Nicola Robbins: Freelance writer

What is this blog about?

Having worked as a media professional full time until having my three children, I am discovering the ups and downs of working from home as a flexible freelance writer.

This blog is a collection of thoughts on my emerging freelance career and also some observations on great and not so great examples of communication that are out there…

Featured post

Help, my child has a mobile phone!

My eldest started secondary school in September and with this rite of passage also came the obligatory mobile phone. I had been dreading the moment but actually, 6 months in, it hasn’t proved to be the nightmare that I thought it would be, in fact sometimes it has been quite the opposite.

It has been a great way for her to keep in contact with friends – both her new secondary school ones, particularly as we live in a small village some distance away, and her old primary school ones that she now doesn’t see as often.

But I am not naïve and I am fully aware of the looming issues and pressures that will eventually come with having social media and the internet literally at her fingertips. Not to mention the fact that for her, YouTube seems to be more interesting than picking up a book right now.

But how much is too much ‘phone time’? And what can I do to help when the problems start to arrive? I have no idea but I have done bit of research and thought I would list all the useful pieces of advice and places I found where us parents can go to for help.

Many mobile internet service providers have parental controls as part of what they offer. Vodafone have gone a step further and produced a Digital Parenting magazine, which is full of useful advice.


Government sponsored advice and reporting sites

Child Safety Online – a practical guide for parents.

Think U Know

CEOP – Child Exploitation and Online Protection, part of the National Crime Agency.

Virtual Global Taskforce – a partnership of international law enforcement agencies

Get Safe Online


Children’s charities


Netmums – advice for parents by parents.

Young Minds 

Kid Smart

Safety Net Kids

Media smart, a media literacy advice site for 7-16 year olds.

Childnet International

UK Safer Internet Centre 



Finally, a great acronym I found on a US based website…


(P) Remember that everything you put online has the potential to be seen by anybody and everybody and that it can be PERMANENT.

(A) Before posting, tweeting, sharing, texting or uploading think about your AUDIENCE and how it could affect them and/or their opinion of you and others, now and later on.

(U) If you are still UNSURE ask for a second opinion from somebody you trust. Equally, if you receive a text, tweet, message or picture that you are UNSURE about tell somebody you trust.

(S) STOP AND THINK what impact your online activity may have on your privacy or reputation, or the privacy or reputation of others.

(E) If you are uncomfortable with anything that’s been tweeted, posted, shared or uploaded END your involvement immediately and tell somebody you trust.






I actually thought this was a spoof when I first saw it on Twitter, I mean this is 2017 after all. But then again this is also the Daily Mail…

But it isn’t 1st April. Here we have two women in positions of power, about to discuss one of the biggest issues facing our country today, and a major national newspaper focuses on their legs. Obviously.

Sexist society?

Yes this is 2017, but sadly sexism is clearly still widespread. You only have to glance at the twitter trolls, examine the mountains of evidence gathered daily for the everyday sexism project, gender pay gap, and the actual numbers of women leaders in business and politics. Apparently there are more men called John leading FTSE 100 companies than there are women.

Also there is no way that this headline would have been written about two men. This double standard is also everywhere and has been brilliantly exposed by the spoof twitter feed of ‘the man who has it all’.

Is it deliberate?

Having seen the derisory response of the Daily Mail to the internet meltdown that their headline caused, I am certain that it was written quite deliberately in order to cause the response that it did. Clearly a woman in a position of power is a threat, and a belittling headline like this was designed to ‘put these women back in their place’.

But could there be another, more disturbing reason for the headline? Was it written to deliberately cause this outrage in order to distract us from discussing the real issues, from having a proper conversation about Brexit and everything that it means?

This reminds me of a tactic of a certain controversial figure from across the pond. Donald Trump is just as quick to make outrageous statements that move focus away from aspects of his Presidency that he would rather we didn’t pay much attention to.

The lesson for us here is to absolutely get involved in the debate but not to the point of being sidetracked by the issues that really matter.

Combating ‘fake news’

News itself is now the news. ‘Fake news’ is a thing. It started towards the end of the US Presidential Election campaign, with suggestions that false stories dressed up to look like genuine news might have influenced the outcome of the election.

Facebook was condemned for allowing fake news reports to infiltrate its feeds and later the UK government set up an inquiry, because, as they rightly say, fake news has the potential to ‘threaten democracy and confidence in the media’.


