How To Go Freelance

Freelance advice, tips and ideas on how to be a successful freelancer

How to win new business pitches as a freelancer

How to win new business pitches

There are many ways to win new clients as a freelancer, but you’re more than likely to come up against a new business pitch process as one of them at some point in your freelance life.

You’re name is added to a shortlist of freelancers or small agencies that a client wants to see about a new project or campaign. Then you’ll be expected to respond to a specific brief and outline how you’d approach the client’s project.

This often ends in a presentation to the client, which in a competitive situation is a nerve-wracking experience.

It’s a big opportunity to win new clients, but the competitiveness of the pitches means you’ll need to put lots of time in to crafting the perfect pitch - with that time being unpaid of you lose the pitch process.

I’ve been on both sides of the table, giving the pitch and listening to agencies present to me. Here’s what I’ve learnt, as an agency consultant, as a freelancer and as a client, on how to win new business pitches.

Qualify the lead

Before you spend any time preparing for the pitch process, spend time looking through the client’s brief and researching their business to make sure that it’s a good fit for you as a freelancer.

Is the project rate too low for you? Do you have capacity to take on the project? Do you have the skills and knowledge to tackle the issues you face? Does your research raise any red flags or concerns about the client or from others who have worked for them?

If the project isn’t a fit or you don’t feel like you would want to work on the project, then better to cut it off at the start and politely decline taking part in the pitch process, and not ploughing time into the pitch and wasting the client’s time as well.

Win the pitch before you walk in the room

Personally, I prefer having won the pitch before I even have to give a presentation to a client.

How?

By being the only freelancer in the running for project.

If you’ve been a good freelancer and delivered high-quality work, on time and on budget, then the client should turn to you immediately as their trusted freelancer in that area, and not looking anywhere else.

Of course they may invite other freelancers or agencies to pitch to get a range of ideas and see what else is out there, but if you’ve delivered excellent work and offered outstanding consultancy, then you should minimise that happening.

When this happens, rather than handing the project out to tender, you’ll be the first – and only – freelancer on the list.

A lot of our new business come from existing client referrals to other parts of their business or new projects from their team. That means we don’t have to spend time researching the client and writing a large deck for the pitch.

We know the client. We know their business. We know how we can deliver value from the project.

If that’s the same for you and your existing clients are referring you new projects, then you’re doing something right.

If not, try to consistently deliver value to your client and work out how you can improve you’re offering to them.

See also: How to build long-term client relationships as a freelancer

The pitch is about them, not you

If you do have to pitch, make sure your pitch deck is about the client and how you’re going to help them, not all about your agency and the cool offices you work in.

The client wants to know how you’re going to tackle their brief and add value to their business. That means minimising the slides about yourself.

If you want, send across a credentials document ahead of the pitch outlining everything you want to get across about you as a freelancer and the case studies and examples of projects you’ve completed before.

Frame this as a way of your new business prospect getting to know you without wasting time in the pitch shows that you’re thinking about them and valuing their time already.

Then, when you walk in the room, they know who you are and what you’re about, so you can get straight down to talking about how you’re going to help them.

Listen, ask questions and build a relationship with the client

The new business pitch process is just the start of a new relationship between you and the client. After all, you’re going to work together for what might be a long time, so you need to make sure you have a good working relationship.

Avidan, a marketing consulting firm, asked consultants for their opinions on what it takes to win new business pitches. 96 percent of the sample pointed to “chemistry” as the key reason for winning.

So how do you build chemistry?

One of the keys to building empathy is to get the client talking about the challenges they are facing – and listen. You create empathy with the client by listening and show how you understand the issues they are turning to you to solve.

Back this up by asking questions that delve more into these issues. Interacting through asking questions is much more engaging than being presented to as a passive audience and ensures the client doesn’t feel they’re being shown a presentation that you roll out time and again.

Lastly, show passion for the client, their business or their industry in general. Passion is contagious and shows that you want the work.

(As an aside, the same Avidan survey found 61 percent say that winning agencies have a  “confident, articulate team”, 39 percent believe that “demonstrating passion for the client’s business” helps winning and that “a seamless link between strategy and creative” is crucial)

Cover the basics

Whatever you do in the pitch, make sure you cover the basics.

Before you even step in the room, make sure you’ve followed their RFP (request for proposal) process, read the client’s brief closely and ensuring that you’ve covered all of their major points in the presentation.

If you miss out a key area of the brief, it is a red flag to the client that you haven’t read the brief properly, don’t pay attention to detail or even have a weakness in that area.

While you won’t be disqualified for “breaking the rules,” it can the difference to a final decision on who to award the project to.

If they’ve set out some key questions in the brief, answer them in the pitch. If it helps, use their question as the headline of a slide, then put how you’d approach the answer as the main content of the slide. This way, you’re guaranteed to cover everything they asked of you in the brief.

You don’t have to spend long covering the basics, but setting these foundations in place and giving the client the confidence that you can do the job means they’ll be more likely to trust you with the project.

You’ll be amazed at how many people or agencies miss out on some of the basics asked of them in the brief. Don’t make the same mistake.

Standardise the deck

I’m not a perfectionist, but I do like to see a nice clean deck that is consistent all the way through.

That means using the same font, text size and colours throughout.

Don’t use different fonts – stick to whatever you normally use fall back to Arial if you’re unsure And never use Comic Sans.

As for text size, you need to make your writing clear to read from the back of a large room. That means at least point 20, otherwise people aren’t going to be able to read the magic words you gave on-screen.

You shouldn’t be relying on too much text in your pitch deck anyway, but if you have to make sure that people can read it no matter where they’re sitting in the room.

Standardising colours should be a default. Black text on a white background is the most legible, so is a good default to use.

I’m not saying that you need to be good at design or hire a designer to sharpen up your pitch deck. You just need to make sure that the decks are consistent and legible enough that it doesn’t distract from the words you’re saying or the points you’re trying to get across.

Even the default theme on the software you use to create presentations is probably going to be good enough for most of your clients. Use it, and sue it wisely.

If you’re pitch deck looks sloppy with mismatched font, styles and colours, how are they going to trust you to take the same care of your work when you’re representing them?

Add some creativity

Once you’ve covered the basics, now you can add some flair to your pitch.

What little extras can you come up with that will make you – and the client – stand out from the competition?

Adding creative ideas to the pitch shows that you’ve been thinking above and beyond for how their project or campaign can really fly.

You don’t have to have completely thought through these creative ideas, but make sure at some basic level you can talk through how the idea might work if they ask you.

A word of warning: You are presenting creative ideas, but make sure these are presented clearly and compellingly. There is a lot of cringe worthy terminology out there, most of which doesn’t make sense and will put the client off.

