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Introducing The Way With Words

Introducing The Way With Words

Since I started freelancing last year I've had the goal of setting up multiple side projects - each one in a different industry - but somehow related to digital marketing. Today marks the launch of the first of them - The Way With Words. 

The Way With What? 

The Way With Words is a business dedicated to all things Verbal Identity. We'll be nailing down the verbal identity and verbal branding for some leading organisations who want a better tone of voice.

Verbal Identity? 

A collective agreement of how a business should write and brand their business to resonate with their intended audience. It's what makes brands serious, stylish, fun or frank - and everything in-between. It gives personality, consistency and the right voice for your business. 

Why? 

Organisations spend inordinate sums on their websites, their creative and their strategy - but when it comes to copy? It's delegated to whoever has a free pair of hands. Just because you can type doesn't mean you can write - and let's face it poor copy undermines your entire offering. 

A kick-ass verbal identity - 

  • Gives a way to communicate to your audience in a way which they'll understand 
  • Gives your customer facing teams consistency across the way they communicate

Whose Involved? 

The Way With Words is a joint venture between myself and long term partner in crime, Jamie Harper. Jamie will be using his serious copywriting skills  with defining a organisations verbal identity while I'll be heading up the marketing and sales of the business.

Interested? 

Want to know more about what we're about? Then check out The Way With Words website to see what we can do. 

What 1 Year of Freelancing Has Taught Me...

What 1 Year of Freelancing Has Taught Me...

Hello you wonderful people. Last week marked a full 365 days since walking out of the office door and into full time self-employment. I've been covering off each month in my digital marketing vlog but this is to take some time out and look at the whole experience get down some sort of cohesive narrative of what the last year has been like - good, bad and otherwise....

TLDR = Has freelancing been a step in the right direction? Hell yes - but I haven't reached the final destination.

Digital Marketing Freelance Has Been...

Well, different. I'm aware of how non-committal that sound but what I expected and what the reality was for freelancing was just that - different. The things I thought would be most fun to work on, turned out to be the least. The clients I thought I'd have to fight tooth and nail for to win came easily, while winning smaller projects took serious effort. Projects I thought would be most interesting really weren't. You get the picture - different. So, to cover off the key areas...

The Reason I Went Freelance...

Was due to 4 key reasons:

  • The flexibility freelancing offered
  • The potential increased income
  • The potential to generate a passive income
  • Opportunities to do new things, meet new people and learn more.

So, did I achieve those things. First up...

Increased Flexibility? 

Sort of. I'm still very much in a pattern of working 8.30 - 6, Monday-Friday. It's when clients are most  active so that's when the calls, emails and work happens. However, and the big one here is the small pockets of flexibility you gain. I can have now have my haircut at a not so ungodly hour during the week. I can hit the gym for an extra 30 mins if a workout is flying. I can have an afternoon nap. All things which make the rhythm of the day and pace of life all the more satisfying,

Increased Income? 

I've made around 25% more than I was bringing in before. That's also considering the number of paid hours I've done have been fewer. I've been investing time each month into other projects and training that will help me charge more and create some services which will pay off in the long run. So it's a win on this front. 

Passive Income? 

Not quite. There's a few side projects I wanted to launch that have taken far longer in reality to bring together. This has been hampered by striking the very difficult balance of taking the next job which comes along - and blocking off that time, unpaid, to work on something bigger.

Greater Opportunities...

This has been the best bit. In the last year all of my highlights have come from new experiences. Things like running a photo shoot, flying to the states for a job, working with the National Trust, giving a talk at the Met Office and starting a new verbal identity business - The Way With Words. None of them would have come about without freelancing, meeting new people who in turn open you up to new opportunities, relationships and possibilities.

Overall? 

And from that I'm happier. The quality of my life is better.

There's drawbacks, right? 

This isn't the point where I sign off and jump in the pool from my remote working location. This year has been hard - not atrociously difficult but a word of warning - self employment is not all rosy. Here's why...

Long Hours

I've put more hours this year into my work than any other period in my working life. All for the greater good, but working long, unsocialable hours are part and parcel of what comes with flexible working. The work still has to be done. 

