Category Archives: Freelance life

Information for freelancers.

Wise owls: the best thing about the SfEP conference

It’s SfEP conference week, and attendees are starting to get excited and/or nervous! The wise owls are here to let first timers know what they’ve got to look forward to, and to remind old hands why they keep going back.

Melanie ThompsonMelanie Thompson

What’s the best thing about the SfEP conference? I didn’t need to spend any time at all thinking how to answer that question: it’s the people!

I’ve been to many other work-related conferences, and none are so friendly or welcoming. The first conference I attended was in Edinburgh (in the early 2000s). A meal was arranged for the first evening, and a Council member said hello and introduced me to some other people and I haven’t looked back. I still chat regularly to some of those I met on that first evening and, as I often say in answer to similar questions, I wouldn’t have been able to stay freelance for almost 20 years without the supportive and helpful people in this Society. You’re all bloomin’ marvellous!

Oh, and the opportunity to take part in concentrated, high-quality CPD is, of course, very valuable.

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford

The absolute best thing about the SfEP conference is getting outside your own work bubble. Quite aside from the risk of isolation for those who work freelance from home, for those of us who have never worked in-house (and we are legion), it’s easy to develop your own ways of doing things, not really knowing how you compare on the standard of your work itself and what is best (or at least better) practice in how you handle your clients and approach your workload. If you’re in-house, but have had only one publisher employer, it’s so easy to believe that their way is the only way, or certainly the best way, of working. The conference gives you the chance to go to sessions that will enhance your appreciation of your position within Editor Land – and even if all you get from a particular workshop is validation of your own routine (comforting and confidence-building as that is), then a comment your neighbour makes during an exercise, or a question someone raises, or answers, may be like a lightning bolt. That’s happened to me several times, to my immediate benefit (and that of my clients).

And once you’ve been to enough conferences that you’ve covered all the core skills from several angles, there’s always more. Go to a session that you normally wouldn’t think of (to my regret, I keep missing the bookbinding events. One day … !) or one of the panel discussions and step into the wider editorial world.

Liz Jones

Yes, there’s the CPD aspect, the cooked breakfast, the lockable door on a room of one’s own, the challenging campus map, the possibilities for fruitful networking. But the best thing of all about the SfEP conference – and I say this as a confirmed introvert who is easily exhausted by too much time in the company of others – is the people. Forty-eight whole hours among kindred spirits: collectively some of the most welcoming, humble, skilled, interesting, humorous and supportive people I’ve ever encountered. I’ve been attending the conference since 2013, with one year off, and it’s one of the highlights of my year. I talk (and listen) enough during those two days to last me for the remaining 12 months, and it makes me very happy.

Louise BolotinLouise Bolotin

Is there anything that is not a best thing about the conference? That’s not a rhetorical question – there is so much that is good, nay brilliant, about our annual gathering that it’s hard to decide what deserves the title of ‘best’. The workshops and seminars are invariably informative, useful and enlightening. Sometimes even career-changing. Last year, my big takeaway was the decision to do the SfEP course on medical editing after attending Julia Slone-Murphy’s introductory workshop. I’d been toying with a move into this kind of editing for a while, and the workshop confirmed I should do so. A year later, I’ve yet to sign up for training – I’ve been too busy with work and a family crisis – but I’ve earmarked time for this autumn to get started. I also found the workshop on growing your business packed with simple and free ideas that I’d never even thought of before, let alone considered. It is these kinds of sessions that are a major attraction for me – the chance to learn something new and apply it to how I earn my living.

Then there’s the lectures – as entertaining as they are educational. The opportunity to hear experts on the future of our industry, or expounding on some language issue or other, is something all delegates should get out of bed for in time! Last year’s lecture on US v UK English by Lynne Murphy was a classic – buttock-clenchingly hilarious, but also with serious points to make on the nuances of editing. (Ditto the mini lecture on dealing with the sweary stuff – which was educative, informative and a full-on side splitter.)

In the end, it’s the people who make it what it is. The chance to put names to forum avatars, catch up and have a good gossip with long-standing colleagues, meet the directors, and basically just hang out. The conference is work, but it’s also a break from work and hanging out with other editors really is one of the best bits. Just don’t do what I did and rush up to someone you’ve been dying to meet for a decade just as they’re entering a toilet cubicle …

Hazel BirdHazel Bird

For me, the best thing about the SfEP conference is its ability to shake me out of my tree. Don’t get me wrong, I peer out from between the branches regularly by attending local groups, following editorial discussions online, and generally expanding my awareness of editorial techniques and perspectives. However, at the SfEP conference, the sheer volume of information that you get – and the unexpected, serendipitous, surprising nature of it all – is unbeatable.

I’ve been to five conferences in the past and have returned from each one re-energised and refocused. Sometimes the snippets I’ve picked up are more directly editorially relevant and sometimes the link is more tangential. For example, at the 2017 conference I was finally persuaded to try TextExpander, which has sped up the repetitive aspects of my communications with authors considerably. However, at the same conference, Julia Sandford-Cooke mentioned the podcast How I Built This, which is a series of interviews with world-famous entrepreneurs. The scale and nature of their ventures are a million miles away from mine, but the show has become one of my staples for its ability to make me think about how I run my business and relate to my clients. Other times at conferences, sessions have simply boosted my confidence in a skill I already had or given me a shot of enthusiasm to try something new.

I thoroughly recommend the SfEP conference for its ability to support us all in being informed, educated and enthusiastic editorial professionals.


This year’s SfEP conference runs from 14 to 16 September, at Aston University, Birmingham. Follow what’s happening on Twitter (and other social media platforms): the hashtag is #sfep2019


Proofread by Alice McBrearty, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

 

Why Run On?

By Cathy Tingle

Editing is an overwhelmingly sedentary profession, and sitting too much doesn’t do you any good, according to a range of authorities including the NHS. If you work alone it can be difficult to motivate yourself to step away from your screen rather than edit one more page. After all, who will know if you do or you don’t? (That same argument can also be used in deciding whether to have another biscuit.)

Thankfully, in May Tanya Gold came up with #StetWalk – a chance for editors to escape their desks, appreciate their outdoor surroundings, get some exercise, and take a picture and report back to the rest of the editing community on Twitter, thereby making it a brilliant accountability group.

But walking isn’t the only way to take a break from editing, or to counteract its effects. Since #StetWalk was launched, #StetCycle, #StetSwim, #StetDance and more have been enjoyed by editors. When #StetRun appeared, I approached the SfEP to discuss launching Run On, a virtual running group.

Reasons for Run On

Why would we bother launching our own group when there’s the whole #Stet thing? Well, to begin with, running can get pretty nerdy: runners like to talk kit, race times and nutrition plans that would bore the pants off everyone else. Few people post a picture of themselves running as their social media avatar because, well, it’s just not very flattering, is it? But you might share a photo in a more restricted group. And running has its highs, undoubtedly, but also its lows. Coping with a frustrating injury. Managing a long-term health issue. Falling over a kerb. These aren’t things you’d necessarily want to tell everyone on Twitter.

