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Top tips for a stress free writing career

Interested in becoming a writer yourself? Here are my top tips for a stress free career.

•Value your skills/experience and avoid accepting ridiculously low pay even when you don’t have much experience. It’s hard to put your prices up once you’ve set a low rate.

•Don’t take on too much at the start. Be realistic. You’ll soon know how much work you can cope with.

•Try to work with people who respect you and don’t let anyone mess you around, as that can be really stressful. I’ve learned this the hard way!

•If it’s possible, try to do your work in a room that you can close the door on, as this will help you to switch off and relax properly when you stop!

•I’ve found quite a few writing gigs on job sites like Indeed, so it’s always worth a look, as remote jobs appear daily. This is where I saw the advert for my first copywriting gig, which led to working with some big brands.

Visit the ProCopywriters website for average copywriting rates and lots of tips from super experienced writers. If you sign up, you’ll be able to list your services in their directory.

• Use Google to find a few local digital agencies and visit their careers pages to find out if they outsource any work. Many agencies accept samples from freelancers.

•Networking with other freelancers is a great way to learn and pick up work, so I’m a member of Freelance Heroes which is a fantastic community on Facebook. I would definitely recommend joining groups like this, as you can ask for advice, share your blog posts and find writing gigs. Make sure you connect with other writers/editors on LinkedIn too.

•Make time to relax properly. Switch off the computer at the end of the day and always take a lunch break. I always allow myself ten minutes to check Facebook and twitter at the start and end of the day, as I can then resist looking when I’m struggling to write!

Do you have any extra tips? Feel free to share them!

How writing helped me to live with fibromyalgia

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It hit me out of nowhere. I was out shopping when I suddenly experienced shooting pains in both legs, then the pain spread to my arms and I began to feel weak. By the end of the day, I could hardly walk to the end of the garden path.

While my fibromyalgia began with chronic fatigue, after a few weeks the pain intensified and it felt like my skull was on fire. I was able to walk more in the house but I couldn’t sleep, so with my doctor’s help, I managed to find a combination of really strong painkillers that made things more bearable.

I couldn’t wear shoes much, as every step on the hard floor hurt my head. This made going out virtually impossible. We even had to change the car, as I felt every bump. And I had to stop teaching English for my local adult education service. This was a real blow, as I was feeling really excited about developing my career, although looking back it was quite stressful.

I was also keen to start a family, but having been told that there’s no cure for fibromyalgia, I assumed that I wouldn’t cope. However, a few months after I left work, my sister bumped into a lovely lady who was mum to a little boy despite having fibromyalgia.  She invited me over to her house and convinced me that I could manage to be a parent despite my illness, so a year later my daughter was born!

Having my little one was incredibly motivating and I began to think about whether I might be able to get back to work once she was at school. I’d always enjoyed writing, so I began to scribble down a few ideas for articles during nap times. To my surprise, three of my articles were quickly accepted by various magazines.

Realising that I had discovered my real passion, I kept an eye out for opportunities and found a regular gig writing remotely for a parenting website. Then I spotted an advert posted by a digital agency that was looking for freelance writers. I wrote a sample piece (which they paid me for!) and they phoned me up to invite me on board. I haven’t stopped writing since!

I love being able to work from home, as it allows me plenty of flexibility. If I’m having a good day I’ll write from nine until five, so that I can afford to rest if I need to. I also feel incredibly relaxed, as there are no office politics to worry about and I don’t have to worry about trying to attend work socials. It’s been 15 years since I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and I am feeling much better now, thanks to a combination of medication and a less stressful work life. I try to take every day as it comes.

What obstacles have you overcome to get to where you are? I’d love to hear your stories!

When Judi Dench sent me a letter

When I was 13 I wrote a letter to Judi Dench, asking for tips on becoming an actress. I addressed the letter to the National Theatre in London and posted it off. About a week later I received a lovely reply that had been written and signed by Judi herself.

Judi’s reply gave me the push I needed to overcome my shyness and join a local youth theatre. My confidence soared and while I was a member of the group, we won a national competition that involved performing at the National Theatre. At the after party, guess who I bumped into?

