Self-Employed? Get Organised.

I’m writing this five years after landing my first client. If you’re just starting on your own or thinking about it, I know how overwhelming it can get. At this point, being organised is the best gift you can give yourself.

WHAT TO EXPECT | In this post, I will not go into branding and content creation. This is the backend of the backend and these are tools that will help you stay on top of your game.

✨ DESK SPACE

My first ‘office space’ was not an office at all. I have been working from home way before COVID-19 hit us like a storm. I used to work from the couch, at the dining table, from cafés – you name it. One thing I learned along the way is that it’s better to have a space dedicated to your work. Even if it’s just a small desk (I managed to fit one under the stairs) and a shelving system for files, paperwork, and books. I want work-related stuff to be at arm’s length – literally.

Mind you, I still go to cafés to work. It’s usually more to brainstorm on personal content ideas, find inspiration and write – rather than client work. But I find the change in scenery to be refreshing. Sometimes, much needed.

Stationery Essentials:

Planner/Yearly diary – the physical kind to complement your online calendar. It will keep you more accountable and it feels good to tick or cross out tasks.

Highlighting System – colour-coding your work schedule so that you don’t overlook anything.

Sticky Notes (and a memo board) – perfect to pin ideas that pop out of the blues, scribbles, reminders & quick notes.

List Pad – I promise you, you will thank me later.

Filing System – We live in the digital age but you will still have papers to sort out and file. Especially (and I cannot stress this enough) for your VAT, TAX, and Social Security Contribution.

I have separate, transparent folders – labeled by date – for the above-mentioned which I keep in a simple white box I got from IKEA. Why transparent folders? I love knowing what’s in the folder just by looking at it instead of rummaging through it.

Envelopes – Have them at hand. You’ll have VAT receipts and receipts to send eventually.

Stamp/Stickers – with your logo. Having one or the other on your envelope gives off a professional vibe. Tried and tested! You can also have one with your return address.

✨ ONLINE PLANNERS

Now that you have your faithful diary/planner by your side, it’s time to set up an online version. For calls, meetings, and tasks, I use my Outlook calendar. If you want to assign tasks and have ‘stricter’ timelines and deadlines, may I suggest:

  • Outlook Live – Everything in one place: emails, calendar, to do list, tasks & notes
  • Asana – a great way to manage tasks and add projects – especially if you work with a team. Basic package is free of charge.
Source: https://asana.com/product/workflow-builder
  • Trello – Again, basic package is free of charge. The workspace is easy to use and manage + it’s also customisable.
Source: https://trello.com/guide/trello-101

There are loads of other web-based softwares to keep your tasks in check. A quick google search will uncover the long list of options!

✨ ACCOUNTING SOFTWARE

Zipbooks has been my personal online accountant since the beginning. It’s easy to add expenses along the way, create and issue invoices. You will be able to keep records and transactions in one place.

  • It’s free of charge (for the large part – add ons/other options are at a charge)

Ideally, get in touch with a trusted financial advisor to guide you through the hoops and loops. If, like myself, numbers do not course through your veins, seek professional help. Still, accounting software is super for day-to-day operations.

Source: https://zipbooks.com/accounting/

✨ SOCIAL MEDIA PLANNING TOOLS

You’re running a business, staying on top of accounts, coming up with new product or service ideas, making sure your customers are happy, AND planning posts for social media (SM)? Well, yes and no.

Yes – if you are winding through the roads of self-employment, you will realise (if not already) that you will wear many hats.

No – acknowledge the fact that you do not have to do every single thing yourself and sometimes it helps to have, well, help – from the right people.

If you’re just starting out, outsourcing social media work may seem like a waste of money. I’ll be honest with you – if you know what you’re doing it might as well be. However, when your business picks up (or if it’s not your thing, to begin with), you can then start thinking about having extra hands on board to help with strategy and managing your socials. In the meantime, here are some SM planners that may come in handy:

Buffer – it’s great to start with. The basic package is free of charge and you can add up to 3 social channels (e.g. FB page, IG account & LinkedIn page) including 10 posts per channel.

Source: https://buffer.com/publish

Meta Business Suite – If you want to avoid the hassle of having an external planner like Buffer, this is your go-to planner & scheduler for Facebook & Instagram. It’s easy to use & you can customise your copy easily for one and the other.

Planoly – for Instagram. This is perfect to visually plan out your grid and schedule posts. Again, the basic is free and then you can have upgrades. With the free package, you can add 2 social profiles (e.g. IG & Pinterest) and have 30 uploads per month, per social.

