Apologies in advance if this post reads more like a rant. I've recently started editing a couple of blogs. Both accept guest blog posts. Both invite potential contributors to pitch directly to me - and I have been inundated with terrible guest blog post pitches ever since.
Now, I don't have the magic formula that means you will see success with every guest blog post pitch.
But I have worked as a freelance writer for many years. I have pitched to many, many publications. I am now on the receiving end of these guest post pitches.
And here's where you may be going wrong with your guest post pitches:
1. Your title sucks
Let's look at a pitch I recently received. It's the (poor) standard of pitch that's regularly hitting my inbox.
My first bugbear is the title. It simply says "Add My Blog Post".
Why would I add your blog post? Such a generic title tells me nothing about what you're pitching or your proposed content.
I get hundreds of these emails every day - why am I going to click on one that says "Add My Blog Post"?
You need to grab an editor's attention with a catchy title and details of your proposed copy.
For example, "Pitch: How to Rock An Event At Your Coworking Space" would be a far better title.
Tip: Use your title to tell the editor what you want to write.
2. Sorry, who are you?
The majority of pitches I receive have a generic "gmail.com" domain. This irks me because it tells me nothing about you and, when I open the email, there's also no further information on who you are.
Are you a freelance writer? Are you working on behalf of a specific company or agency? Where's your email signature with details about your job title?
Such pitches give me no idea why I should take you seriously as a writer.
Tip: Include a couple of sentences about you and use a corporate email account.
3. You don't even know my name
No, I haven't got all egotistical here. But you should, at the very least, add the name of the editor you're pitching to in your intro.
A "Hi Gemma" will suffice - it shows you're not just sending the same generic pitch to every blog editor in the world (because you'd never do that, right?).
Also, I edit more than one blog - which one are you pitching to? You just need to say "I'd like to pitch a post to your [INSERT NAME] blog..." here.
Tip: ALWAYS use an editor's name and mention the publication.
4. Have you really read my blog?
Great! You've read my blog! You think it's good and impressive!
This isn't going to impress me. What would impress me is a more insightful statement with proof that our brands are aligned or that you have some value to add to my blog.
For example, a better start would be "I read your post on how words are failing women in technology, I recently decided to leave a career in science because of everyday sexism and would like to share my experiences on your blog."
Ta-da! You've also just told me a little bit about yourself, shown that you've actually read my blog and demonstrated how you can add value with a unique perspective on a complex topic.
Tip: Prove you've read the publication and provide insight.
5. Check your spelling and grammar
Oh my goodness. I shouldn't even have to write this down.
If you're pitching to WRITE for a publication CHECK YOUR SPELLING AND PUNCTUATION.
If you struggle with this, then download the Grammarly app.
Admittedly, it is easy for such mistakes to slip in. But a glaring grammatical error can be all it takes for an editor to hit the delete button.
Tip: Double check every pitch for simple mistakes.
6. Read the editorial guidelines
Now, while there may appear to be nothing wrong with a polite concluding sentence, it's clear this pitcher has not read the editorial guidelines for the blog.
If they had read the guidelines, then they'd know that I only respond to pitches that follow a specific format and how I will proceed with successful pitches.
Editors receive hundreds of pitches a day. We don't have time to respond to every pitch and we certainly won't respond to lazy pitches that don't follow the guidelines we've taken the time to write.
Tip: Tailor every pitch to the specifics of every publication.
7. Know when to quit
So, what does make a good pitch? Here's a pitch template:
[TITLE] Pitch: [PROPOSED PITCH TITLE]
Dear [EDITOR'S NAME],
My name's [YOUR NAME] and I [DETAILS OF YOUR EXPERIENCE/BUSINESS].
I recently read [POST TITLE] on your [PUBLICATION TITLE] and [YOUR INSIGHTS HERE].
I would like to pitch the following idea to you:
Working title: [PROPOSED PITCH TITLE]
Synopsis: [GUEST POST SYNOPSIS]
Thank you for your time. Please let me know if there's any further information you need from me at this stage.
For example, here's the guest post pitch template with the blanks filled in:
Pitch: 10 Editors Every Writer Should Avoid Like the Plague
My name's Gemma and I'm an experienced freelance writer in the science and technology sectors. You can read examples of my work here.
I recently read your post "10,000 things I hate about whinging editors" on the Completely Fictional Writers blog and, having worked as a freelance writer for more than 10 years, it strikes me that there are specific categories of editor that every writer encounters.
I would like to pitch the following idea to you:
Working title: 10 Editors Every Writer Should Avoid Like the Plague
Synopsis: From the overly critical to the over-askers, this post will identify 10 different types of editor, their character traits and how writers can work with each type.
Thank you for your time. Please let me know if there's any further information you need from me at this stage.
The freelance writer who gets tech: www.geditorial.com.
Some final guest blog post pitch tips
In summary, good guest blog post pitches take time. You can't spam every editor you find with the same generic pitch hoping you'll get a hit.
