Very Meta is two years old

It’s gone in a flash, but this month has seen the two-year anniversary of Very Meta, my freelance content studio. Those early weeks and months were full of uncertainty, but it’s very nice to be in a position where I have limited time to write this post because I am so busy working for clients.

That said, I do want to mark the occasion. My first attempt at freelance life lasted around nine months. It went pretty well overall, but I was too reliant on a single client and ultimately, it wasn’t a sustainable business.

After two years, Very Meta is a sustainable business and in the last six months, I’ve been working on some of the biggest, most challenging projects of my career. I’m very grateful to have had a) people who have recommended me, and b) others who have given me some great opportunities.

Of course, I am learning constantly, especially on the actually-running-a-business side of it all. But there are a few things that I have done, some of them unwittingly, that I think have helped me get to this point.

Time for a very short list.

Say yes to things

One of the biggest hurdles when you start freelancing is finding the confidence to put yourself in unfamiliar situations. My trick has been to say yes when opportunities have come along. Don’t overthink. Don’t stress about whether you can do the job. Just stay calm, be prepared to learn quickly, do your best and see where things lead. It’s usually somewhere good.

Build a broad client base

Having one or two reliable clients is marvellous. But if either of them go away – and they can go away – then you might find yourself in bother. So try and build a client base of at least five companies. You don’t have to be working on projects for them all at the same time, though I have done and continue to do my fair share of juggling. What’s important is to make sure that you’re the person they turn to when something new comes up.

Use your network

For my first go at freelancing, I spent ages making a website, wondering what to Tweet and researching companies I could cold-email. My success was limited. This time around – well, as you can see, I barely have anything on my website at all. I suggest you spend the vast majority of your energy on building relationships with the people that you already know. Attend meetups. Go for coffee. Ask for introductions. It’s far easier and, for me, more productive.

Think opportunities, not cold hard cash

First of all, don’t work for free. I do not advocate that. But my experience so far tells me that some opportunities are worth more than the money on offer. So, if something doesn’t quite hit your ideal day rate, and if you think you can afford it, ask yourself some questions. Might this lead to other work? Will this look great in my portfolio? Could this be just good old-fashioned fun? Where possible, try to think in terms of opportunities – not just rates.

Don’t undersell yourself

In February 2017, thrust back into self-employment, I’d have taken just about any fee to get the work in. I had a family to feed. These things are important. But it’s also important that you realise how much you are worth. People want you on their projects because you can do something that they can’t – or you can do it far better. So – and this is a note to self as much as anything – charge what you’re worth and negotiate from there.

So there you go – some unsolicited freelancing advice.

What am I working on now?

Now, what am I going to be doing over the next few months?

In terms of client work, I’m eight weeks into a huge and exciting project with Good Things Foundation, which I may be in a position to talk more about in the future. I am also coming to the final stages of my first project with the brilliant FutureGov, which has seen me write the digital strategy for Bradford City Council.

My regular work with Sheffield Digital, Content OD and TribePad continues too. These ongoing relationships have been the foundation of Very Meta in its first two years (see broad client base paragraph above). I’ve also been doing a little copywriting work for a fantastic Sheffield charity called Under The Stars, which runs club nights and arts workshops for adults with learning disabilities.

What’s in store for Very Meta?

This is a good question. I have lots of ideas about what Very Meta could become, but they all involve collaboration with other fine folk. It’s sort of already started. In the last six months or so, I’ve worked alongside other freelancers, including Joanne Mateer, Rich Wells, and through Content OD, Ellen Holcombe, Lorna Dockerill, and Carol-Anne Ward. It’s been a positive experience and evidence that people can come together to do good work.

Last October, I started the ball rolling on a new content meet up called Sheffield Content Club. Things got very busy almost immediately after, but my plan is to hold the first event by the end of April. I want it to be different. I want it to be fun. I want it to be the kind of thing that people don’t want to miss. Look out for more information soon.

Finally, I also have designs on a Very Meta podcast and newsletter. But before I can get to those things, I need to add a whole load of content to the website, including a portfolio of projects. That said, if you are a person who enjoys newsletters, you should check out This From The Writing Shed, which is my weekly email full of links to ace writing articles, apps and tools.