But lately it has become another thing all together. And, for me, a much more worrying one – because ‘fake news’ is fast becoming a label for ‘news that I don’t like’.

Donald Trump used his first press conference as US President to accuse news outlets of reporting ‘fake news’ after they accurately reported his inauguration crowd size and continues to use this label for any news organisation that reports anything that he appears to disagree with.

Journalists covering the White House who have questioned this have been denied access to their primary source of news as a result.

The effect of this, most probably deliberately, is to begin to sow seeds of doubt in the minds of the public, calling into question everything we read, making it all the more important for us to be able to tell fact from ‘alternative fact’.

Cutting out the middle man

What makes it harder for us to distinguish between ‘real’ and ‘fake’ news is the ability that Governments and powerful individuals now have to bypass official media outlets and have a direct conversation with whoever is listening.

On social media – particularly on Twitter, where opinion can be presented as fact, it is possible to filter your online world so that you only have to listen to what you agree with. Soon we are all living in our own bubbles, believing that everyone who thinks like us are the only ones speaking ‘the truth’.

The challenge

So what can we do about it? The media certainly have a challenge in shouldering the responsibility for accurate reporting more than ever before, but I think we all need to take some responsibility too.

Awareness is an important starting point, but then we should get more used to questioning what we consume. Read from many different sources, connect with people you have a difference of opinion with but know whose opinion you can trust.

Most importantly, understand that not everything is black and white –embrace the grey but at the same time, learn to distinguish between what is opinion and what is fact.

The battle to ‘have it all’

According to research out last month, new mums are becoming more and more isolated.  I’ve been a ‘stay at home mum’ for 11 years and although I have never felt hugely lonely, I have felt ‘left behind’ when it comes to the world of work.

A column in this week’s Guardian suggested that the solution to this could be that rather than juggle both motherhood and a career at the same time, we separate them by restarting our careers in our 60’s and 70’s once our children have left home. I honestly can’t decide whether this is encouraging or depressing – I’m not sure I want to have to wait that long!

Why is it so difficult?

We women often discover too late that ‘going to work’ and childrearing don’t mix very well at all. While it is true that historical stereotypes do still play a big part in the expected norm that men are the ones who ‘go out to work’, and women ‘look after the children’, I think important physical and emotional factors are at play here too.

Personally, I think that this inequality stems from fact that women are ultimately strong – we bear the children and because of this, like it or not, also bear the largest physical and emotional responsibility too, particularly in the early years. But the emotional responsibility never leaves, and at the risk of a general sweeping statement, I’m not sure that this emotional pull is quite the same for men.

I decided to give up my career just as it was getting going to stay at home to look after my first child, and I considered myself lucky enough to be able to do so – and still do. Not all mothers have this luxury. Two years later we had another child, and then another.

11 years and a move out of London later has meant that I never did go back to ‘work’ in the traditional sense of the word, and this has enabled my husband to carry on in his chosen career, to the point where his hours are long and his salary is good – so anything I do now career-wise has to fit not just around the children, but around him too.

Which is at best a challenge and actually practically impossible.

The eternal conundrum

This decision – which was made together in the best interests of our family – ultimately finds me penalised because I can’t bring in very much money in comparison to my husband’s wage.

Most ‘interesting’ jobs often aren’t worth the commute or childcare logistics and what is left is scarcity of part-time, local jobs in my chosen field, or the option of working from home as a freelancer, which I have opted for, for now. But lets face it, none of it gives me the job satisfaction that I used to have.

And yet.

If I could talk to my 30-year-old self would I persuade her to make a different decision? Not at all, because for me, being able to stay at home with my children when they were young is something that I know I will always have and I would have desperately missed had I gone straight back to work.

Even now they are older, while I can’t help feeling more and more redundant – I still get those moments when my eldest wants to ‘talk’ while we’re getting dinner ready or in the car going to swimming lessons… and if I was at work these moments would just pass by.

It’s a conundrum and right now I don’t know what the answer is. What I do know is that I have 20 plus working years left in me and for the sake of my two daughters – and also my son – I am not going to give up trying to forge a path for myself and all mums who still want the ‘best of both worlds’.

Wish me luck.

Lessons in communicating from Brexit

It’s true that not many of us will ever find ourselves in the position of running a big budget, high-stakes political campaign.

However, there are some lessons to be learned for us communicators from the Brexit fiasco that has played out over the last few extraordinary weeks in this country. Namely in how NOT to do things.

