Category Archives: Flying Solo

Flying Solo: Facts for fiction editors

In this Flying Solo column, Sue Littleford looks at how the Going Solo toolkit’s work record spreadsheet can be modified for use by fiction editors, and finds out how three fiction editors keep records about their work.

Fiction editors can’t avoid diving into non-fiction when they’re running their businesses rather than editing. The Going Solo toolkit’s work record spreadsheet (available as a member benefit – you’ll need to be logged in to the CIEP website to download it) is heavily geared towards the kind of breakdown of jobs that a non-fiction editor will find useful. Those categories don’t really work for fiction editing, beyond word count, time taken and fee charged, so I’ve been talking to three fiction editors about their own record-keeping.

Why keep records about completed work?

Editors and proofreaders in all niches need to keep track of their work and the time it takes them if they’re to have a solid basis from which to calculate quotes of cost and time. In June 2021, I looked at how to use the filter with a spreadsheet of data about the work you’ve done to get the best use of it when it comes to preparing a new quote or estimate.

Another benefit of compiling records of your work (for CIEP members and prospective members) is that you can send in a spreadsheet of the relevant details with an upgrade application instead of having to type out everything again on the application form, and it’s easy to see when you’ve achieved the necessary hours of experience.

But the main and ongoing benefit is not having to snatch figures out of the air when it comes to your pricing, and knowing the answer to the eternal question ‘How long will it take?’ You can also see if you’re getting faster or slower overall, see the impact using a new tool makes on your speeds (or a change in the material you’re working with) and, especially with repeat clients, ensure consistency in your pricing approach, and see how jobs from a particular source compare.

If you provide several services – manuscript assessment, development editing, structural editing, line editing, copyediting, proofreading – you can also see which is the most rewarding in a financial sense, which gives you best return for your time, and it helps you to tailor bundles of services at a sensible price for your business.

And now, a warning! You may be tempted to keep minimal records, perhaps just your invoices, but you really should be keeping full records: anyone planning on upgrading (and all members will need to achieve PM status to remain in the Institute, which means applying for at least one upgrade: see p4 of the Member Handbook for time limits) will need a record of the work they’ve done to show that they have the requisite hours of the right type.

In addition, in the UK, you will need to be able to show HMRC evidence of the hours you work, in order to support your calculations for tax relief on the costs of working at home. If you live (or at least pay tax) elsewhere, be sure to check your own country’s requirements – but if you still have CIEP upgrades to do, you’ll need your breakdown of hours worked available and categorised.

Facts for fiction editors is definitely A Thing!

Three editors, three approaches to record-keeping

Here’s how three editors handle their records.

1. Going Solo toolkit with modifications

Now an editor of fiction and creative non-fiction, APM Jill French started her business mainly focused on non-fiction, and finds the Going Solo toolkit’s work record spreadsheet works well for her way of thinking, with the addition of ‘manuscript assessment’ as a category of work. Each round of editing the same book is logged as a separate job, which gives her enough data to analyse when it comes to pricing another job of the same stage.

2. Combining two off-the-shelf systems

IM Katherine Kirk uses both the work record from the Going Solo toolkit and Maya Berger’s TEA system (CIEP member discount available). Katherine is working towards PM status and finds the analysis and tracking offered in the jobs spreadsheet helps her to maintain a good record to support her application in due course. But she finds that TEA works better for her for financial records, and so she maintains both, having simply hidden the columns that are irrelevant to her business (columns N–S from the Going Solo spreadsheet).

Katherine uses the average words per hour for that particular kind of work to inform her estimates, but, depending on the client, may also do a sample edit to check. She records these sample edits in TEA in order to be prepared if that client comes back. If the client doesn’t return, Katherine has data ready to hand on the price she quoted, and can see what impact changing the price has on landing the client.

3. Tailored record-keeping

Nicky Taylor, an APM, has developed her own record-keeping system over the years. Like Jill, she records each type of work for the same book as separate jobs, so a development edit and a copyedit get their own rows in her spreadsheet.

Nicky said to me, ‘Looking at all my data made me realise that manuscript critiques on their own were simply not financially viable, so I stopped offering that service; if I hadn’t recorded everything, I doubt I would have known.’ Music to my ears about the real-world value of keeping business data.

For a development edit, Nicky records the onboarding time, reading time, report-writing time; for a copy- or line edit, she will record the time spent on each pass – she always does a full read-through and two passes, and has a column in her spreadsheet for each of these.

Included in her records are columns for pre-returning the job, which covers time for checking comments, checking over the style sheet and completing the handover tasks. Another column captures the time spent on post-edit revisions, post-edit discussions with the author, and emails. If a PDF conversion or layout work is required, this time also goes into that post-edit column.

Most of the time, the production of the style sheet is absorbed into the two passes, but may be recorded separately if the occasion demands. Production of a bible, perhaps for a planned series, will be logged separately.

Nicky includes an ‘Other’ column in her spreadsheet for different kinds of jobs, such as consultancy and other requests, recording the exact nature in the job description column. Like Katherine, Nicky also uses TEA for her financials.

The Going Solo toolkit: Work record spreadsheet

The CIEP has decided to follow Jill’s recommendation, and has added manuscript assessment to the dropdown list of types of work, which would include the kinds of tasks covered by Nicky’s ‘Other’ column. If you’re already using the spreadsheet and would like to add this to your own records, you can either download the new version (be sure to be logged in to the CIEP website first) and copy your records across, or extend that dropdown list yourself. It’s easy!

NB: All screenshots show Excel 365 on a PC. The instructions apply to PCs but Microsoft tells me they also work for Macs.

1. Select column ‘Type of work’ by clicking on the column header (D), which turns the column grey. A black down-arrow shows when your cursor is in the right position to select.

2. On the Data tab …

… open Data Validation in the Data Tools group by clicking the little down-arrow:

3. Select Data Validation from the dropdown menu:

4. You’ll see this:

Click Yes.

5. You’ll see this:

Now you can type a comma, a space and MA into the end of the Source box.

Check the ‘Apply these changes to all other cells with the same settings’ box if you’ve added other tabs that have this same list, otherwise you can leave it blank.

It will look like this:

Click on OK.

You’re done! You can now use the new code, and you can, if you like, add others that suit the work you do. You might want to add consultancy as a category, for instance, if that makes sense for the work you do. You don’t have to use codes – you could spell out the entire word, or use a fuller abbreviation. Once you’ve got the hang of this, you can personalise your spreadsheet exactly as you like. That said …

Four reminders

Reminder #1

The Admissions Panel explained to me, when I was developing the Going Solo toolkit, that they want to see your copyediting and proofreading hours on your upgrade application, so remember to keep recording these clearly and separately, no matter what else you decide to record.

Reminder #2

If you’re not sure how to get the best use of the data you’ve gone to the trouble of collecting, see my earlier ‘Flying solo’ post on using the filter functions.

Reminder #3

The sooner you start keeping detailed records, the sooner you’ll have compiled a useful bank of data to help with price and time estimation for new jobs.