I didn’t become an actress in the end, but I still have Judi Dench’s letter (pictured below). It’s one of my treasured possessions, as it reminds me of the enormous surge in confidence I experienced when a famous actress took the time to write back to me.

 

Judi Dench letter

Five ways to kick-start your working day

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If your morning routine involves stumbling out of bed and grabbing breakfast on the go, it’s time to make some changes. Fear not! We’ve come up with five simple suggestions to help you adopt a morning routine that’ll leave you feeling fresh faced and full of energy.

1.Sleep well the night before

A recent study by the University of Hertfordshire showed that 91% of 18-24 year olds in Britain are sleep deprived. Why does this matter? Because getting less than 7 hours sleep a night is associated with a higher risk of health problems including weight gain, diabetes and heart attacks.

Even if you are sleeping for the recommended 7-9 hours, you still need to ensure that you’re getting plenty of high quality sleep. The deep stages, known as slow wave or delta sleep, are responsible for repairing the body, generating tissue and building bone and muscle. It’s hardly surprising that a Sleep Council report recently stated: “sleeping well is as crucial to our health and wellbeing as eating a healthy diet or exercising regularly.”

So how do you guarantee a good night’s sleep? To begin with, avoid blue screens for a couple of hours before bedtime. The University of Hertfordshire’s study revealed that 78% of people are exposed to disruptive blue light from computers and smartphones before going to bed. Unfortunately, just 2 hours of using a blue light emitting device causes your melatonin levels to drop significantly, boosting your alertness.

Snacking on a banana is another way to induce sleepiness, as they’re rich in carbohydrates, which can help to relax your body and brain. Alternatively, make yourself a warm milky drink, then retire to bed and allow yourself to doze off while you read.

  1. Become an early bird

Allowing plenty of time to get ready in the morning prevents any last minute stress. You might even have enough time to enjoy an extra cuppa when you arrive at work! However, waking up doesn’t come easily to everyone.

Are you a night owl? Then you can improve the experience of early rising by opening the curtains as soon as you’re awake. Letting the daylight in tells your body it’s time to wake up by reducing melatonin, the hormone responsible for sleepiness. While you’re basking in natural light, drink a glass of water, as this re-hydrates your body, making you feel even more alert.

If you really struggle with getting up early, try laying out your clothes, making lunch and even preparing breakfast the night before.

  1. Boost your energy with breakfast

A balanced breakfast should be nutritious and release energy slowly, to keep you going until lunchtime. Why not start your day with a healthy bowl of porridge, some muesli with yoghurt, or an omelette? If you’re really not a morning person, check out this recipe for overnight oats. Simply mix some oats in apple juice or natural yoghurt, leave the mixture in the fridge overnight and stir in a handful of chopped or dried fruit when you wake. Time saving and delicious!

If you have a little extra time, eating protein packed beans, eggs or even fish for breakfast will give you a great start to the day, as protein contains amino acids. These help your brain to perform at its peak and release energy slowly.

Not hungry first thing? Then opt for a breakfast smoothie. Pop some oats and protein powder into your blender the night before, then in the morning add your fruit and whatever liquid you fancy.

  1. Get your heart rate going

Exercising first thing gets your metabolism going for the day and helps you to feel clear minded. It also means you have plenty of free evenings to enjoy.

Whether it’s running, swimming, dancing or working out at the gym, choose a form of exercise you really enjoy. Laying out your workout clothes the night before makes it easier to stick to your plans.

If you find getting to the gym or pool tricky, there are plenty of good workout videos available on YouTube. Love pop music? Then try Casey Ho’s Pop Pilates sessions. They’re just 10-15 minutes long but intense enough to really get those muscles working. If you’re looking to increase your strength and flexibility, Yoga with Adrienne could be the channel for you. Cardio more your focus? Check out Saskia’s energetic dance workouts.

  1. De-clutter your desk.

Clearing your work space of clutter clears your mind ready for the day ahead. Start by getting rid of any rubbish, paperwork or stationery you no longer need. Then, if your desk has drawers, use them to store essentials like pens, staplers, hole punchers and scissors. If you don’t have access to any drawers, consider adding an organiser tray to your desk instead.

