Category Archives: Freelance life

Information for freelancers.

SfEP wise owls: how to take (guilt-free) time off at Christmas

At the time of publication, there are only 48 days until Christmas. While everyone else is concerned with buying presents, spending time with relatives they don’t like, and how to avoid getting food poisoning from an undercooked turkey, freelancers also have to organise taking time off during the holidays. As an early Christmas present, the SfEP parliament has wrapped up their advice on how to take guilt-free time off over the Christmas period.

Owl Santa

Sue BrowningSue Browning

My advice? Banish the guilt! Isn’t freedom to work when we choose one of the reasons we go freelance? Why then do we burden ourselves with guilt when we do just that? The only thing we should worry about is making sure we do what we have promised to do by the time we promised to do it. Give yourself permission to reject a job if it will mean working when you don’t want to.

So, unless you actively choose to work over Christmas (and there are plenty of good reasons you might wish to do so), block the time off in your schedule and resolutely say no to taking on a project that would mean working over your holiday period. Close your office door, switch off your phone, and go and enjoy your family and friends, your food and wine, your Christmas walk (just me?), and your rest. Return to your work when you choose to, knowing you’ll be all the better at it for having relaxed and refreshed yourself. And banish that guilt!

Liz JonesLiz Jones

Remember that your time is as valuable as anyone else’s, and you have a right to take holidays. You can’t do your best work if you’re over-tired and feeling put-upon, so give yourself a break. Plan definite work-free time in advance – block it out as you would any other project, on your calendar or in your diary. Tell all the people you need to tell that you’re taking this time off, and stick to it as you would any other professional commitment. Christmas is easier than some other holiday periods because most offices either shut down completely or are very nearly empty, with little sense of urgency. If you waver in your resolve, just remember that most clients won’t expect you to be working flat out at this time anyway, and email traffic is likely to reduce. For a total break it can be wonderful to stay offline completely for a few days (no email, no social media) … if you have the self-control!

Abi SaffreyAbi Saffrey

Try to decide a few months in advance which days you are taking off work. Write HOLIDAY in your calendar in big letters so it takes thought and effort to cross it out. If you can, fit a few more projects, or better paying ones, into the months leading up to your break so you’re not worrying about earning when you should be taking time out. Tell your clients when you’ll be ‘away’ and that you won’t be responding to emails during that time. When your holiday finally comes around, don’t check your email, steer clear of social media, and if you think of something work related that needs doing, make a list, tuck it under your keyboard and walk away.

Taking a whole week or two off a couple of times a year is really important – especially in the dark winter months. You’ll come back refreshed and enthusiastic, keen to get back to your routine, and you’ll be more productive.

John EspirianJohn Espirian 

Plan the calendar well ahead. If you book up your work time in, say, two-week blocks, then book your Christmas time off three or more weeks ahead. That way, you won’t let work dominate the holidays. A general life lesson is to plan the fun stuff first and then the work to fit around it. That’s why most of us are freelancers, after all – freedom.

I always know I’m going to be doing the cooking, so can be sure that I won’t be working when I’m spending time in the kitchen. But I actually love that. If there are young kids around, plan to get them involved with the prep so that the whole thing doesn’t feel like a chore.

Send clients Christmas cards with a reminder of when you’ll be back at work. Could lead to more business! Always be top of mind.

Turn off phone notifications and even turn off delivery of emails.

Margaret HunterMargaret Hunter

Decide on something nice / creative / challenging you want to do during your time off. Get out that sewing project that’s been on hold; sort out your photo albums; plan an overnight long hike. Anything that’s going to make you feel good and less guilty about not working.

Hazel BirdHazel Bird

Theoretically, taking time off at Christmas is easy if you plan it in advance and tell those contacts who need to know. But, in practice, existing work can end up spilling into our well-earned down-time, or lucrative offers can tempt us back to our desks. To prevent work spilling over, consider taking on slightly less work just prior to your break so you can be sure you’ll get it done in time, even if it takes a bit longer than expected. As to being tempted to take on new work, plan in advance what you’d say if you received an offer and what rates you would charge to justify giving up your planned break. Maybe there’s no fee that would make it worth it – but even coming to that conclusion could help to fortify you against tempting offers.

Melanie ThompsonMelanie Thompson

Never, ever feel guilty about taking planned time off.

There are laws to protect the holiday rights of employees, but no equivalent for freelancers. That means you have to police yourself. Everyone needs a break. Plan yours well in advance; tell your clients you’ll be ‘out of the office from x to y’. (They don’t need to know why unless you want to tell them.)

The number one benefit of being a freelancer is the freedom to decide what is right for you.

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford

Downtime is essential for your health and well-being. No guilt required. To ensure you take time off, you need to commit, and commit early. Mark the time off in your planner. When offered a job with a due date on the far side of your break, double-check that the timescale is feasible. One client’s software regurgitates a due date based on word count, ignoring all bank holidays, so I get the date extended. Reject any job that has a due date during your planned break so you don’t try to squeeze it in and finish it early – if you fail, you end up working, stressed and resentful.

Posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP

 

 

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‘No’ your way to a better business: SfEP conference session preview

By Laura Poole

As I write this, I’m nearly deluged in paid work. I said ‘yes!’ to clients about three times more than I should have. My bank account will be very happy in about six weeks, but in the meantime I’m getting up early, squeezing in work everywhere, skipping exercise, deferring personal appointments, and drinking extra coffee.

In the 20 years I have been freelancing, I have noticed that it is very hard to say no. I’ve noticed it with colleagues, too, and my theory is this: as freelancers, we train ourselves to say yes because yes = paycheck. When we started out, we probably said yes to everything because we were desperate for work, eager to expand our client base, excited to learn new things, and appreciative of the income. Publishing seems to be a woman-dominated field (at least in editorial), and women often tend to be people pleasers, which can lead to a yes when a no would be better.

hand-no
When we say yes a lot, it can feel good! Gratification: we made someone happy. Security: work is coming in, money will be earned. Pride: look how much I got done! Too many yeses lead to a feast of work, with concomitant stress. Our bodies, our schedules, our families, and even our friends suffer when we do nothing but work. A feast portion is all too often followed by a famine portion. We’re briefly grateful for a break, a rest, some recovery, but then we start to panic about lack of work… so we start drumming up more business, saying yes to lots more things, and then we’re back in the feast portion again.

The problem is, these vicious circles of stress and panic are not healthy, and they are not sustainable in the long run. For full-time freelancers, this is almost certainly not the lifestyle you envisioned.

There are many steps, tools, and techniques for reclaiming your life and business. In this post, I offer a key one: start saying no. It may seem counterintuitive, and it may feel almost physically uncomfortable to get the words out, but it’s the simplest thing you can do.

Check your instinct to immediately say yes to everything and everyone (and that includes personal requests, like tea with friends or dinner out). Give each request – appointment, social event, client project – some careful thought. Is it coming at a time when you already have plenty of work? Are you already overloaded, or will the schedule free up? Is it work that you truly want to do, or something that’s not quite in your core skills and interests (e.g. proofreading when you really do developmental editing). Think about what you truly want in your life – are you missing time for hobbies, time with family, or even just relaxing? Haven’t taken a vacation in a long time? Reclaim your sanity by saying no as needed.

The tough part is saying no without feeling guilty, without softening it with a lengthy apology or explanation. Remember: ‘No’ is a complete sentence. Loyal clients will know they can come back to you and may even ask when you are available.

When you say no to the things that don’t serve you – that overload your schedule, that aren’t in your core business, that are just a chore and not an opportunity – you will free up time and energy for the things that do serve you. That alone can shape your business in exciting new ways, opening more doors than you ever thought possible.

Start now: what can you start saying no to?

My session at the SfEP conference is ‘Taking charge of your freelance life’ (Monday 9–11am).

laurapoole resized Laura Poole (Twitter: @lepoole) started her full-time freelance business in 1997. She edits exclusively for scholarly university presses. She started training editors in 2009 with privately run workshops. In 2015, she joined with Erin Brenner to become the co-owner of Copyediting, for which she is also the Director of Training. She loves Jelly Babies.

 

Posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP

Pricing editorial work – SfEP conference session preview

By Liz Jones

Booking for our 2016 conference, ‘Let’s Talk About Text’, closes on Friday 8 July. At the time of writing there are only a handful of non-resident places left, so if you don’t want to miss out, book now!

I’ve been invited to present in a ‘Speed start-up: what newbies need to know’ session at the SfEP conference in September on the subject of pricing work, alongside Sue Littleford (Numbers for word people) and Louise Harnby (Banishing the marketing heebie-jeebies). Here’s a taster of my section of the session.

pound resized
Pricing editorial work comes up time and again in discussion between editors. In the session I’m going to look at the basic process of quoting for work, which can be applied across a range of situations. The same principles can also be used to work out if a fixed fee offered by a client is fair.

  1. Assess the information provided about the work

The client should provide you with the project parameters, including extent or word count, schedule, level of editing required, and so on. They might suggest a price, or they might ask you to quote.

  1. Ask for more information if you need it

You can’t accurately price work without adequate information and a sample of the text. If the client will not provide the information you need to price the work, proceed with caution!

  1. Work out what your work is worth

To work out a price for the work, you can take the hourly rate you need/want to earn, multiply it by the length of time you estimate the job will take, and add on contingency to arrive at a total fee. Alternatively you can quote what you think the work is worth to the client. Other factors can influence the figure, such as the particular market, or the time frame allowed for the work.

  1. Use data from previous projects/colleagues to help you

To enable you to estimate how long a job will take, it is essential to keep records of work you do. If you are asked to quote for work unlike anything you have done, you can ask colleagues for advice – for example, in the SfEP forums.

  1. Prepare a quote, making clear what it covers

When you provide a price, you should also indicate what this price includes. For many publishers, this will be fairly straightforward, as they are likely to be commissioning you for a commonly understood part of the process such as copy-editing or proofreading. For a non-publisher, you will need to ensure they know precisely what they are getting for their money, and importantly what is not included.

