Time management to solve it all

When I started this blog, I planned to be very consistent with it by posting as regularly as I possibly could but somehow, it always ended up as a victim of neglect. Given my new resolution to become a consistent blogger (well, at the rate I am going, I doubt that I can even dream of becoming a ProBlogger!), I am thoroughly ashamed of myself for the neglect I subject this blog to!

What can I say? I have been spending way too much time on my other blog, my website and my freelance work that this poor writing blog got chucked aside as the fourth priority. I have also neglected my other writing places such as Hubpages, Helium and Shvoong.It is not because I have writers block or anything. Even if I have that, we all know, I have my very own tips to get rid of writers block. Nowadays with even more work at my day job (and more stress too), I could sadly say I have very little time to indulge in my private pet project: fiction writing. All these are on top of time for my family.

So, what do I do? How do I ever do so many things in so little time? Well, time management is the key. I know, I have posted an entry of my hopeless attempt in time management before but I have since come up with a system to try to get everything done in times when my plate is too full to handle.

The steps I take:

1. Prioritize - Divide my tasks and assignments by priority. Example: set aside compulsory family time everyday, then write down a list of tasks and assignments I have to do. Write it by priority, the top being the most in want of attention. Sample:

1. Family time
2. House chores
3. Day job writing assignments
4. Two freelance articles due by Friday
5. Research for two more articles for next week
6. Search job boards to bid for more freelance work, place bid
7. Update blogs
8. Research for website and update of website
9. Learn up more about internet marketing, etc.
10. Research and write fiction projects

2. Divide the to-do list according to the available time each day - for example, I will be spending between 8am to 7pm on my day job (including commuting time). From 7pm onwards, I will have to divide the time to do the ten things in my list.

3. Keep to the timetable created from above and avoid all distractions - yep, that means no TV, no online chatting (unless it is for work), no hanging around gossip forums for hours and most importantly stay away from Facebook, Myspace and similar social networking sites (unless it is to keep in touch with your freelance clients). These are the worst time-waster ever!

4. Let your family in on it - ask your family members to cooperate by giving you peace and space to do your work without interruptions. They could also help out with some of the house chores.

5. Use pockets of available time wisely - you know when you have to wait for the computer to boot up or while waiting for a page to load, don't just sit there staring at the screen - use that time to do other things like organize your paperwork or write down new article ideas or even read books as part of your research.

6. Multi-tasking - the reason for high-tech computers is to make our life easier so use it to multi-task. Do your research and check your emails at the same time, just open more windows.

There it is. I have been applying it and though I am still a bit behind schedule on some things ( like this blog), at least I am getting there. The day will come when I will be able to do everything efficiently and even drop by at other blogs to read and leave comments (as I should have done for ages!) in a return favor to those who have dropped by here and left comments.


How to write a press release

As a journalist, I come across a lot of press releases to process on a daily basis and I noticed quite a lot of these releases are, well, too full of fluff. I have recently written press releases for a buyer as a freelance writer and with years of experience of choosing press releases to use, I could safely say I know roughly what most newspapers want in a press release.

However, instead of listing down what should be included in a press release, I will list down all the no-nos which I feel makes the press release less attractive to a newspaper editor / journalist.


1. Start with a sensationalized headline with no substantial backing to it - this will only serve to alienate the editor/ journalist looking through it as he/she will definitely feel cheated and annoyed that they have wasted valuable time reading through a release which does not live up to its claims as per the headline.

2. Use too much purple prose and flowery language - if you read the daily newspapers, the news are all about facts in good simple English. Nothing too complicated and definitely no flowery words fit for a poet. So, stick to the format and use good simple English, the journalist/editor will thank you for not complicating the whole press release with unwanted flowery words.

3. Write as if you are writing a marketing piece - a press release may be used to market your product / business but please, do not write the press release as if you are selling your product / business to the newspaper. It will certainly put off the journalist / editor and the press release will end up in the bin. Do it subtly by merging it into the whole storyline.

