Autumn Fashion – The Big Three

There are leaves on the ground. Bona Fide leaves. I’m calling Autumn and Autumn means new season fashions and a whole lot of loveliness. So stuff your summer dresses and trusty gladiators under the bed and let’s talk about fashion for cool dark nights and soggy commutes. Scouring the shops and fashion websites as I do for my (ahem) job there are lots of autumnal goodies calling my name. But there are three pieces that I feel (quite irrationally) that I can’t live without. My Autumn BIG THREE if you will. Check out my new season favourites below.

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Leopard Print Pumps

I’ve always had a soft spot for a good bit of leopard print, faux of course, I also like leopards. There is something so undeniably Hollywood about animal print that it always injects a spot of decadence to an outfit. And who doesn’t need more decadence? This season sees the long awaited return of serious amounts of leopard to the catwalks in literally all shapes, ways and forms. Wear it head to toe for full Cruella De Ville or as a fashion highlighter to add interest and texture. But following a quite unnatural affinity with a pair of beloved leopard print ballet pumps as a student I am hankering for some leopard flats. My favourite comfy but cool brand for shoes is Clarks and there ‘Chilly Milly’ pumps are top of the list for Autumn errands.

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Metallic Skirts

For me fashion is at its best when it’s at its most ridiculous. And really what could be more ridiculous than a skirt that seems to have been constructed from tinfoil? I want to contrast with a chunky jumper and biker boots for a bit of back from the future punk. My boyfriend will hate it but that is on occasion the sign of a fashion hit. There are of course designer options for a zillion pounds however I am loving Zara’s fifty quid version here. This is more than likely a one season wonder, but who cares when it is this gorgeous!

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Military Jackets

Military flavoured outerwear is having a fashion moment and there is nothing better for adding a little masculine cool to your outfit. I’m particularly loving the oversized camo field jackets that seem to be having a 90’s inspired comeback. Just that bit cooler than your go to denim or bomber styles but still incredibly practical. I may even throw on a choker for real grunge sensibility. ASOS are sporting an easy to wear vintage selection of camouflage jackets from Milk It Vintage at the moment that are definitely worth a look

What are your favourite looks for Autumn? Ring the new season changes with a whole lot of fashion fun this autumn.

 

 

Fashion and 30 – Dressing for Myself

I am now 30. There’s no denying it, I asked my mum and everything. So with a heavy heart I have to accept the inevitable. I am now a grown up. Yup, it’s all tax returns and early nights from here on in. But the most burning question, the most pressing matter is what the hell do I wear?
The rules that defined our dressing were more concrete in previous generations. There were clothes for children, clothes for wives, clothes for the rich, the poor, those in mourning and those at work. The rules, thank all the gods, have changed and dressing is a more fluid expression of ourselves. But with that fluidity comes choice. So after years of chasing trends, of dressing for boys, or following the crowd what do I want 30 dressing to look like?

After some serious wardrobe deliberation, I have come to a decision. There are three key rules that I want to follow when it comes to 30’s dressing.

1) I want to dress for myself

How often do we think first of how other people will see our outfit before we properly look at it ourselves? Ok, it looks great through an Instagram filter but do you actually like it? Learning to be confident in our own opinions is part of being a proper grown up. I want to be secure in choosing thing I like which means doing away with the ‘must have’ seasonal buys and embracing the quirky vintage belt I love and those ancient gap jeans that fit like a glove. If I’m not sure it’s a no, if it’s a maybe, it’s a no. Clothes that I love will rule the day.

2) I want to be comfortable

I toyed with making this number 1. In fact, I toyed with just putting this at the top in bold and striking out the rest. The number of silly dresses I have squeezed into spanx clad and unable to sit, eat or drink in is embarrassing. Clothing shouldn’t be a feat of endurance. Campaigns were fought not only to free women from their traditional roles but also from their traditional clothes. So why then are we re-corsetting ourselves by choice? The same argument applies to ridiculous shoes which is why I can comfortably say I won’t be wearing a stiletto heal ever again.

3) I want it to fun

This rule kills the ‘You can’t wear that at your age argument’ stone dead. You wouldn’t know it from looking at some po-faced fashionistas on the front row but it’s meant to be fun. Fashion should be a bit silly which is why I love fashion bloggers and icons who don’t take things to seriously. Some days I want to wear my sweatshirt with a giant pineapple on it, it makes me smile and frankly that’s all that matters. If I want to wear a crop top I bloody well will and so should you.

