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The Shift: #Issue 19

The rise of the creator economy; the ‘unbundling of work’; paid newsletters; the Second Renaissance is coming…

Over the past 10 years, we’ve seen enormous growth in the Creator Economy—independent creators making money from online content. It’s down to the rise of the gig economy, better tech—5G, faster internet, and new social networks & products. COVID-19 is speeding things up – we’re at home and online more.

There’s also been a shift in consciousness towards caring more about being happy in our jobs, having control over our time, and being our own boss. We want to make a living doing work we’re passionate about that creates change. Gen Z’ers grew up with the internet and social media and place a high value on self-expression. I can see how my daughter and her friends interact online.

According to Li Jin, we’re in the process of the ‘unbundling of work’ i.e. moving from companies to independent solo businesses.

A new report from Signalfire takes a deeper view of the ecosystem to give us some context, a history of the creator economy and trends to watch. It’s a fascinating read—useful for investors looking for opportunities and creators needing help… Read more.

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On copywriting, content design, UX, and working + living online.

Copywriting projects – June 2020

It’s June, my birthday month. A special anniversary this year – I’m 46 years young and also celebrating 20 years as a freelance writer!

What am I working on in June?

Here’s an overview.

  • E-shots and newsletter for a retail trade body
  • Annual Review 2020
  • Social media copywriting for a journalists’ trade union
  • Promoting #ForgottenFreelance and #NoFreeWork campaigns
  • Developing a new blog series – thought leadership pieces from the gift card industry
  • Social media reporting
  • Writing blogs on perimenopause and sex, and menopause and sex (yes, two different things!) for a sex tech startup. A slight challenge as I have Safe Search on while homeschooling
  • Boilerplate for a press release
  • Email newsletter, The Shift, my weekly (Sunday) update on work culture
  • Research – listening to podcasts on marketing and work trends: Hot Copy, Is This Working? Call Paul, Being Freelance, The Copywriter Club. I go by the 25% rule and spend the first hour of the day working on my business rather than in it
  • Pandemic check – updating my website SEO, links, blog, checking tone of voice etc

It’s a diverse range of content and comms across very different industries.

I use a variety of platforms – MailChimp, WordPress, Hootsuite, Microsoft Outlook, LinkedIn, Twitter, G-Suite, Substack, Zoom, SurveyMonkey, Disciple app.

It’s all about communication right now. Getting the right tone and shifting things online – meetings, webinars, podcasts, apps. Finding ways to keep people connected while they’re working from home and having systems and processes in place to manage remote teams.

Being direct is essential – so have one message or call to action per email, use bullets, and keep it short. No one wants long emails with too much information. There’s no point planning too far ahead either as we don’t know what’s coming and things are changing so fast. Focus on the next couple of months. 

Now isn’t the time for a hard sell but don’t disappear on your customers either – keep in touch, a weekly email is fine. People will appreciate you being there and doing stuff. It’s an opportunity to show people how you’ve responded to the crisis, your values and teamwork. Once this is over, we’ll remember the brands that took action and helped others, and we’ll be loyal to them.

Add a personal touch – a sign off from the CEO in an e-shot, or call your clients to see if you can help. Offer to keep in touch via their personal email if they’ve been furloughed. Ditch the Survey Monkey and ask for a quick email update instead. Make it easy for people to keep in touch with you.

Use Zoom for online meetings as people are familiar with it and using it personally. Don’t share a meeting link on social media and set a password to join. Make it fun – jokes, canned laughter, music, drinks. Don’t aim for perfection; keep it real. We’re all in this together.

I was inspired to see how the Jigsaw team have been using Zoom – they are a social bunch! Check out their blog post here.

Over the last 20 years, I’ve worked across many industries, and it’s been interesting to see how clients are adapting to the new normal. It’s great to share ideas and see how trends in one industry may help another. It’s one of the joys of being freelance – you see things from a different perspective and bring fresh ideas.

If you need help with your copy and content, feel free to get in touch. I’m here to help. nicci@niccitalbot.com.

Sign up for my weekly newsletter, The Shift – exploring new ways of living and working.

PS. If you’re struggling to concentrate, try the Pomodoro Technique, a time management tool. Set your 25-minute timer and work on one task at a time with no interruptions. Short break. Rinse and repeat. I also use Do Not Disturb when I need to concentrate – all calls and notifications off for a calmer working day.

I don’t want to go back to normal, do you?

See this as an opportunity. It’s a good time to think about how you live and work and make some changes.

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On copywriting, content design, UX, and working + living online.

The Shift: Issue #3 – Interview: Matt Dowling, Freelancer Club.