Source: Planoly | https://pages.planoly.com/about

Mind you, our good old friend excel/sheets, works just fine as well. Edit in a calendar in your sheets and you can map out your timeline there. If you’re working with other team members, simply upload it on a shared drive and you’re good to go!

MORE ON THIS! I’m sharing my self-employed journey on Instagram and will be showing what I find most helpful over there. Feel free to follow for tips & updates!

If you’re starting on your self-employed journey or even if you’re already on board that train, hopefully, you found some of this helpful! If you have any questions or would like me to write about a related topic, don’t be shy – get in touch!

Until next time,

Amanda x

Hey! What’s new Limo?

I wanted to have more interviews this year but with running my own business, sprinting after a toddler, and being an active council member of a local NGO, I must admit that my plate has never been more full.

Nevertheless, I managed to meet up with the amazing Elisa to talk about her business. Elisa is the brains behind The Limo Hub 🐕. I am positive that you have seen her cute dachshund on Instagram by now. He is the star of his own ‘show’!

Elisa is such a passionate and creative person. We went off track a couple of times during the interview (it was more like a coffee meet-up), but that happens when the conversation is that good. So, without further ado, this is (partly) what we talked about:

Tell me a little bit about yourself. Where you started.

E: I started studying Art & Design and always wanted to do my own thing. I have been working in Marketing for quite a while now and dipped in the corporate world. I then left my job to pursue a marketing career and decided to go freelance. It’s when I started The Limo Hub, back in October 2017.

How did The Limo Hub come about?

E: I wanted to create something unique, personal to me, and easy on the ears. I wanted something simple and that is how the idea of The Limo Hub was born. And I have my own model, Limo, who got used to seeing me with a camera by now. He enjoys it when he’s in the mood. I usually have lots of treats on the side. Everyone seems to think it’s just that one shot and I nailed it. You should see my camera roll! You’d think my phone is Limo’s 😅

Limo wearing Santa Paws bow tie

To put you in the picture, at The Limo Hub you can shop for custom-made bow ties, Dachshund merch, and other dog accessories like matching harnesses & leashes, collars, and shampoos.

E: It is important for me to have organic or partly organic products. For instance, some people use baby shampoo for their pets which is bad for their dog’s skin. A dog’s skin PH level differs from ours and it could result in irritation. That is why I make sure to bring over reliable, tried, and tested brands only.

What is your advice to someone thinking about starting on their own?

E: Ask yourself: What is your end game? What is it that you want to do and why? Do you want to make money? Do you want to feel good about what you are doing? Because these are different avenues to take.

I wasn’t surrounded by people who owned their business so I didn’t really know where to start. For instance, everyone mentions the business plan – you need to have a business plan – but when you’re just starting, the words are English but you don’t know what to make of them. If you’re starting a business doing something you love (and not just purely for money-making), make it your own. Don’t expect a big return until you get your foot in the door because it takes a while until you build yourself.

And network. Networking is key. It might be nerve-wracking but it works. Get out there and introduce yourself.

So, tell me. What’s on your bucket list?

E: I want to represent various brands and possibly in the future, I would love to design my own harnesses and pet accessories. I also want my own store, brick & mortar – it’s something that I really dream of having. One step at a time!

You in three words

E: Bubbly, open, plainspoken

Elisa and Gemma from @letspawtymalta have been working on something new and exciting. They have just launched the perfect handmade and homemade Christmas gift for your furry family member. I have already ordered one for Nina (obviously) and will be sharing stories once I have my hands on it.

What’s in the stocking?

🐾 homemade yummy biscuits
🐾 a themed mug for a nice hot cocoa
🐾 dog toy
🐾 an interactive activity for hooman and pup to enjoy together!

Next week, they will also be at the Nice Things Market at is-Suq tal-Belt, Valletta. I’ll be dropping by for some last-minute stocking fillers. Shall I see you there?

Saturday, 11 December + Sunday 12 December

Looking forward to seeing what you come up with next, Elisa!

Show your support & go follow 🥰

Amanda x

Mobile Marketing: 3 Must-knows

I have a couple of questions for you. Let’s go!

  • Where is your phone right now?
  • Where do you put your phone while you sleep?
  • Do you use your phone to check the time?
  • Do you take your phone to the bathroom with you?
  • Has the time you use your phone increased?
  • Are you reading this on your phone right now?

Hey, relax. This post is NOT about smartphone addiction. I wanted to help you realise (if you haven’t on your own already) that smartphones have become a necessity. We can live without them, mind you. I spent 10 days in Cuba, back in 2018, without any internet connection and it was BLISS. But the fact that I’m even saying that it felt good to not look at my phone for a long time goes to show how much I am on my phone. Sometimes, without even realising it.