You also need to keep your pitches short. If an idea peaks the interest of an editor, they'll ask you for more info.
Finally, don't offer to write the same generic fodder others could write. Identify an angle or information that's different from the competition.
Be polite. Be specific. Be brief. Be different.
Remember, editors are human beings.
We all have our bad days (as this post clearly demonstrates).
But, if your idea is a good one, we can't wait to work with you.
Bring out the trumpets! The gender pay gap is shrinking! So, why does it still feel more like a gender pay chasm?
Well, because we still have an awfully long way to go. The most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that: "In 2017, men on average were paid £1.32 more per hour than women, which, as a proportion of men’s pay, is a pay gap of 9.1%. The pay gap has fallen from 10.5% in 2011 to 9.1% in 2017, but remains positive in value – meaning that on average men are paid more than women."
One core reason for this difference is the tendency for women to move into poorly paid or low-skilled part-time jobs after having children, or leave the world of work altogether.
Further research from the ONS found: "The employment rate for women with dependent children is 73.7% with 51.8% of the jobs being part-time whilst the employment rate for men with dependent children is 92.4% with 90.1% of these jobs being full-time."
The gender pay gap is a complex issue and rates of pay within the freelancer community are notoriously difficult to measure. The ONS even concedes: "One reason for the limited coverage of self-employed income is the difficulty involved in measuring it. As noted in a recent discussion, existing data on self-employment incomes are largely based on survey responses."
On the one hand, a software developer in London with three to five years experience could expect to command a salary of between £40,000 and £70,000. A contractor with the same skill set and experience could demand £500/day.
On the other hand, figures from the ONS reveal the distribution of self-employed income appears centred around £240 a week, much lower than that for employees, which is centred around £400 a week.
Life as a freelancer is unpredictable. It is filled with highs and lows (that aren't just financial in nature).
So, is freelancing the solution to the gender pay gap? No.
But employers can learn an awful lot from the freelancer lifestyle and could address the gender pay gap at the same time.
Let me explain.
Last week, I sat on a panel for the launch of the Modern Work freelancer magazine. I was asked if I would ever return to full-time employment. I gave this response:
You see, working as a freelance writer does address several of the key issues for women in the workplace, including:
1. A work/life imbalance
I'm going to have a wee moan here. Why is the school day (generally) 9-3 and yet most jobs (where you have to commute) are 9-5? It's incompatible and leaves most working parents (especially those without regular family support to bridge the gap) with a difficult choice: hire in some help or quit your job.
If you work as a freelancer, you can work around the school hours. It's not easy (you have to fit in those missing hours somewhere), but it's a more viable option than paying a small fortune for childcare or leaving employment altogether.
The uneasy truth is that (regardless of your sex) the world of 9-5 work and the world of parenting are not compatible.
Unless, maybe, you can win a flexible working contract. However, a recent study found that a large number of mothers are forced to leave their jobs after flexible working requests were turned down.
So, freelancing is the only viable option.
2. Controllable career progression
Some 72.8% of the UK's chief executives and senior officials are men and the number of female leaders is consistently overestimated around the world.
As a freelancer, you have control over your career path. You can choose to keep the status quo or ramp up your career.
It's an empowering experience where you not only choose what you work on, and whom you work with but your long-term aspirations too.
3. An Escape Route from Sexism
When you're self-employed, there's no Boy's Club to break into or risk of being asked "are you pregnant?" in an interview (research from the Equality and Human Rights Commission recently revealed most UK employers believe a woman should say at interview if they are pregnant).
This excellent article also highlights the in-built macho culture in tech that's sending women running to the hills.
Unfortunately, sexism is just as rife in freelancing as it is in permanent employment. And the problems can be exacerbated when you don't have a manager or HR department to help you deal with these issues.
However, as a freelancer, you can choose your clients, your work and avoid working with misogynist attitudes.
This last sentence irks me.
Why, as a woman who wants to work, should you have to feel the only way to earn a decent wage, have a rewarding career, achieve a better work/life balance and not be faced by sexism at any level is to freelance?
This isn't what freelancing is about.
Freelancing should not be the only way to earn a decent wage.
Freelancing should not be the only way to have a rewarding career.
Freelancing should not be the only way to achieve a work/life balance.
Freelancing should not be the only way to escape sexism.
For me, freelancing is a hugely empowering career path. And it's a path that I was lucky enough to choose when working for an inclusive and supportive employer all those years ago as a software developer.
If freelancing isn't a choice but a necessity to escape permanent employment, then there's something fundamentally wrong with the way we treat women in the workplace.
It's time employers started understanding that traditional 9-5 jobs do not work for the majority of women who want many of the aspects that automatically come from self-employment.
I can already hear the standard mutterings (from some) along the lines of: "If you want this so-called work/life balance, you can't expect to be paid the same as someone who does the 9-5."
For those reading this article who think women don't have the right to work and raise a family: read this.
For those reading this article who think women don't have the right to fair pay, a rewarding career and a sexism-free workplace: bugger off.
