You would think that someone with as many obsessive compulsive tendencies as I have would be very organized and have a strict routine for handling the management of her copywriting clients. After all, Phenomenal Content continues to gain new clients and keep impressing our existing clients who place recurring orders with us.
I suppose my "system" is one of organized chaos. I'm certainly not setting a good example for writers who want to break into the freelance business for themselves, so although it works for me, you may want to view this as what not to do when running your copywriting business.
I really tried to use an online calendar that I could update with important events like Social Media Breakfast Tech Valley or the next blogging conference I'm attending, but I honestly always forget about it. My intention was to keep such events the public calendar and include my client content deadlines on the private calendar. It worked for less than one week.
My calendar is an old school wire-bound weekly/monthly planner that I picked up at Target. I use a blue ballpoint pen to write in my appointments, meetings, conference, Twitter parties, and client deadlines. This month, a failing of this calendar was that I forgot to include my guest posts and personal projects on it. (Sorry, Ruud.) For the most part, however, it does what it's supposed to do.
I get deluged with email each and every day. Every hour. I have no set time when I deal with my email, even though I tried to discipline myself to do so. I'm sure that, if you're reading this, you can sympathize. I use MailWasher Pro to scan my email and report spam before I download it from my mail server. I used to use Pegasus Mail as my email client, but when I upgraded my laptop earlier this year and found myself stuck with Windows Vista, I just couldn't set it as my default mail software. So I started using Thunderbird, which I'd been using at my last office job. It serves its purpose.
Since I lead a dual life, I also use Gmail for the mommy blogging side of things. The original concept was that I could respond to personal messages from other mommy bloggers faster by spotting them more easily in a separate mail program, since I keep a Gmail tab open in Firefox all day long. As I get more and more pitches from PR – some of which are good, but most of which are not – that is no longer the case. It's too easy to overlook the real messages in the midst of the noise sometimes. I know how to solve this problem, too. I just need to be able to afford to let my husband quit his office job and come home to work for me as my office manager, and he can help me sort out the wheat from the chaff. Maybe next year. Until then, this is a manual struggle. I will not let the email defeat me.
I have certain clients for whom I write article or post myself, but my writers take care of a majority of our client writing projects. In order to coordinate with my writing team, I use BaseCamp. I post available assignments, the writers tell me who wants to write what, and I create each assignment as a new milestone within the project. Writers get email notifications as their deadlines approach. I get email notifications when they upload each finished article. I currently edit every article myself that I haven't written, and I upload the final versions of each article so the writers can see what I changed. I email the finished product to each client myself.
I have no fancy system for keeping track of clients on my laptop. I have a Private Clients subfolder under Documents, and each client gets their own subfolder in there. All contracts and writing projects, past and present, get saved in their respective folders. That's the magic!
The Writing and Editing Part
I compose in Microsoft Word. It's an imperfect tool, but it's what 99% of my clients use.
Word and I have a love/hate relationship.
I have a bit of ADD, so I jump around between projects throughout the course of each day. I have one client who keeps me on retainer, so I generally try to do their work first each day, but sometimes my head is not in the right place. I'll write or edit something else. I've been doing a lot of editing lately, which I've found I enjoy a bit more than writing recently. Not that I don't still enjoy writing, but it is National Novel Writing Month, and NaNoWriMo has kind of helped writing take over even my off-the-clock moments lately.
But when I do write, I open up a few browser tabs with my research material, compose in Word, and just keep going until I reach the end. After getting an embarrassing email from a client a few months back pointing out some typos that "weren't at all like my usual style," I realized that simply reading each piece over after I finish writing is not enough. The secret to finding all of those stupid mistakes that everyone makes and neither spell check nor grammar check catch? Reading everything out loud.
Reading everything out loud makes you focus on each individual word. When you read something back in your head, your brain fills in missing words or removes superfluous words or corrects improper verb tenses. When you read it out loud, you're forced to say what's actually on the page, not what you think is supposed to be there.
I've caught dozens, if not hundreds, of typos and other stupid errors this way. I think that may be the most important part of the writing process.
Twitter has helped me connect with many of my new clients. It also helps provide a much-needed distraction when I'm having trouble figuring out where to go next with a project. Or a completely unnecessary distraction that can eat up my productivity… Hazard of the social space. It doesn't help that I have two different [main] Twitter accounts. I have one for the SEM/business side (@ChristinaGayle) and one for the mommy blogging side (@CutestKidEver) which means twice as many opportunities to get pulled into conversations. And while I have wasted a fair amount of time on Twitter when I could have been working on other things, I have made some very real connections with people on both sides, and that makes the time spent invaluable. For that matter, I wouldn't even have a successful company right now if it weren't for the people I've met on Twitter. Twitter made this all possible for me. And even when I've "wasted" time, I still meet my deadlines. The rest of the work still gets done. As long as that happens, it's okay to be a little unproductive and play with the trending topics from time to time.
It All Works Out in the End
What you may or may not have gleaned from this all is that I don't have any real secrets to my success. You don't need to have a formula to make things work properly. It's okay if your desk looks like it's been hit by a tornado, so long as you can find your weekly planner on top of the mess. You don't need fancy tools or software to get things done. Don't let yourself get discouraged when you read about the complex systems everyone else uses to be the most productive, knowing you could never have that kind of discipline yourself. It can work if you've got it all tied together with a shoestring. It may not be ideal, but at least for me, things don't have to be perfect in order for everything to work out in the end. In the end, my clients are happy, and that makes me happy.
So how about you? I can't be the only one out there who doesn't really have a system. What's the method to your madness?
Christina Gleason is a copywriter, editor, blogger, and founder of Phenomenal Content LLC. She has been writing and editing since college, though only recently struck out on her own after gaining valuable experience working as a Google quality rater and as the content manager for a well-known Internet marketing company.