We’re saying hello again to one of my new interviewees from last year, Lyndsey Michaels, working as Lyndsey Michaels Bid Writer. While we all have the odd tight deadline and specialised area, Lyndsey’s job is all in that line, as she works helping companies to bid for tenders, all with quick turnarounds and a need for attention to detail, marketing skills, amazing writing skills, time management, customer care … it’s an area I’ve edited in but moved out of, so I have nothing but admiration for her, knowing something of what it entails! Anyway, when we first met Lyndsey in July 2014, this was how she wanted the next year to go: “More of the same! I’m happy to be settled in both my job and in the local area and am content to keep ticking along. I have a few added extras I’m working on – more resources for both clients and other bid writers – but the core business will remain the same. That’s what it has always been about for me: stability and ownership of my own time. It may not seem terribly ambitious but it feels like ‘success’ to me.” Read on to see how she’s doing (I was particularly chuffed to read the extra bit she added at the end!)
Hello again, Lyndsey! Are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?
More or less. I’ve continued tweaking my service offering and refining my processes and that seems to have paid off. I now have a very clear idea of my ‘ideal client’ – their size, type of company, structure, their own aims etc. – this has meant that my own ideals are very much in line with those of my clients, resulting in better relationships and ultimately more successes. It’s also helped me to develop a better process for deciding whether to take a client on or not. I’ve been referring more enquiries to other bid writers, which leaves me free to work with clients I’m more well suited to, ensures that those clients I don’t take on are connected to the right people for them and helps me strengthen my relationships with other bid writers.
My time management has improved significantly, mainly due to the need to stick to the dog’s routine! It means that I’m making the most of every hour in the day, whether that’s working, walking, or just scheduling that all important afternoon nap!
A few things I’ve tried have not turned out in the way I’d originally aimed for:
I set up an online community specifically for bid writers and those involved in bid writing with the hope that it might be a useful place to share resources, experiences, opportunities, horror stories and the like: UK Bid Writers Guild
It’s been slow to take hold but I think that’s partly due to lack of time to promote it on my part and possibly partly due to that natural wariness that any freelancers have about befriending their ‘competition’! I’m keeping it alive for now but may reassess what to do with it at the end of the year.
The (never-ending) book on bid writing has been put on hold for the time being. This was a positive, conscious decision though, as I’m currently piloting with a few selected clients a method of bid writing training that, I believe, is unique in my industry. Once I’ve ironed out a few wrinkles through the pilot and developed the method into a replicable format, I plan to revisit the book and publish it as a companion to the training and another version as a standalone resource.
What has changed and what has stayed the same?
The biggest change by far is that I finally invested in a new computer! I’d been holding off replacing my old one until I could find one that would fully meet my needs, without making compromises. My old computer had been on its last legs for a very long time and there was always the worry that it would finally die at a crucial moment (my work is deadline driven) – it’s great to have confidence in the equipment I’m using and it’s a worthwhile investment as it’s the foundation of my livelihood.
My physical surroundings are much the same; my office layout seems to work well for me. My daily routine also hasn’t changed much, rather I think it’s ‘bedded in’ (last year I was still getting used to having a dog). My commitment to my business remains more or less the same; if anything’s changed it’s that any remaining uncertainty over whether this is the right job for me has now evaporated. That’s a nice feeling to have, that what you do every day is right for you.
This increased stability has also allowed me to start thinking of or acting on other projects and ideas not related to bid writing, which is great. I won’t lie, it’s been a hard slog to get to this point, but that does mean I can always justify putting time and energy into some weird and random side project when I want to! For instance, I was recently asked to update some illustrations I’d done a few years ago for a local company, which made a nice change from writing and was a good opportunity to refresh my design skills.
I’m also in the process of applying for a patent for an invention that’s been rattling around in my head for a long time. The details are all Top Secret at the moment but you never know, it could be the next ‘Aglet’!
What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?
