Wednesday, 27 December 2017

How to be a fearless freelancer

Debbie Smith, who heads up our broad tech/public sector tech clients, on  expanding your work horizons.
You've so got this...


It’s more than six years since I became an independent PR consultant, and I’ve enjoyed (almost) all of it. I’m still here and still working on interesting projects with great clients. We freelancers often swap advice but there’s one thing I haven’t seen much conversation around about and that's the need to keep challenging yourself and venture outside your work ‘comfort zone’. It can be nerve-wracking, but there’s nothing better than the sense of achievement it brings.

Most of us go freelance because we’re good at what we do (if we’re not we’ll soon stop winning work) and we want to keep doing it rather than running teams and playing office politics. We stay up to date on our clients’ areas of expertise, keep up with a changing media landscape, and of course there’s CPD available from our professional bodies the CIPR and PRCA.

But what we can miss out on is the opportunity to take on different types of work. In a large organisation new things often come your way and you can take the opportunity safe in the knowledge that your colleagues are there to support you. When you’re working from your home office, it's more of a risk.

However, opportunities do come along and it’s important to grasp them firmly with both hands if you don’t want to do the same thing every day. If they’re relevant to your core skills, you’ll find that with research, hard work and a deep breath you can do it. My mum used to say, “You can only do your best,”and if you’re well prepared and confident your best will probably be just fine. And then it’s another skill to add to your portfolio.

I was delighted when I was asked  to help with positioning and messaging for a large international business. Interesting client, that enabled me to use my degree subject as well as my PR skills, overseas travel…what could be better? I then discovered they wanted  a crucial piece of business analysis, something I wasn’t familiar with. But I reasoned that it was a logical extension of a SWOT analysis, did my research and came up with the results. Happy  client and a new skill for me.

Sometimes the challenge can be of your own making. I co-organise a local business conference and exhibition for several hundred people and after attending similar events suggested that we replaced one of our speaker slots with a panel interview to make it more interesting. My co-organisers agreed enthusiastically and then asked who’d do the interviewing. There was only one possible answer – me. In the run-up I wondered what I’d let myself in for and the butterflies were fluttering in my stomach on the day. However, I’d prepared my questions and pre-briefed my panel, so everything went to plan. It was so well received that we’ve continued it at the next two events.

So don’t rest on your laurels, fellow freelancers – keep challenging yourselves and get outside that comfort zone!

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Outsourcing - it's not just for corporates

even wonder women cant do it all on their own
In this post Lianne - looks at how freelancers can outsource the business of running a business.

Yesterday my website finally went live! Well ok, it’s a holding page but it’s a start. I actually bought my domain name two years ago when I decided to take the plunge into the freelance world. But the reality is that work gathered pace quite quickly (thank you Sam ;-)) and I have been so busy since then helping clients manage their PR and marketing that I haven’t had time to do my own. And while I’ve managed to get a home page up, the rest of the content will simply have to wait until I catch a breath!

And I know I’m not alone in this. In fact, the chap that designed my ‘holding page’ said that he has had the exact same thing on his website for over seven years. He just hasn’t found the time to do it yet.

I was going to do it. But the truth is, designing a website and sorting out all the technicalities around hosting it is not my sweet spot. So it kept falling further and further down my to-do list.

A friend of mine recently asked for some help with marketing her new VA business (Virtual Assistant for those who like me didn’t know). I thought she was crazy at first. Being an ‘outsource’ resource to help busy business owners manage their admin – who would do that? But when I looked into it further, I saw that my friend was joining a whole army of other VA’s who offer this exact service. And who have done so successfully for many years.

And it dawned on me. My clients outsource their PR and marketing needs to me. They simply don’t have the time or the expertise to do it themselves. I looked at my own business. It wasn’t just the website that I had outsourced. My logo has been designed by a local graphic designer. My accounts are done by a local accountant….without realising it I have outsourced much of my own business admin. It’s not even that I can’t do any of these things. It’s just that these skills are not my forte and it’s far more efficient to let someone who is an expert in that field take the pressure. And if I want to find time to sleep and spend time with my son over the next twenty years then I need relinquish total control.

