Will you get a gold star from Santa this year? Take my Christmas spelling quiz to find out!

Do you know your SLAY from your SLEIGH and your PRESENTS from your PRESENCE? Get your grammar gloves on it’s time for my annual Christmas #confusables quiz!

There’s no prize for getting ten out of ten – just a smug sense of satisfaction and the knowledge that I had to lie down in a darkened room after typing some of these!

Scroll down for the answers when you’re done. No cheating!

Question 1

a) “I should have put the turkey in the oven hours ago!”

b) “I should of put the turkey in the oven hours ago!”

Question 2

a) “Oh go on then – I’m not adverse to a mince pie!”

b) “Oh go on then – I’m not averse to a mince pie!

Question 3

a) “Whose coming to the Christmas party this year?”

b) “Who’s coming to the Christmas party this year?”

Question 4

a) “Are you inferring I’ve had too much to drink?!”

b) “Are you implying I’ve had too much to drink?!”

Question 5

a) “Let’s have a glass of sherry and watch the Queen’s speech.”

b) “Lets have a glass of sherry and watch the Queen’s speech.”

Question 6

a) “Just look at the amount of presents under the tree this year!”

b) “Just look at the number of presents under the tree this year!”

Question 7

a) “I’ve had so many compliments about my new Christmas dress!”

b) “I’ve had so many complements about my new Christmas dress!

Question 8

a) “Am I aloud to open one of my presents on Christmas Eve?”

b) “Am I allowed to open one of my presents on Christmas Eve?”

Question 9

a) “Too many glasses of fizz at last night’s party have lead to a hangover!”

b) “Too many glasses of fizz at last night’s party have led to a hangover!”

Question 10

a) “Take my advise – sprouts are good for you!”

b) “Take my advice – sprouts are good for you!”

 

Scroll down for the answers…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Answers

Q1) a
Q2) b
Q3) b
Q4) b
Q5) a
Q6) b
Q7) a
Q8) b
Q9) b
Q10) b

How did you do?

8 to 10: A* student – gold star for you

5 to 7: good effort – could do better

0 to 4: must pay more attention in English lessons*

*future issues of the Clever Copy Club newsletter

(Need to brush up on your #confusables and don’t already receive my monthly email tips and tricks? Sign up here.)

Want to read more?

If you enjoyed this post and haven’t already tried 2018 and 2017 Christmas spelling quiz, give them a go!

For more language love, join my Clever Copy Club and get monthly updates direct to your inbox. Alternatively, follow me on Twitter, connect on LinkedIn or like my page on Facebook.

Environmental policy? Behave – I’m a freelancer!

Does your business have an environmental policy?

I don’t mean some going-through-the-motions greenwash document that you write and then forget about. I mean a proper commitment to reducing your impact on the planet.

“I’m a freelancer. What’s the point? I can’t make a difference on my own!”

Tell me about it.

Truth be told, I’m a bit of an eco worrier. And no, that’s not a typo.

I find David Attenborough docs almost too hard to bear these days, let alone some of the hardcore stuff shared by environmental activists such as Extinction Rebellion.

It’s so easy to decide there’s no point trying.

But just the process of thinking about the things you do each day can lead to positive changes.

Me, myself and I

I wrote my own one-page environmental policy over a year ago. And while these things are embedded in my day-to-day routine, the summary itself has never seen the light of day.

The idea of sharing it made me feel a bit cringey and uncomfortable.

Isn’t it a bit… worthy?

But then I heard Eoin McQuone and Caroline Aistrop talk at local networking event, StroudNet, and it got me thinking.

If I can get over myself and share the steps I’m taking to be more sustainable, maybe it’ll encourage others to do the same.

So here’s my utterly-imperfect-but-it’s-a-start commitment to treading lightly.

(Even if it does still make me cringe just a little bit.)

Sarah Townsend Editorial Limited

Environmental policy

I am committed to operating my business in a way that is mindful of the environment and aim to keep my impact on the earth’s resources to a minimum.

