The Self-Employed Copywriter's Guide to...Surviving Tax Season

January 31: the only date (probably) that's likely to strike fear into any business owner. But getting your self-assessment form in on time is as satisfying as removing the petrol pump from your car just as it hits a good, round number. Or finding the exact change for the parking meter in your glove box. Or - and here's the best one - realising that carrot cake is actually (probably) one of your five-a-day.

But enough about my obsession with cake; here are a few tips to surviving the dreaded tax season as a self-employed copywriter. Read on...

Just Do It...

Cheers Nike, for the sub-heading. My guess is that 'Just Do It' was coined, not by an expert marketer, but by a copywriter who was also in the midst of TRP (Tax Return Procrastination).

The point is, the annual self-assessment tax deadline will be here soon - whether we all like it or not. And trust me when I say it's never a good idea to leave it until the last minute. I have a friend who does the very same; he'll do anything at all to avoid sitting down and cracking on - batch cooking the week's meals, weeding, paying overdue bills, calling old friends - you name it; he does it. But to be frank, I think secretly he enjoys the 'will-I-won't-I-complete-it-in-time' pressure of it all.

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For most of us, though, that pressure is excruciating. So don't do it to yourself. Open your laptop, grab those receipts and knuckle down. You'll thank me for it. My pal, on the other hand, can probably be found hitting 'send' on his tax return at precisely 11.59pm. Not you, though; because this year, you're going to be organised. Hey, why not reward yourself after? Now, there's an incentive to get going.

...Or Hire Someone Else to Do It

My editorial assistant salary at the newspaper I worked on, aged 21, wasn't great. So I beavered away in my own time to earn an extra income. Back then, I'd file my tax return myself; there was hardly anything to note down on the self-assessment form, so it made sense to save some money.

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But the books soon became more complex when I transitioned from being employed by someone else to being employed - and full-time at that - by myself. So, if you’re transitioning, too, I suppose now’s a good time for me to extol the virtues of a bookkeeping firm, who can take the headache away from filing your taxes.

Cue Relative Accountancy here in Huddersfield, who've not only taken the stress away from the dreaded tax return, but helped to demystify some of the self-assessment jargon for little old me.

If you've taken the plunge to go full-time freelance, believe me when I say one of the best investments you can make is to hire an accountant. Plus, it'll save you on paracetamol for those headaches.

Too late to find an accountant to file this year's tax return? Make it your business to find someone ahead of April 1 and get a good headstart on next year's books.

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Hang Onto Those Receipts

No matter how irrelevant they may seem now, hang onto all those even slightly business-related receipts. Lunches out, stationery for your home office, even magazine subscriptions you may need to do your work; they may all add up to a great saving on your tax return.

Establish a System That Works

So, you may have found a great accountant to save you time and money on your taxes. But hiring a bookkeeping company doesn't mean you can switch off and put your feet up. You'll still need to do some work, keeping track of your receipts (the easiest option is to chuck them in an old shoe box, clearly labelled 'Tax Receipts', so a well-meaning partner or pal doesn't throw it out), expenses, and earnings.

If you're a whizz on Excel, you may be able to put a fancy schmancy spreadsheet together, which keeps track of your profits and your expenditure and 'tots' everything up for you, too. Don't know what you're doing? Ask your accountant; mine put me an absolutely brilliant one together, which makes keeping on top of all things money so much easier.

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In the meantime, use a bookkeeping website like BrightBook (one of the few free accounting sites out there!) and send invoices directly to clients. It's transformed the way I work and it's meant I've got into a great routine when it comes to sending and logging payment of invoices.

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Work Out What You Can & Can't Claim For

I'll admit that when I was freelancing on the side of a full-time job, I had no idea what I could and couldn't claim for - and was therefore doing myself, and my finances, a huge disservice. I'd attend gigs as part of commissions for NME magazine and not even think about claiming travel expenses. And I once spent some of my savings on a short course for work, without realising I could have put that through my books, too.

So if you've just dipped your toes into freelancing, or self-employment, now's the time to discover what you can and can't claim for. The Guardian team answers a few frequently asked questions, just in case you'd like to know more on that very subject.

And Remember: It'll Soon be February 1!

I'll leave you with some sound advice of my Dad's. Whenever I was worried about something as a kid - be it a school exam or presentation - he'd say: just remember; it'll soon be tomorrow. And he's right, you know. You spend days, weeks, sometimes even months, worrying about something - and guess what, it's over before you know it. Don't stress; it’ll all be fine. Why? My Dad says so. And he's never wrong.*

Do you have any tax filing tips of your own? Share them by commenting on this blog. Or better yet, say hello and send me your advice to share on Twitter.