Reminder #4

If you’re inspired by Nicky’s level of detail, don’t forget that you can continue to personalise your own copy of the Going Solo toolkit work record. Inserting additional columns is easy!

1. Click on the column letter immediately to the right of where you want to insert a new column.

Here, I’ve highlighted column I – see the colour change where the column’s label is, and the column itself has turned grey.

2. Right-click, then select Insert and a column will arrive between, in this example, Author name(s) and Total time taken (hours).

3. … and you will get this:

4. The Author name(s) column is still H, but Total time taken (hours) is now column J and we have a new, blank column I. Type in the name you want for the heading. Repeat as often as you need to add new columns, always clicking at the head of the column to the right of where you want to add a new one.

5. Columns in the wrong order? Move them with cut and paste. The column will always paste in to the left of where you click, as creating the new column did.

6. Unneeded columns? Instead of clicking on Insert, click on Delete if you’re sure you don’t want that column, or Hide, if you think you may need it at some point. (To unhide, select the columns on either side of the hidden column(s) and right-click; click on Unhide.)


Buy a print copy or download the second edition of Going Solo: Creating your freelance editorial business from here.

About Sue Littleford

Sue Littleford is the author of the CIEP guide Going Solo, now in its second edition. She went solo with her own freelance copyediting business, Apt Words, in March 2007 and specialises in scholarly humanities and social sciences.

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: office desk by Jessica Lewis Creative, laptop by Karolina Grabowska, both on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

Flying Solo: Conscious language and the business-conscious editor or proofreader

In this latest Flying Solo post, Sue Littleford considers the importance of conscious language in marketing and selling your services as a freelance editor or proofreader.

Alienating possible clients is a business no-no. Sure, you don’t have to work with everyone who approaches you. There are folk who ask for a service you don’t provide, or are not happy to provide in the circumstances. Fine (as long as you’re not breaking anti-discrimination law).

Conscious language is a hot topic, rightly. We’re figuring out more and better ways to avoid making people feel prejudged, and to avoid raising barriers against their inclusion. As language professionals, we need to show we walk the walk.

There are two ways that conscious language and its close kin, discrimination, can affect our businesses – you choosing to reject a potentially rather profitable client because of your own beliefs about the world, based on first impressions; or potentially profitable clients rejecting you because of what you say in response to their query.

But aside from being bound by anti-discrimination legislation, it makes no business sense for us to discriminate, to any degree. You are, in effect, reducing your pool of potential clients, and the income you would earn from them, based on what’s going on in your own head, not what they are offering as work.

Incidentally: intent is irrelevant. If you hurt someone, it doesn’t matter whether you meant to or not. The pain is the same.

A word against generalising

Microaggressions accrete until they are a heavy burden that pierces your very being. You may not even notice handing out those tiny barbs, but you surely notice them when they’re directed at you, time after time after time.

Therefore: make it clear in your public writing – social media, blogs, website – that you encounter people as people, not as apparent members of a grouping about which you may have certain preconceived ideas. Those preconceptions may be rooted in a specific unpleasant experience, but when they become expanded from the particular to the general, that’s where microaggression rears its ugly head.

I’m a Manc. My ex-mother-in-law wasn’t my biggest fan. (OK, I admit, it was mutual.) When my then brother-in-law announced he was marrying a girl from Hull, my MIL exploded, ‘Not another bloody northerner!’

That’s an example of one particular beef being expanded to general prejudice. Hull is a good hundred miles from Manchester, yet my new sister-in-law was being branded the same as me, purely on the basis of the cities we were born in, decades earlier. Ridiculous, isn’t it?

Your communications

Many editors work with people for whom English is not their primary language, or it’s now their primary language, but they came to it later on in life, rather than being immersed in it from birth.

How do you refer to those authors in your marketing, when you say who you help? Are you assuming that all such authors have poor English, and will make the same kinds of errors? Do you even hint that’s what you have assumed, when you think you’re saying you’ll bend over backwards to help these poor folk who need all your skills to be able to string a sentence together? That’s a microaggression at the least.

Working in such a heavily online industry as ours, your opportunities to discriminate on grounds of looks alone are equally heavily limited. But what about people’s names? What assumptions do you make based on someone’s name about how much editing they might need, and how much it will cost? And what about the country extensions to the domain names of some email addresses? Do you have a knee-jerk reaction to those you find less desirable in a client? Are you already formulating your No, Thanks, email even as you open theirs?

It is very much good business sense, as well as kind, not to make assumptions based on a partial picture, but to gather evidence – get a sample of the writing, in very basic terms.

That old saying – you only get one chance to make a first impression – cuts both ways. Someone who emails you looking for editorial services may use an unusual (to you) form of greeting, or seem overly formal or overly casual. When you email someone back, indicating your assumptions ahead of the evidence about their writing, you are also making a first impression – and will probably be judged on it.

Be conscious of the lost opportunities that can result, and look closely and critically at your public communication: your website text, your social media, blog posts and profiles, and your responses to client approaches.

Encounter people on their own merits

I’ve already stressed apparent members of a particular group, because we all know what it’s like to be (mis)judged at first glance. I’d now add that membership of any particular group may well be temporary, and it is definitely partial.

Consider for a few moments all the groups that you yourself belong to: your nationality, your locality, your position in your family, your education, your career history, your personal appearance, your accent, your sexuality, your health status, your financial status, your outlook on life, your sleeping pattern, your taste in food and drink, your religion and how you practise it, your lack of religion and how you express it …

Every one of us is a temporary and partial member of a plethora of potential groupings. No one group completely describes us.

Who are we to judge a person’s worth – or value to us as a client – based on what we have just guessed about them, before they show us who they are?

What you perceive is not all there is.

What you show is not all you are.

The thing is, we all make judgements about people the moment we meet them, whether in person, on the phone, by email or on social media; it’s human nature – a visceral safety mechanism to sort strangers into friend or foe. But people in your inbox are at a safe distance, and you can afford to explore further. (OK, I’ll make an exception for scammers – always remain alert to those.)

Resolve to let people (scammers aside) show you who they are, before you make a decision about whether to work with them. This means opening up a dialogue with people enquiring about your services, rather than ‘sorry, too busy’ instant responses because you perceive, from their name or their email address, that they’re not for you.

We do have to protect ourselves from bad clients, of course we do. We want to work for reasonable people at a decent rate and be paid promptly. So by engaging more with potential clients, and getting them to show us who they are, we can have the double benefit of finding the diamond in the rough as well as discovering those folks who arrive fully clothed in red flags and should indeed be avoided. Making judgements prematurely means that you can lose out both ways.

Educate yourself

There are some excellent resources around to improve this part of your skills. My go-to is the marvellous Crystal Shelley, whom many of us have encountered. Her Conscious Language Toolkit for Editors is such a help when you’re stuck for an alternative word or phrase, and has many links to further resources. Just reading through the list of terms that need alternatives should set you thinking hard.

In February 2022, EFA launched a course on the same subject, written by Shelley, for which CIEP members get a discount. Shelley blogged about the launch.

