As a virtual assistant I am called on to use many organisational tools in my work, so for this blog post I thought I would write about some of the tools of my trade that make my work a little easier. Got some favourite ways of being organised and staying on top of things? I would love to hear from you about the tools of your trade too.
Asana helps to coordinate work across teams by bringing tasks together to ensure nothing falls through the cracks. If you are familiar with yoga you may also know that Asanas are yoga poses or yoga postures, with The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali defining ‘asana’ as ‘[a position that] is steady and comfortable’ but for more of that you need to read someone else’s blog post. Asana enables teams to stay organised and connected by bringing them together in a shared online workspace. Within this space, tasks can be detailed and assigned to staff members, collaborators can update one another on their progress, timelines show how work maps out over time, while boards make it easy for your a team to focus on tasks currently at hand.
Slack is a messaging app that connects people to information and other people in an online unified workspace. Slack allows you to message your colleagues and collaborate, as you would in person, in workspaces known as channels. The system supports asynchronous work, that is work that is not simultaneous or concurrent in time, meaning you can access the information you need in your own time, regardless of your location, time zone or function; ask questions; catch up with new developments and share updates without having to coordinate schedules.
Dropbox provides a centralised place to securely store documents, manage data access and work together on projects. The system allows colleagues to work from anywhere, knowing their work is backed up in the cloud and large files such as videos, graphics and audio can be shared easily too.
Calendly is a hub for scheduling meetings, eliminating the hassle of back-and-forth emails and giving you control over team scheduling with a standardized, scalable process. It’s secure, easy to manage, and integrates with your team’s favourite tools, so you can get everyone working as efficiently and effectively as possible.
Doodle is an online scheduling tool which is used for organising meets. If you have ever had to schedule a date or time for a meeting between just a few people, you know that can be hard enough and scheduling meetings with large groups of people – even worse. Doodle offers several different ways to set up polls and surveys that will help you quickly and efficiently set up your next meeting or event. With Doodle you can create group meetings, 1:1 meetings and set up personal bookable calendars.
Canva is an online design and publishing tool with a mission to make complex things simple, empowering anyone, to design anything and publish anywhere. Canva houses thousands of free templates that include flyers, cards, business cards, resumes, invitations, letterheads, newsletters and much more, for easy graphic design and the drag and drop interface allows users to customise these by uploading their own images, dropping them into the template and saving the file to your computer.
Loom is a video messaging tool that helps you communicate through instantly shareable videos. With Loom, you can record your camera, microphone and desktop simultaneously and share your video through Loom’s patented technology, which again enables asynchronous work.
Descript enables users to record, transcribe, edit, mix, collaborate and master audio and video in the same way as a document. It is the world’s first audio word processor, allowing users to view and edit any audio file as text and converting text to audio too.
GroupGreeting allows users to create a digital card and have multiple people sign it. Not only is this great for teams who work remotely but anyone who have ever tried to get a paper greeting card signed and passed around an office without recipient seeing it, will understand the benefit of this one. GroupGreeting is easy to use, with unlimited space to sign and a video messaging tool is available too.
International Women’s Day (IWD) takes place on 8 March each year and is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality.
What is International Women’s Day?
The earliest known celebration of women was on 28 February 1909 in New York City and was called ‘National Women’s Day.’ Two years later, in 1911, the first IWD gathering was supported by over a million people. The same year Emmeline Pankhurst called on women to boycott the census, urging passive protest against the government‘s reluctance to give women the vote.
The first form of protest was that women who were at home on census night should refuse to complete the return (and risk a £5 fine or a month’s imprisonment), spoiling the census form by either refusing to provide any information or by scribbling comments on it along the lines of ‘I don’t count so I won’t be counted’ or ‘No vote – No census’. The second method was to avoid being at home that night. Women hid or kept moving from place to place throughout the night to avoid being recorded. Emily Davison, who famously lost her life at the Derby two years later, hid in a broom cupboard in the Houses of Parliament for 46 hours. She was arrested and released without charge but was recorded in the census as ‘found hiding in the Crypt of Westminster Hall’.
Historians write that while women have always been 50% of the population, they only occupy around 0.5% of recorded history but if you look at figurines made between about 40,000 BC, until around 5,000 BC, around 90% of these are of women. At the birth of civilised society, women had status, property rights and owned land but the new civilisations wanted to expand and when that happened, society became more militarised and the balance of power shifted.
More recently, the UK census should be a good source of information, however it was not until 1851 that household heads were ‘instructed’ to record married women’s occupations and only then, ‘if they were deemed to be regularly employed’. Actually, most working class women at the time had no choice but to work, in addition to the unpaid work they did at home but this was often not recorded, so the census returns show a blank space in the occupation column against women’s names.
Ordinary women, extraordinary lives
Women have achieved some wonderful things throughout history, below are some of my favourite stories.
During the 1930’s, Hazel Hill, a 13 year old girl, figured out the precise mathematical calculations to enable improvements to be made to Spitfires, increasing the number of guns to eight from four and helping to win the war. A 30 minute documentary about Hazel can be viewed below.
On 9 April 1959, NASA announced that seven men, who would become known as the Mercury 7, would go into space. At the same time, thirteen women, enrolled on a privately funded programme and successfully underwent the same physiological screening tests. The women never went to space.
Rosalind Franklin took the X-ray crystallography photograph known as ‘Photograph 51’, which led to the creation of a model that would change all scientists’ understanding of DNA.One year later, when scientists James Watson and Francis Crick made history by publishing a new model of the DNA code, including the crystallography photograph and Franklin’s research, Rosalind Franklin was not credited for her contribution. It wasn’t until 1968, when Watson published his memoir, that it was revealed Rosalind Franklin was the scientist who contributed the crucial X-ray crystallography photograph. However, while the other men were awarded the Nobel Prize, Rosalind Franklin never received this.
Hedy Lamarr was an actress famous for films such as Samson and Delilah and White Cargo. She was also an inventor who pioneered the technology that would one day form the basis for today’s WiFi, GPS, and Bluetooth communication systems.
Striking female machinists at the Ford Motor company
On 29 May 1970, two years after going on strike, 187 women working at a factory in East London witnessed their hard work pay off when the Equal Pay Act received royal assent. Coming into force five years later, the Act sought to ‘prevent discrimination, as regards terms and conditions of employment, between men and women’. This meant that it was required for men and women ‘in the same employment to be treated equally, in terms of their pay and conditions of work.
