Advice for travelling and writing

Freelancing has given me the unbelievable privilege of being able to work anywhere in the world I like. As grateful as I am for my situation, there have (of course) been a few learning curves.

For anyone doing anything work-related while travelling, I hope that my learnings can help you out even a tiny bit!

1. Factor in time for writing

It is easy to get overexcited and forget that, as much as you love writing, you will need to set time aside for it.

For me, what worked well was writing while – literally – on the road. The only reason I was able to do that was my very patient boyfriend doing 90% of the driving.

If you are travelling alone, you might need to search out some great freelancing spots in advance, and allow yourself the time you need to get your projects done.

2. Extend your deadlines to deal with international clients

Clients on the other side of the world will not be able to respond to you immediately, and visa versa, so make sure you allow a few days for correspondence alone.

Even if you are in the same time zone, I recommend extending your deadlines anyway. It should help you to avoid a panicked change of your plans to fit around work – I can tell you this one from experience.

3. Don’t write in the sun

This might just be my personal opinion, and it also depends on where you are, but I categorically cannot concentrate in the hot sun. Try and find an AC or (even better) a shady spot. It might seem trivial but trust me it will have you working much more efficiently.

4. Keep clients in the loop

Give your clients notice if you know you are going away. Be honest about how much you are planning on working so that they know you might not be able to drop everything for a last-minute brief.

Letting clients know when you won’t be reachable will stop them panicking if you don’t reply for a couple of days. Even if you aren’t working on anything for them that day, keeping everyone in the loop will help you manage any additional work that pops up.

5. Be nice to yourself

You probably won’t be working as many hours as you do at home, and that is fine. If you are going to be in new places then you should allow some time for fun!

Don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t earning as much as usual, because that is probably going to be a given. Before I left, I sat down and worked out the number of hours I needed to work to earn what I wanted while I was away, while still leaving time to enjoy myself. A 5-minute conversation with yourself can make this aspect of travelling much less scary.

6. Be inspired

A change of scenery was just what I needed to come up with ideas for a project I’ve been struggling with (watch this space). Seeing new things every day might keep your ideas fresh and your creativity flowing. It did for me.

Writing down new ideas while you aren’t working is a great way to remember them when you are. While I don’t tend to carry around a notepad everywhere I go (I know, I know), I literally just have a rolling notes page on my phone for random thoughts and ideas.

Juggling work and travel can be stressful, but overall it is so liberating to work and explore simultaneously. I plan to try it again sometime soon… if Corona lets me.

Shoutout to my personal chauffeur x

Writing on the road

My first week of writing on the road turned out to be pretty disastrous.

Coming from the UK, I was completely and utterly naive in my judgement of the size of Australia. You look at a map and think somewhere looks close and it then turns out to be a very bumpy 5-hour drive away…

This manifested itself beautifully in my total loss of any phone or internet signal for the first 3 days of my trip. As someone with a slight aversion to social media, this would usually be a welcome change, but as someone with projects on the go, it was a major problem.

Thanking my lucky stars that I didn’t have anything completely urgent due in those 3 days, I managed to get enough signal to message any clients who were expecting communication and explain my situation. Luckily for me, all my clients are fabulously understanding.

Lessons learned:

  1. When travelling, keep deadlines loose. Just in case.
  2. The roads get bumpier as you move further inland…meaning you will not be able to work!
  3. Research which places have coverage before setting off.
  4. Such places are limited outside the cities – Australia is HUGE.

This blissful 3 days with no signal was fantastic. I visited Carnarvon Gorge and stayed in a bush camp full of kangaroos, wallabies and porcupines. I even got to see some platypi – my new favourite animal.

It did, however, mean that I had to spend the next 2 days working solidly, but as I love my job that was a small price to pay.

That leads me to my bonus lesson learned:

  1. Factor in days specifically for working!

Despite my teething problems, working whilst road-tripping has been delightful.

I have seen a lot, experienced a lot and most certainly learned a lot. In fact, I have learnt so much that I might just write a blog about it…

Paint me like one of your French girls x

Freelancing in lockdown

When I arrived in Australia, I had some pretty wild ideas about freelancing. I’d work wherever I fancied, looking out at across the Great Barrier Reef, a pint of cold beer in my hand, without a care in the world.

Unfortunately, these ideas quickly faded for the following reasons:

  1. Lockdown meant I couldn’t just pop out whenever I fancied
  2. Beers are drunk in schooners over here (3/4 of a pint)
  3. The Great Barrier Reef is actually pretty far away from the coast

I could quickly get over points 2 and 3, but lockdown seriously impaired my ability to view my work as rewarding. There was something really lonely about being stuck in the same place all day – even though I was happy living with my boyfriend.

