How we can use Design Thinking to solve journalistic problems.
I’ve been to a few journalism events this week on the industry’s future and what needs to change.
NUJ Racism and the Media special meeting, Freelance Industrial Council, and the #buildbackwellDEN Spring ’21 meeting.
Common themes: Digital transformation, reinvention, diversity, resilience, burnout and mental health.
There was a backlash to the Society of Editors’ bizarre statement denying press racism in the UK. Press Gazette did a survey which shows there’s still much work to do. NUJ Black Members’ Council made a statement about what we can learn from the Meghan Markle race debate saying how the industry should have used the comments made by Meghan and Harry to start a long-overdue debate about the best way to prevent racist coverage.
Lack of diversity in newsrooms was the biggest issue flagged. It’s not so much a problem with recruitment, but retention – if the work culture isn’t diverse and welcoming, people won’t hang around. Depressing to hear stories of endemic racism in our media corporations and comments like: ‘Sometimes the only way to break out [of the box you’re put in] is to leave and come back in through another door.’
Look out for the full report on londonfreelance.org.
Do freelance rates discriminate?
We have some new data on gender, ethnicity and rates. Thanks to the #FreelancerPayGap initiative LFB has added over 1,000 Rates for the Job with info on ethnicity as well as gender. We have a gender pay gap and an ethnic pay gap. In this data set, women are getting less than men and people who don’t identify as ‘white’ are getting less than those who do.
More than 70 colleagues from across 12 time zones came to the DEN event – a 90-minute, interactive discussion on how we can build back well. It focused on three areas: PEOPLE, PROCESS and PRODUCT.
The aim is to co-create an agenda to take back to decision-makers so it’s not just a talking shop (there’s a working document).
Excellent speakers and breakout sessions to brainstorm ideas.
The Chatham House Rule means I can share information about the discussion but not identify anyone or attribute quotes. This is so people can speak freely.
– Flying the flag for freelancers. The fastest-growing sector of the industry. Will we all burn out? Is that where this is heading? Is there any research on freelancers and burnout, and where do we go?
– No more siloed working. Newsrooms and publications need to build a better relationship with freelancers and be more inclusive. Freelancers need to be paid fairly – more transparency around pay rates.
– We need a database of freelancers showing who’s available, their background and what they can do. To help speed up the commissioning process and encourage collaboration. Databases like this exist within organisations, e.g. the BBC has a portal, but there’s nothing that can be accessed by the wider industry.
– What companies are doing to prevent burnout – training people up on mental health, working on user-generated content, creating intranets about COVID as a resource for staff, and enforcing wellbeing policies.
– How Design Thinking can transform journalism. Never thought I’d hear Design Thinking, empathy and journalism in the same sentence 😉 Exciting! I’m reading a lot about Design Thinking on my UX course – here’s a nice intro.
Newsrooms need to take a more holistic approach with human-centred storytelling and understand what people need before creating a story/product. How much do you know about your readers? Involve them in the creation process.
– Soft skills vs hard skills: The importance of listening and empathy. The emphasis on hard skills in journalism is why I haven’t felt comfortable in it. It’s as though being argumentative, pushy and loud somehow makes you a better journalist. I did some subbing shifts on the nationals a few years ago – no women on the team, a hard-drinking culture and long working hours. A work culture that would exclude many.
Well done, DEN. An inspiring discussion and lots to think about. Feels like I’m heading in the right direction with the UX training – and I can see why I’m attracted to it.
I can combine my UX work with journalism to create better media products.
The vanguard is full of women and more diverse. The rearguard full of white men like me.
This mindset will continue to undermine journalism’s ability to adapt, remake, and renew itself, and the profession as a whole, especially younger journalists, will have to live with the consequences of this conservatism.
Rasmus Kleis Neilson
Go deeper 🛠
World Press Trends Outlook 2021: Digital transformation in the driver’s seat. Nearly 60% of publishers say staff will either WFH or have the option to WFH going forward. Only 5% expect to move everyone back to the office.
Content is Product and Product is Content: Why deeper alignment is the only way forward. Dmitry Shiskin on why it’s time to start treating content and product as one. They are slowly merging into one thing.
The idea that the user experience of the delivered product of most journalism is anywhere near the quality of any of other media is in many cases a delusion of grandeur. 👏
Facebook is Starting a Substack Competitor(Nieman Lab) – Facebook to pay $5 million to local journalists in news push. They’ve pledged to invest $1 billion in the news industry over the next five years. Be interesting to see what happens – Facebook has strong community groups.