In 1973 a group of female office workers started talking about how they were treated at work. They talked about how men made more money than they did for the same job. They talked about how their male co-workers could get away with making passes at them and worse. They talked about how when their children got sick they couldn’t get time off without endangering their jobs. Then they decided enough was enough. Feisty, empowered and fed up, they decided to fight for fair pay and equal treatment and started the 9 to 5 National Association of Working Women. Forty years on from the release of the film 9 to 5, the themes of the film, inspired by the association, are still relevant today.
This year the International Women’s Day campaign theme is ‘Break The Bias’ with IWD asking everyone to imagine a gender equal world; a world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination; a world that is diverse, equitable and inclusive and a world where difference is valued and celebrated.
You may be wondering why we need to celebrate International Women’s Day. Well, that’s because although a lot has changed for women, there is still more work to be done. We need the day to celebrate women’s achievements, ensure we continue moving forwards not backwards and to remember the rights of women around the globe are not all the same. What can you do to break the bias?
In November I once again became a student, enrolling on a twelve week Digital Marketing boot camp with We Are Digital. I attended school before the internet revolution, learning to type on a manual computer and while I think I have kept up quite well with technological developments, I was increasingly finding there was much I did not know too. And I am not the only one, millions of people are digitally excluded. 11.9 million people do not have the essential digital skills needed for day to day life in the UK, 1.9 million households in the UK lack any kind of internet access and 9 million people struggle to use the internet independently.
What is digital marketing
Digital Marketing is any type of marketing activity that uses electronic devices or the internet and is different to traditional marketing which uses magazine adverts, billboards and direct mail such as flyers and catalogues. You can learn more about digital marketing in the short animation below.
What does the boot camp involve
The boot camp takes place online via Zoom, three hours a day, four days a week, for twelve weeks, with students benefiting from industry respected trainers and professionals from the world of digital marketing. It has been designed to be focused on commercial aims, so real world practical skills are taught and regular assessments are built into the timetable, with a final assessment – a group project to write and present a marketing strategy. Topics covered include:
Market research: understanding customers needs and problems to then develop solutions
Social media: Learning to plan, test, implement and measure social media campaigns
Search engine optimisation (SEO): How to plan, design, and implement an SEO strategy
Paid search: Learning to design and implement a paid search strategy
Analytics: understanding how to implement, test and measure results using analytics packages.
Tools: Learning about the tools that can be used to support digital marketing
Conversion optimisation: how to plan test and improve conversion rates on a website.
Competitor analysis: learning how to conduct competitor Analysis
Content marketing: learning how to plan and develop a content marketing strategy
Display and media: display advertising
Trends: understand trends in digital marketing, how it’s evolved and what is on the horizon.
Strategy: to take all the learnings from the course and develop into an overall digital marketing strategy
You can learn about these topics in more depth on the We Are Digital website below.
The boot camp is one of many free flexible training opportunities provided by the UK government Plan for Jobs programme, which aims to protect, support and create jobs across the country, whether you are a business owner, self-employed or a job seeker. To be eligible to study on the boot camp, students need to be aged 19+, recently made unemployed, self-employed, or working part-time and seeking a new career. Other training is available in construction, engineering and manufacturing, green skills and HGV driving.
If like me you would enjoy the opportunity to learn some new skills you can find out more about initiatives and the help available below.
It is hard to believe the world wide web is only 30 years old, as today it seems there is little we can do without it. On 6 August 1991, the first website was introduced to the world. Launched at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), it was created by British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee. On it, people could find out how to create web pages and learn about hypertext (coded words or phrases that link to content).By 1992 there were ten websites, by 1994 there were 3,000 websites (after the world wide web became public domain) and by the time Google made its debut in 1996, there were two million. However on 27 February 1995, Clifford Stoll writing in the American magazine Newsweek wrote ‘The truth in no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works.’ Seventeen years later Newsweek ceased print publication and became exclusively available online.
I built my first website in 2001 and from 2005 – 2018 worked in local government as a web editorial assistant. In 2006 the Cheshire County Council web team appeared in the internal newsletter. It was reported we had scored a national ‘hit’ parade high, with more than 648,000 internet users having clicked on to the Council services online, helping to scoop the coveted ranking as the eighth most visited local government website in the UK. It all seems incredibly wide eyed and innocent now but at the time the world was pretty much changing in real time in front of our eyes, as we encouraged our customers to ‘do it online.’ Websites were cluttered, dis-organised, used outlandish fonts and colours, had background music, guest books and counters to show the number of people who had visited the website and it wasn’t unusual to have text scrolling or flying across the screen.
Why is a digital presence important
In 2020, Forbes reported that in 2019 alone, there were approximately 3.8 million Google searches conducted each minute, many of which were carried out to find information on local businesses. Today many people will visit a company website and social media pages before they do anything, so a strong online presence acts like a shop window, where customers can browse, get a feel for a business, interact with a business and read customer reviews, with many people watching from a distance before they make contact or part with their money. In turn, websites, social media and other digital platforms allow businesses the opportunity to educate customers about what they do and showcase their work 24/7 to a global audience, who increasingly expect to see all businesses online, no matter their size.
One of the main reasons to have an online presence is to increase your credibility. Without this, many people today will question your legitimacy whereas a strong online presence will help build trust, find potential customers and affect their purchasing decisions. Having an online presence is an opportunity to get the word out about what you do but if people can’t find information about your business easily, they are likely go elsewhere.
Saving you time
An online presence can also help increase internal productivity within your company, reducing telephone calls meaning staff are not constantly being distracted. At the same time, it helps customers find useful information such as your location or opening hours at any time of day or night, which ultimately provides better customer service for them.
Top tips for building your online presence
First impressions count
Websites and other online services need to have a clean, modern and professional looking design, so no scrolling text, flashing images, crazy fonts, flying text, background music or emoticons – those days are gone. However, it is also important that your website is not style over substance, so beyond aesthetics, you should ensure you are providing valuable information to your customers, rather than posting for the sake of it. Sharing news updates about your company or maintaining a regular blog, where you provide original content related to what you do or the industry you work in, is important in bringing customers to you and ensuring they see you as current and relevant. Plan what you want to share ahead of when you want to share it, rather than thinking it and doing it in a rush the same day.