Loneliness

Others seem to find this harder, but going days at times without a meaningful conversation is lonely. Thankfully, I've got a cracking bunch of friends and clients who I see often enough for this to be only a rare issue. 

Cabin fever

Working from the same desk day after day is just like being in an office but without the commute. I've learnt I need to change the setting. 

Sales

One minute you don't have enough work. The next you're swamped. Trying to build plans to accommodate either end of the business spectrum has been a challenge.

Jack Of All Trades

The realisation that you need to do everything is a big learning curve. Managing accounts, converting sales, working with suppliers. They're skills I'm honing but they take twice as long up front when you have to learn how to do them.

Yourself

With few other people around you, I find myself frequently second guessing myself, playing ideas over and over, unsure of whether I should do this or that, one thing or the other. Nagging self doubt that you're going to do the wrong thing is annoyingly persistent, but something that's gradually fading as I've realise I've been able to do this for as long as I have done already. 

Freelance Life Lessons

If the vlog comments are anything to go by there's good number of you thinking of handing in their notice to go self employed. So, to remind myself and for your info too here's 12 freelance life lessons for the last 12 months.

  1. Tell people you're self employed. It keeps you accountable. Plus, so many people have been genuinely interested in what I do and often end up turning into clients. 
  2. Set clear guidelines for yourself. What time you'll start work. When you'll finish. Structures and processes make things less daunting
  3. Learn From Others. Have mentors and people you can turn to when you need to learn. Other people have been there, done that and chances are - they're a damn site better doing it than you are. 
  4. Be Honest With How It's Going. Tell people if you're having a shitty month. I'm trying to embrace the high points and learn from the low.
  5. Work On Bigger Projects. Set some time aside to work on projects which are long-burners. It gives you something to strive towards and in time will avoid hand to mouth living. 
  6. Say Yes to projects which you might not have complete experience in doing. Collaborating with other experts helps you to learn new skills at the same time and helps you get a feel for what it's like in other areas of your business you might not have covered before. 
  7. Be Daring. I never would have got the gig with the National Trust had I not plucked up the courage to email them. The worst that can happen most times is that people say no. 
  8. Be Strict With Your Time - I spent too much of last year attending meetings, coffee catch ups and the like which lead nowhere. Time is the most precious finite thing for a business so qualify why someone wants to meet you and if neccessary politely decline. It works out better in the long run. 
  9. Keep On Top Of Accounts - Tax Returns are never easy
  10. Stay in Touch - Some of the easiest work I've picked up is from friends or clients I haven't worked with in years. You might end up being the right person at the right time if you stay in contact. 
  11. Don't Feel Guilty For Taking Time Off. People are allowed a break but learning that your business isn't going to explode a few hours away from the laptop is a practice I need to learn to be better at. 
  12. Breathe. Meditation has been one of the best things I've learnt to do in the last couple of years. It keeps you grounded and those moments where you feel entirely overwhelmed or are lacking confidence are suddenly not so scary. I use Headspace

I hope that helps. Shout if you have any questions. Here's to Year 2. 

 

Finding a Mentor

Finding a Mentor

 

Being a Mentor

Over the last couple of months I've taken on the challenge for being a mentor with my old uni the University of Reading.

It's very really useful for both me and my mentee as we talk about how they want to develop their career in marketing - both the technical nitty gritty like what you need to work on a PPC account but also the softer skills like what makes a good CV or creating a cracking covering letter; all those things which you might not get taught at university but are fundamental to your career. 

It's also shown me how far I've come since I graduated almost a decade ago - both in those technical areas like SEO and also those softer skills like talking to other people. When I first graduated I'll be completely honest it was difficult just to have a business conversation on the phone. 

Although it's been great to offer some insight in the digital marketing world I'm strongly aware of how much more I should and could learn.