“Try living a day without art, music, video, photography or design and see how you feel.”

Matt Dowling, Founder of the Freelancer Club, on his creative journey, growing a business that supports freelancers, and how companies can adapt to new ways of working.

What inspired you to set up the Freelancer Club in 2014? 
Way back, I was a freelance photographer prior to setting up the Freelancer Club. I had an unpleasant experience with a client who kept me on the hook without pay for six months, asking me to shoot their collection week in, week out, whilst plying me with excuses why my invoices hadn’t been paid that month. I had dropped my other clients and had to borrow money from friends to pay the rent. After six months of chasing, I paid a visit to their head office and discovered they had gone bankrupt. They were using me to produce content to sell the last of their stock. That incident cost me £11,000. 

The story made the papers and several freelancers reached out to tell me they had experienced something similar. This sewed the seed for Freelancer Club. I became very interested in the way companies (startups and corporates perceived and treated creative freelancers) and felt there was a desperate need to provide freelancers with a support network. 

You’ve grown it from 30 to 40,000 members. What was the strategy and what services do your freelancers most value? 
The club started with a small group of friends I had worked within the fashion industry. They loved the concept and through word-of-mouth, the club just took off. It’s been a very organic process. At the heart of the club is a sense of community and belonging. That you are a part of a tribe brings a sense of comfort, and that has played a big part in the club’s success. The members value access to paid opportunities and the ability to take ownership of each job. Being able to meet other freelancers for collaborations and an abundance of learning resources to develop their business skills.

How does Freelancer Club differ from other job platforms?
Our business model differs from most other freelance platforms. Upwork, Fivver, and People Per Hour, for example, use a marketplace business model. They sell the promise of work and take a commission on any of the matches. We believe there is a healthier way to develop a freelance business and find work. Freelancer Club, as the name suggests, is a subscription-based membership community. Anyone can join for free to gain access to a range of benefits that help them grow their business in a much more robust manner. For example, all members can access articles, videos and events or post and apply for test shoots (collaborations) to help them build their portfolio and meet others in the freelance sector.

When a member feels ready to apply for work or would like to access an archive of learning content, they can upgrade to a Premium Membership to access paid opportunities, premium content on the Academy, and a bunch of other valuable features. When they land a job on the platform, they take 100% of the rate. We don’t charge a commission, and both parties are free to engage in future projects without involving us. We don’t believe in quick fixes or freelancers having to under-cut each other. Our members develop their freelance businesses with us so they can pick up work via our site or many avenues. Proactive members grow to become well-rounded, independent freelancers who aren’t waiting for the ‘phone to ring’.  

How many jobs did you place last year?
It’s not as cut and dry as a figure from the database. When we connect the client with the freelancer, they often take their conversation ‘off-site’ (we don’t hold money on the platform). We’ve helped facilitate over 200,000 freelance jobs since launch, but I imagine that figure is a lot higher when one considers the offline connections and repeat business. 

Which work sectors are growing fast? 
The digital space is the obvious growth sector. Designers, UX/UI, Developers… Less obviously, we’ve seen a boom in Videography over the past few years. Lots of photographers have added this skill to their repertoire and, as demand for video continues to grow, the supply has followed. 

What have you been doing during this time to support forgotten freelance groups – PAYE, sole directors, new starters?
Fortunately, as a nimble startup, we could adapt quickly as soon as we saw what was coming down the line. On a local level, we offered free one-to-one consultations to our members, advising how they could adapt their business and offered moral support. We also opened up a lot of content to ensure our members were getting value while the market settled. To help financially, we gave our members the option to freeze their membership for a period. 

On a broader scale, we raised our concerns about the lack of financial support for the self-employed and unintentionally found ourselves as one of the leading voices in what later became known as the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS). It’s interesting how one reacts in a crisis. Our business was taking a hit, and we were implementing strategies to combat the situation as best as we could, however, it felt more appropriate to focus on the freelancers who we knew were going through hell. The act of supporting others gave us a greater sense of purpose. 

We conducted hours of interviews and campaigned hard to get freelancers the financial support they desperately needed. When SEISS was announced, it was an incredible feeling, however; it didn’t last long. We realised around two million freelancers would be ineligible, so we started a new campaign, this time with a group of influential businesses to add more weight. We’re still banging the drum. 

And the #NoFreeWork campaign?
Our #NoFreeWork campaign has been going for years. It’s at the heart of our mission statement. Our aim is to eradicate exploitative unpaid work in the freelance sector. What started as a hashtag has seen the campaign mentioned in Parliament and new legislation pitched to MPs at a roundtable with some of the most powerful names in our sector. I regularly speak at universities to highlight the realities of freelancing to the next generation and the pitfalls of free work. We champion businesses who treat freelancers with the respect they deserve and have gathered thousands of signatures on our petition.