Being a freelancer can feel a bit isolated at times. You work for yourself and it’s a real driver. I often put in 18 hour days because I love what I do and it’s really easy to get carried away. But you can’t be a jack of all trades and expect to have a life at the same time. It took a couple of years to see it, but by letting the experts take care of certain tasks it’s a huge weight off my shoulders. Not to mention the fact that these tasks are now actually getting done! It took me two years to outsource my website – it took the designer five days to get it online.

Now I can focus on what I’m good at. And spend more time on the work that actually excites me! My only regret is that I could have done this all two years ago. But I guess that’s the learning curve that comes with the territory. Onwards and upwards!

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

You don't have to be a recluse to be a freelancer

For some the joy of freelance work is being able to get your head down, get on with it and then get out (thus being the first to the bar). But for others the isolation can be an issue, in this post our new fintech writer and researcher, David Black looks at measures you can take to replicate those 'water cooler' moments.

Remember, a dog is for life not just for freelance companionship
There are pros and cons of being a freelancer ranging from flexibility on the plus side to occasional periods of lack of work as a negative. But one aspect that particularly affects those working from home is potential loneliness: you’ll miss the face-to-face social interactions of office life. It’s one of the many things that those thinking about making the leap in to the freelance world should contemplate carefully.

Some will have more difficulty than others in dealing with the isolation but there are many tactics which freelancers can adopt to alleviate the potential loneliness.

Without having to endure the time, and cost, of the daily commute to work, you don’t need to feel guilty if you take exercise before, during or after your working day. For some it may be taking the dog for a walk, going for a run or swimming. Your choice. Maybe meet up with an ex-colleague for lunch, or other freelancers in your local area. You are time rich compared to your fellow commuters.

Advances in technology have made it much easier to work from home, but you can harness this for interaction by making more use of things like Skype and Google Hangouts. Social media is also an option but remember time is money.

There’s also the phone – you don’t have to do everything by email.

It’s useful to develop a network of other freelancers who you can meet, discuss things and bounce ideas off. There may be a local professional organisation that you can join or help set up. People have different skills and one of your network may be able to help if you’ve got a problem, say computer related or whatever, and vice versa.

There will be numerous industry events that you can attend. Ok, you may not be earning anything when you go to them, but they may well provide useful networking opportunities.

It’s commonplace to have business meetings in a coffee shop and there’s nothing to stop you going to a coffee shop with your laptop to do your work just so you can have the buzz of having other people around ( you may need to rotate coffee shops if it's a regular habit).

If you enjoy the work that you do but really can’t cope with the isolation maybe consider using a co-working office space. Yes it increases your overheads, but there are synergies to be had that can off set these including networking, shared costs, reduced taxes etc.

You don' t have to be a recluse to be a freelancer, in fact the joy of being your own boss might well make you the life and soul of the party.

Friday, 20 October 2017

Top five mistakes to avoid when pitching your freelance services

Pitching for work - it's still a pitch
The Comms Crowd has been growing recently our little team had just about hit double figures and what a fab little team we are. I knew from the get go when each person got in touch that they would be a great fit for us, our culture and our clients.

But over the years I have been contacted by quite a few individuals hoping to join the gang and not all of them made such a brilliant first impression.

Here’s my top five mistakes to avoid when pitching your freelance services:

1) Telling me (in some detail) how much you hate your 9 – 5. Firstly I don’t care, secondly we don’t do negativity in pitches EVER, thirdly it demonstrates no commitment to freelance.

2) Telling me how  (in more detail) you can’t get any work and you're dying of starvation. Firstly I still don’t care, secondly one can only assume you are crap at what you do.

3) Clearly not understanding what we do, who we are, who we work for we are B2B tech if you are not B2B tech it's not a good fit, honestly. Sending me some vanilla pitch about my ‘organisation’ has me pressing delete before we even get to kind regards.

4) Not demonstrating you have the four core skills: client management, content production, media relations, social media management. The rest is neither here nor there. And by demonstrating I mean send me a link to something you’ve written send me coverage show me a channel that you run…

5) Taking too long to tell me anything at all – this is a pitch right?  

Truly if you can’t pitch yourself, how in the hell you gonna pitch our clients? 
(Can I get an Amen?)
As I'm sure Ru Paul would say if she were asked.

Meanwhile, succinct, compelling and personable pitches that demonstrate your commitment to the freelance faith, map well to the Comms Crowd and showcase your in demand skills will just have me dashing for that welcome mat.