Since Run On launched its Facebook group in mid-June we’ve gained 26 members. Not all of them are running at the moment or post updates regularly. We have one member who ran a marathon on her birthday as a treat, and we have another member (me) who thinks 4km is a pretty long way to run all in one go, thank you very much. We chat about all sorts: dolphin-spotting on coastal routes, looking like a beetroot post-exercise, what we listen to while running. Most of all, we aim to be supportive, no matter where members are with their running. Because, as you’ll see below, every runner’s journey is different.

Marieke Krijnen

Running helps me get away from my desk. I love it most for its flexibility (you can run almost everywhere, at any time) and its solitude (running can be done by yourself). Come to think of it, I’m a runner and a freelance editor for the same reasons: I like being alone, and I like having flexibility in terms of schedule and location. Running also provides me with a chance to catch up on my favourite podcasts, like Grammar Girl and The Editing Podcast. It gives me an opportunity to get out of the house, get healthy and enjoy some quality alone time. At the same time, I am very motivated by the support that my edibuddies provide through groups like Run On and the #StetWalk and #StetRun hashtags. It’s wonderful to hear everyone’s stories, get advice and see photos of what everyone encounters while out on their runs!

Luke Finley

I run despite – partly because of – a chronic pain/fatigue condition called fibromyalgia (FM) which I was diagnosed with a decade ago. I’m always conscious that many people live with worse than FM. That said, though, it’s hard not to feel yourself defined by such ever-present pain. For a long time I let it keep me on the sofa, until the realisation dawned that doing nothing also hurt. My son was little then: stepping outside for a ten-minute route round the local cemetery (where I’d be less visible than on the seafront in the other direction) was the easiest form of exercise to fit in. Now, I can run a half-marathon on my best days, and I wouldn’t face the pain – or my working life – without the greater fitness level and the regular dose of endorphins and sea air (yes, I brave the seafront now!) I get from running three or four times a week.

Cally Worden

A dodgy right knee has blighted my previous running attempts, so I’ve always favoured cycling and swimming as low-impact alternatives. But these are more time-hungry, and in a busy day of editing I’m often woefully inactive. So, I decided recently to give running another try; it offers the chance to stretch my body and free my mind in compact pockets of time that can be as intensive or relaxed as I want. And I’ve found that I love it. As a running newbie I’m a hot mess (literally!) by the end of each run, but I return to work invigorated. The old knee injury has flared up, frustrating my plans to build up speed and distance, but the generous support and inspiration from members of the SfEP Run On group has kept me on track while I await a physio appointment – I can’t wait to hit the road again.

Heather Musk

I read an article when I first started running that said, ‘Don’t run to get beach ready, make it part of your life and who you are.’ I laughed at first, never thinking of myself as a runner, so never thinking it could/would be part of who I am. But now, it’s so much a part of who I am I miss it when I have a break and, more surprisingly, my body misses it. As with my editing/writing career, I needed to stop wishing I was that person and start acting like that person.

Running is my ‘me time’ and it’s vital for keeping my head in the right place. It helps me refocus on work when it starts to send my mind fuzzy and provides the best distraction, an open road for as far as I want to go.

Andrew Hodges

I have a ‘stop-start’ relationship with running. Right now, I’m more ‘interval’ than interval training as I recently sprained my ankle running over cobbles by the river Danube. As an editor and translator, I often spend a few months each year in parts of Europe where I used to work/have clients and friends (Germany, Croatia). Running is the perfect sport for these trips away as it is free, doesn’t need planning in advance and is a great way to see a new city. All you need is the right shoes, clothes and – the difficult part – enough motivation to get out the door. I usually sign up for a 10K or half-marathon in a different city each year to keep me focused, but don’t always make it to race day. If I do, managing to keep running all the way is more than victory enough!

Ayesha Chari

I’ve been a runner in my head all my life. I ran competitively in school, then life took over and, quite unintentionally, I turned into a serial walker and swimmer. (Besides, it isn’t easy to run for leisure/pleasure in India; worse, if female.) So, after weeks of walking past the poster of a jogging group, the first scary social thing I did in the UK was to join it!

2016. I decided to give a little back. The Oxford Town and Gown 10K was my first charity run.

2019. Two and a half years since my last run. We moved cities, had a baby, I lost my runner mates, life happened (again!) – and that I’m keeping count reminds me I miss it. Running let me pay it forward to others but, selfishly, also to my future self. It has been my go-to mender and problem-solver, for body and mind, editing or not. Easing back to work after maternity leave is still a struggle; running, even more. I jumped onto the Run On bandwagon in the hope I will be bullied (read: motivated) into my trainers soon.

Run On is open to all SfEP members who are interested in running. Find us on Facebook . Or you can join our extended community on Twitter with the #RunOnEditors hashtag.

Cathy Tingle (DocEditor) is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP. In her glory days of running (around the turn of the millennium) she completed marathons in London and Berlin. These days she’s content with trotting to and fro along the sea wall in north Edinburgh.

 

 

Picture credit: Luke Finley: Siglion/Sunderland City 10K


Proofread by Victoria Hunt, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

 

Customer service: a cautionary tale of red flags and safety nets

By Vanessa Plaister

In their recent contributions to the SfEP blog, Cathy Tingle and Sue Littleford focused on how editors can keep customers sweet and distinguish themselves professionally. Each offered insights into how to handle complaints: for Cathy, the key is ‘to really listen to your customer’; for Sue, ‘it’s all about imagination’.

So what might happen in practice should things turn sour?

Let me take a deep breath and reflect candidly on a recent experience, laying bare what I learned …

Setting up the safety nets

I’ve long known that one of the most effective safety nets an editor can set up is the sample.
By this, I don’t mean the sort of sample for which some authors ask before placing a project; rather, I mean early submission of an edited chapter or two, so that a client can check the level of intervention and feed back to an editor should their work not quite meet the brief.

For many clients, particularly in publishing, such a sample is a contractual requirement. This project was one of those instances and the production editor approved my samples, noting nothing more than that the work was ‘great’.

But what of the author?

Sometimes, a publisher will send the sample on to the author for their review. Others will ask the copy-editor to liaise directly with the author and specify nothing more about how they’re to do so.

Whatever the publisher’s preference and faced with ever-shorter schedules, I standardly practise a lean (vs linear) workflow. In other words, immediately I’ve completed holistic work (general clean-up, formatting, house style, etc) and I’m engaging with the text at a substantive line level, I start to send edited chapters to the author(s) for their review and amendment. This allows us to explore at an early stage any editorial interventions with which the author(s) may be uncomfortable and these conversations can inform the ongoing edit.

In this way, I try to position myself at the outset as the author’s ally – sometimes even their advocate, should they vehemently and for good reason disagree with a matter of house style – and it allows me to build a solid professional relationship with both publisher and author that’s rooted in confidence and trust.

What’s more, not only does this protect me against the reputational risk of authors first encountering edits only at proof stage and perhaps being unhappy, but also it minimises likely amendment at proof stage, with all of the associated time and cost savings for the publisher.