To help me do this, I promise…

  • to buy 100% renewable electricity from Good Energy*
  • to generate my own electricity using solar panels
  • to use public transport to attend meetings and events wherever possible
  • to lift share where public transport isn’t an option
  • to work from public spaces rather than heat my home
  • to recycle all paper, ink cartridges and other recyclable materials
  • to make a monthly donation to UK environmental charity, the Woodland Trust
  • to minimise the amount of paper waste I produce by only printing documents when absolutely necessary, and always using both sides of the paper
  • to always stick on an extra layer before putting on the heating (I’m a big advocate of double tights and double socks!)
  • to use recycled paper for the printing of any business stationery
  • to minimise my use of water and energy, to reduce my carbon footprint
  • to ensure coffee, tea and the other important things that get me through the day are Rainforest Alliance Certified
  • to have video meetings where possible, to avoid the carbon cost of travel
  • to work with suppliers who share these values, where possible

I know there’s more that I can do – there’s always more that we can do – but it’s a step in the right direction, right?

I’d love to know what changes you’ve made to lessen your impact on the environment.

*If anyone is thinking of switching to Good Energy and you use this link to sign up, we’ll both get £50. And if you let me know you’ve signed up as a result of reading this post, I’ll donate £25 to environmental charity, TreeSisters.

Want to read more?

For more language love, join my Clever Copy Club and get monthly updates direct to your inbox. Alternatively, follow me on Twitter, connect on LinkedIn or like my page on Facebook.

9 survival tips for freelancers (or how to go solo without going loco)

In the 20 years since I set up my business, I’ve learnt a thing or two about how to make it as a successful freelancer.

It’s about time I shared some of my secrets to help you rock the socks off freelance life.

Success. Funny word.

Highly subjective.

Success to me means I’m financially secure. I have the time and money to do the things I want to do.

Being a single parent for 12 years has made financial independence even more important to me – but success isn’t just about the money.

I can pick and choose who I work with. I can make life easier for people who are in the same position I was in way back when.

Most of all, success to me means I get to do a job I love – day in, day out.

It’s bloody great. And not a day goes by that I don’t remind myself how lucky I am.

A word of warning…

All this stuff. It’s easy for me to say – I get that.

It takes time to build a reputation for being great at what you do – and the recommendations that back that up.

If you’re just starting out, having someone tell you you should choose who you work with, charge what you’re worth and invest in your business… it might seem unrealistic. Hell, it might even piss you off.

But if even a bit of my advice helps to make your freelance life – or even your day – a little better, I’ll be happy.

So let’s crack on and dispel some of the myths about solo working.

1. “I like my own company. I don’t need anyone else.”

I say you’re wrong.

Being a sole trader doesn’t mean going it alone.

I’m pretty extrovert. Based on what I’ve learned from the copywriting conferences I’ve been to over the years, that’s unusual. But that’s not the point.

However independent, self-contained and introverted you are, everyone – even you – needs to know they’re not alone.

Freelance life can be damn hard.

And lonely.

And isolating.

And it’s even harder if you’ve no one who understands just how damn hard (and lonely and isolating) it is.

But it doesn’t have to be like that.

Common ground is a great starting point for lasting friendship and support – and it’s out there. You just need to know where to look.

Whether you join a networking group or professional body, find a thriving coworking space, mix it up by attending various different events or simply go all-out on social media, finding your people – your tribe – is a great way of feeling less alone in your freelance life.

I’ve made great real-life friends from people I originally met on Twitter and Instagram.

For example, there’s an active #copywritersunite community on Twitter that spills out into real-life socials and conferences, where we all get to meet in person.

To quote Amy Boylan after this year’s ProCopywriters conference: “You all take the lonely out of working alone for me, and it’s genuine because it works fab in person too.”

I couldn’t have put it better myself.

2. “I have to do it all: sales, marketing, admin, accounts, IT…”

Err… no.

Trying to do everything yourself is the fast train to burnout.

To become successful doing the thing you love, you need to surround yourself with good people.

Hire an accountant to file your tax returns and handle your VAT. Find a virtual assistant to do those annoying admin tasks you hate. Use an IT support company who’ll be on hand every time your computer begs you to throw it out the window.