  1. Prepare to negotiate

If your client suggests a price, don’t be afraid to ask for more if you think the work warrants it; equally, if you suggest a price, be prepared for the client trying to negotiate down.

  1. Agree terms with the client, and start work

Make sure you have the agreed price and the scope of work in writing before you start work. If anything changes that might affect the price, raise this with your client as soon as possible.

In the session I’ll be looking in more detail at each of the stages – with particular focus on working out what the job is worth – and taking questions. There will also be a handout with further information and links to resources to help you at each stage of the process.

Sue, Louise and I will be presenting on Monday, 12 September 2016, between 1.30 and 2.30 p.m. I hope to see you there!

Liz Jones Liz Jones has been an editor since 1998, and full-time freelance since 2008; she is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP. She specialises in trade non-fiction, fiction and educational publishing, but also works with a range of business clients and individuals. When not editing she writes fiction, and also blogs about editing and freelancing at Eat Sleep Edit Repeat.

 

Posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP

Numbers for word people – SfEP conference session preview

By Sue Littleford

The speed start-up session at the 2016 conference (on Monday 12th at 1:30) will begin with a segment on finance (followed by Liz Jones on pricing and Louise Harnby on marketing – it’s going to be a busy hour!). Editors and proofreaders are by nature word people, so many of us can find it hard to get to grips with the money end of running our businesses. But you’re not just a proofreader or an editor, you’re a business owner, too, so you do need to understand what your statutory obligations are (keeping records, including the right information on your invoices, making a timely and accurate tax return and paying your tax and national insurance by the deadline). HMRC puts a huge amount of effort into making it easy for you to get your tax return right, and all the things that revolve around it, like understanding what business expenses are allowable (i.e. what expenditure you can offset against your profits to reduce your tax bill) and what aren’t.

ledger

Access HMRC’s live and recorded webinars and the business email support system. And watch helpful videos on their YouTube channel.

You also need to know how to budget for the things you need to buy (equipment, reference materials, memberships) and money you need to spend (tax and national insurance, plus perhaps pension contributions), and how much you need to put by to tide you over times of not working, whether for planned holidays, periods of illness, or those times when work just won’t land in your inbox no matter what you do.

Understand the importance of cash flow – more businesses have come unstuck because of a lack of ready cash to cover their commitments than from a lack of overall profitability – and translate that understanding into actions for invoicing promptly and chasing overdue invoices.

I see a lot of comments from people in editors’ groups right across social media saying that invoicing and requiring payment on time makes them cringe – they feel pushy and mercenary. Well, the only thing I can say to that is – don’t! You’re a business owner, not a doormat. Contracts have two halves – what you’ll do and what you’ll be paid for doing it. You did your bit, so now it’s time for your client to fulfil their part of the contract.

Sadly, but unsurprisingly, clients usually have their focus elsewhere than on your finances, so you need to be the one to remind them, and to remind them again, if need be. Keep it polite, keep it businesslike and don’t apologise. But just in case, be aware that you have rights to claim interest and penalties on late payments from clients who are also businesses.

As there’s such a lot to get through, there’ll be a handout bursting with links to plenty more detailed information. There’ll be time for a few questions, too. To get you started, a huge amount of information on running the financial end of a business can be found at www.gov.uk. Start with the two options Business and self-employed and Money and tax.

Plug alert!! All this, and a great deal more, is covered in my upcoming new SfEP guide Going Solo – Creating Your Freelance Editing Business.

Sue Littleford Sue Littleford, an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP, was a career civil servant, before being forcibly outsourced, and spent 14 years as payroll manager for what is now the Ministry of Justice. Then she changed tack altogether and has now been a freelance copy-editor since 2007, working mostly on postgraduate textbooks in the humanities and social sciences, plus the occasional horseracing thriller.

Visit her website at Apt Words, follow her on Twitter @Apt_Words, or connect via Facebook or LinkedIn.

Posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP

Reasons to be cheerful about freelance home working

By Lesley Ellen

Sitting at the computer in my home office and looking out the window on this wildly wet and windy morning, I can’t help reflecting on how lucky I am to be able to work from home as a freelance editor.

When I recently took voluntary redundancy after working in local government – for, well, let’s just say more than 20 years – I knew I didn’t want to return to the commuter treadmill, trundling into an office every day to work fixed hours under the watchful eyes of a boss – a boss who wasn’t me. Having done a fair bit of writing and editing throughout my career, the world of proofreading and copy-editing appealed to me, and two years on with some training and work under my belt (but still a great deal to learn), I can say that I haven’t regretted for a single minute taking this up as a second career.

Earlier this year, I was lured back to the corporate world to work two days a week to help out with a maternity cover. The work has been interesting, my colleagues are lovely and the organisation is located in stunning parkland in one of Edinburgh’s most beautiful, hidden areas, where lunchtime walks amongst this year’s especially glorious autumn trees made me very grateful to be outdoors and away from either of my desks. But now that the weather has turned and with my contract ending in just a few days, I can’t wait to huddle down indoors and focus full-time on my editing career.

