What I’ve learnt after writing for 20+ years
Yikes! This month (March), I’ll have been writing for more than 20 years, 21 to be precise.
Where has the time gone? Too fast, I can tell you that for nothing.
Has it really been 20+ years since I first started out as an intrepid trainee newspaper reporter with my trusty notepad and pen? When I started to learn shorthand and about law and local and central government at journalism school and frequently trawled through the old library records for our Society page news (because we didn’t have the internet back then?) It really this.
This month I’m also marking another, not so long, but equally important milestone – it’s been two years since I decided to become a freelance copywriter and PR consultant, go it alone and launch SK Copy Co.
Double celebrations for me! If only it was my birthday this month I’d have scored a hat-trick, so to speak (it’s actually in June for those of you who’d like to know). So, as it’s such a big month for me this month, I’ve decided to reflect on the most important lessons I’ve learnt during my PR and copywriting career so far. And I thought it’d be useful to share some of them with you so, here they are…
- Never burn your bridges
It never ceases to amaze me just what a small world it is (this applies both personally and professionally). I’ve worked with so many different people over the years and it’s incredible just how many of these relationships are intertwined. In journalism, contacts are key and the same applies to running your own business.
People know people who know people so, if you can, it’s always best to leave places on the best possible terms. I’m constantly astounded by how people I’ve worked with over the years keep popping back up, either directly or indirectly through other contacts.
Relationship-building is critical to spreading the word and winning new work both through your network of contacts or by them recommending you to others. Cherish and nurture these relationships as they’re pivotal to your overall success now, and for many years to come.
- Keep learning
Just because I’ve been writing for 21 years, doesn’t mean I know everything there is to know about writing, if only! People who claim to know everything there is to know about their profession are a) far too sure of themselves and b) wrong, as the world’s constantly evolving and most industries are rapidly-changing as a result.
Fortunately for me, I’ve always been keen to learn, as I’ve always recognised how important it is for progression, and it’s something that’s stayed with me throughout my career. Whether it’s dipping into a podcast, sending myself on copywriting training or checking the latest meta description lengths or algorithm updates, I make sure I’m always learning.
And just because something’s in the past doesn’t mean you can’t learn from it. Past experiences can provide us with some of the most valuable lessons about ourselves and our work. If something went well, I’ll always ask myself why. The same applies to if things go badly too. I’ll always ask myself, why did it turn out that way? What could have been done differently? How can I make sure it doesn’t happen again?
I’m always picking up tips and tricks from my contacts too. For instance, I discovered last week that you can screen share via Google Hangouts, which was new to me and something that went straight into my notes file for future reference!
- Take time to reflect
Now this is a tricky one, especially if you’re anything like me, always here, there and everywhere, eat lunch with one hand, type with the other and very rarely sit down for very long.
Self-reflection is incredibly important and something I’m learning to make more time for these days.
In today’s fast-paced world it can be really easy to get trapped in a bubble where you get up, go to work, have your tea, go to bed and then do it all over again, with very little time for you, your friends or your family. I often liken it to being on a hamster wheel, you’re constantly going around-and-around, but never seem to be able to get off and then, before you know it, several years have passed…..
Taking stock and reflecting on where you are and the direction you’re heading in is really useful, especially if you’re running your own business. It can help you see the wood for the trees, learn from key experiences and make sure you’re heading in the right direction, as well as looking out for yourself that little bit more too.
- Be honest
Now I know not everybody will agree with me on this point, but I truly believe honesty is the best policy.
Being professional at all times is really important to me and I think being open and honest with your clients is key to this. It can be as simple as telling them if I’ve come in under hours on a job, even if we’ve signed off more hours and they have a huge budget, and being honest with them about the results I can achieve for them.
Some people may be very good at blagging their way into and out of things, but it’s just not me. What you see is what you get and if you ask me a question, then you’ll receive a very honest, diplomatic answer.
Being honest applies to being honest with yourself too – have you worked as hard as you could have done on that piece of work? Has it been produced to the best of your ability or did you rush it? Are you 100 per cent happy with what you’re producing? These are just some of the questions I ask myself on a daily basis.
- Don’t spread yourself too thinly
When you’ve just started a business, you want to say ‘yes’ to everybody because you’re scared that the moment you say ‘no’ they may not come back. And if that happens, how are you supposed to build your business?!
If you’re being approached by lots of different people from all different directions, this means you’re going to get incredibly busy really fast.
Be realistic with yourself about what you can achieve, there’s nothing worse than overpromising and then underdelivering, we all know it should be the other way round. If you have contacts you can trust to outsource certain bits of work to, don’t be shy about asking them for help every now and again. It doesn’t have to be all of the time, just every now and again when you’re super busy.
Make sure you’re clear about what your strengths and weaknesses are (this goes back to my point about being honest with yourself) because we can’t all be great at everything, if only we were! There’s nothing worse than saying something’s your forte when it isn’t just so you’ll win the work. At the end of the day, you’ll have to produce it and if it doesn’t deliver, then you most probably won’t hear from your client again. It won’t do your reputation any good either.
- Keep smiling
I know this may sound a bit fluffy, but it really is important to keep smiling.
Running a business, especially when you’re doing it on your own, can be relentless, isolating and downright challenging. You’re frequently faced with having to make decisions you aren’t sure about or have never had to make before. This means you’re often well out of your comfort zone.
It can be easy to get caught up in the things that may have not gone to plan or get bogged down by your workload, which is why it’s important to focus on the positives as much as you can and, keep smiling. Remind yourself of what you’ve achieved and the direction you’re heading in because nobody else will do it for you.
Fortunately, I love what I do and I’m fortunate to work with a really great set of clients. That’s what keeps me smiling and will continue to do so for the next 20 years! For more insight on the world of freelancing, read ‘Three things I wish I’d known before going freelance.’