Category Archives: Freelance life

Information for freelancers.

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.

Everyday CPD

photo (3)There’s nothing like going on a training course or attending a conference for an intense dose of CPD. But the rest of the time, CPD happens more by osmosis.

Learn from other editors

Many of us work alone, and it can seem that we work in isolation. But just in the last week I have had two very positive experiences of learning from other editors in the course of my everyday work. One job involved a second proofread, and I was sent my first proofread to check against. The first proof set now also included marks made by the senior commissioning editor, who is obviously intimately acquainted with the series (this was my first book for the client, and it had quite a complicated set of features). I learned so much from being able to see which of my original corrections the editor had let stand, and which she had modified or stetted for the typesetter. Any subsequent books I proofread or edit for the client should be easier and more accurate as a result.

The other positive experience involved copy-editing in Word using a template made by a fellow SfEP member, supplied to me by the client (an educational publisher). The template was set up in such a way that using it enabled me to see at a glance exactly how long each of the lessons in the book was running – again, there were various features such as boxes which complicated matters – and cut accordingly. This saved me time, and led to a greater degree of accuracy – hopefully there will be no need to cut text at the proof stage as a result.

Read around the subject

One of the best things about our work can be the variety of materials and subjects we work on. Many a time I have found myself happily distracted by the subject matter of a book, and reading around it in my own time. Although this is essentially a pleasurable exercise, it can also be of direct benefit in terms of your work – next time you edit a book on the same subject, you will be much better informed.

Work in house

This kind of opportunity doesn’t come up every day, but it might – and if it does, be open to it. Working in a client’s office is a golden opportunity to pick up work tips. You’ll see directly how people tackle the kind of work you need to do, and you’ll be able to ask questions in real time. You’ll also make new contacts and cement existing ones. And as well as being a CPD injection, who knows where the experience could lead in terms of future projects?

Move outside your comfort zone

I’m not suggesting you take on work that you’re really not ready for or trained to do – that would be irresponsible. But if you are offered a job for which you tick most of the boxes, but that goes just beyond what you’ve done or experienced before, don’t instinctively turn it down – taking it on can be the best way of learning. If you will need to pick up a new skill to complete the job, there are plenty of people you can ask for advice along the way. Carry out your own research, ask editorial friends and colleagues, or try the SfEP forums or any other online group you are part of.

A job that requires a new way of working may take longer than you expect the first time you do it. Think of learning how to do something properly as an investment, though. Next time you’ll be much quicker.

Learn a skill not connected to editing

Not everything we do has to be about editing. Work can be all-consuming, especially for freelances and small-business owners, and it’s healthy to switch off from it for a while. You might take up a sport, or a musical instrument, or study another language. Getting away from the desk is a great way to relax, think about something else and develop a new area of expertise in the process. However, a positive side-effect may be that when you return to your desk, you are able to see the solution to a niggling problem more easily. And in the longer term, it’s sometimes possible to turn a seemingly non-editorial hobby – such as cooking or gardening – into an editorial specialism.

Harnessing everyday CPD

Ultimately, most of the things mentioned above will simply happen in the course of everyday life – editorial and otherwise. The trick is to recognise and acknowledge what is happening in order to make the most of it.

Photo on 28-05-2015 at 13.51 #2Posted by Liz Jones, SfEP marketing and PR director.

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

 

Know when to say no

NOWe’re in the business of saying yes … but just as important can be knowing when to say no – some projects may just be more trouble than they are worth. Here are some warning signs to look out for.