Stop using jargon. Be seen as straight forward and sincere, not full of nonsensical rhetoric.

Follow up promptly

Once the meeting is over, follow-up promptly after the meeting with an email thanking the client for their time.

This is also a chance to add in any things you missed out in the pitch or didn’t get time to cover. Don’t go overboard – it’s still better to keep the follow-up email short and sweet.

You should also create a “leave behind” – a version of your pitch deck that they can take away to look at in more detail or use to jog their memory of what you proposed.

If you’re pitch deck relied heavily on images, you can make this more text heavy.  They’ll be reviewing this leave behind without the benefit of having you in the room to explain the context.

I’m sure there are many more tips and tricks to win new business pitches as a freelancer. Let us know in the comments if there are any further strategies you bring to the pitch process.

If you’re client side, would love to hear your stories and examples about what makes successful pitches stand out among the others.

 

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8 simple steps you can take to get the confidence to go freelance

Confidence to go freelance

Lots of people dream about going freelance, but getting the confidence to go freelance is something else.

Starting your own freelance business can feel like a big risk. There are lots of unknowns and you’re going to have to rely on your own knowledge, experience, judgement and plain hard graft to make your freelance business a success.

But by putting the right plans in place, taking a few steps to be prepared for whatever hits you and having an ongoing plan, you’ll be able to keep your confidence levels up as you turn freelance.

As you grow more confident, the risks will melt away and you’ll begin to wonder why more people don’t go freelance.

Here are eight ways you can get the confidence to go freelance.

1. Create a business plan

All best laid plans go to waste, but the very act of writing out a business plan will give you a better idea of how your current business stands.

What product or service are you selling? To who? How are you going to reach those people? What marketing are you going to do? What resources do you need? How much will it cost to run your business?

There are loads of free resources to help you, but these are just a few of the more helpful resources when I was researching my own business plan:

While you may not need your business plan after a few months, this will give you great foundations for your business and identify the strengths and weaknesses of how you freelance business currently stands.

2. Give yourself a runway

In the world of startups, your ‘runway’ is how long you can survive as a business with the amount of money you currently have. For a startup in Silicon Valley, they’re looking at a runway of at least 18 months to give their team and tech the time and space to fully reach their potential.

But you’re not likely to have tens of thousands in the bank, so 18 months would be a true luxury. You’re more looking at 2-3 months as you’re runway, which is needed for a number of reasons.

There’s the costs of setting up your business. Company registration, hiring an accountant, building a website, getting business cards printed, buying yourself a laptop to run your business on – and more. There will even be hidden costs that creep up on you at the beginning of your business, so be prepared and have enough cash to last you a good few months.

This is especially important at the start of your freelance career. Many client’s payments terms are several weeks long, often 28 days and often even longer. So by the time you’ve worked a month, invoiced at the end of that month, it can be 2 months before you get paid for that piece of work. No last Friday of the month pay check for you.

Once you start to invoice clients regularly and have payments coming in, you’ll be able to relax (a little!). But having made a solid start will benefit you in the long run.

3. Perfect your pitch

Who are you? Give yourself the time to sit and imagine your to write down who and what you are.

What’s your ‘product’? What are you selling? What are your values? Why are you different to the next freelancer or small business?

This will be one of the main things you are asked – who you are and what you do. It’s sometimes known as an elevator pitch, called that because you should be able to say your pitch from the time it takes to get from the bottom floor of a building to the top while riding in an elevator.

Check out these (very literal) elevator pitches on Tech City News for an idea of how you could structure your elevator pitch.

If you can get this nailed down to a short and sweet few sentences, without sounding like you’re just rolling out a rehearsed script, you will get yourself across quickly and clearly to anyone you meet.

This means you can spend less time explaining your freelance business and more time explaining how you can help a potential new client.

4. Win that first client

I’d highly recommend that you use your old job as your first client (it’s how I started as a freelance consultant). But if you’re not in the position to make that happen, then winning your first project is a big step.

Nothing will give you a confidence boost for your freelance career than winning that first client. If you know one organisation wants to buy your product or service, then others out there will want to as well.

Some people are lucky enough to have a client in place and that acts as the springboard for them to set up as a freelancer, but not everyone is that fortunate.

Even if you do have that first client in place, it can be really beneficial to go out and win a second or third, so that you’re not relying on the income of that first project.

So get out there and win that first client. After all, it’s the lifeblood of your business.

5. Surround yourself with trusted advisors

Just because your a freelancer, doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. If you surround yourself with a range of people from different industries, you’ll be able to tap into their knowledge and experience for your own benefit.

Need to know how to structure your company? Ask your accountant. Got a finance question? Ask your bank manager.

These people are professionals. A short question to them will save you lots and lots of stress and worry over issues you don’t know about.

Even if it costs you a little bit to pay for their time, this will enable you to concentrate on running your business and keeping your clients happy, so will be more than worth it.

As a freelancer, you will likely be called on time and again for your expertise. Give it generously – after all, there’s lots of people out there who have given their time to help get you where you are today.

6. Check in with other freelancers

Your network is one of the most vital parts of your freelance business – and often the key determiner of how well you’ll succeed as a freelance professional. Do you have a large and well-connected network?

Arrange to go for a coffee with a trusted contact who you can have an open and honest conversation with about how they’re fairing. Are they finding work slow, or getting it in abundance? Where are they getting their new leads from? Which areas are they finding success in? Which areas are more difficult?

You’ll be surprised at how helpful other freelancers can be – there’s plenty of work to go around, you might be able to work on projects together, so sharing a few ideas and nuggets of experience isn’t a big deal.

And you’ll pay the favour back when you’re an experienced freelancer, just as I’m doing here!

7. Have an escape plan

If it all goes wrong and you’re finding work hard to come by, or freelance work is proving more difficult than you first imagined, all is not lost.

Having an escape plan can be as simple as getting your CV up to date and looking for a job to go back into.

There’s no shame in having tried and failed before going back to a full-time job. The experience you will have gained from setting up your own business and going it alone as a freelancer will set you apart from other candidates of jobs you go for.

8. Be Proud of Your Achievements

After you’ve been freelancing for a while, take a moment to look back at how far you’ve come and what you’ve achieved.

You may not realise it, but you’ll have made much more progress than you might have believed possible.

Be proud.

You built up the confidence to go freelance and made it happen.

All you’ve learnt, the new people you’v met, the projects you’ve worked on. All of this is down to you.

And if you haven’t gone freelance yet? Just imagine how proud once you do and start running your own successful freelance business.

Can you imagine how good that feel? If you can, what are you waiting for?

If you do have any doubts or concerns about going freelance, leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to answer your questions.