It probably didn’t’ help that we were 10,000 miles away from any other friends or family, and now could barely leave each other’s side!

The loneliness was to be expected, but I also found it surprisingly hard to disconnect from my work. Being always available meant I never told clients “I won’t be contactable for the next x amount of days” and I ended up being on call 24/7.

Having only these slight grievances, I feel extremely lucky to have encountered lockdown where I did. Even the names of the places I’ve been living bring me back to Earth with a pang of guilt whenever I feel a complaint coming on. How could I be anything less than thrilled about being stuck in Surfer’s Paradise or on the Sunshine Coast?!

Places have reopened and with each day I am more grateful to be in beautiful Queensland. I can now go to cafes to work if I’m feeling a spell of cabin fever coming on, and I have even managed to come to terms with the fact that I probably won’t get to see Melbourne any time soon.

A quick moment of silence for those in Victoria...

Overall, freelancing in Australia during COVID-19 has turned out better than I thought it would and I have been extremely fortunate. I have managed to spend a lot of time building my brand, leaving freelance sites behind and learning a few new skills on the side, too.

Now that we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, I have even gone ahead and planned a road trip! I’m switching on-call 24/7 for on-road 24/7 and I couldn’t be happier.

Hopefully I’ll get to see the Great Barrier Reef soon!

Heuristics: what are they and how can they benefit me?

Our brains try to make everything easier for us. They frequently remember things that shock us and ditch information that bores us, which sounds great but is not always beneficial, as I am sure you have experienced at some point.

One way our brains attempt to simplify our thought processes is using a set of ‘rules’ called heuristics.

Heuristics are usually referred to as ‘mental shortcuts’ because they are basically algorithms in our brains that speed up the decision-making process, usually by sorting information by relevance.

So, what are some examples of heuristics?

Representative heuristic is when someone picks the information that best suits their current perception of the topic. For example, a FinTech business looking at the results of a consumer survey might overemphasise a statistic showing that bitcoin is most popular, and ignore the statistic showing that, actually, it is just the most well-known.

Affect heuristic is when information causes an emotional response, which then influences the outcome. An example of this heuristic is when we see a charity advert, which makes us feel horrified and sympathetic, and therefore more likely to donate.

Availability heuristic is the assumption that information most easily recalled is, therefore, the most common answer. For example, a media agency that frequently interacts with influencers might think that all millennials are obsessed with their phones and love avocado on toast.

Anchoring heuristic is the tendency to pay more attention to the information received first, and perceive it as more reliable. For example, the HR director of a company looking to hire a freelancer might view those at the top of the list more favourably than those further down.

Satisficing is choosing the first information that satisfies the needs of the test, even if there are other options that are better suited. An example of this would be that same HR director skimming through the list for the first freelancer whose most recent client was in the same industry as their company.

Obviously, heuristics are extremely useful – otherwise, every tiny decision would take us much, much longer. That said, for the scenarios in my examples, the heuristics also present some drawbacks, not least a reduction in creativity or outside-the-box thinking.

So, how can I use heuristics to my advantage?

That firstly depends on what you are trying to achieve. If you are a marketer, for example, you want to tap into people’s heuristics, but if you are, say, a house-hunter, you want to try to overcome them.

Harness heuristics

Display information in ways that heuristics dictate that it will be most memorable. To tap into the anchoring heuristic, place the most important information first. To tap into the affect heuristic, use stories to provoke an emotional response. If you want to harness satisficing, use specific words that your target audience might be scanning for. To use the availability heuristic to your advantage, make sure your social ads are out there!

Even if you are a consumer, heuristics can still be helpful. If you are trying to decide from a huge list of products, being able to skim a list to find the perfect colour or design will speed up the process! Heuristics allow us to pick and choose our decision-making battles. If you want to carefully consider a list of applicants after lunch, let heuristics take over choosing what you will eat, so you have more brain-power left for the important decisions.

Reduce cognitive bias

By being aware of heuristics, you can start to reduce their negative impacts. Read the information carefully and consider it objectively. Have an open mind when choosing from a list, and take your time! Slowing down is the most important thing because heuristics are there to speed up the decision making process.

Consider every decision with the following questions: is it rational? Does it fit? Is there a better option? Is there other information that contradicts it? Is the accuracy of this decision important (to what extent can I let heuristics take over)?

Whatever your aims, there are ways you can use heuristics to your advantage, and the first step is simply to understand them!

For anybody interested in learning more about heuristics, or the way we think in general, I highly recommend this book: Thinking Fast and Slow.

“Nothing in life is as important as you think it is when you are thinking about it.” 

Daniel Kahneman, author of ‘Thinking Fast & Slow’

Psychology weaves its way into every industry, whether you like it or not

Psychology is like marmite. Personally, I love it; my boyfriend once got sent out of a classroom for referring to it as a ‘pseudo-science’.