You’ll save SO much time, headspace and frustration.

Straight up? It took me 15 years to get to the point where I was willing to pay other people to do the jobs A) I loathe and B) I suck at. I’d spend longer procrastinating about doing my tax return than it’d take my accountant to do a year’s worth of accounts. It’s a no brainer.

Here’s a simple equation:

as much time as possible doing the things that make you money

+

as little time as possible doing the things that don’t

=

freelance success 

It’s a game-changer. Don’t take as long as I did to see this.

3. “I’ve got an eight-year-old laptop – that’s good enough, right?”

It really isn’t.

To become successful in business, you need to invest in technology.

If you’re a professional photographer, I trust you aren’t snapping away on an iPhone 6 (no offence to iPhone 6 owners).

If you’re a graphic designer, you probably don’t make do with a copy of QuarkXPress on a vintage Apple Mac.

You need up-to-date, reliable software and hardware to do your job properly.

If you’re using an ancient version of Microsoft Word that crashes every five minutes, or a printer that jams so often you’re tempted to chuck it through the nearest window, you can’t do your best work.

And if you’re not doing your best work, you’re not providing your clients with a professional service.

Fact.

Keeping your technology up-to-date can give you the edge over your competitors.

Failing to invest can mean getting left behind.

4. “They want me to do the work, they just don’t have the budget right now.”

Listen up: this is a big one.

We all know who I’m talking about. Those tricksy so-and-sos who promise you exposure in exchange for services.

They’re going to be big. Huge, in fact. Working for them will be SO good for your career! They just can’t afford your prices right now…

Seriously, step away from the tight-arsed client. You’ll end up cursing the day you met them.

They’ll micromanage every last detail. They’ll chase you endlessly (despite the fact you’ve never missed a deadline). And they’ll never be satisfied.

I don’t know why the clients who question costs end up being the biggest headache – they just do.

Charge a fair price that reflects your skills and experience and have the confidence to stick to it.

(Do your research if you’re not sure what to charge. Most industries publish rate surveys to give you a benchmark.)

Just remember – freelance ain’t free.

5. “I’ve been doing this job for 20 years now. I know everything there is to know about marketing/dentistry/accounts.”

Hell NO!

The minute you stop being curious about the world you work in – the second you nod your head with satisfaction and think “I’ve got this. Now I can relax” – will be the moment in which you fail.

Never, ever stop learning.

Invest in yourself and your business by attending conferences and events, and squeeze the living daylights out of them.

Take notes, type them up so they sink in, read and reread them.

Speaking of reading…

Read voraciously. Read about your trade, about business, about psychology. Anything that feeds your imagination, inspires you, and helps you to be a better freelancer – and a better person.

(If you’re not into reading, join Audible or Blinkist, subscribe to podcasts, or watch TED Talks or industry experts on YouTube. Whatever it takes to keep expanding your mind.)

6. “Everyone’s an expert. I don’t know why I bother!”

“Why should I pay for a copywriter? I got a B in my English GCSE.”

If you’re a freelance copywriter, you’ll recognise this attitude.

Because everyone’s a writer – right?

I decided some years ago that I didn’t want to work with anyone who doesn’t already appreciate the value of professional copywriting.

I’m not interested in trying to convince anyone that they need me. I don’t have the patience. And there are enough business owners and marketing managers out there who DO get it.

It doesn’t matter what business you’re in – this applies whether you’re a photographer, graphic designer, accountant, decorator…

Good people are crying out for what you do.

So, unless you want to spend your days convincing potential clients of all the reasons their lives would be easier if only they’d step away from Microsoft Word/Adobe Photoshop/the Dulux trade emulsion* and let a professional take over, don’t waste time on the ambivalent.

*delete as applicable

7. “Something just doesn’t feel right… perhaps I’m being oversensitive.”

Success in business is all about finding the clients (and colleagues, and suppliers) who are a good fit.

These people make your working life SO much better.

You look forward to their calls, leave meetings feeling energised, and you’re excited about the prospect of working with them.

Conversely, you know on some subconscious level when someone isn’t the right fit for you.