 

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Freelance Accounting: Get Fantastic at Finances as a Freelancer

freelance accounting

Oh man. I hate doing accounting. So writing a whole post about freelance finances might be the undoing of me

But as a freelancer, your finances are one of the most important parts of your business.

If you don’t keep on top of your income and outgoings, your invoicing, your tax returns and everything else that comes with running your own freelance business, then you could dig yourself into a big hole – a hole that’s difficult to dig yourself out again.

I don’t want to scare you. But I do want to emphasise the importance of keeping on top of your freelance finances.

How I learned to take finances seriously

A few years ago, I was running a small voluntary organisation called Bright One. We matched small charities that needed PR and Marketing support with volunteers who wanted to learn more about PR and Marketing or to give something back.

We did well as a small volunteer-run organisation, often punching above our weight and delivering millions in value to out clients, some of the worthiest causes out there.

What I didn’t do very well was keep on top of the organisation’s finances.

Accounting always fell to the bottom of my to do list and I made the mistake of not constantly keeping the books updated. So whenever I fell behind, I put the finances off even more and only got back in track through spending all-nighties getting everything up to date.

Bright One was a small organisation with little running costs, so the accounting was a relatively simple affair. But I still missed tax deadlines on several occasions, having to pay fines for late submissions.

Working with a brilliant accountant, we were able to get everything in order and had our finances running smoothly, but these stressful periods taught me several lessons and hammered home the importance of keeping finances in order.

Now I’m running a freelance business, here’s how I keep on top of my freelance finances.

NOTE: These points below are based on my own individual experience. If you any financial concerns about your business, please consult a professional accountant.

Hire a good accountant

You can save yourself whole heaps of stress just by hiring a good accountant to help you stay tax-efficient and compliant.

They don’t need to be expensive (check for local accountants for example) but they’re worth every penny. They know all the ins and out of accounting law, so will save you a lot of time, money and stress by handling your freelance accounts for you.

The best way to find a good accountant is to ask for recommendations from other freelancers or small businesses you know. If they are happy with their accountants, then it’s sign that you will likely be too.

If you can’t get a recommendation, look for local accountants in your area. By going to meet two or three different accountants, you’ll be able to find out more about what’s involved, ask questions about what’s involved and find the accountant that’s best for you – both budget wise and in your relationship with them. After all, they’re one of the most important business relationships you have, so it’s important to find an accountant that fits.

Another option is in the new wave of online accountancy options. These take the old notion of accounting software and bring it up to the modern age, with the backup of accountants being available on end of a phone call if you do need to speak to someone about an accounting issue.

I’ve been using Crunch accounting for 3 years now and am delighted with their service. If you’re looking for an online accounting service, then I (and lots of other freelancers I know) highly recommend them.

Of course, you’re business might be small enough that you just want to keep track of your own finances, then send them to an accountant to prepare for filing. This is more cost effective, but does require more effort on your part.

Whichever option you choose, getting an accountant in place is one of the first things you should do when setting up your freelance business.

Understand the basics

In the UK, the HMRC has a great guide for what you need to do when you start a business, including guidance on what you need to do for tax and National Insurance purposes when you start a business, return filing and paying deadlines and what records you must keep.

You don’t need to go into the full details (your accountant can help you with that), but here are the main sections you might like to spend some time reading through:

In the US, the IRS has listed basic federal tax information for people who are starting a business, as well as information to assist in making basic business decisions.

They also helpfully include information about specific industries and professions, as well as state-level requirements for starting and operating a business.

 

Little and often

 
Accounting doesn’t have to be a once-a-year fight to the end to get your books in order and our tax return in time.

Just spending a little amount of time on it, say once a month to get everything up to date, is enough.

Even better, updating however you track your finances as you go along will save you even more headaches in the future.

Make a note of everything

 
At the very minimum make a note of every sale you make an everything you buy through the business.

Keep all receipts in a separate folder and make a spreadsheet with all information – date invoices, date paid, product or service purchased, amount, who (company and party).

If you’ve got an online software package for your accounting, then this might be overkill. However, it can be handy to practice the above in case you need to go back and review specific items.

There are also a few important dates in all companies’ financial years, no matter how big or small you are.

It can be helpful to make a note of these dates in a calendar, so you’re aware of any upcoming deadlines and can prepare accordingly, avoiding a last minute rush.

Here are a few suggested dates to keep track of:

  • Year end
  • Annual return due
  • Tax returns due
  • Payments in tax returns due
  • Self assessment tax returns due

Make a note of these dates in your calendar and it’ll help you keep to deadlines.

Keep some income back for taxes

When you get a client payment, it can look really nice to see that lump sum in your bank account. But some of that isn’t yours and needs to pay for taxes.

Keep 20% (or whatever you tax rate is) stored safely away, preferably in a separate bank account.

You’ll thank me when the time comes to pay your tax and you saved that money, rather than splurged it on nice new shiny things.

Keep a separate bank account

Having a separate bank account for your business means that you can keep track of your income and outgoings easily, without complicating it with your personal transactions.

Plus, it’ll be easier to keep money aside for tax purposes and other expenses. You won’t be so tempted to dip into your business funds when you see a large client payment come in.

Keep some back for slow periods

Every freelancer goes through slower times of work. That’s why freelancing is known as a “feast or famine” culture – you’re either too busy, or not busy enough.

For this times when you aren’t busy, it can help to have saved a little for when you where working plenty. This stashed away cash will help you through the slower period and means you can still live a normal life and pay your bills.

Most people recommend that you try and save 2 months worth of living expenses, just to be on the safe side.

That can be tough to save for, so plan for whatever’s comfortable to your circumstances. But do make sure you put a little aside for rainy days.

If you get in trouble, shout for help

There’s nothing worse than not facing up to the facts when you’re in trouble. I learnt that the hard way.

If you’re behind on payments or don’t have enough to pay your tax bill, facing be inevitable sooner rather than later is the best thing you can do.

There’s plenty of ways to get help, so start by discussion with your accountant about your situation and they can advise on the options are available.

You can also contact your local tax office to discuss your circumstances. You may be able to stagger the payments on anything you owe, which will make the cash flow easier.

These are just the main points I’ve learned to keep my freelance finances in a healthy condition.

However, this is just my own experience, so make sure you consult with a professional accountant for any financial concerns you have about your business.

 

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How I Went Freelance: Nick Nicolaou

How I Went Freelance: Nick Nicoloau

(This is the sixth in a series of interviews with freelancers, telling us their stories on how they went freelance. The aim is to help others who are thinking of becoming freelance learn more about what it takes, as well as get advice and inspiration so they can get the confidence and understanding to find out if freelancing is right for them. If you want to take part in the series, simply head here to tell us your freelance story)

Name: Nick Nicolaou
Freelance Area: Mobile apps development (Android)
Freelance Since: 8 months
Website: nicknicolaou.me

What made you decide to go freelance?