* At least that's what he thinks

Until next time...

Marketing with Clout! Give Yourself (and Your Work) a Kick Up the Backside in January

Regarding this headline on this post, I bet you didn't know you could give your work a kick up the rear end, did you?! Well you can - and here are a few handy instructions:

  • Gather all important paperwork
  • Hold it out in front of you
  • Now, swing back your leg (the right one is usually the best), before forcefully swinging it forward again, catching the edge of said paperwork and sending it flying.

Et voila; you've showed your paperwork - and your projects - who's boss.

But the clue here is: don't take my advice literally. All you'll wind up with is an office covered in paper, and an even more miffed you.

So, this January, aim to give your work - and yourself - a kick up the backside in the metaphorical fashion. And here's how to do that...

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Create a Content Marketing Plan

The best way to hold yourself accountable when it comes to ticking things off your marketing to-do list, is to...err..write a list. Or better yet, create a content plan.

Excel will be your go-to tool for this, and with a little bit of consideration, you should be able to put one together that works for you. Whether you're a full-time staff member for one client, or you work for multiple companies, your content marketing plan should help you achieve all your goals - month-by-month, and longer-term - with ease. Plus, when you write things down you're more likely to do them in the first place - and that's a fact.

Want another tip? Find out how and why 'working in threes' will help you get more stuff done, by reading this blog from the Lauren Holden Freelance archives.

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Start Small

The problem with to-do lists is that you can feel like you're getting nowhere with them. But that's if you choose the bigger tasks first. After all, why opt to tackle a job that's likely to take you all day, when you can cross three or four items off your list in the same time?

Providing none of your tasks are urgent, start with the smaller ones. That way, you'll be able to enjoy a sense of achievement straight away, which will probably spur you on to rattle through your list that bit quicker.

Fake a Deadline

'What is she going on about here, then?' Well, imagine your client has given you a deadline of February 20. I say, ignore that; pretend he/she never uttered those words. Instead, trick your brain into thinking the deadline was actually February 12. Now, get your thinking cap on and crack on with that work.

This has two benefits and one is the fact that procrastination won't pop into your day; you'll simply soldier on and get the work done - more than a week ahead of time. The bonus? Your client will no doubt be chuffed that the work's in his or her inbox earlier than planned.

Reward Yourself

So, unless it's Christmas, the only reward you can probably expect from your boss - or your client - is a 'thank you very much for your hard work'. And that's absolutely good enough.

So, if you want to push yourself to get that project done ahead of time, allow yourself a reward at the end of it. A huge slab of cake, perhaps, or even a little jaunt to the cinema. Whatever works for you, do it - and I promise January will be all the better for it.

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A Problem Shared...

You've heard that old adage: 'a problem shared is a problem halved'. Well, stew on this one; I made it up myself: 'a project shared, is a project halved'.

Okay, so I ain't telling you to delegate your work and put your feet up, but what I am saying is see if you can pool your thoughts and ideas with colleagues. Or, if you're self-employed, a fellow business owner. After all, when you're struggling on a concept or campaign, who better to test it out on than someone who may well be in your target market?

Do you have your own tips when it comes to achieving your goals in 2018? Don't forget to comment on this blog, or say hello if you've enjoyed this piece.

Until next time...

 

 

 

 

Copywrite vs CopyWRONG: Dos & Don’ts for Creating Winning Website Content

I'll start by saying the title for this article is probably a little misleading. After all, who's to say what's right or wrong when it comes to your business? Aside from sticking two fingers up at your customers when you spot them in the street (clue: VERY wrong), if something's worked for you in the past, you should stick with it.

But there are certainly a few things to keep in mind when writing website content - from my own experience, at least. So, let's have a look at some of them:

Copy'writes' (or rather, 'rights'!)

Think 'You', Not 'I' - When writing your website content, it can be so tempting to talk about yourself. After all, who knows you better than you?! But the key to getting prospective clients to sit up and take notice of you (and your services), is not to talk about 'you' at all. Instead, focus on what your client needs and how your services can help. By adopting this technique, you're still discussing how you can assist them, but you're putting them - and their unique issues and challenges - centre stage.

Bearing that tip in mind (and using a stationery company as a simple example), here's a look at how the following sentence might be reworded to benefit the customer:

This: "We're a trusted supplier of pens and paper here in the UK - and our prices are low."