Our aim outside of the legislative piece is to change the culture around unpaid work and highlight the value that creatives contribute to the economy and people’s lives. Try living a day without art, music, video, photography or design and see how you feel. We must protect the creative industries and be aware of their true value.   

Are clients getting on board with remote working?
We’ve seen a jump in remote opportunities, as was predicted. However, it’s not only the remote work one might expect. From brands hiring photographers and models to do Facetime photoshoots to promotional video content made from stock footage, homemade video and a lot of imagination, companies and freelancers have adapted to lockdown. The soft skills that all of us have had to develop is online communication, be it on Zoom, Slack or many platforms we’re using to chat. Freelancers must learn how to deliver and build trust entirely online, and communication has never been as valuable as it is now.  

Tell us more about your Freelance Academy and Concierge Service…
We have a sister company called Freelance Academy. It’s an online learning platform that delivers bite-sized courses tailored to freelancers. We brought an element of this into the Freelancer Club and give our members access to a range of workshops, interviews and discussions so they could continue to develop their skills during the lockdown. We’ve covered everything from marketing and sales workshops to discussions on working from home with Caroline Bayley of BBC Radio 4, and the value of creativity with Patreon.

We launched the Concierge Service as a new concept right before COVID-19 hit – good timing, huh! It’s a service that helps companies hire freelancers without the fees or faff. It combines innovative technology and human insights to make it easy for companies to build their freelance workforce. Post a project for free, choose the Concierge Service and our team will do the rest. A recommended freelancer will contact you, and the company takes it from there. To reignite the freelance economy and help companies get projects done, we’re running a campaign called #UnitedInBusiness that offers all new businesses £200 worth of Concierge Credits to spend on freelance hires. 

What trends do you see for work? Is this the end of the 9-5 office?
A few years ago, we transitioned from an office-based industrial-era business model to an exclusively agile, fluid company. My team are all freelancers and work remotely, so I’ve been on this journey first-hand for a while. The technology and tools that facilitate agile work are racing ahead whilst company culture and processes are sorely lagging. One of lockdown’s many legacies will be how comfortable we are with online communication, collaboration, and adaptation.

It has forced companies to assess their processes to facilitate remote working. However, integrating Slack, Monday and Zoom into a pre-existing full-time team is the easy bit. Sourcing, managing and developing a new agile workforce is an entirely different proposition, not to mention company culture in relation to freelance hires. We help companies source freelance teams by connecting them to talent, however, we’ve offered advice on integrating, managing and keeping those teams as businesses learn to adjust to an alternative way of working. 

Remote working is here to stay, however, COVID-19 has put into focus the importance of social interaction and ‘watercooler’ moments in a company context. Now all of us have tasted life as a remote worker, companies have data to determine if it’s a viable option whilst workers – even those who are stretched to the limit – will have experienced the advantages of WFH. Combine these factors with the level of introspection and reflection on what really matters in life and the pending boom in the number of newly self-employed individuals, and we could look at a very different working landscape.    

I suspect we will land on a hybrid model that combines time in the office and working from home. Less travel, downsizing, and an actual work-life balance that is not just a buzzword. Those who can facilitate this new world will reap the rewards. Those who dig their heels in might get left behind. 

If you’re looking for freelance work, visit www.freelancerclub.net.

Podcast 🎧:
ArtPaysMe podcast with Matt Dowling. Matt spoke to Duane Jones about creativity in business and what the education system can do to support creative industries.

Webinar:
Small Business Minister Paul Scully on Ltd company support. Good webinar this week with team IPSE who are still banging the drum for #forgottenfreelancers. I asked whether new sole directors can apply for the SEISS scheme as we are still technically ‘self-employed’ and have to do a personal tax return (computer says yes… it’s a grey area). Scully said he would look into it so keep an eye on IPSE’s Covid-19 page for an update.

Upcoming:
#TheRecoverySummit – June 15th-19th – the latest thinking on the global economy, leadership, managing change, innovation, disruption and resilience. It’s free – sign up here.

National Freelancers Day on June 18. The focus is on wellbeing, winning work, finance and taking charge. Good speaker line up, it should be an inspiring event.

Book:
Company of One by Paul Jarvis – why staying small is the next big thing for business. Exploring how to make your business better instead of bigger, and how you can thrive with less. Halfway through this, it’s excellent.

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On copywriting, content design, UX, and working + living online.

Remote working – an end to the office as we know it? 