Use branding to clearly establish who you are, what you represent and what you stand for. Think BBC, Coca Cola, Virgin, Marks and Spencer – branding is your identity and should be instantly recognisable to your customers wherever you promote yourself, whether that be online or in printed material.
Ensure you can be contacted
If people are searching for you online they will expect to be able to contact you online too. Ensure your website has a contact email address and/or contact form and make sure these work by sending yourself a test email or asking someone to send one for you. If you are happy to be contacted by telephone or post, make sure these details appear on your website too. Alternatively, you can ask customers to book a call by using a Call To Action (CTA) button on your website or by using an online calendar such as Calendly and if you work from home but don’t want to share your home address online, look to obtain a virtual office address. Where contact information can be added to social media, you should ensure it is added and kept up to date there too.
Identify top tasks
People visits websites with a specific task in mind and if your website doesn’t help them complete those tasks, they will leave quickly and go somewhere that does. Considering the top tasks of your customer will help you identify the pages you need to include, content to feature on your website, page headers and sub headers to help them find their way around and a logical structure to each page’s content. Your website navigation menu needs to be easy to find and all key tasks need to appear in this – having links hidden away where they can’t be found doesn’t benefit you or your customer.
Writing for the web
Writing for the web is different to writing for print, as we read differently on screen than on paper, so before posting anything online, you need to tailor how you write for an online audience.
Use everyday language and plain English.
Proof read, sense check and spell check what you write by reading your writing aloud to yourself. It can be difficult to proofread your own writing, so if possible, ask someone to proofread for you too.
When you’ve finished writing, leave it for a while, return to it and read it through again – you will be surprised how much of your work you can still improve.
Do not use words and phrases that people won’t recognise or provide an explanation if this cannot be avoided.
Explain all abbreviations and acronyms, unless they are well known and in common use, for example VAT.
You can learn more about writing in plain English in the blog post ‘Plainly Speaking’ on this website.
Print versus web
Reading a flyer, brochure or book is a very different experience to viewing something on a screen. Printed materials need to be eye catching to entice people to pick them up but people read differently online, scanning what has been written to find information of interest, so anything posted online needs to recognise this. And remember, there may be times when a customer may need to print something from a website and they are not going to thank you if a document is beautifully designed but uses all their printer ink.
Remember, people with disabilities and older people are your audience too. You can learn more about this issue in the blog post ‘Making digital technologies accessible to all’ on this website. And although the number of older people who are digitally connected continues to rise, there are still around 5 million people over the age of 55 who are not online. Don’t forget to design your online services so they can accessed by people of varying ages, abilities and requirements and consider alternative ways to communicate with those who may not be online, to be sure you are not excluding them.
Undertake regular link checks – broken links, regardless of whether they appear on your website or an external website you may link to give a poor impression. Free broken link checkers can be found online.
Learn from experience
What do you find most frustrating about the websites you visit? Don’t fall into the trap of designing the same for your customers.
Keep your website fresh
Remember, websites are never finished, they are not a static thing that you create once and then forget about, they always need updating. The same applies to social media. It isn’t enough to set up pages and leave them – both need to be nurtured and maintained and have life breathed into them regularly. Neither is there is a one size fits all solution, so remember to always consider your target audience, always consider what you want to achieve by having an online presence and if this changes, be prepared to change what you do.
Social media enables people and organisations to share information, ideas, personal messages and more via the internet. It is also for any business that wants to gain exposure online, connect with existing or potential customers, build brand awareness, find new leads, generate website traffic, gain an insight into the shopping habits of customers and improve their customer service. However, there are too many social networking sites to ever have a presence on them all, so the aim of this blog post is to help you learn about the most widely used platforms.
The main social media networks
Facebook is the largest of all the social media platforms, with over two billion monthly active users, meaning you are sure to find some of your audience there. Usage is spread pretty evenly between males and females, with users getting more active as their age increases but with younger users increasingly more interested in other platforms. Facebook accommodates text (63,206 characters in regular posts), images and videos and is good for building relationships. Facebook groups enable an audience to be gathered together in one place online and can be helpful in creating conversations, while Facebook business pages can be used for advertising which can be customised to target specific audiences.
Twitter has around 300 million monthly active users who post messages known as tweets. It is useful for communicating breaking news in bite sized chunks of 280 characters or less but links can be added to tweets to signpost readers to further information.
Famous for its use of hashtags (although today these are used on other social media platforms too), Twitter formally adopted these in 2009 and went on to introduce trending topics, by placing the most popular hashtags on its homepage. Anything with a hashtag symbol in front of it becomes a hyperlink, meaning that clicking on a hashtag generates a list of tweets using the same hashtag, making iteasier to find information with a theme or specific content.
Research conducted for Twitter by IPSOS MediaCT (IpsosConnectUK), found that 60% of Twitter UK users have a strong interest in TV shows, regularly using the platform to talk about tv, something encouraged by programmers who now display their own hashtags as their programmes are aired, allowing viewers to join in with Twitter conversations.
Instagram is a photo and video sharing social networking service owned by Facebook. It has well over one billion monthly users meaning the chances are, much of your audience spends time on the platform. It is the home of influencers (someone who has the power to affect the purchasing decisions of others because of his or her authority, knowledge, position, or relationship with his or her audience), brands, bloggers, small business owners and also your friends and family. Popular with teens and young adults, use of the app slowly drops off with age but is consistently popular with men and women. Beautiful photography, illustrations and selfie-style videos are the currency here.
Pinterest is another photo and video sharing social media platform. It has over 320 million monthly users, predominantly adult women who use the platform as a social bookmarking tool for saving ideas and finding creative inspiration, from art, fashion, food, interior design and more. Increasingly Pinterest also offers businesses a unique way to market themselves as a visual search engine.
Popular with the under 25’s SnapChat has over 300 million monthly users, who use it to share updates and communicate with friends and family through disappearing images and short video messages. Video driven storytelling that entertains and educates a young audience is the name of the game here.
YouTube is an online video sharing and social media platform owned by Google. Music, films, gaming, sports and fashion can be found on the platform and it can also be used for producing video tutorials, instructional content, product reviews or interviews.
LinkedIn is primarily used for professional networking and career development, allowing job seekers to post their CVs and employers to post jobs. Editorial content can also be published enabling businesses to build their brand and engage leads through conversations.
