The Alchemist's Lair
Thoughts on writing, language, life as a freelancer,
and what comes to mind.
and what comes to mind.
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.
We all have those days, you know. Days when you don’t feel like writing, and every sentence looks crammed and soulless.
You blame it on the hot (or cold) weather.
You blame it on white page syndrome.
Then, you think of something else to blame.
As you fiddle about, the deadline approaches.
And before you know it, writing becomes a time-sensitive race.
Ranting is OK – for a while. But when you write for a living, you can’t drown in whining for too long. So, how could you get your writing mojo back – and quickly?
Read on to explore some tried-and-true strategies you can use to start writing again when you feel stuck. Test your favourite ones, and find out what works best for you.
#1 Acknowledge your human side
Here’s the thing: zero motivation days happen. But when you can’t write when you should, a sense of guilt often comes into play. And when it does, it triggers a downward spiral that only makes it more difficult for you to start writing again.
So, acknowledge your human side. Negative sentiments don’t help.
#2 Start with your audience’s reactions
Sounds crazy, right? Well, it kind of is. But it's a great trick – and one of the best ways to reinvigorate your writing when your content looks dull and flat.
Start with the kind of reaction you’d like your audience to have - in other words, apply the popular think-feel-do marketing paradigm to your writing:
Your answers will help you define the mood for the piece, and decide on the key information you need to share. Which is a pretty good start.
#3 Embrace writing formulas
When you don’t feel like writing, the blank page is daunting.
But here’s the thing: you don’t need to reinvent the wheel.
Need to write some web content quickly? There are a few copywriting formulas you can use to outline your piece at ease. Stuck on fiction works? Have a closer look at classic story structures for inspiration. You can also start with typical text structures (see below), and select the one that suits your content best.
#4 Spice up your writing space
I get it. You can’t always trade your studio for a stroll just-like-that. It would be nice, but that’s not how life works for most of us. Yet, you can create a refreshing new scenery … straight in your office. Here are a few things you can do to trigger your inspiration:
#5 Write something different
If you’re stuck on business writing, try something different. Find a few writing prompts that inspire you, and craft a short story or two. Maybe it won't be Pulitzer material, but you might come up with an idiom, a joke or else you can use to reinvigorate your "must do" pieces.
#6 Chunk it
When your writing motivation is low, tackling large projects is bloody scary. Chunking that gargantuan piece in smaller writing tasks is a good way to get back on track.
For blog posts, you can easily apply this chunking scheme:
You might still need to complete more tasks during the day. But creating sub-steps can help you get back to writing quickly. Also, ticking them off your list is a natural motivation booster!
What about you?
What are your favourite strategies for getting your writing motivation back?
What's your favourite trick for overcoming your lack of inspiration?
Have your say in the comments!
TED Talks are a great source of ideas, motivation and inspiration. Speakers at TED Talks come from the most different courses of life and fields of expertise - still, they share one ambitious goal: inspiring change.
Whether you're just starting out or taking your freelance business to the next level, you can take away great nudges of entrepreneurial wisdom from the talks. In this post, you can find 5 of my favs - and some good reasons to watch them.
1. How to make choosing easier (16:06)
About this TED Talk. Professor Sheena Iyengar provides great insight on the negative impact of choice overload on consumers and decision-makers.
Why freelancers should watch this. Understanding the mechanisms of choice helps you maximise the effectiveness of your offering. Also, Professor Iyengar shares 4 easy science-backed techniques you can use to improve customer experience.
2. Selling condoms in the Congo (4:16)
About this TED Talk. Amy Lockwood tackles the low adoption of condoms in DR Congo from a marketing perspective.
Why freelancers should watch this. This is a powerful, snack-sized lesson on why understanding your audience is key - for all sorts of businesses, at all times.
3. You online life, permanent as a tattoo (5:58)
About this TED Talk. Business leader and author Juan Enriquez shares insights on the impact of digital sharing on our privacy and reputation.
Why freelancers should watch this. Social sharing has become a business asset for many freelancers. And some seem to have forgotten the implications of sharing every tiny bit of yourself online. Brushing up the basics never hurts.
4. Embrace the near win (11:42)
About this TED Talk. Assistant Professor and author Sarah Lewis explores the bright side of near wins - in life and business.
Why freelancers should watch this. The freelance life is a rollercoaster of wins, failures, and near wins. Finding motivation and inspiration when times get rough is tricky ... but near wins can also be a source of inspiration, and motivate us to excel at what we do.
5. Simplicity sells (22:06)
About this TED Talk. New York Times technology columnist David Pogue talks about product and service design, and shows why simplicity is key to growing your business.
Why freelancers should watch this. Regardless of your industry, simplicity can help you position your services more easily. In a world of "we do it all", a defined offer helps getting your message across - and connect with your ideal customers.
Summer is flying by, with the usual pre-Autumn overload and interesting writing projects that munch up most of my time. My June holiday seems oh-so-far-away, but summer is a great time to work at a different pace. Not quieter, maybe - but different.
Good news: I'm finally towards the end of my diploma course. Juggling work, life, and study isn't always easy - but embracing (part of) my fallible side helped coping with the ups and downs of a challenging schedule.
Naturally, you need to make choices. And that's why I took a sabbatical from speaking gigs and courses this year. But I do believe that running yourself too thin does more harm than good - and if I had to squeeze it in all, I would be on the edge of burnout by now.
Quality over quantity. That's the best productivity tip I could ever share.
Resisting the "schedule stuffing" urge can be tough, in business and life. If you ever travelled with a touring maniac (i.e. a person that fills every minute of your holiday with places to see and things to do), you know what I mean. Yet, all work and no play doesn't do.
Keeping your sanity during a working summer isn't tough.
Start with indulging in tiny little pleasures, and you're ready to roll.
Turin as seen from Villa della Regina. Photo credit: Alessandra Martelli
Read a book. Go out for a stroll over your lunch break. Meet an old friend (after the deadline). Watch a movie. Take ONE day off - the universe won't collapse, promise - and make the best of your free time.
Stop obsessing with unrealistic work/life balance goals, and start enjoying the ride.