Office workers have been catapulted into the biggest ever remote working experiment during the global pandemic. How are employees adapting to the new normal of working from home full time – and how can we fine-tune our workstyle to avoid a new phenomenon: Death by Conference Call?

New research reveals productivity, happiness and office culture are booming with the shape of the office set to change forever:

  • Almost 3/4 (71%) of office bosses are pleasantly surprised by team productivity during lockdown despite more than half (54%) being nervous about their teams remote working before the Covid-19 pandemic
  • Over half (52%) say their organisations are MORE productive remote working than in an office – a surprise to almost 3/4 of bosses
  • Nearly 2/3 (58%) of office workers say remote working provides them with more autonomy to do their job in a way that suits them
  • 1/4 (25%) believe they’ll remote work at least half the time after the pandemic is over (compared to 10% before)
  • 70% of business owners and 78% of senior management agree ‘remote working is the future of my organisation’. 34% of business owners are considering moving to an entirely remote office

Nice to have some good news, especially as the lockdown measures (and remote working) look set to continue indefinitely. The study, conducted by Hoxby, a virtual agency and consultancy on the future of work, also found:

Effective Working: 71% of office workers think their employer is well set up for remote working. Almost 2/3 (58%) say remote working provides them with more autonomy to do their job in a way that suits them, rising to 63% of those in a managerial position. Only 19% say they prefer being in an office.

Happiness: 57% of managers think remote working is good for mental health, with only 14% recognising any adverse effects. Two-thirds of office workers agree that though the current situation is challenging in other ways, they are enjoying the fact that remote work means they can spend more time with their family, rising to 72% of those with young children. Only 8% say teams seem unhappy as a result of remote working.

Office culture: Over half (55%) of office managers say office culture is just as strong as ever, with office chat continuing just in a different form. Only 18% of office remote workers have seen any negative impact. 

The future is now
So, will this signal the end of 9-5 office culture? 1/4 of workers think they will remote work at least half the time after the outbreak, compared with just 10% before and 12% of the workforce say they’ll be working entirely remotely after the outbreak, compared to 4% previously.

Before the pandemic, 45% of office workers surveyed were required to be in the office ‘at all times.’ This is expected to fall to just 27%.

How might UK offices change shape?
70% of business owners and 78% of senior management agree that “remote working is the future of my organisation.” The lockdown has led to many reviewing how their businesses are structured. 42% plan to reduce the amount of office space they need. 49% think they’ll encourage more remote working. 34% are considering moving to an entirely remote office.

We still need to fine-tune remote working
48% of office workers admit they’re relying on conference calls too much and would like to learn more about other working practices rising to 63% amongst business leaders. 44% of workers are on conference calls “most of the day”, 54% of those who are managers. Junior team members need more support with set up.

Stuck in the 9-5
It seems we’re stuck in the 9-5 mentality, a throwback from the industrial age. 77% of business leaders expect their teams to work similar hours. Only 12% are trying to buck this trend for their teams, i.e. trying to escape the shackles of presenteeism. 34% of senior managers said remote working was something they wanted to do more of but felt they should be ‘seen’ to be in the office.

Great to see such positive outcomes after just five weeks of lockdown – with no practice run! I hope companies take this on board and rethink how they operate. As the founders of Hoxby, Lizzie & Alex point out, “Changing working practices is about putting people, their lives, their work, their mental health, all of these things centre stage… To avoid the ‘death by conference call phenomenon’ and ‘coat on the back of the chair’ expectations of presenteeism… “Organisations need to keep a watch on remote working practices and evolve and better them by gaining a deeper understanding of technology and virtual leadership.”

It’s time to leave the industrial age behind and adopt digital age working methods to improve diversity, productivity, and wellbeing – happy workers tend to be loyal ones. This shows remote is the future of work and there’s no going back, so it’s just a matter of fine-tuning our methods. It’s is an opportunity for companies to trailblaze with workstyles that are more flexible, more productive, and more enjoyable.

Use this time to get your head around new technologies, build online communities, and do things differently. There are more effective ways of working that may cost less. If it’s working well why would we want to go back to the old way of doing things?

Hoxby has a #RemoteAgainstCoronavirus campaign for a better remote working strategy. I recommend these articles:

Recognise that Remote Working is not the Same as Working from Home

Focus on wellbeing and mental health – The importance of, and practical tips for, looking after your mental health during the crisis.

Don’t be paranoid and start to view success based on output – five rules for leading remote teams.

The importance of building virtual communities and community engagement.

Hoxby’s remote working strategic approach.

Censuswide researched 1,003 office workers currently working through the pandemic between 22/4 – 27/4/20. 

Photo by Georgie Clarke.