Sharpen Your Focus: 5 Ways to Kickstart Your Freelance Life

Remember this post? It was all about ways to treat yourself for less than $10 on Valentine’s Day, with or without a valentine.

10 Ways to Treat Yourself (For Less Than $10)

It’s not Valentine’s Day today, but I’m always looking for small (read: free) ways to appreciate what I have, and improve my quality of life. Aren’t you?

Today is Friday, though, so I’m thinking it’s an extra-appropriate time to go into the weekend mindfully and kindly–considering how you can get the most from your your body, your home, and your freelance life.

(Spoiler: You can be kind to yourself every day. But somehow, kindness doesn’t seem as accessible on a Monday morning.)

Give these ideas a try this weekend, and let me know how it goes. And don’t forget that sometimes, taking five deep breaths is the best gift you can give yourself.

1. Lay out your clothes every night

Let me tell you how often I don’t do this. But when I do, my day starts much more quickly and smoothly.

Especially when you work from home, it can be easy to sit down in your pajamas with a cup of coffee (or wine, depending on the time of day/level of alcoholism to which you adhere). Before you know it, it’s 11AM, and you feel, well, kind of gross.

Beat that feeling to the punch, and stop stumbling around in the morning, trying to find clean pants through all that crusty eye makeup.

PRICE: Free.

2. Walk around the block every morning

This is the natural next step after getting dressed in your laid-out clothes every morning. I read somewhere that somebody famous did it. You want to be famous, don’t you?

PRICE: Free.

3. Drink a glass of water before you eat

Are you hungry? Are you sure? How bout you drink some water first?

God, I love food. I try to remember to hydrate before I dig in, though. It’s a great tool to keep from overeating.

PRICE: Free, unless you live in California or sub-Saharan Africa, in which case: Damn, sorry.

4. Change your pillowcases

Studies show you’ll sleep better when the fabric next to your head doesn’t smell like morning breath and face dirt.

Okay, no one’s done a study on that, but you’ll have fewer breakouts if you change your pillowcases at least once a week. Plus, it’s my personal opinion that the smell of laundry detergent helps you fall asleep.

PRICE: Depends on how often you do your laundry. Basically, free.

5. Write down what you’re grateful for

Do this either at night before you go to sleep, or take a few minutes before you start work every day. By noticing the little things, you’ll start to build a naturally grateful outlook–which benefits you, your work, and everyone you know.

PRICE: Priceless.

 

Anything to add? Leave it in the comments!

3 Ways Crawfish Boils and Copywriting Are the Same

Crawfish Boils and Copywriting
This little guy should have stayed home today.

Pull up a pile of newspaper, grab a beer, and get comfortable. We’re talking about crawfish, and the qualities it shares with copywriting.

(I’ll admit I was late to the crawfish-eating game. Despite growing up in New Orleans, I didn’t peel my first crawfish until college. But now I’m making up for lost time.)

Last night, I went to a boil, where I ate far more crawfish than I should have. Originally, this was going to be a post about crawfish boil etiquette…but when you’re diving face-first into a pile of tiny, dead lobsters, you can pretty much leave manners by the wayside.

So what do crawfish boils and copywriting have in common?

No pain, no gain.

I developed a bad case of “crawfish thumb” last night around batch three. New Orleanians know that this is when the boil spices begin to creep under the quick of your nails, making the process of peeling each little crustacean a bit more painful.

Similarly, sometimes you have to grit your teeth and chip away at a copywriting assignment, no matter how much it might be hurting your brain (or aggravating your carpal tunnel).

The spicier, the better.

There is nothing more boring than an under-spiced crawfish boil. It’s like traveling to the Grand Canyon and turning the other way. Okay, I might be exaggerating. But if the potatoes aren’t going to make my gums burn, what’s the POINT?

Copywriting is the same way. You’re writing for a purpose. That purpose is to persuade, inform, build trust, create a relationship. Boring writing just isn’t going to get those things done.

Drinking helps.

When it comes to eating crawfish, ice-cold beer is your friend. When it comes to writing, beer will help you come up with ideas, while coffee will help you refine them.

 

Any other ways crawfish and copywriting are the same? Leave ’em in the comments.

And remember: If you get between me and a table of steaming crawfish, I will cut you. Tweet: If you get between me and a table of steaming crawfish, I will cut you.

Winkyface Writing: Everything You Wish Your Parents Knew About Email

Welcome to a new series of writing-related etiquette posts: Winkyface Writing.

What is winkyface? It’s a tone of voice you can use when you want to be polite, but you need to get shit done.

This series will help you combine being polite + getting shit done, with quick-to-implement writing tips for work, play, and whatever you do when you’re not working or playing (please don’t tell me).

Email? Oh, my.
Email is magical. And terrifying.

Part 1
Everything You Wish Your Parents Knew About Email

You can always tell when someone is uncomfortable writing an email. The first paragraph starts with something ridiculous, like “Salutations!” or “Dear Madam,” and the rest devolves from there.

