Fight, flight, or freeze? How to help your business brain during the pandemic.

Easier said, right?
Photo by Tonik on Unsplash

 

A panel of kick-ass speakers, their biggest venue yet, 100s of delegates with tickets, travel, and hotels booked — the coronavirus pandemic, and the near-global lockdown could’ve spelled disaster for Andrew and Pete and their grand plans for their April conference, ATOMICON20.

Happily for them (and their attendees!), their brains went straight into fight mode. Faced with an almighty stressor, they rose to the challenge. Instead of cancelling, postponing, or crying and eating their combined body weight in chocolate, they decided to hold the greatest virtual conference the world has ever seen.

Boy did they pull it off, somehow managing to create an entire month’s worth of stellar expert presentations, table talks, and virtual networking opportunities even in the midst of global panic.

And they’re not the only ones whose brain has decided to face the situation head-on — the number of ATOMICON attendees who showed up every day, who networked from dawn ‘til dusk, who are producing more ideas, more content, and making more money than ever, has blown my mind.

Mostly, because I’m not one of them.

Not even close. While these gorgeous little whirlwinds of activity are busy ‘pivoting’ (yes, I used pivot in these ‘unprecedented times’. No, I’m not sorry), I’m over here just trying to keep everything together.

 

For a while, I was ashamed to admit that I was barely clinging on.

Sure, I have a lot on my plate. I’m homeschooling my two kids. My husband is an essential worker and I’m mildly panicking about what germs he might be bringing home every day. Yes, my workload has taken a hit. Yes, I already have an anxiety disorder. But I know that my stress load is no heavier than anyone else’s right now.

And hey, as my husband rightly pointed out: I’ve been preparing for the shit to hit the fan for the last 20 years. That’s just how my brain operates, how it’s always operated. I’m ready for this. I was into stockpiling before the run on the supermarkets, and I’ve been meditating for way longer than the cool Zen kids 😉

Meditation for overcoming anxiety

Get your zen on…
Photo by Jared Rice on Unsplash

So why hasn’t my brain kicked into fight mode? Why am I not creating screeds of content when writing usually brings me so much pleasure and comfort? Why am I not thinking of ways to pivot my business?

And why do you feel exactly the same way I do? Especially if you’re not someone for whom anxiety is a default state?

I found the answer in a tweet. Alexis Rockley, psychology-certified business coach and author of Find your F*ck Yeah, stated that:

Suddenly you don’t give AF about future-based goals, projects, or dreams like you used to? That’s because your brain knows being short-sighted is a safer way to cope right now. Your plans, your creativity, energy, focus, and motivation are on a yo-yo right now because your brain believes you need to be EXTREMELY ADAPTIVE.

You will not be on this rollercoaster forever. Be patient with your brain.

Basically, you’re knackered because your anxious brain is burning energy 10 times faster than usual, you can’t focus because your prefrontal cortex (the part of your brain that deals with logic, reasoning, and planning) has partly reduced functionality, and your creativity has taken an almighty hit because your brain is overwhelmed with thoughts of survival like: ‘How the heck am I going to get to the shops?’, ‘are we running out of bog roll?’, and the biggie: ‘are we all gonna die?’

Just say no to panic buying!

Photo by Hello I’m Nik 🎞 on Unsplash

Freeze: when fight or flight isn’t an option.

If like our ancestors, we were facing down an avoidable threat like a saber-tooth tiger, or a rival tribe, we’d be heading for the hills right about now, firmly in ‘flight’ mode. Only, the current threat isn’t something we can run away from. Literally. The only place you can run is around your own house — and only once a day for an hour.

So if your brain hasn’t managed to kick into fight mode, there’s only one remaining option: freeze.

Now, as Alexis says, this isn’t forever. It sure feels like it right now, but I’m going to err on the side of optimism and believe that we will — eventually — have a cure or a vaccine for COVID-19.

But given that most estimates place that miraculous day at least a year from now, can your business hold on? Nope, mine neither. So realistically we’re going to have to take at least some action now to nudge our brains out of freeze mode and into something altogether more productive.

Simplify your business.

All of those things you’ve been meaning to do to make running your business easier? Now, my friends, is the time.

If you want to go big, think about outsourcing. What drives you mad in the day-to-day running of your business? Updating your books? Hire a bookkeeper. Keeping up with your social channels? Get yourself a VA. Creating your content? Talk to a content writer (*waves*).

I know that bringing someone else into your business right now seems counter-intuitive but the amount of headspace you’ll free up by outsourcing your most time-consuming or hated tasks will leave you with the energy you need to keep producing great-quality work, as well as giving you the bandwidth to replace any lost business.

Plus you’ll be helping fellow business owners stay afloat — that’s some great karmic juju right there.

If you want to start smaller, have a look at your email list. Fiona Robertson, my go-to graphic designer recommends creating filters for your inbox.

For example, she has one folder for receipts, another for WordPress updates, and another for newsletters that she’s subscribed to. That way, she says, she can ignore receipts until her monthly appointment with her accounts and save her newsletters for the odd occasion that she has time to sit down with a cuppa and read them in peace. It also means that when she logs in each morning, she isn’t bombarded with messages and her poor brain gets a little extra breathing room.

Beat the stress by simplifying your inbox

Photo by Webaroo on Unsplash

More productivity tips from Fiona.

Ramp up your self-care.

I know this one isn’t easy. Yes, you may be spending less time on client/paid work, but it doesn’t mean you’re sitting around all day looking for your next pandemic hobby. You have kids to home school, elderly or vulnerable relatives to shop for, and news bulletins to keep on top of…

But, given that the excrement has well and truly hit the fan, there’s never been a better time for you to work on those boundaries you’ve been meaning to create.

Of course, when it comes to self-care, it has to be a case of ‘you do you’.

Maybe a big ol’ glass of vino on a Friday gets you through, maybe it’s a clichéd )but lovely nonetheless) bubble bath, or maybe you just want to spend a couple of hours bingeing old Friends episodes.

Luckily (?) I already have an anxiety toolkit, and I’ve been careful to stick to my tried and tested self-care tactics. So, despite a rather large desire to sink myself into a bottle of Merlot, I’ve stuck to my non-alcoholic drinks, I’ve upped my mindfulness and meditation practices, I’ve kept up with my karate training, and I’m getting my yoga mat out as often as I can.

Yoga for anxiety

Alas, my own yoga mat isn’t somewhere QUITE as exotic as this! But I like to close my eyes and pretend…
Photo by Valentina Sotnikova on Unsplash

Yes, it’s every bit as clichéd as the bubble bath, but all scientifically proven to reduce the body’s stress responses. In fact, you remember the impaired prefrontal cortex I mentioned earlier? Research actually shows that regular meditation thickens the pre-frontal cortex, which is probably why meditators look so damn chill all the time!

Stay sociable.

If you’ve never struggled with mental health problems before (and I know that this pandemic has hit loads of you in ways you couldn’t have anticipated. You have my love and virtual hugs), be wary of that desire to hide away under your duvet.

Sure, we’re physically distancing ourselves, but social distancing is the last thing you need to be doing right now.

You see, at our very core, we’re pack animals (yup, even the introverts!). How else would our ancestors have taken down that woolly mammoth? And at times of stress, the need for other people increases significantly. It’s your primitive brain telling you that there’s safety in numbers, that if the rest of the tribe has your back, you might just survive the next threat. It’s also why we’re all craving hugs right now, why we love coming together (albeit apart) in our communities every Thursday night to clap for the NHS, and it’s why we’re reaching out to our neighbours in ways that we might not have done just three short months ago.

Of course, those of us working from home might have already adapted more than usual to the loneliness of lockdown, but it doesn’t mean that we can survive without any human contact. And while your usual networking groups might not be within reach right now, there are still plenty of ways to get a dose of human contact, whether it’s a Zoom call with a friend, an online exercise class, or even an online networking event.

Now, I know you already know this. I also know that you’re probably getting mighty sick of Zoom right about now. I feel you. But just consider this a friendly reminder that if you’ve been putting off calling your mum, your pal, whoever, now would be an awesome time to pick up the phone.

One Zoom meeting I’d definitely be happy to attend.
Photo by visuals on Unsplash

Stop stressing about your productivity (to become more productive).

Just to state the bleeding obvious: things are weird right now. And I don’t know about you but I don’t know what my brain is going to do from one day to the next. Today I might be loving lockdown (clear skies, baking cakes with the kids, more time for yoga), tomorrow I might be a weepy mess who can’t stop raiding the fridge.