Never again the early morning bus ride in the dark, followed by the return journey also in the dark – commuting in Scotland in the winter months is invariably in the dark. Just as I do on the days I’m currently at home, I’ll be able to get up at a time that suits my own schedule and cast a sympathetic glance at neighbours scurrying out to work while I put the kettle on and settle down in my cosy study.

freedom to work outsideWith my son living away at university and my husband out at work, the house is my domain and, being my own boss, I can fit my schedule to suit looming deadlines and other necessary tasks. If I need to, I can work five or six hours, or even more (with the appropriate health breaks of course) to meet a deadline. I can take time off to clean the bathroom (I have to be working on a particularly dull project for that task to appeal). Or, instead of furtively looking at live results on my phone, I can take time out to watch a tennis match on TV (something that does appeal, at least until we get into the long drawn-out torture of the typical Andy Murray match). If I want to make that time up by working later at night, then that’s my choice. In the summer, I can break up my working day with an hour pottering in the garden or just eating my lunch outside – weather permitting naturally.

I don’t need to ask for time off for holidays. As long as I let my regular clients know that I’m going to be away and don’t take on any extra projects, I can take my holidays whenever I want; no more agonising over whose turn it is to staff the office during the Christmas/New Year period. I don’t need to worry about how to fill the hours on a slow day in the office or about getting stressed that I didn’t manage to do everything I needed to because I kept getting interrupted by colleagues and phone calls. (That’s not to say I don’t get stressed when up against a looming deadline at home, but I’d say it’s a different kind of stress.) And of course, I don’t need to get involved in any office politics.

Getting support from ‘virtual colleagues’

Sure, there can be downsides to working from home. Some people can find it isolating and you do have to take care of your health and ensure that you don’t sit at that screen all day long without regular breaks. You might miss the chat at the coffee machine, and something I do miss from time to time is the opportunity to stick my head above my computer and say to a colleague: ‘You know when you’re trying to format a document and Word won’t let you … How do you fix it?’ Or, ‘In a sentence like this, can you say …?’ But the fix for this, as a member of the SfEP, is to log in to the SfEP forums where you can ask these questions, even if you do feel a bit stupid sometimes, and you’ll get a sensible reply, usually within minutes. It never fails to amaze me just how generous members are with their time and their advice. And using the forums does make you feel like you are part of a community.

Access to the forums is one of the major benefits of being an SfEP member, but for me the biggest benefit is being a member of the local SfEP group. Our group has only been running for just over a year, but I already count members of it as friends and colleagues with whom it’s wonderful to share experiences and information. I have learned and continue to learn so much from them, both longstanding SfEP members and newer entrants. Our group seems to be going from strength to strength and we have much to look forward to in the year ahead.

So, as Christmas and the end of the year approach, I’m thankful for the working opportunities I’ve had this year, both as a part-time employee and as a freelance editor, but I’m gearing up for a new year of opportunities and relishing the chance to be my own boss, fully focused on my editing career and working from home.

Lesley EllenLesley Ellen (www.elleneditorial.com) is a Professional Member of the SfEP and coordinator of the SfEP’s local Edinburgh group. She has a background in modern languages and previously worked in local government where she wrote and edited all manner of business documents and communications. As a freelance editor, Lesley specialises in academic copy-editing and editing for non-publishers.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP

Who would contact your clients if you got hit by a bus?

By Luke Finley and Laura Ripper
This is a fully collaborative effort, but Laura did more of the research and organisation and Luke more of the writing up, so when ‘I’ is used it refers to Luke. Anything in quotes was contributed by others in one of the many discussions we started on this subject.

Police tape - do not crossWe’re all going to die!

That may not come as a surprise to many of us, but it’s not something we like to dwell on. That’s probably why the question in the title jumped off the page when I read the workshop handouts from this year’s SfEP/Society of Indexers joint conference.1 I’m usually fairly organised, but here was a major piece of advance preparation that I’d never even considered.

Discussions online (including on the SfEP forum, which members can read at https://forums.sfep.org.uk/read.php?2,81561) led to an ever-growing list of considerations that many of us had avoided facing up to, but among the slightly sheepish admissions were a few impressive people with clear and practical plans in place.

Further research revealed a wide range of advice and online resources for putting together what one contributor dubbed DEATHnotes. We can’t hope to cover every aspect of this can of worms here, so we’ve gone for DEATHnotes for Dummies: a summary of the most pertinent questions and practical steps, with some pointers to further information and advice.

The ‘why’

If you haven’t made these kinds of plans yet, you might wonder how necessary it is. For most of us, our priority is how we want our grieving loved ones to deal with our mortal remains and share out our stuff. But if we don’t leave instructions about business matters, it’ll probably be the same grieving loved ones who have to deal with the fallout. Major tasks like informing a bank or mortgage provider may be on their radar already. But would they know, or think to ask about, who provides your web hosting or exactly which company you were actually working for when you said ‘I’m doing a copy-edit for Taylor & Francis’?

Then there’s the question of professionalism. Most of us work alone; there’s no colleague, line manager or admin support to pick up our unfinished tasks. Even if you’re so pragmatic and unsentimental that you’re not concerned about your own reputation after your demise, you could argue that the reputation of the wider profession (and the SfEP) is well served if it’s the norm to have contingency plans in place.