Can be swapped for this: "Is your stationery cupboard consistently low in stock? Never run out of office essentials again; pens, paper and everything in between can be delivered to your workplace as soon as tomorrow - if required. You can put your trust in us since we're suppliers to X, Y, and Z - and you'll save money, too, since our prices are kept low enough to meet any budget."

The first thing you'll notice about the second snippet of content is that it's longer - why use one sentence when you can let the customer know how you'll make their life easier in three?! More benefits = more chance of you becoming their new go-to stationer.

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Just Start Writing - Here's a tip the news editor of a weekly newspaper I used to write for once told me - and it stuck! Knowing full well that the headline of an article or feature is often the hardest thing about the piece to write (it needs to hook the reader from the off, you see), she'd tell me to instead write the rest of the content.

"The headline will come to you while you're typing." she once said - and do you know what? She was right! Nine times out of 10, that's exactly what happened. So why spend the best part of half an hour poring over puns? Just get something down; the rest will come in time.

The very same goes for your website copy. If you don't know where to begin, just begin! It sounds simple, doesn't it - but get everything down on paper, or on your computer to save you faffing around later making long-winded edits, and you'll have a clearer idea where to go from there. I promise.

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Add Personality

So, you sell pens and paper - and unless you consistently ace those 'flog me this fountain pen' questions in job interviews, like many things, it won't seem like the most inspiring of subject matters.

But don't let that put you off - you've followed this career path for a reason, and it's because you're good at it!

So, without being all 'me, me, me', or rather, 'we, we, we', think about how you can 'jazz up' your copy in other ways. Offices need pens - and they'll always find a way to get them. But maybe when they're idly browsing the net for a new supplier, your company will stand out - and for another reason than the price.

Get your thinking caps on as a team and consider creative ways you can set yourself apart. Develop a company mascot to use on your site (hello, Peter Pen!*) and run with it. Trust me on this; it'll work.

*you can have that one for free

CopyWrongs

Keywords for Keywords' Sake - No, just N-O! I get it; you want people to find your site - and organically, too. But well-written website copy will mean so much more than a site that's located easily but doesn't quite hit the mark when your customer lands on it - and more importantly, starts reading it.

Instead, think key'worths', not keywords. Does each and every word count? If not, go back and make sure it does.

You can still optimise your site for SEO - and do it well - without over-stuffing it with keywords for the heck of it.

Poor Grammar and Spelling - You'd like prospective customers to trust in you and your services - so if your site's filled with 'text speak' (or your social media page is left in the hands of a disinterested intern), is it really giving off the right impression?

Poor spelling, grammar and an all-round blasé approach to copywriting is just.not.on. (and I use those unnecessary full stops with every last jot of irony).

I won't name and shame (because I'm nice, me) but I've heard business owners say things like: "Apostrophes? Who cares?! The customer knows what we mean" and it makes my pedantic, grammar-obsessed self's heart sink.

The fact is, customers probably will know what you mean - but will they take you seriously?

Just the other day I saw a sign for a company offering 'delivary' for 'breacfasts'. Will I be going there?! No. Because I don't care how well they fry an egg; they didn't think it appropriate to proofread the full-colour banner they probably spent a pretty penny on. So, how much care will they put into that 'breacfast'?! Beep, beep; I'm going to McDonald's drive 'thru' instead.

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Too Much Copy - This one ties into point one on my copywrongs list - and really, there's only two reasons people waffle on their site: they don't know when to stop, or they're desperate to increase their organic reach by way of, you guessed it, a few more keywords. But we're a nation of skim readers (hooray if you've made it to the end of this blog - a full-size Curly Wurly bar to you, my friend) and who's got time for reams and reams of text? Not me. It's why I'm signing off this blog now. Ta-ra.

Like this article? Do let me know if it helped you in any way. And keep an eye here on my site for more of the same. If you think you can benefit from my copywriting services in 2018 and beyond, do get in touch and let's schedule a chat or a coffee in the diary.

Until next time...

 

Monthly Content Review: December

Get chance to read my first monthly content review last month? In it, I offer links to some handy resources and blogs small to medium-sized businesses can make the most of, for the rest of this year and beyond, to ensure things are kept ticking along quite nicely.

So, what happened in November? Here's a snapshot of my month as a freelance copywriter.

I've been working with the lovely team over at True9 for some weeks now, helping them get a long-running client's website ready for a refresh. I've been crafting some new content for all sections of their site, including the 'About Us' page, and turning some of their case studies into (I hope) sparkling prose!