Weekly curated tools + resources for writers – thinkers, makers and builders ✍️
Interesting read from Ben Smith in The New York Times on the Substack debate. Media company vs tech platform, their editorial role (or not), the advances paid out by Substack Pro, and their biggest challenge: competitors like Ghost and Twitter/Revue.
The quote from John O’Nolan, Ghost CEO sums it up: Subscription newsletter publishing was ‘destined to be commoditized.’
The news is that Substack has signed up two high profile transgender writers – Danny and Grace Laverty so we have a household with two Substack incomes. A smart move, as it helps counter the backlash they’ve had from some writers who don’t want to share the platform with people who they said were anti-trans. It shows they want to be a platform for all – even those who criticise the company.
There’s been a media storm around Substack over the past year – about money, mostly (they are VC funded and valued at $650 million (Axios), the compatibility of VC funding and journalism, and the ethics of paying writers to join the platform. Why not? Authors get book advances, and we don’t bat an eyelid. And subscriptions are a much better deal for writers.
As Casey Newton said, Substack is taking up a lot of mindspace and has become a target for ‘a lot of people to project their anxieties.’
Substack has captivated an anxious industry because it embodies larger forces and contradictions. For one, the new media economy promises both to make some writers rich and to turn others into the content-creation equivalent of Uber drivers, even as journalists increasingly turn to labour unions to level out pay scales. – Ben Smith.
Some writers (a minority) are making big money on Substack – good for them. It’s inspiring to check the leaderboard and see what’s possible – it introduces a bit of friendly competition. They’ve built a following over time and bought their audiences with them.
But most (like me) are making money via support from readers, not paid advances. It’s a side hustle alongside their main job or freelance projects. It’s fun. I’m learning as I go, and it’s an opportunity to have a product and a platform. There’s no obligation to stay – I can take my work and publish it elsewhere.
Power to the creator
The power shift has been happening for a while – Patreon CEO Jack Conte talks about it here. Substack isn’t creating it, but it’s part of it and riding the wave. There’s a cultural shift towards the creator economy, valuing good content and being willing to pay for it. David Lat calls it the ‘great reset’ of charging for content (we all need to get used to paying more for content!). And the fear is that it’s helping writers to discover their market value.
The genie is out of the bottle, and there’s no going back!
And it’s not legacy media vs Substack either – we have broad tastes, and there’s room for all types of media. I’m not paying for news on Substack; I’m getting opinion, analysis, and diverse views from people who may not fit the traditional media mould/niche, which is refreshing. Journalism is still largely a white, middle-class profession.
I am excited about Substack – it’s the biggest tech challenge in a while, and captures the spirit of early blogging with diverse views and a dose of reality. Columnist Heather Havrilesky is taking ‘Ask Polly’ from The New Yorker Magazine to Substack to ‘regain some of the indie spirit and sense of freedom that drew me to want to write online in the first place.’
As long as they keep adding value, supporting writers, and building community, I’ll stick around. It feels good to be part of a bigger mission.
As a writer on the platform, the pain points are SEO – very important!! I’m giving away my Google juice. So I publish on my site first, tell Google I own the content and then share it to other platforms – Substack, Medium, and social media. And for those writers earning a living here, the 10% commission is a killer and needs to come down.
As a consumer, it’s expensive to subscribe to lots of newsletters – see this thread from Laura Hazard Owen. I can claim expenses if they are work-related, but I’d love to see more ‘bundling up’ newsletters in similar industries to offer value to readers. I’ve seen posts on Reddit asking if people are interested in joint subscriptions to split the cost.
Companies need to get in on the act, too – newsletter bundles would be a great perk for employees – fresh ideas and perspectives enhance workplace culture.
What are publishers doing to solve the ‘Substack problem’?
The New York Times has bought columnist Paul Krugman’s free Substack to their platform.
@Choire is stepping down from the NYT Style desk and ‘taking on a new and exciting challenge, as a senior editor charged with a project to help expand our newsletter portfolio alongside Sam Dolnick and Adam Pasick.’
Vanity Fair meets Substack – former VF editor Jon Kelly is launching a new, private equity-backed publication. ‘Writers have been offered equity and a percentage of the subscription revenue they would generate.’