What is mobile marketing?

➯ A digital marketing strategy aimed at reaching a target audience on their smartphones, tablets, and/or other mobile devices, via websites, email, SMS and MMS, social media, and apps.

As a business owner, you have to think mobile. You want to hook your audience, engage with them and make a sale.

As a consumer, and an avid smartphone user, you want to browse through aesthetically pleasing shops without a hiccup.

COVID-19 was a setback. It turned our lives upside down. BUT one thing that came out of this, when businesses had to close their doors temporarily, was the realisation that being available online was the only viable option at the time.

Locally, I have seen a rise in e-shops and an improvement in making a customer’s online shopping experience a pleasant one. Still a long way to go but we’re getting there.

How is your mobile marketing doing?

If you can’t answer this, I believe it’s high time you pay a little more attention to mobile.

Everyone (or almost everyone) is on their phones – constantly. We chat, play, work, listen to music, shop, scroll endlessly through TikTok and tap from one story to the next on IG.

3 Must-Knows

To get the hang of mobile marketing, you need more than just three (3) tips, I know – BUT – we need to start from somewhere.

1. WHO ARE YOUR PEOPLE?

Understand your audience. Sure, you’ve heard this a million times. But do you truly know who and where your people are? How do they use their mobile devices?

The most simple thing to do is to ASK. Run a super short survey/poll and ask your already-existing customers short and simple questions. Example:

  • Are you on Instagram?
  • Do you prefer shopping on your phone or desktop?
  • Which devices do you use? (Phone, tablet etc.)

Know who your people are. Listen to online discussions and be present – start a conversation. It’s NOT ENOUGH to just be there. You have to be seen and heard.

2. WRITE FOR MOBILE

It’s not the first time I came across a Facebook post that simply NEVER ends. Your message needs to come across clearly. Being clear and concise is essential. I cannot stress this enough. Even your call to action needs to be clear so that users will be able to understand what to expect.

When it comes to writing for mobile (e.g. online – social media & offline – SMS) avoid writing chunks of paragraphs. This is not an essay. Write short, punchy headlines and straightforward messages, use visuals – make it count!

3. GREAT USER EXPERIENCE

Make it easy for users to navigate through your shop. Having a mobile-friendly website is a must and not an option. Mobile devices call for interaction and users expect a more personalised experience.

You don’t want them to end up frustrated because they’re having trouble with browsing or making a payment. So, make it seamless for users to purchase with a few clicks as possible.

Nowadays, having social media presence is essential for any business. So, BE SOCIAL. Grow your business around a customer experience focused culture.

Think of all the things that bother you as an online user as you browse through other social media accounts and pages, learn from them and avoid repeating their mistakes.

Where is your business at right now?

If you haven’t already, start working on how to build and maximise your mobile presence.

And hey, don’t be afraid of change. It’s good to spice things up. You know, there’s always room for improvement and I’m sure you’ll do great!

Amanda x

Start your business: a guide (part 1)

We have been through a lot of ups and downs this past year. Some of us lost their jobs, some of us changed their jobs and some decided to start out on their own.

I’ve been there back in 2017. The first year (not month) was the toughest. I remember forking out money to set up my website and everything else before I had any income. And when I did have an income, it was only a trickle the first month. But when you successfully land your first client (and you will), I kid you not, it’s one of the best feelings in the world.

Mind you, it never gets easier. If you think that running your own business and being your own boss is a breeze, you’re in for an unpleasant surprise. Add being a parent to the mix whose child is at home due to COVID-19 restrictions, and there you have it.

But, I’m writing this to help you out, not to frighten the living daylights out of you. I’ve always been one to say it as it is; no beating about the bush. Bear with me.

So, now that you are ready to get started, I’d like to give you a helping hand. I didn’t have any guidance when I set foot on this path and always thought it would be nice to have had someone shed light on the road ahead.

OK, let’s cut to the chase. Where do you start?

1. Research, research!

Assuming you know what your products or services you’re going to offer are and that it is the right business venture for you, research first. Make sure there is a market for what you’re offering. Never assume people will buy your product just because YOU (or your family) like it.

  • Who are you selling to? Who are your primary customers?
  • What are their needs, frustrations?
  • How does your product/service help them?
  • Are there any products/services similar to yours?
  • Who is your competition?
  • How will you set yourself apart?

2. Plan it out.

A business without a plan? That’s a no-go. Don’t even think about going there. A business plan can be simple, nothing out of this world, but you need to have one. Specify your objective and map it out. What direction are you planning to take? This will change as your business grows.

Sample Business Plan to help you with writing your own: Samples by Hubspot.

