Weigh up whether you really need a blog
Blogging on your website can increase content and therefore bring more visitors to you. But many businesses survive perfectly well without a blog. Not every business lends itself to a blog – and not everyone can be bothered to do one. If the thought of blogging doesn’t inspire you, think again.
Plan what you will write about
To be successful at blogging, you need a theme and you need to be focused. You then need to be able to come up with something to write about. If you find writing difficult, or struggle over what you will write about, having a blog probably isn’t for you.
Consider if you have the time to devote to blogging
Blogging is a commitment. Most people believe you should be posting a blog at least three times a week to gain visitors – and the very minimum is once a week. Will you be able to sustain writing pieces a this rate? Nothing looks worse on a website than an abandoned blog – if you’ve abandoned yours, it is probably best to get rid of it completely.
Think where your blog will be located
You can either blog on your website – or set up a separate blog, with a link to your site. Which you choose depends very much on what you want to blog about. A blog on your website might be your best bet if your articles are all going to be related to your business and you are writing them with a professional voice. But if for example, you decide to use your blog as a platform for strong views – that might not be the sort of thing you want clients to read – your best bet might be a separate blog.
Choose the blogging platform you will use
If you don’t put your blog on your website, then you can use free platforms such as wordpress.com or blogger.com. These are great because you just sign in and off you go. They also have a mechanism that can hide your blog from search engines at first – this can be a good idea while you experiment with your writing style and get into the swing of blogging. Once you’ve got some posts, you can lift the mechanism and let the world see!
Consider how your blog will be designed
WordPress.com has a host of themes, which you can customise to a degree. But if you want it to look the same as your company website for example, you will need to invest in a web designer. At the same time you need to consider what to call your blog. Your name or company name can be used within the wordpress theme – or you can opt to use a domain name you already have or buy another one altogether. For example, there is an option on WordPress.com that allows you to do this.
Decide if your blog will just be written by you
Many people now set up a blog between them. So several people might contribute to a company blog or a group of people might set one up together. This can be a great idea as the amount of work can be spread amongst you. But if your blogging partner doesn’t pull their weight and leaves all the work to you – or is a lazy blogger and lets things slide, it can be frustrating. Another option is to have contributors writing on your site too – this can work well as long as you like what they write…
Ask yourself if you’ll want to have advertising on your blog
For many people, a blog is a way of promoting their business, books or themselves in some way. However, actually monetising your blog with paid-for advertising such as Google Ads or even paid for posts is not permitted on a platform such wordpress.com and if you allow this, your blog can be taken down. So if you want to make money from your blog by allowing ads, you will need to invest in your own bespoke blog or website. Most experts also believe you need to have hundreds of posts on your site and to be getting at least 1000 daily views on a blog before you have enough visitors to make advertising worthwhile.
Think how you will promote your blog.
If your blog is on your own website, it will simply come under the umbrella of promotion you have do for your site. But if it is separate from your site, you need to think of ways to get it known. In this case, as with a website, you might want to get it linked to a Facebook or Twitter page or have it listed on blog websites so it gains visitors that way.
Consider paying a professional blogger to blog for you.
Finally, if you’re keen to have a blog but you’re not a professional writer or simply don’t have the time, you could think about paying someone to blog for you. Many marketing companies will, for a price, take care of all your blogging requirements and can write posts so they stand the maximum chance of being ranked well in Google. They will think of ideas and also be able to promote your blog. Bear in mind however, you will still need to regularly provide them with the basic information they need to write about.
Many people believe they must possess an amazing vocabulary or write long descriptive prose to be a good writer. Sadly the way writing is sometimes taught at school – with much emphasis put on using unusual words and complex sentence construction – people are often put off altogether. But whether you are writing a book, a press release or an article, the key is to keep it simple. Here are the top ten ways to identify good writing – and doing that is the first step to becoming a better writer yourself…
Good writing …
* Isn’t something you notice. When you read a book or a news article, you should be immersed in the story – and not the way it is written.
* Flows. If something is well written you can read it fast – you can even skim read it because it is clear and simple enough to scan.
