Always thought there were 26 letters in the alphabet? There didn't use to be.
As freelancers, I reckon we’ve all experienced a lull in our workload at some point. But how do you utilise this downtime to benefit your business?
Sure, you need to catch up on your invoicing and other bookkeeping related duties; chase down leads; follow up quotes; answer queries and, in general, do the sort of things you need to do every day as a part of running your business.
But what happens after that?
Even though it’s tempting, you can’t go fishing, play golf or simply make a cup of tea and relax while waiting for the phone to ring or your email to chime.
Yes, there are various (and often expensive) promotional avenues you can explore to boost your business’s awareness, but again, the question remains.
Even though it doesn’t make you money, there are strategies you can employ to help your freelance business become more top of mind, not only for existing clients but also for potential new ones.
Here are 12 things you can do with your downtime that may prove to be a big winner for your business further down the track.
1. Visit a mentor
If you haven’t got one, you should think seriously about seeking out someone (even a couple of people) you admire and respect. It doesn’t necessarily need to be someone in the same line of business as you, just someone who has considerable experience in the same or like-minded industry. Use them as a sounding board for new ideas and seek their counsel for issues related to your business.
2. Or become one yourself
Ever thought about passing on your knowledge to someone just starting out? Graduates especially are often looking for someone other than their teachers/lecturers and other students to bounce ideas off. I’ve been a mentor to a couple of students and can tell you that it’s quite a rewarding experience.
3. Catch up on your professional reading
There always seems to be someone in your industry talking about new ideas, technology, techniques, industry developments and even case studies. However, trying to find the time to read them all proves to be just about impossible. I've found the easiest thing to do is to create a folder on my desktop and drag a URL or article into the folder when you I something interesting. If I haven’t got the time to read it then and there, I can always catch up when I’ve got a spare moment.
4. Write an article
Like this one. It’s not hard to write about something you know and for which you have a passion. But don’t restrict your writing to just your industry. If you have an interest outside your profession, consider penning an article and posting it to any relevant websites. You’ll need to seek their permission first, but you’ll be amazed at how grateful they’ll be — especially if it’s topical and professionally written. And who knows, it might just lead to other writing projects.
5. Update your professional networking pages
(FB, LinkedIn, Google+)
This is a no brainer. If you’re active on social media or rely on your profile as a selling tool, update it regularly with your latest projects, case studies, awards, accolades and even testimonials if you have them.
6. The same goes for your website
Especially if you rely on your website as a major source of lead generation. Keep it fresh, update it regularly, and create new content as often as you can. Don't forget to do an email shout out to your regular and potential clients to let them know about any changes. A bonus here is that if you’re active on your site, Google will reward you by shifting you up the rankings.
7. And your folio
Ditto your folio if you have one. Make sure your work is current and try to weed out the older entries. Remember, potential clients (and agencies) are always on the lookout for fresh talent.
8. Visit or call a client
Touching base with your clients should be part of your everyday business regimen. It doesn’t take a lot of time out of your day, and you’ll be amazed at how delighted your client will be that you’ve taken an interest in their business. Some of the things you can ask include:
- How’s their business is going?
- What’s their competition doing?
- What can you do to help them out?
Another consideration might be to:
- Create a speculative campaign based something topical; on their business, or something you’ve seen or heard relating to their company/industry
- Offer to write an article/blog to post on their website
9. Contact people/companies you haven’t had the chance to previously
A quick email or phone call is all it takes to introduce yourself and your services. Do a bit of research on the company beforehand to make sure you make contact with the right person. Be sure to offer them a way in which they can find out more about you. Ultimately, this would be via a face-to-face meeting, but you can also point them to your website or even your profile on LinkedIn for more information.
10. Offer your services pro-bono
Give a bit back by offering your services pro-bono to non-profit industry associations or committees. However, don’t be tempted to do this for existing or potential new clients as this will set a precedent, and you’ll find yourself in an awkward situation if they continue to ask you to work for free.