Clubhouse describes itself as the ‘social audio app’ and ‘a new type of social product based on voice [that] allows people everywhere to talk, tell stories, develop ideas, deepen friendships, and meet interesting new people around the world.’ Millions of rooms or hallways enable users to pop in an out of different chats and you can host your own chats too. Networking and promoting your products is the name of the game here.
Now that you know about the most popular and widely used social media platforms, you are ready to jump into the world of social media.
Firstly set goals for what you hope to achieve through your use of social media marketing. Things you might want to focus on include:
improving your customer service by providing a platform where customers can reach you with complaints, questions, and concerns
identifying new leads
finding new customers who might be interested in your products or services
learning more about your audience
increasing traffic to your website and boosting sales.
Choose a platform that matches with the work you do
Secondly, choose a platform that matches the type of content you aim to create. If you are say a solicitor or an accountant it may be that you don’t have much in the way of visual information so Instagram and Pinterest are not going to work for you, whereas LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook will allow you to share useful information, blog posts and link to articles you’ve written. Creative businesses on the other hand, say artists, food businesses, hairdressers, jewellery makers or interior designers could easily make Instagram and Pinterest their social media home. Where are your followers most likely to be and where do organisations similar to yours hang out? Do your research and make sure you are in the same places.
What to post
When posting keeps these points in mind.
Be professional: don’t fall into the trap of thinking it is only social media – have fun with it but don’t let your standards fall
Be on brand: branding needs to be consistent everywhere it is used
Be authentic: communicate with your customers in a natural and genuine style
Be relevant and consistent: you don’t need to post every day but regular posts will keep you in customers minds
Be engaged: if your customers like, share or comment on your posts, take the time to acknowledge this and if they ask you a question, make sure you reply
Slow and steady wins the race
If you want to make use of more than one social media platform, consider first using ones you are already familiar with and enjoy using, leaving the others until you are up and running with these. Also, don’t be afraid to focus on one or two platforms and doing these well. Doing them half heartedly will drive your customers away. And if a social media platform isn’t working for you, don’t be scared to stop using it. Remember social media should enhance your business but it isn’t compulsory and you don’t have to do it all at once, so build your social media presence slowly and have fun with it.
Freelancers can be found in many occupations from writers, photographers, journalists, computer programmers, language translators, website designers and graphic designers … some are even virtual assistants. This post delves into the history of freelancing, discusses the advantages of hiring a freelancer and what things you need to be aware of when hiring a freelancer.
Freelancing versus outsourcing
The term freelance is defined by The Merriam Webster dictionary as ‘pursuing a career without making a long-term commitment to one employer’ and by Investopedia, as an independent profession wherein an enterprising individual earns money on a per project basis and usually for a short term contract.’
Freelancers are paid based on the time and effort needed to complete a task. For some, freelancing may be their sole source of income, for others, it may be something they do alongside paid employment. Freelancers can be found through word of mouth or via LinkedIn where you will be able to view their skills, work experience and read recommendations. Increasingly freelancers can be found through online talent marketplaces such as Hoxby, Fivver, People Per Hour and Upwork. While Evenbreak and Podium aim to match people with disabilities with inclusive companies who evaluate them on nothing other than their ability to do work.
Freelancing differs from outsourcing in that freelancers are sole traders, free to complete different jobs at the same time for a diverse clientele. Outsourcing is defined by The Grammarist website as the means to obtain goods or services from an outside source, with the most commonly used meaning of the word being to contract jobs or tasks that were previously provided within a company. Outsourceis a portmanteau word, that is a word composed by blending the sounds and the meanings of two different words, in this case, ‘outside’ and ‘resource’.
As such freelance or freelancing can be seen to be something that someone is or does, whereas outsourced is something that happens to a person or a task, with outsourcing being the means by which tasks are given to freelancers, contractors or external organisations. Outsourcing seeks a service, while freelancing provides a service.
The word freelance first came into use in the early 1800s and referred to a medieval mercenary who would fight for whichever nation or person paid them the most. The earliest written evidence for this use is in Sir Walter Scott’s novel, Ivanhoe, where a feudal lord refers to his paid army of ‘free lances’ saying ‘I offered Richard the service of my Free Lances, and he refused them—I will lead them to Hull, seize on shipping, and embark for Flanders; thanks to the bustling times, a man of action will always find employment.’ Later the word came to mean a politician without political affiliation. Prior to the word freelance becoming part of the English language, Latin records from the Middle Ages show that most often, hired soldiers were called‘stipendiarii’ (or stipendiaries, meaning they were given a stipend for fighting), ‘soliderii’ or simply ‘mercennarius.’
The origins of outsourcing can be found in The Industrial Revolution. Company owners started to outsource some services, rather than keeping them in house and architecture, engineering and insurance companies began opening their doors to serve multiple clients. Manufacturing companies also discovered they could outsource production, for example clothing items, shoes, and toys. By the 1970s, many electronics products were manufactured overseas and companies sought workers in foreign countries due to lower labour costs. Later computer companies learned they could outsource their payroll services and in the 1980s, other services, including billing, accounting, and word processing started to be outsourced by businesses also.
Today billions of pounds worth of public services have been outsourced. The private sector runs prisons, while local authorities outsource housing benefits and revenue services, street cleaning and schools. Large IT contracts across government are undertaken by the private sector too. Charities run large portions of social services and call centre companies operate on behalf of clients looking to outsource these duties, meaning that when you speak with an insurance company, you will quite likely be speaking with someone who is working for a separate company, even though that person has been trained to handle customer service duties. It is not unusual for private management firms to be brought into run a failing social services department, or a hospital that is performing poorly, while NHS purchasers look to buy the spare capacity of private hospital providers, so outsourcing their NHS waiting lists.
Why hire a freelancer
Hiring a freelancer can be a great alternative to taking on permanent employees. Reasons why you may want to hire a freelancer include:
Buying back your own time, freeing this for other purposes and enabling you to get on with your core business
Freelancers can be hired for a short term project, for a set amount of time, or to help with long term projects
If your business requires specific skills for a project, you can hire a freelancer to undertake this work for you
You only pay a freelancer for the time they work, so no need to pay a salary, training costs, sickness pay or to make pension contributions
If a function is time consuming or if a task has got out of control, these tasks can be passed to a freelancer to sort
Freelancers can step in say if you need additional support on a project, or to cover staff absence
By considering freelancers, companies access a global talent pool, allowing them to find the specific talent, qualifications, and skills they require, without settling for the best available person in their immediate area
Thing to consider when hiring a freelancer
Freelancers will only do the job they are hired to do, whereas, an employee may be able to help and work on various other tasks.