3. Funding.

Service providers, online businesses, brick & mortar businesses – you all need the same thing: funding. The expense may differ depending on the business type but it costs money to start any business.

First you need to determine how much startup funding you will need. I can assure you that you will have bills and invoices to settle way before your business takes flight.

  • Will you self-fund?
  • Will you look for investors?
  • Will you be taking a small loan?

So make sure you put a lot of thought into this because you need this information before you launch. You can even seek (or perhaps it’s better if you do) professional guidance from trusted financial advisors.

  • List the expenses
  • Estimate how much these expenses will cost
  • Draw a full financial picture
  • Use this to calculate your initial fund

What kind of expenses? Equipment, office space, utilities, marketing, salaries, market research, website, communications etc.

  1. Refine your idea
  2. Conduct market research
  3. Check out the competition
  4. Write a Business Plan
  5. Draw a financial map

This is PART 1 of my guide. What will you expect in PART 2?

  • Registrations
  • Location
  • Structure
  • Marketing

Becoming self-occupied or self-employed also mean: paying your own taxes, vat and social security contributions. But we’ll cover that in PART 2 😉

You will probably start small and you will have moments of failure. Learn from them. Don’t toss everything to the side as soon as one thing goes wrong. That’s life, it’s a learning process.

Amanda x

Find your brand voice! 7 Questions to get you started.

I can’t help but come back to writing about brand voice and tone. I think mainly because it’s just so essential and yet easily overlooked.

2020 has seen the rise of e-commerce and a further shift towards mobile marketing. Having and maintaining an online presence is now more important than ever. You can take your business much further if you have established your brand voice.

A brand without a voice is like having a latte without the milk. Pointless (albeit doable, apparently, with xanthan gum – but still not the same. You get my drift).

Your tone of voice is what sets you apart from the rest. It’s what makes you different, unique and relatable. 

What is a brand voice? What is tone of voice? Before getting started, learn more about brand tone & voice here ↠ WATCH YOUR TONE!

Now that you know the WHAT and the WHY, let’s get on with the HOW. Answering these questions will help you develop the voice of your brand:

↠ What are your company’s core values?

↠ Who is your audience? Your customers, clients, community?

↠ Which companies or brands do you admire the most?

↠ What 4 adjectives best describe your brand?

↠ Now, describe your brand as if it were a person. What kind of personality would s/he have?

↠ How do you want people to feel when interacting with your brand?

↠ Why you? Why should people choose you over others?

Mailchimp Content Style Guide is one of my favourite style guides, which I hope you will find helpful.

QUICK TIPS

  1. Find your purpose
  2. Be Authentic
  3. Look & listen to your audience
  4. Be consistent across all channels

Amanda x

bBrave AntiBullying Campaign

bBrave is Malta’s first (and only) Anti-Bullying NGO. I’ve been part of the team since 2018 because it’s a cause close to heart. All of us at bBrave are volunteers; each and every one of us do this because we truly believe in what we do.

I set my mind on improving bBrave’s online presence whilst focusing on building a more cohesive brand image and the right voice.

ANTI-BULLYING WEEK CAMPAIGN | NOVEMBER 2020

Tagline: UNITED AGAINST BULLYING

Mission: Anti-bullying awareness & support

Platforms: Facebook, Instagram & LinkedIn

Anti-Bullying Week is a yearly one-week event taking place in November.

Bullying doesn’t have an age, so our target audience here was (and still is) quite broad. We aim to reach kids, parents, teachers, employers and employees. The pandemic had me rethink our strategy and pushed mainly for online & mobile.

The objective: spread the anti-bullying message.

The idea: be bold yet simple to get the message across as loudly and as clearly as possible.

Content writing for social media was created in both Maltese and English to maximise our reach.

The Results: 460,000 Reach | 598,000 Impressions | 1K+ New followers

However, we broadened our reach further and made use of traditional media (TV appearances, radio, newspapers) and collaborations with local organisations to get the word out.

The work doesn’t end with this campaign. It’s ongoing and challenging.

Show your support & go follow!

Amanda x

Watch your tone!

Finding your brand voice requires more effort than you think. In my first post discussing tone of voice (TOV), I pointed out how some businesses tend to spend all their energy on perfecting their image and not spare a thought for their voice.

For those of you who missed the intro, you can catch up here 👉#TONEOFVOICE

I understand that not everyone is good with words. I see this everyday, everywhere I go. Both offline and online. That is why a TOV guideline will come in handy for your team. Different people, different manners, different ways of communicating. However, your brand must be consistent on all fronts.

The way your brand logo, colours, and fonts are of significance in recognising your name, so are the words you use and most importantly, how you use them.

