Finding Your Voice Online – Interview with Nicola Balkind

Nicola BalkindAre you a writer, or do you want to be?  Then you’ll probably want to have a listen to this in-depth interview I recently recorded with Glasgow-based Writer and Content Specialist Nicola Balkind.

Nicola is giving a workshop in Edinburgh on Finding Your Voice Online (at the Skriva Writing School on Friday 23rd October) where she will help writers create “a plan you can’t ignore” for their online writing career.

She’s very well qualified to do so, being a published author, long-time freelancer and a regular contributor to BBC Radio Scotland and The List Magazine – just to mention a few of her accomplishments!

Listen on SoundCloud

We cover a dizzying array of topics in this half hour conversation including:

  • Why finding your voice online is so important
  • How she juggles so many multi-media projects
  • How she got started in freelancing and why it’s good to have a mix of more “serious” and fun work
  • Persuading people to hire you and take your advice when you’re ahead of the curve
  • Why being a young woman can be both an advantage and a disadvantage in the media
  • Her experience writing two books (about Glasgow film locations and Hunger Games fandom)
  • What she learnt from Oliver Burkeman’s book about self-help for cynics when she was a literary guineapig for Canongate Books

As well as her impressive business blog, you can also read more from Nicola at her personal blog which features “monthly reading wrap-ups, book and film reviews, and pop culture chat” or you can enjoy watching/listening to her talking about the same topics on YouTube and the podcast she co-hosts, ‘Bookish Blether.’

Oh, and a final reminder that if you live locally you can book a place on her Edinburgh workshop over at Eventbrite.

Don’t Be Another HMV – Wake Up to What Your Business Needs – NOW

Vintage-Advertising-His-masters-Voice-10705HMV*, the UK’s biggest high street retailer of entertainment products – music, games, electronics (more recently) and DVDs, has gone into administration as of yesterday, meaning 4500 jobs are at risk.

As a former employee (I graduated to the giddy heights of ‘chart buyer’) I feel truly gutted for the staff, and hope that the company are able to survive.**

People are blaming Amazon,, Spotify, Netflix, the major supermarkets (who sell the most mainstream entertainment products at a loss to tempt people into their stores), and of course illegal downloading.

But perhaps HMV themselves are to blame.

Philip Beeching worked on HMV’s advertising account and he shares a damning account of how he tried to tell them about the triple threat of “online retailers, downloadable music and supermarkets discounting loss leader product” (thanks to my pal Baxter for sharing).

He says in the article that

“Throughout the late 90’s and right up until today HMV’s single biggest mistake has been a lack of investment in their online offering.”

This is backed up with a quote from the founders of online store who waited for HMV to come after them – but were surprised when it never happened. It also chimes with my own opinion and many others online.

The same thing has happened with many people as the digital revolution has taken hold, including most of the newspaper industry who thought they were selling papers when really they were selling news (and therefore the medium is less important than the content).

Some people however have seen the writing on the wall early enough to adapt, including Beeching’s own creative agency who saw digital coming and adapted in good time.

Appropriately enough, given my current #Sethisms theme on this blog, Seth Godin has a very apt quote about this:

“Our preconceptions and our fear conspire to make it difficult to see the world as it is.

Buddhists call it prajna – accepting reality as it occurs instead of interpreting it as part of our ongoing narrative.

The trick isn’t coming up with an interpretation of events that allows you to maintain your worldview; it is to accept what happens without stopping to interpret it according to your biases.” #Sethisms

This is something the bosses at HMV clearly failed to do.

Here’s where you need to ask yourself honestly – are you doing something similar with your business right now?

  • Are you aware that you need a strong online presence, which involves clearly communicating why you do what you do?
  • Are you publishing engaging and valuable content consistently in order to drive traffic to your site?
  • Are you taking specific, strategic actions to grow a tribe of people who are interested in what you have to say?
  • Are you aware of how to use the latest social media and multimedia tools to help you do this?

Yes, you probably are aware. So, are you doing it yet? 

How I Can Help

If you’re interested in finding out more I’m going to be volunteering at a series of free social media surgeries beginning this coming Monday at Leith McDonald Road Library. These surgeries are primarily aimed at “local voluntary or community organisations, local charities, clubs or societies who are interested in making the most of the web and social media.” (Download event poster in PDF format.)