* Isn’t something you need to re-read to understand. If you need to re-read a page or chapter in a book because you’ve literally lost the plot, it is badly written (and life’s too short to bother reading any further…)
* Doesn’t make you reach for the dictionary. In fact, a good writer can use words you might not have heard of before but because those words are used properly in context within a sentence, you will naturally understand them.
* Gets straight to the point. Any literary agent will tell you make or break for a book is often the first page (or the first chapter at worse) and in a press article or press release, people want the information straightaway. In this case the very first sentence is all-important.
* Isn’t stuffed with adjectives. In fact, a very good writer will use descriptive words sparingly, if at all. They can describe someone’s personality by relaying what they say in quotes and what they do.
* Can bring a scene alive. Tip: Some of the greatest writers only use ‘he/she said’ after quotes because ‘said’ disappears, leaving the quote standing out. But if you put ‘he/she sighed/laughed/guffawed/remonstrated’ – you break the spell and remind the reader this is a (badly written) novel or article.
* Leaves you wanting more. ‘Less is more’ should be tattooed on the back of every writer’s hand. Never ramble and bore your reader.
* Fits in and is appropriate. So a newspaper article will be written differently from a newspaper feature and the same story will again be something else in a book. It will then be described in another way in a press release about the author. Reading the same story, and the way it is dealt with by different mediums can help everyone develop their writing skills.
* Can be compared to a pearl necklace. Clever writing holds together as perfectly as a string of beads. It has a rhythm, it evokes emotion in the reader and is as beautiful.
Do you have any more tips to add for good writing? Let us know in the comments below…
Many companies believe they can just pay a PR firm, leave them to it and they will automatically get results. But to get the most for your money and to gain the best results, your PR needs your input too – and at the right times. Here, I give my top tips for a successful partnership …
* Trust your PR firm.
Do your research before you employ them. Presumably they have excellent contacts, lots of good ideas, are enthusiastic about your brand, have a portfolio of happy clients and use social media as well as traditional routes to gain publicity. You should therefore regularly see the results of their work in the press. So once you have chosen the people you want, work with them. Don’t then pour cold water on suggestions and make their lives a misery. Be open minded and consider everything – that is what you are paying them for.
* Be available.
It is most frustrating if your PR consultant cannot get hold of you. They might well have an editor on a national newspaper who wants more details now, this instant, before morning conference. That is not something that can wait until tomorrow… unless you want that editor to go elsewhere. So take the call.
* Try not to interfere.
Remember you went to them for their expertise and advice. So resist the temptation to tell them how to do things. Yes, of course voice your concerns but listen to what they have to say. For example, I have received press releases with the most ridiculous long-winded and pompous quotes from the company director. I know it won’t be the PR that sent it out but will be because he ordered those quotes to be there… (but they won’t help the company gain publicity…)
* Be realistic.
Fact: Your PR firm cannot guarantee they will get you into the national newspaper of your choice – or that when you are in it, your firm will be mentioned exactly as you wish (if at all despite your PR’s efforts.) And don’t be ridiculously choosy. I’ve had PR companies come to me asking only for one particular paper. And it isn’t them but the clueless client they represent. Giving your PR a list of publications you will be in and those you won’t is absurd. Be grateful for the tiniest mention in any national paper or magazine – they will all be hard won and all go towards promoting your brand.
* Be prepared to take a risk.
You can send standard press releases yourself but a good PR company will have other ideas about how they can promote you. You might not initially like the sound of some of their ideas but taking a risk – for example, putting out some edgy new research or revealing a news story about your company – can sometimes yield the best results.
* Understand results can take months.
It can be hard if you see great coverage for a rival firm and wonder why that isn’t happening for you. But avoid comparing yourself with another client, whose business will be completely different, and try to understand that results can take a long time. Gaining PR and awareness takes time to achieve. You might be lucky – your PR spots an opportunity to push you forward – or something happens in the news that gives you a break. Generally, however, PR campaigns can take a lot of hard work. It takes time to consider ways of promotion, time to create the right pitch, time to speak to numerous editors and send out information and follow it up – and therefore money before you start to see results.
* Remind them you’re there.
The worse thing you can do is email daily with the most annoying words in the world, “Any news?” But at the same time, don’t let things drift on for weeks without speaking. A good PR should be regularly updating you on what they are doing anyway but people get busy and even the most professional and well-meaning PR can sometimes do with a little chivvying.