If you need easy access to particular pieces of paperwork, clipboards and cork notice boards are great temporary storage solutions. However, to avoid cork board congestion, make sure you file away that paperwork as soon as it’s no longer needed!

Once everything has its place, it’s time to adjust your chair, move your mobile out of view and log out of social media. You’re good to go.

Take our tips on board and you’ll boost your chances of having an enjoyable and productive day at work. So why not start as you mean to go on?

Do I need a USP?

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If you want your business to stand out in a crowded marketplace, knowing its Unique Selling Point can get you off to a great start. But it takes time to come up with a USP that encapsulates your core values and the benefits that are important to your target customer.

Read on to discover how to identify your USP and why it’s worth the effort.

Who is my customer?

Building a basic profile of your target customer is a good way to begin. How old are they? How much do they earn and what do they spend their money on? When you’ve done this, move beyond the basics and look at their values and the benefits that influence their buying habits.

People generally love giving their opinion, so surveys and questionnaires are a great way to gather the information you need. You could even arrange a few face to face focus groups.

By researching your target customers thoroughly, you’ll discover that people don’t always prioritise low cost products and services. They’re just as likely to value ethically sourced quality products, reliability and superb customer support. For example, Domino’s Pizza’s famous USP is based on their delivery promise: “Fresh hot pizza delivered to your door in 30 minutes or less… or it’s free.”

 Get to know the competition

The next step is to find out whether your competitors already offer any of the benefits your target customers want. Visit their websites, read customer reviews, devour their marketing material and follow them on social media to find out what they offer. You could even indulge in a spot of mystery shopping!

Finding out what’s already on offer should reveal gaps in the market that are waiting to be filled by a business like yours. You’ll need to keep a record of these.

Decide on your USP

It’s time to claim your share of the market. Referring to the list of benefits your competitors don’t provide, decide which of the remaining benefits are at the core of your business. One of these will become your USP.

Before you go any further, get those creative juices flowing and distil each benefit you’ve chosen into a short, memorable tag line. Try to come up with snappy phrases that capture your business’s personality and roll off the tongue.

The final step? Test your potential USP tag lines on family, friends and target customers. Their feedback should help you to choose a worthy winner.

Put it to good use

Once you’ve selected your USP, use it to market your products or services. This means including it in your social media marketing, your website content, your blog posts and any other promotional material.

Identifying your business’s Unique Selling Point will help you to pinpoint the benefits that set your business apart from its competitors. If you’ve done your research, customers should respond with enthusiasm.

 

Five top tips for effective home working

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Whether you’ve spent the day in pyjamas or wasted an afternoon watching trashy TV, temptation is hard to resist when you work from home.

Finding it hard to focus? Don’t despair, as it’s perfectly possible to make home working a success if you follow these five handy tips.

Create a dedicated space

Separating work from family life is the key to effective home working. A desk in a spare room or study is ideal, as you’ll find it easier to switch off if you can close the door at the end of the day. Alternatively, if space is tight, try setting aside a corner of your bedroom or living room.

Having a dedicated work space also tells family members and friends that you are actually working and that they need to leave you in peace. Avoid working on the sofa or at the kitchen table at all costs, as you’ll be constantly interrupted.

Structure your day

It’s very easy to become distracted when you’re working from home, but sticking to a familiar structure will help you to focus. I try to stick with set hours, so that my clients know when to contact me and my family and friends know when I’m free to socialise.

Worried about a tight deadline? While it’s tempting to just keep on working until you’ve finished the task, doing this regularly will have an impact on your physical and mental health. Instead of risking burnout, I recommend punctuating your day with regular breaks, as these will keep you motivated and help you to produce better quality work.

If you find that you’ve finished a project and you’re waiting for feedback, resist the urge to turn on the TV and use the time to catch up with admin, update your portfolio or approach potential customers.

Banish distractions

Checking social media and emails every five minutes isn’t helpful when you’re working at home, so why not restrict yourself to checking them during your breaks? Seeing this as a reward can be motivating.