As Ben points out, the biggest threat to Substack isn’t politics amongst writers but another tech stack with a different (cheaper) model, e.g. Ghost, Twitter/Revue. Ghost is open-source and non-profit, which will appeal to many publishers.
They are aware of this and working hard on ‘brand Substack’. Good to see they’ve announced a $1 million initiative to support a new group of local news writers on the platform (non-famous writers ;-).
This is not a grants program, nor is it inspired by philanthropic intent. Our goal is to foster an effective business model for independent local news that provides ample room for growth.
There’s more to come. ‘We will make a large investment in a support program that includes initiatives related to healthcare, personal finance, editing, distribution, design, and coworking spaces.’ Which gives them the edge.
And writers will find creative solutions for siloed working and isolation. 💪
Today, eight writers with paid newsletters on tech and culture, including Casey Newton, Anne Helen Petersen, and Delia Cai, are launching Sidechannel –
‘A shared Discord server where our paid subscribers can meet, hang out, and participate in a vibrant daily conversation about tech, culture, and society.’
They have big plans – shared channels, jobs, networking, and Clubhouse-style chats where you can ask questions. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is their first guest tomorrow.
Let’s celebrate Substack’s success. Indie media is super important, as is diversity – we need more voices. Please support your favourite writers, artists, and musicians via Substack, Patreon, Podia, Soundcloud, and Stack Magazines – leave a tip or comment, share and like a post – a little goes a long way to help.
Self-publishing is a hard, lonely job 🎻
From the NYT comments:
In a media ecosystem where six companies own systems that deliver 90% of the news, indie platforms can only be a good thing.
Substack is filled with cancelled, edgy writers. It’s where Ernie Pyle, Hunter Thompson and Martha Gellhorn would be if they were alive and writing today.
Go deeper 🛠
✍️ Sovereign Writers and Substack (Stratechery) – Ben Thompson on ‘the fundamental issues about the Substack model specifically, and the shift to sovereign writers generally, that are being misunderstood.’
📬 Newsletters: The market is booming! (Marie Dollé). Mapping the newsletter ecosystem. ‘Creating content for and with your audience is exciting and crucial, especially when you realize that the community builder is the creator too!’ Brands, take note!
📣 You’ve Got Mail (Anna Wiener, The New Yorker) on the history of newsletters and embracing change: ‘Carving out new ways for writers to make money from their work is surely a good thing: the US lost 16,000 newsrooms jobs this year. I ❤️ Hayley Hahman’s comments on how writing her newsletter ‘Maybe Baby’ has made her reflect on how she measures success.
👩🎨 Li Jin on the Passion Economy and the Future of Work (andreessen horowitz). ‘Gig work isn’t going anywhere—but there are now more ways to capitalize on creativity. This has huge implications for entrepreneurship and what we’ll think of as a ‘job’ in the future.’
I am not just busy; I am being overwhelmed by an onslaught of requests like yours…
The pioneer of workplace burnout research is swamped with work. Christina Maslach, a psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley, first studied burnout in the 1970s and has been searching for solutions since. She was busy before the pandemic, but now… her inbox has exploded.
I found myself apologising last week when a client called to chase me for invoices. ‘I’m a bit concerned you might need groceries… You can send me this month’s and last month’s if you like…’ Usually, I’m on it – I love invoicing clients, but right now, I’m overwhelmed and behind on admin. I have over 6,000 emails, as I said last week.
It’s been a double shift since Xmas, and it took this tweet from the Journalists’ Charity to remind me of that.
I’ve been reading lots of articles about pandemic burnout – it’s our anniversary, but burnout has been a silent issue for some time. Interesting to read this piece in The Atlantic on how burnout is technically a work problem.
Research suggests we tend to feel more stressed when we face conflicts about our various roles—mother, worker, friend to a frazzled co-worker, daughter to an anti-vaccine parent. And right here is the role conflict plague.
Three million American women have dropped out of the workforce since the pandemic began because they are shouldering the burden of all these different roles.
It points out there are plenty of wellness hacks to help us push through the pandemic, but according to burnout experts, it’s a problem created by the workplace, and changes to the workplace are the best way to fix it. The World Health Organisation defines burnout as a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that’s not been successfully managed.