Back to my original question.
No. Freelancing is not the panacea to the gender pay gap.
Some even suggest the gender pay gap is worse for female freelancers.
Freelancing is not a silver bullet to resolve the issues women in work still face every day.
But there are elements of the freelancer lifestyle that many employers could embrace to help keep more women in the workforce.
If we can achieve this and keep women working in skilled roles, then we could take the gender pay gap to zero.
Last night, I gave a keynote talk at Nottingham Trent University on behalf of the society for freelancers and the self-employed - IPSE. The Freelancing for Students event is part of a new series and is designed to give students across all disciplines top tips and advice on how to successfully launch a career as a freelancer.
A terrifying number of people turned up, but it wasn't that scary at all. I was joined by Di Tunney from The Creative Quarter Company and there was a great panel discussion with three fellow freelancers, all addressing the challenges of finding work as a freelancer.
The advice we all gave was, rather spookily, very similar (and without seeing the other talks prior to the event, I promise). So, here are the highlights for anyone eager to kick off a freelance career:
Find a specialism
You may assume that if you generalise then you'll have a larger selection of work to choose from and get more work. Somewhat counter-intuitively, the opposite is true.
When I set up as a freelance writer, I didn't push my science and technology skills to the front of my work. I was pitching for generic work and against a pool of generic writers. As a result, I didn't stand out from the crowd and, if I did manage to win some work, it wasn't very well paid.
Then, I set up as "the freelancer who gets tech". Yes, it's a cheesy tagline but it succinctly tells you what I do. Wrapped up in that personal branding is my USP: I've worked in the science and technology sectors I write about, giving me a unique level of experience that other writers cannot offer.
So, what's the message here? Find out what makes you unique. Push it to the front of everything you do.
If you can identify and shout your specialism from the rooftops, more work and more pay will come your way.
You'll become an expert in your field and the go-to person for that specialism. People know what you offer, and you'll be their first port of call as a result.
Be open to different ways of working
Once you have your specialism, make sure you don't take a blinkered approach to your work. If an unusual job offer comes in and it's outside of your comfort zone, go for it.
Speaking in the panel discussion, Chantal Duarte, sports psychologist and project management specialist freelancer, echoed this sentiment and told the students to have confidence in their skill set.
You're not "just" a student.
An example from my experience is when I was approached to do a spot of ghostwriting work for a prominent CIO. Initially, I hesitated as I hadn't considered working as a ghostwriter. But, I accepted the contract.
Now, that CIO has become one of my best clients. He's recommended me to his colleagues and he's probably responsible for 20% of the clients on my books.
And I nearly turned him down because I "wasn't sure" if I wanted to ghostwrite.
The thought of the opportunities I would have lost if I hadn't accepted his offer still makes me shudder.
Practice, practice, practice
When you're starting out, it's vital to try and practice your craft on a daily basis. This will help you to build your skills, find your voice and create a signature style that will (again) make you stand out from the crowd.
It's important to take inspiration from others in your industry, but be original in that work. Create something that you love and is fun to work on.
For example, my Sunday Science blog (where I explain science with Lego) started off as a fun way to keep me blogging on a weekly basis. It's now snowballed and I have hundreds of subscribers to the weekly newsletter. It's also been another way for me to find work as I regularly get emails from readers of the blog who want me to write for them.
Work experience counts
Work experience is a great way to build your portfolio of work. Don't be put off if a company or individual doesn't advertise that they offer work experience - send them a cheeky pitch for work anyway (more on pitching later).
You may want to approach companies from different industries too. Again, it's about throwing the net as wide as possible and seeing if you can catch a break.
When you're at university, you could also volunteer for a student society. For example, if you want to be a freelance web designer - find a society with a lousy website and ask if you can redesign it for them.
And every time you do a chunk of work experience, put it in your portfolio. Write down what you did, the skills you gained and the people you met.
Work experience is, essentially, an extended job interview where you'll meet people working in the industry. So, make a good impression and start forging connections.
Finding work as a freelancer often comes down to whom you know. Which leads me to my next point...
Be a networking ninja
Go to industry events and talks. Check out the IPSE events page and come along to a talk. Get out there.
I'll be honest, I've been networking for 15 years now and I still find it a bit scary. But, try to get involved and have a chat with the other attendees. Sometimes opportunities will come your way from the most random conversations and connections you make.
Online networking is another necessity when you're building your pool of resources. So, identify a social network (or networks) that matches your work and go for it. Connect with thought leaders and comment on their posts.
LinkedIn is a must-have for most industries. Make sure you have an account and that it's up to date with all your latest projects. And put your specialism at the very top of your profile.
Get a website. It doesn't have to be anything fancy, just a page telling people who you are, what you do and your portfolio of work (with some contact details) is all it takes.
Pitch like a pro
When you pitch to companies or individuals for work, be smart.