So when the publisher told me that this author had said no, she would look at the edit only once I’d completed the whole (some 325,000 words), this was the red flag that should have stopped me in my tracks.

Reading the red flags

When I first contacted the author, then, it was not to deliver the first one or two chapters, but to deliver 15 files in one fell swoop.

I’ve been asking the publisher for some time when this would arrive, she replied. Had she known, she could have met our deadline, but it was now unlikely that she’d be able to find the time.

Some red flags are subtle.

When the files came back, they were unmarked other than to resolve direct queries. Had she read through at least two of the chapters in full, as I’d asked?

I didn’t, no.

And why would she, when she had imagined that my intervention could extend no further than correcting typos? When substantive amendments for reasons of stylistic consistency were simply the tail wagging the dog?

I warned the production editor immediately I suspected that the situation might escalate – and my fears were soon confirmed.

Caution: here be dragons …

The complaint was presented to me, in the first instance, in general terms.

The author was alarmed.

The author had concerns.

We had to do anything to make the author comfortable.

I asked whether the author could deliver examples and committed to using that evidence to inform an action plan – and I tried to examine that evidence with eyes and heart open to the possibility that I might have got it wrong.

Editing isn’t a competition and, as an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP, I don’t need to prove my credentials. I worked hard for that designation, and it’s indicative of both qualifications and experience, as well as my commitment to a rigorous Code of Practice.

So while I could tell you here that, of x examples given, I found only y of the challenges to be justified (which instances have been valuable reminders that querying the apparently obvious can, paradoxically, save time when working under pressure), I won’t. Because that doesn’t move us forward.

The most helpful thing I can tell you is that a good editor’s first reaction to an allegation of incompetence should not be defensive, but deferential.

What if I did mess up?

The schedule was tight. Super tight. And that meant working long hours.

Was there a chance that those long hours saw me miss more than a reasonable number of errors or ambiguities – or, worse, actually introduce errors?

It’s not easy, being willing to be wrong and when our professional identity is intertwined with our personal identity, a challenge to our work can feel like a personal attack …

Read that again.

When our professional identity is intertwined with our personal identity, a challenge to our work can feel like a personal attack.

While the best authors recognise their editors as their allies, the inexperienced – or perhaps insecure – author experiences editing as an attack. And, sadly, when an author – when anyone – feels under attack, there’s a good chance that trying to reassure them will end only in them doubling down on their defence, hearing not a conciliatory I know what I’m doing and I can help, but a competitive I know more than you.

So while an author and editor should be a collaborative team, working together to win–win, it quickly became clear that there was no win for me here.

Yes, the publisher had approved my work at the sample stage.

Yes, the author had rejected early involvement that would have precluded the stressful situation in which we all now found ourselves.

And yet I was faced with a stark choice:

  • agree to work back through the whole of the book, reversing every edit unless it met a narrow specification, all for a tiny budget uplift that worked out to less than minimum wage; or
  • refuse to bend, risk not being paid at all for that original work and risk losing a long-term client, as well as put my professional reputation in jeopardy.

Should I take a stand against demands I considered to be objectively unreasonable – or did it matter more that I got paid and that I did what I could to keep my client?

Taking a beat before breathing fire

I’m not going to lie: did I shout at my screen as I worked through, reversing sensitive edits and taking in the author’s subsequent revisions and remarks, infuriated when she dismissed or denigrated standard practice or sound advice?

Of course I did.

But, for all that I may have high professional standards, it’s not my name on the book and if an author wants to retain an error or perpetuate ambiguity, whatever their reason, then that’s their prerogative.

And what of my client?

I remembered that when Sue spoke of ‘imagination’, I heard the word empathy, and what I tried very hard to remember is that my production editor was nothing more than the messenger.
I tried to take a beat before breathing fire – to keep my emotional response within these four walls, tempering my frustrations when emailing my client with my eye always on the prize: preserve that relationship.

Office politics aren’t fun and I don’t envy the in-house production editor the tightrope they tread.

We might imagine that employment gives an in-house editor income security and we might privilege our precarious position as freelancers above the risks involved in relying on any single-source income. And, yes, it’s worth reminding our clients that externalising a crisis has consequences for us that are different from the consequences it might have for them – but it’s equally worth us remembering the impact on the in-house editor should that crisis threaten their one job.

So while I don’t know yet what the long-term fallout of this experience will be, I do know that I did all I could to preserve my relationship with a client of 13 years’ standing and that the relationship I think – I hope – I’ve preserved with the production editor means that he’s promised to do all he can to mitigate the impact on my cash flow by expediting payment.

And, most crucially, I know that if any author ever again refuses to review a sample of my work ahead of the whole, I will be hitting pause on the project.

I’ll be hitting it hard.

 

 Vanessa Plaister is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP who accidentally became the SfEP’s community director in September 2018 and is working to bring equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) to the fore in all SfEP policy and procedure. She can commonly be found smothered by cats and surrounded by mugs of strong coffee or else risking whiplash at the front of a sweaty rock venue.


The SfEP upholds editorial excellence. All members sign up to the Code of Practice, which sets out best practice for everyone in editorial work, whether freelance or in-house, and their employers and clients.


Proofread by Victoria Hunt, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

National Freelancers Day 2019

By Abi Saffrey

Over the past five years, IPSE has hosted the ever-expanding National Freelancers Day. A friend joined the IPSE board last year and it prompted me to find out more, and I then bought an early bird ticket to this year’s event (for all of £20). The event was packed with sessions sorted into four streams: Winning Work, Digital, Health & Wellbeing and Finance. The day started with a keynote speech by Pip Jamieson, founder of The Dots, a diverse community of ‘no collar professionals’. No collar professionals are freelancers, or job hoppers, with generally creative-led skills, motivated by purpose. The Dots allows those people to detail projects they have worked on, and credit other contributors – a shift away from the linear career approach of CVs and LinkedIn. The key points I took away from those 45 minutes with Pip were:

  • Free is not always a dirty word.
  • Think laterally: tech and digital pay.
  • You are as good as the networks you build.
  • Work hard and be nice to people: use interpersonal skills and have human relationships.
  • You are the average of the five people you hang out with the most.

Winning work

Following Pip’s keynote, I concentrated on sessions in the Winning Work stream, including one on collaborative working by Hela Wozniak-Kay (share your knowledge, charge for your expertise), a panel discussion with five young entrepreneurs about how to succeed as a freelancer, Erica Wolfe-Murray’s flash talk on understanding your difference (made even faster by the previous speaker overrunning by 10 minutes – each flash talk was due to be 15 minutes long) and Carl Reader’s full-on Q&A session about ‘Building brand YOU’. The key themes in these sessions were:

  • social media, in particular Instagram, and the importance of engaging with followers and commenters
  • coworking spaces, great for networking
  • people do business with people – human to human
  • passion for what you do and how you do it.

Wear clothes

The day finished with another keynote speaker, this time Adam Kay, author of This is Going to Hurt. Adam talked (and made us laugh) about his shift from junior doctor to freelance writer and comedian, and offered his key advice for freelancers:

  • Wear clothes.
  • Wear shoes.
  • Food is fuel, not a distraction.
  • Don’t work on a sofa.
  • Say ‘no’.
  • Do things you’re passionate about even if it doesn’t make you money.