I’m also about to hold a number of workshops on how to Pimp Your Online Presence at various events around Scotland.

And, whilst I’m in the process of revamping my freelance copywriting business, I will be available for both consulting and content production from the beginning of February.

Get in touch if you’d like to have a chat about how I can help you.

Don’t be another HMV.

*HMV of course, stands for His Master’s Voice because the company sold gramophones in the early days (that picture of their dog Nipper is pretty iconic. I met Nipper once, when the Edinburgh Princes Street store re-opened. Well, it wasn’t the original Nipper, it was probably the 10th reincarnation. Meatloaf also made an appearance at the opening, as did his biggest fan, Pete Loaf).

**I also feel for the staff of Fopp, which was a great indie record store which HMV bought out to save it from going under a few years back. I’d hate to see Fopp disappear altogether, especially because they used to sell my band Swivel Chair’s CDs back in the day.

The Ditch the Day Job Diaries – Episode 1

Below is the trailer for the first episode of the Ditch the Day Job Diaries.

The full first episode will only be available to email subscribers and will go into more detail of how I am building a freelance business and adjusting to a whole new lifestyle!

Sign up below and receive the first episode tomorrow (Thursday 9th Feb 2012).

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I’ve Just Run Out of Excuses

Yesterday I left the civil service after almost exactly 10 years to the day I started. You can read some background to this in one of the previous newsletters. Somewhat spookily, given this was my last day of repeating the same routine over and over again, this happened on Groundhog Day.

Another coincidence – on the way to work, I was listening to a playlist of 120 cheesy songs and ‘The Final Countdown’ by Europe came on just as I was approaching the building – at which point I started singing along at the top of my voice, obviously!

Man with a Plan or Unemployed Bum?

Because I voluntarily accepted redundancy, I will receive a decent lump sum. If I’m careful, I can survive on this for a year, even if I didn’t have any other money coming in.

My plan though, is to continue to work as a freelance copywriter, which is something I’ve been doing since I cut down my working week to four days at the beginning of 2011 – but now it will need to be on a much bigger scale because this time next year it will probably be my main source of income.

I also want to ramp up my blogging efforts again. The point of this blog was always to help other creative people find focus and achieve their potential – and I’ve only just scratched the surface so far.

Developing a new business as well as blogging is going to take a lot of focus and discipline, even though I’ll no longer be working a day job at the same time. Key to this is establishing productive habits and spending my days wisely.

I also want to ensure I have time for exercise and my own creative projects/experiments, whilst I have the luxury of being able to structure my own time.

Every Moment Counts

Every moment counts for me this year. It’s hugely important. But what’s new? I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t have done some legwork. I couldn’t have done this if I was heavily overdrawn or in credit card debt for example (I do have student loans but it was under the old system which means I can continue to defer them for the time being).

If I hadn’t already been paid for my writing and other work I might not have had the confidence to take the leap (even then it was a tough decision). My previous job, whilst it had it’s frustrations, did mean I got a lot of experience with digital media and marketing, and the fact I’ve been writing, blogging, using social media and producing audio and video content for many years is also a bonus.

Also worth pointing out is that over a year ago, on the advice of  Jonathan Mead, I set a very specific goal: to ditch my day job by 31st March 2012. This was before I knew the opportunity to take voluntary redundancy would arise. In fact, I forgot that I had done this until I looked at my calendar for 2012 a few weeks ago, but the intention was always at the back of my mind – never underestimate the power of committing to clear and highly specific goals.

One of my leaving gifts

Everything you do is a step in either the right, or wrong direction to achieving what you really want out of life. That’s what this blog is really about. Whatever situation you’re in right now, it’s a good thing to remember. Of course we can also put too much pressure on ourselves – rest and relaxation, enjoying life and HAVING FUN has to be part of the plan too.

This is an important post for me, and I’d  be really grateful if you would share it on Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus or wherever you see fit using the handy buttons below.