So there you have it, my personal fashion commandments for all to see. Will I stick to them religiously? Probably not. But will I try to make my thirties about marching to my fashion beat? Absolutely.

Create a Client – Building Long Lasting Client Relationships that Pay

One of the biggest chunks of any freelancers time is spent finding work. Digging out clients from those cold, dark corners of the internet to ensure that you can practice the job that you love and pay the bills. To be able to have a body of regular, lovely clients, that pay on time, don’t try and skype you at 3am and are keen to build a long term relationship is a wonderful thing and can take the pressure off constantly drumming up new business.

Maybe you feel that finding a great client is just luck of the draw but after refining and developing my approach to client relationships I think that we have a lot more impact on client behaviour than we think. Ok so it’s accepted you are going to have that very small percentage of horror stories that you have little to no control over but most of the time you can mould your client relationship and perhaps pave the way for future success. These are my top 3 tips for creating great clients that will come back time and time again.

Be Polite and Warm

OK, so far, so obvious right? Well in my experience, not entirely. As an occasional freelance client myself I have been struck by the tone and the quality of responses from otherwise really talented freelancers. Always throw in a ‘Good Morning’, ‘How are you?’, ‘How was your weekend?’ into your communication. Just because it isn’t a social email doesn’t mean it can’t show a little human warmth. This is how you build a relationship that’s more than just service provider and client. If you know your clients been on vacation – ask them how it was. Small things make the interaction a better and more valid one for your client. If it feels natural complement their product, website or blog and show that you are interested in what they are looking to achieve. It always seems to be those clients that I build a relationship with that come back over and over – it’s weirdly like dating, but billable!

Throw Ideas into the Mix

As a new freelancer I was always nervous about making suggestions to clients, now I see it as a key part of my role. Suggest ways to improve or expand upon the current project or ways to adapt it for another part of their business. What this often leads to is you creating more work for yourself and again shows the client you’re truly engaged in this process. I had a client who I was writing sales copy for who had a genuinely amazing product but I noticed her social media presence was none existent. I made a couple of suggestions on how she could improve her online presence and this equalled another months work for me, a win-win for everyone involved.

Under Promise and Over Deliver  

This is an oldie but such a goodie for creating happy clients. Always provide a deadline date the day after you anticipate delivery or work to the day prior to the deadline where possible. This is always a wonderful surprise for clients and tends to generate really positive feedback. Plus, you avoid any sense of them having to wait on deadline day for your email to pop up therefore reducing their stress levels. If you can add something into the project which is low effort for you but provides them with an unexpected extra this also creates the warm fuzzies. Of course there is a fine balance between selling yourself short and over delivering, if you can find that balance though it’s sure to pay dividends in future work.

What are your tips for creating great clients?

Why Writers MUST Write for themselves

None of the writers that I know ‘fell’ into writing. It’s not a job you generally stumble into to pay the bills, or because your Dad has a friend who has a sister who can get you a job. Most writers start off as writers quite simply because they love writing. They love the feeling of pouring your thoughts onto a blank piece of paper to make something substantial, something that can elicit emotion and inspire ideas. Why then as a busy freelance writer is it easy to fall into a ‘writing is a chore’ mind-set?

I guess like anything that pays the bills there can become an element of the ‘must’ about your writing and anything that becomes a ‘must’ can feel like a drag. Certainly on a rainy Wednesday afternoon with three deadlines hanging over you and an article about ‘the best ways to care for your pet chinchilla’ staring out from your screen writing can start to feel like an odd form of torture.

That’s why I think that as busy as you are, as tired as you are as thoroughly irritated with the sound of your fingers tapping over the keys as you are, you must, must, must carve out time to write for yourself. Write about what you love, write in a style you love, publish it online or don’t but make sure you do it. Writers are by their nature creatives, but for many writers who need to pay their rent they won’t always have the luxury of writing what they enjoy. By taking just a few minutes a day to write a little of what you love you can keep the creative fires burning.

For me that might mean a few scribblings before bed time or the first few pages of a novel that I probably won’t ever finish.  If you love to write, WRITE and occasionally do it selfishly and only for you.