Experienced freelancers will ask for more money than a regular employee. Remember they have costs and responsibilities normally paid and undertaken by an employer, such as the cost of electricity and whatever equipment they use to undertake their work. They still have to pay tax, national insurance and pension contributions and have additional costs and tasks such as completing a self assessment tax return each year, registering with the Information Commissioner’s Office and the cost of obtaining contracts and other legal documents that protect freelancers.
A freelancer will likely work on a remote basis, meaning that you have to trust them to do the work, if they are charging you per hour or per day.
If a freelancer works on your premises you are responsible for their health and safety.
A freelancer may not always be available in the same way as a regular employee due to working on multiple jobs for multiple clients.
It should also be noted that freelancers are business owners too, so will be busy looking after their own business, as well as having family commitments and lives outside of work – remember your freelancer is a human being.
Freelancers create an opportunity to expand the diversity of your company. Teams made up of individuals from different geographic areas, educational backgrounds, cultures and work disciplines will bring fresh perspective to a project, say a solution to a problem or a different way of understanding your customer’s needs.
Briefing your freelancer and making the most of them
Once you have decided that you want to hire a freelancer to do a job for you, you will need to brief them so they understand your requirements and expectations, for example the time frame that you expect everything to be completed by, the budget you have set for the project and any other details the freelancer might need to know to get the job done.
To make the most of your freelancer:
Communicate: ensure you communicate all issues and requirements
Stick to the brief: don’t expect what you have not asked for, demand extra work from freelancers that is not listed in the brief or that you are not paying them for
Payments: make sure you make the payments on the agreed dates or within the agree timeframe – freelancers are no different to any other workers and still have bills to pay
Remember, a freelancer will want to work hard for you to both retain custom and boost their reputation, so if you are happy with the work you have received from a freelancer, don’t forget to tell them, taking the time to post a recommendation on their LinkedIn page and their Google My Business page to encourage others to hire them too.
As with hiring an employee, there are legalities that you need to be aware of when hiring a freelancer.
Contract: a contract protects both you and your freelancer and should include all the details of your working relationship before work begins – verbal contracts can be used for ad hoc work but remember it’s harder to use as evidence if there is an issue or dispute
Confidential information: if the freelancer is required to work with confidential information about your business, then you need to make sure that somewhere in the contract it is made clear this information is confidential and that if they reveal this, they can be held accountable for it
Intellectual property: when an employee works for you, their work and creation will belong to the business, however, this is different for freelancers – if you want the right of ownership of the intellectual property then this needs to be in the contract also
Health and safety: most freelancers work on a remote basis which means you will not be responsible for their health and safety, however, if they are working on your premises, you will be responsible if they are harmed due to failure to have a safe working environment
Newsletters are simple informal publications, usually issued on a regular basis for a specific audience, say business, community, charity or workplace news. Today newsletters are mostly delivered via email and are commonly known as electronic newsletters, email newsletters or e-newsletters. However have you ever wondered about the first newsletters, how long newsletters have been around, why a business needs a newsletter today and how to go about creating and sending one.
Etymology Online records the word ‘news’ was first used in the late 14th century to mean ‘new things’ and was derived from the French word ‘nouvelles’. In the early 15th century, the word news meant ‘tidings, intelligence of something that has lately taken place’ and its meaning as a ‘radio or television programme presenting current events’ is from 1923. Bad news, as in ‘unpleasant person or situation’ is from 1926, the expression ‘no news, good news’ can be traced to the 1640s, while the expression ‘news to me’ meaning ‘something I did not know’ is from 1889. The word news is not an abbreviation of north east south west, as in ‘information from all quarters of the compass’ and the dictionary refers to this as ‘absurd folk-etymology.’
The earliest physical newsletters were known as Acta Diurna. In Latin, the word Acta means ‘things that have been done’. Acta Diurna are believed to date from before 59 BCE and are sometimes attributed in origin to Julius Caesar. They were first chiselled in stone or metal and later were handwritten and distributed in public forums or read from scrolls by town criers. The typical Acta Diurna might contain news of gladiatorial contests, astrological omens, notable marriages, births and deaths, public appointments, trials and executions.
Printed newsletters began in mid fifteenth century Venice with subscribers receiving handwritten letters twice a week rounding up interesting events, while sixteenth century merchants used newsletters to keep track of exchange rates, taxes and other business news. Clerks would make hundreds of handwritten copies of each letter and often the handwriting changed in the middle of a letter, evidencing the mass production at work. Some newsletters were formatted like personal letters with a greeting but most of the time they began with ‘Sir’ or only the date, while others were laid out on folded paper like printed newspapers.
The first known English newsletter was published in 1549 and titled ‘Requests of the Devonshyre and Cornyshe Rebelles’, while the first titled newspaper was the Corante, published in London in 1621. The Boston News-Letter which is also credited as the first American newspaper appeared in 1704 and in1734, Benjamin Franklin began publishing Poor Richard’s Almanack to promote his printing business. The Almanack printed weather predictions, recipes, trivia and other advice people might consider valuable.
In 1882, the Edison Electric Lighting Company Bulletin helped spread the word about the benefits of electric lighting. An excerpt from the April 1883 edition reads ‘We are lighting the stall for Fish Commissioner Blackford, Fulton Market, from the central Station in the First District. At the exhibition of live trout given by Mr Blackford on the 2d of April, the tanks containing the fish were lighted by means of Edison lamps submerged in water.’
Newsletters and newspapers co-existed for decades and although many newsletters later become newspapers, history shows there was often a place for newsletters too. In the 1930s for example, as today, there was a shift to newsletters amidst a crisis of confidence in the newspaper industry. This was enabled by the spread of new technology in the form of the mimeograph, a duplicating machine which produced copies from a stencil, allowing ordinary people to become their own publishers. Poets such as Allen Ginsburg used mimeographs to sell chapbooks, while genre aficionados used them to print fanzines. Mimeographs also fueled the growth of marginalized communities such as the publication of 1950s lesbian newsletter ‘The Ladder’, which was printed on the machine.