I think the best thing any of us can do when we’re on the emotional ‘corona-coaster’ (don’t know where I picked that one up but I love it) is to just lean into whatever is going on. You might not be producing as much content as usual, having as many sales calls as usual, or acing the homeschooling — but you don’t have to.

Ultimately, be kind to yourself and go with whatever pace your stressed-out mind is dictating right now. You don’t have to ‘seize the opportunity’ created by a global crisis. And you sure as sh*t don’t have to come out of this smarter, richer, fitter, thinner, or more successful than you were when it began, no matter what you read on Instagram! Your dreams, goals, ambitions, and plans will still be waiting for you on the other side of this, I’m sure of it.

 

 

 

 

Working with a copywriter? Here’s how to get more bang for your buck.

Copywriters don’t come cheap. So how do you make sure you’re getting enough bang for your buck? It boils down to one thing:

Creating a positive working relationship.

And I’m going to show you exactly how…

Working with a copywriter: how to get more bang for your buck

Get the working relationship right, and you can’t go wrong.
Photo by Cytonn Photography on Unsplash

Investing serious money on your branding is exhilarating and daunting all at the same time. It shows you’ve arrived (or at least you’re finally on the right track), you’re committed, and you’re practically peeing your pants with excitement at what the next phase of your business might bring.

But…you have your doubts. When you’re dropping some serious cash, you want to know that it’s going to be worth it. Worrying that you’re not going to see a return on your investment is a natural concern.

So how do you make sure you’re getting enough bang for your buck when you’re investing in a copywriter to work on your branding or marketing? Well, finding the right person to tackle your project is a good start, but it doesn’t end there.

If you want to get real value from working with a copywriter, it’s all about forging and maintaining a strong working relationship at every stage of the copywriting process…

 

Before the project begins.

Check you’re on the same wavelength.

When you’re choosing a copywriter, it’s not all about awards or fancy-pants offices. Finding someone you click with, someone who’s on your wavelength, and someone who makes you feel comfortable yet confident is arguably the most important indicator of the success of your project.

More tips on finding the right copywriter for you, right here.

Understand the process.

Every copywriter will have their own process and it’s important that you understand how your chosen writer works before your project kicks off. Your copywriter should tell you what they’ll expect from you at every stage of the project and what they’ll deliver and when. That way everyone knows exactly where they stand.

For example, will you be expected to pay a deposit? When will the balance be payable? How will they deliver the content to you? And how long will you have to complete your feedback on the first draft?

When you understand their writing process, you won’t be hit by unexpected invoices, or freak out if there’s radio silence for a few days while they’re deep in the research phase of your project.

Want to know how I work?

Be wary of any guarantees.

The success of your copy rests on a myriad of factors: your product’s price point, the size of your current audience, your ability to close a sale, your reputation, and even impending political events (I’m looking at you, Brexit!), or recessions.

Your copywriter will be able to advise you on some of those things…but others are totally outside of our control. This is why you should be wary of any copywriter that can promise concrete results, like a place on the first page of Google, or a 90% conversion rate. We can get you closer to that stuff, for sure, but there can be no guarantees.

Make sure you’re crystal clear on what you want.

Your copywriter will create your quote based on what you say you want during your initial discussions. Be aware that if the scope of your project creeps once work has begun, the quote may well go up too. So if you’re in any doubt about what you actually want/need your copywriter to do, it’s best to take the time to talk things over until you’re really clear on what you want to achieve with your project.

 

During the project.

Working with a copywriter: how to get more bang for your buck

This is your chance to tell your story!
Photo by Alejandro Escamilla on Unsplash

Tell your story — warts and all.

Your project will likely kick off with a consultation and questionnaire and your copywriter will start poking about your business brain with all sorts of seemingly random questions.

Go with it!

Spill your guts; tell them everything. They absolutely cannot have too much information about you, your business and products, your vision, and your goals.

Because somewhere in that stream of consciousness is your copy, just waiting to be teased out, polished up, and turned into something wonderful.

And remember the golden rule: if we don’t know it, we can’t use it!

Stick to deadlines.

I can’t stress this one enough. Chances are, yours is not the only project that your writer is working on. And we can only meet our deadlines if you stick to yours. So don’t be surprised (or obnoxious, but I know you wouldn’t be!) if your project start or completion dates get pushed back if your writer doesn’t receive your brief, information, or feedback on the agreed date.

Don’t be afraid to speak up.

Remember, this is for your business, your livelihood; it’s hugely important. So, if something feels ‘off’, you’re not sure about something your copywriter has said, or you don’t like the direction they’re taking, don’t be afraid to speak up.

This should be a partnership, and you shouldn’t feel railroaded at any point.

That said, be open to listening to their advice, even if it initially goes against the grain. Sometimes you’re too close to your own business to see things clearly and a fresh perspective can open up new possibilities you hadn’t even thought of. Give it a chance!

Let us know if you’ve forgotten something.

A key feature of your product, a specific call-to-action, a rip-roaringly incredible client testimonial…if you realise that you’ve forgotten to share something important with your writer, something that you want to be included in your copy, don’t wait until the feedback stage of the process to send it to them.

I’ve found great hooks, and even taglines, hidden in client testimonials, so it’s always better to send over additional material as soon as you realise it’s been missed out — and hopefully before the project is too far into the writing phase.

Trust your writer.

I’ll send a quick email, just to see how they’re getting on…

Oh, the temptation is strong. Whenever my lovely designer is working on my branding I have to sit on my hands so I don’t email her for daily progress updates.

But do you know what? I trust her to do a good job, and bugging her every two minutes will do nothing for her creativity.

And so it is with your copywriter. It’s a creative job; every project requires a tonne of research, a whole load of brainstorming, and actually a surprising amount of what looks (to the casual observer) like staring into space. During this phase, you will only hear from your copywriter if they think that they’re missing some vital piece of the puzzle.

It’s a case of no news is good news. So get on with running your business, safe in the knowledge that the first draft of your copy will be winging its way to you very soon.

Give specific feedback.

Working with a copywriter: how to get more bang for your buck

Time to tell me what you love…and what you don’t.
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

‘I just don’t like it.’

Hmm, there’s not a lot your writer can do with vague feedback. So if something doesn’t feel quite right to you, try to figure out why, and be specific when you’re asking your copywriter for revisions.

Maybe you don’t like it because you don’t feel it fits with your brand identity, maybe it’s a phrase that you hate personally, or maybe it seems too colloquial/stuffy/informal. When you can pin down why you’re not keen on something, your writer can clarify why they’ve chosen the words and phrases that they have (because none of it is random!) and can give you some alternative options.

Remember that you’re not really the customer.

It’s true: the customer is always right. Only, in this case, you’re not actually the person who needs to read and react to your new copy — your customer is. It’s worth bearing that in mind when you’re reading the first draft of your copy and before you send any revision requests to your copywriter.

Introduce your professionals.

If you’re working with a graphic designer or other branding specialists, feel free to ask your copywriter whether you can connect them with each other. We writers often work with designers so we’re usually happy to meet a new one. And once your creatives are connected, they can actually work together to hash out any questions about layout, saving you a whole load of time acting as a go-between.

 

After the project.

Try not to make too many changes…

Unless you really know what you’re doing. I’ve seen it happen with my own projects, and I’ve comforted other writers when it’s happened to them. Clients, after having claimed to be ecstatic over their new copy, start to tweak things.

Only they don’t get it quite right.

It might be a clunky sentence, dodgy grammar, a spelling error, or a total clanger that ruins the entire flow of your content. Whatever the mistake, it can totally devalue the content — content that you paid good money for!

If a few weeks down the line, you’re really not happy with a particular aspect of your copy, it’s best to have a word with your copywriter — at the very least they’d likely be happy to proof any small changes you want to make to ensure that there are no embarrassing errors.

Don’t be a stranger.

There’s nothing I love more than when a client gets back in touch, whether it’s to start another project, or just to let me know the results of previous work we’ve done. And I’m sure other writers feel the same. We get really invested in your business and your long-term success, and there’s nothing more exciting than working with the same clients over and over again.

Being part of your business growth journey is a real privilege.

So don’t be a stranger!

We all love getting our money’s worth, right? Hell, even if I’m just paying £50 for a night in a restaurant, I want to know that it’s going to be money well spent! So when you’re throwing serious cash at something as high stakes as sales copy for your business, you want to do everything you can to contribute to the success of the project. Following the tips I’ve laid out here is a great place to start, but above all, keep those lines of communication strong.