We’re in the thick of the ‘shecession‘, and globally, women’s job losses due to Covid-19 are 1.8 times greater than men’s. According to McKinsey’s survey, one in four women said they were thinking about reducing or leaving paid work due to the pandemic, citing company inflexibility, caring responsibilities and stress.
High status doesn’t insulate women from stress and burnout. Senior-level women are significantly more likely than their male peers to consider dropping their hours or dropping out of the workforce because of the burnout associated with being “always-on” and juggling multiple responsibilities during the pandemic. BBC Worklife.
As the McKinsey report shows, companies are stepping up, but many don’t address the underlying causes of stress and burnout—the childcare crisis and a need for flexible working at all levels of work. We still have outdated views of women in the workplace and see child giving as a female function, and care work is still low paid and undervalued.
Companies can do more—childcare subsidies should be the norm, not a job perk – and employers that offer this will attract and retain top talent. People give more and are loyal to employers when they feel valued and cared for.
The advice 🤔
Path For Life
I heard Jeanette Bronée talking about burnout and self-care in the workplace. She is a workplace wellbeing strategist and on a mission to make self-care part of business culture. She is hugely passionate about her work and what she said resonated with me.
Self-care is an essential skill in the future of work. Burnout is probably the most disruptive issue that we have to deal with in work culture, yet we don’t really know what to do. We’re focusing too much on the symptom of burnout rather than looking at the root cause.
I had burned out twice by the time I was 40 years old. And to no surprise. I was young, ambitious, and I expected my body to be there for me.
And she’s not alone. 7 out of 10 millennials burn out before they’re 40.
We need to foster the mindset that burnout is a work company problem to fix, not an individual issue.
The future of work requires us to change the way we think about performance and productivity. Even though time is our greatest challenge, health is the foundation for peak performance that can transform the workplace from a burnout culture running on stress and survival mode to a culture driven by care, purpose, focus and engagement.
‘Self-care is not for after-work’ – find ways to give yourself microdoses during the day. And it’s not about ploughing on: ‘We need to redefine resilience with Covid – it doesn’t mean to keep pushing through, it means to be supported.’
It’s time to rethink work culture – burnout culture is not working. And a warning that we may be heading to another version of it virtually – the next burnout – if we don’t get the balance right now.
Self-care can’t wait. As the last year of the pandemic has shown, the world is speeding up, but we’re not robots – our bodies are still running on the same system.
We think of self-care for when we make it, but we’ll make it faster if we practice self-care. It’s a choice. We can hustle because we practice self-care.
We can be successful and healthy; it shouldn’t be a choice between the two.
And there’s a direct link between individual self-care and the health of an organisation.
Someone said: ‘If I want to suffer, I’ll go back to being an employee in the corporate world.’
That makes me sad. Is this the world we want to bring our kids into?
Here are some practical things you can do to help prevent burnout and be your best. Thanks to Jeanette Bronée, Nilufar Ahmed, The Worldwide Association of Women Journalists & Writers, and the Society of Freelance Journalists – excellent events this week on mental health.
There’s a lot of help out there. 🙏
On work routine:
• Start with the basics – create a work schedule that integrates basic care, water, food, sleep and have structured work hours during the day.
• Fake commute: We need physical movement to prepare our brain and body for the next task. We need structure and separation. Build activity into your day. Try a standing desk.
• Power Pause – check-in: where am I right now, and what do I need to be more focused and have more energy? Get into the habit of giving yourself microdoses of self-care during the day.
• Have a personal board of advisors – mates, colleagues – who will look out for you.
• Take a nap – it’s better to take a 10-minute nap than have a coffee as it calms you down. The Nap Ministry is on a mission to bring back the culture of napping. ‘We believe rest is a form of resistance and reparations.’
• Create a compliments folder – log every compliment you receive, including the date and who said it. Kudos – You’ll instantly feel better.
• Put your work stuff in a box and pack it away end of the day.
Tech is one of our biggest stressors:
• Be mindful of your email use and keep ’em short and succinct. Respond to emails at set times and set an autoresponder.
• ‘The pandemic is sending our brains conflicting messages. With video calls, faces are within 50cm of us, and this tells our brain that these are close or intimate friends when instead they are colleagues or strangers. It’s tiring. Avoid back-to-back meetings – we need time to pee, hydrate, and reset our brains.’
• Work on one thing at a time. Close additional tabs on the browser, clear your desktop, turn off notifications.
• When did you last have a proper belly laugh? We forget to have fun at work – play music while replying to emails.