This great pic is of Eri Yoshida aka the Knuckleball Princess.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Are you emotionally suited to be a freelancer?

Our new content creator Sandra Vogel looks at the attributes you need to sustain a freelance life.
Sandra: highly motivated to get done.

Freelancing doesn’t suit everybody, but it sure suits me. I’ve been freelance for 20 years, and I can’t imagine working any other way. But it's not for everyone. You know those buzzwords – highly motivated, self-starter, flexible attitude. Well, they apply to freelancing bigtime.

Highly motivated. Um – yep. Motivated to sit at the computer when the sun is out, the sky is blue, there’s not a cloud to spoil the view, and yet there’s a deadline to meet, a client call to take, and a couple of pitches to get in before you can even think of heading out that door. Well, that’s one way of looking at ‘highly motivated’. And there are times when it most certainly applies.

But there are other ways to look at motivation. I’m motivated to make as much as I can of the free time I have. That means that there are times when I can – and do – drop everything and get outside on a weekday to have some fun. The trick is keeping that motivation in line with working. Now that does take a certain personality type. It’s the type who can manage their time well, not over-filling it, not being too ambitious about what can be achieved in a given couple of hours, and making sure that time is allocated to fun as well as to work.

If that means being motivated to work on a Saturday morning in order to free up a Thursday afternoon, so be it.

Self-starter. People often see this as synonymous with the motivational thing, but in fact it is different. A self-starter just gets on with stuff. They’re the opposite of the procrastinator who always looks for reasons NOT to do things. The procrastinator says ‘Oh, I won’t write this blog today, because I’ve got a slot in the diary tomorrow’. The self-starter says ‘if I write this blog today then that diary slot tomorrow will stay free, and I can do something fun in that time.’

The self-starter has initiative and they make things happen. Importantly they don’t walk away when things get difficult. That’s a really important personality trait for anyone who wants to freelance. There’s no manager sitting nearby to provide feedback that you’re doing OK, or give pointers if you’re not doing OK. You just have to figure it out.

Being a self-starter shows itself in all kinds of things, not just hunkering down to tasks that are in the diary. It also applies to bigger picture stuff like hunting down new potential clients, following up possible work leads, even having a view of the universe and where you want to be in it – then working out how to get there.

But being a self starter also means doing things that might not feel very exciting, but that nobody else can do for you. There’s nobody around me to say ‘Sandra, I think it’s time you filed your tax return and updated your CV’. But when these things have to be done, they have to be done.

Flexible attitude. I’d say this is a vital attribute for any freelancer. I’m a pretty controlled kind of person. I like checklists, and I like to have things planned out. Most days I sit down to work knowing what’s going to happen during the day. I like to have my week planned out to a fairly fine degree too. Fridays are importantly different from the other days of the week. I don’t like having meetings on a Friday and I usually have no work at all scheduled after noon. The last work thing I do on a Friday is plan the following week.

How is that flexible? Well, while the aim is to take Friday afternoon off, it’s also ‘available’. So, Friday afternoon is a bucket that work can slip into if necessary. It might slip into the bucket because schedules have overrun, because a client has come up with something for me to do on a short deadline, or because Wednesday afternoon was beautiful and I went out for a bike ride, pushing everything in the diary ahead half a day.

One of the companions to having a flexible attitude is being relaxed and able to handle stress. A freelancer has to be good at that. There are often multiple demands on my time, and only I can decide the best way to resolve them. So, when two clients want something done right now and I have to negotiate a way through that, I need to be calm and considered. When my computer decides to give up working and I’ve not got a spare around, I just have to handle it. When something comes up that takes me away from work unexpectedly, I need to be able to handle both the work and the out of work situation equally well.

Like I said at the start freelancing isn’t for everyone. But if the cap does fit, it’s a great way to make a living. I’ve worked with some wonderful people (and my current Comms Crowd colleagues are among the best of all), done work I’ve really enjoyed, and spent more weekday afternoons in the cinema than I probably have a right to. What’s not to like?




Saturday, 9 September 2017

PR - from the classroom into the office

Holly Mercer, our Comms Crowd junior looks at how PR translates from the lecture halls to a busy tech PR agency.
Putting theory into practice - it's all go for Holly

As a PR student I feel as though you are taught an incredible amount of theory while doing very little practical PR tasks throughout the duration of the course. Ultimately the University leaves it to the student to gain the necessary experience and insights into the working world of PR. I am actually incredibly grateful for this, as this independent approach has really allowed me to be proactive in gaining necessary experience and insight into the PR industry and ultimately allowed me to be where I am today!