If you want something, ask.
If you’re not sure about something, speak up.
If you’re absolutely over the moon with your copywriter’s work, tell them.
Follow those golden rules, and you’ll be well on your way to cultivating a beautiful business friendship (oh, and some decent sales figures too!)

Think I might just be the right copywriter for your project? Get in touch today and we’ll get the ball rolling.

 

 

The 3 reasons every service-based business owner should turn down work.

reasons to turn down work

Sometimes it’s absolutely, positively, definitely ok to say no.
Photo by Andy T on Unsplash

When you’re running your own service-based business it’s tempting to say ‘yes’ to absolutely everything and everyone. And hey, your accountant would possibly just leave it at that.

But I’m going to put my Mummy hat on now and tell you that, while staying in the black is pretty damned important, it shouldn’t come at the expense of these 3 things.

Your reputation.

Just say “yes” — you can figure the details out later.

Whether you’ve been self-employed for months or decades you’re still going to find yourself in this sort of scenario now and again. A client or prospect has asked you to tackle something you’ve never done before. Shit!

What do you do now? If you’re a newbie you’re probably desperate for the cash, the experience, and the testimonial. You think you can probably figure it out with a little bit of help from dear old Google.

If you’re a veteran you’re probably champing at the bit to try something new, to take on a challenge, to push yourself.

And in the case of the veteran, it’s probably a safe enough bet. You have enough skill and experience behind you to know whether it’s a realistic ask and you’ve built up a network of mentors, associates and subcontractors whose skill sets are slightly different to yours — you know that if the shit hits the fan, you have plenty of people who’ll be able to help you deliver the goods.

But if you truly are winging it — if you’ve never even HEARD of what they’re asking you to do and you’re fairly new to the game — it’s probably not worth it.

When it comes to growing your business, reputation is EVERYTHING and just one fuck-up can cancel out years of hard work. So ignore your accountant and only take on a job if you’re almost certain you can deliver.

Your health.

What’s that quote? Something like you’re better off working 80 hours a week on your own dream than 40 hours a week on someone else’s?

Utter crap. Honestly, aren’t you sick fed up with this hustle culture we have going on? Tell me, did you really start your own business so you could wind up working 80 hours a week?

And if anyone tells you that’s just what you have to do to build a successful business they’re either:

  1. A lying workaholic
  2. Not charging enough for their own services or
  3. A lying workaholic

For most of us, working 80 hours a week is a quick route to burnout, a knackered immune system, and inferior work. So as soon as you start thinking that it’s okay ‘just this once’ to work 7 days without a break or to skip that day you’d booked off to spend time with your partner, STOP.

reasons it's ok to turn down work

Photo by Will Porada on Unsplash

It really is okay to say ‘no’ to preserve your health and to make sure you’re getting the downtime and the rest that you need.

And if your bank balance really is pushing you to say yes to absolutely every job that comes your way, have a think about raising your prices or implementing a waiting list. Decent clients who value your skills will be happy to wait a little longer, pay a little extra, or both.

Your sanity.

‘This one’s going to be trouble, I can just feel it’.

I’ve had this gut reaction a few times when a new client comes a-knocking and do you know, I’m always bloody right.

And it’s not because I’m some sort of clairvoyant — nope, it’s because every single one of them has been waving a little red flag.

You know what I’m talking about. Maybe they’re seriously low-balling you right from the start. Maybe they’re demanding an immediate response to emails. Maybe you’ve only just started and they’re already getting in there with the scope-creep. Maybe they’re just a teensy bit rude…whatever it is, it’s got ‘arsehole’ written all over it.

If you’ve already exchanged contracts with such a creature, you have my sympathies and my sincerest hopes that I’m just being a cynical old git.

But if you’re still on the fence about whether you should listen to your gut and say ‘no’ to a Red Flag client, let me reassure you that it’s okay to walk away.

You’ll free up your time to say ‘yes’ to the genuinely lovely people that are out there just waiting for you to work your magic for them and, more importantly, you’ll preserve your sanity. Because there’s nothing worse than working with someone who doesn’t respect your time, your skill or your work processes. Your work will suffer and you’ll end up so stressed that you blow the entire project fee on gin anyway.

That’s the thing about being self-employed — in the beginning, every potential new project feels like it might be the one that’ll make or break your business. It never is. And every time you reject a project because it isn’t the right fit or it isn’t the right time, you’re leaving yourself open to saying ‘yes’ to something incredible right around the corner.

Liked this?

Check these out:

Baring all: should you get personal in your business content.

Boost your business with blogging: case study.

 

Baring all: should you get personal in your business content

When it comes to business content it’s good to be human but are you in danger of over-sharing?

‘The doctors told me he might never talk’

This was my friend talking about her son. He’d been given a diagnosis of Autism at a fairly young age and according to the doc, the outlook wasn’t great.

But hey, what do doctors know?

Over 10 years on, her boy has graduated college and is currently setting up his own business, in partnership with his mum. It turns out that for everything Autism has taken from him, it’s given something else back in spades — an incredible work ethic, attention to detail, boundless creativity. And he’s channeling it all into making custom wooden furniture.

‘You should blog about it’, I told her; share his struggles and how you’re managing to overcome them to create what will (I’m convinced!) be a thriving enterprise in the very near future.

‘Hmm, I could…but isn’t it a bit exploitative?’

Are we at risk of over-sharing?

As ever, I don’t think there’s a straightforward yes or no to either of those questions.

In some ways, as business owners, we’re undoubtedly becoming a flock of over-sharers. Every hardship we’ve faced, every medical diagnosis, every trauma becomes fodder for our marketing. In an attempt to prove how ‘human’ our brand is, and how relatable, we share our sob stories with our audience and the world.

‘See?’, we shout, ‘We’re not a soulless brand, we’re real people. We’ve struggled, just like you. Now, please buy our stuff!’

You begin to wonder if any of it is genuine and how much of it is fabricated to fit in with the current trend for ‘awareness days’ and vulnerability in business content.

It’s all just a bit icky. And as consumers, we’re all far too cynical to fall for it anyway.

Does that mean you shouldn’t share? Not necessarily. It’s just before you do, I want you to ask yourself one question:

Why am I sharing this?

I had to ask myself that recently. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I have an anxiety disorder (#endthestigma and all that jazz) but did I really want to bring it into my blog content? Would people think that I was jumping on the Mental Health Awareness Week bandwagon? Was I exploiting my diagnosis in exchange for an easy (and obvious) blog topic, with a squillion hashtags to go with it?

So I hesitated.

For about a minute before I realised that the answer to the ‘why am I sharing this’ question had nothing to do with being able to tick another week’s blog post off the to-do list — I wanted to get that content out there to help. Because running a business when you have a mental illness is really feckin’ hard and I’ve found quite a few solutions that I’ve found helpful. I wanted to write the article that I’d been searching for years ago and hadn’t quite found.

Read my anxiety blog here: Caring for your mental health when you work from home.

Will writing about my anxiety make me more relatable, more human or more likable? To the right people, maybe. Will it make them more likely to hire me over another writer? Who knows? But will I sleep better at night knowing that even one person has tried some of my tips and found a bit of relief from their own struggles with mental health? Damn right I will!

So my advice to my friend, wondering if it would be exploitative to share her son’s story as part of her marketing strategy? I asked her to stop thinking like a business owner, or a marketer, and to think like a consumer, a reader — and a mum.

is it ok to be vulnerable in your business content

You don’t have to hide your vulnerability…but you should have a good reason for sharing.
Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash

Sure, thousands of people will be able to relate to her family’s story, to the struggles they had trying to secure an ASD diagnosis in the first place, what it meant for her son’s education, his social life, and his future. It’ll likely be a story that people will want to share far and wide — great news for a fledgling business. And yes, there are a ton of people who would happily shop their brand because of that.

But then who the hell wants to base their sales on a feeling of ‘well, they only bought my stuff because they felt sorry for me’? No business owner wants the power of a ‘sob story’ to eclipse the quality of their products or services!

No, the only reason you should be sharing your vulnerable moments boils down to the only reason you should post any type of content:

You want to help.

should you get vulnerable in your business content

The key to choosing a content topic: is it helpful?
Photo by Jonas Jacobsson on Unsplash

As much as writing about their business journey could do wonders for their SEO, their likeability and all of the other usual benefits that come with business blogging, the real benefit lies in the hope that it’ll provide the readers.