I continue to write a series of lighthearted but informative health blogs for Chemist.co.uk, as well as keep the news section of the Yazz Hair site updated. On top of this, I've recently hit 'send' on another blog for the Oxford Dictionaries site, and spent a lot of the month finalising plans for a website for my other writing-related venture. It's been a busy 2017 and I can't wait to see what 2018 has in store for myself and my clients

Two Go Wild on the Channel Islands!

I was in need of a spot of relaxation this month, what with all those projects on the go, so it's pretty convenient that my job sometimes allows me to jet off somewhere lovely and enjoy a trip away - completely free!

This assignment saw me writing a piece for Simply Magazines' portfolio of glossy mags, with a trip to Jersey with my Mum. Find out what happened when 'two went wild on the Channel Islands' by clicking here. Plus, you can also drool over this delicious-looking afternoon tea, below.

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Rock 'n' Royal & a Trip Down Memory Lane!

News of the Royal wedding saw me take a trip down memory lane recently, thanks to this front page scoop I scored for a paper I used to be a full-time writer on. Who knew Prince Harry was a fan of former punk band, the Towers of London?!

Apparently, he is. Or was. I posted all about it on my Instagram page (come and say hello, if you haven't already).

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Time to Plan for 2018?

If you're a small business owner like myself, maybe you're ready to get the ball rolling on a great 2018? If that's the case, you can do a lot worse than check out this blog by the folks over at Moz.com.

It features tips on building a content marketing strategy, and it offers all sorts of advice you can make use of in the New Year. One of my goals for 2018 is to get better at updating my social media pages - and it's one thing we all could try to do as January comes into view.

I'm helping myself get organised with a paper planner. I usually use Google calendar to schedule events and meetings - and I still will be doing. But for longer-term objectives, I'll be using this fun little planner I found on Amazon. Who said organisers need to be dull?

Instagram: #thanksforthememories!

If you're an Instagram devotee and you haven't yet done it, make sure you head here to discover your social media highlights for the year.

The 'Instagram Best Nine' site rounds up...yep, you guessed it...nine of your most-liked photos from 2017, creating a fun and nostalgic photo collage for you to look back on. Or wonder why you're such a narcissist (see mine, below) #slightlyashamed

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Are you on Instagram? Hit 'follow' on my business page here and I promise I'll do the same back.

I just wanted to take this opportunity to wish everyone - my clients, old and new, and anyone who's stopped by and read my blog, or simply made an enquiry via my site, a very Merry Christmas and all the best for 2018.

And if you think I can help you tick a few things off your to-do list in the New Year, get in touch and I'll book out some time for you in my new planner.

Until next time...

Jersey Girls: Two Go Wild on the Channel Islands!

So, I'm hoping the headline grabbed your attention! And now that it has, I must apologise. 'Two Go Wild on the Channel Islands' isn't the name of a long-lost Enid Blyton book, and 'Jersey Girls' isn't a spin off of a hit theatre show.*

Instead, it's a short tale of when me and my dear old Ma packed our cases and enjoyed a not-so-wild, actually, (we were there for a spot of relaxation), but blimming enjoyable, weekend at Jersey's beautiful Club Hotel and Spa.

Above: A suite at The Club Hotel and Spa

Above: A suite at The Club Hotel and Spa

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Above: The view from outside

What's this got to do with my copywriting website, or the services I can offer?! Well, I'm letting you know that I'm available for hire for much more than penning copy for brochures and e-newsletters. In a past-life (okay, not all that long ago), I was a journalist, and I'm still very fortunate to be invited on the odd press trip these days. This one was the latest in a string of commissions for Simply Magazines - and by 'eck, it didn't feel at all like work.

Here's what happened:

Friday

12pm: After a leisurely breakfast, we headed to the airport for our flight from Liverpool. Jersey is a mere one-hour journey by plane, so it really is somewhere to consider if you're fancying a mini break. Not quite Britain, not quite France, it feels like 'you're on your holidays' without having to go too far. As the French do (probably), we stuffed our plump, festive faces on croque monsieurs and touched down before we'd even had chance to wipe the breadcrumbs from our tray table.

4pm: Later that day and we were well and truly getting stuck right into 'all things Jersey'. By bus, we'd found our way into Saint Helier (home to The Club Hotel and Spa) and been pointed in the direction of our home for the next few nights by a lovely lady behind the tourist information counter at the station (who needs Google Maps when you can have a conversation with a real, live person?!). A brisk walk up quaint shopping streets filled with festive fare and we were at our destination, ready to be greeted by the staff in the hotel foyer, which was already festively trimmed up with a huge tree.