* Keep your PR informed.
He or she is not a mind reader. If you are planning a new website, win a new contract, decide to write a book or win an award, tell your PR. You need to be feeding them information they can work with and it might be something that can be turned into a news story for you. There’s nothing wrong with making suggestions to them either and asking for their thoughts.
* Speak with your PR before chatting to any press.
The local paper journalist you’ve known for years who rings you ‘for a quick quote’ might be doing just that. But check first. Your PR might have lined you up for an exclusive chat with a national newspaper on the same issue – who might not be interested if you have already blabbed to someone else. So if you have employed a PR, don’t then forget them or make assumptions.
* Review results and costs.
There is nothing like a misunderstanding over the finances to spoil an otherwise good relationship. Review costs all the time. And finally if you are unhappy, speak up sooner rather than later. That gives everyone the best chance of putting things right.
People often say the media industry is a very competitive industry to work in. But these days whether you are freelance, employed or run your own business, every industry is competitive … here’s my top tips for coping with it whatever business you are in.
* Accept the world is competitive
Business has always been competitive. Everyone wants to make a good living, and everyone wants to get on. This is the first rule of any work place (as well as virtually every other aspect of life… competitive people pop up everywhere.) So you must accept that and then find ways to make your own path to success.
* Avoid competition
It might sound unusual advice but if possible try to avoid competitive situations. I am always amazed how many people in business simply follow the crowd. The point is if you follow the crowd, that is where you will remain (one of the crowd!) If you are a company competing for new business consider whether it is worth your time going after a job that so many others are after. If you are a freelance journalist there might not be much point in sending your idea for a feature if you know hundreds of other writers are being invited to also pitch the same thing. Consider your chance of winning the commission. If it might take too much of your time you might be better off chasing after a story that is exclusive to you only.
* Be aware of your competitors but don’t become obsessed
Whatever business you are in, it is essential to know who your competitors are and what they are up to. But rather than focus on them, your time is best spent making your own business better. Resist the urge to compare yourself with someone else. Instead recognise you each have different strengths. There will also be times when they will get the client and you don’t, times when they seem busy and you are not – this is just how business goes. One tip: be clear on your own goals. For example it is tempting to lower prices to beat the competition and win customers. But there’s no point in winning the customer from your rival if it leaves you out of pocket.
* Mix with people outside your industry
In the business world I believe few competitors can also be colleagues! Of course I don’t mean never speak to rivals and certainly never talk badly of your competitors (even if it’s true, clients don’t like that at all…) but cosy chats are a no. In a more relaxed atmosphere it can be easy to give away some of your business secrets. It is also better to make your own mind up than listen to gossip within your industry. For example just because one person found a boss difficult doesn’t mean you will too. And a boastful rival can also make you feel deflated. Instead socialise with people not within your business field and people you are therefore not in direct competition with.
* Play your cards close
It might sound obvious but telling someone at a drinks party how you stumbled on that exclusive might just give them ideas. Similarly remember rivals as well as friends see what you say on Twitter. And never confide money to anyone – always keep earnings, costs and payments absolutely private.
* Do your own thing
Create your own niche, your own brand. It’s a massive mistake to copy someone who is already successful in your field – you risk being an inferior copy. Don’t assume for example because their style of website or way of working appears to have worked for them, it will work for you. For all you know it might not even be working for them any more (your competitors are hardly likely to blog how work’s dried up lately.) Instead of trying to be better by doing the same, concentrate on developing your own style, unique identity and personality.
And finally …never grow complacent. Whatever industry you work in, you won’t ever know everything, the unexpected will happen, and your competitors will surprise you. You cannot always be the best, be first or always win. All you can do is know you did your best – and it’s a new day tomorrow.
You might also like: Are Klout and PeerIndex a good or bad idea?
* Sell your personal story
Possibly the most successful way of gaining publicity – which can be life-changing. For example when via Featureworld Natalie Balmond’s story appeared in the Daily Mail, and then on national TV, her business was transformed overnight. Natalie told the story of how she had successfully concocted her own eczema cream in her kitchen to cure her daughter’s eczema and how she now sold it – needless to say the orders flooded in.