It’s a shame, because email was designed to be so easy, and these fools make it so hard. Never fear: here are some easy tips for better email etiquette.

If your parents, well-meaning but misguided neighbors, or other Olds you care about are writing emails, make sure they read this post. Even if you have to print it out in large type and tape it to their walkers.

Nota bene: These tips aren’t just for the geriatric set. Email etiquette is for everyone. Especially you. Yes, you over there, with the shirt on.

STOP WITH THE ALL-CAPS.

Your Fwd:Fwd:Fwd:Re:Fwd: does not become more urgent with the addition of capital letters. If you would not shout in someone’s face, do not scream into their inbox.

Use BCC, because it’s polite.

That extra address field below “To” says “CC,” and it means “Carbon Copy”. As you know, every email address you enter into this field will receive a copy of your email.

Instead of CCing everyone you know on a mass email, or–God forbid–entering every email address into the “To” field, use BCC, or “Blind Carbon Copy”.

BCC hides all of your recipients’ email addresses from each other. By using it, you will avoid sharing your contacts’ email addresses with the world, potentially exposing them to spammers and definitely making them think you’re an idiot.

Schedule emails with Boomerang.

Now you don’t have to risk sending a 4 am email to all of those people whose email addresses you’ve mistakenly placed in the “To” field. Schedule it for 7:30 am instead!

Always enter a relevant subject line.

“No subject” serves no one.

If there is a thread, maintain the thread.

Don’t spam people’s inboxes with multiple emails about the same thing. It’s called a thread for a reason–like a spool of regular ol’ sewing thread, it is continuous, and helps make up a whole something (whether that’s a piece of clothing or a discussion).

Use paragraph breaks.

If you’re not going to abide by the Five Sentences rule, at least break up your endless emails into paragraphs. Max out at three lines per paragraph.

Your emails will be easier for people to skim, and thus easier for them to read, period, if you break up big blocks of text. See what I did there?

Don’t include a giant image in your signature.

It just keeps getting reattached to the email, and then it looks like you’ve sent a lot of really important attachments when in fact, it’s just your dumb company logo.

For more fun email etiquette, check out Charm School.

How Copy Editing Makes the World Better

Terror-Eyes
Terror-Eyes seek out and destroys your typos!

Sometimes I feel like Atlas, using both hands to keep the world from getting stupider.

Just kidding, y’all. I have long been a natural copy editor–constantly pointing out typos, missing words, and incorrect punctuation wherever I see it (and I see it everywhere).

To a lot of people, copy editing seems like nitpicking. LET ME TELL YOU WHY IT’S NOT.

Copy editing pays (my) bills.

Aaaand on to the next one.

Copy editing improves reading comprehension.

People understanding what they read is pretty much super-pivotal. How many times have you tried to read the impossible “English” on product packaging and been completely enraged by its obscurity?

Or have you ordered breakfast from a badly written menu, and received something other than what you were expecting?

Oxford orange
Haaaaaaa, get it?

Copy editing makes text as perfect as it can be.

For anyone who appreciates the sheer beauty of words, this is a crucial consideration. There’s nothing like getting into the flow of a piece of writing, and having a typo or missing word straight-up donkey-kick you out of your Reading Rainbow reverie.

Beauty is important. Copy editing, in its small way, helps preserve beauty. [Click to tweet]Tweet: Beauty is important. Copy editing, in its small way, helps preserve beauty. - @theenglishmaven http://ctt.ec/M47X7+

Copy editing preserves the English language.

Ding ding ding! Ladies and gentlemen, in all of its truthiness, here is the crux of the issue. English is a living language, yes. But like all living things, it can only take so many unceremonious gut-punches before it shudders and dies.

Please stop misspelling “night” as “nite”. Please stop thinking “you’re” and “your” are synonymous. Please stop eliminating commas, one by one, from every sentence (though if it’s a stylistic choice, I’m down for that. But you have to be doing it on purpose; most people are not).

And please understand that these things matter, for the reasons listed above.

I’m not casting myself as the last, valiant defender of a dying art–but I am saying that if you speak to me in “abbrevs” one more time, I will break your laptop.

The “shameless plug” section

Did I mention I’m a copy editor, and that I offer Editor On Retainer packages so you never have to worry about provoking the anal-retentive rage of people like me? Get at me here.

The 5 Easiest Tools for Keeping an “Idea File”

5 Easiest Tools for Keeping an Idea File

Y’all, we’re all geniuses. We have a lot of great ideas, and if we lose them, THE WORLD LOSES THEM. So we write them down and save them for later–but where do we write them?

In an Idea File, of course. Check out the simplest 5 tools for keeping track of your brainwaves–from smartphone solutions to good ol’ pen and paper.

Just remember: However you choose to catalogue your creative impulses, don’t editorialize, judge, or dismiss them. Just write them down, and look at them later to find the ones that shine.

Gmail task list

This is where I, trained as a ninja in the art of digital task management, excel. Like many of you, I use my main To-Do list to check off items when I complete them (and give myself a boost of glorious can-do motivation).

