Ruth Slavid talks architecture

How to deal with IT problems

Posted in Uncategorized by ruthslavid on May 27, 2014

This is my definitive guide to how to deal with IT problems, the bane of the freelance. This may not be all you need to know – but it is all that I know.
So here goes:
1. Check that everything is plugged in. I had terrible trouble with the landline recently, and it turns out my partner had knocked the connection and it was no longer plugged in.
2. Turn it off and turn it on again. We are all told this but it is easy to forget how often it works – for your computer, for your phone etc. I recently received an upgraded iphone. I thought one thing that would mean was an end to having to turn it off and on again if it stopped receiving email. What a fool. Of course it doesn’t.
3. If you have a problem, see if a friend knows the answer or if you can find the solution online (unless of course you have no online connectivity – and do for goodness sake keep the telephone number of your internet service provider somewhere you can get hold of it. If you lose your connectivity you won’t be able to email them and you won’t be able to look up the number online). Try the solution for about 10 minutes. If you can’t work it out by then, give up.
4. See if there is a supplier that you think could or should help – Virgin, Belkin, BT, Orange or whoever your providers are. Expect them to say that they are very busy. Expect them to send you to one of the others. Prepare for step 5.
5. Kick the cat/ dog/ your partner/ wall. Scream a bit.
6. If the problem is not absolutely vital, and if you are not on a deadline, wait overnight. Things often get better on their own. If it is urgent, proceed immediately to step 7. if it does not solve itself overnight, then proceed to step 7.
7. GAMI. This stands for ‘get a man in’. I know that in non-sexist times it should be ‘get a man or woman in’ but GAM/WI is not as catchy. And certainly the preponderance of people who fix computers (ie everyone I have met) are male. No comment. But you need an expert. You mean you don’t have one? Find somebody quickly through personal recommendation/ internet recommendations. Ideally somebody who lives near you but can also put something on your computer that allows them remote access.
With luck they will either:
* Solve your problem immediately, in which case you will feel a fool but be grateful and it will be relatively cheap (ask them what they did and you may be able to do it yourself next time), or
* Take a long time, in which case it will cost you more money but you will have the satisfaction of knowing that it was not idiocy that meant you couldn’t do it yourself.
The worst case of course is if they can’t solve it. If they tell you you need to buy new software/ new kit they are probably right and you will have to bite the bullet. Get them to install it. Expensive maybe but they will get it right.
If they tell you there is nothing to be done:
8. Repeat step 5 at greater intensity.
9. Get ANOTHER man in.
10. Repeat 8 and 9 until:
* It is solved
* You are bankrupt
* You burst
* You decide to switch career.

And that is everything I know about IT. Oh, and do back things up somewhere – but you knew that didn’t you?

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Having an agent helps – freelance post 13

Posted in Uncategorized by ruthslavid on January 26, 2013

I had an agent before I became freelance, because I had been asked to write books, and a good friend advised that I should have one. Book contracts are complex, and you need to be careful that you don’t unwittingly sign up to something that you shouldn’t have done. And, I was told, an agent could help ‘if something went wrong’. I always imagined that the going wrong would involve things like me delivering late, and was smugly confident that it could not happen.
So far it hasn’t.
But I continued to work with my agent on large projects and it has paid dividends. If you are commissioned to write a feature for a few hundred pounds, and the company cannot or will not pay up, all you have lost is a few hundred pounds. It hasn’t happened to me yet, but I am sure it will.
But longer projects involve more money – even if on a pro rata base they are not all that great. So you have more to lose. Imagine delivering a whole book and then not being paid. I know at least one person that it has happened to.
My adventures have been less dramatic. But one of my first freelance jobs was to help a company write a book. It was in one of the dramatic parts of the recession, and they were in turmoil. My agency negotiated a monthly payment for me. I went to a couple of meetings, but the projected copy for me to edit never materialised. And the person who had commissioned me was made redundant. The project died in the end, but not until I had had six monthly payments – not a fortune but worth having in the first year of freelance. I didn’t feel guilty about them because I had undertaken the work in good faith, and had been pushing for progress. But I wouldn’t have had that money without my agent.
More recently I wrote a book for a company that started having cash flow problems at the time my final invoice was due (final invoice because my agent had negotiated staged payments). If she hadn’t pushed and nagged, I am not sure that the money would have come through.
An agent of course takes a commission. But just think of it as a fee for peace of mind and it becomes far less daunting.

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What to wear – freelance post 10

Posted in Uncategorized by ruthslavid on January 21, 2013

There are always depressing pieces penned by freelances about spending all day in their pyjamas. I am happy to say that that is not a vice to which I have yet succumbed – I wash and I dress every day, whatever the pressure of work. But my outfits at home are certainly not ‘business appropriate’ if I am not going out.

And why should they be? My two most important items are my ‘freelance cardigan’ and my ‘freelance slippers’. The cardigan is great because I can put my home phone in one pocket and my mobile in the other, as I wander round the flat (remember to remove before going to the loo – accidents that can happen will happen). And the slippers are warm lined and good for winter, because somehow homes are never warm enough, and sitting at a desk is, by definition, a sedentary activity.

I still have smart clothes. I even buy smart clothes. And I need them or at least I like to wear them. But what disappear are those smartish clothes that used to do for a day in the office when you felt a bit miserable and wanted to dress appropriately. The ‘I don’t like anything so I’ll wear this old rag’ clothes. Now going out is always a bit of an event, so I want to look good and enjoy putting on proper clothes.