Reader, I married him – My Quest for an Unweddingy Wedding

If you had asked me a few years ago whether marriage was a likely path for me I would have laughed and quoted some feminist literature at you. I was always vaguely annoyed as a teenager that Jane Eyre, practical to the point of annoyance in Charlotte Bronte’s most famous novel goes on to marry Mr Rochester, providing the reader with a conventional ending in what never feels like a conventional novel. The teenage me would have died rather than become a slave to convention and in any case had a bit of a penchant for the more heart wrenching misery of Wuthering Heights. But, then as happens to so many of the staunchly single brigade I met the right man. A very wonderful, silly and decent feminist man who made me re-evaluate what marriage meant to me, to us and what it could be if we put our very own spin on it.

Frustratingly to get to the being married part there is the whole wedding debacle to navigate and this fills me with lace covered dread. I don’t want a fairy-tale, I don’t want to be cast as a princess and I certainly don’t want the fuss and expense that surrounds anything wedding related. Plus, you can take that view and square it for the other half, he would get married in our kitchen if possible, officiated over by my 7 year old and attended only by Lego superhero figures.

So is it possible? Can I dewedding our wedding?

After the first few weeks of planning I have come to the conclusion that it may be possible but the tightrope walk of wedding planning is a tricky one, and the temptation of the confetti covered bridezilla brigade becomes less insane the closer you get to it.  My very unscientific and entirely biased view of dewedding tactics is below.

Firstly, if anyone you know or is connected to your wedding utters the phrase ‘your special day’ or alternately refers to you as a ‘princess’, kill them. Ok, well maybe not kill them, but certainly have stern words. Family and friends need to know from the outset that this isn’t that type of shindig and this should stop them from being pushy or alternately disappointed when you don’t pop up in an meringue dress or allow the usual three hours of speeches. Seriously though, it’s a mind-set thing, if you or your loved ones see this as your most special day, or that this is somehow the one day that the world will revolve around you, then this is when the crazy spending and ideas start to creep in. It will be a lovely day but it is not the yardstick for the rest of your life, this is the start of something good, not a highpoint from which life will gradually get worse. It is a nice party, you or it are not the centre of the universe – frankly that’s just a positive life lesson. Accepting this will take off the pressure.

There are no MUSTS. But you must have a marquee, but you must have 17 ushers, but you must invite your incontinent Uncle Bob you haven’t seen for 15 years. If you take away the musts you create a blank sheet from which you create what you want. Convention is a kicker, frankly most wedding traditions come from medieval ideals of marriage and femininity that deserve to be tarted up a bit. So no, I won’t be given away, my Dad will just come for a bit of a walk with me, and the other half won’t wear a ring because the idea of him connected with jewellery is so bizarre that neither of us can get on board with it. Anyone who tells you there is anything you MUST do, that isn’t the absolutely required legal bit is an idiot. Tell them so loudly lest they repeat this terrible behaviour in the future.

Under no circumstances allow bows to be placed on chairs. This may seem like a bit of a specific dewedding tactic but in my opinion the dressing of wedding chairs with bows embodies all that is evil about the modern wedding chairs. It costs an extraordinary amount of money, it is frippery for the sake of frippery and for the love of sense why can’t the chairs be naked! I feel like the bows on chairs is a start of a slippery slope that ends in a horse drawn carriage and synchronized dance routines – just don’t go there.

Hopefully my wedding will be simple, small and glitter free.  And if you want to do the same you can, do what you want, how you want and turn your back on wedding fayres, family conventions and frilliness.  Make it about you – but in the best possible way.

How I Stopped Being Embarrassed and Started getting Stuff Done

I’d say the single biggest force in stopping me turning freelance sooner wasn’t the fear of not being able to pay the bills or the worry I wasn’t good enough.  It was embarrassment, embarrassment at admitting to myself or to anyone else that I wanted to write full time and deviate from a career path I had been working at for nearly ten years. I had visions of people simply laughing at my decision or worse at the work I was producing.  My fear of the opinions and criticisms of the people I knew or even the wider world meant that at first I kept my burgeoning freelance career as a closely guarded secret, telling only my partner for months and months.

I realised that my embarrassment reflex had always been pretty high since childhood extending to being incapable of watching people being embarrassed on TV (I still can’t watch X factor!)  But letting embarrassment or perhaps more rightly fear guide my life decision seems like a pretty poor way to get along so I made a conscious decision to factor it out of my choices.  This was tough, remains tough and I still find myself supressing this fearful part of my psyche but eventually my need to be happier and have a more fulfilling (if sometimes less well paid) career won out.