Get in touch!

If you want to speak to me or ask questions about anything in this post, please feel free to do so! You can email or get stuck in on Twitter (either @iainbroome or @verymeta).

It’s time for Sheffield Content Club

I’d like to start a new meetup for people in Sheffield who make and work with content. It’s something I’ve had in mind for years. Over the last 15 months, through my work for Sheffield Digital, I’ve watched the city’s meetup scene thrive and grow. But there are no meetups about content.

And so I think it’s time that changed. I know that Sheffield is full of great content writers, designers and strategists. They are in agencies, businesses, government departments and both universities. We also have a whole host of freelancers – like me – who create and manage content for all of the above.

Sheffield certainly has the content talent. But as far as I know, there is no regular place for us to come together, meet new people, share our brilliant ideas and develop some sort of secret handshake.

Introducing Sheffield Content Club

So I am going to do something about it.

I’m starting a new meetup called Sheffield Content Club. It already has its own Twitter account, which I would encourage you to follow. But more importantly, I’ve put together a landing page and sign-up form. If you’d like to see Sheffield Content Club become a real-life thing, please subscribe to the mailing list and let me know.

For now, it’s a way for me to gauge interest in the meetup and let you know when the first event will be. But in the future, I would like to send out interesting content-related news, info and opportunities.

As I write this post, there are already 30+ people signed up. That’s very encouraging. But my own network only goes so far and I’d really like to see people sharing the link around.

The best meetups are those that build and turn into a thriving community. The more we can all get the word out, the more likely we are to pack a room and get Sheffield Content Club off to a flyer.

But wait! Who is this meetup for?

I thought you might ask that. Content is such a vague term. When I started out, working in content almost always meant being a copywriter. It was mostly about words. But as you know, that’s not been the case for ages.

We have content strategists, content designers and content producers. Some people use words. Some people use images. Some use audio and video. And then there are those who help make sure content is right for its audience and enters the world on time and to budget.

All of these people work in content. And many do all of those things.

I think a Sheffield Content Club should be a broad church. And so at this point, all I say is this: if you feel like you make or work in content, you are more than welcome.

What will it be like?

The truth is, I don’t know yet and I am very open to ideas (see below). I do think we will have speakers. I reckon a little show and tell is always nice. And of course, there will be plenty of time for drinks, nibbles and tip-top chit-chat.

Basically, if people can leave having learned something and had a good time, then we will be on to a winner. I’ve run events before and have a good idea of what works. At the moment though, my focus is on testing the water to see if people are interested.

Things that you can do

We’re just getting started and I’m happy to lead the way, but I don’t expect to do all this alone. I would specifically like to hear from you with suggestions for venues, sponsors and speakers. As it will be a content meetup, I’d also like to document events and make them publicly available, either through video or audio (ideally both). Ideas around that would be welcome too.

Please send all of your thoughts and secret information to me via the email address carefully positioned at the end of this list of actions:

And I think that’s it for now. Thank you to those of you who have shown an interest already and, fingers crossed, I’ll have more to share with you soon.

Post it notes showing that Very Meta is working with Perform Green, Content OD and TribePad

New clients and projects for 2018

It’s almost a year to the day since I set off on this new freelancing adventure. I’ve worked with several clients and produced all kinds of content, from podcasts and videos to good old-fashioned web copy. We’re already a month into 2018. Here’s an update on some new projects that I’m currently working on.

Work in progress

Perform Green are ‘strategy and change experts’, which mostly means that they help people, places and organisations through digital technology. Last year, they helped set up Bristol is Open, a collaborative smart city project, and have an impressive list of other clients. They do some really interesting work.

I’m currently working with Perform Green on their marketing and communications. It’s early days, but so far I’ve helped move their editorial workflow out of spreadsheets and into Trello. And I’ve been working with some of their key writers to edit and publish their long-form articles.