It starts with a hunch.

Perhaps their business goals are out of sync with your values. Maybe their attitude doesn’t sit well with you. Or perhaps you just don’t feel comfortable with what they’re asking you to do.

Your heart sinks momentarily when their name pops up on your phone, and you end the call with a sense that something isn’t quite right.

If you had to articulate what you feel, you probably couldn’t. But there’s usually a good reason it exists.

The trick is to get really good at listening to the niggling feeling you can’t define.

Tune in to your instinct, and don’t be afraid to say no. 

Pro tip: find another professional to partner with so you can pass their details on should you need to. You’re turning down the work, but presenting the client with a solution, not a problem.

8. “I owe HOW much in tax?! But I’ve spent it all!”

I grew up in a family where money was tight. Like, really tight.

My mum gave up her job when she met my dad (don’t get me started – it was a different era). My dad lost his job when the US took over the airbase where he worked and was unemployed for so long that my parents ended up becoming collectable toy dealers – but that’s a whole other story.

The good thing about being raised in an environment where every penny counts is that you make damn sure you have enough to get by.

Sure, I can spend when I need to (I love to travel, and I’m always first in line for the latest iPhone) but I’m a saver at heart.

Always have been. Always will be.

I got my first part-time job (behind the record bar in Woolworths) when I was studying my A Levels, and from my very first paycheque I saved 25% of everything I earned.

If more people did this there’d be a lot less debt. They should teach it in schools. In fact, it’s such good advice that Nationwide have started a campaign – Pay Day = Save Day.

You may not be a natural saver like me, but if you can get into the habit of paying yourself first, you’ll find those brown envelopes from HMRC a lot less sinister.

9. “I’m doing a job I love. Every day should be a good day, right?”

If only it were that simple.

Even if you were to follow all the tips in this article – and let’s be honest, it’s taken me the best part of 20 years to adopt them all – working on your own can still present challenges to both your wellbeing and your mental health.

I’ve suffered from anxiety and mild depression at various times in my life so I know how important it is to look after yourself and recognise the signs of burnout before it’s too late.

When it comes to keeping your head above water, everyone has different coping mechanisms, and it takes time to learn what works for you. Below are a few examples.

(The same strategies also work brilliantly to reboot your brain and clear writer’s block. Win–win.)

  • meditate
  • go for a walk/swim/run/bike ride
  • listen to music – loud (singing at the top of your voice, optional, but it works for me)
  • dance around your kitchen
  • do a jigsaw
  • bake a cake
  • get out in nature
  • above all, get plenty of good-quality sleep

Don’t be afraid to be human and admit that you’re struggling.

Reach out to colleagues and peers for support and empathy – you’ll get it in spades.

We’ve all been there – even the most seemingly together, sorted and grown-up among us.

Pro tip: believe it or not, admitting your weaknesses makes you more likeable. It’s called the pratfall effect.

(I experienced this for myself when I left my suitcase on a train earlier this year. I arrived at Manchester for the Creative North conference, and my suitcase arrived at Nottingham!)

I hope this advice helps to make your freelance life a little bit easier.

Which tip is your favourite? Email me to let me know, or to share your own advice for surviving as a freelancer.

Want to read more?

For more language love, join my Clever Copy Club and get monthly updates direct to your inbox. Alternatively, email me, follow me on Twitter, connect on LinkedIn or like my page on Facebook.

Me vs we: compelling reasons why small is beautiful when writing about your business

There’s a lot to think about when you’re starting a new business – least of all, getting your messaging right.

What’s your target market? Who are you trying to reach? And how do you stand out?

If you’re not a writer by trade, it’s tough.

I work with many ambitious business owners who’ve left the confines of a steady job for the bright lights and freedom of self-employment.

They usually come to me for help writing their website – and if you’ve been in their position, you’ll understand.

We can all write, but when it comes to talking about yourself – and particularly why you’re so great at what you do that people should buy from you – that British oh-god-I-just-can’t-it’s-all-too-cringy self-consciousness kicks in.

Information overload

And while no one knows your business like you do, that in itself can be problematic.