Two months after graduating from University, I was lucky enough to get a job at a small software company, 5 minutes away from home. A few months in though, it was clear to me that it wasn’t for me. I don’t like office politics, working 8-5 and working on things that I didn’t feel passionate about. Soon enough, I had taken the decision to start planning my exit.

What steps did you put in place before you went freelance?

My plan was to start saving a portion of my salary every month and freelance a bit on a side while I get a solid emergency fund until I start getting serious income from my freelancing business.

I started reading everything I could on freelancing, getting clients, managing a business and so on.

My plan worked for a couple months, and I had saved close to £1000; a decent amount, but a solid emergency fund it was not. Around the third month in though, it was obvious to me that working 9-10 hours a day and then coming home to put another 2-3 hours in side projects while having a relationship wasn’t as easy as I would have hoped.

Still, having my eyes on the prize, I tried to keep at it. After all, the sooner I have enough money, the sooner I can finally do what I wanted and go freelance full-time.

On a sunny Friday afternoon though, an “incident” at work was the final push. I decided that I would put in my resignation and would have to make it work with what I had saved. Sure enough, on Monday morning I put in my resignation and was finally free to do what I wanted to do.

How did it feel before you went freelance?

Exciting. I’m not risk-averse. Not by a long shot, so I was really excited to finally start doing what I always wanted.

How does it feel now you are freelance?

Awesome! Even though it hasn’t been that long, I honestly thing it was the best decision of my life. Err, sorry honey. I meant the second best decision of my life!

What are the positives of freelance life?

Freedom. You’re free to work whenever you want to, on whatever projects you like and with the people you like working with.

What are the negatives of freelance life?

1. It can be stressful.
Depending on one’s financial situation, knowing that you’re not going to make meets end at the end of the month if you don’t find a client soon, can be nerve-racking. I was/am lucky enough to have the support (both emotional and financial!) of my SO to make things way, WAY easier.

2. It can be lonely.
Working alone from home gives you freedom but it can also be lonely at times.

3. Achieving a work/life balance.
If you’re not careful, you might find yourself working 12-16 hours a day, especially if you have clients from all over the world.

Any advice for others looking to go freelance?

Make sure this is what you want to do. If you are absolutely sure, try and find ways to minimise risk: Save up some money.Lower your expenses. If you can, start looking for work on the side.

Build relationships with clients.

Get a few testimonials and try to start working towards a solid portfolio.

Or just do what I did, and jump in with both feet :)

It worked for me so I’m sure that if you work hard enough and put your mind to it, it will work for you too.

Thanks for taking part, Nick, and for sharing your tips and advice. Make sure to check out his website at nicknicolaou.me. If you want to take part in the series, simply head here to tell us your freelance story.

 

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How to build long-term client relationships as a freelancer

Build long term client-relationships

How to build long-term client relationships is a follow up to yesterday’s post on finding freelance work  in the summer slump, and a longer term goal to write more about freelancing in general.

I’ve written quite a bit about what I’ve learned from freelancing, but if there’s any topics you want to cover just let me know in the comments.

The next few posts that have been suggested are on winning pitches, how to close deals, freelance finances and building lists of contacts.

This post was suggested by the brilliant Zoe Amar. I severely doubt she has trouble building client relationships, but I hope some of these ideas and advice help other freelancers looking to build long-term client relationships.

Constantly Deliver Value

The number one rule of building long-term client relationships is to deliver added value wherever you see the opportunity.

If you are consistently delivering above and beyond you’re remit, whether that’s through suggesting new ideas or delivering particularly high quality work, then your client will appreciate your consultancy and keep you as their go-to consultant.

This is backed up by research, such as this 2014 benchmark of creative agencies in the UK:

“The top performing agencies in the UK are masters at delivering strategic value to their clients. They charge more for doing so and require less people to deliver it. Clients love them for it and are happy to pay the extra fees.”

This may sound like simple advice, but it’s easier said than done.

When you’ve been working with a client for a number of months, complacency often sits in as you carry out the same work you’ve done time and again before.

Trying to step outside of that routine and see the opportunities for offering just that little bit more is more difficult than you’d expect.

Of course, you should always keep an eye on billable hours and charge your client fairly, but adding the occasional added value work will add dividends in the long run.

[Tweet "The more value you offer as a freelancer, the more a client will come to depend on you"]

Be Honest and Open

One of the reasons that clients bring in external support is to benefit from your experience and knowledge gained from working with a range of clients.

Working in-house or client side means that clients will get embedded in their organisation’s ways and practises, making it difficult to look outside of their own organisation and see how other organisations work.

Being honest in your consultancy, even if it means delivering critical insights, is better than covering up bad news or telling white lies.

Or, even worse, just being a “yes man” who simply agrees what the client says and carries out what they want without challenging their views when needed or offering your honest consultancy.

Be honest in your dealings with a client. The long-term trust gained beats any short-term wins you may get from manipulating the truth.

Be Consistent, Avoid Surprises

Being consistent and avoiding surprises goes hand in hand with being open and honest.

If you say you are going to deliver work at a certain time, stick to it.

If you’ve outlined how much a project will cost, stick to it. Don’t add hidden fees or extra costs at a later date.

If something has come up that may affect the project they’re working on, communicate well and keep clients in the loop. Don’t hide unexpected problems from the client and then regretfully surprise them with the news later.

No one likes surprises, whether in time or money, so sticking to the basics and delivering what you said you would, when you would, at the cost you said you would is highly valued.

Taking away your client’s worries means that they’ll prefer to work with you, a freelancer they can trust, rather than waste time looking for someone else.

[Tweet "Consistency is key in building long-term relationships with clients"]

Place Yourself At The Centre

Advertising agencies have for a long time sat at the head of the table for marketing communications (able marketing, PR, SEO, PPC, etc) because it is their big creative idea that leads the campaign, with everything filtering down from this big idea.

There may be audience insights and research behind this creative, but marketing activity across the business often filters down from this big idea.

That doesn’t mean that advertising agencies always have to come up with the big idea. Marketing, PR, Digital or Social agencies can also come up with the big idea, but they often don’t have the knowledge, experience or resources to come up with and then sell that idea to the client.

I was having coffee with an old boss of mine, who landed a major blue-chip client for what was a new and relatively-small agency.

They started with a small project of a few months that they delivered well, but nothing particularly spectacular. They did another project, then another, all going well – in the classic project management way (on time, on budget, on spec).