I always start with a short introductory email. It helps if you have a personal contact but, if you don't, I'd recommend a sneaky little tool called ahrefs. This provides a small button in your browser that you can click when you're on a company website and it'll give you the email addresses of people at that company.
Make sure every pitch is tailored to that company.
DO NOT send the same generic email to 100 companies. It will be deleted.
Tell people who you are, what you do and how you can help them.
Do that in 2-3 sentences and provide a link to find out more.
Dear [insert contact's name],
My name's Gemma Church and I'm the freelance writer who gets tech.
I noticed [insert company name] hasn't updated its blog in a while.
As a specialist science and technology writer, I believe I could create some compelling content for your site. [Give examples here]
You can find out more about my work here. And, if you fancy a chat, my number is 01223 926205.
If you don't hear anything back, you could give them a quick phone call and ask to speak to someone in the marketing department. Or you could fire out another email.
The main thing is to be personal and proactive when pitching.
Experiment with job searches and freelance websites
There are a lot of freelance job finding websites out there. Just do a quick Google search.
While they are a great way to find people and (most) offer payment protection so you aren't left chasing a client over an invoice, there are some disadvantages.
For example, the website will take a cut from your fee and these jobs can be poorly paid compared to the industry average. After all, you'll be pitching for work with people around the world. It can be difficult to compete in this space.
Also, a handy tip is to search for jobs that aren't necessarily advertised as a freelance position. In particular, if you notice a post has been around for a while, the company in question is clearly struggling to fill that post.
So, give the HR department a call and ask if you could help them fill that skills gap?
Don't give up!
This was probably the overriding advice from all the freelancers at the IPSE event.
Finding work as a freelancer is tough. You have to continually pitch and promote yourself across multiple platforms and to multiple people to get the work in.
Then, sometimes, you'll get an avalanche of work and wish you had that 9-5 job.
Other times, you're twiddling your thumbs and panicking about the lack of work.
But it's totally worth it.
Because freelancing gives you the opportunity to do something you truly love. It gives you the freedom to set your own goals and fulfill your ambitions.
Some days, you'll work 5-9.
And you won't care.
Because you'll love it.
A friend once told me that I was "living the dream" as a professional freelance writer. When asked what they meant, they simply said: "Because you're your own boss, you work the hours you want and you get to see your children."
It's an interesting set of assumptions - because they're all completely wrong.
While I am (technically) my own boss - I'd argue that a boss (in the conventional sense) has been replaced by the fleet of customers I have on my books. They're all my bosses now. I suppose the one advantage is that the tables have been turned. I can choose whom I work with and "fire" any one my "bosses" if I want to.
And, yes, I do get flexibility in my hours. But I just worked for most of the bank holiday weekend as I listened to my children playing outside. So, that's points two and three of my friend's statement scuppered too. But, to be completely objective, I do get to pick my children up from school every day - I just have to work until 1am most nights to make up the hours.
Now, please don't think this is going to be a big rant about the woes of freelance writing. If you're thinking about a career as a freelance writer, I ABSOLUTELY recommend it (I even used capital letters to emphasise this point, which means I'm REALLY serious about this).
The best and worst part of my work is: I love it. Why's that a bad thing? Because I can't say no to the flurry of fascinating work that comes my way - so I always end up with too much on my plate.
Boo hoo. Poor me. What a chuffing first world problem.
I could write a very smug and self-indulgent piece on why I LOVE my job. (Yes, capital letters again. I know you noticed.) But I don't think you'd want to read that. And I don't think I'd want to write that. (Which breaks the golden rule about only writing stuff you'd want to read.)
Anyway, the assumptions people make when I say I'm a freelance writer are intriguing. (My favourite question so far from someone I'd only just met is: "Are you writing the next Fifty Shades of Grey then?" No. I'm more geek than grey.)
So, I was particularly fascinated by this white paper on The State of Freelance Writing in 2017 by the bods at Freelance Writing. It gives a fascinating insight into life as a professional freelance writer. Here's a synopsis of the findings:
The full infographic is at the end of this post if you want to see all of the stats.
Why a specialism matters
I was quite disheartened by the findings of this white paper. It seemed, on first inspection, to paint freelance writers as a struggling bunch of workers with a below-par income.
But, the middle sentence, really stuck a chord with me: Most writers gained specialised expertise in previous jobs. This expertise then allowed them to be better freelance writers.
And I think that may be the thing no one tells you about freelance writing:
The secret is in the specialism
I'm quite flattered when people ask me for advice on following a career as a freelance writer. I'll be honest, it's more luck than judgement that has led me to "living the dream".
But the one bit of advice I give time and TIME again (see, capital letters, this is important) is to (drumroll please): HAVE A SPECIALISM.
I've touched on the importance of a specialism before, and it's absolutely vital if you want to thrive and survive as a professional freelance writer.
Throughout my 10+ years as a writer, I've always focused on science and technology. After all, I have two degrees in physics, I've worked as a research scientist and software developer (amongst other things) and have an unhealthy obsession with Brian Cox. I write about the stuff I love and know about.