8pm: Gladrags on (well, jeans and a top) and we were soon seated in the hotel's award-winning, one-Michelin-starred Bohemia restaurant. It's in the Top 100 restaurants, don'tchaknow? We got two canapes in (absolutely delicious, let me tell you) before having to cut the evening short and head back up to our room. My Mum, who'd started feeling groggy almost as soon as we got off the bus in Jersey, wasn't feeling too great at all. I can't tell you how gutted we were not to experience Bohemia's food and service, but the attentive staff couldn't do enough for us. We later got holed up in our room, robe and slippers on, and ordered room service, tucking in when my Mum felt up to it. It was just what the doctor ordered, as it were!

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Above: Room service, madams!

Saturday

8am: After a top notch night's sleep in the hotel's beds (complete with extremely comfy Hypnos mattresses), we got ourselves ready and headed down for a continental breakfast. There's something about piling your plate with hams, cheeses and croissants to make you feel, well, a little bit la-de-dah.

9am: A morning's shopping ensured we could tick a few things off our Christmas to-do lists. If you've yet to visit Jersey, make sure you head straight to their department stores. You'll enjoy tax-free shopping on all manner of goodies. Plus, there's just something about checking out a shop or two which you can't find at home. A few shopping bags filled later and we were back in the hotel, robes and slippers on again, and ready for a treatment or two in The Club Hotel's spa.

12.15pm: What's that you say?! Ooops, sorry; I nodded off for a second there. Such was the relaxation level of my gorgeous Carita facial that I was in a deep sleep before the friendly therapist could say: '...and relax'. My Mum opted for a similar luxurious facial and came out looking like she'd woken from a Sleeping Beauty-style slumber. Hello, fresher, plumper skin!

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Above: The hotel's tranquil pool

2pm: A swim in the hotel's pool was followed by a quick shower and a mascara and lippy re-touch, before we headed down to the bar for an afternoon tea like no other. Seriously, would you just look at some of these delights (below)! One of them - a chocolate bauble - contained a miniature truffle inside. We were reliably informed by the bar staff, though, that some contain £25 gift vouchers! Do afternoon teas get any more special?! I think not.

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Above: Get in my mouth!

4.30pm: I'd love to tell you we hit up Jersey's most popular tourist attractions while we were there. Instead, we spent much of the weekend ticking even more things off our Christmas shopping list - so back to the streets of St Helier it was, for a look around some of its lovely, independent boutiques.

Above: The quaint, 'French' streets of St Helier 6.30pm - A few hours later and we were back in the comfort of our gorgeous suite, room service ordered again and Strictly Come Dancing on the telly. All that relaxation and shopping had clearly worn us out. Sunday 8am: It was now nearly time to say goodbye to the Jersey and The Club Hotel and Spa and its staff. We made sure to make the most of the continental breakfast buffet again, stocking ourselves up for the day on buttery croissants and creamy yoghurts. We then bundled up in our coats and gloves and headed for a brisk walk along the prom. It may have been windy (and a little wet), but we still enjoyed taking in the sights and meandering around, before later heading for a huge coffee and cake at a nearby café. Picking up some last-minute gifts to take home, we packed the last of our bags and made our way to the airport. An hour later and we'd touched down. Sob. What a weekend, though! If you're thinking of jetting off somewhere as the New Year rolls around, why not consider Jersey? Until next time... * You can scratch me off your Christmas card list for the false advertising.

Above: The quaint, 'French' streets of St Helier

6.30pm - A few hours later and we were back in the comfort of our gorgeous suite, room service ordered again and Strictly Come Dancing on the telly. All that relaxation and shopping had clearly worn us out.

Sunday

8am: It was now nearly time to say goodbye to the Jersey and The Club Hotel and Spa and its staff. We made sure to make the most of the continental breakfast buffet again, stocking ourselves up for the day on buttery croissants and creamy yoghurts. We then bundled up in our coats and gloves and headed for a brisk walk along the prom. It may have been windy (and a little wet), but we still enjoyed taking in the sights and meandering around, before later heading for a huge coffee and cake at a nearby café. Picking up some last-minute gifts to take home, we packed the last of our bags and made our way to the airport. An hour later and we'd touched down. Sob.

What a weekend, though! If you're thinking of jetting off somewhere as the New Year rolls around, why not consider Jersey?

Until next time...

* You can scratch me off your Christmas card list for the false advertising.