There’s also Gregory Younging’s book Elements of Indigenous Style: A Guide for Writing By and About Indigenous Peoples (ISBN 978-1-55059-716-5).

There’s the free conscious language style sheet for PerfectIt created by Sofia Matias. That really helps you pick up things you may miss as you edit – or write.

Not least, there’s the website Conscious Style Guide, which we should all bookmark.

Pop your own recommended resources in the comments!

Your editing/proofreading

Now you’re being more conscious about your language when you write for your clients, or to your clients, you’re in a better position to help the clients you’re working with. This is also excellent business sense – clients are more likely to recommend you to others if you’ve helped them avoid conscious-language missteps.

Support your clients to use more neutral terms; use descriptions that the groups use for themselves – but good luck finding high degrees of agreement on what those descriptions are: groups are collections of individuals who have in common one element of their being, they’re not homogeneous monoliths! And people aren’t fungible.

So you’ll need to do your research and use your editorial judgement when editing or suggesting changes – such as whether person-first or condition-first is most appropriate when talking about people’s health. Hint: it’s not always person-first.

Get really practised and expert at this, and you can market a new service or make it a feature of your current offer – more good business sense.

As I write this, I have a chapter in mid-copyedit – it uses ‘manpower’ persistently. Those are changing to ‘staff’ or ‘personnel’ or ‘workforce’ as fast as I encounter them.

In sum

It’s sound business sense to educate yourself about conscious language; to encounter people on their own merits, without making assumptions; to make it clear in all your public-facing communications that you do that; and to help clients to avoid micro (and not-so-micro) aggressions in their writing.

About Sue Littleford

Sue Littleford is the author of the CIEP guide Going Solo, now in its second edition. She went solo with her own freelance copyediting business, Apt Words, in March 2007 and specialises in scholarly humanities and social sciences.

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: cactus by Ryan Schram, counters by Markus Spiske, both on Unsplash, welcome note by cottonbro on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

Flying Solo: The business of editing references

In her latest Flying Solo post, Sue Littleford discusses how to edit references more efficiently (and more profitably).

When I’m copyediting, the references can take longer than the main text. There’s a lot involved and the scope of work can be quite broad – I’m often required to complete or correct inadequate references, as well as attend to all the styling issues. And on pre-edited files, there are a lot of styling issues!

So it’s clear that editing references can depress your words-per-hour rates, and a bad biblio can absorb almost the whole time or money budget just by itself. And that then depresses you!

So what can you do to avoid being out of pocket?

I recommend a two-pronged approach:

  1. being as efficient in your workflow and practices as you can, to keep your hourly rate nearer to where you want it to be, and
  2. pricing correctly for references in the first place.

If you’re not confident with references, you should take a look at the CIEP’s References course, of course!

So here are my ten top tips to make editing references more profitable.

Curtail the time you spend on them with good workflow habits

1. Be sure you know the referencing style that’s to be used

Refresh your memory even if it’s one you’re familiar with – we have to skip between different styles so often, it’s easy to start using the wrong one. I edit both books and journals for one university press, and the style for references is different for each. So I always look it up and make sure my head’s in the right place before I start.

2. Edit the references first

It eases you into the job, and then you know when you’re checking the citations that the dates, page ranges, author order and spellings you have in the refs list itself are the right ones. If you do references last, then you can find yourself backtracking over the text to correct those things, and that’s wasteful of your time.

3. Consider editing the citations next, in one go

I find this one depends on the editor and the nature of the job. I know some editors who swear this is the way to go, and others (I’m in this second camp) that check them off as they work through the text, so they are edited in context. And we all know how important context is!

Suppose you have two references: Smith and Patel 2018a and 2018b. You can see from the article titles that 2018a is about topic X and the second is clearly about topic Y. If you edit the citations out of context, you may find that the details are fine and match up. Big tick. But editing in context means that you may want to query whether 2018b was meant where 2018a was given.

However, in a law book, the footnotes may just be references to legislation and court cases, and it may be more efficient to edit those together for style and to check them off against any tables of cases and legislation the book contains. Like I said, context matters.

4. Print out the references list once you’ve edited it

I know, I know, we’re discouraged from printing when we don’t need to (I hope you’re using paper from sustainable sources, anyway, and printing double sided if you have a duplex printer). I know you can have a split screen with the references scrolling at the bottom and the text at the top.

I’ve tried all that, and I can say that – for me – having the printed references is the quickest way – especially when I’m working with pre-edited files and I don’t have the luxury of covering the references with highlighter as I mark them off. You could, I guess, have a copy of the references in a separate file, and then highlight to your heart’s content, but now it’s getting a bit messy and open to error. Errors are bad – and take up time to make and to resolve.

Highlighter pens

For author–date referencing, I tick off each reference as it’s used. For a back-of-the-book bibliography, I also note the chapter number that it’s been used in. That can be handy information later, if you’re trying to resolve problems.

For short-title referencing, I tick off each reference as it’s used. But now I definitely mark which chapter it’s been cited in, because most of the short-title jobs I have require the bibliographical detail to be given in full at first use in each chapter. I also underline the words I’m using for the short title. That way I can be sure that short or full titles are given in the correct place, and that the form of short titles is consistent throughout.

I can also jot notes to myself if I spot a missing closing quotation mark, or a reference out of its alphabetic position, or what have you, as I mark off the references as they’re used, then I make those corrections all in one go instead of dodging back and forth between text and reference.

5. Limit your fact-checking

Ensure you’re conscious of the requirements of the brief. For theses and dissertations, it may be completely hands-off for references, so don’t even start trying to fix the content, even if you’re allowed to edit for style.

Some publisher briefs will say to check all the content and find missing details, correct errors and so on, and to check links are working and go to the right thing.

Others will just want you to look at the styling. Obey the brief – don’t feel obliged to go beyond it. You’re not being paid for that work!

If you have a brief that says to correct the content of each reference, then still beware rabbit holes! We tell ourselves it’s faster to look up something ourselves than to raise an author query (AQ). That’s true, very often. But if you find yourself going to three or more sources to try to verify the details, or you’re spending more than, say, five minutes on a particularly recalcitrant reference, then know when to stop. Raise the AQ and move on to the next reference.

6. Be aware what macros might do for you

In his macros book, Paul Beverley has macros that will look up phrases on Google for you, or check places on a map or open Google Translate (GoogleFetch, MapFetch and GoogleTranslate). Try them out and see if they suit the way you work.

Get paid for the work: Pricing and time estimation

7. Know how long it takes you to edit a reference

I’m serious – don’t be put off by knowing the range is anything from 15 seconds to 15 minutes or even longer. Log your time separately for references and for running text (and for tables, while you’re at it). Note the time, and how many references you dealt with (and at what depth of intervention: style only, looking things up, supplying additional details, finding replacements for broken links). Do this for a few jobs, then analyse your figures and see what your longer-term averages are. Then repeat the exercise in a year and see if you’ve got faster!

8. Know how many references are in the job before giving a price

Now you know how many references you can do in an hour, hour in, hour out, when you’re pricing a job, you can ask for the number of references, as well as what the client wants you to do with them, on top of the word count for the rest of the text and so on.

