The Alchemist's Lair
Thoughts on writing, language, life as a freelancer,
and what comes to mind.
and what comes to mind.
The digital detox ended gently as the first winter snow fell on Turin. Even though the blogs and Twitter have been silent, November was extremely busy and lively - packed with news, and a few surprises for you.
What happened in November
November was a thunderstorm. My planner is quickly filling up with projects for 2018, and the end of the year is always a race against time.
Yet, I managed to squeeze in some networking and social events. Silvia and I organised a brunch for translators in Turin, and enjoyed a few energising hours with some colleagues, near and far. We decided to meet again next spring ... and set the basis for a new tradition.
I also carved out some time to finalise my general planning for 2018 ... starting with some longed-for winter holidays. This year, I'm taking a break from December 22 through January 7, to get ready for a new, busy and exciting year.
And then, the proudest moment of all: my diploma in copywriting, with distinction!
Over the last year, some people asked whether going back to school was really worth it, after so many years of practical experience. While juggling work and study hasn't always been easy, I couldn't be happier. The world of communication is constantly changing. The course helped me hone my skills ... and taught me some new tricks as a nice bonus.
A treat for you
My favourite November project? The Writing Inspiration Playbook.
It's a colourful eBook with 53 writing prompts and exercises, designed to help you explore different forms of writing and sources of inspiration - from fiction to business writing, from poetry to reflection pieces and journals.
I wanted it to be useful yet light-hearted. Hence, I included the exercises and suggestions I use to get motivation back when writing feels like a burden. And it's free for you to grab.
Getting ready for 2018
November was also a time of anticipations for the year ahead.
In April, I'll be sharing insights on transcreation at BP18 in Vienna, with a talk on grasping and bringing your client's personality and tone of voice to life.
Also, I decided to venture on a journey that will result in huge and small changes for my business. My word of the year: GROWING.
How are you getting ready for the new year?
Got any nice news to share? Have your say in the comments!
If you’ve been around the blog for a while, you know that November is my digital detox month. As my business is heavily web-bound, I can’t switch all digital channels off – so, I shrink it down to the bare necessities.
No blogging, no social media, a super-essential reading list.
And you know what? It’s a creativity bonanza.
In the era of information overload, unplugging is a great way to make room for your own voice, and truest self. Whether it’s a month-long stop or a 30-min daily break, we all need time to process prompts, idea, and food for thought.
To me, it boils down to embracing silence. Giving my brain some time to refocus, and create something new. A modern form of otium, if you fancy – on a smaller yet meaningful scale.
Time to unplug, until December 4.
October is swiftly passing by, with a cheerful swirl of writing and translation projects on my desk. It’s one of those times of the year again – and my craved-for November detox will be all about prepping for the December madness.
In October, one project definitely stood out. A social media manager got in touch for a copywriting overhaul of her website. On a preliminary Skype call, I asked her a bit more about her needs and desiderata.
- Tell me, Maria, why would you like to change your website copy?
- The text is kinda lame, and bland. I need copy that sounds like me.
- That makes sense. Tell me, how would describe your personality?
- I’m a female Seth Godin.
The screen almost cracked. My brain was in fight mode.
Somehow, I managed to slow it down.
- That won't do, Maria. We're trying to find YOUR voice here.
- What's wrong with that? Think Seth Godin, and tweak it a bit.
A glimmer. I decided to give it a try.
- OK. So, what makes you different from him?
- Well, my blog posts are usually longer. I use tons of examples, and plenty of references to movies and fashion, my passions. Also, my posts are packed with visuals, and my approach is very personal, almost intimate. And ...
Fifteen minutes later, Maria wasn't a female Seth Godin anymore.
As her mind stepped away from the role model, she found other ways to define and describe herself. And that was the key to making her voice shine through her new website copy.
Want to find your own voice?
Think of yourself as ... well, you.
Copycat voices don't come across as trustworthy. They sound artificial and off-key. To grow your audience and sales, you need content that nurtures relationships. And business relationships are all about trust.
Your website copy. Your tweets and posts. Your emails.
To build trust, your writing needs to be genuine and personal.
Hence, stop obsessing with sounding like "the new X".
Embrace being your very own Maria.
Back from his summer break, John goes on a hunt for new web design clients. As he browses a job board, surprise! Dream Client is looking for freelance help.
John knows that he needs to act fast. He puts together his CV and portfolio, dusts off his all-purpose cover letter template, clicks sends. And waits.
Three weeks later, he’s still waiting.