• Make time in the day for casual chat that isn’t work-related – have a virtual lunch and use tech in different ways.
I’ll be sharing books in my bag and recommended reads on Bookshop.org. They pay a 10% commission on every sale and give a matching 10% to local bookstores, an integral part of our culture and communities. I would be over the moon if you buy something every now and then here.
Work with me 🙋🏻♀️
Leopard print, always. Worry less and rock a red lip. Remote work evangelist, problem solver, internet person.
💡 Something you want me to write about? Leave a comment or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Last week Twitter announced it has acquired Revue, a newsletter platform for writers and publishers. Their first move into building out long-form content on the platform and getting into the subscription revenue space.
Twitter wants all creators to join the platform – experts, curators, journalists & publishers and will offer an all-in-one integrated service that “will all work seamlessly within Twitter” said Product Lead Kayvon Beykpur and VP of Publisher Products Mike Park. They will add new features that help writers connect with their audiences, like allowing them to host chats with their subscribers and invest in community resources and other revenue streams later on.
The platform will be free for all users, and Twitter will collect just 5% of paid subscriptions revenue compared to Substack’s 10%. They say writers will get paid compensation for how many Twitter users they convert to subscribers. It will strengthen its relationship with writers of all kinds who want a platform to share their content and ideas.
Twitter has been heading in this direction for a while. First, they expanded the character count on tweets, then stopped including photos and links in the count so you can write more. Then they introduced threads, so you can build a story. Last year they talked about acquiring a newsletter company, and there were rumours they were going after Substack, which co-founder Hamish McKenzie said was not going to happen. Of course, they want to keep writers on the platform – right now they publish their long-form content elsewhere.
I thought they might go for Medium given its history with Twitter, but Revue makes sense as it’s a small company and presumably hasn’t cost too much. They will remain an independent brand within Twitter, and Twitter will expand the Revue team over time.
Following the announcement, Hamish tweeted comparing the social media companies’ efforts to oil companies trying to be more environmentally friendly, but then wrote this post welcoming the competition. The media ecosystem needs a shakeup, competition is healthy, and platforms that put writers and readers in charge are better. Creators also need proper business models.
There are now more than 500,000 paid subscriptions across Substack, and the top ten writers collectively make more than $15 million a year. It’s still early days, but this thing is happening – Hamish McKenzie, Substack co-founder.
Newsletters are booming and of course, tech firms and publishers want a slice of the Substack pie. Facebook is also working on a newsletter tool for journos and writers (launching this summer). Forbes has launched a massive expansion into paid newsletters and has a 10-year history in this space with its contributor network.
There’s Ghost, Lede, LinkedIn, Podia, Patreon & many more. Mailchimp has bought Courier Media – the best mag, newsletter and podcast for small businesses and entrepreneurs. Hubspot has bought The Hustle, an email newsletter and content company in a deal valued at roughly $27 million.
Why are we newsletter nerds? Because the web is a vast space and cluttered. We don’t have time to filter through the crap to find the good stuff, and we want a personal subscription service that delivers content straight to our inbox. We’re happy to pay trusted curators to do the job. I look forward to reading daily Morning Briefings in my inbox – no more trawling through news sites, doom scrolling and dodging pop-ups and paywalls.
Niche media is a powerful tool.
A new revenue opportunity for writers ✍️
Substack has said it will remain ad-free, but the pressure is on. At least three startups – Swapstack, Upstart.me and Letterwell have begun helping small newsletters find interested advertisers. We’re already seeing some Substack newsletters running ads and sponsorship so it will be interesting to see how they respond if this becomes widespread. If writers can make money without turning on the paywall it’s not great news for Substack as that’s their business model – the platform is free for writers. They may have to rethink that decision.
I’ve signed up to Swapstack so let’s see how it goes. Good to have alternative income streams as I’m not comfortable pushing paid subscriptions in the middle of a global pandemic and recession – which is why I also have a tip me button. It also means you can keep your work accessible to all and not behind a paywall.