You can calculate a per-reference price separately on top of the editing of the running text, or a time-based price, depending on your circumstances and preferences.

An alarm clock

Bonus tips!

9. Know how to handle oddities, and make notes so you don’t keep reinventing the wheel

Epigraphs? Tweets? Do you know how to handle those? The first time you encounter them, make a note (I use the notes function in MS Outlook – nothing fancy, but always findable).

Some people will tell you an epigraph doesn’t need a reference. Well, that’s not so true. Epigraphs are excluded from fair use, for instance, so it’s probably a very good idea to reference them properly.

By all means, don’t clutter the epigraph source line – name, or name and source book is probably going to be fine, but do have the information findable in the references list. Some epigraphs benefit from having the original year of publication appended, if the author is using them to demonstrate how long some ideas have been knocking around.

Well-known quotations can probably do without a reference in some publications, but not in others. If you’re working on a text that is going to omit references for them, it’s still worth checking that the quotation was actually produced by the person it’s attributed to – a lot of them have the wrong name attached.

Protect your author, even if you don’t produce full bibliographical details. Why? I once found that a plausible quotation attributed to Gladstone in fact came from the scriptwriters for the movie Khartoum. That was a rabbit hole worth diving into! Oh, and as Churchill famously didn’t write, ‘That is the type of arrant pedantry up with which I shall not put.’

Famous quotations can be infamous misquotations.

Tweets and other social media ephemera can be a challenge, so know where you’re likely to find good advice. APA, CMOS, MLA, New Hart’s Rules and others all have sections on the unusual kinds of things you may need to style (or find) a reference for.

If the style guide you’re working to omits them, there’s quite often a statement in the style guide that says which of the major published style manuals underpins the client’s own, or you can use the one that’s the closest match to the rest of the styling.

10. Stay up to date

As colleague Ayshea Wild observed to me recently, ‘It’s one of those areas where CPD is so important – citation formats are shifting all the time.’ That’s self-evident, given that we’re on APA7, CMOS17, MLA9 and so on, but it’s frequently overlooked – and house style guides also morph over time, so do be sure you have the latest version when you start each job.

So there we are: ten top tips to help prevent reference lists running away with you, and to help you be paid properly for working on them. If you have a tip you’d like to add, pop it in the comments!


Want to learn more about how to deal with references?

Check out the CIEP’s References course here.

About Sue Littleford

Sue Littleford is the author of the CIEP guide Going Solo, now in its second edition. She went solo with her own freelance copyediting business, Apt Words, in March 2007 and specialises in scholarly humanities and social sciences.

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: books by Hermann, highlighters by jakob5200, alarm clock by Alexas_Fotos, all on Pixabay.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

Flying solo: How can we apply our editorial judgement to our businesses?

In her regular Flying solo column, Sue Littleford considers how the critical skill of editorial judgement can be applied to running an editorial business.

Editorial judgement calls for an understanding of context, for knowing your stuff when it comes to technical matters (whether that’s the finer points of grammar or the finer points of Word or the finer points of inorganic chemistry, if that’s your niche), for knowing when to press ahead and when to leave well alone, and for knowing what resources you need and how to use them.

Each of these skills can also be applied to the way you run your business.

Understanding context

Marketing works best when you know who you’re marketing to. Who do you work for? Who do you want to work for? Who’s your ideal client, and what’s your ideal subject matter, your ideal content, your ideal everything?

Just as in copyediting and in proofreading, you can’t make good decisions until you understand the context.

If you have a marketing budget – and that is a time budget, every bit as much as a cash one – then you want to spend it wisely.

What will give you, to coin a phrase, the biggest bang for your buck? Or your hour?

Where do the clients you want to work with hang out? I closed my Facebook business page. No, don’t squeal in horror! My clients aren’t there – in terms of social media and looking to hire, they’re over on LinkedIn, which is where I’ve placed my focus. I’m not wasting my time updating content for people who aren’t there to read it.

Most of my clients come via my CIEP Directory entry, which I had just updated before drafting a bit more of this post. It’s a worthwhile investment of my time to keep my Directory entry fresh – that’s the context in which my ideal clients are most likely to find me.

Technical matters

The business equivalent of knowing your subjunctive from your style palette is fairly wide-ranging.

Do you understand the laws under which your business operates? Do you have all the necessary licences and permissions? UK residents have a fairly easy ride, it always seems to me, when registering as self-employed. I hear much more complicated stories from people trading in other countries. You need to be on top of these technical issues.

Are you au fait with taxation rules? Are you attending HM Revenue and Customs’ live or recorded webinars on allowable business expenses, record keeping and completing your self-assessment return?

Are you budgeting for the Health and Social Care levy payable from April 2022 being added to Class 4 National Insurance contributions (and then as a separate tax from April 2023)?

If you’re not in the UK, are you doing something similar in your own jurisdiction, ensuring you’re up to speed with the latest tax changes that affect you?

Are you reading up on and generally getting ready for Making Tax Digital (MTD) in April 2024 (again, UK folks only)? Have you started investigating the app you’ll need to use to make your returns?

How about your contracts and your terms and conditions? Fit for purpose? Compliant with the law of your land?

Are you on top of IT security – firewalls, anti-malware programs, back-ups?

What about banking? Do you operate somewhere a separate business account is mandatory? (It’s not a requirement in the UK, for instance, but it is in some countries.) Would a separate business account, even if you’re in the UK, make sense in your circumstances?

Judging what action to take

Now you’ve layered up these transferable skills, you understand the context you want to work within and you know where you want to steer your business. It’s time to exercise more judgement in deciding what action you need to take.

Just as you take an overview of an editorial job, and use the brief and your own technical expertise to decide how to tackle each specific piece of work, apply that same thought process to the wider scale of your business.

Do you need a website? Or a better one?

Should you start a blog? Or should you revive or close down a neglected one?

How will you use social media to market yourself? Which platforms will repay your investment of time? Do you need to remove yourself from any that aren’t repaying your time, or try new ones?

Speaking of time, how should you schedule yours? How many hours a day do you want to work? What steps do you need to bring your current hours up or down to that level? Do you need more clients, or just better-paying work? How will you get from where you are to where you want to be?

How does your work fit around your home life? It’s been especially tricky for so many people in times of Covid, and often difficult adjustments have been made in so many households. Have you found the sweet spot yet? What further adjustments would help? Is any untapped support available, or do you just have to endure for a while longer?

Keep your eyes on the prize – you’re thinking now at whole-business level, not just the piece of work in front of you on your desk.

What about a business retreat? Can you either get away by yourself for a couple of days, or with one or two trusted friends who need to do some in-depth thinking about their big pictures too?

If you need to stay at home, can you schedule a couple of days with your email and phone off? Give yourself breathing space in which to lift your eyes up to the horizon and take the long view of where you want to be headed.

From your musings, you will return to your quotidian world with action plans for each area of your business that was under consideration this time.

Maybe you should concentrate your business retreat on just one area. I know I need to be better prepared for disaster recovery, for instance, and I need to give some serious thinking and investigation time to it.