Godot won’t show up.
John’s story is every freelancer’s. We all have our share of applications that didn't get a reply. And in many cases, it wasn’t our skillset that got rejected – but our pitch.
Cover letters play a huge role in marketing your freelance services.
Whether you’re sending an unsolicited message or bidding on a project, those few lines can mean success or crickets. And if you’re hoping for an all-purpose template to make your case … well, you’d better make friends with John. You’re going to spend a long time together on the waiting bench.
Want a shot at success with Dream Client?
Personality and personalisation are key.
Avoid stiff salutations
Nothing screams “template” like “To Whom It May Concern”.
But Dream Client wants you to write to her - not to a faceless crowd.
That’s why your letters should be addressed to a real person.
If you don’t have a contact name, online search (on Dream Client’s website, LinkedIn etcetera) usually helps. No luck? Go with a role-based salutation such as “Dear Hiring Manager”.
Keep your cover letters brief
Excessive length is a terrible cover letter mistake – one that makes human resources staff cringe and cry. To avoid information overload, source a few key points from your template and toss the rest.
Remember: this isn’t about rephrasing your resume. Your goal with the motivation letter is to entice Dream Client’s interest. Three or four strong paragraphs focused on your key talents are usually enough.
Follow relevant instructions
Many job postings feature instructions for applicants, including cover letter specifications.
If that’s the case, you know the deal: professionals are expected to follow instructions.
If you fail to comply with requirements, how could Dream Client entrust you with her projects?
Make it about the prospect
Most letters of motivation are “bags full of me”. But if you want to catch Dream Client’s attention, you’d better make it about her – better yet, about how you can help the customer achieve her business goals.
Use your cover letter to highlight top skills, and how these align with your customer’s needs and vision. Support your claims with meaningful facts. This will make your pitch more relevant, and increase your chances of getting noticed (and hired).
Check, double-check, proofread
Bad grammar, typos and inconsistencies are taboo. Lazy copy makes you sound lazy.
And who could possibly hire a lazy freelancer?
So, refrain from pushing the “send” button straight away. Make sure your letter is clear, concise, and easy to read. Use it to showcase your communication skills instead of praising them with clichés. Dream Client will definitely appreciate that.
It’s one of those gift-giving occasions of the year.
Your younger self has been waiting for the perfect toy for oh-so-long.
You asked for it, you begged. You even cleaned the room diligently.
Finally, the big day comes. You unwrap the radio-controlled car (or a doll that says “Love you!” when you feed it). And you want to play straight away. You kind of need it - right now. Then, you notice the fine print on the shredded package.
Batteries not included.
Three tiny words, and all the excitement turns to despair.
Fast forward to adulthood. You validated your business idea, got a shiny website up and running. You even followed the “secrets steps” outlined in a flashy infographic or PDF guide to success-no-matter-what.
And now you’re waiting for your inbox to explode with requests. For your newsletter to attract thousands in 30 days (or less). For your products to sell like candy. And you keep waiting.
Too bad you didn’t mind the fine print on the freelancing package.
Magic bullets not included.
Four tiny words, and all the excitement turns to despair.
I get it – I really do. For it’s comforting to believe in some “secret sauce” to freelancing success we haven’t tried yet. A magic bullet that wins every customer that asks for a quote.
But if you get stuck in the “magic bullet mentality”, you won’t get far. You’ll end up buying crappy “secrets to X” courses that don’t live up to the naming. And you’ll waste precious time in a hunt for non-existent secret formulas.
Here’s the thing: freelancing is hard work.
Day in, day out.
Success isn’t about having stellar branding or a shiny Instagram account with posh pictures of your #homeoffice. It isn’t even about productivity, good habits or blue oceans.
Those are part of a bigger picture. They can indeed help you attract more clients, and get things done efficiently - but they aren’t the magic bullet you crave for.
Perfect processes + no customers = Zero results
Plenty of customers + no skills = Zero results
Flashy branding + no substance = Zero results
Want to have a shot at success?
Forget secrets, and start working hard.
Excel at what you do. Work on your hard skills every day. Stop trying to “be yourself” by following somebody else’s exact steps. Be professional, reliable, and gracious. Get ready for failure, and learn from your mistakes.
Then, by all means, keep working on your soft skills too.
Embrace best practices and an efficiency-oriented mindset. Improve your networking and negotiation skills. Use social media wisely to connect with prospects and peers. Just keep in mind that those are tools and aids, not the secret ingredient of freelancing happiness.