As well as over 20 presentations, workshops and panel discussions, there were also opportunities to talk to companies specialising in insurance, mortgages and bank accounts for freelancers – and to get a free headshot from The Headshot Guy or be drawn by Emmeline Pidgen. I got the photo (see my bio below), but was too slow to sign up for an exclusive original portrait.

Being the only editor

It was a different experience to a publishing or editing networking and professional development event: the sheer number of people meant fewer in-depth conversations, the variety of skills and industries meant a different range of ‘in jokes’, and some of the sessions I attended were city-centric (with limited awareness of how working life in rural areas or small towns is different). The goody bag wasn’t overflowing with pens but did include a fish-eye lens to clip over my phone’s camera lens (which of course will now be used for all photos until I sit on/drop/let the children near it).

I spent most of the day out of my comfort zone, but encountered inspiring people and came home with some ideas about refreshing my business and some ideas about what I don’t want to do. I will go again next year, with an updated elevator pitch and a shorter description on my name badge.

Abi Saffrey is an editorial project manager, copy-editor, proofreader, cat minion, tea drinker, Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP, sunflower grower and walker. She is author of the recently published Editorial Project Management guide and co-author of the SfEP’s Editorial Project Management course. Connect with her on LinkedIn; you can follow her on Twitter too but be prepared for cat pictures and ranting.

 


Proofread by Emma Easy, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Customer service: it’s all about imagination

By Sue Littleford

Towards the end of April, Cathy Tingle wrote an excellent post here on customer service. A bit of chat on the SfEP forums resulted in Cathy suggesting I write a follow-up, so here we are!

True story: I recently had to chase a client for payment. The due date was missed, so I emailed. I was told the same day that the project manager had emailed their manager and accountant to find out what was going on and to chase payment. Six days later I email again. That email is ignored. I wait five more days and email a third time, adding ‘3rd reminder’ to the subject line.
The manager hadn’t authorised my payment before going on a business trip to China, and his staff were having difficulty reaching him. Someone else in the company would now be responsible for pursuing this. Sorry. And that was it. I wasn’t told how long it would be before the manager was back in the UK, or at least in a country where they could expect to reach him. I wasn’t told how soon after the payment was authorised that I could expect the money to land in my bank account. It had taken nearly two weeks to get this far, which, as far as customer service goes, is pretty sucky (happy ending – I was paid three days later).

I’ve worked in customer service, one way or another, since I was 14 (and that’s a loooong time). I’ve handled complaints from the public, from colleagues, from MPs. I’ve held senior customer-facing posts in a major government department, and in the private sector. I’ve handled complaints face-to-face over a counter, in writing, by phone, in large meetings and by parliamentary question. And here’s what I’ve learned.

In a nutshell, good customer service comes down to an active imagination. Imagine – if I were the customer, what would I want? And then do that.

Easy? It can be, although some customers are just going to be a nightmare – keep those antennae attuned to your red flags and hope you sidestep all such folks. Assuming you’ve got a regular person for your customer, here are a few elements, unpacked.

1. Manage customer expectation

This is something my client signally failed to do. What does this mean? Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Remember Kipling’s The Elephant’s Child? Set out your who, how, what, why, when and where. That should be in your contract, and it should be in your email or phone communication. Don’t be above issuing a gentle reminder on due dates, both yours and theirs, for things like sending out and getting back author queries. Talk to your client!

2. Make sure you’re on the same page as your client

Ensure they understand precisely what they’re paying for – what you won’t do as well as what you will. Make sure they understand how well you will do the work, when you’ll do it by, and how many rounds of editing that can involve for the price. Novice indie clients may need a lot more hand-holding with regard to the terminology of editing – we’ve all had people say they want a proofread when they need a developmental edit. On the other hand, publisher clients will occasionally call things by weird names. If in doubt, ask. Ensure you understand precisely what you’re being paid for.

3. Under promise and over deliver

But don’t be too far out of whack or your customer will think you’re either taking the mickey or are really, really bad at estimating.

Well, my client had managed to under promise by one definition, but that’s not what I mean. If they’d said ‘We’re so sorry about that; there was an internal breakdown in communication. But you’ll be paid by next Thursday’ and then paid me on Tuesday, that’s under promising and over delivering. There’s another aspect of this I’d like to sound a dire warning about: I just wish we could ban editorial folks from claiming to ‘perfect’ text. Some people even have it in their business name! With so much of English being subjective, how can you ever deliver perfection? Your perfect may not be your client’s perfect. But with some folks persisting in waving their ‘perfection’ banner, it makes clients think you’ve messed up even when you really, really haven’t.

If you do these three things, and the quality of your work is up to snuff, then you’re unlikely to get caught up in a complaint. But it can happen – maybe you messed up, maybe your client did (inaccurate or ambiguous brief, anyone?). Either way, your client isn’t happy with you or your work. What next?

1. Don’t ignore the complaint

Here be dragons. Pretending the complaint didn’t happen is truly awful customer service, and quite foolish since social media happened. Get a quick holding reply out – apologise without accepting responsibility (initially). ‘I’m so sorry to hear this. Let me take a look at it and get back to you. I hope to be able to do that [by when].’ That gives you time to check the brief/contract/your files and work out how valid the complaint is. If it is down to you, even in part, you’ll say so and apologise properly soon enough. A little tip – if the complaint comes in while you’re between jobs, and you have acres of time right now, still do the holding reply. Don’t rush your analysis of the complaint, and don’t rush your response. Complaints are emotional things, whether you’re in the right or in the wrong. Give yourself time to calm down.

2. Don’t reference satisfied customers as the norm

NEVER tell a customer that all your other customers are perfectly satisfied, even if it’s true, because if you’ve messed up for that client, your failure rate is 100% as far as they’re concerned. I’ve had this happen to me, and it just got my dander up. You don’t want to rile an already annoyed client. Don’t compare them with your other, perfectly content, customers – it can be read as a form of victim-blaming.

3. Put a lot of effort into responding to complaints

Make sure you’ve addressed each issue the customer has raised, even if you think it’s utter garbage; address each issue in full, anticipating as many rebuttals as you can; check and recheck and rerecheck your reply before sending it out. Again, use your imagination – put yourself in your customer’s position and craft the kind of response you’d want to receive; keep your zingers to yourself and don’t reply until you are perfectly calm. If you fail to do any of this, I can pretty much guarantee that the correspondence will continue to suck time out of your life, complaints will get escalated, perhaps to the SfEP complaints panel, and the complainant will tell all their friends that you are useless. Or they’ll use social media to tell the world that you’re useless.

4. Keep full records of the complaint and your response

Some complainants simply don’t know when to let something go, so you’ll want to have everything at your fingertips should they re-erupt. If your red-flag-o-meter didn’t go off and you have got a nightmare client, remember some people nurse their grudges and are quite happy to keep the complaint going as long as they can. That is taking up your working time, or your private time. Either way, the job is now earning you less and less per hour.