So I left a well-paid but stressful career and embarked on the scary but much more fulfilling path of freelance writing.  I still get worried, I still even get a little embarrassed of telling people what I do for a living (like it’s a pretend job!) but I am doing it, so I guess I partially conquered the fear for the moment.  It got me thinking about how many other people have remained or do remain in a situation that makes them unhappy because there embarrassed of what people may think of them if they make a change.

I guess the question to ask yourself then is ‘Why am I not doing what I want?’ and if the answer is rooted in fear then you should reassess.  Trust me, stop being embarrassed and you will finally start getting the important stuff done.

The Noughties are Coming…

As I creep up on 30, slowly and from behind so that it doesn’t notice me, there is one thing that is making me feel increasingly old, the nineties trend.   The rise of nineties fashion, perhaps the first fashion trend where I can honestly say ‘I wore that first time around’, is eerily disconcerting.   I remember scrunchies and chokers in their first less slick and cynical incarnation.  I remember being 12 and longing for a dolphin tattoo over my belly button and a pair of Doc Martins.  When grunge was grunge and not the slightly sanitized knowing version I see much younger and much cooler people wearing now.  I finally identified with my mum saying ‘I used to have one of those!’ as I rolled my eyes in exasperation.

Then it struck me with a dawning horror that this was just the beginning, that fashion is a cyclical beast and that the next inevitable steps is possibly the brashest, ugliest decade of all, the noughties.  The noughties has a line-up of fashion crimes that would make the eighties blush.   When style icons included Atomic Kitten and Christina Aguilera in what can only be described as her ‘stripper stage’, when fashion that was loud, crass and pretty much devoid of taste.  Anyone for a visible thong?   Plain for weekdays and diamante encrusted for special occasions and weekends, of course.  Or how about a skirt-belt?  For those days when you just can’t decide whether you want to wear a skirt or a belt so you obviously opt for skirt so short it could easily be mistaken for a belt.  This was the decade of the low, low-rise jean – perhaps the only denim incarnation that called for a bikini wax and hundreds of other serious affronts to taste.

So come 2025 when a whole generation of teens take up their handkerchief tops and velour tracksuits and I am contemplating 40 will I shake my head and tut at their poor taste?   Will I have lost all my fun fashion sensibilities?   Will I have forgotten that I not only wore these trends but embraced them with glee to the point that one summer I didn’t take off my cargo pants and knee high boots even in a heatwave? Maybe, but I’m hoping that by then I will be approaching being a grown up and embrace the ridiculousness of fashion rather than turning into a judgemental old bore.  Only time will tell I guess but for now the nineties still send a shiver up my fashion spine.

Freelancing and Work-Life Balance – Is it Possible?

So at some point you took the plunge.  You decided to become a freelancer, you quit your job and burned your bridges by sending an email around the office telling everyone what you really think of them (just me?).  You had a vision of being a freelancer that involved long days creating kick ass pieces over a latte in a coffee shop.  You would spend more time with your kids, partner, friends and generally be a more balanced person.  Maybe you would finally take up Yoga or Pilates or whatever other life affirming pastime you have been dreaming of.  Then you actually start working for yourself and work takes over your life.  You won’t mean it to, you never intended it to, but you suddenly find yourself replying to emails at 11.30 pm and drifting off during conversations with loved ones as you think about your next marketing strategy.

It figures that you are going to much more invested in your own business than in a role working for someone else.  After all if you don’t succeed it can mean going a month without a wage or struggling to meet your bills.   But, and this is a big important but, if you do not create some boundaries for yourself you will go insane.   You need down time, your body needs time to relax and perhaps most importantly the people around you need a little of your undivided attention.

This is all clicked for me one evening when sat on the sofa surrounded by electronic devices and pretending to watch TV with my better half while actually doing half a dozen work related task.   Suddenly my normally very placid and lovely boyfriend snapped at me to ‘stop looking at a screen for 10 seconds!’.   OK, so first I was angry at him, couldn’t he see I was trying to build a business, improve our lives and achieve something?!  But after the steam cleared a little, I realised we had been playing out this scene most nights for the last fortnight and I had largely been ignoring my family the entire time.

In answer to the title of this post I do think it is possible to freelance and build a work-life balance but you really have to set yourself some boundaries and then stick to them.   The key one for me is to set a start and close time for work related stuff.   This will probably be longer than office hours so maybe eight till eight.  I don’t need to be head down working hard for all of this time but this is the period in which I will answer correspondence, carry out admin tasks, research and generally actively input into my business.   You may think that you just can’t wait to respond to the article request about the rise of the boyfriend jean but I promise that you can and more importantly that you should.   Remember no one expects a 24 hour service from their freelancer and if they do they should be paying you a bathtub load of cash for it.