My friend always had hope for her boy and my god did she spend his childhood fighting to ensure that he would have a much brighter future than his doctor had predicted. But it was a hope fuelled by nothing more than maternal love. If she had been able to read stories about other kids who had overcome the same diagnosis, who had gone on to further education, who had become a talented craftsperson, who had had the balls to start their own business…can you imagine what a difference that would have made to the whole family in the days when unfounded hope was the only thing they had? The peace it would’ve brought them all? The stress it would have helped to relieve?

Yes, there’s an undeniable ick factor involved in the culture of vulnerability seeping into business content at the moment. But there doesn’t need to be. If you’re on the fence about sharing your own personal story, consider why you want to share in the first place. If you’re determined to write the article that you wished you could’ve read when you were really struggling, the chances are you’re thinking along the right lines.

(My friend’s business is very much in the fledgling stages right now but I’ll post a link to her website as soon as it’s available. I can’t wait to share their gorgeous creations with you guys!)

 

 

How blogging can boost your business: Fiona Robertson Graphics case study

So you already know that there are a ton of reasons to start a business blog.
But where should you begin? How do you fit blogging into an already manic schedule? Can you really make sales from your business blog? And how the hell do you cope with writer’s block?
Panic not, Fiona from Fiona Robertson Graphics, who has been blogging for 10 years (!) has ever-so-kindly agreed to talk about how she earned the (unofficial) title of blogging superstar.

Well, she needs a break from blogging now and then.

Not that fiona set out to become a blogging superstar. In fact, she didn’t really have much of a plan at all:

‘To be honest I was just jumping on the bandwagon. It was 2009 and I kept reading how blogging was so good for your business that I just thought, ‘hey, I’ll give that a go’.

It was all very haphazard. I hadn’t planned what to write about, how often to write, or how I could make it lead to sales. Not at all the way I recommend people do it now! When I started my second website, I made sure to plan out the blog. That’s had a much more strategic start than my first attempt.’

Wait a minute…a second website?
Yup, as well as running her visual branding business, Fiona has a second business venture, Fox and Finch, where she sells adorable handmade illustrated cards and gifts.
So with two businesses to run, how in the world does she fit blogging into her busy work week?

‘I actually write it into my schedule. Google Calendar and Asana basically run my life for me — if it ain’t in the calendar, it ain’t happening. So I have a regular spot in my week reserved for working on my blog and an editorial calendar in Asana that lets me plan out what to write and when.’

And when things get really hectic?

‘Sometimes I do have to bump it from my schedule. If things get too busy in other areas, blogging is usually one of the first things to go. I used to feel really guilty about missing a session, but I’d feel worse about missing a client deadline because my calendar told me I should be writing a blog post instead, so these days I’m a bit kinder to myself. As long as I stick to the schedule most weeks, I’m good with that.’

Of course, when things get really manic, Fiona knows that outsourcing can be a good option:

‘I love spending time on my blog, but running two businesses by myself I have so many other things needing my attention, so something has to give. I can be a control freak, so outsourcing design or finance stuff just stresses me out. But blog posts are one of the things that I didn’t fret too much about outsourcing. You’d already worked on other parts of my website and I knew that I was in safe hands. I could trust you to write quality posts that would fit the style and tone of my blog.’

Aw shucks, thanks Fi (I owe you some chocolate cake for that one 😉)

One of the things most people struggle with is coming up with new content ideas — after 10 years of consistent blogging, you’d think that she’d be on first name terms with writer’s block by now…

‘It has been a recurring problem over the years. Now I keep a big list of post ideas so that I never need to be stuck for something to write about. I add to the list of ideas regularly. And actually, that brainstorming session we had a while back [Fiona kindly helped me road test My Business Blogging Boot Camp]  is still giving me post ideas. I haven’t used up all the ideas you came up with yet, and I’ve been able to riff off of them and generate even more topics than those we came up with during the session.

Sometimes the block is more that I just don’t feel like writing, but that’s ok. I’ll check my list to see if there’s a quick-win type of post idea — like a quick tip that will take me less than a half hour to put together. But if nothing grabs me I just let myself be blocked. I’ll go do something else and maybe another day I’ll be in a better frame of mind to write.’

So with the stress of running two businesses, scheduling in writing time and dealing with writer’s block, Fi could certainly be forgiven for packing it all in — or taking a lengthy break.
So what keeps her going?

‘The first time I had a post shared by someone I really admired I think I actually squeaked with excitement! Then finding out that my blog had been mentioned in a post by FreeAgent was a real happy dance moment; having a big company like that mention little old me felt like I had really ‘made it’ and that it was worth sticking with blogging :D’

Ooooh yes. You can’t beat a good backlink for blog promotion. And I’m guessing the additional sales don’t hurt motivation either?

‘Yep. The beauty of things like Google Analytics and Facebook Insights is that you can track this stuff — perfect for geeks like me. I’ve had sales of my eBook that I can see resulted from me sharing the blog post about it on social media. Then I’ve had several people book services with me who’ve read my blog and then got in touch. I make sure to regularly promote my posts, both new ones and old ones, so that they keep sending people to my site — you never know if the person reading it will turn out to be a potential client.

So extra sales is always a bonus, but there’s a much sweeter reason that helps her push through those ‘can’t be arsed’ moments: She really does love her readers.
Fiona Robertson graphics: business blogging case study

Feeling the love!
Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash

‘When I share my posts on social media I get lovely comments from people who say the content is useful. I send new posts out to my email list and I regularly get people replying to the emails with positive feedback, saying that it’s helped them in some way, or perhaps asking for a little more detail on some of the points raised in the post.

If I was just blasting posts out and getting crickets, I might have given up, but knowing that I’m helping people – and that they take the time to let me know about it – makes it all worthwhile.’

Blogging has now become such an integral part of her overall business strategy that Fiona can’t imagine what her business would have looked like without it.

‘Yeah, I think it would be quite different. For one thing, I wouldn’t have an eBook and my Pick My Brain and 1-1 WordPress training sessions probably wouldn’t be there. Those have all come from writing and sharing blog posts.

I’d probably have fewer web design clients in general, as sharing WordPress tips on my blog definitely helps me gain those. I can think of a number of awesome clients I would have missed out on because of that!

And my whole marketing strategy would be different. Blogging is a big part of that, as it’s much less scary to put yourself out there by sharing a post you’ve written than by going out and saying ‘hey, I’m a great designer, wanna hire me?’ – let’s face it, that doesn’t sound like fun at all!’

So what’s her take on the ‘blogging is dead’ war cry? Is she even a teensy bit tempted to jump ship and try her hand at video or podcasting?

‘I’ve been doing this a long time and regularly people come out with the whole ‘blogging is dead’ thing. I’ve been hearing it since shortly after I started blogging yet blogs are still popular!

Things have changed though; so many people are blogging now that you’re basically shouting into the wind. If you want people to take notice you have to be properly useful and compelling.

Some of the blogs I love to read don’t have anything to do with design or freelancing, yet I keep tuning in because the content is so damn good. So I guess the thing is just to work at being better than you are now, then work on being better still, and keep going like that.

I have thought about doing podcasting and video. I’d probably choose video, as that would be useful for the tutorial posts rather than just having static screenshots. It would be as well as blogging though. I’m not particularly at home in front of a camera or microphone, and I’m way more articulate in writing than when I speak – just ask anyone who’s had to put up with my umming and ahhing through a phone call, or talking super fast because of a combination of nerves and caffeine! Plus people learn in different ways, so adding short videos in addition to the written posts would let people consume the content in the way they prefer.’

Fiona’s best tip for creating a winning post? It has to be useful.

My most viewed post is Chasing Unpaid Invoices. It’s really old (2012) but it still gets a regular flow of traffic. It’s a fairly short, straightforward post with tips for getting paid plus a couple of copy-and-paste email scripts people can borrow.

SEO-wise it’s probably not that great given its age (I really must update it soon!) but I guess it’s just something that a lot of people are searching for. It’s sad that so many people need it, but I’m glad that it’s useful. Its success has been helped too by the fact that FreeAgent (who I mention in the post) link to it in one of their own blog posts – thanks FreeAgent!

Thanks so much to Fiona for sharing her blogging journey. If you’re feeling inspired to launch a blog on your own website (or breathe new life into a blog you’ve abandoned) Fiona as a few more tips for you before you skip off to find your notebook and pen!