Judging what action not to take

But, just as in editing and proofreading, you also need to know when to leave something untouched – it might not be perfect, but it’s certainly good enough. Don’t pressurise yourself to write action plans to overhaul parts of your business that are working well enough.

Again, just as in editing and proofreading, you also need to think about the brief – the framework you’re operating in – and budgetary constraints. Perfection is a ridiculous and pointless goal. Good enough within the circumstances is what we’re aiming for.

Time spent running your business is an overhead that facilitates earning money, but it is not time spent actually earning it. So keep your action plans modest. No counsels of perfection. No eye-wateringly demanding roadmaps to some unachievable Utopia.

Take simple steps (if they’re not simple, you’ve not broken them down enough) that will either repay the investment now, or lay the groundwork for part of a larger strategy. Just keep it moving forward. Think in terms of the tortoise and the hare, if the tortoise could occasionally break into a trot.

Does each step take you closer to the goal? Or are you doing things that are unnecessary, and no one is paying you for? You try to avoid that when you’re working with text. Apply the same judgement to your business.

Good enough is good enough.

Notepad with a to do list

What about resources?

Now you’ve worked out which actions you need to take, and which you can delay or completely forget about, what do you need to help you along?

How will you make your plans practical?

Do you know where to find business support (in the UK, try Small Business Britain or IPSE) or guidance on getting along with HMRC? How about guidance for MTD preparation?

Would you benefit from advice on IT security? Or on contracts?

If you’re a member of the CIEP at one of the professional grades, did you know you can get some free legal advice? (Log in to the CIEP website, go to the members’ area, then Benefits and scroll down to the last block of info.)

Are you aware of all the member benefits the CIEP offers? It’s a growing list! Are you signed up to and do you use the forums? They’re one of the best benefits – places to ask questions and offer answers to others, and take part in discussions that may well broaden your scope. Even if you only join the forums to lurk – to read without posting – you’ll find a wealth of helpful and interesting material.

If you’re not a member, then take a look at the resources the CIEP offers to the public.

More prosaically, do you buy reference books on paper or use online versions? Style manuals, dictionaries, grammars, editorial textbooks, etc? Which is most cost-effective for you?

Have you checked you’re on the fastest broadband package you can afford from your supplier? If your connection is a bit unreliable, or slow, then you might feel it’s a sensible investment to have paper copies of certain reference works – perhaps in addition to online versions.

What about founding a mutual support group – people who can help out if you can’t work and need someone to complete the job? Could that group also be a mastermind or accountability group to support you in your business as well as your editing and proofreading?

The bottom line

You’ve spent a lot of time and effort – and money – in developing your skills as an editor and/or proofreader. You’ve undertaken training to learn your craft and how to apply editorial judgement as you work with the text.

Businesses don’t happen by accident – and they don’t stay viable by accident, for the most part.

The judgement you rely on when working with words is just as applicable to your business life. Make good use of it!

About Sue Littleford

Sue Littleford is the author of the CIEP guide Going Solo, now in its second edition. She went solo with her own freelance copyediting business, Apt Words, in March 2007 and specialises in scholarly humanities and social sciences.

 

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: tortoise by Marzena7 on Pixaby, notebook by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

Flying solo: Good communication is accessible

In this latest Flying solo post, Sue Littleford looks at the importance of accessibility in business communication.

Accessibility shouldn’t be an afterthought. You shouldn’t make a thing and then think, ooh, I guess I should make it accessible. Instead, build accessibility into the thing from the start.

We wordsmiths know that accessibility for every reader begins with the right words.

From an editorial point of view, that means clarity in your communication with clients and authors.

From a business point of view, that means clarity in your website text, your emails, your contracts and definitely in your small print. This is the angle I’ll be looking at.

Even if you have a law degree, your client may not

Just as one of the things we can easily spot is when an author has tried to reach for the big words, words that they’re not completely in command of, so it is with writing your T&Cs and anything vaguely legal, whether that’s in emails, on your website or in your contract.

Absolutely, ensure the necessary points are covered. Writing your T&Cs in straightforward language helps you to be clear about what you offer, and what you require from a client. It then helps your client understand what it is they’re signing up to, which is one of the key ways you can prevent problems from appearing later on.

So many problems with clients stem from a lack of mutual understanding of what’s being bought and what’s being sold.

I really rate Karin Cather and Dick Margulis’s book The Paper It’s Written On: Defining Your Relationship with an Editing Client (ISBN 9781726073295), and I recommend it in the Going Solo guide.

At the time of writing, the Kindle edition is £5.98 and the paperback £9.81 through Amazon – a modest price for such an incredibly helpful guide through the complexities of contracts, and priceless if it means you sidestep problems with a client.

Although the book is written by Americans, it’s not the legal jurisdiction that’s important in this little book (70 pages) so much as the explanations of the breadth and nature of the kinds of things you want to nail down.

Contracts – honest ones – are clear and unambiguous, and they spell out the responsibilities of each party to the contract. A good contract is, in short, accessible intellectually to all involved. A good contract will also include remedies if either you or your client fails to keep up their end of the bargain, and this will be worth its weight in gold to the other.

No weasel words, no wrapping things up in cod legalese that will confuse and may well backfire.

Emails are contracts, too

You may prefer to rely on an exchange of emails rather than a formal contract. That’s fine – the emails become the contract. So it’s essential that your emails contain everything you need the client to know about your transaction, in unambiguous terms. Bear this in mind when negotiating a job.

My confirmation emails rehearse the terms of the job, the terms of payment and so on, so that what is agreed is all in one place. Complete. Accessible.

Good accessible communication is honest

Be straight with your clients, even outside of a contract. Don’t confuse your potential clients with undefined technical terms – and if you’re having to define a lot of technical terms, shouldn’t you be using clearer language in the first place?

Do NOT promise perfection. You can’t deliver it, what with so much of English being subjective. I bore people senseless on this point, I know – but it is so important. Promising editorial perfection is, frankly, mis-selling.

Any editorial discussion on social media will show you the range of possible solutions to a drafting problem. Some you’ll doubtless discount as wrong for the context, but you will also find a range of perfectly sensible solutions, not just one sensible solution.

A client told to expect perfection may have preferred one of the other solutions, and a difference of opinion on the use of the serial comma, ending a sentence with a preposition, or just how essential ‘whom’ is these days may mean your edits are found wanting, despite being just fine for many other clients.

So be honest about what you bring to the job, and be clear that you can’t promise perfection, as perfection is in the eye of the beholder.

Accessible marketing

How accessible is your website? I’m not talking just about tech things like colour contrast, and alt text and aids for assisted reading.

Do you keep your paragraph-length short for easy reading on all sorts of devices?

Are your terms and conditions for the website as crystal clear as your contract for services?

If you maintain an email list, are your subscribers offered a genuine choice as to whether to join it? Can they unsubscribe readily? Do you make it clear in every mailout how to do that?

Sweat the small stuff

I recently had an email from a fellow editor and noticed in their email signature that they were still linking to their directory entry through the old sfep.org.uk address. Their LinkedIn URL was still using http://.