Another avenue is to volunteer your time to a charity entirely unrelated to what you do for a living. For me, it’s spending a few hours a week in the Meals on Wheels kitchen but look around for any charity group that might be looking for volunteers. I've picked up a couple of projects through volunteer work.
11. Take a course related to your service offering
When it comes to what you do for a living, you can never know too much. There are all sorts of courses, seminars, webinars and even conferences designed to improve your business. The hard part is finding an offering that suits and is relevant to your business. Additionally, like me you may find yourself constantly bombarded by companies offering new ideas, software and technologies, so make the most of any downtime by using it as an opportunity to learn and boost your skill levels.
12. Join or even start a professional networking group
A professional networking group can be a fantastic source for finding new business. The group puts you in contact with other businesses who then refer your services to their client and suppliers. You’re expected to reciprocate, so this arrangement means everyone wins.
It’s time to get proactive
Because I’m a writer, the above is aimed at those who work in a writing capacity and any related industry. But it doesn’t matter what you do as a freelancer, the same principles apply.
Make use of your downtime by having a think about what you can do to better your business. There must dozens, but if you think of (and have successfully used) any strategies I haven’t covered above, please let me know.
In the meantime, I’m off to update my LinkedIn page, visit my mentor and call a client or two.
About the author
Steve Williss is a freelance copywriter who has worked in the advertising industry for more than 30 years. He is currently owner and go-to guy at WriteMind — a writing, communications, and ideas business based in Adelaide, South Australia.
You know how it is. Your business is relatively new or just getting off the ground, and there are a thousand things that need doing.
Unfortunately, the little stuff somehow tends to overshadow important aspects of your business that are essential in ensuring its initial and on-going success.
One of the main things you’ll need to think about sooner rather than later is how to market your product or service.
Now, unless you've got tons of money, hiring an advertising agency is an expense that a lot of businesses, especially small businesses, can’t justify in their early stages.
However, not being able to afford an advertising agency doesn’t mean you can’t access creative individuals who have worked in agencies and are now freelance.
In fact, there is a wealth of freelancers out there — many of them award-winning — you can access to help promote your business.
And not just copywriters. Brilliant talent abounds in art directors, designers, web builders, social media specialists, photographers, illustrators, videographers, marketers and much more.
But from an advertising and marketing perspective, a copywriter is an inspired choice to ensure your business gets off to a good start.
Here’s just a sample of how you can benefit from using a freelance copywriter.
- We can help you to establish a voice for your brand.
- We can provide a consistent tone across all your communications channels.
- We (well most of us) are experienced in writing material for all types of media— broadcast, print, outdoor, transport, digital, online, ambient, experiential and social.
- We have the contacts you need for producing any of the above.
- If you have a website, we can keep it up-to-date and keep it relevant by creating fresh content.
- We can help with CRM programs by creating direct mail, eDMs, email alerts, SMS and social media updates.
- We understand how to write for different markets like consumer, trade and B2B.
- We also know how to write to a particular target audience.
- Most of us are pretty good wordsmiths and can proofread and edit new business documents or proposals.
- Sometimes what you perceive is important to your customers, may not be important at all. In fact, they may be more concerned with another aspect of your business to which you pay very little attention. A copywriter is an excellent option for having a pair of unbiased eyes and providing a fresh perspective on your business.
- We are obsessed with tone, copy structure, readability, grammar and spelling. We like nothing more than crafting what we write. If you’re not as disciplined as we are, it might pay to bring in a copywriter.
Let’s face it, any form of communication riddled with spelling and grammatical errors is doing you and your business no favours whatsoever.
So here’s the most important take out of all this.
By using a copywriter to create effective, well-written and creative marketing and communication material, it gives you one less thing to worry about. Significantly, it allows you to concentrate on doing what you do best — running your business.
For some time now I've asked myself if the title of copywriter suits the kind of work I do.