In the 1940s, journalists fled traditional news outlets to write directly for subscribers. Claud Cockburn for example resigned from his post as foreign correspondent for The Times of London, having grown sick of the newspaper’s conservative streak and began publishing ‘The Week’ from his one room London office, attacking extremists such as Mussolini. His subscriber list started at just seven, but soon grew to include Charlie Chaplin and King Edward VII. George Seldes also quit his job from the Chicago Tribune to start up a publication he called ‘In Fact’, labellingit ‘an Antidote for Falsehood in the Daily Press.’ Interestingly newsletters were more expensive than newspapers, but that didn’t mean their readers were only the elite. In some cases, friends and neighbours shared subscriptions and they could also be found in London coffeehouses.
By the mid 1980’s desktop publishing and the use of desktop computers to produce print materials became common and it became possible to create professional looking printed newsletters easily. However, within a few years, newsletters were mostly distributed by email and today people mostly subscribe to these as part of a marketing campaign which may also include website marketing, social media and print advertising.
Why does a business need an email newsletter
Email newsletters are an inexpensive way to communicate. While traditional newsletters or advertisements have printing, posting and design costs, email newsletter costs are minimal in comparison.
Publishing a weekly, monthly or quarterly newsletter keeps your company’s name in front of customers and prospective customers and can be used to update them say about new products; sales, discounts and promotional offers; your company’s participation in exhibitions, conferences and events; financial results and staff appointments.
Connect with potential customers
An email newsletter helps you gather a group of people who are interested in what you have to say or sell, driving traffic to your website, so helping you reach more customers. Good newsletters allow customers to get to know what you do and the more familiar people are with what you do, the more likely they are to enter into a business relationship with you.
Newsletters allow you to demonstrate your expertise, so publishing articles about news from your area of work demonstrates your company has a good understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing your customers. Articles that show technical expertise can position you as an expert and also show customers how your company can help them improve their own performance. You could also consider publishing brief case studies showing how you solved problems for your customers, while encouraging customers to contribute their own articles can build a sense of community.
Every email newsletter sent generates statistics showing how the newsletter has performed, for example open rates and click rates, that show you how many people are viewing your newsletters.
Tips for writing good newsletters
Every day customers receive many emails asking then to purchase a product or service, together with messages from internet and social media, television, radio andprint advertisements, meaning customers can feel quite overwhelmed. However, a newsletter is an investment in your relationship with your customers and although it may take time to plan content and design an issue, it is worthwhile effort. So what are the steps needed to create a good newsletter and ensure your message does not get overlooked?
Set newsletter goals
Before you write a newsletter, ask yourself why you are sending it. Don’t send a newsletter simply because everyone else is doing it, send it with a goal in mind, otherwise you may find your emails are deleted and marked as spam.
Being ‘on-brand’ means consistent fonts, colours, logos and voice so that your company has a recognisable identity. Companies such as the BBC, Marks and Spencer, Coca Cola and Virgin, all have recognisable brands and this should be the same for all organisations.
The subject line is the first thing on a newsletter that someone reads and your customers use it to decide if they want to open your email or not. Sprout Social reported in 2021 that 69% of people will report you for spam based only on the subject line, so choose your words carefully.
Creating consistently engaging and informative content will encourage your customers to open your newsletters more often. Adding value to these by providing useful and engaging content keeps customers interested and helps build loyalty to your company. Use bullet points, include tips, instructions, photos, videos and helpful links to make your newsletter readable and entertaining.
Think, feel, know
People process information differently, as such it is important to consider three types of informational processing when creating a newsletter – a brief summary for the knowers who never read the whole thing; photos and graphs for the feelers who grasp information in metaphors and stories; and finally, text and detail for the thinkers who want the full story.
Buttons and links
Use call to action buttons or links to make it easy for customers to engage with you. A call to action could be ‘buy now’, ‘subscribe’, ‘try for free’, ‘learn more’ or ‘join in.’ Another important link to include in your email newsletter is the unsubscribe link. While you don’t want people to unsubscribe, you also don’t want them to mark your emails as spam if there is no way to unsubscribe. Build trust with your audience by including a unsubscribe link and they may return to you at a later date.
Sign up forms
Including a sign up form on your website or social media pages will enable you to start collecting email addresses to build your list.
Does your email look good across a range of devices. It is important to user test what you are sending before sending it and testing should be a continual process too. Do your customers like short subject lines? Does using their name increase the open rate? Do videos get more click throughs than buttons or links? User testing is beneficial to both you and your customers.
Segment your audience
Consider segmenting your audience by sending targeted content only to those who want it, rather than everyone on your mailing list.
Experiment with send days and times as these are thought to change by industry, company and even world events.
Keep it simple
Writing a newsletter is about conveying information in a simple and concise manner but you don’t need to start from scratch and create new material for it, instead repurpose existing content say from a blog to maximise its distribution.
Ready to send your first newsletter?
If you are ready to send your first newsletter, take a look at the websites below for further information.
The Oxford English dictionary defines accessibility firstly, as how easy something is to reach, enter, use or see and secondly, as how easy something is to reach, enter or use for somebody with a disability. In the second instance, accessibility means people with disabilities are not excluded from using something as a result of their disability and that they can do what they need to do, in a similar amount of time, in a similar way and with a similar amount of effort as someone who does not have a disability.
Why is digital accessibility important?
Digital accessibility means that all people can use the exact same technology, regardless of whether they can use a mouse, have a vision or hearing impairment or how they process information but for many people with disabilities, this simply isn’t the case. The short film below provides a brief introduction to digital accessibility.
To fully understand what is meant by digital accessibility, you need to experience how technological barriers feel. You can do this by turning off your computer monitor and trying to type; using your phone from under a table; unplugging your mouse and trying to navigate a website; increasing the zoom level on a document or web page to 500% or unplugging your speakers and watching a webinar without sound. Digital technology has the ability to provide access and independence but when technology is not made accessible it creates barriers, therefore accessible technology is important so that as many people as possible can use computers, websites and social media, allowing them to participate independently in society.
Research undertaken by Reason Digital via Populus and Lloyds Bank UK Consumer Digital Index in 2020 shows that:
people with disabilities are over 50% more likely to face barriers to accessing digital and online services than people without disabilities
if you have an impairment you are three times more likely not to have the skills to access devices and get online.
