I’m a one-man band, a lone wolf, a high plains drifter.

Which is all just to say, I’m a busy freelancer.

I don’t have any staff, so every bit of work – I need to do it myself. There’s a long list of things that my work involves, but let’s just say that it goes from selling myself to doing the admin.

Ugh, the admin.

So… I’ve spent 8 years as a freelancer now, and I want to share some things that have helped me to become more productive and more efficient.

I wouldn’t say that I’m a freelance ninja just yet, but all this has helped me make a start. And stopped me going insane.

1. Book keeping

I still remember the days and nights I spent scrambling through 12 months’ worth of receipts and listing them in a spreadhsheet.

I’ll never get those hours back.

Fortunately a fellow freelancer showed me Receipt Bank.

Now I scan the receipts when I get them and Receipt Bank automatically uploads them into its online platform.

Cue a chorus singing ‘Hallelujah’ accompanied by visuals of unicorns dancing under rainbows.

At this time of writing Receipt Bank costs me £9.99 a month. That’s much less than I’d pay for a book keeper.

And it leaves me to do the work that I enjoy (hint – it’s not book keeping).

2. Invoicing

Another massive time-saver. If you send a lot of invoices, use Free Agent.

Don’t ask why, just do it.

Alright, here’s why. It makes the process of sending and tracking your income and outgoings so much easier.

It takes feeds from Receipt Bank (see above) so you get a real-time view of revenue, costs and profit.

3. Staying organised

Here’s where I get geeky.

I love tracking my time. I just do.

I realise that not everyone shares this passion, but there’s a few things that made a difference for me.

The Pomodoro technique

Such a simple idea, but such a life-changer in terms of getting work done and being focused. You can read all about the Pomodoro technique here, or read this brilliant book.

Essentially it’s about focusing on one thing in 25 minute blocks of time, without any interruptions and without straying from the task. Then take short breaks in between to re-evaluate your priorities.

Try it. You won’t look back.

To ensure I work strictly to the pomodoro technique I use the focus app on my MacBook Pro and iPhone, but there are plenty of alternatives out there.

Tracking work time

How much time are you spending on each project? What proportion of your working day do you spend on admin?

I was alarmed and intrigued by data that suggested that people spend up to 28% of their work time on email. And don’t get me started on social media.

I decided to consciously measure my time throughout the working day. I use a wonderful app called Office Time to do this.

There are a few key benefits to this:

1. I can see where I’m wasting my time.

What I found is that I can often spend too much time on the less useful stuff. The stuff that feels important but really isn’t.

Like reading emails. Or doing admin.

2. I can prioritise my most important work.

Thanks to the reporting tool on Office Time, I can now instantly see how my time prioritisation is going.

And it’s worked. After analysing my time I have now changed the way I work, and put more into my higher priority work.

Summary

So there it is. Three things I do that have made my freelancing career more productive.

I am a total geek about this stuff, so please let me know if you have any tips, recommended apps or general advice about organising your working life. Email me or leave them in the comments below, I’d love to hear them.

 

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How much social media is too much social media?

by ttucker23 on January 27, 2017

Image from Black Mirror, Season 3, Episode 1: Nosedive
Image from Black Mirror, Season 3, Episode 1: Nosedive

Do you find it hard to keep up with your social media? All those feeds to scan, all those posts to share, those Snapchat streaks to maintain?

Let’s face it, social media is great, but it can burn you out and get you down if you’re not careful.

That’s why every few months I take time out to review my usage of social media, both for personal and business reasons (I work for myself so often the two are entwined).

When I review my social networks, I want to determine:

  • Am I getting value from the networks I use?
  • Do I provide value for my followers and friends?
  • Is this a good use of my resources (mainly time)?

The results of my social media audit are interesting (at least to me)…

Here’s a snapshot of my social media usage

Social media apps.

I use seven social networks at least daily or weekly:

  • Facebook – mainly with friends and family
  • Facebook messenger – more intimate conversations
  • Twitter – mainly for business
  • Linkedin – 100% for business networking
  • Instagram – a bit of fun
  • Snapchat – experimentation – I like to see how new channels ‘work’ (it’s relatively new for me this one)
  • WhatsApp – exclusively for use with my tennis club pals, organising matches and get togethers

On a more random basis (say a couple of times a month) I’ll look at the following:

  • Goodreads – I’m an avid reader of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. I like to share what I’m reading and find out what others are reading too.
  • Pinterest – when I get time (not often) I’ll take a look at my feeds and update my boards. I mainly use this for inspiration.

There are a bunch of apps I use that have ‘social components’. I don’t normally think of these as social media, but they do provide great community benefit, for example:

  • MyFitnessPal – inspiration from others on maintaining healthy habits
  • Flipboard – keeping up to date with news and insights from recommended sources
  • YouTube – I tend to use this for looking up bass guitar videos (as bass player I’m addicted to Scotts Bass Lessons at the moment) and movie trailers

What have I learned from reviewing my social media usage?

Taking time to review this gave me a few insights:

  • If you’d have asked me off the top of my head, I probably would have said that my limit was three or four social media channels. It’s much more.
  • Each social channel fulfils a very specific need for me. If I can’t easily see how it fits into my life it gets dropped.
  • My ‘experimentation’ channels are the place where I try to define what purpose the channel has for me. I dropped Path after it filled no need in my life.
  • Twitter is the channel that I consume the least. It’s become much more of a one-way channel for me, although I do have some exclusive connections on there that I value. And it’s great for covering events and occassions– it’s how I’m keeping up with the Australian Open tennis at the moment, for example.
  • Many of my most used apps have some kind of ‘social component’ that radically improves the experience (MyFitnessPal, Flipboard, etc).