5. Know when enough’s enough

Some clients simply don’t know when to let go. If you’ve responded in detail to their complaint, and you consider you weren’t at fault, but the client keeps coming back, perhaps demanding a refund you know isn’t justified, there’ll come a time when you simply have to tell the client that you won’t engage in any further correspondence. Similarly, if you realise you were at fault, and you’ve rectified your mistake and/or made a partial refund, you may have a client who decides they want your work free of charge and keep nagging for a total refund. You’ll have to decide for yourself when the time has come to put an end to the exchanges. Nowadays, that does involve the risk of being attacked on social media, sadly, but you can’t be held hostage. This is why it’s more important than ever to ensure you and your client understand each other, and understand what each side’s responsibilities are in your transaction.


We’re all human, which means we all make mistakes. It’s how we deal with those mistakes that spells out the quality of our customer service. And how we avoid them in the first place.

I’ll finish up with a favourite quote from Henry Ford, who knew a thing or two about customer service. When checking the exact wording, I was delighted to see it included the I-word!

‘The man who will use his skill and constructive imagination to see how much he can give for a dollar, instead of how little he can give for a dollar, is bound to succeed.’

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford was a career civil servant before being forcibly outsourced. That was such fun she changed tack altogether and has been a freelance copy-editor since 2007, working mostly on postgraduate social sciences textbooks plus the occasional horseracing thriller. She is on Facebook and Twitter from time to time.

 


The SfEP upholds editorial excellence through high standards; all its members sign up to the Code of Practice.


Proofread by Joanne Heath, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

 

 

 

My first steps into proofreading made me fit!

By Carolyn Clarke

Yes, it’s true, but allow me to start at the beginning.

I wanted to use another of my hobbies as a way of making a living. Two of my loves are plants and words. The former I had transformed into a successful gardening business over the last seven years. The latter started when I was a child, spending my pocket money in the local bookshop.

I love my gardening work but as a 50-something I realised that this amount of physical hard work could not go on for ever.

Enter my love of words. I was aware that I spotted mistakes easily. I liked consistency, tidiness and balance: proofreading was the way to go. And I knew that the outdoor physical could dovetail nicely with the indoor cerebral – Yin and Yang.

Getting started

With this no-brainer decision now made, I bought a new laptop and enrolled on an online proofreading course. It was a toss-up between the two reputable providers, the SfEP and the PTC. I chose the latter’s Basic Proofreading: Editorial Skills One, which took me nearly a year to complete. Before I did the course, I wondered if it was even necessary (I can already spell can’t I?!) but soon realised that, yes, it was very necessary. I didn’t know how much I didn’t know until I started the course.

I enjoyed the course immensely although it was a little biased towards working on paper with BSI marks and less focused on working digitally with Word or PDFs.

From the essential books that a proofreader needs I bought the New Oxford Spelling Dictionary, because it shows word breaks, and Trask’s Penguin Guide to Punctuation. I intended to buy New Hart’s Rules: The Oxford Style Guide and the New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors but realised I could access these online with my library card. Excellent.

I wrote a profile about myself and was proudly listed as a proofreader on the PTC Directory. Competition is tough though, so I knew it was no use just sitting around waiting for possible work to come in: I had to be proactive, but how?

I was allowed to attend three local SfEP group meetings before I joined so I went to two different groups. Arriving early at the first, I was greeted by the one other early SfEP member and received my first gems of advice: read everything by SfEP gurus Louise Harnby and John Espirian, and have you joined findaproofreader.com yet?

I started to read lots online. Everything I read suggested something else that I needed to write or do; I had entered a very enjoyable internet black hole and was rapidly list-making in order to prioritise my tasks.

I created a logo for myself and set up various social media pages on LinkedIn, Facebook, Aboutme and FreeIndex knowing I could always add to them as I gained more experience, work and, importantly, good reviews.

Getting work

Approaching one of my long-time gardening clients, I offered to proofread their business website at a reduced rate. No, they said, we will pay you SfEP rates. I was jumping with joy and raring to go; I could now use my logo-emblazoned invoice created from a Word template. A couple of real clangers stood out: ‘Sometimes a simple and sort video can cut though the fog of technology’, and ‘Sign up our newsletter’. Hilarious. Armed with a review and some experience I logged back on to my social media platforms…

My enthusiasm boosted, I trawled sites online and found a theatre website that was littered with schoolboy (and girl) errors (‘thrown’ instead of ‘throne’, [groan]) and yes, he would be happy for me to proofread it in exchange for some theatre tickets and a review of my work.

Getting fit

I was now spending hours glued to my laptop. Sitting is alien to a gardener so I started to sandwich my computer work with activity: a five-minute plank and ab workout, ten minutes of yoga, a fifteen-minute run/walk and, believe it or not, skipping with a rope! (It is astonishing how tiring it is now compared to when I was a child!) For a longer break, I walk for at least an hour.

I practised working with Word and using Find and Replace to make searching a text quicker. I had read about using Templates and Styles and added them to my To Do list. Macros were new to me but I downloaded Paul Beverley’s Macros for Editors and installed the Macro Starter Pack which I knew at some time in the future would make my proofreading much, much quicker. When I found that Louise Harnby had made a set of BSI stamps available free to use with PDFs, I immediately downloaded a set and had a go; I wanted to practise using the marks I’d spent months learning before I forgot them.

Ten-minute run break…

I had now joined the SfEP and so began my descent into another internet black hole: the SfEP forums. These are online discussions where members can post questions and read about anything to do with proofreading or editing, whether it be a grammar question, finding work or dealing with clients. It is a hugely supportive network of experienced professionals. Another valuable asset is the archive of Editing Matters, the SfEP’s bimonthly magazine which is full of useful articles.

Yoga mat aside, I thought about the need for finding a niche. My specialisms are gardening and horticulture but I am also a trained primary teacher so educational books may be a good way to go. From the library I borrowed the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and noted the contact details of educational publishers and publishers that produce books about horticulture. There is also a section on book packagers, another possible tack that is new to me. My To Do list continues to get longer.

I reach for my skipping rope in between the emailing…

Carolyn Clarke is a bookworm with a sharp eye! She is a freelance proofreader who specialises in horticulture and primary education but will happily proofread a range of fiction and non-fiction. Connect with Carolyn on LinkedIn.

 

 


A longer version of this post is available in the May/June 2019 issue of Editing Matters.

The SfEP has a wide range of courses for new and experienced proofreaders and editors, and SfEP membership benefits include discounts on the ‘must-have’ resources and software.


Proofread by Emma Easy, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

You are not alone: five tips for co-working

By Julia Sandford-Cooke

People are often amazed when I tell them that I work alongside my husband in our home office. ‘Oh, I couldn’t do that,’ they say, ‘We’d chat/argue/get in each other’s way.’ Well, yes, sometimes that does happen – but it also happens with colleagues in a formal office environment, and of course with families at home. But we’re more likely to just get on with what we’re paid to do, comfortable in each other’s company.

