 

Stepping away to move forward

A few months back, I delcared 2018 my year of momentum. And now that I’ve reached the half-way point I can definitely say that this year is indeed shaping up to be one of momentous change.

On the work front, I continue to write for many of the same clients who have kept me busy since 2004. I’ve also forged new connections that are stretching my writing skills and expanding my accumulation of random knowledge. I still love my job and feel grateful to work with such a wide range of interesting people who seem to genuinely appreciate my way with words.

Since January, I’ve had the opportunity to do two speaking engagements. And I just rented a desk in a funky co-working space where I plan to finally get to work on a book project that’s been percolating for the past few years.

BakersWall

A funky wall for a funky co-working space.

I’m now confident that I made the right decision to focus on growing my freelance business rather than trying to enter the traditional work world when my marriage fell apart almost two years ago.

On the personal front, I’ve experienced the love and support of family and friends – both old and new. I’ve had the pleasure of being able to open up my home and feel that I am starting to build a community of people who care.

I’ve also started to take better care of my physical, mental, and spiritual health. For me, that includes finally having the courage to take time away from the office.

As a life-long freelancer, not working can feel scary.

Unlike a salaried worker who can occasionally get away with daydreaming on the job, if I’m not producing, I’m not being paid. In the past, I’ve always brought projects along with me whether I was traveling overseas or just to the (former) family cottage. Over the last 14 years, there has rarely been a day that didn’t include some sort of research or writing.

That stopped this year, when I made a commitment to myself to take one week off in June, July and August.

Last month, I took advantage of a child-free week and flew to New York.

Me and Klimt

Me and Adele Bloch-Bauer, at Neue Galerie. (The original is upstairs – no photos allowed.)

I was joined by a friend and we spent five days exploring. We went gallery hopping – the Guggenheim, Neue Galerie, MoMA, Cooper Hewitt, New Museum , – stumbled upon a Damien Hirst exhibition in Chelsea, and I discovered my new favourite perfume which was kindly shipped back to Canada since the bottle was too large for hand luggage.

Beach

And then – the beach!

Last week, my son and I escaped to a rental cottage on the shores of Lake Huron.  I think I must be a beach bum at heart, because sun, sand, and time spent with friends who came up to visit felt like my first real vacation in ages.

So – what did I learn from my time off?

  • Clients (old and new) are willing to work around your vacation plans.
  • I still love traveling as much as I did in my 20s, and it’s something I want to do more of.
  • I can more-or-less navigate the NYC subway system.
  • Beach time is good for my soul.

Today I’m back at the keyboard with several projects on-the-go. I am not sure what adventure August will bring, but I feel refreshed and ready to embrace the second half of 2018.

How’s your summer shaping up?

Three women to watch on International Women’s Day

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a woman. I recently realized that the past 18 months is the longest stretch of time I’ve spent single since I was a teenager. I’m OK with that. In fact, I’m kind of enjoying (re)creating my own life on my own terms, even if it can get complicated with a 12-year-old in tow.

As a woman, I know how lucky I am. I live in Canada, where my rights are well-protected. I managed to dig myself out from a suffocating common-law relationship with my dignity and bank account relatively intact. I’m surrounded by friends who check in to make sure I’m OK, make me laugh, and hold me accountable. I’m well-educated and have a job that I love.

International Women's Day

International Women’s Day got me thinking about all the fantastic women I’ve interviewed this year….

So, in honour of International Women’s Day 2018, I’d like to celebrate three women who I had the privilege of interviewing over the past year. Each left their mark on me for different reasons.

Phuong Pham – Owner, Fantastic Nails & Spa
I owe Phuong Pham an apology. I mis-spelled her first name throughout my story, and my editor didn’t catch the slip. Although I’m sure she noticed it, Phuong didn’t point out my mistake – even though it’s a cardinal sin for a journalist. (It was a first for me, but something that I am sure happens to everyone eventually!)

That’s just the kind of warm-hearted woman behind Fantastic Nails & Spa, one of London’s most successful nail salons.

Puong Pham - Fantastic Nails and Spa

Puong Pham (l), believes that every business can make a difference in the community. (Photo: Facebook)

If you think Phuong is running a small business, think again. Without divulging any numbers, I can say that this well-run salon and spa is undoubtedly one of the most successful businesses I wrote about last year.

Phuong is also a Buddhist, and it was her attitude towards money that impressed me the most.

If you read my story, you’ll learn that she came from very humble beginnings and arrived in Canada as a refugee with no formal education. So it would be understandable if Phuong was driven to make money for money’s sake.

Instead, she is using her hard work and good fortune to help improve the lives of others.

In fact, Phuong didn’t want my story to focus on the success of her salon, but rather on how it has enabled her to support many charitable initiatives – both here in Canada and in her native Vietnam. She hoped it would inspire other independent business owners to consider the good they could do in the world.

Something to think about this month as women around the world #PressForProgress.

You can read my story about Puong Pham here.