That's not all.
If you really want to succeed as a writer, you need to give your clients real value in everything you write. No one wants to read another listicle about the top 10 ways you can do XYZ - people want real insights from real people.
So, make sure you find your niche and work hard to become an expert in this area.
Before I came up with the (dubious) tagline that "I'm the freelance writer who gets tech", I was part of the below $10K salary demographic identified in the Freelance Writing survey.
As soon as I started shouting about my expertise in science and technology, the work snowballed.
So, if you want to "live the dream" - you have to invest the time in that dream. You have to work out what you want to write about. Then, work your socks off to achieve that dream.
And try hard not to punch anyone in the face who claims you're "living the dream" as a freelance writer as you work until the wee small hours to make another ridiculous deadline.
After all, you're you own boss, right? And you can work your own hours, right? And when did you last see your children?
The real truth about freelance writing is: it's a tough job.
But it rocks.
Here's the full infographic from Freelance Writing:
Oh crumbs. Did I just agree with Theresa May on national radio? Should freelancers stop whining about their rights?
Today, a government review of employment practices (the Taylor Report) called for all work in the UK economy to be fair. It focused on the gig economy in particular and recommended such workers have the same rights as permanent staff in terms of holiday and sick pay. And that the self-employed should get paid maternity and paternity leave.
Theresa May responded by acknowledging that it was important to have a "flexible" approach that didn't "exploit workers", while the unions slammed the report for its "spectacular failure" to deliver on promises.
I think I may agree with, um, May. We need to introduce flexibility into future legislation so that every worker is protected from exploitation and is paid a fair amount for their time.
Today, I spoke to the BBC Radio 4 show You and Yours about the report and my life as a freelancer. When asked how fair my pay and conditions are, I have to admit that they're more than fair.
Self-employment is, to me, a huge opportunity. I chose to work this way. I chose to leave permanent employment with its protection and rights for workers because, as the freelance writer who gets tech, I can command a higher income and achieve a better work/life balance.
So, do I have the right to ask for extra rights? Does the very nature of self-employment not mean that I am already compensated for the lack of maternity leave, pension or sick pay?
Should all self-employed workers just be grateful for what they have?
No. The real problem is that no two self-employed workers are the same. It's the lack of definition around the way I and others in the self-employment sector work that is dangerous for the future of work and, ultimately, the British economy.
The lack of clarity around defined worker roles is the real problem that the Taylor report failed to address.
What the heck is a "dependent contractor" anyway?
The Taylor report introduced a new "dependent contractor" category that sits between fully employed and self-employed status. Dependent contractors would be eligible for certain rights and companies, like Uber and Deliveroo, that rely on these workers would not be able to dodge their obligations.
However, I am not a dependent contractor. I do not rely on the gig economy. I use it to fund a small fraction of my income as and when I need to. My working situation is a world away from a zero hours contract. I'm not an Uber driver.
So, what am I?
I'm self-employed. I'm one of almost five million British workers that count themselves as self-employed and, arguably, prop up the British economy.
Ahead of the Taylor Review, a survey by PwC suggested more people would consider gig work or a zero-hours contract if they had better guarantees around pay, job security and benefits such as holiday and sick pay.
Surely, more employment in any guise means more wealth and should be widely encouraged?
Yet, the Taylor Review has deemed it necessary to introduce a hybrid "dependent contractor" category, without first providing a statutory definition of self-employment. And this is a huge oversight.
Whether you're a permanent employee, self-employed or somewhere in between, we first need to be clear about the boundaries between different worker roles so we can give all workers the rights they deserve.
Speaking in a statement, Chris Bryce, chief executive at self-employment association IPSE, said: "Any changes to employment status should bring clarity and not add to the confusion around how government treats the way people choose to work."
"When people talk about the gig economy, there is often the mistaken assumption that the services operating in it are all the same. Each relationship has to be judged on its own particular merits, and it would have been a huge error to simply place everyone in the gig economy within the revised worker status. This is why it’s essential to enshrine what it means to be self-employed in law," he added.
If the ultimate goal of the Taylor Review was to protect all workers' rights, then it needs to first give the self-employment sector the recognition it deserves.
As Theresa May takes the summer to flick through the report and plan her next move, I sincerely hope the self-employment sector is not left on the sidelines.
We all have the right to a fair deal at work.
Freelancing is a famine or feast existence and, recently, I've been feasting so much I felt like fitting a gastric band on my business.
Deadlines came in daily waves and all-nighters were starting to feel like the norm instead of a one-off occurrence. It's not a sustainable existence, and I'm grateful for the influx of work - but I'm equally grateful to kick back and go back to working the usual 9-5, not 5-9.
There's a problem with the famine period of freelancing though. I find it really difficult to stay motivated.
Suddenly, I find 101 things to do around the house. I start raiding the fridge with alarming frequency - and then going to the gym to work off the 14 Crunchie bars I've consumed in one hour*.