‘There’s no getting away from it, blogging is hard work.

I won’t sugar coat it and if someone hates having a blog then should they really be doing it? But having said that, if they’re just in a funk, that’s totally fixable. I’d recommend trying to figure out why they feel bad about their blog – are they struggling to find time because they’re trying to post three times a week? Cut back to once a month and put less pressure on themselves.

If they don’t know what to write about, they should totally book a brainstorming session with you, Clare! Or if they’re not confident in their writing skills, then practice, practice, practice – my posts used to be rubbish but the more I wrote the better I got – or try another medium, like podcasting. And if a lack of traffic is the problem, then they need to look for ways to promote their existing content rather than focusing on creating more new content.

Also, remember that it takes time to get traction. Can you name anyone who was an overnight blogging success? I sure can’t. But keep plugging away, concentrate on being useful and creating the best content you can and after a while, you should see a difference.’

Cheers, Fiona! Choccy cake headed your way.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Business blog burn out: 7 ways to kick writer’s block to the kerb.

how to overcome writer's block

Your content calendar is full…now what?
Photo by Emma Matthews on Unsplash

You’re a freakin’ content marketing superstar — you have that list of topics for your business blog locked and loaded and you’ve even drawn up a fancy pants content calendar. You know exactly what you’re going to write about, when you’ll hit publish and where you’ll promote it.

You’ve carved out a bit of time in your diary, your laptop is open and your coffee cup is steaming.

You’re ready to go.

No, wait! Better just go and grab a biscuit first. Maybe two biscuits. Oh, and the dog needs a wee belly rub. Might just have a quick skim through the old Twitter feed before starting…

If this is starting to sound a bit too familiar, you’re either a lazy git…or you’re suffering writer’s block. And I don’t think for a minute that you’re a lazy git! Writing is hard work. Writing well feels like pushing a 10-ton boulder, uphill, in a blizzard.

Hell, I write for a living and my biscuit tin is empty and my office dog is sick of all the attention.

So how do you break through the frustration of the blank page? The trauma of that flashing cursor?

Before you chuck your laptop out of the window in a pure rage or binge on digestives, I have a few tried and tested tricks that might just work for you.

All we have to do is figure out what’s causing your writer’s block in the first place…

The problem: you haven’t done enough research.

How to overcome writer's block

Want to overcome writer’s block? Start with research…
Photo by Jo Szczepanska on Unsplash

If I’m struggling with writer’s block, this is the first question I ask myself: have I done enough research? Do I really know what I’m talking about here? Have I looked at this topic from more than just one angle? Have I explored it all in depth?

If you’re just starting out with your business blog, this might be less relevant. Most folks, sensibly, start off writing about topics that they know inside out — there’s so much to say the words flow freely, with minimal effort.

The problems begin when you start having to dig a bit deeper to come up with new and exciting topics to cover. You find yourself in less familiar territory and the words are harder to come by.

The best way through this one is to get online and start researching.

Google your topic (you should be doing this anyway to get an idea of which keywords you need to use in your posts) and have a look at what other people are saying about it. You may find some bloggers completely disagree with your point of view which would allow you to frame your post as a counter-argument. Some of them will have covered aspects that hadn’t occurred to you — putting your own spin on these is a good starting point.

Or try Quora or subject-relevant Facebook groups/online forums to find out what your typical clients are talking about in relation to your topic.

Take notes on everything that’s even halfway relevant and then use that to start writing. Once you have a paragraph or two in the bag, you’ll find the rest of it starts to flow more easily.

The problem: you’re hung up on the intro.

After the headline, the introduction is arguably the most important part of your blog post. Get that wrong and no one will bother reading the rest of the blog. You might as well down tools and get comfy with the biscuit tin and the dog.

That’s a lot of pressure for anyone so it’s no wonder that so many folks get hung up on nailing the perfect intro.

But here’s the thing: if you’re already feeling the pressure to get this crucial piece of your blog post puzzle right, the last thing you need is the added pressure of a blank page.

So forget your damn intro for now. Just concentrate on getting something down on paper. You may find that the perfect intro pops into your head as soon as you start to focus on something else or, more likely, a great idea will grow from the seeds you plant in the body of the post.

In fact, writer’s block or not, that’s a decent strategy to work with. I often have to rewrite a post introduction during the editing phase after the blog post has taken me in a direction I hadn’t originally intended!

The problem: you’re stuck in a rut.

Some people thrive on routine and consistency. They have a favourite time of the day for writing, a favourite notebook and pen, a favourite seat in their favourite coffee shop…

But if you find yourself sitting staring into space, facing a creative block, it might be time to switch things up a bit.
how to overcome writer's block

Sure he’s comfy, but is he inspired? Photo by Karin Hiselius on Unsplash

First things first, change your medium. I generally write all of my first drafts in a Word doc rather than using a notebook. But, when writer’s block hits, I find that changing to a good, old-fashioned notebook and pen is the way through.

It could be that your usual location is beginning to stifle your creativity. Grab your laptop and head out to your garden or the local park. Find a different café or even try writing from your bed.

And try a different time of day. If you’re usually at your most creative first thing in the morning, try writing in the evening for a change. Your brain is a contrary beast; sometimes surprising it with a new routine is enough to jolt it back into the creative zone.

The problem: you’ve over-planned.

You’re the king or queen of note-taking. You like to plan the structure of each post meticulously. It’s a strategy that usually serves you well.

Until it doesn’t.

The problem might just be that you’ve bored yourself silly with all of that careful planning.

Somewhere along the way you’ve lost the fun (and remember, writing your business blog should be fun or you’d be better off finding another content medium or outsourcing your writing).

how to overcome writer's block

If writing leaves you feeling like this, you need to find your joy! Photo by Michelle Phillips on Unsplash

So ditch your plan — for now — and just write.

Write something unconnected to the post you’re struggling with: a poem, a dirty joke, the first chapter of that novel you’re secretly planning, a page in your journal. Just write something, anything, and have fun while you’re doing it.

Then, when you’re still in the flow, come back to that pesky post — and rock it!

The problem: you want it to be perfect.

Ha! Don’t we all. Listen, it’s time to shelve that notion for good. Your first draft is NEVER going to be perfect. That’s why we call it a first draft.

And if you’re all up in your own head about whether you should be using ‘who’ or ‘whom’ or whether you have a cheeky little dangling participle to deal with, you’re never going to get anywhere.

As long as you’ve scheduled in some editing time before you need to hit publish, you don’t need to worry about perfection. You don’t even need to worry about ‘good’. Just get something down and worry about style, grammar and spelling later.

The problem: you have stage fright.

how to overcome writer's block - focus on just one reader

Forget the audience – it’s just you, your laptop…and Sue.
Photo by Julien Reveillon on Unsplash

Putting yourself out there in your business content is hard. What if everyone hates it? What if you accidentally offend a bunch of people? What if your post goes viral for all the wrong reasons?

Stage fright can be a huge cause of writer’s block — you start thinking of the thousands of people who might potentially end up reading your words and anxiety makes you clam up entirely. Lots of people find the same thing happens when they try to come up with social media posts for their business page too.

The solution? Forget the audience and focus on just one person.

You probably already have at least a rough client avatar in mind; that (real or imaginary) person that represents your ideal client. You might even have a name for her. If not, let’s call her Sue.

Picture Sue.

Sue’s lovely. She’s going to be an incredible client; she’s going to gladly accept your quote, ask for a reasonable turnaround time, give you all of the information you need to do your job well, pay on time and then give you a cracking testimonial afterwards. She’d never ever slag off your blog post, point out your dodgy grammar or be offended by something that wasn’t in the slightest bit offensive. You love Sue. We all love Sue!

Now, I want you to write your blog post just for Sue. She may share it to all of her own followers (Sue’s nice that way) but forget about that. For now, Sue is the only one who matters. What does Sue need to know? How can the information in your blog post help her?

See, stage fright gone. And you didn’t even need to picture Sue in her undies.

The problem: you’re burnt out.

Blogging burnout, you're just plain tired.

Blogging burnout: you’re just plain tired.
Photo by howling red on Unsplash

Maybe the problem is that you’ve just plain had enough? You love sharing info about your industry but you feel you’re stuck on a content creation wheel and you’d far rather be spending your time doing other things. You’re sick of covering the same sort of topics and finding new ways to say the same damn thing.

If that’s the case for you, don’t sweat it. There are a few ways around this.

