Tag Archives: starting out

Wise owls: how I found my first client

All freelance careers start with tracking down that first client. Even the wise owls were chicks once (though probably still wise even then), and their experiences show that there isn’t just one way to go about getting that first paid project.

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford

I’ll talk about my early career, as my first clients came to me via a now-defunct route. It’s a long time since eBay had classified ads! I also picked up a couple of jobs through Gumtree. Two of my first actions on hanging out my shingle were joining SfEP and getting my website up and out there. My website brought in a few more clients who had found me courtesy of Mr Google – including a novelist I still work for some 12 years later. I also picked up a couple of jobs from what is now IM Available. But my big break was from answering an Announce that went to the whole of the membership (most go to just Advanced Professional and/or Professional Members) – I picked up my first packager client and that broadened my horizons and my experience hugely (which I promptly reflected in my CV). In the early days I also had an (expensive) ad in Yellow Pages, which I cancelled after two years as it was ineffective. But a few days before it was due to come off Yell’s website, a packager looking to hire only editors within the county found me (phew!). We did lots of work together over the ensuing years. I’d certainly advise not putting all your marketing eggs in one basket.

Liz Jones

My first client was the employer I’d just left – a non-fiction book packager. For a while I combined freelance project management (essentially continuing my old job) with working on small editorial jobs for them, alongside another major client (an educational publisher) secured via a former colleague. This all sounds too easy – and it was: it only deferred the inevitable need to find a range of clients, to mitigate the risk of working freelance. At first I suffered many sleepless nights: how would I pay my bills if the packager stopped using me? I realised I needed to take control, and worked hard to gain new work streams – in related areas via old colleagues, and also by ‘cold-emailing’ publishers and other potential clients. It took a couple of years, but I was so glad I put in the effort to market myself at that point. I felt more in charge of my career, and expanded into new areas of work. These days I still work for my first client, but only very occasionally, and I try never to be in the position of worrying about a single client dropping me. (Of course I still do all I can to retain my favourites!)

Nik ProwseNik Prowse

I was forced to find my first client, because I was staring down the barrel of a 3-month redundancy notice. At the time I was working at home, but as an employee, as a staff editor for a science publisher. I needed a change, and redundancy (I realised later) was an opportunity. After deciding to go freelance I made a list of every science publisher I could think of and emailed my CV to commissioning editors, desk editors and managing editors, with the promise of following up by phone a few days later. Most approaches fell on deaf ears. A few turned into paid work in the long term. But two came up with immediate work. One was a European journal publisher offering a very low rate but frequent work. The other was a major university press. The person I’d emailed had a book to place, on molecular biology, and I could start on Monday 16 February 2004. Which was good timing, as I became redundant on Friday 13 February 2004 (very apt). So I finished the working week as an employee and started the next as a freelancer. It made me realise that many freelance opportunities are down to luck, but that you can make your own luck.

Hazel BirdHazel Bird

My first ever piece of work as a freelancer paid £19.03 and took me six hours to complete, so I earned a princely £3.17 per hour. This was back in 2009. I was working full time as an in-house project manager for Elsevier, but I was also in the process of completing the Publishing Training Centre’s distance learning course in proofreading, and I wanted to take on some actual proofreading to keep my future options open.

The client was one of those agencies that arranges proofreading for students and academics. I believe I found them through a Google search for proofreading companies. I know that I completed a test, and I was then added to their list and offered work according to when I was available.

I worked for the agency for around eight months (I stopped after I left my job and began freelancing for my old employer). I worked up to completing around 2–4 articles per week, and by the end of the eight months I was regularly earning over £15 per hour, which I considered a good rate for someone of my experience. There were aspects of the work that weren’t ideal (such as having no contact with the authors and very little feedback), but it gave me a lot of relevant experience to help me upgrade my SfEP membership.

Louise BolotinLouise Bolotin

My first job came from another, now retired, SfEP member. I had joined the society less than a fortnight earlier, but just in time to put my credentials in the next issue of the old Associates Available. My benefactor lived in my area and quickly got in touch to say she’d had an email from a marketing and comms company based somewhere between our two locations. They needed someone to work in-house for half a day to proofread some web copy. Did I want the job? Well, yes – of course! She passed my details to her contact at the company and the following week I found myself on a train to mid-Cheshire, where I spent several frustrating hours working for the comms company. Yup, it turned out to be a nightmare job and getting paid was also a hassle. But the point is, never underestimate the power of networking and getting your info in front of other people’s eyeballs. Despite plenty of experience, I’d only just returned to the UK after 13 years abroad and I had no contacts. I was very grateful for that first gig. Associates Available has been replaced by IM Available but is as useful as ever for picking up those early jobs that can help you start to build experience and a portfolio.