Both those addresses still work just fine for now – until they don’t. Your email signature is a great opportunity to reinforce your brand and marketing: is it clear, up to date and accurate?

The ultimate small stuff is, of course, small print – content that punches above its weight. How accessible is the small print for your cookie widget on your website? Your privacy notice for GDPR compliance?

What about your profiles on places like LinkedIn or, indeed, the CIEP Directory of Services? Do you speak plainly of what you offer? Will your target client actually understand what they’ll get when they approach you?

Accessibility is good customer service

All this boils down to good customer service – as always, I’m going exhort you to put yourself in your client’s (or potential client’s) shoes and bring them along with you, cooperatively. Avoid the hard sell wrapped up in unclear, weaselly contract terms, opaque jargon (jargon editor to editor is sensible shorthand; jargon editor to novice author is not accessible) and sneaky email address capture for marketing.

A good client relationship will be built on openness, clarity and honesty – in brief, on accessibility.


Sue started writing her Flying solo column at the beginning of 2021. She’s covered checklists, customer service, using business records to make decisions, useful UK tax resources and lessening the impact of our business on the environment.


About Sue Littleford

Sue Littleford is the author of the CIEP guide Going Solo, now in its second edition. She went solo with her own freelance copyediting business, Apt Words, in March 2007 and specialises in scholarly humanities and social sciences.

 

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: lightbulbs by Dil; speech bubble by Volodymyr Hryshchenko, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Flying solo: The environment – a matter of give and take

Sue Littleford, our Flying solo columnist, looks at what changes we can make – to the way we run our businesses and to our personal decisions – to lessen our impact on the environment.

The environment of the only planet we have. Precious, irreplaceable. Under tremendous threat.

Where do editors and proofreaders fit into this?

Well, we have the CIEP’s own Environmental and Energy Policy, and the Working Group behind it. But what about our own relationship with the environment, on our small, individual basis as small businesses and individual people?

It’s a matter of give and take between it – the planet – and each one of us.

Enjoy it while it lasts

Sounds a bit pessimistic, doesn’t it? But a bit of appreciation goes a long way in motivating people to do their bit and, as payback, you get to revel in the glories of nature. Even small-scale, urban nature, even window boxes or posters of luscious landscape, or a small bowl, handmade and using beautiful reclaimed sycamore, picked up five years ago at Dogmersfield Show in Hampshire (OK, maybe that’s just me). Or maybe a paperweight made of a sapphire geode to remind you of the riches of the Earth?

So when you can, get out and get some air in your lungs. If you’re mobile, walk and stretch out your legs. If you’re not, find somewhere sheltered to sit with a new vista, perhaps near scented plants, or be sure to be watching at the window for changes in the weather, sunrises and sunsets and full moons and – light pollution permitting – stars.

And when you are out – look around you and seek out the beauty. What’s happening in the gardens you pass, or the trees? Look – really look, and let your shoulders drop. Appreciation of the natural world is a well-known balm.

Tanya Gold started #stetwalk, the Twitter tag for editors to post pictures of what they’ve seen on their daily walk. Check the hashtag to see where other editors live; not just on Twitter but on other social media, too. And from #stetwalk came #stetrun, #stetswim and #stetcycle (with offshoots #stetbike and #stetride). Doubtless there are some hashtags I’ve missed – pop them in the comments, please, and let others find them!

(If you’re a dedicated runner, think about joining the CIEP Run On Group on Facebook.)

Make it last longer

Freelance editors and proofreaders (and in-house ones, this last year or two) often work at home. For some, that means heating the house during the day whereas pre-working-from-home, you weren’t running the boiler all day. More expense, more fuel used, much of it fossil.

So – thermals. Honestly. And fingerless gloves. And getting up and moving around briskly every so often. I’m not saying turn the heating off during the day and freeze, but I am saying don’t heat your house to tropical temperatures in January and sit in a T-shirt.

When you feel it’s Covid-safe, working somewhere else that’s already heated will give you a change of scene and your boiler some time off. Try cafés and coffee shops, libraries and co-working spaces.

When your printer finally needs replacing, look at getting one that prints double-sided. I would have said they’re getting cheaper all the time but pandemic price rises appear to have occurred: my Brother DCP-L2510D A4 mono laser printer cost £82 two years ago, for instance, and current models seem now to be in the very low three figures.

And although we do (don’t we?) try not to print things that don’t truly need printing (not with toner prices what they are, let alone the wasted paper), we do have to print stuff sometimes, so why not halve your paper use?

(Actually, being pedantic, you won’t halve it, but you’ll get close. If you’re printing an odd number of pages, there’ll always be one blank side – but at least that reduces the mounds of spare paper you make into little notepads of scratch paper and take years to use up.)

Recycle used paper, and dispose of printer cartridges via a recycling system. As I write this, I have a toner cartridge waiting to go to the post office to be returned to the manufacturer for recycling. Don’t put them in the general household waste.

Make this your mantra: reduce, reuse, reduce, recycle.

Be a part of the solution

Don’t let scale put you off

It’s true that people editing and proofreading have less scope than, say, a small manufacturing business or a driving school or, indeed, a publisher, to cut emissions. But everything that each of us does adds to everything that everyone else does and that’s how revolutions happen.

COP26 will be held in Glasgow, 1–12 November, and that will focus governments once more on the issue. They will – I fervently hope – finally start taking care of the big stuff. We can make our own contributions to the small stuff. Always remember the moral of the Starfish Story.

Get information and get involved

Small Business Britain has a campaign, Small Business Planet, ‘to engage small businesses in climate action and encourage them to commit to making their business “net zero” ’, and I encourage you to join it. There are blog posts, webinars, events, pledges and news stories helping small businesses to find out how they can make their own contribution which, in aggregate, will have a far greater impact than you can imagine – but only if lots of businesses take part. And that’s all of us who freelance or work in our own companies.

Save energy

Take a look around your office – what do you leave powered-up overnight that you could turn off? What do you do with your rubbish? How often do you print things out? If your office is also your home, widen your contemplation to your entire realm. Could you turn your thermostat down by 1°C? Would you really notice the difference? If you’re in a part of the world where aircon is essential, could you adjust the settings by a similar small margin?

A UK news story last year claims that 17 million UK households could save £80 a year by turning down thermostats by 1°C. But it’s not just the money saved, though we could all do with that, it’s the fuel left in the ground that matters.

Let trees live

If you’re someone who prefers ‘real books’ to ebooks, think again about reducing the number of trees that need to be cut down and – importantly – replanted. Young trees are ineffective as carbon sinks. Trees harvested to make paper are typically less than 15 years old. Planting new trees isn’t a quick answer, so contribute to reducing the demand. Planting more trees in the higher latitudes actually contributes to global warming by reducing the albedo. In addition, only mature forests are effective carbon sinks – those a hundred years old or more.

On a similar theme, what about your garden waste? Do you have a bonfire of dead leaves in the autumn, or do you put them on a compost heap or use a council recycling scheme?