Freelancers like me, and home-based employees like my husband, are at risk of loneliness and isolation, even when they’re unsociable introverts like us. Online support, such as via the SfEP forums, accountability groups and social media, is invaluable, but is no replacement for working alongside an actual human being. Of course, pets can provide vital stress relief (and an excuse to get up occasionally) but my feline assistant Pixel has never offered to make me a cup of coffee or provided IT advice.

Your office mate doesn’t have to be another editor. My husband is a computer programmer and I have no idea what he does on a day-to-day basis other than video-conferencing his colleagues about Jenkins testing and bike-shedding and protocol buffers (software jargon is a whole other blog post), which is fine by me, as I’m not distracted from my own muttering.

Janet MacMillan, both an editor in her own right and a member of the collective Editing Globally, co-works reasonably frequently, either with one of her Editing Globally colleagues or with a local SfEP pal. She says: ‘Co-working with an Editing Globally colleague can be particularly useful, both if we are working on different parts of a large project or if we need to discuss future work or marketing. But whoever I am co-working with, it’s nice to be able to ask questions of a trusted colleague.’ I do that too – sometimes running tricky text or an ambiguous comment past my husband to find out how an uninformed reader may react.

Clearly, however, you need to set ground rules for a shared understanding of a successful working environment. These are my top tips, drawn from my own, my husband’s and Janet’s experience – of course, you may work best under different conditions, so the key is to have the confidence to express your own preferences and the self-awareness to recognise whether your chosen co-worker shares them.

1. Make sure you (mostly) get on with your office mate

I get on with my husband because, well, he’s my husband, but your office mate doesn’t have to be your life partner. It could be a friend or ex-colleague – the key is that you feel comfortable spending many hours a day with them, and that they won’t be offended if you ask them to make phone calls in another room or stop randomly reading out snippets from Reddit. In practice, we don’t interact that much – we are working, after all – and my husband says he couldn’t share a space with an extrovert who gains energy from talking all the time. If you’re a nose-picker, knuckle-cracker or serial swearer, is your co-worker likely to accept your habits or nurture a silent resentment?

2. Ensure you can work comfortably in the same space

WJulia's officee work in a converted garage attached to our house. Our desk is a wooden kitchen worktop that lines one wall, facing three large windows. It’s a pleasant environment, when it’s clean. We’re not the tidiest office mates – his desk is covered in glasses wipes, receipts and dirty mugs, while mine is piled with scrap proofs and paperwork – but we’re relaxed enough not to police each other’s desk spaces. Janet is motivated to improve her work space by the prospect of visitors, saying, ‘it does have the added benefit of making me tidy up – and occasionally clean up – my house!’

My husband and I have the same differences over heating that I remember from working with others during in-house jobs. He’s always hot and I’m always cold but we dress accordingly, as we would in a formal office. I have an electric foot-warmer and fingerless gloves for my Reynaud’s syndrome, while he wears shorts all year round.

3. Agree on the level of noise you can tolerate

I’m not the sort of editor who has to work in utter silence, which is just as well when my husband spends the majority of his time on Skype. We use headphones for video conferences, and his side of the conversation tends to wash over me, as I usually don’t understand it. When we’re not talking to people online, we listen to our shared 85-hour Spotify playlist. We tolerate each other’s song choices, and may even sing a little. It fosters a sense of companionship and shared experience. But when we want quiet, we ask for it. If you can’t tolerate any background noise, you might not want an office mate who can only work to the greatest hits of Ed Sheeran. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t want that office mate either.

4. Decide whether you’ll spend breaks together

We both have to make a conscious effort to take a lunch break. We might walk round the block, or to Lidl; sometimes we’ll eat lunch at the dining table. But if the other person has a deadline or just doesn’t feel like stopping, we respect that and eat or exercise separately. We’ve also invested in a coffee machine and make each other drinks. Janet sees this aspect as a major benefit, saying, ‘It’s fun to have someone to share the very important tea-making with!’

5. Keep arrangements flexible

My husband and I have a fairly formal routine – he’s contracted to work from 9 to 5, so I tend to do so as well. However, sometimes he has to travel to the US, and I quite enjoy the novelty of working alone for a week or so. As well as co-working at her house, Janet has also co-worked with colleagues in cafés, which she says can be an occasional pleasant change of scenery. Other people may temporarily hire a serviced office in a town or industrial estate to cover a short-term group project. If you’ve never worked with your proposed colleague before, it’s a good idea to agree to try it for a few days before committing yourselves – and being honest and receptive about your experience.

So whether you want to test the waters or make it a permanent arrangement, I’d recommend finding your perfect partner and giving it a go. As Janet says, ‘Co-working is both a pleasure and an aid to concentration and buckling down to work.’ After all, it’s the small pleasures of being brought a coffee or sharing a laugh that can change a routine working day to a productive one.

Julia Sandford-CookeJulia Sandford-Cooke of WordFire Communications has 20 years’ experience of publishing and marketing. She has written and edited numerous textbooks, specialising in vocational education, media studies, construction, health and safety, and travel. Check out her micro book reviews on Ju’s Reviews. If you’re sharing an office with her, she likes her coffee strong.

 


Proofread by Emma Easy, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Editors and social media: Facebook

In the fourth instalment of our series about how editors use social media for their businesses, Sarah Dronfield talks about what Facebook has brought to her editorial life.

Facebook logo

Why and when did you start?

When I started my editing and proofreading business in 2016, I already had a personal Facebook profile so, because it was easy (and free) to do, one of the first things I did was to set up a business page linked to that account. I didn’t know whether I would find clients via the page, and to be honest I’m not sure I ever have, but I do know that it drives traffic to my website.

I soon discovered, however, that Facebook could benefit my business in lots of other ways. Early on, I found out about a group called Editors’ Association of Earth (EAE): a place for ‘editors from anywhere to meet, have fun together, and talk about the issues and challenges that all editors share’. There and in similar groups, I learned a lot about editing in ways that aren’t possible from a book or a course. This was mostly from reading advice from or having conversations with people who have been editing for decades, but also from reading the many blog posts that were shared. In fact, there were so many great blog posts around, I thought it would be useful to have somewhere they could be ‘stored’ and easily found, so early in 2017 I suggested to the EAE admins that I start a weekly thread in the group, where the latest blog posts could be shared, with hashtags so that older threads could be found again quickly.

The idea for the weekly thread was partly inspired by an accountability thread in a closed EAE group – a place for editors to share what they’ve done that week to market their business or advance their professional development. When the person who was managing this thread said they wanted to step down in late 2017, I volunteered to take it on too.

I also set up a Facebook page (and Twitter account) for our SfEP local group back in 2016; I volunteered to do this at my very first local group meeting, and I’ve been managing the page ever since.

What do you share?

On my business page, I mostly share articles and blog posts I think will be of interest to potential and existing clients; I work mainly with Welsh authors of thrillers, historical fiction and children’s books. My pinned post is a glowing testimonial from happy co-author clients, and it’s the first thing new visitors to the page will see. And of course, when I write a blog post of my own (which isn’t often these days) then I share that too. I also share news of upgrades to my SfEP membership or about training courses I’ve taken, for example.