But I also keep a separate list, creatively titled “Ideas”. It’s a good dumping ground for the times when I’m stuck in my email and don’t want to open anything else. And when I use an idea from the list, I can check it off and get that same boost.

Also, if you’re not using Gmail, what are you even doing with your life?

Evernote

I’ll admit: I was slow to come to Evernote. But now that I use it to keep track of my workouts (hello, Stone Age), I’ve come to appreciate its magical capacity to sync across platforms.

Also, I lost my phone during Mardi Gras, and it took losing all of the ideas in the phone’s Notes app to get me to use Evernote. The world will never know about circle bacon.

Fishbowl with scraps of paper

Sorry, no link. This is the most old-school method ever, and I hear it works really well–from the four people who still use it.

Just kidding. If you’re ever hard-up for inspiration, fishing a scrap of paper out of a bowl (or jar) can be the touch of whimsy you need to see an old idea in a new light.

Index card organizer

I like to think of this method as the more tangible, less fire-and-hurricane-safe version of Evernote. You can organize your ideas by alphabetical order, type, or degree of separation from Kevin Bacon. Then, you can use your cards to create an outline for your sixth-grade history paper!

Pinterest, Polyvore and other virtual bulletin boards

Artists, stylists, and other people who think and work more visually should give Pinterest and Polyvore a try. Though Pinterest does have a lot of crap (you only need so many recipes for “green juice,” after all), it’s easy to make private, curated boards that convey a mood or theme without words.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and I’d love to hear what other people do. How do you keep track of your ideas?

Take Back Your Weekend

How to Maximize Downtime Whenever You Get It

Dear copywriting,

You’re a slavedriver, and I love you. But wait–this isn’t that letter.

This letter is about you, my friend, and the last time you enjoyed a stress-free, work-free weekend. Raise your hand if you don’t remember when that was, and then put your hand down because everyone in the coffee shop is staring at you.

Freelancers know the myth of the “weekend” all too well. Clients want work delivered, and they want it now–whether it’s after 5 pm on a weekday or 10 am on a Sunday morning.

Even if you’re not a freelancer, chances are you’ve seen countless weekends disappear, spent in a haze of errand-running, chores, and catch-up work. You wake up Monday morning already depleted, because you never had a chance to relax.

Weekend Definition
Thanks, Google.

Weekends are supposed to be filled with picnics. Bed-lounging. Reading things printed on actual paper.

Mine usually look just like my weekdays–but I have no problem with this, because I’ve set up a three-pronged system for carefully managing my downtime.

…Want to read more? This whole post will be delivered to your inbox tomorrow. Just click here to sign up for the never-spammy, always-awesome English Maven newsletter!

(It also sometimes features cute pictures of my cat, because he’s more popular than I am.)

The Single Most Important Conversion Tool (That Most Websites Lack)

Brace yourself, because I’m about to throw some hard truths at you. But hey, at least they’re not bricks.

Read on to find out whether your website is missing the number-one tool to convert prospects to buyers. (And it doesn’t matter whether you run a business or not — this applies to personal websites and LinkedIn profiles, too.)

The Missing Piece

You shelled out for a beautiful new website design. Your e-commerce store is stocked and ready to ship. Your SEO is ranking well. But you still don’t have any conversions or paying customers. Why?

You forgot to hire a copywriter.

A gorgeous website without equally dazzling content is like a Michael Bay movie: loud, flashy, empty and frankly disappointing. Design and content go hand-in-hand. You won’t see results if one or the other is missing.

Michael Bay explosion
Also, Michael Bay movies suck.

Get Your Words’ Worth

Visitors to your site are looking for reasons to buy what you’re selling, whether that’s gourmet dog treats, dynamite copywriting services, or you and your resume.

They’re not looking for generic hard sells  (“The Best Dog Treats Available!”) or bland clichés (“You Won’t Believe Your Eyes…”). These trite turns of phrase turn customers off.

A good copywriter takes what’s special about your product and presents that information to the person most likely to buy. Good copy answers the following questions:

  • What makes the product unique?
  • What need will it fill? What problem will it solve?
  • Where can customers buy it?

Content should never be an afterthought. It should be the first thing you think of as you design your website, flyer, brochure — any piece of marketing collateral.

Consider Your Audience

A good copywriter gets to know your product AND your target audience. Claude C. Hopkins, the original gangster of copywriting, said: “We cannot go after thousands of men until we learn to win one.”

Your target audience is not “everyone,” so your copy shouldn’t target everyone.

Test Your Copy Right Now

There are two easy ways to test your written copy for effectiveness.

  1. Pretend you’re Morgan Freeman. Read your copy out loud in your best Morgan Freeman voice. If it does not sound at least as epic as “March of the Penguins,” hire a copywriter.
  2. Ask the questions listed above and see if your site copy answers all of them.
Morgan Freeman as God
WWMFD?

 How does your copy measure up? If you’re not sure, send me your copy at lianna@theenglishmaven.com for a free evaluation. If you are sure (that you’re unhappy with your copy), I’d love to help. Request a project quote here.