First, stop trying to reinvent the wheel.

Put your planned content strategy on hold and consider repurposing your previous content.

Have a look through your old blog posts and see if any of them could use an update. For example, if you once blogged about the things you learned in your first year of business, it might be worth adding some fresh insight to that original post now that you’re a few years further down the line. Refreshing older content in this way can give you a wee holiday from writing, which might be just what you need to overcome your writer’s block.

If you need a longer break from writing, consider outsourcing your writing work to a freelance writer. We’ve usually more than happy to take your planned posts and write them up for you, and because we’re coming to it fresh, we can help you spot any gaps in your content strategy or find new angles that you might have missed.

A lot of content writers want you to lock in for a certain period of time (say, a minimum of a 3-month contract), but there are plenty of us (myself included!) who’ll be happy to take on the odd post on an ad hoc basis, just to see you through your writer’s block.

You may well find that after a short break, you can’t wait to sit down with your laptop and coffee, ready to recapture the joy of writing…

Whether you have months’ worth of content planned out, or you’re scratching your head trying to come up with topics, I’m here to help you out — get in touch to find out how.

 

The top 6 business blogs I’m reading right now (and you should too!)

Blogging is dead, huh?

Meh, I’m not buying it. Sure, some folks prefer a podcast, some swear by YouTube vids or Facebook groups to boost their brand and build an audience but there’s still plenty of exciting things happening with business blogs.

And plenty of reasons to keep reading them!

Maybe you’re trying to build a business while stuck in the office at your 9-5, skimming a few blog posts for entrepreneurial ideas during your lunch break. Or you’re a mum, trying to get as much done while your little ones are napping — a noisy YouTube video or podcast is not what you need.

For me, blogs are the quickest way to learn something new. Most of my day is taken up with client work or family stuff which leaves little time for business development. I can usually learn just as much by reading a well-researched and well-written blog post as I can by listening to an hour-long podcast.

Luckily for me — and for all of you guys who take in more info when reading than when listening — there are plenty of businesses out there that are absolutely killing it with their blogging. And whether you need to brush up on your design knowledge,  figure out your finances or want to work on your entrepreneurial mindset, there’s a blog out there for you.

Fiona Robertson Graphics: for design, branding and all things entrepreneurial.

Fiona Robertson Graphics blog

 

Okay, so she’s my sister, my pal and my go-to gal for all things design-related. Aaaaand I write some of her stuff…so I’m definitely biased. But, Fiona’s blog genuinely is worth reading.

She’s been running her design and branding business for over a decade now so she’s already encountered just about every problem you’re likely to face as a business owner: the crappy clients, the fear of putting yourself out there at networking events and the nail-bitingly awful question of generating passive income. Not only that, she’s been dividing her time between two businesses (the other is Fox and Finch and it’s gosh-darn adorable — check it out!) so she knows her shit when it comes to running both service-based and product-based businesses.

Bolt from the Blue: for all things copy and content

Bolt from the Blue Copywriting

 

This is another one where I’m completely biased but also completely justified in my recommendation. I’ve been a part of Team Bolt since 2017 and there are very few people who know as much about copywriting and content as Rachel, Bolt’s head honcho.

When the world is trying to sell you a paint-by-numbers path to business success (‘you must be vulnerable’, ‘you must niche’, ‘it’s all about the hustle’), she’s not afraid to cut through the bullshit and show you that you have options.

My favourite blog title of hers? ‘The Greatest Marketing Lesson You’ll Ever Learn from an Asshole in a Bar’. It makes me literally lol every single time.

Andrew and Pete: content marketing for the small and mighty

Andrew and Pete - Atomic

No surprises here, I’m always going on about these two lovely lads. Probably because what they don’t know about content marketing ain’t worth knowing. If you’ve ever considered joining their Atomic membership (and you should!), but aren’t sure whether it’s for you, having a look through their blog back catalogue will give you a good idea of the type of stuff you’ll be learning. More than that, because they’re always asking Atomic members to contribute (here’s the blog I did for them a while back on website wow words), you’ll be able to see exactly the type of amazing individual you’ll be hanging with when you join. 😉

They, and their members, will walk you through everything from the secret tools to conquer your content marketing to cool mindset stuff like finding a better work/life balance as an entrepreneur, or how to get out of your own way (and don’t we all need to know the answer to that one?).

The Middle Finger Project: For f-bombs and truth bombs

Is it time to invest in your small business?

This one comes with a massive disclaimer — if you’re a delicate wee flower who cringes at an f-bomb, this ain’t the blog for you. Then again, you’re probably shaking your head in despair at my language already so unlikely to take my recommendations seriously anyway.

Ash has real bee in her bonnet at the moment about women and money. We’re still not making enough of it. We’re still too conservative in our pricing. We’re still letting bullshit excuses get in the way of our true earning potential.

Here she gives us twenty big, fat reasons you’re still not charging enough. Read it and weep. Then dry your eyes and raise your damn prices!

Countingup: the tech bros in the know

best business blog

If you’re still reeling from the profanity of The Middle Finger Project, you might prefer to get your financial advice from these guys. They’re doing some really cool stuff in the world of business banking, bookkeeping and cloud accountancy. Wondering how the hell to get your clients to pay their invoices on time? Wondering if you really do need a business bank account? Stumped about Making Tax Digital and how it’ll affect your business? These are the tech bros in the know.

Now you’ve done the reading, how do you fancy joining in with the writing? Any of these guys will tell you that investing time (and sometimes money) in their blog has been a huge factor in their business success, from building an audience, boosting brand awareness and making actual, honest-to-goodness sales from their blog posts.

Not sure where to start? Sign up for my Blogging Bootcamp (way less scary than it sounds, promise!) and I’ll take you through the process of figuring out your audience, deciding on a content strategy, coming up with blog titles and even share the secrets of structuring a kick-ass blog post.

Or if you want to reap the benefits of having your own business blog but can’t be arsed/don’t have time to go down the DIY route, book one of my blogging packages and I’ll take the hard work off your hands.

 

 

 

Caring for your mental health when you work from home

Is working from home a good idea if you have anxiety?

Photo by Gabriel Matula on Unsplash

“Do you think you’ll be okay working from home?” my colleague asked me when I confided that I wanted to quit my part-time job to work on my business full-time.

“What do you mean? Why wouldn’t I?”

“Well, you know, with the anxiety and all…”

Crap, I hadn’t even thought of that. I’d been too busy focusing on other questions: would I make enough money? Would I turn into a lazy git with an extra two days a week at home? Would I ever get out of my jammies again…?

I hadn’t even thought about my mental health. But my colleague had a point — working from home, alone, can be a huge shock to the system for anyone, never mind someone with mental health issues.

On the surface, working from home can seem like the perfect solution to working with your mental health struggles. Had a bad night? Have a lie in and start work an hour or two later — without a commute, you can easily work around that. Need a mental health day? No need to ask the boss, just take the day off and make the time up at the weekend/when you’re feeling better. Stressed by office politics or the daily train journey? Not any more!

Should you work from home when you have a mental illness?

Is ditching the commute the answer to good mental health?
Photo by Abbie Bernet on Unsplash

Only it’s not that simple.

Loads of people struggle to switch off from work. When you work from home, it’s even harder. And when you’re running a business, it’s harder still. It becomes almost impossible to switch into relax mode. You inevitably find yourself checking client emails at midnight or catching up with work-related social media at the weekend. Your boundaries start to blur. Work-life balance? No chance!

And then there’s the social isolation to contend with. Because those co-workers that used to drive you crazy were actually helping your mental health (well, some of them were…). They provided you with human connection, feedback on your work; they were a springboard for your ideas.

Working from home is a big decision — hell, if you have anxiety deciding which socks to wear can be a big decision — so I’m going to share a few of the things that are helping convince me that it was the right one. Why not see if any of them will work for you too?

Don’t over-extend yourself.

Folks with anxiety are often people-pleasers. The “no” word just doesn’t come naturally. Add a generous dose of ambition or financial fear to that mix and you’ll end up with a freelancer facing burnout. Which is bad for anyone, but if you have a history of mental illness, it doesn’t matter how convinced you are that you ‘have it under control this time’, a serious bout of stress will mess with your adrenaline and cortisol production and send you spiraling.

Be meticulous when you’re planning your schedule so know how much spare time you have every week for taking on extra work. No reasonable client will expect you to start work immediately so don’t feel bad for telling them that you can’t fit them in until next week/next month. They will wait!