There’s so much you want to say, you simply don’t know where to start.

What makes you different? What do your customers need to know that will convince them to buy from you rather than your competitors?

You want to sound credible and capable, but it’s a thin line between confidence and arrogance.

What if you get it wrong?

You can’t see the wood for the trees.

Stand out from the crowd

Whatever industry you’re in – and whether you’re selling a product or a service – people deal with people, and personality in your marketing is vital.

Many businesses confuse the need to sound professional with sounding dull.

First drafts are often too wordy, too dense and too dry.

They lack sparkle, structure and brevity.

That special magic that makes them leap off the page and shout “pick me!” (without the desperation of actually saying it. That’d be all kinds of wrong.).

When you’re writing about your business, one of the questions I’m most often asked is whether to be open about being a sole trader and use me or to hide behind the guise of a larger business and use we.

Me vs we

Many sole traders decide to use the royal we (see the panel below) when they’re describing their business. It’s something I’m asked about a lot, and in almost all cases, I try to dissuade them.

Sure, in certain circumstances there are advantages of appearing to be a bigger company than you really are.

It could help you compete for a large contract.

But there’s nothing to stop you saying you call upon a team of trusted experts when you need to. (And no good can come of starting a working relationship based on anything other than honesty.)

Business today – good business, at least – is about authenticity, openness, and transparency.

Being proud of who you are and what you do, rather than pretending to be something you’re not.

If your business is just you, don’t be afraid to say so.

Here’s why…

Confidence: using I and me rather than us and we in your marketing materials communicates self-belief. It may not be very British to say you’re amazing at what you do, but if you don’t believe it on at least some level, perhaps you should consider a change of career.

Consistency: your clients and customers know they can expect a consistently high standard of work, delivered by you, and no one else. Chances are, that’s why they picked you in the first place.

Continuity: Rather than being passed from person to person, your clients get to develop a relationship with an expert. We’ve all experienced the disappointment of being sold to by the business owner, only to find ourselves dealing with an intern or junior member of the team when it comes to delivering the work. It’s not the path to excellent service.

Cost: Small can mean more affordable. It’s not always the case, but smaller businesses usually have lower overheads – which often means lower rates.

It takes guts to say, “I am my business. I may be small, but my god I’m good at what I do – and you’ll be glad you picked me”.

Do you have the confidence to stand alone?

Bonus language lesson

Sometimes called ‘the majestic plural’, the expression ‘the royal we’ describes the use of the plural pronoun we in place of the singular pronoun, I when expressing a personal opinion.

The more common word for the use of we, us, or our instead of I, me or my is nosism.

Want more writing tips?

For more language love, join my Clever Copy Club and get monthly updates direct to your inbox. Alternatively, email me, follow me on Twitter, connect on LinkedIn or like my page on Facebook.

Slay and sleigh: easy ways to remember the difference

SLAY and SLEIGH: which is which? Learn the difference between these easy to confuse words.

SLAY and SLEIGH are less common than many of the #confusable words described here, but are still worth covering. The fact that the two words are homophones – meaning they sound the same – means they can be mixed up.

Let’s look at the difference between SLAY and SLEIGH.

When to use slay

SLAY is a verb with two meanings.

It can mean to brutally kill, like this:

“Saint George set out to slay the dragon.”

It can also mean to amuse someone greatly, like this:

“You slay me!”

When to use sleigh

SLEIGH is a noun, meaning an old-fashioned sledge, often pulled by reindeer.

To help you remember which spelling you need, remember that both sleigh and reindeer contain ei.

For example:

“Santa’s sleigh is pulled by reindeer.”

I hope this helps you to remember the difference between slay and sleigh. Feel free to share your tips if you’ve a different way to remember the difference.

Want more writing tips?

For more language love, join my Clever Copy Club and get monthly updates direct to your inbox. Alternatively, email me, follow me on Twitter, connect on LinkedIn or like my page on Facebook.

SLAY and SLEIGH: which is which? Learn the difference between these easy to confuse words.

SLAY and SLEIGH: which is which? Learn the difference between these easy to confuse words.