Admittedly before April this year I had very little idea what sector of the PR industry I wanted to go into when I graduate, which to be fair isn’t surprising. Although I have been exposed to guest lectures at Uni, until you experience them for yourself how on earth are you meant to know if that sector is right for you?! So my only strategy was to get as many different work placements as possible in 3 months. I carried out placements in tech and consumer PR agencies and also a communications agency specialising in sport and music.

After finishing my first placement in the tech PR agency, I knew from the beginning it was exactly what I wanted to do. Not having a clue what you want to do can be a very daunting feeling, so to finally realise what it is – it is the BEST feeling! So from there that opened a door for me with Sam and the Comms Crowd. Sam was actually my guest lecturer at Uni for a couple of months. So to be interviewed on skype by the same person who TAUGHT you how to do skype interviews, was quite frankly a very daunting scenario!

So getting to the meat of the question, what have I learnt since becoming a member of the Comms Crowd? In all honesty this question has been a struggle for me to answer, because truthfully the answer is most definitely A RIDICULOUS AMOUNT.

Being completely honest, this experience has been a challenge. But I do love a challenge, so this has been a great test for me. As well as working for the Comms Crowd, I have two-part time waitressing jobs and uni work so the key skills that I have learnt so far are time management and multi tasking. Both of these skills are a necessity for anybody working in PR where you have to be able to mange your time between client deadlines and meetings, while still making time for managing twitter feeds and other social media channels.

I think the one tip that I would give to anyone in my position, or any student carrying out work placements or junior roles is to ask questions! I know this is such a cliché thing to say because everyone says it, but it is so true and so important. Even still I start emails saying “sorry if this is a stupid question” but truthfully I have come to understand that no question is a stupid question. And it is most definitely better to ask a potentially obvious question and then get something right, as opposed to not ask and then get something wrong!

ONWARDS!



Wednesday, 9 August 2017

A key skill for freelancers – learning when to say No!

After six years as a freelance PR - four of them as part of the Comms Crowd collective - Debbie Smith muses on why it’s essential to know when to turn work down.

Getting a bit frazzed? 
When you first go freelance, it takes a while to attract the volume of work you need to meet your financial targets, and for new (and hopefully exciting) opportunities to find you. You spend almost as much time networking as you do on client work: going to events, emailing friends of friends who might be helpful, meeting contacts for a coffee in the faint hope of a referral and stalking people who might be useful on social media.

After a while things settle down. You find some regular clients, even acquire some work on a retainer, and develop a healthy pipeline of new business. You’re enjoying your improved work-life balance and wondering how you ever managed a daily commute followed by 9-5 (and usually longer) in an office.

But then one of two things happens. Either a) you realise that work is gradually taking over your evenings and weekends or b) you don’t have enough work. Before too long, I guarantee that you’ll experience both. But the solution is the same in both cases – assess the situation, take a deep breath and if the situation isn’t working for you then simply and politely say “no”.

Turning down work is unlikely to be something you think about when you’re planning your freelance career. You’re too busy wondering how to find enough of it to pay for all the holidays you’ll now have time to take! But it’s a vital skill, and one where my track record has been a bit mixed. Here are some tips based on my experience.

1. Have a network of contacts with complementary skills

One occasion where I got it right was when someone who organised a local business club asked me to do some PR for her company. It was my first year in business and I needed more work. However, I’m a tech specialist and she worked in financial services, which requires very specific skills. I knew immediately it wasn’t for me, but fortunately I had a solution – a former (and trusted) colleague who’d also set up her own business and had many years’ experience in the sector. I put the two of them in touch, they hit it off and worked together for several years. The result was a success for all parties: excellent media coverage, both people remained good contacts of mine, I wasn’t stressed by trying to do work I didn’t have the skills or knowledge to do or ruin my reputation by doing a bad job, and the PR colleague passed on some other work to me.