Being the Mentee

The big question for me though is do I need a mentor myself? As in a paid up member of the business community who could offer me guidance. When it comes purely to the world of business I feel like I need to up my game. Things like sales, business development and the softer skills like building rapport with people - I still find like they should come more naturally, but they're all fundamental things which will help to develop my business. At this exact point in time I don't think that I quite need to hire someone as I realised I already have an amazing team of people to call on such as:

  • Friends and colleagues in the digital marketing world I can ask highly technical questions
  • Other people in the freelance industry I can ask business related questions to
  • Social networks - Twitter is amazing for getting answers to your questions
  • Creative wizards in their industries - the likes of:
    • Tim Ferris - for his podcast, website and incredible advice on lifestyle advice
    • Peter Mckinnon - for his awesome how-to vlog videos, plus some pretty incredible b-roll
    • Casey Neistat - for his joy for life and overall boundless creativity

Plus there's some incredible books out there. One particular area I've been exploring in the last 12 months has been all about Stoicism. Reading extracts from the likes of Seneca and Marcus Aurelius has been an incredibly grounding and humbling experience in that that the vast majority of anxieties that we think are unique to the 21st Century were very much alive and well millennia ago.

Some other sources which are well worth a read are:

All of these had the most incredible positive impact on my life. But is this enough? Can a real life person push your boundaries and take you to where you want to go? 

So, I wanted to open up the question to you - do you have mentors? If so, who are they? Do you find them useful? What do you use them for to learn and develop? If you have any thoughts, opinions on the matter then comment, email, tweet - communicate with me in one electronic form or another and it would be seriously good to hear your thoughts.

Speaking at The Met Office Digital Academy

Speaking at The Met Office Digital Academy

A few weeks back I was fortunate enough to be invited to speak at the Met Office Digital Academy. My specialist subject? A 50min talk on the How to Create Audience Personas. Aside from getting another opportunity to put my public speaking skills into practice, the gig gave me a fantastic insight into what a digital academy is and how it's helped the Met Office achieve such an effective digital transformation. 

Digital Academies - beautifully simple + beautifully effective

The Met Office Digital Academy is spearheaded by an incredible chap by the name of Simon Swan. Over the last few years Simon's been instrumental at managing the digital transformation of the Met Office. 

One element of the much larger digital transformation project is the Digital Academy, a fortnightly lunchtime session which brings in outside experts covering a wide range of digital topics which all align to the Met Offices's purpose. Every session is open to the entire Met Office. Yes, that means it's open to everyone, mixing scientists with SEO's to create something extraordinary.

That benefits of a digital academy like this are..

  • Both non-marketers and marketers alike get a chance to learn something new - applying their learning to their own roles or riffing on the ideas to create something entirely unexpected.  
  • People meet from other departments - breaking down the bureaucratic silos which emerge in large organisations, helping people to meet, chat and collaborate.
  • You can demonstrate the value of marketing - far from being 'the bods in marketing' it gives a name and face to the marketing team. This helps marketers build connections with the wider organisation - always useful when you need to call in a favour.
  • The positive feedback from the academy helps to explain and justify marketing to senior management. 

The concept of setting a digital academy is a beautifully simple one, and one which I'm keen to introduce to a number of my other clients who have similar challenges. If you're keen to know more on how to get an organisation to take marketing more seriously then I highly recommend having a read of Simon Swan's work on digital transformation. There's a great slideshare here to start you off.

 

 

How I Came To Work With The National Trust

How I Came To Work With The National Trust

I mentioned in my vlog that I've been lucky enough to work with a dream client. Now I can finally say that the dream client I've been working with is the National Trust. Not just a specific property - but with the National Trust HQ in Swindon on their social media; and the best bit? They're one of the nicest organisations I've had the pleasure to work with.

That's the news, but I wanted to explain a little about how I came to work with them and how I the phrase 'You miss 100% of the shots you don't take*' is still ringing in my ears. 

LinkedIn & The National Trust

It was about 9pm one weekday last October and through no other reason than sheer boredom I was flicking through LinkedIn. My evenings are that exciting. Between the less than inspirational quotes and general bragging from recruiters there was a post from the Head of Social Media at the National Trust with a shout out for freelancers.

And like any post looking for freelancers the comments were already in the triple figures with people expressing their interest. 

At this point, I had three thoughts -

  • That would be an incredible gig
  • There's no way I could work with an organisation as incredible at the NT
  • There's so many people already commented there's no way I'll be seen

After 9 years in the digital marketing game you'd think I'd stop doubting my own abilities but no, my mind likes to flit wildly between crippling doubt and ballsy peaks of self confidence. In this instance the balsy self confidence won out.