* Help someone else and sell their story
If you (and no-one else in your company) has a personal story to tell then find someone to help who has. A good example of this was a recent interviewee Jeanette Leach whose story about her dilemma of whether to have her 32JJ boobs reduced appeared in the Daily Mirror and then ITV Daybreak. Following this, Jeanette received offers of bras from one manufacturer and an appointment with a cosmetic surgeon. Another recent interviewee (also represented by Featureworld) was offered clothes. But ensure if you offer something like this – you follow up your offer properly. If the person you offered clothes to wears them, blog and tweet it, put a pic of them in your clothes on your website, send out a press release. As a publicist it never ceases to amaze me how many PR people have great ideas that could really sell – and then bizarrely let them fall by the wayside.
* Apply for an award
Recently I blogged and tweeted about how I have been asked by arguably Britain’s most influential and prestigious national newspaper to nominate entrants an award for ‘inspirational women’ – it was a marvellous opportunity for someone to promote their organisation and I have put someone forward, who is being considered. Even if that lady does not get through, her organisation has been put up to top editors, who might well commission her story anyway. Sadly many awards are worth nothing – just puffs that you can buy so check them out carefully. But there are some gems (this award was one of those), which are run by national newspapers and magazines themselves and because publicity is guaranteed, even just being an entrant in one can prove life-changing.
* Commission a survey
Running a survey and publishing the results is possibly one of the most effective ways of gaining publicity in a national paper. As a feature writer, I am always quoting results from surveys even months after they were initially published and I am constantly asked by editors to write features to follow on from surveys. Again, though, if your company is going to do such a survey, ensure you gain the most from all your hard work by backing up your findings with a case study. If your survey reveals, ‘More happily married couples live apart …’ for example try to include some real people to contact. Sadly I am often asked by national newspapers on a tight deadline to follow up a survey and find some case studies for them – and when you ring the company involved, they ‘don’t know of anyone’. Unsurprisingly the story falls down and the double page plug they could have got does not materialise.
* Put yourself or someone in your company forward as an expert
Journalists are always looking for someone to quote on stories. If you are running a company, it’s a given you should be an expert in your field. Professionals such as doctors and psychologists can register with the press office of their governing body to become such an expert. Otherwise, ensure you say you are available for expert comment on your website. And then – and most importantly – be available! You might be very busy – and you might not be able to answer a call during a consultation with a patient for example – but if you want to gain publicity you must make yourself available. I am again amazed at the number of experts who ring back a week later – by then the story has been printed and a rival who squeezed in the five minutes to chat in between meetings has bagged that valuable plug instead.
Written by journalist and media agent Alison Smith-Squire. To find out more about creating a buzz contact Alison.
Every day at Featureworld I receive around a dozen or so press releases – and on a busy day many more. So why as a journalist do I end up deleting so many especially when someone will have taken the time and trouble to write it? Here I look at the reasons why and what makes some press releases so special that they stand out shining from the rest…
* The press release wasn’t relevant to the journalist’s specialism
As a journalist specialising real life stories, the press release about cars for example might not be relevant for the papers and magazines I write for. But in fact so many press releases could be made a lot more relevant for many more journalists with a little tweaking. So a press release talking about a new type of car on the market could be made much more newsworthy by talking about the type of customer it appeals to – or stating it will also be available in bright pink or is the first vehicle to feature a kettle – something that makes it unique and interesting to a wider market than just the motor trade.
*The press release is too long and rambling
Journalists are busy people and rightly or wrongly, might not have time to read past the first paragraph. So many press releases try to put too many company details in the first paragraph that immediately a journalist is put off reading any further. Avoid this by always including a snappy headline and sticking to a simple newsy first paragraph. Then, avoid an essay of a press release. If for example your press release is about how you’ve carried out a survey, put in the main findings with a link to the full results for anyone who wants further details.