The ‘what’

Nominating a responsible person

Even if you’ve made plans, is a family member the best option? Leaving them with this task at a difficult time ‘might not be the kindest thing to do’. And ‘what happens if you’re in an accident together?’ Is your next of kin IT-literate? Do they understand your business processes in detail? As one person pointed out, ‘a fellow editor would be in a better position to help [my clients] by recommending someone to finish the work or pointing them towards the SfEP Directory’.

A trusted friend or colleague may be a fairer, more practical option. Many of us have working relationships with other editors, often working on similar types of material, who may be ideally placed to take over work or find someone else who can. If you don’t have a trusted friend or colleague, or don’t want to burden them, the site MyLawyer (https://www.mylawyer.co.uk/) suggests using an accountant. If you use one already, they’re likely to be familiar with your business.

The key thing is to identify someone. If you don’t, it may be left to the legal folk to figure out. They’ll do it slowly (no help to your current clients) and expensively.

Plan what information you need to pass on

As a minimum, this is likely to include:

  • Client contact details. Is it clear who your contact is within a firm?
  • Current and forthcoming projects. Is your record of these linked to contact details? Are regular clients included?
  • Passwords. It doesn’t matter how organised your records are if no one can get at them. Do you have a separate record of passwords and usernames for your PC, website, cloud storage, directories, email accounts, social media accounts and password-protected documents?
  • Advertising. Your SfEP Directory entry, entries in other directories, business Facebook page and other social media profiles could continue to bring new work in if they’re not taken down. Some sites have processes you can set up in advance: for example, see Facebook’s Legacy Contact options (under Security Settings) and Gmail’s Inactive Account Manager.
  • Detailed preferences. For example, what do you want to happen to your online presence? For many of us these days a large part of our lives is lived online. Simply having it all deleted might suit some people, but most people will have slightly more complex wishes than this.
  • Financial information. This includes outstanding invoices, payments received for work not yet done, and possibly money owed. A comprehensive spreadsheet storing this information alongside contact details and current projects is worth the effort. (There are some good templates online which you could adapt, such as Louise Harnby’s: http://www.louiseharnbyproofreader.com/blog-the-proofreaders-parlour/editorial-annual-accounts-template-excel.)
  • In what order? For example, you may not want clients to find out by reading a message on your website before they’ve been told personally.

Keeping it up to date

MyLawyer suggests reviewing the information you’ve prepared regularly, but this sounds like one of those chores that always gets pushed to the bottom of the list. The more you can tie things in with the job-monitoring or invoicing systems you use already, the better.

The ‘how’

As well as deciding what you want done, you need to consider how to make sure it’ll all happen smoothly.fire safe

Storing and retrieving the information

Store your DEATHnotes separately from any instructions for retrieving them, and keep both somewhere secure. You don’t want a notice pinned to your office door with ‘Burglars – start here!’ splashed across it. But someone needs to know where it is, otherwise it could be months before they crack your filing system or locate the papers you carefully hid behind a disused filing cabinet in a room marked ‘Beware of the Leopard’ (to misquote Douglas Adams).

Suggestions for storing retrieval instructions included:

  • regularly reprinting or emailing them to someone else
  • keeping them on a non-networked, non-password-protected computer that others can access
  • using an old-fashioned notebook
  • simply telling the responsible person where to look.

Approaches to storing the detailed information ranged from comprehensive spreadsheets or mind maps, to a few key pieces of information on a whiteboard or stuck to the fridge. One thoroughly prepared contributor has ‘a fire safe with all my important documents in it’, along with ICE [in case of emergency] documents containing instructions covering personal and business matters.

MyLawyer recommends writing a ‘letter of wishes’ with detailed requests about winding up your affairs. You can update this easily and cheaply, without needing to involve a solicitor – but make sure your will mentions the letter so people know about it.

Information security

There are two levels to this. First, you need to make sure the information survives after you’ve gone. The fire safe suggestion is helpful if it’s a house fire rather than a collision with public transport that carries you off. If your information is stored electronically, ‘making use of the cloud’ will get round the risk of your laptop going under the wheels with you.

Second, you need to think about the risk of information falling into the wrong hands, even while you’re still alive. One contributor suggested using ‘an encrypted storage facility’. Password-management programs (see http://lifehacker.com/5529133/five-best-password-managers for some suggestions) automatically generate passwords more secure than anything you can come up with, and you only need to keep track of one master password. The security implications of writing this one password down anywhere that’s accessible to others are worth bearing in mind, though.

There’s always a balance to be struck between ease of access and security of information. Only you can decide what you’re comfortable with here, but some of the links below may help.

Testing it out

A trial run of procedures with your responsible person, making sure they understand and can navigate your filing systems, is worthwhile. (For added realism, you could put ‘Police line – do not cross’ tape across your office doorway while you carry it out.)