My Approach

The only way to stand out I reasoned was to get a message in front of said Head of Social Media. I was not going to be just another comment. So, looking through the chaps profile I realised a further three things - 

  • He studied history at uni (me too!)
  • He loved everything to do with the National Trust (who wouldn't?)
  • His other posts were pretty chatty and informal

That's a winning combination.

The day after, still thinking about whether or not to throw my hat into the ring my thinking concluded with to hell with it, I might as well give it a shot.  If it didn't work out then I hadn't lost anything. 

So, with him not being a connection I signed up for free trial of LinkedIn premium and DM'd him. The message was deliberately chatty, definitely mentioned our shared degrees and happened to have a link to my Instagram account which is at least 25% of images of National Trust locations. 

A few days later and sitting there in the inbox was a response! 

Between then and now I should mention I did have to submit a proposal of previous social media work and followed it up with a presentation day at Heelis, their HQ in Swindon, before getting to dive into the actual work - but the point remains. Had I not sent that message I never would have had the opportunity to end up doing all of those incredible things. 

LinkedIn Lessons

So as a quick lesson for anyone reading this and a reminder for my future self...

  • Keep an eagle like eye on opportunities via LinkedIn
  • Do something which stands out
  • Try never to doubt your own abilities
  • If you're in doubt then try for it anyway.

What have you got to lose? 

*"You miss 100% of the shots you don't take" is a quote by professional ice hockey player and head coach, Wayne Gretzky. I have it printed on my business cards to act as a reminder to try and approach business this way. 

6 Months of Digital Marketing Freelance Life

6 Months of Digital Marketing Freelance Life

In April 2017 I 'made the jump' into freelance life and became a self employed digital marketer. Knowing that it was going to be, well, interesting I decided to document my progress and experiences in a monthly series of vlogs; (which have themselves been a learning curve).

Now in November 2017, the first 6 months have flown by, so here's the full list of videos so you can see month on month how things have gone (well all expect for Month 2, when it didn't happen - but you can read a post on it here instead.)

In that time I've run my own photoshoot, travelled to America (which explains the shot above) and built my first proper website, as well as meet a whole host of fantastic new businesses. Has it been easy? No. Has it been worth it? Hell yes...

So here's the list...

Freelance Digital Marketing Life - Month 1 

Freelance Digital Marketing Life - Month 3

Freelance Digital Marketing Life - Month 4

Freelance Digital Marketing Life - Month 5 

Freelance Digital Marketing Life - Month 6

The NHS Recruitment Crisis

The NHS Recruitment Crisis

- I've recently been attempting to vlog rather than blog, so - for the moment at least - my more recent thoughts and opinions can be found over on my channel here. Like, comment and subscribe! -

So, to the topic in question - the NHS recruitment crisis. About 6 months ago I worked on a project with the Devon Partnership Trust (or DPT for short). Like almost every NHS organisation they're in need of new candidates as jobs go unfilled. Recruitment is no easy thing and the mainstream media rarely help with the crisis laden headlines.

Digital Recruitment

The work I was asked to do focused on a marketing recruitment strategy - or in other words - work out the best way to recruit new candidates via digital methods. For any project like this there's lots of research and across the internet and scattered about there's various examples of previous recruitment campaigns which other NHS trusts had undertaken.

The Problem?

None of this information on recruitment campaigns is almost never shared. Good, bad or anything inbetween. Lessons learnt, successful placements - nothing. Yet, by sharing this information could collectively save the NHS a fortune - in time and money - avoiding the mistakes and implementing the successes of others.

  • Say one trust learnt that Instagram advertising was a total waste of money for them. That's a lesson learnt. 
  • Or that changing their photography on their recruitment website meant an increase in applications. That's a lesson learnt too. 

There must be so many of these lessons but each one is siloed away, unshared meaning each trust is doomed to repeat the same mistakes. 

In fairness there is NHS Employers - which does have some guidance on how the NHS can use some aspects of digital marketing for recruitment. The information on it though is basic at best, although it's getting better in time, the problems affecting recruitment need addressing immediately.