2. Don’t be seduced by a challenge – and if it smells fishy, it probably is

In year two I wasn’t so smart. I wasn’t as busy as I would have liked and was flattered to be contacted by a tech company with an exciting new product. I should have said no when they said they wanted to get it into the national press – not my strong point – and looking back with 20:20 vision I should have asked more questions during the briefing, as something didn’t seem quite right. But they positioned it as a challenge, so I said yes. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to generate any national interest – and then I found out that they’d already try to do the same thing themselves, and called me in when they were unsuccessful. So the product wasn’t even new! The lesson I learnt was that if it’s outside your comfort zone, and especially if something doesn’t seem quite right, trust your instincts and quickly and firmly say NO THANKS.

3. Don’t overload yourself – remember that work-life balance

Recently a combination of retainer work, my own holidays and an urgent project meant I found myself working late into the evenings and going to bed with list of actions and priorities whizzing round in my head. Add to that the need to change all my personal emails away from my previous account (not recommended but unavoidable) and the pressure was on.

I managed to get everything done, but realised that I didn’t want to continue at the same rate indefinitely. As Sam pointed out when we discussed it, you need to remember why you started freelancing in the first place. In my case, that means time for family and friends, hiking, work with a community group, my new hobby of kiln-fired glass and our extremely bouncy rescue dog.

So we reorganised a few things, made sure everyone was playing to their strengths, and life is now returning to normal. The question I’m asking myself is why, when I’m so busy, did I offer to write a blog? When I suggested it Sam’s response was “that’s really funny” – but here I am. So practice saying no when life gets too frantic. Believe me, it gets easier every time!

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

The biggest mistake junior PRs can make


I was recently interviewed for MK's award winning PR blog. Marcel and I know each other from Westminster uni where I was his associate lecturer - he just graduated with a distinction - and he was also the Comms Crowd junior for a year. Now he's a Junior Account Executive at M&C Saatchi PR

MK honours student and smart PR
In his #4PRQs series he asks a range of industry types the same four questions. The one I found most interesting was:  

What is the biggest mistake of junior people you employ, and how can it be fixed?

And this is my expanded answer:

The biggest mistake even the best of them make, is trying to appear you are on it when you are not… saying you understand what you are doing when you don’t, not quite. I get the motivation – need to look like you are on it, don’t want to ask daft questions.

But we know coming into an agency life from an academic background is a huge shock: 
not least the speed in which things move:
  • Agencies are always very fast, very busy and er slightly stressed and everyone apart from the new junior knows exactly what they are doing.
  • The level of multi-tasking expected is unprecedented, it's not unusual for a junior to sit across five or six accounts or even more.
  • Being cc'd on every mail on every account sounds great right? you finally get to see what's really going on. But believe me. it's a high price to pay for wading through 200 mails a day, and where are you supposed to put them when you've read them? Are they all important??
So it's no wonder juniors are over-whelmed from day one. But without complete understanding of what you are doing and why, even ‘simple’ tasks like updating media lists, or sourcing twitter feed content goes awry as the junior lacks the confidence to speak up and clarify any questions, resulting in frustration and lack of faith all around.

Much better to fess up at the beginning and claim ignorance, especially in my sector where the subject matter is deep. I mean how is a junior supposed to be all over AI, blockchain, machine learning, crypto currencies – etc? We really don’t expect you to get it straight away anyway, so you just speak up and ask those ‘stupid questions’.

Well done Marcel, v proud.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

one year on…hindsight advice for Freelancers-to-be


Simona shares lessons learned from her first year as a freelance PR and digital marketing consultant:


Celebrating the first year of  freelancing

So it’s been already a year since I took the plunge into freelancing and it’s certainly been a crazy, scary, and self-rewarding time for me. As the summer approached, I remember starting off tentatively, double-double-double checking every email I was about to send out and running every action past Sam. But after a few weeks I found my feet …and my voice. As I started working with different clients and different accounts, I rediscovered the real me, a more confident “me” who could take an active role in new prospects’ meetings, could produce good writing, and could come up with interesting suggestions for her clients without being scared of saying the wrong thing. 

It’s been a big learning curve for me and here’s my advice for those who are thinking of becoming or have just started as freelancers:

1. Its Ok to be scared: being scared helped me to look at different options and opportunities; it helped me focus on the job; and, because it doesn’t come natural to me, it forced me to go out there and look for some local networking events.

