It’s been an interesting year

The year, if you're a pagan. Click image for source.

The year, if you're a pagan. Click image for source.

So it’s a year almost to the day that I went freelance. I only realised when I attended a local country fair, comprising ferret races, dogs herding geese, and cut-price sales of smocks (I only lied about one of those), which I went to the day after deciding I had to go freelance last year or go utterly insane.

It’s probably the best thing I ever did. I’ve since learned how to cut those apron strings, stop shouting “Mother” in a George Formby-type way whenever anything went wrong, stand on my own two feet, and be a Real Man.

It’s not all been plain sailing however. It’s been good, but also, at times, bad. So, for those of you who still read blogs – which, by my declining stats, is about three – here’s what I’ve found:

Money

I’m not particularly ‘fiscal’ by nature, or at least I wasn’t. The pound gave me palpitations. I dreaded dollars. The Malaysian Ringgit made me Moan Relentlessly. Now, I track everything to the penny and found I’m not bad at it. I’ve got a funky spreadsheet that tells me exactly who, when, where, why, and for how much. This is just as well because…

Money again

I didn’t earn as much as I thought I could. This was down to two factors: it took a while to get going; and Christmas was utterly dead. Dead as a dodo. It was an ex-Yuletide. Since February however, the famine has become feast, so next year, note to self: go on a nice wintersun holiday around December time. Maybe extend it to November and January.

Work

It’s lumpy. So Christmas was bad but I’ve also had a few weekend stints and at the time of writing am looking to perform another. However, the main thing is, at least I’m getting paid. I pity the poor gangrel creatures who work at agencies and are expected to work late and/or weekends for free.

Time

Has become increasingly flexible. I’ve given up trying to work before 11am because it just doesn’t suit me. I tend to do my own stuff before then – tidying up the UK Election Social Media Dashboard for example, checking my email, seeing where the world is at. Then I’ll get cracking until around 7 or 8pm, at about which time my lovely girlfriend comes home. Then I put on the Barry White, obviously.

People

There are some weirdos out there. Honestly. I’m starting to develop a knack for detecting the tyre-kickers in particular. Unfortunately, most of them come to me via this blog. Emails such as “Can you contact us re copywritting” [sic] are a dead giveaway. All I’ve decided is that you have to treat everyone equally and, when you’ve chased once, twice, thrice, you just have to leave it and accept that it’s not personal.

On the other hand there are some really nice people out there. Just when I start losing faith in humanity, I find one. Or even two. They really help. I’d say on the whole I’m finding that, when you get out of the paranoid world of the agency, people are much less hung up and desperate. I think I tend to reflect what’s going on around me so I was getting hung up and desperate working in agencies. Really, in the real world, it’s not like that, simply because it doesn’t have to be. Fact.

Serendipity

You never know what’s around the corner. That’s what makes the tyre-kickers of the world annoying. Some of them seem so promising. Then you get a random query and the next thing you know, they’re a retained client. Retainerships are wonderful. You can plan with them, as can they. And they can still make a profit off you cos you’re a poxy freelancer while they’re a big butch agency and can still hold healthy margins.

Experience

I’d say I’ve learned more in the past year than I did in the previous five. I spent too long expecting someone to give me the answers, and I kept finding that no one really knew what they were. So I decided to look for myself. Now I have the tools and techniques that mean I can address a client’s situation in a logical, replicable, objective way (creativity was never a problem). So I might come up with the same solution they’d have thought of themselves. Fine. Difference is, with real reasoning and solid strategy behind them, they know why they’re doing it. More to the point, they can tell their bosses why they’re doing it. It’s important.

Solitude

This is the one thing that surprised me. I do get lonely working on my own. I travel quite a lot to see clients in London Town, and the cats are amusing in their own way. I also grew up spending endless hours playing by myself and it didn’t bother me at all. In fact, I used to think how lovely it would be to work on my own without being bothered by pesky people. Now, while I do value my own time, I find I can have too much of it. Balance in all things I guess. I need more retainers. So, on that note, if you want to retain a social media copywriter, let me know.

Tortoises

I’ve been able to spend more time with Concorde the Tortoise, showing him flashcards to stimulate him, teaching him his times tables, helping him hone his polevaulting technique etc. He’s learning French this year. I’m thinking of sending him to one of the better public schools, maybe Eton or Harrow. Definitely not Winchester.

And that’s it. I expect it’s what a lot of freelancers will tell you from any discipline. Main thing is I’m certainly much happier and more confident since doing this. Sometimes you have to listen to that little voice inside you and just go for it. I’m glad I did.

Who are: @frosty_snow, @geoff_bronson, @gavin_henderson, @peter_bently?

The UK Election Social Media Dashboard. What are people saying? What are YOU saying? Click to find out.

This morning I took a quick look at what people were saying on the UK Election Social Media Dashboard.

I noticed a few spikes on Twitter for George Osborne. This was strange. Osborne hasn’t figured particularly highly so far, and when he has, it’s been associated with spikes for his contemporaries Darling and Cable.

So I took a look. And, even though I’m fairly apolitical – believe me, I’m more interested in the geekery than the politics here – I’m quite dismayed by what I think I’ve found.

I noticed that there were quite a few tweets referencing old news about Osborne – his inheritance, his expenses, and so on. So I looked at who was tweeting this. And there are four Twitter accounts that have been very recently set up, that have no weblinks, that all seem to be essentially spreading muck about him online.

I’m not one for conspiracy theories but this looks pretty dodgy to me. If I didn’t know better I’d say that someone, somewhere, is coordinating an attempt to discredit Osborne by setting up Twitter accounts to try and spread negative messaging.