Throughout history, interest in the way our minds work has taken a back seat compared to our bodies, but it is more and more becoming recognised as equally deserving of our attention.

Businesses are definitely cottoning on to this – which is probably partly down to peer pressure – but there are still some industries attempting to resist. There is no use, though, because psychology is integral to every single industry out there.

I will leave out the obvious ones – we all know that marketing relies on an understanding of human behaviour to persuade consumers to interact with brands.

So, some less obvious ones:

Finance

Finance is one of those intensely numerical industries, which is why many people perceive it as having no use for psychology. But, many people are WRONG.

At its most simple, understanding how different groups perceive risk is extremely useful in knowing which stocks are likely to rise or fall at any time.

As fantastic as financial analysts are, spending behaviours are absurdly erratic at times, and it is just not possible to predict human behaviour with algorithms alone.

Behavioural economics is not a new concept, but it is one that is sometimes dismissed as a namby-pamby version of its hardcore older cousin. Even so, understanding people, their biases, motivations and general behaviour is crucial to understanding how they are likely to spend their money.

Security

As much as I am sure all nightclub bouncers are itching to understand the minds of the drunkards they kick out, I am talking more about the industry keeping our personal data safe.

Cybersecurity has long been thought of as the realm of the techies, and quite rightly too. But whilst understanding the soft- and hardware of cyberspace is an obvious requirement for said techies, understanding the mind of the cyber-attacker is often overlooked.

I have said it before and I will say it again – social engineers need no technical skills what. so. ever. With just 5 minutes and a single phone, a social engineer can manipulate their way into your most private information.

Using psychology to understand the motivations and methods used by cybercriminals and their victims is just as useful at keeping our data secure, if only the industry would embrace it.

Medicine

In the 1920s, when stress was first proven to cause physical symptoms, there was something of a Eureka moment in medical practice as doctors were finally able to diagnose their patients with unexplained headaches and stomach cramps.

But, even today, despite the mind-body link becoming more recognised, mental health treatments are not given anywhere near the same level of attention as physical treatments.

It is now becoming generally acknowledged that mental health treatments such as CBT can directly relieve physical symptoms. Some advocates are even pushing for a move towards ‘Health’ as one, important industry rather than mental health being considered separate, and sometimes lesser, to physical health.

An understanding of the differences between different groups of people, coupled with a respect for the mind-body link will only enhance medical practitioners’ ability to diagnose and deal with patients.

Hospitality

In hospitality, personalisation is key. I worked in a variety of hospitality jobs (some more glamorous than others) over many years, so I have witnessed first hand the differences in the requirements of different types of customers.

What, I think, helped me to connect with all sorts of customers was my innate interest in them all individually. I am not saying you have to have an hour-long DMC with each and every one of your customers, but it is definitely helpful to understand what typically motivates, persuades and annoys different consumer groups.

For hospitality managers, being able to assess employees’ personality types means better teams who work better together. That will lead to happy customers, so really it’s a win-win.

As much as I would love to write about every single possible industry, I think you get the picture. Psychology can be used to enhance any industry – I challenge you to give me one that doesn’t.

There is a place for analytics in copywriting

I have long been an advocate for the ring finger rule. If your ring finger is shorter than your first then you are generally better at numeracy skills. If your first finger is longer, verbal skills are your strength.

I have absolutely no evidence to back this theory up, but it does raise the interesting idea that people are either numerical or verbal and that this is fixed for life.

As the world of content has irreversibly turned digital, I find it absolutely necessary to bring the analytical skills that I developed over my years in research into every piece I write.

And so, I think, should any copywriter. Here’s why:

To see the bigger picture: data storytelling

The ability to draw a story from a dataset is one of the most valuable skills you can gain from any analytical role. You can have a higher IQ than Einstein, it won’t matter if you can’t translate your numbers into meaningful insights.

This is no different in copywriting. Words, obviously, have meaning, but if you take them the wrong way or use the wrong ones for the wrong audience, that meaning will be lost.

As much as I love how fancy and clever the word rodomontade makes me sound, it would be very rodomontading of me to use it in this blog, where it has no place.

I don’t think that you, my audience, particularly want to Google random words while reading a 3-minute blog, so my ego will have to take a back seat here in favour of the bigger picture.

(rodomontading means boastful, and I literally just found it on Google).

To understand your influence

To plan successful copy, figuring out what has worked before is invaluable. When a business realises that their sales methods are working, they reproduce them. When they realise their website is putting people off, they change it.

You wouldn’t keep using the same words that consistently fall short, and if you aren’t measuring your success, how would you even know?