2. Find a good accountant: you won’t believe how important this is when you start off. S/he will help you:

a. Decide whether you want to set up a Limited company or be a sole trader – there are different tax implications here depending on what type of business you are in, who you are going to work with etc so ask friends if they can recommend anyone or look on LinkedIn;

b. Set up the Company for you;

c. Recommend contacts for opening a business bank account;

d. Set you up with accounting software or spreadsheets for recording your accounts

e. Advise you on business expenses;

f. Do your financial year end accounts:

g. Recommend a pension advisor.

3. Set up a healthy and comfortable office space: again, from experience (back aches, neck aches, colds) it is important that you have a good size desk, not too close to a radiator and not too close to draughts; if possible, do invest in a laptop stand and a second monitor, (I found it free through a local company that was refurbishing their offices… you’d be surprised what gets thrown away). And if things are going well after a year, reward yourself with a new laptop.

4. Learn from your mistakes: like in any job, things sometimes don’t go to plan and when this happens as a freelancer you feel the blow even more. When this happened to me, I was able to look at why this situation had occurred and what could have been done differently. This has helped me take a different, customised approach for each of my clients, as each operates differently.

5. And last but not least: be prepared to work on weekends or when other family members are on holiday. The myth that freelancers can take days off when they want it is not true. Especially at the beginning, you must be prepared to work long hours, be idle in the middle of the day and work late evenings. But…it is definitely a rewarding day – and that for me is what matters.

If you enjoyed this read check out Sam's first year learning curve too

thanks expressive banners for pic

Monday, 8 May 2017

the free-range freelancer - fantasy or reality?


Comms Crowd PR Pro, Lianne Robinson, looks at how to have a proper holiday as a freelancer:

So that’s it, I’m all packed, the suitcase is by the door and my laptop is…safely locked away!! For the first time in two years I won’t be taking it away on holiday with me.


Can freelancers ever really find the OFF switch?
In the early days of freelancing it seems that every waking moment is spent glued to your computer. You’re trying to prove yourself to newly secured clients as well as on the constant look out for new opportunities to build your portfolio. I even had my laptop with me in the maternity ward while waiting for the arrival of my son (yes really!). But this time, things are very different.

One of the reasons that I wanted to work for myself and be my own boss was because of the unlimited holiday entitlement and freedom I would have. The dream that I could base myself anywhere in the world and not be tied to one location as long as I had good enough wi-fi connection was one that I wanted to make a reality. And while this has worked well so far, it has meant that I haven’t really afforded myself some proper time off.

But for the first time, I now feel I have established myself enough as a freelancer to justify taking some proper time out. I’m probably (hopefully!) not going to lose the clients I have spent time building up for the sake of a two week holiday. And while I like to believe that my beloved clients could not possibly do without me, if you're clever about it, this is not the case.

Being part of The Comms Crowd collective means that every client is covered and serviced as they normally would be thanks to the ‘virtual team’ of support that we have between us. As a team of six, every one of us is kept looped in on accounts so that we can handover when we want some time off, safe in the knowledge that the client won’t miss out on opportunities and business will continue as normal.

That’s not to say that the last couple of weeks haven’t been extremely busy. While day to day account running can be handled by the team, I put a lot of pressure on myself to get as much work done as I can before heading off. I’m not very good and leaving work in an unfinished state so as far as possible I work hard to ensure that all loose ends are tidied up. The second part of this is monetary related. Freelancing and the flexibility that comes with it is great, but the trade-off on this is that there is no luxury of holiday pay so you want to earn as much as you can while you are working.

But having some proper time away from your usual routine - work, life, family - gives us a chance to take stock, regroup and gain some perspective. I plan to come back refreshed, full of new ideas and enthusiasm ready to hit the ground running (once the jetlag subsides). My clients will benefit from this too.

So while I like to think I’m irreplaceable, I’m not! My clients will continue business as normal and I will be back in two weeks, ready and raring to go with a fresh perspective and a suitcase full of souvenirs and new ideas. And the other benefit to working remotely, you don’t need to share your holiday sweets with your colleagues!

See you soon!

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Freelance Life: it's not just about more time with the kids

In this blog post Comms Crowder Debbie Smith discusses a less frequently cited reason for freelancing – one which changing demographics may make increasingly common.

freelancing - lets you care for the people you love
Why become a freelancer? The reasons people usually give are flexibility, fitting around your children and getting a better work-life balance. I certainly wanted a better work-life balance – I’d had enough of spending my Friday evenings with First Great Western Trains – but another key factor was helping my sister support our elderly mum. 