Turning off the radio and television could also help you to focus on your work, as a recent study found that clerical workers in a noisy room were less motivated to complete tasks and had elevated stress levels compared to those in a quiet room.

If you find that you’re too distracted by jobs that need doing at home, try spending the occasional morning working in a local coffee shop, library or co-working space. We guarantee that you’ll return to your desk feeling motivated and refreshed.

Eat well

While home working means that you don’t have to resist the constant round of staff room treats, you’ll still have easy access to another source of temptation; your fridge. To stay energized, stock up on healthy snacks like dried fruit, nuts, oat cakes and dark chocolate.

Whether you prefer sushi, salad or a sandwich, always make yourself a proper lunch, as this will help you to be more productive. Try to include some protein packed lean meat, eggs, beans or nuts and a serving of salad or veg.  Oily fish is also a great choice, as supplementing your diet with omega-3 fish oil could boost your concentration. If you need some lunchtime inspiration, check out the delicious recipes available at The Freelancer’s Cookbook.

If you’re keen to stave off hunger and prevent an afternoon slump, make sure that you stay hydrated. This means limiting the amount of tea and coffee you drink and opting for plain water, water with a slice of lemon in it or water sweetened with a little sugar free squash.

Get out and about

Working from home can get lonely even if you’re an introvert, so it’s worth getting out of the house for a change of scenery now and again. Joining a monthly networking group, having lunch with a friend or meeting a client for coffee could all help to combat any feelings of isolation.

Getting out is also good for your physical health, as sitting for long periods of time slows down your body’s ability to regulate blood sugar and blood pressure. However, recent research states that it’s possible to reduce the effect of sitting still if you exercise. So how about going for a brisk lunchtime walk or trying out an online yoga session?

Take these tips on board and I guarantee that working from home will become an enjoyable and productive experience. You’ll achieve more, feel healthier and be able to relax properly at the end of the working day.

What are your top tips for home working? I’d love to know!

 

 

 

 

Why blogging is so good for business

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Only 42 per cent of businesses and 38.9 per cent of small businesses write a blog, according to the Office of National Statistics. If your business is among this number, why not make 2018 the year when you take the plunge?

Here are five brilliant benefits of blogging as a business.

1. Share your expertise

Write blog posts that offer advice, inspiration, tips and solutions and customers will begin to see you as their go-to expert, visiting your blog and website repeatedly. Don’t let someone else become the authority on your specialist subject!

2. Power your social media

Your blog posts are a ready-made source of shareable social media posts, so always share your latest posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. As you build a social media following, you’ll find that your followers click through to your website in order to read your blog. Once they’ve devoured this, they’re likely to have a peek at your latest products too!

3. Create connections

Engaging with customers who have commented on your blog post or responded to it on social media, gives you the chance to receive valuable insights and feedback. If you reply in a polite, helpful way you’ll build customer loyalty that lasts. And of course, happy customers are perfectly positioned to recommend you to new ones!

As your blog grows, it’s worth creating connections with other influential bloggers relevant to your business. Invite them to write guest posts and ask them to review your best products. Online retailer dotcomgiftshop do this brilliantly, giving influential lifestyle bloggers the chance to review their products and share them with their fans.

4. Show some personality

Customers love finding out about the people who make their favourite products and what goes on behind the scenes, so don’t be afraid to have a bit of fun with your blog posts. You could tell your story, share successes, offer solutions to common problems and run competitions. Try to keep things light by adding a touch of humour.

It’s also worth spicing things up a little by varying the type of blog post you write. Reviews, listicles, case studies, infographics, videos and practical guides will all keep your customers visiting regularly. Don’t forget to include plenty of high-quality images too.

5. Be search engine friendly

Google loves keyword rich content that’s relevant and regularly updated, so getting into the habit of blogging can only be good for your page ranking.

Before you start work on each blog post, choose a relevant keyword/phrase and include it in your title, your headings (especially H1 and H2), your first and last sentences and your blog post URL. You should also include it in your meta description.

Ready to get going? Then why not kick things off by creating a content plan that will see you through your first couple of months? Write your first few posts before you begin blogging and you’ll have plenty of time to connect with customers and build your following. Good luck!