In short

  • Keep clear records. They have to work for you in the present, but if they’re too idiosyncratic they won’t help others in the future.
  • Choose the right person for the job. Make sure they know what they’ve agreed to.
  • Write a letter of wishes setting out how your instructions should be acted on. Refer to it in your will.
  • Review the detailed information and the letter of wishes periodically or whenever your circumstances change.
  • Put the time in now. We all hope our disaster plans will never be needed, and many won’t, but if you can tie in this advance planning with effective business systems, you might save yourself time and effort in this life, too.

What next?

There were many aspects of this topic on which people wanted more information or support. Some of these point to a possible future role for SfEP (and comparable professional organisations). Any of these might make a good subject for future blogs, for starters:

  • a template document or process for members to use
  • a sample letter of wishes
  • a way of storing ICE contacts for member
  • a toolkit or practical guide
  • more advice on emergency planning for a variety of worst-case scenarios, for sole traders and for limited companies
  • more advice on managing your ‘digital footprint’
  • what’s the client’s perspective on all this?
  • what happens if it’s the client who’s hit by a bus?

It’s clear that there is no one best way to approach this. We hope this overview acts as a catalyst and starting point, and that the links below help you get stuck into the detail. Ultimately, it’s a matter of deciding what fits best with your way of working, the nature of your business and clients, and whoever will be dealing with them after you’ve had your date with the double-decker.

Useful links on succession planning

Notes

1 The question was posed by SI member Jane Read during her session on ‘Having a good relationship with your clients’.

Laura RipperLaura Ripper (www.lauraripperproofreading.com) began working as an editor in 2004, and has been freelance since 2012. She specialises in plain English and non-native English and is a Professional Member of the SfEP.

 

 

Luke FinleyLuke Finley (www.lukefinley-editorial.co.uk) set up Luke Finley Editorial in 2013. He works for a wide range of clients but specialises in social policy. He is a Professional Member of the SfEP.

 

 

Proofread by SfEP Entry-Level Member Susan Walton.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.

Top tips for healthy home working

By Lisa Robertson

This time last year, I had a desk-based job in a busy, open-plan office. Phones were ringing, people were chatting, and there was always somebody getting up to make a cuppa. I’d march up and down the office to go to meetings or to look for someone on the top floor of the next building. In fact, it’s amazing I actually got any real work done.

Since making a career change and going solo, I’ve been particularly obsessive about monitoring my working time. Of course, this is really important for paid projects. But I also keep track of time spent on reading, forums, training, marketing, admin, etc. If I get side-tracked or go and put the kettle on, the timer stops. I know that the time I record is now all ‘real work’, as opposed to the distraction-filled days I had in my previous working life.

But is this really a good thing? I only work a couple of days a week at the moment, so I try to cram a lot into that time. I find that I am now sometimes sitting at my desk for longer periods of time than I should be. My eyes struggle to adjust to the outside world when they stop focusing on the computer screen. My legs need a good oiling before I can get up again. So, although more of my time could now be counted as productive, that’s not necessarily the whole story. Taking those little walks at lunchtime or allowing myself to go and load the washing machine could be of benefit to my overall productivity as well as my health.

About a month ago, I worked some long hours on an intense project with a tight deadline. I knew I was doing myself damage, but it was only for a few days and I just had to get through it. I couldn’t take proper time out, so I decided to experiment with something: every time I got up to make a drink or to go to the loo, I jumped up and down 50 times to get the circulation going again. Needless to say, this was a ridiculous idea (especially if done on the way to the loo) but it got me thinking: I really need to factor in some distractions – particularly physical ones – as this no longer happens as naturally as it did in the open-plan office.

I put out a plea on an SfEP forum and there was a great response. Here is a summary of top tips from fellow SfEP members for healthy home working:Dog on rollerskates

  • Get a dog. This was overwhelmingly the most popular distraction people recommended on the forum. Dogs are friendly company, they take you on compulsory walks and (apparently) they can sit on your feet when you’re working in the winter. My cat is not quite so accommodating.
  • Work flexibly but be disciplined. Undoubtedly, one of the perks of self-employment is flexibility. But that flexibility needs control, so we must be disciplined about how we use it. If we are early risers and are able to get things done by lunchtime, great; but we must remember to take the afternoon off and not be tempted to log on again later. If we are tied into the school run at 3.30, we can spend a few quality hours with the children and maybe catch up later. It has to be each to their own, depending on workload, personal preferences and home circumstances, and we must each take the time to think about what works for us, ensuring we have sufficient downtime.
  • Get physical. Whether it’s a swim, a run, the gym or a walk with the dog, a physical break is the perfect contrast to all the hours we spend being sedentary. One member on the forum confessed to running up and down the stairs in her block of flats for a break, and now one of her neighbours has followed suit. Maybe my jumping up and down idea wasn’t totally ridiculous, after all.
  • Stay hydrated. This is one that I do abide by. Staying hydrated keeps me feeling alert and less lethargic. It also means I need to get up from my desk more frequently, either to make a drink or to go to the bathroom.
  • Look after your eyes. Timing and length of breaks away from computer screens is not set down in law, although it is certainly advised from a health and safety perspective. One SfEP member sets 90 minutes as a strict maximum; another uses an online tool (http://protectyourvision.org/), which badgers you every 20 minutes to take a break. The Health and Safety Executive (http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg36.pdf) advises to:
    • Stretch and change position.
    • Look into the distance from time to time, and blink often.
    • Change activity before you get tired, rather than to recover.
    • Take short, frequent breaks, rather than longer, infrequent ones.
  • Look after your back. Similarly, regular breaks will help you care for your back. The HSE (link above) also advises on desk setup, which will help with posture and alignment. Two forum respondents highly recommend the Alexander Technique (http://www.alexandertechnique.com/) to help ease the strains we put on our body by sitting down at a desk for long periods of time.