My sister lived near Mum and helped out when needed. However, we noticed  that whenever my sister went on holiday, Mum would fall ill. I’d been fortunate to have an understanding agency boss when I had to make a midnight dash to a hospital 150 miles away and take several days off, but the writing was on the wall – I needed to do more.

This helped to crystallise an idea that I’d been considering for some time, so a few months later I took my first steps as a freelancer. I soon discovered the joy of being able to schedule meetings to suit myself and my clients, without having to fit round a team of colleagues. One client was based between my home and where my mum lived. When I suggested meetings on Fridays so I could then go to Mum’s for the weekend, she was more than happy to help. In fact it worked better for her too. Her MD was usually in the office on Fridays so I could be sure to get a meeting with him. As you can imagine Mum loved this – and it helped to stop her worrying that she was a burden.

This also taught me something interesting about clients’ attitude to freelancers. They still expect the same quality of work, and deadlines don’t change, but they understand that you have a life too.

Fast forward a few months and I won some work with a big new client just as my sister was about to go on holiday, so I was on ‘Mum duty’. The project required a lot of international conference calls, but no problem – I worked at my sister’s using her Wi-Fi, then went round to mum’s for coffee and a chat. The people I was interviewing had no idea where I was, nor did they care. On other days I kept Mum company and wrote articles at her dining table. I don’t think she understood what I was working on but she enjoyed introducing me to her visitors!

As we reached the stage where one of us needed to be nearby all the time ‘just in case’, the benefits of freelancing really kicked in. My sister could have the breaks she needed while I worked from the south coast. This is where it helps to be part of a freelance agency like the Comms Crowd, as your colleagues are there to share the work. 

Sadly Mum is no longer with us, but the career I built from her dining table has continued to grow and I’d never go back to a 9-5 routine and the daily commute.

I’m surprised more people haven’t discussed this reason for freelancing. I very much doubt that I’m unique, but perhaps caring responsibilities aren’t something people tend to raise except with family and close friends. However, with an ageing population and the growing issues around social care I’m sure we’ll hear more about it in the future.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Time management for freelancers…or how to say, “I’m working, GO AWAY!”

nothing to see here. 
just someone trying to work for living, 
please kindly move on...

Simona Cotta Ramusino
, team member of the Comms Crowd, gives her advice on how to manage interruptions.

Before working as a freelancer, I spent over 10 years in various PR agencies where time keeping was an essential skill. You often had to juggle more than one client at once and more than one task a day and only had a certain amount of hours each day so a good time management was important in order to be productive and efficient on clients’ accounts. I have always prided myself on being a good timekeeper, being able to multi-task and on delivering work on time. But things changed a little bit when I took the plunge into freelancing and not through any fault of mine, I have to say!

I want to share this with you – freelancers and freelancers-to-be – because you will experience this in some shape or form and particularly at the beginning of your new career.

Time management as a freelancer becomes more difficult because…people (and I mainly mean friends and family) don’t think you are working. They don’t really know what you do but they think you are at the computer for a couple of hours and then you do housework or food shopping or go to the gym (which I do but early morning or during my lunch break). Sounds familiar? This leads them to ask if you can go over for a coffee in the afternoon, or babysit or call you for a mid-morning chat.

So although I may have a strict work routine to be at my desk for 9.00, have a lunch break and be finished for 18.00 following normal office hours, other people don’t and that’s how my time management goes out of the window and 'external sources' disrupt my day. And because they are family or friends it is hard to say “I’m working, go away” without sounding rude. But you have to. The sooner you do that, the better. And stick to it. You will be hated for a bit but it will be your saving grace in the long run.

I have the added challenge that my husband also often works from home and Ihave to admit, we did have quite a few ‘discussions’ when I first started freelancing. Now, if either of us doesn’t want to be disturbed (even if it is "Just for a coffee”, “Just for a second…”, “Just…”), we close our office door. I know we both mean well when we interrupt each other but from my side I don’t want to spend an hour on the same sentence when I am writing something and get interrupted many times ("What do you want for lunch?" "When do you want lunch?" "What should we do for dinner?"…etc). One could say that if you were in an office you would get interrupted anyway but a colleague wouldn’t come near you if they saw you madly typing on your laptop and if they did, you can ask them to come back later and they wouldn’t think that was rude. And so should your family and friends.