  • An unreasonably long test. You have to decide what you consider unreasonable, of course, and it may depend on how much you want the work, and how much work you stand to gain if you’re successful. Bear in mind too that taking a test can be a brilliant way in if you are starting out, as it effectively gets around the need for experience to prove yourself.
  • Refusal to stay within acceptable boundaries. Is the prospective client emailing you every half-hour with queries, or demanding instant answers? Do they telephone you outside normal working hours? This lack of regard for your time can signal a potentially problematic working relationship.
  • A large or complex project offered for a flat fee. We often hear that per-page or per-word rates are best because they reward efficient working practices. But be wary of taking on a long or very complicated job on this basis, unless you have worked on something similar for that client before. If you do proceed, aim to build in agreement from the start that the budget will need to be reviewed if the hours exceed a limit.
  • Unwillingness to discuss the budget. Refusal on the client’s part to commit to a figure, even when asked, is a bad sign. Negotiating can be difficult on both sides – but there still needs to be discussion and agreement about the cost before the job begins.
  • Refusal to agree project terms in writing. The contract for a project could take the form of an email or series of emails in which key details are agreed; it doesn’t have to be on paper, or even very formal. But you do need to have things pinned down; an agreement over the telephone or even in person won’t do, and you can’t refer back to it reliably.
  • Does the client fail to send the work on time, without warning or explanation? If so, don’t feel you have to accommodate this. You may choose to, of course – it’s not unusual for projects to run late, and being adaptable can work in your favour – but don’t be bullied into working to their schedule if they show no respect for yours.
  • A sense that the project, for whatever reason, is not right for you. Learn to trust your instincts – they are very often right.

It can take time to learn when to say no, and even after years as a freelance editor, it’s still possible to get it wrong sometimes. What factors would make you turn a project down?

Posted by Liz Jones, SfEP marketing and PR director.

Proofread by SfEP provisional intermediate member Gary Blogg.

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

Practical changes to increase your rates

photo (1)The subject of rates is often fraught with difficulty. We work in a competitive field, and there can be tremendous pressure on budgets. However, if you’d like to increase your average hourly rate, there are some small changes – which you don’t have to make all at once – that can add up to a big difference in your earnings over time.

Be strict with yourself

Know how long you can spend on any project in order to achieve your preferred rate, and stick to that. I’m not suggesting that you cut corners or leave bits out in order to achieve this, but don’t get sidetracked, and don’t spend time on anything unnecessary. Monitor your progress as you go. If you realise that the budget really doesn’t cover the work, you can say so (many clients will be understanding if they have underestimated the amount of work involved), but you really need to raise this early on.

Learn to be decisive

Editors seem to love to discuss the details … Should there be a comma, or not? Perhaps a semicolon? And what’s the correct spelling of that word? How should this work be referenced? Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do, and the longer you look at something, the harder it becomes. It’s good to have colleagues to ask, and you’ll be amazed at how helpful people can be and what you might learn – but don’t get sucked into the trap of deliberating over every editorial decision. Use the house style (if there is one) to guide you, use your common sense and the relevant reference tools – and move on as quickly as you can.

Build efficiency into everything you do

I’m not just talking about keyboard shortcuts, find-and-replace routines or macros. All these things, used in a way that suits you and the type of work you do, can speed things up and improve your earnings. Think too about everything you do that surrounds a project. Can you find things quickly on your computer? Are there emails you send regularly that don’t need to be written from scratch each time? How long does it take you to send an invoice when you’re done? The next time you receive a similar project, will you be prepared for it? Each and every task you perform repetitively has the potential to be made more efficient – and the less time you spend doing things you can’t bill for, the more time there is to spend on things you can.

Try asking for more

This sounds simple, but it might be the hardest to do. However, if you don’t ask, you won’t know. The worst that can happen is that the client won’t budge. Surprisingly often, though, they will.

Don’t give discounts for large jobs

It can be tempting to accept a large project at a lower rate than you would usually work for. There is something comforting about having a lot of work booked in, after all. But logically, this means you will be tying up a lot of your time working for less money than you’d like, when you could be looking for other work that pays better. Only you can decide what is acceptable, but don’t feel that you have to do the work for less just because a client is supplying you with a lot of it.

Share information

It can be hard to discuss rates – it’s a potentially emotive topic – and it can be upsetting if you find out that a colleague is being paid more to do the same work. However, making yourself aware of the rates others are getting for similar work puts you in a stronger position to negotiate. You may be able to share this information anonymously through your editorial society (for example, the SfEP provides a ‘Rate for the job’ service for members), and you may find that online discussions shed light on the subject. Or, bring up the topic in person with a few trusted friends. Try not to see it as comparing yourself with others, but rather as arming yourself with information that could help you all.