I've spent the last 6 months pondering this. How do you solve this challenge? NHS trusts don't want to share information because they're all competing in the same diminishing pool of candidates yet, the information about recruitment campaigns could and should be shared if collectively the country is looking to get more people applying for roles in the NHS more efficiently.

So, I'm opening up the challenge to you...

At the moment there's ideas floating around in my mind, but nothing concrete. However, if you work in marketing, or the NHS, or both then it would be truly great to hear your thoughts and opinions on the matter. Stick a comment below or feel free to email me dan@danieljameswhite.co.uk. Thanks.

Freelance Digital Marketing Life: Month 2

Freelance Digital Marketing Life: Month 2

Month 2 is done. Boom. Out the way and boy it's gone fast. 

In my last post (Should I have gone freelance?) I said that I wanted to be honest in writing this. And whilst Month 2 has by no means been a bad month in any way shape or form, it hasn't had the same honeymoon glow of the first 4 weeks. Why? 

2 NEW Lessons for Freelance Digital Marketing:

 

Lesson 1: It's OK to say no to work.

I took on slightly too much work. Nothing drastic, but just a few projects I didn't want to pass on. They were useful to do but meant long hours, late nights and weekend working. Was it worth it? For longer term connections - definitely. But the shorter term? In retrospect, I should have used my time for other things. Cool side projects. Personal projects which I'm hoping will bear fruit in the coming months. . It meant I was getting frustrated at myself - mainly because this quote kept running through my head -

"Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least" - Goethe.

I have this printed on my business cards and try to regularly remind myself as a guide to live by.

Lesson 2: Like alcohol, working from home is fine in moderation. 

About 50% of my time is working from home. The other 50% is client meetings and working from their offices. It's a nice balance (and spending time in a clients office is ridiculously beneficial - but that's for another post).

Mid-month though I found myself with 3 solid days without client meetings, so through one reason and another I spent them working solidly from home. Don't get me wrong. I went outside for walks and runs. I saw sunlight. But my actual working environment was the same 4 walls with nobody face to face to speak to. By day 2.5 I was feeling pretty off; twitchy and unlike my normal self. The moment I'm back in the company of other people - it lifts. I know that's what works for me and it's what I need. So there's a new rule in place...

Anymore than 1 day spent at home means come day 2 I have to work from somewhere else. No excuses.

 

Everything else has been pretty damn good. More of what I want and less of what I don't. So here's to implementing these lessons for an even better July. 

Should I Have Gone Freelance?

Should I Have Gone Freelance?

The last post I wrote on here was all about my the imminent jump to freelance life. Since then I made a pact with myself that I'd try to document what it's been like to jump into freelancing- all in way that was quick and honest. None of this instagram #freelancelife bullshit but something which mapped the upped as well as the downs in working for myself.

Disclaimer: I have previously been a freelancer, having had a taster experience of it a couple of years back. That experience definitely made this transition less bumpy.

So, how has freelance life been?

In short, bloody amazing.

Don't get me wrong there have been a few tough points but overall everything's got off to an amazing start. The biggest and best thing (though it won't surprise you) is the flexibility that it's offered me. Working when I want - and don't get me wrong there's been plenty of work - has meant a whole lot more energy. That energy's been transferred into more time with friends, more time to exercise and more time to learn new things. It's a win-win scenario for both me and my clients. (Seriously, within the first couple of weeks I ran my best run and had the best workout I've had in absolutely months).

The downsides have been the deadlines and the self-management of it all. There were definitely a few periods of feeling overwhelmed. Thankfully, there's Excel and keeping everything logged on spreadsheets helps keep a more balanced view of the universe. 

I'm also strongly of the opinion that during this honeymoon period everything can appear more rosy than the reality so we shall wait and see what next month brings before making any firm decisions.

If you have any questions about making the jump into freelance life then just ask. Here's to Month 2!

Rise & Shine

Rise & Shine

Some of you will have no doubt have heard the news that I’m splitting my role at Optix, saying goodbye to some great clients and even greater friends as I move both into a new remote based strategic role as well as a new period of self-employment.

Even more of you no doubt won’t have the faintest clue of who I am. Either way I wanted to add something on here to explain the choice – of why anyone in a decent, fulfilling job wants to change all this and take the risk of becoming self-employed.