4. Assume that the newspaper know about the industry you are writing about - it is always wise to add your company background at the end of the press release and pepper the whole press release with facts about the industry you are writing about. This will save the journalist / editor time from having to do thorough research on the industry before using the press release. It is true that they will still check out the facts you presented but at least your efforts in putting in the facts will put you in a better light with them.

5. write a thesis - a press release is suppose to present facts and news of an event / product / business and not a whole book about it. So, keep it to the point and as brief as possible but make sure all the facts are there such as the who, what, where, why, when and how.

6. make any grammatical / spelling errors - though newspapers do not expect press releases written in perfect English, it is always good to ensure your press release is clean and clear of mistakes. It will only endear the journalist / editor to you.

7. write a press release on a non-newsy event - many people make the mistake of sending a press release just for the sake of sending one so they make up topics to write just to promote their business/ product. Many journalists/ editors can see right through them and these often end up in the bin too. So, make sure when you do send a press release, it is about an event that may interest others, or a new product that may interest the readers or even a discovery that may interest people. Do remember, the newspapers or magazines have readers and their articles target their readers. So ask yourself objectively, as a reader, if you are interested to know about this event / product you are writing about in your press release.

These are but the main few no-nos. There are actually more but I guess these few should suffice. Writing a press release is not that difficult. You just need to be more targeted and careful.


Writing foreign topics

For freelance writers, especially newbies, getting writing assignments and winning bids at freelance job boards can be quite a task. In fact, it is an uphill struggle most of the time to get enough to pay the bills, at least in the beginning.

So, for me, I usually put in a bid on as many projects as I possibly could. However, some of the topics are not something I am familiar with. So, what do I do? It is time to break out the research skills and lots of creativity!

Here are some of my tips on what to do when it comes to writing about things we are not familiar with:

1. Even before you put in a bid, do check out the details of the project and what is needed. Is it a long or short article? Or is it an ebook? A blog post? A press release? Then, look at the topics on hand. Is it something you have never written about before? Note all these down and work out how many words or how much facts are required. But why before bidding? Simple, it is so that you will know how much time you will need to put into it and be able to place a bid that covers the time you spent on it.

2. Armed with the initial requirements for the project, you conduct a simple research into it. Then you find out if :
a. it is a topic you could easily understand (not too technical and beyond your understanding that you find it hard to grasp the concept without reading an article about it three times)
b. it is something you could comfortably write about once you have the facts without having to struggle over the technical terms
c. it is something you could complete within the timeframe required with time to spare
d. it is something you could easily find the facts about

3. Once you feel that you will be able to complete the project, then submit your bid. If you win the bid, do bear in mind that you are in for a lot of research before actually starting on the project. However, you have already got your basics covered as you had already done the initial research before placing the bid. This time you will have to do thorough research on the topic. If it is something that relies on facts and figures, you better make darn sure you do your research well! This means really thorough. You can't just go to Wikipedia and extract the information from there.

3. Make full use of all three major search engines, Google, Yahoo and MSN. You can even go to Ask and About. If the topic is about local issues, check out the local media and look for local sites. It is important that you get as many references as possible and double and triple check all your facts to be sure that the facts are right. Sometimes, facts gathered from a site may differ from another site so it is best you check at least three or four other sites for more accuracy.

4. Use specific keywords and phrases in your searches. If the topic is about 'breeding of St Bernard dogs', then try searching for the whole phrase and from there search some more. Possibly, you could start with St Bernard and if it comes with too many unrelated sites, then try to narrow it down with more specific phrases such as St Bernard dogs or the whole phrase. Otherwise, you could also look up 'Pets' or 'Dogs' and from there you can search through pet sites and dog sites for more information on St Bernard. This exercise may take hours to do but the preparation is well worth it.

5. The writing starts. I could not really tell you how to start writing except to let your creative juices flow and use the facts as the skeleton of the project. It you are still stumped, do drop by for help at writers' forums or better still, go get some inspiration by reading articles by others. Get a feel of how others write it and perhaps you will somehow manage to get your article in motion. Now, please DO NOT do the unthinkable of copying and pasting! It is called plagiarism and your buyer may end up not paying you or worse, you could be sued for copyright infringement!