Michael FaulknerMike Faulkner

This is how I found, not just my first, but my first dozen jobs – so I recommend it as a useful approach for all newbie proofreaders! The only qualification is that you need to be up for academic proofing.

There were three stages:

  1. I worked up a good understanding of the (quite strict) parameters for academic proofreading – in this context I mean dissertations and theses by undergraduates and post-grads, not papers by academics for publication.
  2. I went through my contacts – and my family’s and friends’ contacts – for anyone with any connection, even tangential, to university lecturers in any area with which I was comfortable (I concentrated on arts and particularly law), whether academics, journalists, current students or fairly recent graduates. I was interested in the names of lecturers/profs/supervisors who I might approach, and armed with those names and the courses they taught I got the relevant contact details from their institutions.
  3. I wrote a short, practical, helpful email to each person on the longlist, explaining my qualifications/training; my understanding of what is and is not acceptable in an academic context; how I might hopefully make their life easier (obviously you can’t say this last directly but it has to be implied, possibly with humour); and how swiftly I was able to turn work around.

My first job, for a Saudi student at Kings College London, came almost immediately and I have since worked on many papers by students of the same supervisor. Same for a number of other professors, so for work on which I was able to cut my teeth this approach was pretty successful.


SfEP Members can find out more about IM Available by visiting the Members’ Area on the SfEP website.


Photo credit: owl Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

 

 

 

Wise owls: a nugget of wisdom

The SfEP’s wise owls are back – and have been thinking about what little nugget of wisdom they would love to have been able to tell their newbie selves…


Two stone owl ornaments, on a log in front of a flourishing garden

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford

Find out what you need before buying

Start small, and don’t anticipate your needs, which translates into Think Before You Spend. As a rookie (copy-editing is my second career, and I had no prior experience in, nor even links to, publishing), I was keen to set everything up ‘properly’ – even before I had a business to speak of. I’d talked to freelancers I knew in a different field and they recommended setting up as a limited company from the get-go. All that money wasted when I was just setting up and every penny counted. Ouch! Turns out, in EditorLand at least, being a limited company is almost always something you grow into – and may never need. Then there were all those books. So many books! I never need an excuse to buy books – and I suspect neither do you. Hold back. Some were essential once I’d got myself some clients, but most were outclassed by the internet. (The internet can be fickle, so I’d recommend having your most heavily used resources in hard copy too, if they exist.) Amazon was already well established when I was starting out – I could get books the next day if I wanted. So that’s my nugget of wisdom – find out what you need, then buy it. Don’t buy anything and everything vaguely to do with editing and writing to see if you actually will use it. New business owners, repeat after me: it’s easier to save money than to make money. (But do invest in training!)

Melanie ThompsonMelanie Thompson reading the SfEP guide 'Pricing a project'

Take time off if you’re faced with a family crisis

It’s easy to think you can power through problems, or use work as a ‘distraction’, but you can’t be sure your concentration will be sufficient to keep all the plates spinning, and your clients won’t thank you for a rushed or below-par job.

Michael FaulknerMike Faulkner

Know your limitations

I began my freelance career with proofreading, and my biggest challenge from the start was to stick to the parameters, my course tutor Gillian Clarke’s admonition ringing in my ears: ‘Leave well enough alone!’ It’s excellent advice and I did try, but I found myself adding more and more marginal comments to the proofs until eventually I was reframing with gay abandon.

My lightbulb moment came several years later, when I finally admitted to myself that I was not temperamentally equipped to be a proofreader. I didn’t have the self-discipline. Gillian had been right in her assessment that I was too inclined to intervene, and by then I was really pushing the boundaries, encouraged by a law publisher from whom I was getting a lot of work (still am) and whose senior editor said she ‘appreciated proofers who approach everything with an elegant scepticism’. When I made the switch to copy-editing I was much more comfortable.
So, my advice to my freshman freelance self would be, ‘Know your limitations!’.

Liz JonesLiz Jones

Learn to chill out

It always feels good to push yourself hard, to please a client, to go the extra mile, to bask in praise for all your hours of hard work and extraordinary diligence. But remember to look after yourself too, and establish boundaries. So, learn to recognise unreasonable requests, and then learn to say no to them. Learn to give yourself time off. Learn to question whether it really needs to be done by last thing on a Friday, or if Monday morning would be just as good. Learn to look hard at what the client is offering and assess whether it’s as good a deal for you as it is for them. Learn to say no as well as yes. Learn to ask for what you need to do a job well, and to have a life outside of work. Learn to chill out.