And don’t fall into the trap of believing that you have to do ALL THE THINGS. Yes, being active on social media is important but you don’t have to be on every platform, all the time (Andrew and Pete have a great video on this), and yes, starting a newsletter/creating an email marketing campaign/launching a webinar/writing an eBook could work wonders for your business but you don’t have to do them all right now. Or ever.

In fact, even when you do decide to tackle some of these projects, you don’t have to handle it all on your own; outsourcing to a VA, a marketing expert or a copywriter (Oh hey, I’m a copywriter! There, plug over), can help you avoid overwhelm.

The main take away: pace yourself.
Working from home when you have a mental illness

Remember to leave yourself some breathing space.
Photo by Tim Goedhart on Unsplash

Watch out for avoidance.

By quitting your job to be a work-from-home-entrepreneur, you’ve thankfully managed to escape from some of the things that were exacerbating your mental health issues. Maybe it was the packed train that always triggered a panic attack; maybe it was your boss whose specialty was gaslighting and confidence crushing. Yay, you don’t have to worry about either of those things anymore!

Which is great, as long as you don’t find yourself entrenched in a pattern of avoiding the things that make your anxiety worse. Because you know, and I know, that if you have a fear of driving, for example, the way through it is to get behind the wheel. If you have a fear of public speaking, you need to get up on that damn stage. The only way to squash the things that frighten you is to face them.

And if you want your business to be a success, you’re going to have to face some scary situations. Networking meetings where you have to pitch your services to a room full of strangers, cold calling prospective clients, asking clients for feedback on your work…

I’m not saying for a minute that you HAVE to do all of those things but being vigilant of your own behaviour and motivations could be helpful.  Yes, it’s a huge relief that you don’t have to take a crowded train every day, but never being able to take the train again? That’s maybe not a track you want to go down…

The main take away: try not to use working from home as an excuse to avoid anxiety-inducing situations.

(A wee disclaimer here — I know that if you’re in the throes of a mental health crisis, me saying ‘face your fears’ isn’t going to do a thing to help. It’s as bad as saying ‘snap out of it’ to someone with depression (please, never ever say that to someone with depression.)Take this advice only when you feel that you can cope with it, or ignore it completely as something that just applies to me. Above all, be kind to yourself and only put yourself under as much pressure as you’re able to handle.)

 

Get out of the damn house. Regularly.

I thought I was safe enough on that score: I do the school run twice a day and the dog demands plenty of walks. But while that’s enough to make sure I get dressed and leave the house every day, my world started to become smaller when I went full-time self-employed.

The four walls of my home office were beginning to feel like confinement rather than comfort.

For me the answer was karate. I now train at my kids’ dojo twice a week and as well as appreciating the hell out of the endorphin rush, I love that it allows me to be part of a community. I enjoy meeting new people, making connections and having at least two hours every week my mind can’t wander back to work (because if it does I’ll end up getting punched in the face!).

For you it might be a different kind of exercise class, it might be making the commitment to go for a long walk every single day or it might be that a co-working space is exactly what you need to avoid freelance isolation. Find something that appeals and promise yourself you’ll leave the house at least a couple of times a week, preferably more.

The main take away: no matter how introverted you are, you need human connection. Find a way to make that happen, on your own terms.
Caring for your mental health when you work from home

They look pretty chill…for now.
Photo by Thao Le Hoang on Unsplash

Set scary goals — but don’t forget to appreciate now.

If there’s one thing you’re good at when you have anxiety, it’s living in the future (when you’re not dwelling on the past, that is!). Which can be helpful when you’re building a business. After all, if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re never going to figure out which steps you need to take to get there.

Problems arise when you spend all of your time focusing on your big, scary future goals.

Instead of thinking ‘woo hoo, I just scored a new client’, you think, ‘fine, but where’s the next one going to come from?’ Instead of appreciating that you crushed your income goal for the year, you start panicking that it was a fluke, you’ve peaked too soon and next year you’ll crash and burn.

You fall prey to the ‘what if’ voice in your head (I call mine Voldemort because it’s a manipulative, falsely seductive, joy-stealing creep and one of these days I’m going to figure out how to turn him to dust). Instead of enjoying the moment and the small successes as they mount up (and big successes, by the way, are nothing more than a series of small successes gathered up over time), you spend your time focusing on the future and everything that could do wrong.

So how do you overcome this?

I’ve found two ways, and they may make you roll your eyes…

Gratitude and mindfulness.

Now, I know they sound a bit out there (I’m always suspicious of anything you could label ‘woo’) but surprisingly, they’re both backed by science.

Gratitude.
how to look after your mental health when you work from home

There’s always something to be grateful for…
Photo by Gabrielle Henderson on Unsplash

With gratitude, it’s very much a case of ‘you find what you’re looking for’. Go through life thinking everything’s shit and people are all horrible and — boom — that’s exactly what you’ll find. You’ll see the bad stuff and the good will wash over you, unnoticed. You’ll focus on the social media posts you created that got no engagement, you’ll be swamped by awkward clients that take advantage, you’ll feel like your business is more trouble than it’s worth.

If you’re a glass half empty sort, it’ll take a bit of time to change your mindset but it can be done.

My advice is to start a gratitude practice. Every day, find 5-10 things to be grateful for and make at least a couple of them relate to your business. At first, you might have to look really freakin’ hard because a lifetime of negativity is a tough habit to break. But there’s bound to be something. Did you get a new follower on Twitter? Did a client pay their invoice without waiting for a reminder? Did you feel like utter crap but manage to put in a couple of hours at your laptop anyway?

The more you practice looking for the small victories, the more accustomed your brain will become to finding them. The theory is that, eventually, you’ll automatically start to focus on the good stuff without any effort.

And when that happens, you can look to your big, scary five-year goals with confidence and optimism because you’re super aware of the business successes you’ve already had.

Mindfulness.

Initially, I was suspicious of this one, thinking it was just another wellness fad (because self-care, y’all!) but the science behind why it works is pretty compelling. I won’t go into it all here partly because it would take far longer than I have to write, but mostly because science is not my strongest subject. Others have done it far more justice than I ever could.

The nutshell version though is that a regular mindfulness practice will help you acknowledge your thoughts and emotions without falling prey to them. It brings you back to the present moment and allows you to detach from your whirlwind of thoughts long enough for logic to penetrate (your client hasn’t emailed back because they’re in a meeting or it’s their day off — it’s not because you screwed up, sent the email to the wrong person, are a horrible failure etc etc).

I’m constantly trying to find ways to incorporate mindfulness and meditation into my daily work schedule and really do feel the benefit.

Meditation for overcoming anxiety

Get your zen on…
Photo by Jared Rice on Unsplash

Get started now with my current favourite guided meditation

Or this body scan meditation.

And some further reading that I’ve found helpful:

Ruby Wax: Sane New World

Mark Williams: Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World

The main takeaway: gratitude and mindfulness are not just for woo-merchants — and they can make you feel pretty peaceful. Worth a try, right?

 

Set boundaries.

This doesn’t just apply to your clients — you need to set (and stick to!) your own boundaries too.

Again, if you’re a people-pleaser, this won’t come naturally. And leaving emails unanswered can be torture if you’re an anxiety sufferer. But, I promise your client isn’t expecting a reply to their email on Sunday afternoon (and if they are, ditch them now!).

Your mental health demands that you take adequate time off from your work. That’s just good sense whether you have a mental illness or not.

Decide what time your work day finishes and then pledge not to check your emails again until you start work in the morning. Make it clear to clients that you don’t work weekends and they’ll have to wait until the next working day for a response.

And take holidays! I appreciate this can be hard, especially if you’re the main breadwinner in your family or the sole earner but it’s soooo important. Failure to take the enough time off is a recipe for mental health disaster and will ultimately have a much greater impact on your earning potential than taking a few days off when you need some R&R.

If you struggle to schedule holidays, sit down at the start of every business year and map out which weeks you’re going to take and then make sure all of your clients know about them. Hopefully they’ll have the decency not to ask anything of you during those periods and you’ll find it easier to take the time, guilt-free.

Caring for your mental health when you work from home

Beautiful Lake Garda is my top holiday spot — I feel more relaxed just looking at this…

The main take away: there are no prizes for working 60 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, no award for hustle. Take a holiday!