So that’s me right now. I’ll probably do this again in six months to see what’s changed.

I’d love to hear what you think. Which social channels do you use? Which are the most important to your life and work?

Please feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments below.

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3 ways to write list posts for higher engagement

by ttucker23 on September 30, 2016

‘So does this mean the end of the list article?’

That’s what a fellow content marketer asked after Facebook announced that it’s fighting back against bogus headlines with its new anti-clickbait algorithm.

The answer is ‘no’. The list article is here to stay, and here’s why…

Readers love list articles

Far from being a recent digital phenomenon, the listicle has long thrived in specialist and general interest magazines, as well as longer formats like books (think Seven Habits of Highly Effective People).

There are various theories as to why list posts work so well, but it boils down to this: ‘[a list] promises upfront to condense any subject into a manageable number of discrete facts, or at least factoids.’

In other words, there’s a strong editorial benefit for the reader. You’re making it easier for your audience to read your content.

That said, if you want to stay on the right side of Facebook’s algorithm, you’ll need to do it well. I want to focus here on the three types of list article that you can write, with a few thoughts on best practice for each.

1. The ‘top tips’ approach

A short list of tips is a great way to offer benefit-driven content for readers in a hurry.

Abreena Tompkins, instruction specialist at Surry Community College, researched over 300 articles and discovered that: ‘The brain can process no more than nine items in a sequence, and it actually does this much more efficiently with three or five.’

For this reason, I suggest that tips articles are best restricted to 3, 5, 7 or 9 in number. Although you can go higher to generate curiosity about your topic (just don’t expect people to remember them).

2. The ‘curiosity’ approach

When you want to pique curiosity, it seems that unusual numbers get more attention. Gilad Lotan has written a fascinating post on Medium sharing his insights into why odd numbered lists perform significantly better on Buzzfeed than even numbered lists.

If we look the bar chart by audience score we see… odd number length listicles (highlighted in red below) tend to have a higher audience score on average, where in our dataset, the number 29 tends to have an advantage over the rest.

Unusual numbers

3. The ‘best of…’ approach

Use this when you’re rounding up products or events that you want to highlight. For example:

The best numbers for this approach are round numbers ending in ‘0’. According to a Forbes article, there is a reason for this:

Recently, marketing scholars Mathew S. Isaac of Seattle University and Robert M. Schindler of Rutgers University conducted a simple little test of this web norm. They searched the term “top [number]” in Google using all numbers 1 through 100. Those ending in zero dominated, followed closely by those ending in five.

3024538-inline-i-topten-google

Summary

Nothing beats a good list article for gaining attention and engagement. But bear in mind that there are plenty of good listicles out there competing for attention, so yours has to stand out.

If you follow the formats above you’re more likely to hook your reader and get them to read on.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, so if you’ve got any advice for people writing listicles, please leave it in the comments below.

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Loving the Apple Watch

November 6, 2015

I got my Apple Watch back in June. On Father’s Day to be precise. It was a bit of a whim really. Well, let’s say, an increasing professional interest crescendoing in an impulse purchase (egged on by my gadget-loving kids). My limbic system craved the shiny new Apple thing. My prefrontal cortex persuaded me that it was necessary […]

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Vloggers offer huge content marketing opportunities

March 11, 2015

This week I hosted the March Digital Breakfast for the Content Marketing Association. The theme was Bloggers, Vloggers and social media personalities. It was a packed house at TCO London in Shoreditch. For the first time we had standing room at the back to accommodate all who wanted to attend. This shows a high level of […]

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Putting the user at the heart of your content

June 5, 2013

As part of my role with the Content Marketing Association I organise and host the monthly Digital Breakfasts. It’s one of the highlights of my month, as I get to talk to some of the most experienced and inspirational minds in the UK’s creative industries. This month we led on the theme of ‘User Centred […]

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The visual web is not a trend, it’s a vital content strategy

May 24, 2013

The shift towards a more ‘visual web’ can no longer be dismissed as a mere trend. Look around and the signs are clear – publishers, brands and organisations need to create compelling visual content to acquire and retain users. Yahoo’s acquisition of Tumblr is the latest sign that this shift needs to be taken seriously. […]

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Time for a pause?

February 1, 2012

One of the highlights of 2011 for me was the APA Content Summit 2011, which took place in London last November. As always it was a fascinating event (disclosure – I work as a consultant with the APA) that presented attendees with many interesting ideas to digest about the future of content and publishing, but […]

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Apple’s Siri and what it means for the user experience

October 19, 2011

Siri, the iPhone’s killer app Like millions of others, I queued for the iPhone 4S last week (I don’t usually queue for new products on the day of release, but this time I was keen as my 2-year-old iPhone 3GS has been regularly crashing on me). There are many improvements (especially if you’re upgrading from […]

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Turntable.fm creates a new user experience for music

June 22, 2011

Like many others around the web I’m captivated by Turntable.fm, the new online music sharing service. I’ve just been exploring for the past 24 hours, but here are some random observations on the user experience: It blends some of the key digital trends of today, social+gamification+music, and it’s a powerful combination. The Facebook integration is […]

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