The advice 💬
2021 will be the year that publishers start to form strategies to deal with the “Substack problem”. By that, I mean they’ll need to find ways to discourage their star writers from leaving to launch their own Substack newsletters. In the most likely scenario, they’ll make deals with writers to launch the newsletter under the media company’s banner. They might structure the deal, so the writer gets to keep their current salary and then some percentage of the subscriber income they generate – similar to the advances and royalties that book publishers dole out. This will entice the writers because they get to maintain job security while also benefiting directly from their success. They can also grow their audience much more quickly with the help of the media company. It’s a win-win for both parties. – Simon Owens’ Media Newsletter
I’ll be sharing books in my bag and recommended reads on Bookshop.org. They pay a 10% commission on every sale and give a matching 10% to local bookstores, an integral part of our culture and communities. Check it out here.
Work with me 🙋🏻♀️
Leopard print, always. Worry less and rock a red lip. Remote work evangelist, problem solver, internet person.
💡 Thoughts, ideas, feedback? Leave a comment or email email@example.com.
Finding freelance work; The rise of the media artisan; Creative Coalition 2020; Interview with TikTok star Kirsteen Atom. ⚡️
November’s NUJ meeting was on surviving and thriving as a freelancer—tips on finding new work and diversifying with trainers Louise Bolotin and Steve Mathieson. Steve works as a freelancer mainly on tech and government—both growth areas and runs data journalism and freelance courses. He’s had steady work during lockdown and has taught himself how to teach online.
In some ways, the world has been catching up with how many freelancers work, and arguably that has given us a head start. We are often used to working remotely.
Louise has worked for BBC Radio Manchester and launched a local news site. She now works as a sub-editor mostly, doing commercial editing work. She was laid off from her local paper just before lockdown and lost her commercial work, so was left with nothing. She’s busy trying to bring work back and has invested in a new website, logo and training.
Most of it has involved spending my way out of the mire, because you sometimes need to spend a bit to earn a bit.
She pledged to do two things a day to find new work and her efforts have paid off—she was fully booked this month for the first time since March. See more.
The rise of the creator economy; the ‘unbundling of work’; paid newsletters; the Second Renaissance is coming…
Over the past 10 years, we’ve seen enormous growth in the Creator Economy—independent creators making money from online content. It’s down to the rise of the gig economy, better tech—5G, faster internet, and new social networks & products. COVID-19 is speeding things up – we’re at home and online more.
There’s also been a shift in consciousness towards caring more about being happy in our jobs, having control over our time, and being our own boss. We want to make a living doing work we’re passionate about that creates change. Gen Z’ers grew up with the internet and social media and place a high value on self-expression. I can see how my daughter and her friends interact online.
According to Li Jin, we’re in the process of the ‘unbundling of work’ i.e. moving from companies to independent solo businesses.
A new report from Signalfire takes a deeper view of the ecosystem to give us some context, a history of the creator economy and trends to watch. It’s a fascinating read—useful for investors looking for opportunities and creators needing help… Read more.
Job hunting, The Social Dilemma, a history of Silicon Valley, slow journalism, how do we live ‘a good life’ in 2020?
I had a chat with two recruitment agents this week. Things are picking up – briefs are coming in and companies are hiring–mostly remote work. Employers are investing in remote training for staff and reassessing office space, so remote working is here to stay. Both were furloughed and are just back at work.
It’s good news for multi-skilled freelancers – we’ll be more in demand as employers may want fewer people on the payroll. We’re also flexible, agile, and used to working remotely.
Skills check–MS Office, Photoshop, InDesign (you can download the free trial for 30 days and do a YouTube tutorial to learn the basics). Google Analytics, HTML, SEO, & social media.
I made a one-page CV on Canva–wasn’t sure if it’s long enough, but they liked it. “It’s good to have it condensed on one page and you can expand as required.” Read more.
The email newsletter is having a moment. Just reading about how they are part of the ‘Passion Economy’ in this month’s Courier. I see a new one launch every day, and women are on it. They’re a more intimate form of communication with people who actually want to read your stuff. Mine will focus on writing, creativity and work culture.
What else do I want this year? More fun. Deeper connections. To prioritise my own projects and happiness (getting up an hour earlier to work on my own stuff). To sort out my health. I have rheumatoid arthritis and want to find out what’s causing it and get it into remission. It’s no fun when your fingers keep getting stuck when you write for a living. Over the past year, I’ve been working with Gayle Merchant on my nutrition and have just done a comprehensive gut test to try and get to the bottom of it! (literally – stool samples in mum’s fridge over Christmas). I also want to feel stronger, so as well as running, which keeps me sane, I want to try some weightlifting this year.