*The press release just isn’t a story
Many people will advise organisations do not send out press releases unless they have some proper news to tell, which I believe is good advice. But for many companies, press releases are an integral part of their search engine optimisation marketing (SEO) – and they rely on sending regular releases to help with this. In this case – when you are sending out releases regularly – accept not every one will make a great show. However, increase your chances of success every time by getting creative when writing them. Saying someone in your company has been promoted is dull – but saying what that person intends to change about the company and including a photo of them makes it much more interesting and the story might make more than just a listing.
* The press release is poorly written
If a press release is written well, a journalist should be able to literally copy and paste it onto a page. Examine newspaper reports in national newspapers to see how a press release should always be written. The main story should be in the first paragraph – ideally a paper could only print the first two paragraphs and everyone would know what the story is about. Excellent grammar and spelling, along with your logo and contact details, will help it look professional.
* The press release lacks a human touch
To get a great show, many newspapers require a ‘case study box’ with the copy. As you probably know, a case study is a person who recounts their real life experience. So if you are saying your study sponsored by your brand, shows more dogs are getting arthritis, include a real life story of someone with a pet that has this. Add some quotes from them and if possible include a photo of them with their dog as well. If you don’t want to put a case study out on ‘general release’ and want to check first which publications a case study might appear in say you have case studies (with photos or who will agree to be photographed) available on request.
* The press release needs too much work to make it work
Sometimes a press release contains a potential story but needs too much work to get it into the paper or if it does make, to give it a good show. Perhaps the company that sent it expects the paper will ‘knock it into shape’ for them. So the press release might be given to a reporter to make further investigations but it risks being overtaken by other stories – or falling by the wayside. Problems include not including a case study, no photo or any expert quotes and failing to back up facts. Unfortunately I have also rung PR individuals to find out more details only to be told they just sent out the release and don’t have any or just give you the number for the company director (who thought he was paying a PR firm to do this…) So when you send a press release out be ready with extra info straightaway.
* You sent your press release out at the wrong time
You can be very unlucky – you send out a press release and a big story breaks at the same time. But in general week days are obviously best and during usual working hours. Mornings are best as well and it’s probably advisable to avoid Mondays (when the week starts up and can be busy news wise) and Fridays. If you are sending your press release out to magazines or local papers, do check when their deadlines are – they are often much earlier than you might think. And if it is a seasonal press release it’s even more imperative you check when the optimum time is – for example, monthly magazines often work months in advance (hence press releases for Christmas in August aren’t so mad after all…)
And finally – you have sent your press release out to everyone.
Sometimes a great story with a press release comes into me but I don’t follow it up because it’s obvious it’s been sent to lots of people. Or I have emailed back to find out that disappointingly a PR has sent it everywhere. There is no point in me offering a story to a paper who is already being sent it…! A tip – try just one well connected journalist first and offer it exclusively to them. Tell them you are offering it exclusively. If they and a couple of others are unable to place the story, then send it out on general release.
First there was Twitter and then along came Klout – a website that purports to measures how successful you are at influencing people on the internet. Here’s my alternative fun guide to Klout and why on a serious note, I believe it is best avoided … all opinions my own of course…
Klout is self-appointed
All credit to the makers of the wheeze that is Klout. I commend them for coming up with such an amazing idea and for marketing it so well that people actually believe it matters so much that some worry a low score might lose them their job. But I’m afraid that’s where my admiration ends. Because otherwise I have no idea how trustworthy the people are behind it, how accurate their software is or whether it has undergone any testing by any independent third party.
It is unlikely to be accurate
How do you measure influence? As a bylined writer for all the UK press – including one of the biggest and most influential newspaper websites in the world -in the last seven days I have had one three page spread in a national newspaper, two double page spreads in another national newspaper, two single page stories in yet another two more national newspapers, two double page spreads in national women’s magazines and a couple went on national TV on Monday. And every single one of those interviewees found their way to me via my sell my story website, Featureworld. Did Klout measure how many millions read those stories or watched that couple on TV? Mmmm… thought not.
