How To Go Freelance

Freelance Job Advice for Freelance Writers, Designers and Consultants

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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.

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.

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.

Free and High-Quality Stock Photo Sites

Free high-quality stock photos

Stock photos that are actually good and free (including those that require attribution) are well worth finding. And once found, keeping track of.

This post is more of a personal reminder for whenever I need stock photos, but feel free to check out these sites for yourself”

The stock photo used in this post is from Unsplash.com.

See also this post on Medium: “Sock photos that don’t suck”

 

The Jelly Reading List

 
Jelly is the new iPhone and Android app from Twitter co-founder, Biz Stone.

The basic premise is of “loosely distributed networks of people coordinating via Jelly to help each other.” Here’s their video to explain more:

I’ve been playing around with the app this morning and found the experience a mix of Instagram and Quora. You post a photo and ask a question to go with that photo. Other people can then answer your question and link out to sites that support their answer.

Playing around with Jelly, I asked “What are the essential sites or newsletters to subscribe to?”

I thought it would be useful to share the list in case there’s anything new, interesting or useful for you.

“What are the essential sites or newsletters to subscribe to?”

Got something to add? Let me know in the comments. Or better yet, leave an answer on Jelly.

Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish

stay hungry stay foolish

Steve Jobs, the late Apple co-founder, ended his famous commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005 with the words “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish.”

This advice came from the back cover of the Whole Foods Catalogue final issue in 1974.

Accompanying a photograph of an early morning country road, it was the farewell message of the Whole Foods Catalogue team as they signed off their final issue, an encouragement to others to live out their adventures, even if they do eventually come to an end.

[tweetable alt="'Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish' by @benrmatthews" hashtag="#quote"]Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.[/tweetable]
 

It’s the kind of phrase that sits well with a company that grew from a single vision to the world’s most valuable brand that we all know and love (well, a lot of people love) today.

I’ve been playing with the phrase in my head over the past few weeks and, while the technology greats are inspired by it, the advice doesn’t quite sit right with me.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

The phrase is alluding to (I think) that you should never be satisfied with your work and always push yourself for the next big thing. You should always do (or be willing to keep trying) the things people say cannot be done, and then prove them wrong.

The reason I think it doesn’t feel right to me is that I can see in my own life where I have been hungry and foolish, and made great things happen.

But now that I’m “established” and comfortable in my life, work and relationships, I’m not pushing myself as I once did. I’m paid well, enjoy my work, have a healthy work-life balance, but can see that perhaps I don’t stick to the same high standards or push myself as I used to.

I enjoy my life and want to keep achieving, but is there a trade off to be had between being comfortable and pushing yourself to new, greater things? Should we always strive to stay hungry, stay foolish? do we only have the option to settle on our merits when the going is good?

Instead of “stay hungry, stay foolish”, I’ve come up with a phrase that while doesn’t have the same ring, it feels better to me and fits with where my life is right now.

“Don’t get too comfortable”.

Generally, the greatest developments in life happen when you push yourself a little further than is comfortable. You have to go out of your comfort zone to learn new things and achieve greatness. You can be satisfied (not hungry) and smart (not foolish) to achieve those things.

where-the-magic-happens

There doesn’t have to be a trade off.

So I can be satisfied with my life, but always push myself to achieve more. I can be willing to keep trying the things people say cannot be done, but do it in a smart way.

I just shouldn’t settle on my merits or let comfort creep in.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Or, don’t get too comfortable.

This article originally appeared in The Carrier, a monthly newspaper founded in 2012 as a way to send news to the people in our lives. 

How to Get a Job in PR

How To Get A Job In PR

How to Get a Job in PR is Sarah Stimson’s fantastic book on how to break into the PR industry.

The book is a comprehensive guide to finding and keeping the PR job you dream of, answering all sorts of questions you may have about the PR industry and helping with many more that might not have even crossed your mind.

The book covers everything you need to know to get a job in PR and beyond, including:

- A thorough overview of different PR sectors and disciplines
- An excellent step-by-step guide to creating an effective PR CV
- Helpful job application tips
- Indispensable advice on how best to represent yourself in an interview
- Top advice from leading industry figures
- A recommended reading list and directory of useful contacts

Sarah herself has over 10 years of PR and recruitment experience, placing people in jobs both in PR agencies and in-house communications teams from entry level all the way up to the most senior roles, so is one of the best in the industry at helping you land that dream PR job.