Keep track

Finally, one of the best ways I have found of keeping my rates moving in the right direction is simply to keep track of what I earn per hour for any given project; I can then look at how this averages out across multiple projects for the same client. In this way I know which of my clients pay best, and which pay worst. If a project dips below what I consider to be an acceptable minimum, I can then figure out if there’s a way I could do the same work faster, if I need to ask for a bigger budget next time, or if it’s simply time to move on.

Liz Jones SfEP marketing and PR director

 

Liz Jones is the SfEP’s marketing and PR director, and has been an editor since 1998, specialising in general non-fiction and educational publishing.

Proofread by SfEP provisional intermediate member Gary Blogg.

 

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

Specialist Q&A – working for business clients

Specialist Q&A graphicOur editorial industry is made up of people carrying out a huge range of tasks across many different sectors. Although we are bound by common aims – to make text consistent, accurate and clear – our chosen areas of work can differ in fascinating ways.

Kate Haigh (Kateproof) is a freelance proofreader and copy-editor. She has answered some questions on one of her specialisms: working for business clients.

1. Briefly, what’s your work background?

My CV is pretty varied but I have in-house editing and proofreading experience at a magazine publishing company (Govnet) and also for Datamonitor. I have also managed a team for a multinational corporate bank and have worked for the public sector.

2. How long have you specialised in this particular kind of editorial work, and how did you get started?

The first freelance client I got was almost five years ago and was pure serendipity: I went on a web writing course and got offered a lift home by a woman who worked for a local business. She took my card and passed it to her marketing department and the rest is history…

3. What specific knowledge, experience or qualifications do you need?

I find this is where working for business clients differs from working for publishers as I don’t think you need formal training, though confidence is key and I don’t know how confident I would feel if I didn’t have the training under my belt. Experience possibly counts for more as many business clients want to know that you understand their needs and their material. I work on a lot of annual reports, for example, and my experience in banking helps because I understand a lot of the terminology and the common elements that most reports include. One of my USPs is that I studied German at university so though I don’t offer translation services, I work for quite a few German companies as I understand some of the common issues German speakers encounter when writing in English.

4. How do you go about finding work in this area?

Nowadays, people find me through word of mouth and my website. However, when I was first starting out, I went to local networks and met lots of other local businesspeople from various industries. Clients and leads didn’t appear overnight but after about 6 months’ networking at various groups, I started to reap the rewards and continue to do so now even though I don’t currently attend any groups.

5. What do you most enjoy about the work and what are the particular challenges?

Not all business clients are the same. Working for design agencies or marketing teams within big companies often means I liaise with someone who understands the role of proofreading or editing and what I need to do, but lots of companies don’t have this and therefore need me to help them work through the process of getting the work proofread/edited and how best to deal with those changes. With design agencies, I find the work goes backwards and forwards through various iterations of the file as the client, the designers and I all make changes, and this can get quite complex.

Though some people may find the lack of a style guide or formal process less appealing, I like the fact I can influence the work and help a company achieve efficiencies.

Finally, I also have a lot of last-minute, urgent work requests and it can be quite tricky either finding time to fit them in or letting regular clients down. However, on the plus side, if I’m staring down the barrel of a workless week, that very rarely actually happens as something comes in and I go from twiddling thumbs to being very busy.

6. What’s the worst job you’ve had – and/or the best?

That’s really difficult to say purely because I’ve worked on such varied projects. I can’t deny that some of the reports have been very dry but I wouldn’t want to name and shame here. I also had one instance of bad scope creep and that definitely wasn’t enjoyable.

7. What tips would you give to someone wanting to work in this field?

Be confident! Many business clients don’t understand what the editing/proofreading job entails so you need to have the confidence to explain what you’re doing (and sometimes why) and also the confidence to make it clear if something isn’t in your remit.

8. What is the pay like – and are there any other perks?

I find the pay is better than what publishers pay but, for me, more importantly, I set my rates and can vary them depending on the client’s preference: hourly, day rate (common for agencies) or set fee.

9. What other opportunities do you think editorial work in this area might lead to?

I’ve been offered in-house work, and though I wouldn’t choose to return to that permanently, it can be enjoyable as a brief change of scene.

kate2

 

Answers written by Kate Haigh, a freelancer since 2010 working on a variety of projects for publishers, business clients, authors and academics.

 

Proofread by SfEP professional member Louise Lubke Cuss.

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