When i was first freelancing I wouldn’t go into the centre of London on a weekday in anything I wouldn’t wear to work, because I thought I might meet work people. A friend, even if she was working at home, always wore  work clothes to drop off the children at school,so that everyone knew she was working and couldn’t be inveigled into cups of coffee. Now I am more relaxed, but not ridiculously so. I think the fashion rule is:

You are selling yourself, so always wear clothes that make you look like yourself.

Of course, if you are fortunate enough to live very centrally you may bump into potential clients even when dashing out for a pint of milk with uncombed hair. But perhaps that doesn’t matter. Even I, on the outer edge of zone two, have bumped into a work colleague when returning sweaty from a run. I don’t look like that when I go to meetings, though.

The other issue with clothes is, if you are going out in the evening, do you slob around in something comfortable all day, and then dress up for the evening out? Or do you put on your smart clothes first thing? (I am talking informal reception, not fancy dinner – nobody would work all day in the female equivalent of black tie.)

The upside is that dressing up makes you feel a bit special when you do it. The downside is that if it is cold and dark and raining outside, having to get changed may be a further disincentive if you are already wondering if you REALLY want to go or not.

I don’t have the answer. I do know that I don’t get to as many things as I should. Time to start dressing up in the morning?

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Don’t expect closure – freelance post 9

Posted in Uncategorized by ruthslavid on January 16, 2013

It is great when you have completed a piece of work, it has been published, it looks good, there aren’t too many typos – and maybe even somebody says something nice about it.

Enjoying that feeling is perfectly reasonable – just don’t expect it to happen all the time. Because (next rule): 

You have to get used to your projects just trailing away.

Damn editors, I bet you think. But actually, most editors have such a hand-to-mouth existence that they can’t afford to kill your work unless it is truly dire (and yours won’t be, will it?).

It is true that few editors send out copies of their magazines, so you have to either buy a subscription or keep checking online (if there is no subscription barrier) to see your work actually appear. I’ve certainly written things and never seen them in print or on screen. But they are usually there.

Commercial clients can be much worse. Sometimes the project is in several stages, and you deliver the first stage and never hear again. Maybe they have massacred your work and re-used it, or quietly dropped it, or gone to someone else. This happens with brochures, company magazines, proposals for TV series, websites. While you are working on it, you are their best friend. Then you cease to exist.

There is no point in getting bitter about it. 

Don’t be bitter, just get paid. 

It may well be that you have got something out of the project after all. You may have made new contacts (not necessarily the people you are working for), you may have learnt something, you may even have acquired some information that you can use elsewhere.

It comes as a surprise if you have worked in magazines where deadlines are tight and money is short, to realise that often having more time does not improve the job. 

The more time and money the client has, the more they can afford to change their mind.

Commercial projects are often far more frustrating than editorial ones. Ideally you should work with a single contact, but they may be answerable to whole committees full of people.

None of this is to say that you shouldn’t do this work. But if you want the satisfaction of a job well done, of a projects that it is signed, sealed, delivered and produced, then you may wish, if you have the luxury, to choose your clients carefully.


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Market yourself – freelance post 6

Posted in Uncategorized by ruthslavid on January 4, 2013

You may think that going into freelance journalism rather than say getting a job as a PR means that you are avoiding the dreaded world of marketing. But not so. Here comes what I think is rule 7:

You need to market yourself like mad.

I was really fortunate in that I had had a staff job for 15 years,and so I already knew a lot of people when I was made redundant. And though I felt that I could be really grumpy (and was a little taken aback that almost every comment on my leaving card attested to my prowess at swearing) there seemed to be a lot with whom I got on well, and who liked my work. It must be much harder if you are trying to break into a field from scratch.

I did two things almost immediately. I emailed everybody I knew, told them I was going and gave them contact details. And I organised a party. It was in a pub, I invited a mix of personal friends, people I had worked with and professional contacts. I paid for some of the wine and all of the food. It was all the opposite of fading away politely.

So having contacts is a great start. But you cannot rely just on those initial contacts as gradually they will decrease. They will change jobs, be promoted, retire or just go off you. So you have to get to know new people (and some of them at least should be fairly young if you are going to safeguard your future). 

People always talk about targeted marketing, but it seems to me it is really hard to know exactly who will give you jobs. Sometimes they come from people directly, at other times by recommendation from other journalists or clients. I recently wrote a big report for Building Design on ‘How to win work’ and as part of that interviewed Peter Murray, who is Mr Architecture Marketing. He said that when architects go out to events, they have wasted their time if they just talk to other architects. They need to get to know potential clients, and also members of other professions with whom they could collaborate. For journalists, you need to meet both people within your industry and other journalists – the first may provide work, but are more likely to give you leads. The work itself is most likely to come from fellow journalists.

So what do you do when you go out? Be interested, be friendly, talk a little about what you do and more about what the person you are talking to does. Be old-fashioned and hand out business cards to new contacts. Occasionally I have said to somebody ‘I could write a report for you’ or ‘I could write a feature for you’. And it has worked. But mostly you want people just to be aware of you.

Oh, and remember to enjoy yourself. You are no longer there on behalf of an organisation that employs you. You are there on behalf of yourself. Let people see who you are, and if they like you, they will follow up. It may not be the people you expect who will do so, and it may not be for some time. But the more people who know you, and the more recently they have seen you, the more likely they are to give you work.

Evidently not all marketing has to be done face to face. But I will deal with other approaches in another post.


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