Hazel BirdHazel Bird

Have confidence, and prioritise

This year, my editorial business turned ten. In those ten years I’ve vastly expanded both my skillset (from being nervous of any copy-editing at all to managing and co-editing multi-million-word works) and my subject specialisms (who knew this English literature graduate would end up copy-editing postgraduate-level psychology?).

The nugget of wisdom I’d give to my 2009 self has two parts. The first would be to have confidence in exploring the aforementioned skillset and specialisms. As long as it is done mindfully, incrementally and with due diligence, expanding into new and varied realms can be one of the most rewarding aspects of editorial work.

The second part would be to prioritise finding a time-planning system capable of forming a solid foundation for this expansion. I have pretty much never missed a deadline, but sometimes that has been to the detriment of my work–life balance. I wouldn’t tell 2009 me never to take jobs that would involve working crazy hours (such opportunities can pay off exorbitantly in terms of job satisfaction and stability). However, I would encourage her to put more energy, earlier on, into finding a system that quantified the crazy, so as to be able to make better-informed choices about what an opportunity would cost in terms of time.

 

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.

The new girl and the SfEP conference

By Karen White

My name is Karen, and I’ve been a member of the SfEP for about six weeks. I’m officially the New Girl.

I’m not used to being that new girl. I’ve been in publishing since 1997, working my way from Editor to Publishing Manager in an in-house role, and as a freelance editor, project manager and trainer since 2008. I specialise in ELT (English Language Teaching) and work with various international publishers on multi-level, multi-component print and digital products. And until six weeks ago I’d been functioning very happily without the SfEP, thank you very much.

In 2015 a colleague and I organised an Awayday for other ELT freelancers. We’d realised that there are quite a number of us, mostly working from home, and we’d like an opportunity to network, learn new skills and find out what’s happening in our industry. Freelancers don’t get sent on training courses, market visits or to conferences, and 100 people signed up for the event. One of those was Sarah Patey, who went away wondering why so few ELT freelancers are SfEP members. We organised another Awayday in January this year and Sarah offered to come back and tell us more about the organisation and how it could benefit us. Denise Cowle also came and added her voice, and since then Sarah and Denise have set up an SfEP ELT forum. I was convinced and signed up. I’m now the proud owner of an Advanced Professional Member badge and an entry in the database.

So do I need to spend over £400 going to the conference? I’ve got plenty of work, a good network to turn to for help and support, I already know about new trends in ELT methodology, and it looks like a big chunk of money to spend. In an attempt to find out what more I might get out of the experience, I contacted a couple of other SfEP members who are local to me. We met up for coffee and had a great chat for a couple of hours about editing, life as a freelancer, rates of pay, and how to use PerfectIt. One of them had been to the conference several times and raved about it, particularly the gala dinner in Exeter when there was a spectacular sunset. She still had the photos on her phone!

I left our meeting and had a think. I have no idea about PerfectIt, but do enjoy networking with other editors and learning new skills. Looking at the conference programme, I’m initially most curious about Richard Hutchinson’s session on LaTeX. New trends in comfy clothes for freelancers? That’s a must-see. [In case you’re wondering if the SfEP has gone a bit risqué, it’s LaTeX the typesetting sytem – Ed.] But there are lots more sessions of interest to me – managing and mentoring others, business skills and software sessions in particular. And the Tweetup! @KarenWhiteInk WLTM @LouiseHarnby, @espirian, @ljedit and the rest of the gang. I might also get some ideas for next year’s ELT freelancers’ Awayday. Breaking the cost down, it’s about £165 per day, including all sessions, meals and accommodation, which is actually pretty good value.

So, as a new member of the SfEP who’s keen to find out more about the organisation, an editor who loves talking about work, meeting new people and discovering new tips and tricks, and a huge advocator of networking, I’ll be there, walking the talk. And if latex trousers are as comfy as my current preferred slouchy brand, I might even bring a pair home!

If you see the new girl in the corner of the playground, please come and say hi.

Karen White
Karen White

Karen White is a freelance project manager, editor and trainer specialising in ELT publishing. She runs a Facebook page where ELT editors can chat and share information, and blogs about editorial issues at White Ink Limited. If you’re a Twitter user, you can find her @KarenWhiteInk.

Posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

SfEP conference newbie? Take the plunge and seed your brain!