Another key skill is to learn how to prioritise.   It’s really easy as a new freelancer to get so excited about any job coming in that you treat everything as a code red priority.   As you start to get busier that is simply going to lead to you being burnt out really fast.  Look at the urgency and timescale of every task and give it a deadline and slot of your time accordingly.  Of course on occasion this will all go out of the window and ten super urgent things will come in at once.  That’s ok, everyone is going to have a rush now and again but if you try to implement a decent system of organisation and prioritisation 80% of the time you will feel much more in control.

Finally, remember why you started this whole freelance adventure in the first place.   What did you hope to achieve and gain?   It’s a little cheesy but pin these up in your home office or workspace and reflect on them now and again.  If your aim was to see more of your kids and you are actually seeing a helluva lot less of them then you need to reshuffle and re-evaluate.  Freelancing can be the path to a great career and a great work-life balance but it’s really easy to get side-tracked by all of the minutiae of running your own business so tread with care.

Newbie Freelance Writer Tips

A brand new website calls for a brand new shiny blog.  So here it is!  I must admit that given writing is what I do for a living I have been procrastinating far more than I ought to about what to feature in my first post.   I write so much more productively with a brief!  But now having put digital pen to paper I thought it might be fun (sort of!) to look back on the embarrassing mistakes I made as a newbie freelancer and try and dredge up some tips to share with you all about starting out as a writer.

1) You will have to work for free (or very close to it!)

If you are starting out as a brand new shiny freelance writer you have a problem.   That problem is you have no portfolio, or in other words, a lovingly curated collection of your published works to share with potential clients.  So when you are starting out be prepared to work for peanuts at sites like fiverr.com or for free.  One of the best ways to do this is contacting local businesses or calling in favours from family friends.  I remember thinking that a decent introduction letter and a couple of pieces I had knocked up in word would get me high paying work – it didn’t and unless you are very lucky it won’t for you.  Start small and build, with a bit of luck and some writing smarts you will move on from this low paying stuff pretty quickly so hang on in there.

2)You will make mistakes (Just try and learn from them!)

Starting to write professionally you will learn that there are some things you don’t know.  A grammatical error you have made all of your life only to get pointed out by a grumpy client or missing a brief by a million miles and having a contract cut short.   Criticism is tough to take, especially when you are pouring your heart on soul into something, but take a breath and listen or read criticism then take some time to reflect.  OK, so occasionally you are going to get a completely impossible client who is just plain mean but most of the time criticism has a basis and learning from it will make you a better writer.  I say this as someone who has nearly thrown her laptop out of the window on multiple occasions – BREATHE people!

3)Write what you know (or can learn REALLY fast)

I see a lot of freelance bio’s that say the author can write about anything.  Well maybe they can write about anything but I would bet my house that they can’t write about everything well!  I have learnt through painful assignments that I cannot write about techy stuff.  My brain cannot process it and I can only produce the musings of a 6 year old on anything vaguely techy.  I have accepted that my niche in life is lifestyle writing so make-up, dating, essentially all the fluffy stuff.  I’m ok with this because I know I can write about this stuff well.  So find your niche and do a really, really good job, not only will you have a lot more fun you will sell a hell of a lot more stuff.

4)Try a variety of platforms

If you have started to look into this freelance writing stuff you will know you can sell your services over a variety of platforms and sites.  My advice is try a few and find two or three that work for you and concentrate on them.  For me peopleperhour.com and the jobs board at problogger.com have been fruitful but there are a ton of options out there. Spreading yourself too thin will make it difficult to build a strong profile and in honesty is just confusing.  Try some on for size and see what works for you.   Over time you may build up direct clients (which is ace) but for most of us a presence on these platforms is necessary to make a living.

5)Do not give up (and you will want to allll the time)

Starting up as a freelancer is frustrating, hard work and at times just a pain in the backside.   You will have days where you are struggling to scratch together an income and you wonder if it is worth the effort.   You will have a lot of these days especially at the beginning.   I honestly believe that with some hard work and lots of enthusiasm you can make it as a freelance writer.   I am still not all the way where I want to be with this writing business and sometimes I beat myself up.  The rewards of freelancing are immense, set your own schedule, come into contact with a whole range of great people and do a job you are passionate about.   I think these rewards outweigh the hard stuff – so keep going – it will be worth it!