I also love a good tattoo so have decided to go for it and get a full sleeve 🙂
More travel. To read a book a month. Better paid work. I’ve signed up to the Hoxby Collective, The Dots, and I’m checking out The Allbright, a members’ club for women. Interesting event programme and some inspiring women on board – member spotlights. It would also be great to have a regular coworking space in London.
So, if you want to take your working life up a notch and set some goals this year, check out The Professional Freelancer by Anna Codrea-Rado. How to set freelance goals you’ll actually stick to, and the importance of distinguishing between outcome goals – things you don’t have any control over like “getting a book deal” and process goals – actionable steps you can control like “emailing five agents this week”. Why it’s important to do both. Here’s some more freelance friendly content to check out, via @JessicaAnneLord.
NUJ training with Eugene Costello and Nick Saalfeld
Copywriting and branded content creation pay two or three times more than conventional journalism and there is near-insatiable demand for skilled practitioners. Join Eugene Costello and Nick Saalfeld to learn how to delight clients and what it takes to command truly stellar day rates.
So, I went along to find out more… a really enjoyable course, funny, entertaining and inspiring with lots of anecdotes, jokes and useful tips. Eugene focuses on B2C work and Nick, B2B and thought leadership so good insight into the pros and cons of both and different rates of pay.
Key takeaways: Do corporate work. There’s lots of it out there and it pays well. Know your worth and charge a decent day rate. Don’t do piecemeal or project work – sites like People Per Hour and Upwork are saturated. Look for niche areas like tech/blockchain, where there isn’t as much competition. Focus on building a relationship with a client. I also love the idea of having a ‘capability statement’ instead of a CV.
Types of copywriting:
· Business writing
· Blogging for clients
· In-house journalism
On finding work:
· Contact small businesses and individuals with high net worth and ask if they need help
· Have your own website with slides/logos on it featuring your best clients and an online portfolio. Blog about the companies you’re working with or want to be. Eugene got an in-house journalism gig with Octopus Energy by writing a blog post about their excellent customer service… which caught the eye of the CEO when he shared it on Twitter… a charity donation and eventually, some work!
· Serendipity – be out there talking to people, go to meetups – Nick runs one for Pharma professionals in London, carry business cards
· Find your niche – for Nick, it’s thought leadership. Think about where your work fits into the company – do your research and then produce 10 pieces. Move from piecemeal to transactional work to relationship building and make yourself valuable. He jumps at the chance to go in-house, meet people and work out how he can contribute. “Get out of the transactional crap into long-term value work.”
· Create a ‘capability statement’ instead of a CV, a two-page document showing clients, sectors, logos, agencies worked for, reference examples, 6 referees, commercial boilerplate. Nick has one and updates it every three months. “It knocks the socks off a CV!”
· Nick also hires writers and looks for: critical thinking, logic and structure in complexity, curiosity, conscientiousness, business sense, horizon scanning, adaptability, flexibility, creativity, emotional intelligence, self-motivation, prioritisation and time management, embracing and celebrating change
· Learn about new areas where there’s less competition – e.g. cryptocurrency, tech, blockchain
· You get what you expect – rates can vary between £150-500 a day
· On knowing your worth – Eugene asked for £500 per day at Octopus Energy and thought he’d fluffed it as things went quiet… but he held out rather than going back with a lower offer and they offered him £400 per day to be their in-house journalist
· If there’s something they like about your work don’t be afraid to ask for more. It’s a good thing to try and hold your rate
· Avoid project rates or piecemeal work – develop a sense of your own value
· Forget the tone of voice corporate bullshit. Speak to people as humans. Be warm, personal, concise, & write as you speak. Innocent Drinks had a revolutionary way of communicating with consumers
On freelance journalism:
· “Writers are going down the rabbit hole of chasing ever-diminishing work.”
· “Print journalism has trodden journalists down until they have no respect left for themselves.”
· “It’s a nice life. I can cherry-pick between commercial work, which is well paid and other work – features, press trips.”
· “Anyone can write and get Grammarly. Clients are paying you for your intelligence, ideas, and perspective – not to write!” They pay you to turn up on time, get on with the team, make coffee etc. Consider how you make people feel and know that ALL your interactions matter
· Ethics – only work with clients you feel comfortable with.
Also, at £15, this course was a steal and far cheaper than equivalent commercial courses I’ve seen advertised. One of the many perks of being an NUJ member!