Even if you have no technical analytical skills at all, a quick debrief with your client will give you some data as to what worked well.

To think outside the box

We all fall into patterns, it’s just the way we are.

Although it’s human nature, doing things because “that’s just how we’ve always done it” is completely and utterly useless. In analytics, you need to think creatively but objectively to understand the story your data tells. Stepping outside your comfort zone as a copywriter can feel really scary, but is necessary if you want to keep improving.

This goes for who you’re targeting too. The only way to find out who your audience really is is with a little bit of research.

Short surveys can be invaluable for learning more about your audience – they might surprise you. And there might already be data out there that explains your target market perfectly. Even if it is only Amazon reviews for similar products, there is information on the web to help you understand your audience.

You can also find loads of plugins that offer information about demographics if you don’t feel comfortable doing your own analysis.

Data will enhance your credibility more than any other tool

Clients who like your style might be interested, but clients who love your copy AND can see exactly how well it has worked for someone else will find you irresistible.

A hilarious banner with your best-selling tagline will, no doubt, look great in a pitch. Add the conversion rate increase that has occurred since using it, though, and the entire pitch will be based on cold, hard evidence.

There is also a peer pressure element here, if you saw that all the copywriters are using a particular SEO method, you’d want in on it too, right? And if you saw other brands jumping on a new social, you’d certainly check it out!

Whether you write or hire writers, an analytical mindset will enhance your copy just as much as a creative one!

My journey through the freelance marketplace

For anyone who isn’t clear, a ‘freelance marketplace’ is sort of like an online job board, where clients post one-off or long-term jobs and freelancers send a proposal to each client individually.

I first heard about the freelance marketplace midway through my post-uni supply chain job and immediately pictured myself in the infamous beach-writing scenario.

I applied that day.

And got rejected within 24 hours.

Well, that was it. I don’t have enough experience, I will leave it to the experts.

Then, one year later. Midway across the world (Vietnam to be precise) I bump into friend-of-a-friend who is just about finishing her travels.

We were out for pizza (experiencing the true Vietnamese cuisine) and she mentions her work freelancing, and it turns out she is on that very same marketplace!

Granted, she has much more experience, but this friend-of-a-friend-cum-guru encouraged me that I probably could do it.

A month later, after cutting my travels short and moving to Australia early (thanks, Corona) I was applying for ‘normal’ roles (in analytics, and definitely not freelancing) when my mind wandered back to that marketplace.

Having literally nothing to lose, I went back to my profile and put a bit more effort into it.

24 hours later I wake my very unimpressed boyfriend up “omg they accepted me!!!!” and there began my journey to freelance.

Anyone who knows these freelance marketplaces knows the – ahem – quality of many of the jobs on there. My first job paid $10 per article, which I accepted because it was writing about a topic that I loved.

This client became long-term, and gave me the stepping stone to charging what I was actually worth, and as instructed by aforementioned guru.

Selling myself out and accepting low-paid work to get a foot in the door is something I would never recommend to anyone, but, unfortunately, it is the expected reality in many industries.

Anyway, the holy grail of the early freelancer is the 5* reviews, which is what I really needed, rather than the $10 per article.

So, with a couple of 5* reviews to build myself some credibility, and enough pieces to build myself a portfolio, the freelance marketplace allowed me to actually earn a living for something I loved doing.

The marketplace itself offers many perks. They do all your invoicing for you, make sure the client pays, reward you for doing well and let you vet potential clients before sending them a proposal.

Although these are all great, the main benefit is the abundance of work on these sites. There is no way I would have had the time to cold-pitch even 1% of the clients that there are on these sites, and god knows what percentage of those would have led to actual work (with no portfolio, I might add).

That said, it is not without its drawbacks.

For every 1 client with a great job, there are 5 more wanting an expert developer with 10 years experience, 5 languages and a PhD in intergalactic travel, for $5 an hour.

Not only does this make the good clients harder to find, but it makes the competition on the good jobs much more fierce.

This is the reason that so many freelancers get sick of it. Not so much the fact that lower-quality jobs exist, but that there are people willing to do this type of work for such a low price.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the hypocrisy of this statement – did I not just say that my first job paid a measly $10?

I get it. But, due to the volume of freelancers and the nature of the marketplace, this is one of your only options as a beginner.

Although necessary, this was my first red flag of freelance marketplaces.

After connecting with a few clients from my website, rather than from a marketplace, I have realised that I much prefer these types of relationships.

Although freelance marketplaces offer a fantastic stepping stone, ease of use and payment protection, the saturation of low-quality clients has ultimately put me off.

So, I have recently decided to move away from the marketplace that I started on (hence the blog) and I am very much enjoying where I’m at for now.

All thanks to guru, you know who you are x