Seek support.

caring for your mental health when you work from home - find your tribe

Find your tribe! Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash

Working for someone else can be great for people with anxiety — you have regular appraisals so you know what you’re getting right and how you can improve your performance. You have colleagues to support you when you’ve had to deal with tricky projects or impossible-to-please clients and you have a sounding board (AKA reassurance) for any new ideas you want to try out.

When you’re self-employed you have none of that. You hope that you’re doing a great job, but without regular feedback, how do you know for sure?

You may think you’ve had a great idea but without someone cheerleading you on, you give in to self-doubt and your idea fizzles out.

And those bad days that we all have? Without someone to moan to, you internalise the stress and it begins to fester.

Luckily there are a few solutions you can try:

Firstly, start listening to your clients. Their feedback is as reassuring as any appraisal. You should be asking for a testimonial after every project or encouraging every customer to leave a product review for you but even if you don’t currently do that, try listening to the things your customers aren’t saying.

If they come back to you time and again? They’re telling you that they value your work.

If they pass your name on to their friends and family? They’re telling you that you’re great at what you do.

Take note of these victories and look at it every time imposter syndrome rears its ugly, lying head.

Secondly, find yourself a business champion — someone (or several someones) who you can turn to for advice when you have a great idea or who’ll commiserate with you when you have a crap day or awful client. This could be a business buddy (my sister is mine!), a business coach, a mentor or a membership community (I belong to Atomic and it’s great for helping you feel that you’re not in this thing alone).

The important thing is that you build yourself a little business tribe that you can turn to whenever loneliness sets in.

The main take away: you’re not alone, your tribe is out there somewhere. You just have to find it.

There, doesn’t that sound like I have it all worked out?

Ha, I wish!

In truth, working your way through mental illness is a huge adventure in trial and error. As is self-employment. But if you’re thinking of taking the leap to working from home or you already are a self-employed home-worker feeling the strain, some of these might work for you. I hope they do.

I’m adding a huge disclaimer to this post. I’ve done a ton of reading on mental health, the brain-science behind mental illness, and strategies for coping, but I’m far from being an expert. The info shared here relates to my own experience and the things that work for me.

If you’re finding things hard at the moment, please, please, please, reach out to someone, preferably a qualified professional.

remember that you’re not alone, you are worthy of help and you do matter. You really, really do.

How to find a great copywriter (6 clues you’ve found a good one).

Finding a pro in any field isn’t easy. We’ve all been stung by the GP whose bedside manner stinks, the electrician who didn’t turn up when he said he would, the chartered accountant who gave crap advice.

But at least you know where to start with these guys — they have the right letters after their name, or they’re members of the right association.

With copywriters, it’s a bit different.

We don’t have a concrete career path. We don’t all head straight to uni to do a copywriting degree (it’s not really a thing — at least not yet), score an internship with an ad agency, work our way up and then start our own agency. Which makes it hard for you, as business owners, to know how to weed out the good ones from the bad.

Finding a long list of writers to choose from isn’t an issue. We’re everywhere. Seduced by images of copywriters working from a beach in Bali while making 7 figures a year, anyone who ever scored an A for an English essay (and plenty of those you didn’t even come close) thinks they have what it takes.

So how do you sort through your list? How do you know that they can actually deliver? I reckon there are a few clues for you to look out for.

They have the right ‘vibe’.

That sounds awfully ‘woo’, I know, but bear with me.

You are going to be working pretty closely with your copywriter so it’s important that you find someone you think you can get along with. In fact, anyone who thinks they can find the right words for your business without having spoken to you at length is not to be trusted!

To get a proper handle on your business, your brand, your goals and your personality — all of which is vital to producing great copy — you’ll need to spend some time together. So you want to know if this will be a pleasant experience or comparable to a tooth extraction.

The best thing to do is to meet them.
How to find a great copywriter (6 clues you've found a good one)

Is your writer the right fit? There’s only one way to find out…
Photo by Alejandro Escamilla on Unsplash

Since we tend to work remote, in-person meetings might not be an option but I’m a big fan of Zoom (not tried Zoom yet? Give it a whirl, I reckon you’ll love it) or Skype chats. If, after talking through the nitty gritty of your project, you don’t get the impression that you’ll enjoy communicating with that particular writer or they’re just not the right personality type to ‘get’ your business, don’t worry. Not every client is the right fit for every writer and, since your working relationship will hopefully last way beyond the initial project, it’s important to find someone you gel with.

Yes, it is time-consuming but once you’ve found a writer you like you can stick with them for life. They’ll be there to help you through every new product launch, every rebrand,  every new email campaign and beyond.

They have insight.

Another thing to look for is the copywriter’s insight. While you’re having an initial meeting and talking through the details of your business and your project, it’s likely (desirable, in fact) that the writer does more listening — and note taking — than talking. But listen carefully to the things they do say. If they know what they’re doing, they’ll likely have a few insights for you right away (we can’t stop those cogs whirring, you see!). They might throw out a new perspective on your target market, your USP, or even help you clarify your business goals. Any of which will give you reassurance that they’ll hit the target when it comes to actually writing your stuff!

They’re big readers.

When it comes to sales copy, grammar is important (in my opinion, plenty of others disagree) — I reckon you need to know the rules before you can decide which ones to break and which ones are sacred — but it isn’t everything.

So you’re not necessarily looking for an English-class nerd, full of chat about dangling participles and Oxford commas.

That said, what you do want to know is that they’re voracious readers. Because if you want to learn how to write well, the number one thing you should do is read.

Firstly, a copywriter who thinks they know everything they need to know about copywriting is kidding themselves on. There is always something more to learn in any industry and ours is no exception. But a copywriter’s reading should go beyond the realm of books about copywriting alone. I’ve found useful insights from books on marketing, PR, general writing, entrepreneurship and particularly, psychology.

Secondly, reading non-business related books can teach your copywriter loads too. It’s how we learn to master different tone, cadence, structure and all of the other elements that make any type of writing shine.

Oh, and though it isn’t technically reading, I’m going to include listening to podcasts and such here as well. A good podcast can teach you a lot about storytelling, how to structure content and how to keep a listener’s interest — all vital components of sales copy.

How to find a great copywriter (6 clues you've found a good one)

Never trust a writer with tidy bookshelves.
Photo by Simson Petrol on Unsplash

Some of my favourite business books

They have relevant experience.

There may not be a clear career path for copywriters but a lot of us do hail from related fields.

You’ll find the marketing guys will have studied copywriting in some form while training, the out-of-work print journalists will write a cracking headline and the former advertising sales executives (hello!) have gone through ridiculous amounts of training on the sales process, including the psychology of why people buy.

All useful stuff if you want to write shit hot sales copy.

Of course, you shouldn’t necessarily dismiss a writer who comes from a completely unrelated industry, as long as there are plenty of other indications to suggest they know what they’re doing.

They come recommended.

If someone you know has recommended a particular copywriter, you’re probably on to a winner. That said, I’ve heard of networking groups where people recommend other members without having seen their work or used them personally.

So, recommendation or not, it’s worth checking your potential writer’s testimonials and portfolio before you make a decision. And while you’re reading through their stuff it’s worth noting how they’ve tackled writing for different industries and different tone of voice demands. If everything they write sounds the same, it’s not a great sign unless perhaps they’re writing for your particular niche.

What about qualifications though?

It’s always reassuring to see that someone has some letters after their name. And there’s a nugget of logic behind that. While my MA and post-grad certificate are not hugely related to copywriting, I gained plenty of transferable skills that help me do my job well: research skills, time management, editing, clear communication to name a few.

How to find a great copywriter (6 clues you've found a good one)

A gratuitous shot of my old uni because, well, just look at it!
Photo by Michael D Beckwith on Unsplash

But qualifications aren’t everything.

Let me tell you a quick story. You may not know that I am a fully-qualified early education professional (i.e. I taught teeny tiny kids their colours, their shapes and how not to be arses to each other).  And to be honest, I just wasn’t that great at the job. I may have had the right piece of paper but I didn’t have the right attitude, the passion or the desire to improve. All of which I have in spades when it comes to writing.

So that’s my final thing to look out for when choosing a copywriter: do they freakin’ love their job? Because if they do, no matter how many years they’ve been doing this,  they’ll view every project as a challenge — and an opportunity — to be better than they were yesterday.

And that’s great news for you and your business!

Want to find out if I’m the right copywriter for your business? Then let’s talk. I can write your web copy, your blog posts, your newsletters, sales pages, email campaigns and your social media content. And if you need something I haven’t mentioned then I probably do that too — or know someone who does, so hit me up.