Think of your voice as your personality. Your tone reflects that personality and sometimes changes depending on the context.

Source: CoSechedule

Both your tone and voice are about expression. An expression of your company’s values. Here, we’re looking at how and what you write rather than following writing rules per se. Mind you, grammar is just as important. I shudder every time I see desert on a restaurant menu.

Quick tip: revise everything before publishing a message or sending material for printing. Have someone else take a look. A fresh pair of eyes can save the day.

Here’s an example of what you might think is a simple greeting. When you’re representing your brand, which one would you go for?

Or, think about this example below:

A. “Thank you for reaching out.”

B. “Hey, thanks for reaching out 🙂”

Phrase A reads more serious than phrase B. The latter reads more easygoing and fun. Different word choice and use of emojis have set a different tone to the same phrase.

Take a look at these Brand Voice Examples:

Starbucks
Mailchimp
Old Spice

Quick tips

  1. Be straightforward and avoid jargon.
  2. Use the active voice and write positively.
  3. The tone of voice needs to reflect your business objective.
  4. If in doubt, read aloud. Is it too humorous? Too formal? Too sassy?
  5. Write all this down & create a guideline.

Why does it matter?

Your tone of voice is what sets you apart from the rest. It’s what makes you different, unique and relatable. It helps in creating an emotional connection with your customers. This familiarity you create is most likely to lead to loyalty and trust.

That’s why having a brand tone of voice matters.

Need help? Let’s talk.

Amanda x

A shift to online shopping.

This is my twelfth official day of social distancing. Twelve days of video calling, online meetings, a deep yearning for cappuccinos (the real deal) and mobile shopping. I’m used to staying at home even with a baby in tow but not for such a long stretch of time 😞

In the past weeks, we have seen a general shift to online buying. Internet traffic spiked as more people resort to staying at home, working from home and distancing themselves from others*.

Think about it. We already spent a considerable amount of time on social media, pre-COVID-19. Everywhere you turned, people were on their phones. If people are spending more time indoors, chances are, they’re spending even more time online. Now more than ever.

Consumers have more time to invest in online research and browsing. They google, they follow local micro-influencers, and more often than not, they pose questions in Facebook groups to weigh their options before purchasing.

“Are there any supermarkets delivering before April?”

“From where can I buy toys for kids online?”

The doors to many businesses have been temporarily closed. At this stage, no one knows for how long. So, LISTEN UP 📣 In no way is this the time to disappear from social media. On the contrary, turn this unfortunate situation into an opportunity to get creative and step up your game.

Restaurant owners decided to introduce and reinforce take away and free delivery. Wine importer? True, the flow of orders from restaurants and bars has inevitably come to a halt. Why not connect directly with people staying at home? Introduce deliveries. If you do not have the capacity or riders, sign up with a local delivery service.

“One of the few good things that came of this: Delivery.

How many times have you read this on your Facebook timeline or thought about it yourself even?

During mobile marketing sessions I had carried out (in collab with the Malta Communications Authority), I always asked for a show of hands. Who shops online, who makes a purchase from their mobile device? This was a couple of years ago. I was surprised at the few hands raised. Then again, the sessions were targeted at small business owners who wanted to expand their digital marketing knowledge.

🔵 Businesses – if you haven’t already, get working on a plan. Think. How do people search online? Where is your audience – Instagram, Facebook, TikTok?

Online presence is essential in this day and age. Be in social media groups, follow trends, keep up. If this is too much for you to handle, find someone who can. But please find someone who knows what s/he is doing.

🔵 The big question is: What will happen after this? What repercussions, if any, will this have on your business? Change, albeit terrifying, can be beneficial. As in this scenario.

Business-permitting, consider having an e-shop. If money-wise this is not the ideal time to invest in revamping (or creating) your website and introduce an e-commerce platform, you can always take it to Facebook for the time being. You can take orders via messenger or Whatsapp. However, be prepared. Post-COVID-19, things will be different.

If nothing, the COVID-19 pandemic has urged people to take it up a notch and go digital. Remember, if people at home are happy with the service, they might keep at it. How convenient is it for consumers to order things online and have them delivered straight to their door? Not sure about this? Ask them. The easiest way to conduct a quick survey is to ask your clients directly and see for yourself what they think.

One last thing, help local businesses. As a freelancer, I know first-hand how hard things can get during times like these. If you need help setting up, let’s start a conversation 💬

➡️ Facebook

Meanwhile, stay safe!

Amanda x

____________________________________

*Source: https://timesofmalta.com/articles/view/internet-demand-surges-but-service-providers-say-theyre-ready.779693