He told me that the real breakthrough came with the client when they asked to pitch to lead a new marketing campaign for the company.

This was a big pitch. Several 0s on the end of their current project fees.

So rather than pitching with a small project-based idea, they pitched a big creative idea. And this agency wasn’t an advertising agency, it was a mix of PR, Digital and Social.

As you might have guessed, they won the pitch – based on the strength of the creative idea, but with the foundation of the previous projects they’d delivered on to back it up.

Not only did they win the account and the large fee that came along with it, but they also got to brief in the other agencies – advertising, paid, social and digital – on the various parts of the campaign.

They were at the centre of the campaign.

They had earned the trust of the client through delivering project after project.

Then they built on this relationship by coming up with a strong creative idea for the new campaign.

And now they had solidified their long term relationship with the client by being the lead agency for the campaign, briefing and project managing the other agencies.

Having done this once with one big client, I’m sure they’ll be looking to repeat the process and win another few big ones. That kind of approach can change the future of any company – from a freelance outfit to an established boutique agency.

Anticipate Your Client’s Demands

When you first start working with a client, you’ll be so busy getting to know what exactly they need from you, how they like to communicate, how they like to receive work, etc, that you’ll be spending most of your time delivering on the work.

After a few weeks, you’ll begin to learn more about your client, the kind of questions they ask of you, and which parts of your work they particularly like.

Use this learning to your advantage:

  • Can you anticipate their questions before they are asked?
  • Can you deliver them a short report on a particular area of your work that you’re aware they’ve been interested in before?

You’ll stand out from the crowd by meeting their expectations – if not before they’ve asked, but at least very promptly when they do ask you for something.

Keep In Touch

I love this advice from an article in Smashing Magazine:

“As a project is wrapping up, one of the final things you should do is schedule a follow-up meeting — or better yet, a series of follow up meetings.

Regularly scheduled meetings between you and your client allow you to discuss not only how the website is performing and what feedback they have received from their audience, but also what changes may be happening with their company.

It is a rare instance that I sit down with a client to discuss their business where some kind of work doesn’t come out of it.”

This is a great insight and a smart way to become a trusted partner to your client’s organisation.

In fact, the whole Smashing Magazine is worth a read as there’s tons of advice in there. The article is geared towards web projects, but there’s plenty of useful advice and ideas for other areas too.

By being honest, adding value and placing yourself at the centre of their business, you not only build that long-term client relationship but you can also develop new business opportunities.

How do you build your long-term client relationships? How do you add value to your client work?

 

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Find Freelance Work in the Summer Slump

Find Freelance Work

Finding freelance work can be difficult during the summer months.

When school is out and the kids are at home many clients take time off for their holidays, meaning new projects and work is put on hold until the autumn.

There’s a reason why freelancers call it the “summer slump”.

But finding freelance work while the sun is hot doesn’t have to be hard. Here’s how to take the heat out of the summer slump and keep you busy through the holidays.

1. Email your contacts

If you’ve been freelancing for a while, you should have built up a network of other freelancers or previous clients that you can email and enquire about possible work. This may sound scary, but your existing network will be friendlier and more helpful than you think, especially compared to cold emailing people.

Other freelancers might not have capacity to take on more work, so can bear you in mind and refer you work if anything comes their way that they can pass on.

Getting back in touch with previous clients is a good way to keep up relationships and be front of mind for the next time they have a project come along, but this needs more subtlety than just straight out asking for work. Clients want to work with busy freelancers as it shows that their skills are in demand.

Even if you don’t find new projects straight away by emailing your contacts, you’ll be more likely to be remembered in the future – even if it’s a few weeks down the line when work picks up again in autumn.

2. Spend time developing other areas of your business

If you’re finding work a little slow, that gives you more time to work on other less important areas that may have fallen off the bottom of the to do list when you were busy.

Here’s a few ideas of what you could spend time on to boost your business:

  • Could your website do with an update?
  • Could you write several blog posts for your own blog? Or approach relevant blogs and online sites in your industry and offer guest posts for them?
  • Could you approach previous clients for testimonials and write up case studies of previous projects?
  • Could you be making more of your online marketing, using tools like Twitter and LinkedIn to connect with new people and potential clients in your industry?

You may not be working on paid work, but by always improving on your business you’re more likely to pick up work in the future.

3. Convert projects to retainers

Most projects start off with a set time period, say 2-3 months. The client needs to get a project completed, so calls in you as a freelancer to help complete that project. But it doesn’t need to stop at the end of that project.

If the client likes the work you’ve done, you could suggest (before the end of the project!) that you could carry on doing the same work for them or carry out maintenance on that project for longer, at a reduced fee.

This way, the client gets the peace of find from knowing that a reliable freelancer is looking after that part of their business, that they’re paying a smaller fee for the privilege and that the project that they started is going to be maintained for the foreseeable future.

Converting projects to retainers is easier for web designers and developers, as maintaining a website is an area that often needs small adjustments and improvements. This suits a retainer more.

This can be difficult to do and you will have to drop your fees to account for the ongoing retainer, but if you pull it off you’ll have a more steady income to rely on.

4. Write a training course

Running training days and training courses can be a very lucrative source of income for freelancers. But finding the time to write the materials to cover a half day, a whole day or even a few days can be daunting when you have client work to deliver on.

But if you’re finding your freelance work slowing down, this is the perfect time to write a training course and prepare training materials.

Research an area you know a lot about and see how others are selling training in that area. What is the structure of their course? Could you offer something similar?  How have they priced their training? What kind of clients have taken their training?

Once you’ve written the materials, approach a few clients who you think would benefit from your services and outline your offer to them. A lot of companies have professional development programmes and will bring in outside consultants to run their training sessions.

After the first time delivering the training course, you can repeat the process and offer training to similar companies. Make sure to get feedback from those first sessions, so you can make improvements to the training course you offer.

5. Write an ebook

Standing in front of a group of strangers and teaching them what you know isn’t for everyone.

But you’ll have a lot of knowledge built up over several years that lots of people would love to know about. And an ebook is a perfect way to deliver this.

You don’t have to think of writing a full, 30-page ebook all at once. Note down what areas you think would make an interesting subject, write underneath each of these subjects a list of different areas you could write about, then you should be able to identify which ones will be easier or more engaging to write.

Take each item of the list and commit to writing 500 words about them. If you publish these 500 word articles as blog posts first, then you’re also adding to your blog portfolio and building up your blog readership.

Once you’ve written 5-6 articles, you should be well on the way to creating a full ebook.

When you feel like you’ve reached the end of your list about that subject area or have written a sizeable body of content around the subject area, then package those articles into a full ebook and offer it as a download on your site.