Klout is more divisive than a school playground and places people into boxes
Anything that lumps people into bizarre ‘categories’ – and then encourages that person to brag ‘look everyone at how popular I am’ by tweeting their Klout ‘score’ should be viewed with scepticism. For the uninitiated a brief overview of the polite Klout names for each Twitter user (although Klout claim they take Facebook, LinkedIn, WordPress and an array of other social websites when they calculate your ‘score’) – with my view of their real meanings:
Observer: you just sit there, bringing nothing to Twitter’s table
Explorer: Trying your best but you have a Twitter mountain to climb
Dabbler: You’ve been doing Twitter a while but still don’t have a clue
Conversationalist: You think you’re clever with your witty retorts
Syndicator: You like to think you’re trendy with your finger on the super trendy pulse
Curator: You have Twitter OCD – do you have a life?
Activist: Using Twitter to ram home your message
Feeder: A shameless gossip
Socializer: Stuff work – you’re forever seeking the next party
Networker: Get you and your ambition to climb the Twitter tree!
Specialist: Always droning on about your favourite subject – you, your business, you or you.
Thought leader: A mini-politician, you push your self-righteous views onto others.
Broadcaster: Don’t you ever stop to listen to what anyone else has to say?
Pundit: Almost a #celebrity# – well actually with your fascinating tweets you think you already are.
Celebrity: All hail the Twitter king or queen. You can be as boring as you want – your little followers will RT you and be still grateful for any crumbs (such as you deeming to @mention them.)
Klout takes the enjoyment out of Twitter
Apparently Klout takes account of how influential the people are who you engage with so unless you want your Klout score to freefall don’t bother talking to Johnny whose only follower is his mum. Instead, concentrate on giving a Twitter wave (the @mention) to those who can give you more ‘Klout influence.’ You can also become obsessed by your ‘score’ – if you are engaged by ‘influencers’ with a high score (or not), your true reach, your amplification or your network – an utterly baffling array of ‘scores’, which are inadequately defined, which go up and down – or bump along the bottom if you’re in the Twitter corner with the dunce’s hat. I’m sure it won’t be long before I am selling the story: Klout ruined my life or Banker claims Klout score ruined his career prospects. You have been warned…
Do you agree with me about Klout or have I been a little mean? Do let me know…
* Make the most of any contacts
The most obvious way to get a foot in the door is being commissioned by someone you already know to write a story. Perhaps you know an editor who worked on a publication you’ve written for who recently got a new job. Drop them an email to reintroduce yourself.
* Get onto a training course where the nationals search for talent.
If you already have a degree, check out MA courses where people regularly go from to the nationals. Some nationals also run direct entry course themselves – the drawback of course is they are extremely competitive to get onto.
*Get a job with an agency
If you are already a journalist but don’t have contacts within the nationals, working with an agency that supplies stories to the national press is a great way to make them. Liaising with the newsdesk on a paper or their staff reporters, will get your name known fast in the industry. It might even be you are asked by a national newspaper if you want some shifts or even a job.
* Get shifting
Ring up the national newspapers and ask for the person who deals with shift work. Most shift work available for casuals will be Saturday nights or other odd times when no-one wants to work and it is likely to be quiet – but sure enough if you do enough shifts eventually a big story will break and you’ll get your chance to shine. Incidentally, if you are offered a shift, do not turn it down, even if the opportunity falls on your birthday. You might not get the chance again.
* Supply tip-offs
Many national newspapers rely on people to tip them off about stories. If you’re already working on a local paper you’ll be in the perfect position to tip off the nationals about any stories that are on your patch. Similarly if a big story breaks in your area, you are on the spot and well placed to follow it up fast. Using your local knowledge you should be able to find exclusive angles that other journalists new to the area might miss. Tip offs are paid – depending on how good the story is. The only proviso is not to overstep the line with your local reporting job. Some local papers turn a blind eye to reporters tipping off the nationals (especially if the local paper still has the exclusive) but some papers won’t like it. So check your contract before hand.
*Give an editor an incredible story
When I began writing for the national press, I didn’t know anyone in the industry. But I managed to break into each national newspaper by individually (and obviously over a period of time!) giving them each a fantastic story. Just be sure when you put your amazing story up to an editor (and identify the correct person to send your story to by ringing up and asking) that you have that story in the bag. Ideally your interviewee is already interviewed (and you have some photos) and you are absolutely sure it is exclusive to you. If it is commissioned, you want to be able to come up with the goods.