Facebook post on the Sarah Dronfield Proofreader page about booking tickets for the SfEP 2019 conference

On our local group page I share information about group meetings and things that may be of interest to potential clients (about writing and editing generally because between us we provide a wide range of services).

When do you share?

I try to share something to my business page at least once a month so visitors can see the page is active. I avoid posting too often because I don’t want to flood my followers’ news feeds, although I’m sure I could post more often than I do without annoying people.

Our local group page is really just there to send people to the South Wales Editors website, so I only post there very occasionally.

In the EAE groups, I share the blog post round-up every Monday and the accountability thread every Friday.

Why do you do it?

I came for the marketing, but I stayed for the advice, support and camaraderie. I may or may not have gained clients from my business page, but I have had work as a result of networking and making friends with other editors on Facebook.

What about other social media platforms?

In 2016, at the same time as I set up my Facebook business page, I also set up accounts on Twitter and LinkedIn. I rarely visit LinkedIn because I don’t like the platform and I don’t think it’s where my ideal clients are. I do like Twitter though, and I actually post there more often than I do on my Facebook page. But Facebook is definitely my favourite platform because I get so much more out of it. My business simply wouldn’t be where it is today without the huge amount of information, advice and support I have received from colleagues there over the last three years.

Any advice?

Explore the many Facebook groups for editors, spend time in them and find out which ones are most useful to you. There are all kinds of groups: for all things related to editing, groups specifically for academic or fiction editors, groups that focus on business or training, and many more. You can even start your own accountability group – find a few like-minded colleagues who are at a similar stage in their career and set up a secret Facebook group where you can share your problems and successes and help one another keep on top of your weekly tasks.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, never say anything on Facebook – or any social media platform – that you wouldn’t want a client to read, even in a closed group: remain professional at all times. I’m not saying you shouldn’t relax and have a laugh with your colleagues or ask advice on how to deal with a difficult client, but you should avoid criticising clients (or fellow editors) and try not to get into arguments – it’s not a good look. Even if your clients can’t see it (and sometimes they can), don’t forget that colleagues can send work your way too, and they will only do that if they feel you are someone who can be trusted to behave professionally.

Sarah DronfieldSarah Dronfield is an editor specialising in fiction and is based in South Wales. She is a Professional Member of the SfEP. She did many things before finally becoming an editor: office admin, archaeology, travelling. These days, when not editing, she can usually be found reading.

 


If you’re on Facebook, visit the SfEP’s page to keep informed about upcoming events, to discover interesting articles and for the occasional giggle-worthy cartoon.


Proofread by Joanne Heath, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Customer service: what does it mean for editing professionals?

By Cathy Tingle

Customer service matters in business, everyone knows that. And in editing it’s important, too. We have clients, after all. But, for us, giving too much to customers can be counterproductive. Overwork and we make mistakes. Give too much time to a project and our per-hour fee will reduce such that we question whether it’s worth being in business. I’ve worked in marketing, so I know about the value of customer service; however, moving across to editing this ‘how much is too much?’ question muddied for me what were previously clear waters.

To remind myself of what is important in customer service, and see if it applies to the editorial world as much as to larger business, I headed over to the Institute of Customer Service website.

Cup of coffee on a table next to a stack of coffee shop receipts and a service bell

Which customer service principles apply?

The website’s home page was a big surprise, not so much because of its message but because it shows a video that features my former boss, Jo Causon, who, it turns out, is now the CEO of the Institute of Customer Service. The video seems geared towards big organisations, so I contacted Jo to say ‘hello’ and ask if its ideas about customer service apply to sole traders and small businesses in the editorial field. Jo confirmed they do, saying:

‘Customer service is something that, if done well, is a clear differentiator for an individual or organisation and a clear way of marketing yourself.’

Where might we stand out, then, in terms of customer service? Jo names ‘quality and attention to detail’ as marks of customer service that editorial professionals know all about, plus ‘genuine interest’ and a ‘service ethos’. So far, so good – I don’t know any editors or proofreaders that don’t display these characteristics in spades.

But how relevant to us are the more formal customer service indicators? According to the video, businesses should think about the following five points:

  1. How professional and competent staff are, and how relevant is their knowledge.
  2. How easy they are to do business with.
  3. Whether their product or service does what it says it will.
  4. How they deal with complaints.
  5. Their timeliness and responsiveness.

Let’s look at each in turn.

Competence, knowledge and professionalism

This is a good start. As editing professionals our competence and relevant knowledge is inseparable from our offer, and the fact that we’re SfEP members is a mark of professionalism. Next!

Being easy to do business with

Are we easy to find online (and elsewhere if that’s where our clients will look), and are our services and terms easily understandable? When we’re into an edit, do we make the process easier for others by explaining why we are suggesting a change, or giving useful options to choose from? Are we as clear as possible at all times when communicating with our clients?

These are some questions that could be relevant. You can probably think of more.

Keeping promises

This third point is what you might call ‘hygiene’ (basic stuff – you’ll certainly notice if it’s absent) but actually it’s quite a difficult area. Here we have to do our best to be realistic – firstly, in what we promise to clients. Make sure, in publicity or correspondence, that you never offer more than you can give. Secondly, we must be practical about what’s possible throughout a project. A recent tweet by Christian Wilkie (@CWWilkie), a Minneapolis-based writer and editor, gives an insight into the sort of hard decision we occasionally need to make.

‘Just had to cancel a freelance assignment I’d agreed to, because the materials weren’t supplied to give me enough time before deadline. Sounds clear-cut, but I wanted a good relationship with this agency. The fact is, I can’t do a good job without enough time.’

It’s tricky to know what to do in these situations. However, Christian wisely realised that if he didn’t complete the job to a high standard because of a lack of time his relationship with his client would have suffered in any case.

A tailor's mannequin with a tape measure draped around its neck

Dealing with complaints

No matter how hard we try, things can sometimes go wrong. How we react if and when this happens is important. When I worked in marketing (with Jo) the big idea was that a complaining customer can be turned into a loyal ambassador for your business if dealt with correctly.

As with the rest of editing, the key thing is to really listen to your customer – in this case, to their concerns. It’s important to keep calm and share any relevant information, including about how the problem may have occurred. The SfEP receives very few complaints about its members because they sign up to its Code of Practice, but what happens if your client threatens to complain to the SfEP? Over to our standards director, Hugh Jackson:

‘If someone threatens to raise a complaint against you to the SfEP, the first thing to do is not to panic. It can be really unpleasant to have the relationship with your client break down to that extent, but behaving calmly and professionally will go a long way towards defusing a tense situation and making it easier for everyone involved. Signpost your client to the complaints page on the website, where they can read about the process and what’s required of them if they do decide to go in that direction.’

‘As a society, we would always encourage editors and their clients to work together to resolve any disputes by compromise, but we appreciate, inevitably, that sometimes just isn’t possible. The complaints process is specially designed to be even-handed and independent. It’s also strictly confidential: even if the complaint is upheld, in the vast majority of cases your name won’t be broadcast to the membership or in public.’

So, don’t panic. Give your client all the information they need, and have faith in our complaints procedure.