With bookings for the 2016 SfEP conference opening soon, Katherine Trail tells us what it was like to pluck up the courage to go for the first time last year, and why she is glad she did.

seed

I took a deep breath, held my head up high and strode into the group of fellow editors and proofreaders milling around on the campus of York University. ‘Hi, I’m Kat. Nice to meet you,’ I said, the tremor in my voice no doubt betraying me as a nervous first-timer.

From subsequent discussions with fellow newcomers (and even conference stalwarts) over that conference weekend, I wasn’t the only one who felt a bit nervous about spending several days with a group of relative strangers. It seems that we editors are often quite an introverted bunch and would rather wrestle with three pages of incorrectly formatted references than say hello to a group of people we’ve never met. If you’re reading this in the grip of a similar terror, let me reassure you: Getting up the courage to say those seven words was the bravest I had to be all weekend.

I had only been an SfEP member for around three or four months by the time conference rolled around, and my decision to go was a last-minute one, helped by those devils on my shoulders on the SfEP forum. I’d been an avid forum user since I had joined, finding the blend of camaraderie and unrivalled knowledge of huge benefit to someone just starting out on their own. My use of the forums also had a very practical result, as I was able to put faces to names from afar. From seeing SfEP members’ photos online, I could spot internet director John Espirian at twenty paces across the crowded coffee room, nod sagely to myself when Rod Cuff spoke so eloquently at the AGM, saying, Ah yes, he touched on that on his forum post the other day, and recognise Sara Donaldson (green hair, that must be her).

I was very relieved to find that everybody I met was extremely friendly and eager to meet me too. From the conversations we had at breakfast, lunch and dinner (and the slightly more garbled conversations towards the end of the gala dinner), I learned a huge amount about others’ career paths and processes and was also relieved to find that ‘imposter syndrome’ was something shared among many of my colleagues. Phew, not just me then!

Going into conference weekend, I had so far in my solo career been doing a bit of everything: fiction, non-fiction, the odd thesis or dissertation, newspaper work as a hangover from my journalism career, etc. I felt like I was drifting a little bit without direction or a destination in mind, lacking the confidence or focus to pull out a map and draw a big X on it where I wanted to be. There just seemed to be so many opportunities, and so many great editors already doing each thing, that I wondered if there was a place for me in there.

I’d approached the SfEP programme of events with a military-like precision, honing in on the workshops and talks that I thought would give me the most benefit as I tried to figure out a path for myself. There was a lot of choice, and I had to miss some sessions as they clashed with others, but finally I had plotted out my master plan. Without fail, every one of those sessions gave me something to think about. As the weekend wore on, and I spoke to more colleagues and the experts who were giving the talks, a little seed at the back of my brain started to sprout leaves. By the time I was on the train home on Monday, it had blossomed into a flower. I had finally found the confidence and focus I was looking for. I was going to specialise in fiction.

Now, I might have told a little lie at the start; the one about how saying hello was the bravest thing I had to do. You see, I’d been gently persuaded into giving a lightning talk on the first full day of conference. ‘It’s just five minutes,’ they told me. ‘Hardly any time at all.’ I will grudgingly admit that the adrenaline from actually getting up in front of a (scarily large) group of people and talking for five minutes just about made up for almost having a panic attack during the session beforehand. And I felt immensely proud of myself. It gave me some of the confidence I had been lacking, and made me feel that I do indeed have a place in the editing world.

Back home, exhausted but happy, I bored my friends and family for days with conference tales. It seemed like my Facebook friends list doubled in the days following, and I’m still reaping the benefits months later, with people I met at conference referring clients and opportunities to me and vice versa. And I’m still on the path it gave me the confidence to follow; since conference, I’ve done three courses on fiction editing, I’ve totally revamped my website to reflect my new focus, I’ve joined the SfEP social media team, and I’ve signed up for the fiction professional development day in June, and I can’t wait to see some old friends and make some new ones. And I’m still on the forum and SfEP social media sites every day, and still amazed by the knowledge of other members and their unflagging willingness to share it with others.

Booking for this year’s conference opens on 7 March. Details can be found on the conference page of the SfEP website. Non-members welcome.

Katherine TrailKatherine Trail is a former newspaper chief sub-editor who nows specialises in fiction. She lives in Aberdeen and when she isn’t editing she can usually be found tramping through the wilderness with her spaniel, Daisy.
http://www.sfep.org.uk/directory/kt-editing-services-katherine-trail
http://www.ktediting.com/

 

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