If you put the ebook behind a newsletter signup form, then you’ll capture an audience for future articles and ebooks, which can then be used for future updates on your work.

It takes time, but this may well lead to more client work, through demonstrating your expertise and making yourself more visible in your industry.

6. Take a training course

You may not feel confident enough to deliver a training course or write everything you know around a subject to publish an ebook, but there are still plenty of ways to differentiate yourself from the pack of other freelancers.

There is an initial cost, but taking a training course is a great use of the spare time you have.

  • Could you develop and advance on an existing skill you have?
  • Could you learn a new skill that will lead to new service offerings for your clients?
  • Is there an area of your industry that you always wanted to learn more about?
  • Has you ever been in a situation where a client asked you about an ara of their business that you wished you knew more about?

There’s plenty more reasons to take a training course, but as a freelancer you should always be developing your skills anyway, to keep up with client demands and to make sure you don’t get left behind as other freelancers develop their skills

Not only will you learn new skills, but you’ll also see how other business offer their training and consultancy services, which you can learn from and apply to your own freelance business.

7. Try freelancing online

Take some time to browse through online freelancing sites, such as freelancer.com, Elance and oDesk, you’ll see plenty of opportunities to offer your consultancy services online.

If you’ve never tried freelancing online before, you can use this quieter time to educate yourself about the benefits and challenges involved, before deciding if you want to give it a go yourself.

Here’s a few guides you can read to get you up to speed on what it takes to make freelancing online a success:

If freelancing online proves successful for you, then you have another area to explore and find work if you find yourself facing a quieter period again.

8. Contact agencies to offer support

You will likely know about agencies in your industry and location that offer the same services as you. Over the summer months, they may be in need of support as their team go on their summer holidays, but there is still client work to deliver.

Even if they don’t have enough work to offer you straight away, it’s good to get on their books for when the right project comes through and they do need your help.

Polish up your portfolio, update your CV and get contacting those agencies. It could lead to some brilliant relationships that will you see get work for months to come.

Always Be Closing

always-be-closing

These are just some ideas and I’m sure there are plenty more ways to find freelance work and stop the summer slump.

The biggest take away is that you should always be developing your new business pipeline. Even if you’re overwhelmed with client work or have plenty of potential projects coming through, that situation can change in matter of weeks. As a freelancer, you need to constantly be looking for new opportunities.

What are your top tips? How have you coped the “feast and famine” of freelance life?

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Why I Learned To Code

Why I Learned To Code

There’s plenty of posts out there on “How To Learn To Code in Just One Month!”, but not a lot for why you should learn to code.

One of the problems is that you get articles like this,  with the following unhelpful insights into how others have learnt to code:

“I slept an average of 5 hours a night, had enough energy drinks to last me a lifetime and never felt more confused or exhausted in my life. Thus, this was the life of a beginner coder, a venture that took up most of my day.”

(Aside: How long before we see a post called “This Squirrel Learned to Code in Just One Month – You’ll Never Guess What He Built Next”?)

“Learning to Code” is not a one-size-fits-all affair. You don’t have to pull all nighters, down energy drinks just to stay awake and feel like that will be your life from then on. It doesn’t even have to take up most of your day.

Coding can be as small as making minor html changes, all the way up to building best-in-class apps using the latest technology.

You might want to build the latest and greatest apps, but there are plenty of smaller reasons for want to learn to code:

  • You might just want to learn how to host your own blog and a custom domain, like I’ve done here.
  • You could just want learn how to strip out the formatting errors that come with copying and pasting a document from Microsoft Word into a WordPress post.
  • You might want to be able to format a nice looking email newsletter in Mailchimp.
  • You could want to make small changes to your company website, without having to get support or ask someone else to do it.

Here’s my own personal reasons for learning to code.

1. Get Comfortable With Code

Lots of the examples listed above are small tasks. You’d only need to know a little bit of html to be able to make small code changes.

As someone who works in digital marketing, I’m working with blog posts, email newsletters, Content Management Systems and other digital forms on a daily basis. When I see something wrong or want to make a quick edit to something, I don’t have to send the work off to someone else and wait for them to make the necessary changes. I can do it myself.

Likewise, if someone sends me something they’d like me to do or feedbacks changes to a piece of content, I’m able to make those amends there and then. No more being scared of being asked to do something in code!

2. Build Your Own Websites

When I was running Bright One, we worked with a web development agency to build the organisation’s website and also what became Bright Works, a microvolunteering platform.

The agency did a great job and we were happy with the results, but we did spend quite a bit of budget on them,  funds that could have been used elsewhere – especially as we were a voluntary organisation.

Looking back, it frustrates me that we couldn’t build the websites ourselves or even find a volunteer to build is a  basic WordPress-with-theme site. We may not have had a slick looking a site, but it would have served its purpose and we’ would have been able to grow in other areas.

In between then and now, I’ve learnt to code. Well, enough that I can buy a domain name, setup hosting for it, install WordPress, add a WordPress theme and amend that WordPress theme to look how I want it to. This is what I’ve done with the Montfort website.

Sure, it’s an easy form of “coding”, where most of the heavy lifting is done by the Content Management System (WordPress in this case), but it’s saved me time and money.

I can also repeat the process and help others set up their own WordPress sites, which is not to be sniffed at.

3. Open Up New Career Opportunities

I stepped up with my code learning by taking Michael Hartl’s much loved and referenced Rails Tutorial. It’s a free online tutorial to help you learn Ruby on Rails, a web framework that many modern website use and gives you the ability to create Facebook and Twitter-esque sites and apps.

Hartl has created a fantastic tutorial that is mentioned as the place to start when learning Rails, so I went through that tutorial a few times. Once finished, I added to the basics by working my way through Railscasts and other online tutorials, so now I had a basic understanding of Ruby and Rails.

At the beginning of this year, an opportunity came up at FutureGov to product manage one of their new prototypes. Dom knew that I’d been learning to code, so asked me if I’d like to give the position a go.

Being a Product Manager was a great way to test how far I’d come, working at the intersection of the project managers and clients, who wanted something built, with the rails development team, who were building the prototype.

My coding experience came in useful here, being able to translate ideas, issues and challenges between the two teams and understand where each team was coming from.

It was a great experience, working on a live project with a real team and real objectives, and the project is still live today.

Since then, I’ve also volunteered with Sunday Assembly to help product manage their new digital platform. It’s taken me all the way to San Francisco and back,  plus I’ve met a whole load of great people along the way.

So learning to code has opened up several career opportunities already. Who knows what other opportunities will come up in the future?

4. Bring Your Ideas To Life

This has been a bigger step up. Taking the ideas I have in my head, writing them down on code, then putting them live on the internet.