6. Double check the facts and compare you work with others on the internet. This is your own editing and proofreading process to ensure that your work is no less professional than others. You also do not want to sound too green about the topic even though it is your first time writing about it. So, the best way to see if your article is on par or not is to compare it with others.

7. Deliver it and offer one or two rewrites. Since you are new to the topic and despite much checking and cross referencing, your article may come out different from what the buyer wanted. So, do be professional about it as to offer free rewrite of up to twice but not more. I usually offer one rewrite.

8. When rewriting it is best to first ask the buyer specific questions as to what is really required so that the rewrite will be according to what the buyer wanted. You do not want to waste more time doing a second rewrite. Usually the buyer have no qualms answering whatever questions or uncertainties you may have. The golden rule here is, ask when you are not sure. It is better that you get the rewrite done correctly this way than trying to work it out on your own.

Of course we never aim to do rewrites as it would take up more of our time and at the same time create a really bad first impression on the buyer. But of course, most buyers are understanding and will not decide to drop you just because the article does not suit their taste. As long as the article is written articulately, presented in a format required by the buyer, is factually accurate and does not contain any grammatical mistakes, you are quite safe.

Again, these tips are gathered from my own personal experience so it may work for some people and not for others. Whichever it is, I do hope it helped! Happy writing.


The art of bidding at freelance job boards

If you are a freelancer and have been burnt many a time at job boards especially when others outbid you, you are definitely not alone. I have my bids turned down and declined so many times that I almost gave up!

However, I did win some bids (and am up to my neck in projects now...though I am not exactly earning big bucks for it!) and thanks to a really good buyer who gave me a really great review rating, I am able to get noticed more often in my bids. So, how did I win those initial few bids when I do not have any reviews?

Here are the steps that I took:

1) Find out the name of the buyer : I always try to address the buyer by his/her name when submitting a proposal. For example, when I see a job I am interested in, I will first check out the profile of the buyer. If it reveals a name, I will take note of it.

2) Be polite, professional and brief: When I submit a bid, my proposal is always polite, professional and to the point. I start it by addressing the buyer and then I state out in brief, why I could provide the services required. I always end it with a thank you.

3) Pricing: There are a lot of firms / freelancers out there who could submit really low bids from $1 per article to $3 per hour of work. We could never go down to that level of pricing (or else you'd be earning peanuts for a lot of work!) so DON'T! Instead, stick to your original pricing and search out projects which have higher budgets. It is not wise to reduce your prices as it would only lower your standards. If the buyer do contact you about your pricing and asking for a lower bid amount, you could do a bit of adjustment but not much. If possible, offer the buyer a few options as in a range of pricing for certain services. Example: $5 per hour for basic data entry work, $6 per hour for data entry and basic research work, $10 per hour for research and writing of articles, etc. This way, the buyer have a choice and may even accept your bid.

4) Close the deal: Sometimes, the buyer would send a message asking you a few specific questions. Sometimes it is to test your skills, sometimes it is just to get to know you and sometimes it is just to check out your response time. So, ALWAYS check your message board/email on a regular basis, if possible, a few times a day to ensure that you did not miss any new messages. ALWAYS reply to a message immediately and again, be polite and professional about. If it is a test, do your research first before answering the questions. If it is a sort of interview, answer it as eloquently as possible and be genuine and honest. Do not claim to be able to do this or that when you can't as it will only backfire on you later. Buyers always appreciate frank, polite and professional responses to their messages. It reflects that you are serious about your work and that you are professional about it.

5) Get a good review: If you are awarded a project, congrats! But before celebrating, the crucial point is to ensure you deliver the project. Be sure to do it according to the buyer's requirements. Adhere to whatever schedule they set. Always report back to them (if they required it) and always treat them with the utmost respect and professionalism. Remember, they are your clients and you do not want to drive away your clients! Follow instructions and importantly, put your best into your projects. It may be paying you only $15 per article or $9 per hour but it is still payment for your services. Be your own worst critic and go over all your work carefully before submitting it to your client. Once you have a satisfied client, you will get a great review!

These are but a few of my own personal tips. I do hope it helps! Happy bidding out there.