* Offer yourself as an expert
If you are a doctor, dentist, psychologist, architect – anyone with a professional qualification – break into national newspapers by offering yourself as an expert. Many organisations for professionals will add you to their bank of consultants happy to be quoted as an expert in the press or on TV. If you are able to give great quotable quotes and offer real insight into a story, journalists will return again to you for a comment. And you might not even have to write your own piece as sometimes a staff journalist will ghost a whole article for you (you will get the byline and they always read it back to ensure accuracy.)
* Write about yourself.
Writing about yourself can be a great way to break into the features sections of national newspapers. And if you establish yourself as being able to write well about your own experiences, it can also be very lucrative – and also be straightforward as obviously you can rely on yourself to be on time for your photos and so on. But be aware as a writer talking about yourself – and particularly an unknown one (editors will ask their usual writers to pen their more standard articles) – you will be expected to write a revealing and possibly sensational piece. Relationship articles exploring issues between you, your friends, your mum, partner, children, stepfamily and similar are common. Commissioning editors will expect you to dig deep into the emotional side of your experience and if your personal story involves others you need to ensure they are on board too as most papers will want personal photos to illustrate your article.
And finally… When you’ve sold that first tip off or story to a national newspaper make sure it goes well. This means always being contactable for queries from the editor or subs – yes, even at weekends or on holiday. Like most national newspaper journalists I have filed adds from a number of beaches and restaurants on holiday, checked copy on Christmas day (for publication on Boxing Day), filed a story in the early hours of the morning, and changed my plans to go the gym/have a quiet night/pop to a friends numerous times. If you want to write for national newspapers, dropping everything to sort any problems is an inevitable part of the job.
Do you have any tips for breaking into the national press? Let us know and leave your tips below…
Whether you work from home full time, occasionally work from home or are planning to, here’s my top twelve tips for making it productive as well as fun…
• Firstly – find a suitable spot for your ‘office’ and ensure you stay in that place. Avoid setting up your business in your bedroom or front room. Both of these places are where you relax and the last thing you want to be doing is waking up to see your pile of work. I would add something else – don’t carry your laptop round with you and set up in different places all over your house. You need to remain in the same place – under the stairs if space is tight. The point is you are in the same place for work, are not scattering everything all over the house and can get up and leave it just as you would any office.
• Ensure your office is a great place to be – even if your office is just a desk in the hallway. A comfy chair and fresh flowers will help. And a radio, CD player or TV nattering in the background can keep you company as you work.
• Don’t use your home number as your office number. Whether you work all the time from home or just occasionally, either use a dedicated mobile or have an ‘office’ line installed. That way when the phone rings you know it is work.
• Match your working hours to your natural body clock. Ignore advice that says you must keep office hours to keep motivated. The whole point about working from home is it allows you to work when you want to. So it might be working later into the evening is right for you – or you might be more productive getting up at the crack of dawn and finishing earlier.
• Invest in an excellent, reliable Smartphone – one you can get emails on, calls, texts, the internet, Twitter and Facebook. That way you can always have your office with you.
• Don’t feel you must take a break. One piece of advice often given is unplugging the phone so you have proper breaks from work and so on. For some people this is the best and only way to relax. However, if you work from home and you feel happier having your mobile with you – with all the emails and texts coming in 24 hours then that’s fine – some people feel more relaxed knowing they are always contactable and aren’t missing an important call.
• If you only want people contacting you at certain times, say so. For example, on emails put ‘I work Mondays and Wednesdays only’ and leave that information on answerphones too. Remember to stick to it though to get colleagues in the habit of not disturbing you on days off.
• Work intensely for shorter periods. You can often get more done working from home than in an office. In an office there are constant distractions – other people, meetings, tea breaks and so on. But at home you can crack on and get things done quicker. So it’s possible to produce the same amount of work in a shorter time.
• A little procrastination can be good for you. And I don’t believe home distractions are a problem when you’re working. I’ve had some great ideas when I’m folding the laundry! And surfing the net – even if it does involve a little daydreaming – rests your brain and can even inspirational.
• Enjoy quieter times. However busy you are there will be less busy times. Instead of fretting about being quiet, make the most of it by doing all those things you haven’t had time for – such as invoices, updating your website, filing – there are millions of little things to attend to especially if you have your own business.