Stephanie Ciccarelli – Founder & Chief Brand Officer, Voices.com
As a former classical musician, how could I not love interviewing Stephanie Ciccarelli? She graduated with a Bachelor of Musical Arts from Western University in 2006, where she studied voice.

Stephanie Ciccarelli

Stephanie Ciccarelli is a music grad turned entrepreneur. (Photo: Facebook)

Today, she and her husband run Voices.com – one of the world’s largest on-line marketplaces for voice-over talent. It’s a seriously big business, and only getting bigger.

I interviewed Stephanie about the launch of her new podcast, Sound Stories. Targeted towards the demand side of their business, Sound Stories features conversations with creative professionals speaking on a wide variety of topics. If you are in any kind of creative field, you should definitely check it out here.

Stephanie is also the mother of three young children. We did our interview at 7:30 in the morning at the Voices.com head office in downtown London. She had to catch a flight to New York and was already dressed for business with her carry-on packed and read to go. She’s another smart and ambitious woman who somehow juggles the demands of working with her husband, motherhood, and a big career, with grace, humour, and style.

You can read my story about Stephanie Ciccarelli’s Voices.com Sound Stories podcast here.

Jo-Ann Fisher – Founder, Hangar9
You wouldn’t think that women who call places like Toronto, Washington D.C. and New York City home would turn to a London, Ontario-based clothing boutique for fashion and styling advice. But that’s the kind of loyal clientele that Jo-Ann Fisher has built over 30 years at the helm of Hangar9.

Jo-Ann Fisher

Jo-Ann Fisher has been dressing women from Toronto to New York for more than 30 years. (Photo: Facebook)

While many independent retailers are crumbling under the weight of online shopping, Hangar9 is expanding, both in physical size and scope. What’s more, three out of Jo-Ann’s four daughters are actively involved in the company – and they’ll be taking over the reigns when Jo-Ann retires from the business side of her independent clothing store later this spring.

Jo-Ann doesn’t have a business degree, a diploma in fashion merchandising, or a family connection to the industry. She grew up on a farm and stumbled into the business through Mary Kay Cosmetics when she was approached to become a consultant at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto.

What she does have is a strong work ethic, an engaging personality, a keen eye for fashion, and a genuine desire to help her clients look and feel their best. Her nine grandchildren are blessed to have a granny with so much style, energy, and zest for life. They may even have a hard time keeping up with her!

She’s setting a great example for the next generation of women who dare to dream big and want to  succeed in life and business without compromising their vision and integrity.

You can read my cover story on Jo-Ann Fisher and the next chapter for Hangar9 here.

Happy International Women’s Day 2018 to all the fabulous women I know, and to the men who love and support them….and I wonder who I’ll be writing about next year?

Nicole Laidler is a freelance journalist, copywriter and word strategist based in London, Ontario. She loves helping people grow their success, one word at a time. See what else she’s been writing at spilledink.ca 

 

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.

social-1319756_960_720

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. 

My year of transformation

If there’s one word that sums up 2017 to date, it’s transformation.

Life as I knew it unraveled last November with the end of a 17-year relationship. By the end of 2016 I was settled into a new home and facing an unexpected future as a single mom. It felt a bit like jumping off a cliff – a mix of fear, exhilaration and the hope that I would eventually land in one piece.

cliff

I took a huge leap of faith….and jumped!

I decided to embrace the ride.

In March I attended a 3-day Business Mastery event, led by Colin Sprake of Make Your Mark. (Thank-you Sarah Clarke of Mompreneurs London for bringing Colin to London last year.)

The business and personal growth conference was exactly what I needed.

The event made me realize how much I love writing, and that I deserve to give myself the opportunity to continue helping others share their stories with the world.  Much to my own surprise, I signed up for MYM’s 12-month Business Mastery program, and have started to put some much-needed structure around my writing business.

It’s a work-in-progress and will be for a while, but I can already feel an internal shift as I grow from being a mom-who-writes into a female entrepreneur who provides a valuable service through her words.

You’ll see some of these changes already reflected on my website. Spilled Ink Writing & Wordsmithing now has a Vision and Mission Statement, and a clearly defined purpose.

Later that month, I also attended Joie Gharrity’s workshop on branding and marketing for women. (Thank-you Susan Jacobs for the nudge!) Gharrity flew in all the way from California to share her expertise and to encourage everyone in the room to “shine in our own spotlight.”

Joie Gharrity and Susan Jacobs

The amazing Susan Jacobs (l) brought Joie Gharrity (r) all the way to London to share her expertise.

I left with a new tribe of friends, some fantastic new ideas, and some new-found confidence about how I can better present myself to the world both in-person and on-line. It’s also a work-in-progress!

So here I am, one-third of the way into 2017. The sun is finally shining, and birds are building a nest on my new front porch. I still don’t know what the future will bring, but I’m doing my best to welcome change and enjoy the journey.

What word sums up your year so far?

Nicole Laidler is a story-based copywriter, marketing and website copywriter, content consultant and blogger based in London, Ontario. 

 

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.