[su_row][su_column size=”1/3″ center=”no” class=””][/su_column] [su_column size=”1/3″ center=”no” class=””][/su_column] [su_column size=”1/3″ center=”no” class=””][/su_column][/su_row]

I’m also doing communications work for Sheffield-based TribePad. The company’s recruitment software is used by some of the biggest brands in the world, including the BBC and Pizza Hut. They had a hugely successful year last year and are hoping to build on that in 2018.

I’ve been working with TribePad since late November. I’ve helped revamp and publish the company’s Mailchimp-powered client newsletter and written various blog posts. Using Google Docs and Trello (again), I’ve worked with the team to set up a new editorial calendar and content workflow.

Finally, I’m currently spending one day a week in-house with the fine folk at Content OD. They are a Sheffield-based content agency that creates social media, video, copywriting and animation work. I worked on one of their copywriting projects for Sheffield Hallam University last year and it’s good to be working with them again.

This time round I’ll be helping Content OD with some of their own communications, particularly around their ‘clever content’ proposition. I’ll mostly take a project management and producer role, though I’m sure I’ll get my hands dirty creating some of the content too. It’s going to be good fun and a great challenge.

Room for more

All of this, on top of my work for Sheffield Digital, Good Things Foundation and The Outdoor City, means that I am pretty busy at the moment. This is a good thing. I am happy about this. But I am always on the lookout for more projects too.

As per the original plan for Very Meta, I am starting to work with fellow freelancers on standalone projects. If you’ve got a content challenge or want someone to point your team in the right direction, email and we can meet up for a brew and a natter.

How to be a content generalist

The lovely bunch at GatherContent asked me to contribute a video to their annual Christmas advent calendar. It’s a great idea – 24 days of content-related insight from people working in all areas of the industry.

Last year, I talked about plain English, as I am often inclined to do. But after nearly a year of being a self-employed content producer, I thought I’d try something a little different. And so my video was all about being a content generalist.

What is a content generalist?

Some people who work with content (a tricky word to define itself) are specialists in one particular area. They tend to be great at one or two things and rarely stray from those lines of work.

I am not a content specialist. Though like most humans, I’m better at some things than others, I think I am a content generalist. That means I take on a broad range of projects and have experience in lots of areas.

And that’s what my video for GatherContent covers. I talk about the variety of projects I’ve worked on this year. I also offer three simple tips that have helped me be a content generalist. Crucially, they’ve also helped me win work and stay busy.

Watch the video

You can watch the video right now over on GatherContent’s website. It’s set up in a way that means I can’t embed it here, but hey, while you’re over there, you can have a look at some of the other ace videos too.

How to write accessible hyperlinks

Click here. Find out more. Check this out.

Every day on my internet travels I see hyperlinks written like this, where the link itself, when taken out of context, is entirely meaningless. This is not the way to write hyperlinks, for plenty of reasons.

Links should have meaning

The first is accessibility. Not everyone who uses the web has perfect sight or is able to use a mouse, trackpad or keyboard like most people can. That’s why they use a screen reader, a marvellous device that reads web pages aloud. The person using it can then navigate from page to page like anyone else.

Or at least they can if the hyperlinks mean something. Screen readers work by calling up a list of links on a page. Imagine a list of ‘click heres’ and ‘find out mores’ and think about how you could possibly know where on earth they will take you.

On a basic level, to make sure your site can be read and enjoyed by everyone, your links should mean something.

See the difference?

People scan pages

Studies show that generally, people scan web pages, rather than read them, and that they’re always looking for the next place to go. You should aim to make this process as easy as possible.

First, as before, your links should mean something. They are typically designed to stand out on the page, so when someone scans, they too don’t want ‘click heres’ and ‘find out mores’. You’re forcing them to find the extra context and slowing them down.

The second thing to think about is whether your links are presented in the best possible way. If you have, say, four or five links in a single paragraph, would they be better arranged in bullet points, or even as part of the navigation system?

When you’re writing for the web, whether you’re a professional copywriter or an occasional blogger, your aim is to express yourself in the best way possible. That goes for the words you choose, of course, but also how they appear on the page.