So my advice is: treat your freelance working time as if you were in an office. Be diligent and respectful about it so that your family and friends will be too. Whether you work from 7.00 to 15.00, 10.00 to 18.00, or 12.00 to 19.00, that is business time. Like in any agency, at the end of the day your timesheets should show how hard you have worked that day.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

It’s stress Jim, but not as we know it

On my sixth anniversary of being a freelance PR...
Boldly splitting infinitives


The evolution continues: from lone freelancer, to collaborator, to creating the collective to now (albeit cloud-based) looking like a proper little PR agency with around eight retained clients and working with a regular crew of four senior and two junior PRs.

We all had a team meet a few weeks back and a common thread was the lack of stress around the job. (And yet when you go freelance it feels positively perilous, I still remember the early weeks lying in the dark staring at the ceiling mentally muttering g ‘oh god I think I’ve ruined my career’).

But what the crew were referring to is the complete lack of that type of stress that distracts you from getting the job done: someone checking on your timekeeping, the commute, the juggling of personal appointments, the annual leave quotas, the pre-occupation with promotions, job titles and perks, the jockeying for position, the vying for the boss's favour - there is none of that.

The only stress is that of doing a good job for the client.

But here’s the thing - when you work for yourself the sense of ownership and personal responsibility is absolute, so every project, without exception, has to go well, in fact better than well, it has to be the very best you can get it.

So that client stress goes deep.

And even though at ‘the crowd’ we share everything, it’s still all too easy for perfect storms to occur… Like when in the space of one week we had not one but two of our beloved start-ups announcing funding, which in our world is a huge deal and requires an immense amount of logistics and planning, working with all the financial PR agencies, the fund providers and pitching to media in multiple sectors. And as luck would have it, in the same week it was end of module live assessment time for the class I teach at Uni… Nothing to be done but to disappear under the strain for six weeks and know you aren’t coming up for air until every stone is turned. And possibly I was a bit over  emotional at the end of it.

So yes, freelancing can be stressful, but the sense of ownership, and of personal pride in work well done without any of the friction that comes with a ‘proper’ job, continues to make the freelance life entirely net positive.



If you want to read of how the other years went you may enjoy these posts too:

year 5
year 4
year 3
year 2
year 1
month 1



Image credit: Publicity photo of Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner as Mr. Spock and Captain Kirk from the television program Star Trek. NBC Television. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.



Wednesday, 4 January 2017

What makes a standout PR candidate?

In addition to Comms Crowd, I am an associate lecturer in PR at several universities, 
Focus if you want to do well in interview
contributing to the Professional Employability modules.

Recently we conducted externally-invigilated panel interviews for every student for a hypothetical 
intern or junior role depending on their experience in PR, advertising, marketing events etc. There were two panels each panel interviewed 30 students in a day - intense.

So you get a very succinct view of qualities that work in interview: Here were the ones that worked best for me:

IMMERSED - Those that could clearly demonstrate a calling for the industry, enjoyed discussing campaigns and liked watching how stories played out in the media. These candidates were able to demonstrate a very proactive choice of careers, almost a vocation and we loved talking to these guys, they were one of us already.

ENGAGE - Those that liked engaging with us were open and seemed to enjoy the process, This really stands you in good stead when so many candidates seem reluctant to even be in the room and the interviewer feels more like a dentist trying desperately to extract information, than a would be employer, .

TUNED IN - Finally those that demonstrated a (quiet) resolve, an innate understanding they had this one moment to convince us that they had the attitude, the attributes, the experience and skills to easily fit in a team and capably do a good job. Those that were successful substantiated passion with knowledge, balanced confidence with credibility, openness with professionalism and demonstrated a positive rationale.They did not get distracted by their nerves, let the occasion overwhelm them, nor lose their way in an effort to become our NBFs, but just resolved to take that opportunity to show us the best of themselves with every answer. In short they had FOCUS.


But if these are not key qualities for you the great comfort of course is most all PR firms don't rely on interview alone and applicants are given the opportunity to match the talk with the walk, demonstrating their skills and abilities in a variety of tests from proof-reading, pitching, aptitude tests, copy writing etc - and then it of course becomes a very level playing field. Hurrah!