I wasn't always a copywriter. I've worked in advertising agencies most of my working life as a studio manager, typographer, and art director. The latter for more than 20 years.
Now I have my own business as a freelance copywriter. But so much has changed in the advertising/marketing/communications industry in such a short space of time, that I'm beginning to wonder if calling myself a 'copywriter' justifies what I actually do.
What's spurned this post is a couple of things I've read of late.
One was fellow scribe and CD Jason Hollamby's excellent post for the upcoming Adschool copywriter course (SA only) where he beautifully describes the three kinds of copywriters. It's a brilliant read and one I'm sure every copywriter can associate with. Take a look here and figure out if you fall into one of the three categories. And if you're an upcoming young writer living in South Australia, I urge you to consider taking part in this course.
The other was an article about a fantastic campaign by the Direct Marketing Association in the UK addressing the relevance of copywriters today. www.dma.org.uk/greatbritishcopywriting
If you're a copywriter, there are two things that you should take a look at.
Firstly, there is a video called 'Madmen vs Mavens' which canvasses the opinions of respected and experienced copywriters who have been in the industry a while, versus the younger, (relatively) new players who are starting out and experiencing an advertising industry vastly different to that of their older peers.
The other is an excellent little (online) book called 'Why your copywriter looks sad' which graphically displays the results of a recent census of 430 British copywriters. It also showcases the grievances of these copywriters (young and old) and how so much of the craft of copywriting has completely disappeared. And it talks about how the scope of what we as copywriters are expected to do has changed so dramatically over the course of a generation, that you may wonder if the term 'copywriter' is actually relevant anymore. It’s beautifully designed, a great little read and will definitely leave you thinking.
I can certainy relate with a lot of what the Brits are experiencing.
Tweets, blogs, posts, SMS and online content are dominating our reading space, while sadly, the art of creating and crafting a beautiful piece of long copy for a full page press or magazine ad has gone the way of the dinosaur.
But that's the reality of what's happening in our industry today.
As a freelancer, I find myself having to do way more that just create concepts, or headlines and copy for a press ad, or a script for a TV or radio spot. There is so much of the written word outside of what I was used to as an in-house advertising practitioner.
Fortunately, I've been able to adapt how I write which is absolutely crucial if you want to make a good living as a freelancer.
So, all this has got me thinking about whether I can, or should, refer to myself as a plain old 'copywriter.' Should I, in fact, be calling myself something that covers the scope of work that I do for both my direct clients and the agencies I work for? Something catchy without sounding like a complete tosser?
A quick search online reveals I'm not the only one facing this dilemma. There are some rather interesting and creative alternatives to the title of 'copywriter' including Copy Director, Creative Writer, Wordsmith, Word Guru, Creative Thinker, Idea Starter, Advertising Creative, Copy Creative, Written Communicator, Copiest, Copy Doctor, Word Fiend, Text Wrangler, Sentence Specialist etc etc. A colleague once referred to himself as an Idea Merchant which I thought was rather good.
I had briefly considered changing my title to the relatively simple 'Communicator.'
However, changing how I refer to myself, poses a couple of problems. If someone is looking for a copywriter in an online search, I won’t be found. And, in calling myself something other than a 'copywriter,' it might lead people to think I'm not the right person for what they want.
Let's face it, the term ‘copywriter’ when broken down, is readily understood as someone who writes copy. That can be copy for any discipline; from tweets, blogs, posts, content, emails SMS and other social media, to press, print and broadcast media. Not to mention the plethora of other writing diciplines.
So from my perspective, I think referring to myself as a 'copywriter' is a safe bet at the moment. And while I’m happy to write for any kind of media, I’ll keep hanging in there in the vain hope that long copy becomes fashionable again.
About the author
Steve Williss has been a Studio Artist, Studio Manager, Typographer and Art Director before taking up the call to pen the copy he has crafted so often over the years. He is currently owner and go-to guy at WriteMind — a writing, communications, and ideas business based in Adelaide, South Australia.
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