But I still have work to do. I just can't seem to get my bum into gear to do it. It's been a difficult and chocolate-heavy week - so I wanted to share a few productivity tips I've stumbled on during quiet times:
1. Tomato timers top the list
The Pomodoro technique is a regular on many productivity posts - but it really has worked for me so I had to give it a mention. The idea is that you work on one task for 25 minutes straight, take a five-minute break and then repeat that cycle four times, before taking a longer break.
This method doesn't work for me when I'm writing a long feature article and need to immerse myself in a topic - but it's a Godsend when I have lots of little jobs to do. And taking regular breaks really does boost your productivity - here's the scientific proof.
2. Get on top of the backlog
Not too busy? Now is the time to sort out your website, write a backlog of blog posts, clean your desk and clear the decks.
I write a weekly Sunday Science blog series that (you guessed it) comes out every Sunday. So, I'm using this period of downtime to write as many posts as I can before I'm busy again. I've set myself a target of writing one post per day and put more topic suggestions up on my editorial calendar.
If you have similar tasks on the horizon, your future self will thank you if you break the back of them now.
3. Reflect on your work
I'm not one for navel-gazing - but I'm currently completing a self-assessment on my business. I know it sounds a bit mad, but I hope it will help me to identify what's going well and where I need to make more improvements.
This post from Rosalind Davies gives some great advice on completing a freelance performance review. If you're more of a small business - then check out these business assessment analysis tools.
4. Stand up!
A couple of months ago, I fitted a standing desk in my office. I originally wanted to improve my health, but I've only just started to realise how it has helped my productivity. I find it easier to retain focus and get back to my desk after a break, for example.
You don't have to fork out for an expensive desk either - I constructed my own desk using a few boxes and some spare IKEA shelves. It's not a long term solution, but it's a good way to trial a standing desk to see if it works for you.
If you're not convinced by a standing desk - here are another 15 office design tricks to boost your productivity.
5. Cut yourself some slack
I use Toggl to track my time. It's a great tool to analyse my working week, including the clients and projects that are taking the most amount of time.
During peak times, I can work up to 60 hours a week. So, does it really matter if I only work 30 hours this week and take some time off? No. In fact, taking a break could be a very good idea if you want to avoid the dreaded burnout.
Taking of which, I'm going to take the afternoon off now to do a spot of gardening. And tidy my desk.
Please feel free to share your tips for retaining focus during your downtime in the comments below!
* Slight exaggeration. It was 12 Crunchie bars.
This morning, I spoke on the BBC Radio Five Live's Wake Up to Money programme about the gig economy, which is the working practice of picking up chunks of work on a flexible basis.
As a freelance writer, I've used sites like Upwork to top up my income in this way. Such sites provide a link for freelancers who want some extra work and companies who need a little extra manpower.
For me, this has worked well. But there are downsides to the "gig economy". Workplace rights are coming under increasing scrutiny. And quite rightly so.
New research from the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) shows that one million workers now use the gig economy.
The To Gig or Not To Gig: Stories from the modern economy report said: “Despite the typically low earnings reported by gig economy workers, they remain on the whole satisfied with their income, with 51% saying they are satisfied and 19% dissatisfied with the level of income they receive. This is significantly higher than the level of satisfaction with pay reported by other workers, where 36% are satisfied and 35% are dissatisfied,” according to The Guardian.
This is an interesting contrast. How can more than half of those using the gig economy be happy with their earnings, if they are typically low?
The CIPD report, and my own experience, may provide the answer. According to the report, the most common reason for taking on gig work is to boost income, according to almost one-third of the 5,000 respondents.
I am, most definitely, in that bracket. I am completely satisfied with my level of income as a freelance writer and sometimes gigging writer.
But, I would not say the gig economy is the sole reason for this satisfaction. The gig economy only makes up around 5% of my total income. Like the vast majority, I supplement my earnings by logging into Upwork and finding a bit work when needs must.
I do no rely on gigging. I use it as and when I want or need to.
Yes, the gig economy gives you another route to find work. It gives you the flexibility to find projects that boost your portfolio. It gives you the opportunity to access projects that you would never find through your own network. It opens doors.
That's the bit I really like. If I want to branch out and write about something different, I can. If I want to earn a little bit extra, it gives me a plausible way to do this.
The gig economy and freelancer lifestyle are natural bedfellows because both offer you flexibility in your work.
Low pay? No way
This flexibility is a double-edged sword. And this is the crux of the issue. The companies tapping into the gig economy have flexibility too in terms of when they hire and what they pay workers.
The majority of those I have worked with in the gig economy pay freelancers a fair rate. You can report businesses that are asking you to work for free on Upwork, for example. It's an important step to ensure the skills of the freelancer community are not undervalued - and a core reason why I support the #nofreework campaign.
But there are also less scrupulous sorts who want to pay freelancers the bare minimum for their skills. Quite frankly, being offering 1p per word is not going to pay the bills. For a 500-word blog post, which can take up to four hours to research and write, that's £1.25 per hour.