Of course, I could be wrong. In which case maybe we should give @frosty_snow, @geoff_bronson, @gavin_henderson and @peter_bently the benefit of the doubt. Here’s an idea: why don’t you go and check them out and see what you think?

links for 2010-04-15

  • I've come across this site before but never really checked it out. It's incredibly useful, especially when drilling for B2B and social media.
    (tags: b2b)
  • Further reasons *not* to have a website. Increasingly I'm thinking that websites just don't cut it. Why would you want to put something static, boring and non-shareable out there? Make a fluid, compelling, interlinked system of social sites and you win on every score: more communities, more advocates, more traffic. What's to lose?

It’s never been easier to engage, so if people don’t…

A hand cart, yesterday. Click image for source.

A hand cart, yesterday. Click image for source.

… then we’re all going to hell in a hand cart. Probably. A bit.

Sounds a bit alarmist I know, but here’s my take on this.

In the past, I’ve been fairly lackadaisical about politics. I thought I had left-wing leanings when I was younger but then who doesn’t/didn’t? At least I wasn’t a hippy like my father and I don’t think I’ll end up a neo-Nazi like my late Nan. Praise the Lord for small mercies.

However, this year, things are different. I can feel it. I’m not saying I’m running down the high street with a sandwich board haranguing passers-by and stuffing bits of paper into their pockets. Not yet anyhow. But I am thinking that there’s a lot at stake this year and that we have the first opportunity to track all of this. I should probably be more excited about the former but being a fairly shallow and narrow-minded chap, I’m actually more interested in the latter.

Fortunately for me – and the good people of Buckinghamshire who probably don’t want to be attacked by sandwich-board-clad fanatics – I can address both of these issues by setting up a dashboard.

So that’s what I’ve done. It started as a genuine attempt to find out what was going on for myself. It was just one tab and threw everything together in something that put the ‘mash’ into ‘mash-up’. Then I realised it might be of interest to other people too, so it’s expanded, been knocked through, had some new carpeting put in, been given a lick of paint and some safety rails and now it’s the UK Election Social Media Dashboard, covering what people are saying about Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Nick Clegg, and everything in between.

It’s worked. For me, at any rate. I actually found myself watching Nick Clegg be interviewed by Jeremy Paxman. I actually had a sort of background in what Nick Clegg was representing. And I actually read the election coverage in the papers. Imagine!

But one thing I keep finding: apathy. Today I heard on the radio the traditional moaning from the traditional moan-mongers: “Politicians all say one thing and then do the something else”; “I don’t know one from the other”; “I don’t see the point in voting”.

I don’t blame them. I’ve been thinking much the same thing for the past ten years or so – however long it’s been in fact since I found out the crowds welcoming Tony Blair to Number Ten weren’t just spontaneously enraptured constituents, but carefully chosen, arranged, and strikingly telegenic activists.

But that’s because all I’ve been able to see of politicians has been on TV (“In that case it’ll be Enigma Variations, minister”), or hear on the radio, or read about in the papers. Today politics is EVERYWHERE. It’s on YouTube and Facebook. It’s being tweeted on Twitter and downloaded from websites. It’s EVERYWHERE, being expressed in each, any and every channel in every possible way.

So, if people really do still feel apathetic – if they have access to this information in easily digested chunks of 140 characters, fed to them by their family, friends and colleagues, or as a great big ScrumdiddlyUmptious Wonka-bar of a manifesto download to secret themselves in a corner and inwardly digest, or as magic lantern images projected to the back of their retinas as they sit drooling in front of YouTube at 3am each morning, or on their smartphones as they absent-mindedly forget to Mind the Gap and step onto the live rails – then we’re probably in trouble.

OK, so this is our first ‘social media election’, and maybe it’ll be better next time around. But politics is happening, here, now, and it’s everywhere. So if people still don’t see it – or watch it, or hear it, or discuss it, or share it, or bookmark it or tag it – then it’s because they don’t want to. And that means we’ll probably have to think of something better to replace politics. Benign dictatorship, anyone?

The UK Election Headline Game: what do you think it’ll be tomorrow then?

The other day I was going through the UK Election Social Media Dashboard and suddenly noticed, in large letters, the word ‘nauseating’ next to Vince Cable’s tweet cloud. It’s not every day you see a politician using a four-syllable adjective so I clicked and found out, well, you probably know by now, that he considers businessmen to be nauseating. Nice.

This told me two things:

  • In this social media election where Twitter pick-up can count significantly, politicians should start using not just choice phrases, but individual words that will stand out and get noticed. ‘Nauseating’ is good – an unusual adjective, much better than, say, ‘fair’ or ‘future’ which get lost in the noise. It’s basic messaging taken to the nth degree, that is, individual words are now as important in the messaging arsenal as phrases or issues.
  • ‘Nauseating’ was such an unusual word and looming so large that I had a hunch it would figure in the headlines the next day. And, blow me darn wiv a fevver, there it was, front-page. Now, I’m not claiming that the political correspondents didn’t already have this typed up and filed by the time I’d caught on, but it still did impress me that I could see issues emerge online that would then be reported on in ‘the real world’ the next day.

So, following on from this, in particular the second point, how about a quick game of the snappily-titled ‘Guess Tomorrow’s Headlines From Today’s Tweets’, or, for brevity ‘The Tweetlines’ (I’m open to suggestions for a better title actually).

The rules are:

  1. Take a look at the UK Election Social Media Dashboard – not just the key figures, but the news coverage, message coverage, key bloggers, party channels and, if you’re feeling footloose and fancy-free, the sentiment tab (beta).
  2. Think. Don’t take too long on this step.
  3. Vote in the poll for the headline you think is most likely to come up, or invent your own.

Simples! If you disagree with the options then just comment below. Be as fruity as you like. Within reason.