You have to think like a reader, not just a writer.

Form and structure

Finally, the way you structure your link will affect the likelihood of someone clicking it. It may be meaningful and positioned sensibly, but if it’s too long then it won’t get read. People scan pages, remember.

Four or five words is a good maximum to aim for. Anything over that and you’re heading into too-long-ignore-it territory. Like constructing a sentence, it’s about rhythm and context. It’s not that complicated once you get used to it.

Another strange web phenomenon is that people only tend to focus on the first two words of a link. Where possible, you should try and put the important information up front. It’s pretty tricky, but it can be done.

Let me have a go here, using the same example I used above to show meaningful links.

My first attempt had meaning, which is great, but the important information was at the end of the link. You can see how a quick rewrite can make a difference.

The Holy Grail of writing web copy

The problem with trying to follow all these rules is that, if you’re not careful, they can impact the quality of your writing. I’ll be honest with you, I think that my ‘before’ sentence above sounds better than the ‘after’ version.

And that’s the Holy Grail of writing web copy: finding the balance between form and function. You have to make something sound great, but ensure that it’s appropriate for both your reader and the format. Pretty much all writing is about expressing yourself to an audience in the best possible way that you can.

When you write links, it may not feel like poetry, but you do have to engage people. What’s more, your primary job is to help them get from one place to another, all with the minimum of fuss.

This post was first published on and later included in the Medium publication, Write Like a Human.

Six months of Very Meta

It’s been six months since I left Yoomee and started freelancing again. The fact that it’s taken this long to write my first blog post is a good sign that things have gone pretty well. But back in February, I really wasn’t sure what was going to happen. It’s worth taking a moment to look back and breathe.

What the heck is Very Meta?

First, a bit about why I’m freelancing as Very Meta. I first registered Very Meta with Companies House in 2014, when I was self-employed for around nine months. I don’t think I ever used the Very Meta name anywhere. Not on my website. Not on invoices.

Instead, I was little ol’ me, Iain Broome. And mostly, that’s still the case. Though I’ve worked for several clients this year and partnered up on the odd project, I’m the only person on Very Meta’s books. I’m self-employed. Freelancing. Very Meta is just me.

So why bother with the company thing? There are a couple of reasons.

My other me

First, there is a whole other me that writes fiction. My first novel, A is for Angelica, was published a few years ago and I’ve previously had a blog, podcast and newsletter where the focus has been all about that other world.

All of that content lives at and to turn that site into a place for freelance work has always seemed a) pretty tricky to achieve, b) confusing for potential clients, and c) ever so slightly wrong.

Freelancing as a company allows me to keep my two worlds separate. Clients know that they are dealing with a single person, unless I state otherwise. And hopefully, it’s clearer for everyone who I am and what I do.

Working with other people

The second reason is about where Very Meta might be in a couple of years time. When I left Yoomee in February, it was difficult to see past the next week, let alone months or years. But I’ve been trying very hard to look at the long-term picture and what I want to do for a living in the future.

Being Very Meta and not just, you know – me – makes it easier to collaborate with other content folk. I’ve worked with some ace people over the years. If I have too much on or if a juicy project comes along that I can’t tackle alone, I can call on those people to team up and help out.

Of course, I can do that without working under a company name. But for me, again, being a single entity helps make things clearer for everyone. Whether it’s just me on a project or a collaboration, it doesn’t matter. Because the work is coming from Very Meta. And that means it will be good.

Lastly, I can see a future where Very Meta is more than just me on a permanent basis. I’ve worked with both Eleven and Paper this year. Both fantastic companies with small teams doing high quality, interesting work. I look at the way they do things and it feels right. Exactly the approach I’d like to take myself.

I’ve currently no desire (or need) to turn Very Meta into a business with a load of employees. But I can totally see it being a shared venture in the future. I don’t need to worry about any of this at the moment. However, freelancing under the Very Meta banner helps sew the seeds for what could come.

Working with Cornerstones

When I was freelance in 2014 I had one main client that provided most of my income. Inevitably, going freelance again, I got straight on the phone to Cornerstones Education. They had work for me. I was up and running.