This is why Labour MP Frank Field's call for Theresa May to guarantee a minimum wage for self-employed workers is so important.
It is vital that the self-employment lifestyle is not undervalued. Look at the recent debacle surrounding an increase in national insurance on self-employed workers. Before the U-Turn, Theresa May said the shift towards self-employment was "eroding the tax base" and making it harder to pay for public services "on which ordinary working families depend".
On a personal note, I am in an ordinary working family. The suggestion that I am eroding the tax base is laughable at best (I am now much more highly paid and, as a result, more highly taxed compared to my previous life as a permanent employee) and dangerous at worst.
It's dangerous because if you start to tax the gig economy and budding entrepreneurs then you will stifle innovation.
The gig economy gave me an entry point into freelancing. I used it to supplement my income when I was working full time as a software developer. Before I knew it, the supplementary gig work snowballed and I was getting so much work as "the freelance writer who gets tech" that I quit my 9-5 and writing became my full-time job.
I took a chance. I continue to take chances every day as a freelancer because I do not have a guaranteed income every month. The gig economy gives me a speck of reassurance that I can find work every month if the proverbial ever hits the fan.
But, is the gig economy fair for freelancers? If you tread carefully and choose work that pays you a fair wage, then yes. If you use it to supplement your income, then yes.
If you pay me 1p/word? No.
We live in difficult times where many people need to supplement their income using the gig economy. And some workers rely on the gig economy. It is not fair to exploit those working very hard to make ends meet regardless of whether they gig, work or do both.
A fair wage is a basic working right for everyone.
Love or hate it - what are your views on the gig economy? Please let me know if the comments below.
Life as a freelance writer can be frustrating. I spend hours coming up with article ideas; find exclusive and clever lines; track down interviewees and my pitches seemingly disappear into a black hole from which no communication, either positive or negative, ever appears.
The event horizon of the editor’s inbox sucks in my pitches and imprisons them. My story goes stale and my chances of seeing my piece in print disappears. Worse still, there is always a sneaking suspicion that the lead I've given away in my email is now being worked up into a news story by the publication’s own staff.
OK, I'm exaggerating now. Idea theft, in reality, does not happen very often. But the reality of pitching to numerous editors is part of the freelance writer life. I just never appreciated how big a chunk of my time it would take.
I've been incredibly lucky with my pitches and the editors who I've made contact with. But for every hundred good editors, there is a bad - or even an invisible counterpart.
The good editor
Yesterday, I nervously pitched to a rather large publication using a very generic email address I found on their website. My expectations were lower than Donald Trump's wig. Imagine my surprise when I received a response a few minutes later.
OK, the pitch wasn't successful but the editor responded, gave me constructive criticism on the pitch, told me what they were looking for and a better email address to use in the future. And he was encouraging. It may sound daft, but it really made my day. I now have a valuable insight and contact.
Such good editors are in the majority. They respond to enquiries and give tips on the nuances of their publication. It makes sense and saves everyone a lot of time and effort.
I've met a lot of good editors and they work for a range of publications. Maybe they appreciate that freelance writers can produce value-adding and unique articles. Maybe they understand, or remember, the endless freelance writer pitching process. Maybe they're all just thoroughly good eggs.
Whatever the reason, thank you, good editors.
The bad editor
Now, to the other end of the spectrum. The bad editor. I have a little more anecdotal evidence here.
I still remember getting the following response to a pitch in my early days of freelancing:
"This is not the sort of article we would ever consider publishing. It's drivel. Please do not contact me again."
Crumbs. I was rather upset by these disparaging remarks. I'd only pitched to the publication once before, using a generic address from the contact us page and received positive feedback. It came as a shock on both a professional and personal level. Especially as the pitch later found a home in another publication, so I don't think it could have been too diabolical.
The bad editor is in the minority. I have heard further anecdotal evidence of the bad editor persona from fellow freelancers, but these tales are few and far between. Just dust it off, keep on pitching and strike that individual off your contact list. Retain your professionalism.
The invisible editor
I appreciate editors are swamped with pitches on a daily basis. I appreciate they are incredibly busy. But occasionally, I would appreciate a response from the invisible editor.
I'm not talking about cold pitches or press releases that are fired to the masses (a method I never use if any editors are reading this). I'm talking about an ongoing conversation with an editor about an article. Research is done, interviews are in place and when the pitch is made: silence.
The editor has dropped off the face of the Earth. It's incredibly frustrating. Suddenly my "great idea" is not great enough to be published. Hmph.
There are two things to bear in mind regarding unresponsive editors: it's not personal and there's nothing you can do about it. This pitch may be your big break - but to an editor, it's just another one of dozens of articles they are responsible for on a daily basis. And here's the hardest pill to swallow - it may not be such an amazing idea after all.
Life as a freelance writer is a constant education. I have made mistakes, learnt from them and moved on. I've developed a thick skin from the bad editors, a wealth of knowledge from the good editors and a theory that the invisible editor is maybe too kind to become the bad editor and let me know that my pitch may just stink.