Oh, and why not join over 100 people who already subscribe to the newsletter and like CMC on Facebook, and over 1000 people who follow me on Twitter: @milomclaughlin

p.s. I know I dropped the ball with this blog last year but I’m back now, and I’ve got no more excuses – so expect big things :)


Clear-Minded Classic #4: Ignore Everybody by Hugh MacLeod

Ignore Everybody is a brilliantly inspiring little book by former copywriter turned artist (he’s most famous for his witty cartoons on the back of business cards),blogger (at and internet marketer Hugh MacLeod.

How to be Creative

The book started out in life as the free manifesto “How to Be Creative”. This manifesto is still available for free, without the need to handover your email address, at the wonderful Change This website (which a few other superb manifestos for clear-minded creative types which I’ll be talking about here soon also).

According to MacLeod, it has now been downloaded a staggering 4.5m times. Wow! Clearly a lot of people out there have an interest in creativity.

Short but Sweet

Ignore Everybody is an expanded version of the free ebook. Do you need it if you’ve already read/downloaded the PDF? Well no, you don’t need it quite frankly, because you’ve got the bulk of it already, but it does have a fair bit of extra stuff that makes it worth getting if you found the ebook inspiring.There are 26 tips in the PDF, and 40 in the book, and the extra ones are equally worth reading.

Plus, who wants to sit at a computer screen reading a PDF when you could be reading it with your feet up on the chaise longue sipping an extravagant cocktail?

It won’t take you long to read the entire thing of course, but then again it’s the kind of book you can turn to again and again when you need some inspiration or a short sharp kick up the arse (creatively speaking).

Speaking of which, it would be perfect for the bathroom bookshelf, should you like to read on the toilet (not that you would publicly admit to such a thing, of course). And it would certainly make a great gift for someone else in your life who’s in need of creative inspiration.

Sex and Cash

The thing about MacLeod’s advice is, it’s hard-hitting, and no nonsense. All that copywriting experience hasn’t gone to waste – not a word is out of place or unnecessary, and he really hits the nail on the head with every sentence.

The original Change This manifesto

He tells us that we are all born creative, but that matters little unless we put the work in. He also suggests that having full ownership over your creativity is the most important thing you can do.

And for that reason, MacLeod actually advises you to keep your day job, so that you keep your passion about the creative work you really care about.

His ‘sex and cash’ theory describes the former as “the kind of work that pays the bills” whilst the latter is “the sexy, creative kind”. Now in his own case, this may have been good advice, considering he was a copywriter in a New York advertising agency – at least his day job involved a fair amount of creativity and was presumably very well paid.

Not all of us are so lucky – if you’re miserable in your day job, this particular piece of advice is perhaps up for debate.

I think if you’re creative, you should aim to find work which allows you to use that creativity as much as possible. You just might not get paid for doing your favourite form of creativity.  I know when I play my songs on the guitar that as much as I enjoy it, it will never be something I do for a living, because I have never invested the time to get really good at it.

So I get what he’s saying in that respect. Having said that, lots of people do manage to make their living as an artist, and enjoy it, so I think he’s perhaps a little bit wide of the mark on this occasion.

No bull

Apart from that small niggle, there is a lot of great advice. One of my favourite headings is “Never compare your inside with somebody else’s outside.” Brilliantly put.

But this is no softly softly, self-help feelgood love-in. Like MacLeod’s frequently foul-mouthed and often dark cartoons, this can be hard-hitting stuff. How about this quote from “Being Poor Sucks”:

To deny the importance of the material world around you (and its hard currencies) is to detach yourself from reality. And the world will punish you hard, eventually, for that.

Or this subheader to “Allow your work to age with you”:

You become older faster than you think. Be ready for when it happens.

And of course, this from “Nobody cares. Do it for yourself”:

Everybody is too busy with their own lives to give a damn about your book, screenplay etc

Personally I find his no-bullshit style totally refreshing and invigorating. I prefer to hear the truth, because kidding yourself, or deluding yourself about reality means you will never improve it. And I think the honest advice in this book, which clearly comes from at times bitter experience, could really help you improve your reality if you are struggling to come to terms with how you can be both creative and happy in this complex world.

If you haven’t already, I recommend you download How to Be Creative for free from the Change This website – and then if you want more and you want it in ye olde style dead tree format you could always buy Ignore Everybody: And 39 Other Keys to Creativity  from
or It’s also available on the Kindle Store UK and Kindle Store US (all Amazon links are affiliate links).