Maybe reading this has tempted you to head out to the gym or visit the local kennels. But if that’s not your thing, think about what is. Whether it’s baking, ironing, shopping, having a coffee with friends, or something else, make sure you look after yourself.

Thank you to everyone who contributed on the forum. The full thread can be viewed by SfEP members on the Off topic forum: https://forums.sfep.org.uk/read.php?13,81989

Lisa RobertsonLisa Robertson set up Editwrite in April 2015, after working for a local authority for over 14 years in various children’s services planning and commissioning roles. She offers a range of editorial and writing services, including document writing consultancy. Her specialist areas are children’s services, the public sector and charities. She is an Entry-Level Member of SfEP. www.editwrite.co.uk

 

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.

Supporting sentences and each other

The other day, I was discussing the concept of bullet points with my six-year-old daughter.

‘Part of my job involves checking the punctuation of bullet lists,’ I told her.

She looked at me pityingly. ‘Sad job,’ she said.

She had a point of course. But, on the other hand, a commitment to consistency and clarity can in fact make for a very happy job, especially when you find others who feel the same way. And they’re certainly out there, especially online. Follow any thread on The Editors’ Association of Earth Facebook group, for example, and you’ll find eloquent international specialists eager to share their knowledge, united by their passion for the English language.

Lunching with like-mBlog post pubinded locals

Here’s another scenario. A group of professionals listens as a potential client describes her requirements for contractors. She explains the type of work she offers, the skills she’s looking for and the rates of pay on offer. Does her audience size each other up, ready to betray their competitors’ weaknesses, Apprentice-style, with a clever put-down or underhanded action?

Of course not. This is a group of editors and proofreaders, and, perhaps because we’re used to working alone, we find our strength in numbers.

The professionals in question were the Norfolk SfEP group on a tour of a local typesetter. In the pub afterwards (what better excuse for a rare business lunch?), veterans of the battle for clear prose offered advice to nervous newbies, and we all openly discussed what we thought of the rates on offer. They were on the low side – acceptable to those looking for a route into editorial work but less attractive to those with a larger network of contacts. There was no sense of rivalry; some of us were simply keener to work for the typesetter than others. Talk moved on to more typical pub chat – weddings, construction and the City of London Corporation.

I don’t get to local meetings as often as I’d like but, when I do, I’m always welcomed warmly and come home brimming with inspiration and motivation. The Norfolk group (or chapter, as I like to call it) is one of 39 local SfEP groups throughout the United Kingdom that give editors and proofreaders a welcome opportunity to discuss sentence structure, spelling and standing desks with others who care about such things. SfEP members further afield can join the international group or and even the Skype Club – there’s no reason to feel isolated even if you normally work by yourself.

The perils of going it alone

Here’s a third example, which I hope isn’t typical. I was telling a designer at a networking event about my strong editorial community – the friendly conferences, the funny Twitter chats, the engaging Facebook posts. He stared at me in amazement. ‘I don’t speak to other designers,’ he said. ‘They’d only steal my clients.’

‘So you always work in isolation?’

‘Yes,’ he said, ‘It’s the price you have to pay for being a freelance designer.’

Sad job, I thought.

TSO group and

Julia Sandford-Cooke of WordFire Communications (www.wordfire.co.uk) has more than 15 years’ experience of publishing and marketing. When she’s not hanging out with other editors (virtually or otherwise), she authors and edits textbooks, writes digital copy, proofreads anything that’s put in front of her, spends too much time on Twitter (@JuliaWordFire) and posts short book reviews on her blog, Ju’s Reviews.

Proofread by SfEP Entry-Level Member Susan Walton.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.

Working at a treadmill desk

One of the benefits of being a freelancer and working from home is having more control over how I use my time. This presents numerous opportunities for optimising my work–life balance, and recently I started considering practical solutions to the problem of fitting regular exercise into my working day.

I wondered whether a treadmill desk could work for me: I loved the idea of getting exercise while working and not using my free time running or going to the gym (activities I don’t find particularly enjoyable), and was also keen to get away from a sedentary lifestyle slumped over a computer. I now finish each working day having walked around four miles, and it’s a great feeling to relax in the evening guilt-free knowing that I’ve already had a workout!

The first thing to consider is which type of treadmill is right for you: resistance (magnetic) or electronic. I decided that a resistance running machine would be the best option for me, as they are cheaper (my one cost around £90) and more robust (there is no motor so there is less to go wrong). It is also relatively small, and I can fold it away once work is over.