I’ve had some starter projects that have helped me learn new areas of code, but I haven’t yet released any of them as a ‘formal’ project.

Communities Finder is the current prototype I’m building. Terrible name, terrible code, terrible design, but it’s there, it’s live and I made it.

I’m not even saying it’s a good idea, but it’s an idea I’ve brought to life, without having to pay thousands to an agency or freelancer to build it for me.

What ideas do you have that you want to bring to life, but haven’t been able to?

I think more and more that those people who do want to bring a (digital) idea of theirs to life will go ahead and learn to code, even at a basic level, so they can understand how that project is built.

There are plenty of free and cheap courses out there (Code School, Codecademy, Treehouse) and I hope I’ve given you a few reasons for you to start learning to code yourself.

And would be great to hear about your reasons for learning to code too!

 

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Cronycle – easy content and feed curation

Cronycle
I’ve written about my reading habits before, using apps like Tweetbot and Pocket as a system for saving interesting content to read later. So when the Cronycle team got in touch to offer me a test drive of their beta product, I was interested enough to take a look and see if it could be part of the read it later solution I’m looking for.

In a nutshell, Cronycle organises your content streams, making it easy for you to find and enjoy the stories that matter to you. Like other feed readers like Feedly and the now-extinct Google Reader, Cronycle aims to take the content from your favourite sites and blogs and turn them into a more easily readable and discoverable format.

Here’s how the Cronycle team describe it:

“Cronycle indexes the stories behind the links and pulls them into your Cronycle account. Using filters you tell Cronycle how you want your stories to be organised, and it does the rest. Every story is indexed and you can edit your filters and collections at any time. Once you create your collections please share them to the Public Directory so that others can view and follow you. Your own followers can create a free account and follow your curated collections easily too, just share the url of the collection.”

With Feedly’s domination of the market, other read it later apps like Pocket and Instapaper, Croncycle is entering a crowded market so needs to add some differentation. And that’s not to mention the upcoming Google Stars, Google’s new content bookmarking service.

The Croncycle team created a nice first version though, with a visual Pinterest-style dashboard to view content and an IOS app for those of you who prefer to catch up on digital content on your iPhone or iPad. No mention of an app for Android or Windows Phone just yet, but they’re likely in the product roadmap if things go well with this initial version.

There’s a basic version that’s free, but also a Pro version where you can add your Twitter account to uncover, organise and read the content your sources are tweeting. The pro version also allows you to manage your content stream in one place and keep your content for longer and favourites forever, in a similar way to Pocket’s premium version.

Upon signing in to the app for the first time, you’re given a walk through of how the app works, broken down into 7 sections:

Cronycle

1. COLLECTIONS
Organise your content the way you want it. Create as many as you like using the + button, and let Cronycle automatically organise the right content into each collection.

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 14.17.00

2. FILTERS
Create collections that are just as you need them. Enter the keywords, @users, websites or #hashtags you want to include and Cronycle will bring in any content that fits your criteria.

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 14.17.05

3. VIEW
View content flexibly. In column view you can see multiple collections, full-screen focuses on one collection at a time. Click on any article to browse full previews, or any link to go to the article source.

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 14.17.10

4. DISCOVER
Discover new content by browsing public collections. Find great collections, add collections to your Cronycle and share your own collections with the world.

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 14.17.14

5. SHARE
Share your collections with friends and colleagues or publish to public collections using the controls in collection settings.

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 14.17.18

6. ADD RSS SOURCES
Enter the full URL, or simply type in the name of the feed and Cronycle will help you find it.

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 14.17.22

7. IOS APP
Our IOS app gives you the best Cronycle experience for your iPhone or iPad. Download it on the App Store and log in with your account details.

Once you’ve taken the Cronycle tour (you can also skip it if you like), there’s two main ways you can start adding content: through adding RSS feeds manually, importing feeds via an OPML file, or by browsing public collections for other people’s favourite feeds.

The first time I tried to add a feed manually, the feature was a little buggy, but refreshing the page and it worked perfectly. I was able to add RSS feeds for some digital marketing blogs I follow through Cronycle’s simple search and suggestion feature.

That then populated my home screen with the latest posts from the feeds I had added in the previous step. It took a few seconds to load the feeds, so don’t panic if the latest articles don’t show up straight away!

Once I’d added a few RSS feeds, these were sorted into collections. You’re meant to be able to then add more RSS feeds to those collections to build up a list of sources, but I found it a little buggy when trying to add more RSS feeds to existing sources. This is probably just a small bug though and expect it’ll be fixed by the Cronycle team soon.

It would also be great to be able to add an RSS feed when you’re within a collection. The only options I saw at time of writing were to filter the contents of a collection by keywords, hashtags or Twitter usernames.

The other way to build up your personal Cronycle dashboard is through the Discover feature, which has other user’s public collections on display for you to browse and search through.

The default categories of collections are Tech, Business, Sport, Lifestyle, Design, Food & Drink and News – so just by browsing through those categories and adding a few feeds to your collection you can quite quickly build up the feeds you subscribe to.

However, again I found collections to be a bit confusing. When adding these feeds to “My Cronycle”, I expected to be given the option to decide what collection they’d go into, not have the feeds be created as their own collections. I would then have to take those feeds out of their own individual collections and group them up in some way, but again, I couldn’t find a way to do that.

When you click on an individual article, the reading panel presents the information in a very clear and digestible way, similar to Feedly’s or Evernote’s Clearly extension for Chrome.

The design of Cronycle overall is very visually appealing and renders well on mobile as soon as you login, so the team have clearly put a lot of the effort into this aspect.

I also played with the Cronycle iPhone app, which is probably more where Cronycle is suited for (think reading RSS feeds and content linked to on Twitter, on the move). The app works perfectly, syncing up with your collections and Twitter feed quickly and easily.

Content is presented really nicely as well, with nice legibility, images that fit the screen size and unobtrusive navigation links when viewing the content.

I wish I’d understood when first told about Cronycle that the iPhone app is the best way to consume the content you add to the app. As such, my first impressions about the app were tainted by having viewed the desktop app first, rather than the mobile app. Perhaps they’ll emphasise the iPhone app more in the future?

Overall, there are a few user journeys around adding RSS feeds and sorting out collections that need to be refined, but the design and production values are very high. With a fantastic iPhone app, Cronycle really might be the next best content reader when you’re on the move.

It will be interesting to see how Cronycle competes with the likes of existing apps like Feedly and with Google Stars when it’s released, but for the moment it’s a tool worth giving a try.

Cronycle hasn’t made it to my bookmarks yet or the homescreen on my iPhone, but I’ll give it a try for a few more weeks and see how we get on.