Cornerstones make a (very popular) curriculum and other educational products for primary schools. I’ve spent the last six months working mostly on one new product called Cornerstones Yoimoji. I’ll write up a full case study as soon as I get chance, but it’s been a veritable feast of content development.

Cornerstones Yoimoji characters

Yoimoji characters (L–R: Decca, Scoop, Wingo, Clem, Waffles, Snickle)

The Yoimoji are 58 illustrated characters. Together, they helps schools teach fundamental British values (a specific thing in education), as required by Ofsted. I’ve written value definitions (another blog post in waiting) and scripts, recorded and edited voiceovers and created 60+ animated videos. I’ve also managed the whole development process alongside Cornerstones’ creative director.

Working on the Yoimoji has been loads of fun. Cornerstones have just started talking about it in public and you can read their Yoimoji launch post here.

Using my network

One of the reasons I stopped freelancing when I tried it before was that I ended up too reliant on my main client. I did work on projects for other companies, but nowhere near enough to sustain an income. This time around, I was more prepared and made a conscious effort to build a rounded portfolio.

That’s not to say I’ve spent my time cold calling companies or permanently networking. Far from it, in fact. I can honestly say I’ve spent the last six months working. Lots of working. And it’s been great.

I’ve worked with 10 different clients so far in 2017. Nearly every one of those clients has come through existing relationships. I’ve really tried to use my network.

Over the years, I’ve worked with, been pals with or perhaps had a brief conversation at some event with a wide range of people. Over time, those relationships build up. Sheffield’s creative and digital scene has a strong can-do, DIY ethic where people see each other often and help each other out.

I have a long way to go, but after six months it feels like I’m in a position to take Very Meta forward into next year and beyond. I’ve learnt that what you know is important, but who you know can make an incredible difference.

These things that I have done

Iain Broome recording the CreativeMornings Sheffield podcast with Lyon&Lyon

Recording the CreativeMornings Sheffield podcast with Lyon&Lyon

Over the coming weeks, I’m going to create a portfolio of case studies on this website. I’ve worked on a diverse range of projects that have seen me create different types of content, from web copy and straplines to podcasts and videos. There have been tweets too. Many tweets indeed.

I won’t go into too much detail, but Yoimoji aside, here is some of what I’ve been up to.

One of the most enjoyable things about this first six months has been the variety of content work I’ve done. It’s kept me on my toes and seen me learn new things, which is fantastic. I now need to build on the momentum and these relationships to make sure the second half of the year is successful too.

What’s coming up?

I’m still getting used to not knowing exactly what projects are on the horizon, but I do know I’m going to be very busy up until the new year.

I’m currently finishing up on the Yoimoji project for Cornerstones. After that, I’ll be helping them with other products, most of which I can’t talk about. I’m signed up with Sheffield Digital until the end of October and hope that I’ll be able to continue beyond then. Same goes for my work on The Outdoor City.

And just this week, I’m starting a new project with Good Things Foundation. They’re the UK’s leading digital inclusion charity and they do amazing work to help people develop their digital skills to overcome social challenges. I’ll hopefully be in a position to talk more about that soon too.

Sharing the journey

This first blog post has been a long time coming. Though it was tempting to spend ages building a fancy website for Very Meta, I made a conscious choice to focus on getting and then doing paid work. And I’ve been super busy, as a result.

But I do need to find time for marketing, putting myself out there, or whatever you want to call it. So far, the work has come naturally, but I’m at the beginning of this journey and I don’t want to be complacent.

I need to get some case studies onto the site. By showing the work, I will get more work. But I feel like there are plenty of options beyond that. Should I start blogging regularly? Should I start a newsletter? How about a Very Meta podcast?

I haven’t quite decided yet, but I know that whatever I do, it needs to be sustainable. I don’t want to make daft promises to myself (or anyone else). We’ll see how it goes.

Stay in touch!

If you’d like to keep following my progress or say hello, you can follow @iainbroome on Twitter or @very_meta. And of course, if you have an exciting project that you think we could work on together, email and let me know.