The Shorter Story – The last few years I feel as though I've been sleepwalking through life, happily complacent at how things were going and through subsequent nudges, there's been a wake up call to realise how different things can be.

The Longer Story – Is best summed up in 3 main lessons that I keep coming back to time and again that I can't ignore any longer...

Time is Finite

I know - we’re starting deep. Time is precious and mortality is inevitable. Spending year in year out working from 9-5 in the hope after decades of labour I can finally kick back, retire and pursue all those things I want from life is not an option; and that's assuming I make it to retirement.

Two books encapsulate this far better than I can. Tim Ferris’ ‘4 Hour Work Week’ and his chapter in particular on fear setting helps put life very much into perspective. Plus, Ryan Holiday's 'The Daily Stoic' is a remarkable way of keeping things grounded. If you’ve already read either of them then you’ll know what I mean.

Instead, now marks a point where I want to take the first steps into pursuing my own projects and passions with the firm goal of generating a passive income to spend more time living and less time working.

It’s 2017

For all the fake news we’re living in an incredible era; one that’s richer, more diverse and more connected than at any point in human history. A laptop and Wi-Fi are what I need to work my craft – from anywhere at any time. So why am I spending so much of my precious time in the same office, for the same hours each day?

This type digital transformation is at it’s core thrilling, terrifying and awe-inspiring all at the same time. Things are changing rapidly and we collectively have no idea how it’ll pan out. To see how this meaningfully affects how we all work, look at Simon Swan's work tying things together with his article on ‘The Evolutionary Breakthroughs in Human Collaboration’.

Fear is relative

The last few months of planning this have been entirely calm; I mean weirdly calm. I’m still expecting my unconscious 2am voice will scream ‘WHAT THE F**K AM I DOING!?’ but it hasn’t happened – not yet anyway.

‘Going at it alone’ seems to be by collective opinion a scary thing to do and although it was daunting to start with the whole thing is actually now damn exciting. I’ve done the maths. I’ve weighed up the risks. I’ve got a fall back plan. And you know what? Could I see myself doing what I’m doing day in day out for the next 5 years? No sir. So change has to happen and the potential rewards far outweigh the risks.

So, what now?

A shift, a change and a gradual step into what, clichéd though it might be, is a new chapter. The plan is to honestly document how this pans out for all the good and bad, and everything in between so you can keep up to date via my website – www.danieljameswhite.co.uk

Think what I’m doing is lunacy? Or are you begrudgingly jealous? Send all thoughts, opinions, questions and comments my way.

Onto the good stuff...

I can finally reveal what I've been planning behind the scenes on a whole host of fantastic projects that are about to take off.

A Role Upgrade-

Although it means saying goodbye to some clients who I've worked with for over 2 years I'm moving into a strategic role at Optix covering some seriously cool digital strategies and projects. The role will also be remote, so whilst I'm not going to be a digital nomad just yet, watch this space.

A New Role -

I'm also going to be working long term colleague and friend Ben Corbally of Full Story as his Head of Digital. I can’t say any more on the projects we're working on due to the fun times confidentiality agreements bring, but they’re going to be good.

A New Business –

For all the SEO, the PPC, the UX and many other acronyms that go with digital marketing one item is repeatedly ignored – the copy. Just because you type doesn’t mean you can write. So, my business partner, Jamie Harper and I launching The Way With Words, a new service designed to instil into business the in’s and out’s of how they should communicate to their customers. We call these verbal identity guidelines, and more will be spoken of them in the coming months. 

Gym Marketing –

For those in the know I like the gym, particularly deadlifting. To that end, I'm tying two passions together and will be marketing Performance Training Academy – an online portal to qualify as a personal trainer. It’s already been great fun developing a brand new site to growing the content, SEO, PPC, even shooting the photography, so it looks like I'm going to be a fitness marketing consultant!).

Interested in Working Together?

With all that said, there's still time left over each week for me to work on additional projects so if you think we'd be a good fit, then message me and we'll take things from there.

Here goes nothing. 

(In the interests of SEO this article was originally published on my LinkedIn account first here and here).