Meeting Heroes: My Y Combinator Interview Experience

Benjamin Southworth (left), me and Sanderson Jones at the Y Combinator Offices

Benjamin Southworth (left), me and Sanderson Jones at the Y Combinator Offices

Growing up in the seaside town of Brighton, I never thought I would meet and mingle with “famous” people (famous in the form of well respected icons - not the here today, gone tomorrow celebrity variety).

When I was small, just going to the local park or the walk to school seemed like a big trip. When I was a bit older, my life was lived inside the Brighton bubble. Without the modern day internet as we know it at home, it was hard to leave it.

It wasn’t until I got to university that people that I had read about – the famous people in question here - started to appear on campus and in my life. The authors of some of the textbooks I referred to in my essays were professors still teaching at the university and people I could talk to, interact with, question. I attended a guest lecture from Jung Chang, author of Wild Swans. The double Nobel Prize for Literature winning author J. M. Coetzee gave a guest lecture at exactly the same time as I was writing my dissertation on perhaps his most famous work, Disgrace.

These people – built up so much in my mind and put on pedestals so much as to become the status of other worldly heroes – weren’t scary or too smart too approach, as I thought they might be. They were normal people, with lives to live, livings to make, desires, dreams and ambitions. I could meet them at their level (or at least have a decent conversation with them and even buy them a drink in the pub).

I never did the exercise at school where a teacher made you write to a famous person and ask them a question. If I had, I’m sure I would have learned this lesson earlier.

To show the disconnect I still experience in this area, last week I flew to San Francisco together with Sanderson and Benjamin to pitch Sunday Assembly to Y Combinator, arguably the most “famous” accelerator programme in the world. If you’re a tech startup, this is the equivalent of meeting your heroes.

I’ve read Paul Graham’s essays, regularly read Hacker News and am well aware of the many successful startups (and, to be fair, the failures) that have gone through the Y Combinator programme. And, I’m sure like many people have, I’d built them up and put them on pedestals through respect of their work.

Before the interview, we prepared comprehensively through research of questions we were likely to be asked (try out iPaulGraham if you’re interested to see what kind of questions are asked). We ran through the questions with each other and got the answers down to concise, tangible answers. We felt prepared.

We turned up about an hour early for the interview at the Y Combinator offices. There were other applicants and alumni from the programme there, so we could chat to people about their startups and get advice from the alumni. We relaxed in the atmosphere and imagined this is what it would be like to be part of the programme.

One of the alumni we got talking to was Gautam Sivakumar, who runs Medisas and was part of a YC cohort last year. We ran through a few practise questions with him so he could find out more about our plans, but it became immediately clear to him that we were too polished and had resorted to marketing speak. His advice was to give honest, human answers to the questions we were asked.

When we sat down for the first interview (we were called back for a second interview later on), his advice became even clearer to me. The people we were being interviewed by – 5 of the Y Combinator partners – were normal people, not the otherworldly heroes built up in my mind. They were friendly, warm and welcoming. They weren’t out to trick us with hard questions. They just wanted to understand the business (or non-profit in this case) and if we would be a good fit for the programme.

In the end, we weren’t the right fit. But we gave a good showing for what we have planned for Sunday Assembly.

Overall, the Y Combinator interview was a fantastic experience. There’s a post by Rob Fitzpatrick on called “to the teams currently being rejected by YC“, which is worth a read and sets the context for the process well. Thanks to Sanderson for giving me the opportunity to fly out to San Fran with him – he really is a great founder. And it was great to get to know Benjamin better – look out for what he’s up to with the Ada Lovelace Academy.

If I did apply to Y Combinator again, or find myself in a similar situation of meeting people whose work I respect so much as to put them on a pedestal, I’ll have more confidence to be honest, human and meet people at their level.

People are just people, no matter how much you build them up. I’ll try to remember that whenever I meet my heroes from now on.

Tweetbot, Pocket and Reading It All Later

Tweetbot and Pocket

I love being productive and the feeling that comes from getting the right work done at the right time.

A recent productivity hack I’ve been following is to save all reading – including articles, newsletter and books – to outside of work hours, when I have downtime and can concentrate on the material.

There have been two tools that have been invaluable in helping me stick to this: Pocket and Tweetbot.

Pocket is a “read it later” app where a bookmark in your browser lets you to save articles to read later. You just “pocket” (it’s going to be a verb soon) any articles or websites you come across and they will be added to your queue.

You can visit your queue at a later, more convenient time and read the articles at your leisure.

I’ve found that the Pocket browser plugin has been great for when I’m working on my laptop, click a link and see an article I like, but want to get back to work rather than read the article there and then. A quick click and the article is saved to my pocket queue.

This feature is particularly valuable when used in conjunction with Tweetbot, a powerful Twitter client for iPhone.

If you hold down on a link in Tweetbot, a small menu pops up with one of the options being “Save link to Pocket”, which acts in a similar way to the Pocket browser plugin.

So, when I’m browsing through Twitter and see a through interesting links posted, I’ll generally save them for later reading.

Alternatively, if I was using the official Twitter app, I’d have to copy the link, close Twitter, open Pocket, then add the link to read later in Pocket. This is fine for one off links, but not when you want to add a few in quick succession.

Tweetbot makes it so easy to save articles to Pocket.

And I find myself queuing far more than I can read.

It’s a similar experience to when unread count of all of the articles in your RSS feed went into the thousands (most notable in Google Reader where it simply showed “1000+” unread instead of the actual figure).

This happened a lot to a lot of people, so every now and then people declared RSS bankruptcy and either marked all their feeds as read,  cut down on the feeds they consumed to better be able to keep up with them, or simply stopped using their RSS feed altogether.

The difference with Tweetbot + Pocket is that through Twitter I have learnt not to expect to see every single tweet that comes through my stream, and this applies to my consumption of articles on Pocket.

I’m not on Twitter all day every day, so will miss a lot of content. If I catch some of that content and save it to Pocket through Tweetbot – great! But that doesn’t mean I will eventually get round to read all of the links I save.

I think this is the same for other newsfeeds we’re exposed to. I now don’t expect to keep up with every single Facebook post, Instagram photo, Quora answer, Hacker News article, Reddit thread, etc, so I no longer worry about missing that content in a way that with RSS readers I did.

This feels like healthy progress.

The search for the ultimate newsfeed has led to the content most relevant to me being surfaced when I most need it. And newsfeeds/user experience on most modern apps has evolved to a state where even if I did miss some of that valuable content I can easily discover it (search, favourites, most recent) or it can be flagged to me in another way (email summaries, push notifications).

It’s less Signal Vs Noise, more I no longer worry about keeping up with the signals – they will come to me.

So, tweet me your best links. My thumb, Tweetbot and Pocket are waiting.

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