And the covid-19 pandemic which forced everyone online more, has now widened the digital divide further, showing accessibility is no longer a ‘nice to have’, as starkly illustrated in the video below, which shows Labour MP Vicky Foxcroft asking a question at Prime Minister’s Questions on 14 April 2021, over one year into the coronavirus pandemic
Accessible technology versus assistive technology
Accessible technology is technology that can be used easily by people with a wide range of functional abilities, allowing each user to use it in the ways that work best for him or her. When using a computer for example, there are many ways to input information, say with a mouse, the keyboard, or through a speech recognition system. Accessible technology can be directly accessible, meaning it is usable without the need for additional devices, or accessible through and compatible with assistive technology.
Assistive technology is the term used to describe devices, equipment and software that help people with disabilities live more independently, so for example a smartphone with a built in screen reader is directly accessible and an online job application is compatible with assistive technology when someone with a visual impairment can navigate it using a screen reader.
You can learn more about the range of assistive technology available and the impact and benefits of accessible and assistive technology below.
The charity Scope reports that at least one in five people in the UK have a long term illness, impairment or disability. Many more have a temporary disability and others will become disabled in old age. People with disabilities are everywhere and everyone.
However, as a society, we treat people with disabilities differently and in doing so exclude them, forcing them to find adjustments simply so they can access information or services other people take for granted. In turn companies:
alienate people with disabilities
limit the size of their audience
potentially put others in danger of missing out on essential information.
Accessibility issues may affect those with vision and hearing impairments; neurodiversity such as dyslexia, seizures, autism, or other cognitive differences; learning difficulties; mobility issues including arthritis, quadriplegia or spinal cord injuries and mental health such as bipolar disorder, anxiety, PTSD, depression, or ADHD, so when designing anything it is important to consider the range of people who need to use the product or service. You can learn more about this on the GOV.UK website below.
Accessibility isn’t about changing existing content or making alternative content specifically for people with disabilities but designing content that can be used for everyone, aiming to be inclusive at all times and being inclusive regardless of who you are writing for. There is no doubt it is a difficult task to get right every time for everyone but ultimately, it is the right thing to do and will also enable you to reach the largest possible audience for your business. You can learn more about inclusive design on the Microsoft website below.
Want to create accessible websites and social media but don’t know where to start? Here are some tips.
Alternative (alt) text
Alt text describes an image to someone who cannot see by reading the text aloud to users of screen reader software. If adding a photo of say a plate of food, a bad description would be ‘a plate of food’. A good description would describe the food, say ‘A plate of fish and chips’.
You can learn more about screen readers and alt text below.
How easy is it for you to read the number in the image below?
When designing images, it is important to consider the colours you use. Pastel coloured backgrounds with pale text are almost impossible to read if you have low vision or visual impairment. Black text on a white background is also difficult for people with dyslexia to read. Where possible, use an off white or pale background with dark text. You can learn more about colour contrast below.
Screen reading technology reads emoji descriptions out loud, so try to use no more than three at a time and avoid adding lines of emojis. You should also check the name of the emoji you are using, to make sure it means what you think it does.
Interested in hearing how a screen reader handles mass emojis? Take a look at Twitter page of Alexa Henrich.
Fonts and special characters
People with dyslexia, learning and visual impairments can struggle to read some fonts, so choose easy to read fonts like Arial, Helvetica, Calibri or Verdana and avoid italics and special characters.
Interested in hearing how a screen reader handles fonts and symbols? Take a look at the Twitter page of Kent C Dodds.
Colour contrast is also an issue with GIFs. Flashing images can trigger symptoms in people who have epilepsy or get migraines and can cause seizures. To ensure GIFs are accessible, make sure they do not flash more than three times per second, check the colour contrast ratios if the GIF includes text, add alt text if possible and describe the GIF in accompanying text.
To make hashtags more accessible, use capital letters at the start of each word. This is known as camel case and it enables screen readers to recognise the words, making your content more readable to people with dyslexia or cognitive disabilities. Also, use hashtags at the end of a post so as not to disrupt the flow.
Headings are an important part of web accessibility. They aid readability of a web page for all readers by splitting it into sections so helping readers scan the page and find information quickly. However, headings are essential for assistive technologies such as screen readers which use them as signposts to navigate a web page. To make your headings as useful as possible:
Use headings in hierarchical order. This means a <h2> heading should always follow a <h1> heading and so on.
Only use one <h1> heading per web page.
Don’t skip headings, for example, using a <h2> heading followed by a <h4> heading.
Headings should describe the content that follows it
It is difficult for people with visual impairments to read text that has been embedded in an image, so make sure any such images are accompanied by a text description that can be read by a screen reader.
Writing in plain English is important if your message is to be understood by as many people as possible. You can learn more about Plain English in the Plainly Speaking blog post on this website.
Videos without captions or audio description
People who are deaf or have a hearing impairment are unable to access the information without captions or a transcript, so when creating video content, always add captions to your videos, make transcripts available for longer videos, add audio description to your videos and provide a summary of the video in accompanying text.
Designing for accessibility
For more information about designing for accessibility, visit the websites below.
Blogs areonline journals written for both personal and business use. A blog may focus on a single topic or a whole range of topics and may have multiple authors or only one.The articles that appear on a blog are known asblog posts and these can be on any manner of subjects from cookery to gardening to politics. I have written a personal blog for a number of years now – if you are interested to learn more about me, pop on over to A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit of That and for a short explanation of what a blog is take a look at the video below.
The word blog is derived from the words ‘weblog’, as in ‘world wide web’ and ‘log’ as in a ‘record of events’. The Online Etymology Dictionary states the word was first used in this sense in 1998, however prior to this, the word was recorded in 1993 as referring to a ‘file containing a detailed record of each request received by a web server’. In 1969 the word was British slang for any hypothetical person, as in ‘Joe Bloggs’ and in 1860 was recorded as meaning ‘a servant boy’ in one of the college houses and also as a verb meaning ‘to defeat’ in schoolboy slang.
Why should my business have a blog?
Blogs can help drive traffic to your website, increase your sales and establish you as an authority in your area of work. A regularly updated blog will help you reach new customers, as search engines love fresh content, so the more frequently you update your blog, the more likely your website will climb the search engine rankings, gaining you visibility from potential customers.