The learning is never-ending! From the knowledge I gain of other sectors and industries every time I take on a new client, to minor changes to my day-to-day work processes, I’m always looking out for transferable ideas and ways to improve what I do and how I do it.
I’ve learned that shredding and scattering the contents of my office bin and/or flinging a shoe at me is the best way to prompt being taken out for a walk, if you are a small, cheeky dog.
I don’t think I’ve had any great epiphanies about anything work related this year, but there’s still time!
Any more hints and tips for people?
Last year, I said it was important to be clear and upfront about your expectations for clients. I stand by that and it continues to save me a lot of wasted time and hassle.
However, I hadn’t ever needed to think about what to do if a client exceeds expectations! Normally, I request a down payment to secure my time prior to a project starting, usually an agreed percentage of the total value of the job with the balance payable on completion. This works well because it stops clients from disappearing part way through then refusing to pay – it weeds out any chancers right at the start.
I had one client, though, who paid me not just the full amount for the agreed project up front, but then dropped another similar payment into my bank account as the end of that project drew near. In all, they’d given me more than 200% of my quote, without any prompting. While that sounds great, in reality, I was then effectively retained by them indefinitely but with no agreed project parameters. Their (unspoken) expectation after that payment was that I would be ‘on call’, available as and when they wanted, often with no notice and frequently with little instruction; they struggled to understand that, unasked for payment or not, I still had booked-in, contracted commitments to other clients and couldn’t drop everything for them whenever they wanted. The upshot: I ended up firing the client and offering them a refund.
What I should have done is stick to my guns. As soon as the unexpected payment came through I should have either given it back immediately and restated my payment terms, or clearly redefined the parameters of the agreement to avoid any crossed wires. You live and learn!
And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?
Again, more of the same! Day to day, I certainly see my routine and clients remaining much the same. I’m excited about the training programme so will continue to work on that and refine it until it’s ‘market ready’. At some point though, I will have to take the leap and just get on with it, so I’ve given myself a few internal deadlines to stick to. The launch of that service will also coincide with a refresh of my website, which I’m really looking forward to.
Other than that, while I’m committed to keeping my core business focused on bid writing and closely associated services, I’m also hoping that the extra time I can now give to random side projects might result in something marketable. It’s not a key objective but it would be nice to have another basket with a couple of eggs in!
One last thought from Lyndsey:
The right kind of publicity can make all the difference and it’s not always about typical marketing and advertising. For instance, your first interview with me last year has been a major factor in bringing new clients in. Whether they find the interview first, read it and then click through to my site or whether they find my site, read the interview via there and then contact me, it seems to give people a deeper insight into what I do as a freelancer and who I am as a person. This understanding, right from my first contact with a client, is another key factor in growing a client base that are well aligned to my own motivations and ideals. I’ve also been able to significantly reduce the amount I spend on online advertising, so it also has a financial benefit. It’s really been invaluable and I would always encourage other freelancers to make the most of opportunities like this. Thanks, Liz!
I was honestly so thrilled to read Lyndsey’s last paragraph and asked her if I could include it at the end of her interview. Although I obviously get ‘hits’ from these interviews, I do do them to help my fellow small business owners and share lessons learned and good practices with my community, so it’s lovely when it works and really benefits my interviewees! Any other tales of successes and contacts coming from the interviews gladly received!
On the topic of communities, it’s interesting to see that Lyndsey’s set up a private group for people in her business. I did this with some fellow editors a little while back and it is great to have a place just to go argh! or ask for advice privately from time to time – we also applaud one another’s successes. I think the copywriting business in general and bid-writing in particular feels a little more competitive than editing, so it’ll be interesting to see how that works out – I know I’ve got some good editing friends and great people to pass work to and to cover me for holidays and absences, so I definitely thrive in a community of cooperation and I think many other people could, too.
If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please see more small business chat, the index to all the interviewees, and information on how you can have your business featured (I have a full roster of interviewees now so am only taking on a very few new ones). If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my books, all available now, in print and e-book formats, from a variety of sources.