What I like even more is that 10% of royalties generated by the book will be donated to the Taylor Bennett Foundation, which addresses the need for greater diversity in the communications & PR industry. So not only will you be getting a great book, but you’ll be helping others get a break into the industry too. Buy it now!

Each chapter with quotes from senior practitioners giving their advice on how to break into the industry, which offer invaluable insights beyond the advice that Sarah gives. Here’s a selection of the choiciest quotes:

Agency vs in-house

It’s common to hear people vigorously outline the benefits of either in-house or agency roles as THE answer to junior career development. Having experienced both sides of the fence, I would recommend both.

The balance of the experience may vary, with agency giving breadth, and in-house depth, but both experiences will ultimately rest on the attitude of the person going into the role.

How committed are you to seeking out the views of a wide range of direct and indirect colleagues? How much effort are you going to put into developing your skills beyond that your employer provides? How much, at the end of the day, do you want it?

Alex Pearmain, Director, Digital&Social, Brands2Life, @AlexPearmain

Do I need a PR degree?

I’ve been teaching public relations in universities for ten years, yet even I’ll admit that a degree is not enough (and a PR degree is still not essential).

A degree indicates something. It should indicate curiosity and an ability to learn, and this is easily assessed at interview by asking about current affairs (or sport or popular culture).

Good candidates should also have gained some work experience. They will also have the right attitude and have something to show for their time outside the classroom. Have they written for online magazines? Do they have their own blog? What about their presence on social networks?

Richard Bailey, PR Lecturer and Editor of Behind the Spin Magazine. @behindthespin

Skills PR employers value

The smart students that quickly find jobs are the ones that start thinking about their future employment long before they leave college or graduate. The Internet has given rise to a huge variety of publishing tools and sharing platforms that anyone can use to develop an online network and profile.

I’d urge you to find a media format and platform that you’re comfort with and start creating and sharing content about your future profession. That might be a WordPress blog, images on Flickr, or video on YouTube. S

econd start building a network. LinkedIn and Twitter are a good place to start.Social networks are democratic and enable anyone to follow conversations taking place online. That’s a short step to creating content and engaging with people throughout the industry. Start with me. I’m @wadds on Twitter.

We get people walking through the door at Ketchum all the time that claim to be socially and digitally savvy yet they’ve never blogged and they aren’t on Twitter. Do yourself a favour and get a ahead of the game. It’ll pay dividends personally as these skills are much in demand and it will help you understand the challenges that brands face in engaging with audiences in the modem media environment.

Stephen Waddington, European Digital & Social Media Director, Ketchum & President, CIPR 2014, @wadds

I was humbled to be asked by Sarah to give a quote or two as well, which are as follows:

Tips on how to stay motivated when working from home

Maintaining focus while working from home can be a hard task. Getting up to make yet another cup of tea disrupts this focus and stops you getting the important work done. To help keep that focus, make a to do list of the 3 most important tasks you need to finish that day – and make sure you finish them. Then even if you do nothing else, you’ll have completed the most important work.

Other tips include turing off email and social networks for an hour, so you can concentrate on actually getting work done. Also, leave the TV switched off as it’s too attention grabbing, but radio can be nice as background noise.

Make sure you finish work at an appointed time in the evening, no matter what. Not only will you be more focussed in order to get finished on time, but you’ll also be able to relax in the evening and get a better night’s sleep. You can always get up early the next day to finish off anything urgent, but your mind will be more refreshed and you’ll finish the task quicker than if you plow on into the night.

What are PR degrees?

PR Degrees equip you with both the theory and practical skills required to get a job and then build a successful career in the PR industry.

The best PR degrees have a strong practical element and good links with the PR industry, so you can start building your industry contacts while still studying. Your tutors should be experts with significant industry experience, supported by visiting lecturers who can give you an insight into the day-to-day workings of the industry.

Digital and social media is more important than ever, so if you choose a PR degree then make sure this part of the programme is strong.

Buy How to Get a Job in PR now!

The book is available in both Paperback and Amazon Kindle, so if you’re looking to get a job in PR, buy the book now.

And congratulations to Sarah for making the time and effort for writing such a fantastic book that will no doubt help many people break into the PR industry.

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