• Get out and about. If you’re having a bad day, go for a run or out for a coffee with a friend. A change of scenery will make you realise there is a world outside your home office world. And make the most of not being stuck in an office on sunny days – take a cup of tea outside and enjoy a sunburst in between phone calls.
• Enjoy your own company. Some people find they need to have a group of friends in a similar situation to talk to when they’re working from home. However, to be successful you must accept working at home means you won’t be party to the office gossip. If you feel lonely remind yourself of all the positives that come with working from home – no commuting to work, flexible hours and if you run your own business, being your own boss, choosing your own holidays, can have your hair done when you want… and you can’t be sacked or made redundant. Then rather than feeling out of it – see it as a blessing. After all, you won’t be getting involved in awkward office politics either.
Alison Smith-Squire is a journalist and media agent who has successfully worked from home for over 20 years.
Have you made working from home a success for you? I would love to hear your tips and see photos of your home office. Contact me here.
Everyone knows you must like writing to be a journalist, but which attributes make a top journalist? Here’s my top twenty attributes to bear in mind if in this competitive industry you are going to do well…
1. Love news. I’m always amazed at the number of people who say they want to be a journalist but rarely read a newspaper. Whether you yearn to work in fashion on a glossy mag, write about politics for a broadsheet or specialise in real life stories for weekly mags, you must be an avid news reader. If you don’t adore news – if you have little interest in what is making the headlines (whether it is war, celebrity scandal or a court case) – you won’t know what is trending and therefore which stories editors are looking for.
2. Are happy to go it alone. While you might still work within a team to pull in a good story, exclusives are not found where other journalists are. To find those, you need to go off the beaten track on your own.
3. Enjoy talking on the phone. In an ideal world, face-to-face interviews would always be the norm. But with tight deadlines most journalists find themselves talking a lot on the phone. You must be happy to pick up the phone and ring anyone.
4. Have an innate sense of justice. Good journalists want to investigate and uncover the truth or find a different angle to a story – it is the premise of every good journalist.
5. Don’t give up easily. If one door (literally) closes in your face, you need to think of a way to follow up a story a different way.
6. Know when to back off. At the same time, you must accept if someone doesn’t want to speak to you and leave them alone…
7. Don’t follow the crowd. If you are to stand out as a freelancer or in a busy office you need to get creative – whether it’s finding a niche for your website, finding your own stories or coming up with your own ideas.
8. Can put people at ease. You must enjoy talking to people from all walks of life. If you’re not sociable, don’t find people interesting and enjoy a chat, this won’t be a job you’ll enjoy.
9. Develop a good news sense. You learn what people want to read. Incidentally the best way to develop this is to read as many different publications as possible.
10. Will be open to new ideas. Editors want a ‘can do’ journalist not a ‘can’t do’.
11. Are sticklers for accuracy. Never take a chance. Check and double check all details are correct.
12. Are able to take criticism. There is no point in being precious over your writing if your article is cut short. And if you are asked for more copy then it will hopefully only go to make your piece even better…
13. Are honest. Never embellish a story or hide a problem – always be honest with editors and interviewees.
14. Understand the importance of research. Always research everything, If you don’t understand something, neither will the editor or your reader.
15. Are not afraid to ASK – ring the interviewee back if you have forgotten one question and check with an editor how many words, what angle, third or first person before you write. Never assume – you will doubtless be wrong!
16. Don’t clock watch. Journalism isn’t a nine to five job. News happens 24 hours a day, interviewees often want to chat when they’re home from work.
17. Will go that extra mile. It’s the call you don’t make that will end up being that vital story!
18. Can switch off at the end of the day. Journalism can be all-consuming. It helps if you are not a nervous sort of person and you realise you can’t sort the world’s problems.
19. Can write fast. If you suffer from chronic writer’s block, the deadlines in journalism will be too stressful.
20. Take rejection and disappointment in their stride. Interviewees change their minds, stories don’t always make the final cut. You must be able to pick yourself up and forge ahead getting on with the next job…
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Are you a trainee journalist, an intern on a publication or looking for your first job? What other attributes do you think journalists should have? Let me know here: Top tips for a journalist