Know your audience
Before you begin writing consider who your audience is, as this will help refine the purpose of your writing, for example, is the aim of your blog to inform, persuade or entertain? Considering your audience will help you decide on a suitable writing style, say technical or humorous; provide inspiration for your posts and increase the likelihood of people returning to read future blog posts. You should aim to write blog posts that answer the questions most frequently asked by your customers or that provide fresh insights into your area of work.
Blogs are an informal style of writing, so don’t be afraid to write in a natural and chatty style. Use a headline to grab readers attention and add images, embed videos, use headings and bullet points to break up text and make your blog more readable.
Consider how people consume information online
It is reported that most people normally only spend two to three minutes reading a blog, so blog writing needs to be designed for busy people quickly scanning content, using an ‘F’ shaped pattern of reading, that is horizontally across the top, then moving down the page, scanning horizontally for a shorter period and finally scanning vertically down the left side to see if anything catches their eye. You may have noticed of recent, for this reason, much online content now advises how long it takes to read, so readers can decide if they have time to read an article before they begin reading.
As such, it is recommended blogs are written using an inverted pyramid writing structure. This means rather than beginning with an introduction and ending with a conclusion (known as a pyramid format), blogs should begin with the most important piece of information first, so readers get the gist of the post, regardless of how much they read. This way of writing has its origins in print journalism and is now widely used by blog authors since, like traditional newspaper articles, people may not have time to read something fully. The opening paragraph should be followed by a brief explanation that justifies the opening conclusion, which is then followed by supporting details that led to the opening statement. In other words, a blog article should move from the most important point to the least important point.
Make your words count
Blog posts should be as concise as possible. Particular attention should be paid to the following.
Think carefully about how you start paragraphs – the first few words need to make your reader want to continue reading.
Paragraphs and sentences should be short.
Look out for repeated words, especially if in close proximity.
Remove words that do not significantly change the meaning of sentences and remove multiple words where a single one will do.
Avoid using jargon (visit The Plain English Campaign website for an online dictionary of plain English alternatives for jargon.)
Ready to start a blog? Take a look at the websites below.
The English language is spoken around the world from the United States to Tristan da Cunha, a remote group of volcanic islands in the south Atlantic Ocean. English is part of the Indo-European family of languages which are spoken in most of Europe and areas of European settlement and in much of south west and south Asia. The English language uses words from 350 languages and its evolution is fascinating, as shown in the short film below.
Currently it is thought there are around 1.5 billion English speakers, about one quarter of these are native speakers, with a quarter speaking English as their second language. Today the Oxford English Dictionary contains over 600,000 words, so it is hardly surprising that humans struggle to understand one another sometimes and as amazing as the English language is, writing in plain English is important if your message is to be understood by as many people as possible. In some instances, the law even gives people a right to expect plain English. For example, European law states that terms in a consumer contract can only be enforced if they have been written in ‘plain and intelligible language’ and in the USA the Plain Writing Act was signed by President Obama in 2010.
What is Plain English?
Plain English encourages clear and concise use of the English language. It is best described as concise, easy to read and allows the reader to understand the message the first time they read it, whether that be web content, documents, emails or social media posts and being able to read quickly, means everyone can benefit from this style of writing.
Writing in plain English helps people:
who have poor memory
are easily distracted
are slow at reading or processing information (one in six adults have difficulty reading)
have difficulty identifying the main points from a long passage of text
have a very literal understanding of language
are reading in a hurry
who have learning difficulties such as dyslexia (10% of the population who are believed to be dyslexic)
speak English as a second language
The Plain English Campaign
Since 1979 The Plain English Campaign have fought for ‘crystal clear communications’, campaigning against what they call gobbledygook, jargon and misleading public information, particularly in legal and government documents, believing that everyone should have access to clear and concise information and working with thousands of organisations including many UK government departments, public authorities and international banks, helping them make sure their public information is as clear as possible and promoting a writing style that enables readers to understand a message the first time they read it. The campaign encourages the use of short, clear sentences and everyday functional words, so for example, instead of ‘demonstrate’ say ‘show’, instead of ‘objective’ say ‘aim’ and instead of ‘in relation to’ say ‘about.’
The campaign officially began after its founder, Chrissie Maher OBE, publicly shredded hundreds of official documents in Parliament Square, London and delivered the first issue of the ‘Plain English’ magazine to 10 Downing Street dressed as the Gobbledygook Monster. Born in 1938, Chrissie could not read until she was in her mid teens, however, heavily involved in community work during the 1960s, she founded Britain’s first community newspaper, ‘The Tuebrook Bugle’. In the 1970s she set up ‘The Liverpool News’, the country’s first newspaper for semi-literate adults and Impact Foundation, a community printshop. Chrissie was invited to be a councillor on the National Consumer Council (NCC) when it was created in 1975 until 1979 and during this time she also started the Salford Form Market, a project to help people fill in forms, which led to the birth of the Plain English Campaign. In 1994 Chrissie received an OBE and has an honorary MA from Manchester University and a honorary doctorate from the Open University.
Organisations can now apply for The Plain English Campaign Crystal Mark, a seal of approval for the clarity of a document which appears on over 23,000 different documents in the UK and in other countries including the USA, Australia, Denmark and New Zealand, while the Internet Crystal Mark enables organisations to show they are committed to plain English on their websites. The campaign also holds an annual awards ceremony which includes the Foot in Mouth award (for baffling quotes by public figures); Golden Bull awards (for the worst examples of written tripe) and the Kick in the Pants award (draws attention to companies or organisations who need to communicate in plainer English).
In a 2012 study by Christopher Trudeau, 80% of the people who responded said they preferred sentences written in plain English. The more complicated the issue, the more they preferred to read simpler language. It also found people with specialist knowledge had an even greater preference for plain English because they had more to read and did not have the time to wade through pages of content.
It is also important now so much reading is done online, as people read differently on the web than they do on paper. The IONAS website explains ‘Firstly, online content is read up to 25% slower, yet at the same time, the internet provides users with an unbelievable mass of information. The combination of these two factors means that the average internet user has become impatient. Whether the text is a news article or a product description, these days it’s rare for users to consume each word like a good book. Instead, online texts are scanned and skimmed over, while search results are scoured and combed through. This must now be taken into account when designing web projects and content campaigns.’
So, to quote Winston Churchill ‘Short words are best, and old words, when short, are best of all.’
The Plain English Campaign have a wealth of useful information on their website to help with writing clearly. Take a look below to learn more.