Being timely and responsive

Many of us start our editing careers relying on this differentiator, perhaps in the absence of experience or confidence in our professional abilities. For example, you could make yourself available all day and night and at weekends, and promise to respond to any queries within an hour. However, you then might realise that this involves a cost to you and affects the quality of your work.

Managing expectation is probably a better route. Make clear to your clients the times when you respond to queries and when you don’t. You could do this with a combination of wording in your terms and conditions and an out-of-office response in the evenings and at weekends. During working hours you could send a quick acknowledgement to show you have received an email and are thinking about it, with a general idea of when the customer might hear back more fully.

The central relationship

Those are the five points. What struck me is how they reflect our Code of Practice, which emphasises high standards and clear communication plus the setting of sensible boundaries and rules that serve our clients, and us as suppliers. So the good news is that if you’re an SfEP member you already have a head start in terms of customer service.

But there is one overarching customer service principle at which we editorial professionals excel. In the video, Jo explains that we have moved from a transaction-based economy to a relationship-based one. The word ‘relationship’ is oft used in marketing but as editors it’s our bread and butter. Editing can be very personal – you are handling your author’s strongly held ideas, often the result of years of research and thought, or the fruits of their imagination and experience, and their work is bound up with their ambitions and fears. You need to tread softly in order to make sure you’re giving the author due respect and bringing the best out of their text.

And if we’re thinking of differentiators, the best you can do is to be you, with all your differences as an individual. Work out what you’re great at and make the most of it. Train to fill any gaps and market yourself in an area where you stand out. It will then be you, as you are, that your clients need, trust and return to. Surely there’s no better model of customer service than that.

 

Cathy TingleCathy Tingle, an Advanced Professional Member, came to freelance copy-editing after a PhD in English, a decade in marketing communications and four years as editor of a parents’ guidebook. Her business, DocEditor, specialises in non-fiction, especially academic, copy-editing. Follow her on Twitter: @thedoceditor

 

Proofread by Joanne Heath, Entry-Level Member.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Don’t panic! How to stay calm in a crisis

By Melanie Thompson

Drawing of an 'emergency kit' bag with Hart's Rules and Oxford English Dictionary books spilling out of the top

Would you sign up for a two-hour conference session titled ‘Risk Assessment for Editors and Proofreaders’? Perhaps a few people would. (I might even be tempted myself, because I have some experience of editing and writing safety-related content.) But SfEP conferences always aim to entertain as well as educate: after all, that’s one of the best ways to learn. So I needed to come up with a new twist on an apparently dull but important topic for my slot at the 2018 event.

After a bit of head scratching I came up with an idea: ‘Don’t Panic! How to stay calm in a crisis’ – a workshop that challenged my unsuspecting victims keen and willing editorial colleagues to play a giant interactive board game: The Game of Editorial Life.

Spinning plates

Freelance editorial professionals need to keep a lot of plates spinning – marketing their services, juggling client expectations and moving deadlines, chasing invoices, and keeping up to date with technology. And there are other plates spinning in the background – both business and personal – that must not be ignored.

Life happens and plates may crash but, by thinking ahead and preparing for the worst, we can avoid many problems, and survive most of the rest.

When I say ‘survive most of…’ I do mean just that. There is one inevitability that we all face (and I don’t mean your tax bill), and we need to think about that too.

The Game of Editorial Life enabled like-minded professionals to think about ways to plan ahead to avoid a number of work-related crises – from electricity outage to hacked computers via vanishing clients. But we also discussed strategies to deal with non-work events that can have an impact on our capacity to work and therefore pose a risk to business continuity.

Among those was one I want to focus on here: the round I named ‘Unhappy families’.

Unhappy families

Drawing of a person with a broken arm in a sling

If you are an employee you will have access to paid holiday, sick leave, maternity/paternity and other benefits. And there will usually be someone else on hand who can cover for you if you have to dash off because of a family emergency. This is relevant even if you don’t have a ‘family’ in the traditional sense – pets have crises too as, of course, do close friends. More important, you yourself may have a health crisis (either sudden in onset, or a gradual change that makes working difficult).

If you’re a freelancer, you have to grapple with these things while still keeping your work plates spinning.

Or do you?

In the workshop, I presented the competing teams – yes, it really was a game (with forfeits, and prizes) – with various scenarios and asked them to make a crisis plan by answering the following questions:

  • Triage – what do you do first, second …?
  • Do you tell your clients?
  • If so, when and how?
  • What could you do to be better prepared for this sort of crisis?

Grab a pen and some scrap paper and have a go yourself. Here are a couple of scenarios:

  1. You have landed a really exciting project, but a few days in you’re starting to feel really ill, with flu-like symptoms.
  2. You get a call one morning that a close family member/friend has been taken to hospital in an ambulance.

In the workshop discussion our ideas for all the scenarios coalesced around these key points:

  • Remember the flight attendant – put on your oxygen mask (ie, look after yourself so you can care for others).
  • Consider health/dental insurance.
  • Have regular health checks.
  • Regular breaks/holidays.
  • Consider loss of earnings insurance (it can be very expensive) – not to be confused with payment protection insurance (which often doesn’t work for the self-employed).
  • Know where to seek local help.
  • Tap into your network – local and remote (SfEP colleagues are perennially generous with their time and empathy).
  • Talk to your clients – they are humans.

Extras you might consider for scenarios 1 and 2 above are: get vaccinated; and keep emergency numbers handy.

A desktop PC with a unwell looking face on the monitor screen and smoke rising from the top

On that latter point, the entire workshop was built around developing an emergency plan and all the participants went home armed with a business resilience booklet that acts as an aide memoire for all the lively and useful discussions of the day, as well as a place to write down essential information that you – or your nearest and dearest – can easily find in a crisis.

I have mine pinned on my kitchen noticeboard.

As I mentioned at the beginning, crises don’t bother to phone you up and plug themselves into your busy schedule, they just happen. Mine, post-conference, was a call from a stranger to say that my son had crashed his car. I was in the middle of work for a client, and had an ill pet waiting to go for a walk. Of course, I dropped everything and dashed to the scene (son was fine, by the way) but I was very glad I had spent time while writing the workshop to think about my own ‘don’t panic’ strategy.

If this sounds like something that could be useful to you, watch out for a new SfEP online course currently being developed, which will touch on many of the ‘crises’ we identified – especially the business-specific ones.

Until then, remember:

  • Don’t leave things to chance.
  • Make plans.
  • Review them regularly (eg, once a year).

Further reading

 

Melanie Thompson reading the SfEP guide 'Pricing your project'Melanie Thompson (SfEP APM) has worked in and around publishing since 1988 and has just begun her 20th year as a freelancer. She writes and edits materials on sciences, especially climate change – a topic worth panicking about – from her home in a small village on the Herts/Beds/Bucks border. She’s an SfEP tutor. Follow her on Twitter via @EditorSpice

All illustrations © Paul Dyett 2018

 

The 2019 Conference: This year’s conference takes place at Aston University, Birmingham, from Saturday 14 to Monday 16 September. Booking is now open.

Proofread by Joanne Heath, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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