When planting your window boxes or your little patch of ground, do plant flowers that are bee- and butterfly-friendly. But use a peat-free compost for planting – drying out the peat ready for bagging releases an awful lot of methane, a far worse greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. And, of course, the peat bogs that are such sinks for methane and other greenhouse gases are preserved. An old Guardian article from 2012 spells it out.

Avoid landfill

Need to replace some computer kit? What are you going to do with the old stuff? Thanks to Caroline Beattie for finding Restart to donate the old kit to be reconditioned and reused in community projects in your locality. Margaret Hunter identified the Turing Trust, which does the same kind of thing. Far, far better than landfill! If there’s no Restart project near you, and you want to keep things local, then just google ‘donate computer near me’ or ‘donate printer near me’ and see what you can find. Lots of charities will take your old kit, either to reuse or to recycle correctly.

Alternatively, you could sell on your old kit (having removed all your personal info, of course) on eBay, and if it’s being retired because it’s faulty, advertise it as ‘spares or repair’, so there’s no comeback when a dead laptop doesn’t boot up.

Keep your wallet closed

Do you thrive on retail therapy? Why not have a no-spend month (an idea I think I got from Nancy Boston – if it was someone else, apologies!) and buy only the absolute essentials (food and the like), aside from your regular bills?

Learn to appreciate and use what you already have. Take something from your TBR pile rather than buy another book. (If your TBR pile is shrinking and nothing appeals, think of the library.) Rediscover things in your wardrobe rather than buy something new. Use one of your stack of notebooks rather than buy yet another one. (Again, just me? I don’t think so!)

I put a recurring appointment in my online calendar for each day of a no-spend month that reminds me not to spend on stuff I truly don’t need. What you do with the cash saved is up to you – but you might consider building up your rainy-day cushion for your business, or giving some or all of those savings to an environmental charity, or using it as a way to reduce debt.

Don’t take all that saved money, though, and have a retail splurge at month’s end. That kinda makes the exercise pointless from a carbon-reduction point of view!

Put your money where your mouth is

Consider moving your current account, your savings and/or your investments to ethical products. Try Good with Money for a list of providers.

Do you really need to travel so much?

And what about the really big one – travel? You know the drill – public transport when you can, walk or cycle when you can, rather than jump in your car. Many people will doubtless be yearning to get on a plane as soon as they can for a long-delayed getaway, if they’ve not already grabbed an earlier opportunity. But really, is a holiday only a holiday if you leave your own country? Really??

Even a trip to the supermarket is best avoided – getting your groceries delivered is better for the planet with academics as well as the invested agreeing.

Shop smart

While I’m on the subject of groceries, don’t think that buying local to reduce food miles is always the best idea. This is a horrendously involved subject but, in brief, the environmental cost of local produce out of season can be far higher than shipping or flying it in from somewhere where it is in season.

By all means buy local produce, but do be sure to buy it in season, when it hasn’t cost the Earth to grow it, and ideally not from a supermarket, where it may have travelled through several depots before arriving back close to home.

And don’t overbuy – putting your food straight into your bin (even if that’s a food waste recycling bin) costs everyone and everything.

Don’t always buy new, either. Be willing to seek out preloved versions of cars, furniture, books – all sorts. One person’s junk is another’s treasure. If no one is buying the things that we’re busy sending out virtuously into the world for reuse, the whole idea will collapse.

Stay alert for green opportunities!

Martin Lewis, the Money Saving Expert, has a list of 25 ways to go green and watch the pennies at the same time, keeping what’s junk to you out of landfill, and has guides on green banking, utilities and travel in the pipeline, as at the time of writing.


We live on Planet A. There is, as former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon famously said in 2013, no Planet B.

If you’ve already been taking steps towards living and working in a sustainable way, thank you, thank you, thank you. If there’s anything else you think you can do, please do it. Add your ideas to the comments, so we can all get inspired!


About Sue Littleford

Sue Littleford is the author of the CIEP guide Going Solo, now in its second edition. She went solo with her own freelance copyediting business, Apt Words, in March 2007 and specialises in scholarly humanities and social sciences.

 

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Flying solo: Unlocking HMRC

In this post for her Flying Solo column, Sue Littleford highlights useful resources to help UK-based editors understand the country’s tax system.

This post is for people in the UK tax system, where Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (henceforth HMRC) is the government department that deals with collecting taxes and National Insurance. Self-employed editors must evaluate their own tax and National Insurance liabilities (‘self-assessment’) and will find plenty of help and resources on the HMRC website. This article looks at how to access the most relevant information.

Sorry, everyone else, but do explore your own tax authorities’ websites – you may be pleasantly surprised by what you find.

When you fill out your tax return, you’ll find context-sensitive help all over the form but, usually, the help means even less than you’d already intuited, if you’re anything at all like me. Please don’t be put off and think you can’t possibly deal with your tax return yourself. With all due respect to accountants, who are invaluable if your tax affairs are complicated, we have a self-assessment system that’s (meant to be) designed so that taxpayers can file their tax returns all by themselves.

And so HMRC, despite the terminology you see on the tax return, does a great deal to help you understand what you need to do, what you can and can’t do, when you need to do it by and so on. And as we start the increasingly rapid slide into Making Tax Digital (MTD; live April 2023 for the self-employed with a turnover (takings) of £10,000 pa or more), it’s best to get familiar now with the sources of information, so you can also start readying yourself for the demands of MTD.

I’ll now go through some of the sources of explainer videos and webinars, and guidance notes.

Personal tax account

A good place to start your journey of understanding is with your personal tax account, or PTA. To access this you’ll need to log in to HMRC (via Government Gateway or GOV.UK Verify, or create an account).

Here, you’ll find collected together PAYE and self-assessment tax, National Insurance, pensions, benefits such as tax credits, child benefit and marriage allowance, and your annual tax summary. The information on self-assessment is presented in a slightly more usable way than through your self-assessment account which, when I looked at it when I did my own tax return a few weeks ago, was – and I stress this is my personal opinion – still atrocious.

If HMRC emails you and says there’s a message for you, you can pick it up in the messages tab of your PTA.

Incidentally, these PTAs were introduced in April 2016 as long-lead preparation for MTD. No one can say we weren’t warned!

HMRC customer forum

HMRC has a customer forum or, rather, a list of forums where taxpayers can join the appropriate board to ask questions and read the advice already given or to give advice. Some answers will be given by other forum members, but HMRC Admin pops up from time to time, and will also post links to relevant new information on the main HMRC website.

Each top-level forum subdivides into topics, so it’s worth visiting and scrolling through just to see whether the coverage coincides with what you want to ask about.

HMRC help sheets

There is a whole slew of help sheets for self-assessment for the self-employed, and for all other categories of taxable situations.

HMRC webinars and other help

HMRC runs webinars throughout the year on a variety of topics, usually of an hour or less, and at different times of day to help people to attend. If you can’t attend a live delivery, then recordings are available.