This Valentine's Day, I received an unexpected gift. Entrepreneur and founder of the Cambridge Satchel Company, Julie Deane published an independent review into self-employment in the UK.
Having now had time to read the 40-something page review, several pertinent points were raised with regards to the 4.6 million self-employed Britons. We are a diverse and motivated group, enabled by technology and form a significant chunk of the UK workforce - some 15 per cent. Self-employment figures and optimism in the sector are at an all-time high, but the treatment of freelancers and contractors is not.
Here's a snapshot of the recommendations made by the review:
So, what opportunity has this report missed? I must admit a little poetic licence here, the report has not missed an opportunity. The Government has.
Page four of the review says it all: "choosing to be self-employed should not mean that people are disadvantaged in the support that they receive from Government". I could not agree more.
Instead of Julie Deane spending her time writing recommendations that, in my opinion, should already exist; imagine this.
Imagine she had the opportunity to use her brilliant business mind to speak to fellow entrepreneurs and work out how we could help the Government dig its way out of the diabolical financial situation the nation finds itself in.
Imagine the Government listening to the small guys and girls that work tirelessly to succeed, despite all the obstacles they seem to throw at us.
Julie and the Cambridge Satchel company are one shining example of how entrepreneurs can succeed during adverse times. I applaud her review and its recommendations.
But, if the self-employment sector can thrive in one of the nation's worst financial times, surely the Government should listen to how we have found such success, instead of side-lining us?
What advice would you share with the Government, if you had the chance? Let me know in the comments below.
You've got a fantastic idea for an article. You even know which publication or website to target with your winning prose, but there's a problem.
Who should you pitch to? How can you get in touch with them? Figuring out who to contact, and finding that editor's contact details, can be the most frustrating and time-consuming part of the pitching process.
Don't despair: there are a handful of tricks to help this process. You just need to do a little detective work.
Pitching is one of the major components of my daily life as a freelance writer. I'm not claiming to be an expert - but here are a few tips to figure out which editor to pitch to and how to find the relevant contact details so you can place and get paid for more articles.
1. Be specific
Don't pitch to the editor-in-chief, unless you're targeting a really small publication. Your email will probably just get deleted.
Try to find the editor that oversees your story's beat. If this isn't obvious on the publication's website do a little digging around the site at past stories on your topic and see which name pops up regularly. If you can't find that information, go for the associate, deputy or senior editor. They will usually forward your query to the correct person.
And don't waste time bothering contributing editors or copyeditors - they are unlikely to be responsible for assigning stories.
2. Pick up the phone
I was unsure whether I should include this point. When I worked as a technology journalist and then science writer, I was constantly picking up the phone to PRs with "the best story since sliced bread". Some pitches were great, but most were just irritating noise.
So, if you're convinced your article is the perfect fit for a publication, then give them a ring. If they don't sound keen, try to get an email address and contact name to pitch to the right person in the future. But don't ring a publication constantly with "the perfect article" - they'll be blacklisting your number before you know it.
3. Ask your contacts
Try to source information from fellow writers. Facebook or LinkedIn groups can be a great resource here, as can old writing colleagues. If they're familiar with your work, they may even give you an introduction over email. They can also give pointers for other publications to target. Get involved in the wider writer community, we're very nice!
4. Use Twitter
Twitter has been a great, and somewhat surprising, pitching resource. If you're trying to find an unlisted editor, Twitter can be a good place to look as many users list their place of employment in their bios. In the Twitter search tool, type in the word "editor" plus the @handle of the targeted publication.
Some editors prefer Twitter - it cuts down the waffle and produces quick pitches. If your idea is good, an editor will continue the conversation via email.
5. Google it
It's an obvious one but try searching “John Smith email address” and it could pop right up. You could also try searching “email@example.com” to see if you get any hits. If you want to further exploit Google, don't forget to use the advanced search tools. These advanced tips for using Google search from Lifehacker offer further advice.
I'm not entirely pro this tip - but many hacks I know swear by it. I'm worried I may be encroaching into stalker territory here - and if an editor doesn't have their contact details readily available, then it may be best to leave them alone.
And this leads me onto my final tip...
6. Network, don't pester
There are various other practices I've heard of to find an editor's email address. They're sneaky and they don't sit right with me. I'd much rather approach an editor face-to-face, build a relationship and have a chat than hunt for hours to find their email address.
Freelancing and networking go hand-in-hand. My most successful pitches are thanks to a human relationship and conversation with an editor, not a shifty dig to find their email address. So network within an inch of your life, be friendly, be professional and listen to any feedback an editor gives you.
And remember this key point: editors are a freelancer's lifeline - don't piss them off with pointless pitches.
If you have any other tips for figuring out which editor to pitch to, please share them in the comments below!
Hello. I'm the freelance writer who gets tech. So, I blog on three core topics:
Science and Technology
And I explain science with Lego in Sunday Science.
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