Resistance treadmills are not the typical choice. Stopping/starting and the speed you are walking is driven by you rather than the machine, and you need to steady yourself with at least one hand in order to maintain momentum, but I have found that it is ideal for copy-editing as so much time is spent reading.

While in motion I can do small interventions (a macro shortcut for example) and use a mouse, but for anything that requires two hands or more sustained attention (including drinking a cup of tea) I stop. Much like driving a car or riding a bike, after a while your brain is so used to the motion that you balance and walk quite naturally. A resistance treadmill desk also turns easily into a standing desk, although I find that (perhaps surprisingly) it’s actually more comfortable to walk than to stand for long periods.

If you do a lot of typing then an electronic treadmill might be more suitable. These are more expensive and have motors that eventually burn out, and you need to turn the machine off manually every time you want to stop walking. They are also a lot heavier and bulkier than resistance treadmills.

In setting up my workspace I simply pushed the treadmill up to my desk and raised the laptop, monitor, and mouse using whatever I had to hand. Using a high-resolution monitor and zooming in further than normal I can read just as well as before. If you like DIY then customising your desk more substantially shouldn’t be a problem, and there are plenty of online resources. You can also buy ready-made desks if money is no object.

As well as the obvious health benefits from regular cardiovascular exercise, once I got used to walking all day my posture and flexibility improved and shoulder and back pains abated. However, depending on how enthusiastic you are it can be quite tiring, and it’s advisable to wear loose-fitting clothes and running shoes – this is not the kind of thing you want to do in your slippers!

There is also evidence that treadmill desks help you to concentrate. I have certainly found this to be the case, and as the treadmill is fairly loud it works particularly well with another method I use to improve my productivity – listening to white noise (free noise generators are available online). The impact of low-level background noise is not always obvious, but it constantly (subconsciously) distracts your brain from the job in hand, and by blocking it out my concentration levels are much higher.

In summary, I won’t be going back to a sitting desk. Making this change has proved an effective antidote to the physical stagnation that freelancers working from home can feel – quite frankly it would look out of place in an office, so we are in the perfect position to give it a go!

11663890_10153381080045450_802605348_oDan Harding is a freelance copy-editor, proofreader and digital production specialist, and an Advanced Professional Member of SfEP. He works with authors, publishers, NGOs and professional societies on subjects across the humanities and social/political sciences – please visit the Spartan Eloquence website for more information.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.

Transferable skills and life lessons

It’s safe to say that all proofreaders and copy-editors did something before they started out. Here are a few of the things I learned that I still use every single day.

Untitled

Guide badge

Brownies and Guides

I was a Sixer and a Patrol Leader, so early on I was learning about teams, about working together for a common goal within my own team and in conjunction with others, yet not afraid to stick my neck out and do things off my own bat.

School deadlines!

Thou shalt have thy homework in on time! Show your workings. Quality output pleases people. I ended up a prefect, so more acceptance of additional responsibility.

Saturday job

(Four years in a pet shop.) Be nice to people and they’ll come back. Businesses are built on returning customers. Watch your wastage. The backroom parts of the job are important, too. Regular heavy lifting builds muscle – if it seems hard at first, it will get easier with practice.

University

Make sure you understand the brief, can carry it out independently and to a high standard. Look things up if you’re not sure, or even if you think you are – avoid dumb mistakes. Self-discipline and time management. The importance of research. The art of procrastination (sad, but true).

Psychology experiment subject

(Earning a bit of cash to help while studying.) Check your understanding of what’s required. Test your equipment. Concentrate.

Postgrad course choice

You can survive the most horrendous mistakes.

Proper job

(I joined the civil service as a direct entrant junior manager and took it from there for the next *cough, cough* years in central government, then outsourced to the private sector.) The value of precision work. Negotiation. Vigilance. Effective communication with customers of all kinds and temperaments. Running a budget. It’s easier to save a pound than earn a pound. Cash flow is king. Know where you and the work you do fit into the overall process. Under-promise and over-deliver, but don’t go crazy on either.

Look ahead and anticipate problems. Calculate task dependencies. Prioritise and plan. Keep people informed. Be realistic. If things look like going pear-shaped, take early action and warn people as soon as possible. Put yourself in your client’s shoes and act accordingly. Be reliable. Be flexible, but don’t be a doormat or a yes-man – it does no one any good and will quite often bite you on the bum. Seek out training. “We’ve always done it that way” is the wrong answer. When estimating, give yourself contingency time. Don’t work at 100% capacity as routine – if there’s a crisis, you’ve nothing else to give.

After every project think about what worked, what didn’t, what needs tweaking and what needs investigating further with a view to bigger changes – then act before the next project. Don’t get so wrapped up with the work in front of you on your desk that you don’t see what’s going on around you. Keep an eye on industry innovation.

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford was a career civil servant before being forcibly outsourced. That was such fun she changed tack altogether and has now been a freelance copy-editor for eight years, working mostly on postgraduate textbooks plus the occasional horseracing thriller. She is on Facebook and Twitter.

 

Proofread by SfEP member www.proofeditwrite.com.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.