So if you are in the business of communicating, here are my 3 pieces of advice for avoiding a Brexit-style comms disaster…

1. Always tell the truth – you will eventually come unstuck. Some would say that repeating the now infamous ‘lets put £350 million a week back into the NHS’ claim, even though it was widely recognised that it wasn’t true, worked. Indeed repetition is a popular tactic – if you repeat something often enough then it sticks.

But equally if you are going to make bold claims, you have to be able to back them up. The leave campaign didn’t, couldn’t and the leaders paid the price with their reputations.

2. Pictures travel faster than words. There won’t be many people who haven’t seen this picture of Boris – shared, tweeted, and published all over the media within hours of his colleagues admitting the statement he was pictured next to wasn’t actually true.

At least his advisers were savvy enough to cover up the emergency exit sign spotted by Katherine Haddon on twitter over the entrance to his ‘I’m not running for PM’ press conference… scuppering the inevitable ‘Boris heads for the exit’ snap…

… Nigel Farage was not so lucky, but really his advisors should have spotted this one, as it has been rehashed in the media 3 years on!

3. Engage your audience. The success of the leave campaign and the failure of remainers boiled down to the same thing – audience engagement. Remainers failed to recognise the deep dissatisfaction with the status quo in some parts of the country, which the leavers had managed to link to EU membership.

Make sure you find out what your audience is bothered about, work out how to meet their needs and tell them.

Small business? Can’t afford PR? Think again…

Many smaller businesses believe that because they haven’t got the cash for a retainer with an established PR firm, they can’t do communications well. This is not necessarily the case. With a bit of work, research and a small amount of money, you can improve how you communicate with your customers, increase your visibility and grow your business.

Here are my top 6 ways to improve your PR…

  1. Sort out your website

Your website is your window on the world and first impressions count! Make sure that your homepage is clear about who you are and what you do – with great pictures and clear and concise writing.

  1. Build up your contacts

Find out who the key local journalists are in your subject area, and what they like to write about. See if you can arrange to meet them.

  1. Make yourself an expert

Journalists love ‘industry experts’. The next time there is an item in the news linked to your area of expertise, contact the journalist and offer your expert opinion. They may approach you next time around.

  1. Target your ‘news’

Work out who your audience is and what they are interested in – a good story for your specialist industry magazine will not be the same as a good story for your local newspaper.

  1. Social media

Get yourself a twitter account and a facebook page and start connecting with people in your industry. Offer your opinions, and get involved in debate but always remember that what you post or tweet carries your reputation with it.

  1. Hire a flexible communicator!

Just because you can’t afford a PR agency, doesn’t mean that you can’t get professional help. There are affordable professional freelancers who you hire when you need some communications advice, copywriting work or help on a one-off PR campaign – this needn’t cost the earth but could save you money and a whole lot of time in the long run.

Have a look at my blog – Why hiring a flexible freelancer could be great news for your business

Useful links

PRCA (Public Relations Consultants Association)

CIPR (Chartered Institute of Public Relations)

Why hiring a flexible freelancer could be great news for your business

You’re a small business. You know that engaging people quickly is more important than ever. But money is tight, you can’t afford a full time communications expert and have no experience in communications or writing. Where do you go for help?

Have you thought about hiring a freelancer?

This is a great way to access some of the best professionals around at less than the cost of a full-time salary, without having to compromise on the talent you need.

Top 5 reasons why freelance communicators are great for your small businesses:

  1. Value for money.

You pay for what you get – either by the hour or by the project, and because we often work from home they have fewer overheads so are better value for money.

  1. Quality professional expertise

Is it time to think a bit more creatively? Hiring high quality writer or communications professional for shorter hours could be more cost effective than hiring someone with less experience, full time. Just because someone isn’t in your office doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t do a great job. Ignoring the freelance marketplace means your business could be missing out on a huge bank of talent that is out there.

  1. Fresh eyes

Copywriters are experts at communicating through writing, and freelancers are independent, so we are able to step back with fresh eyes, free of preconceptions to see you and your business as if they were a new client or customer.

  1. Personal touch

Freelancers often have a small number of local clients. We can spend time getting to know you, your company, product or service. We will also painstakingly research your target audience to find out what makes them tick, and tailor our writing to reach them.

  1. Better for your business

Leaving your communications in the hands of the experts means you will be able to focus on what you do best – running your business (and also to drink your coffee before it goes cold).

Contact me to discuss your communication needs

Useful links

Professional Copywriters Network

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