If you’re new to self-assessment and filling out a tax return, start with the introductory webinar and the one on record-keeping, and with the guidance. If you’ve not completed your tax return for 2020/21 yet, then keep on scrolling down the same page for explainer videos on how to do it, and how to pay your tax and National Insurance. You’ll also find videos on allowable business expenses, the simplified expenses system and a host of other topics that may or may not apply to you. It’s a very long page, so do ensure you scroll right to the bottom to be sure of discovering all the help.

I strongly recommend you sign up for the email alerts. That will ensure you’re told about upcoming webinars, as you need to register to attend them, and things like due dates for your tax return and tax payments.

There are frequent live webinars on business expenses (ie which expenditure you can offset against your income to reduce your profits and thus reduce your income tax and National Insurance, and which you can’t). There are occasional webinars on MTD (and I expect they’ll get more frequent as we get closer to April 2023, to make sure people are making the necessary preparations). Live webinars come with downloadable documents with links to the help for that topic.

Although the recordings are great at demystifying the tax system, do attend the live webinars if you can, as via the chat function you can ask questions and get direct answers. They won’t deal with your individual tax record, but they’ll answer questions about the specifics of your situation and either answer directly or link to a place where you can read up on that topic. Some of the more common questions are answered by the presenters during the webinar, but all the time the backroom staff are busy typing away. And you can save the whole chat history, to see other people’s questions, and the answers they got, which can be great if there was something you meant to ask but didn’t. Maybe someone else asked it for you.

After attending a live webinar, you’re emailed a link to the replay and a list of links for the various help sheets.

YouTube channel

HMRC also runs a YouTube channel, with videos organised into playlists, such as self-assessment help and deadlines.

Making Tax Digital

MTD is already live for VAT (since April 2019), so much of the information available is around the VAT element. But there are listings there too for self-assessment folks, with videos and written guidance.

The HMRC business manual

You can also access the HMRC’s internal business manual on taxing income. This will tell you, in quite a formal way, everything you could possibly want to know, and you can’t get more from the horse’s mouth than this.


I’ve kept the resources here limited to self-assessment for the self-employed. For a much wider range of resources, browse ‘Money and Tax’, to find ‘Dealing with HMRC’, ‘Income Tax’, ‘National Insurance’, ‘Self-Assessment’, or ‘VAT’ among other topics, on GOV.UK.

One thing I’ve not been able to find, to my satisfaction, is a reasonable glossary of terms. The ones I’ve turned up are too narrow, too high-level, too old … If you know of one, please pop it in the comments! Thank you!

About Sue Littleford

Sue Littleford is the author of the CIEP guide Going Solo, now in its second edition. She went solo with her own freelance copyediting business, Apt Words, in March 2007 and specialises in scholarly humanities and social sciences.

 

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: padlock and keyboard by FLY:D 🔶Art Photographer; Pay Your Tax Now Here! by The New York Public Library, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Flying solo: Using your records to price jobs and make business decisions

This article by Sue Littleford, for our regular Flying Solo column in member newsletter The Edit, looks at how to use Excel’s filter function to help you decide how much you’d like to be paid and how long you need to do the work. It also considers some other decisions you may want your records to help you with.

The Going Solo Toolkit contains a spreadsheet for you to record your work (available to CIEP members only). There’s an older, simpler work record available, and I daresay many people have devised their own record-keeping system.

Everything you could ever want to know about calculating a price for a job is covered by the CIEP guide Pricing a Project: How to prepare a professional quotation by Melanie Thompson. So, this article is going to look at how to extract the information from records to help you arrive at a decision on how much you’d want to be paid, and how long you need to do the work, and then take a look at some other decisions you may want your records to help you with.

You already know that you need to record the work you do for your tax return, and you already know that if you record – or calculate – the right detail you can use that record to inform your estimating and quotes for jobs, both in time and in money.

But I know that many people struggle a bit with using Excel, so how on earth do you get the information back out of the spreadsheet? The more data you have, the more useful your records should be, but the more data you have, the harder it can be to see at a glance what you want to find out.

The filter

I’m going to talk about just one tool in Excel: the filter. Once you get to grips with it – and that won’t take long – you can use that same tool over and over, layering it up, even, to get an analysis out of your records of whatever information you’re focused on.

You can, of course, sort your rows of data in order, just as you can in Word, but the filter doesn’t disturb the original order of your spreadsheet, and enables you to do what amounts to multiple sorting, so it’s more powerful and less bothersome, which is why I use it so much.

I’m going to make a big assumption and show examples based on the Work Record spreadsheet from the toolkit. The principles are exactly the same, as long as you keep your records in Excel. If you keep your records in Word or on paper, you won’t have access to these features. Perhaps this article will encourage you to give Excel a try!

The screenshots here are taken on a PC running Office 365. For simplicity’s sake, I’ve hidden a few columns.

If you use a Mac, the principles involved are still relevant to you, and I’ve linked at the end to some YouTube videos, and Microsoft articles, on filtering for both Macs and PCs.

Right, to business.

The filter is your best friend when it comes to interrogating your spreadsheet. It’s in the Editing group on the Home tab, and it looks like this: Click on it, and you’ll see this:

The filter lets you select all records in a column with a particular value, but you can be a bit fancy about the values you use.

Let’s keep it simple for now.

The handiest way is to make the filter available on every column in your spreadsheet. You can do it the really easy way, and just click at the top left corner where the row labels meet the column labels, where the little triangle is:

Then click on Sort and Filter, then Filter, as you can see in the first two screenshots. A little down arrow will appear at the top of each column (you can’t filter by rows), and they look like this:Click on any of those down arrows and you’ll see you get a list of the unique entries in that column – and if you’re looking at dates, you’ll get a family-tree-like menu with checkboxes, so you can select by year, by month or by day.

Now you’re cooking!

Select an item, and your spreadsheet will now show you only the rows that match that selection. So you can filter by client, by type of work, by fee earned, by imprint, by word count, by rate per hour …

Coming to a price – or evaluating a proffered fee

Suppose you’re asked to do a copyedit of 75,000 words. To get a feel for how long that takes you, and how much you’ll want to charge, you may decide to filter your records to jobs in the range 70,000–80,000 words.

This is the starting view of the spreadsheet I mocked up for this article:Clicking on the little down arrow at the head of the word count column will give you a list of the unique values in that column, sorted in ascending order:

Now you have a choice of how to proceed. You could simply uncheck the (Select All) box, then either click every value between 70,020 and 79,989 words, or you could click on the Number Filters option, just above it.

That gives you more options: above average, below average, Top 10 … but let’s keep to the immediate job in hand. You want to filter on the jobs you’ve already done, between 70,000 and 80,000 words. So click on the Greater Than option:type 70000 in the first box, keep the And radio button selected and then use the short drop-down box beneath to select ‘is less than’ and type in 80000:and click OK. The box will disappear and you’re left with a list of rows of data where the word count falls between those two values. As you can see, the original row order is preserved.You can stack up filters, so can filter down to just proofreading jobs or just copyediting jobs, or just developmental editing jobs, or what have you. Because I’m currently assessing a copyediting job, that’s what I’m going to pick.And that shrinks the list further, to:Now you can easily see what you’ve earned before doing copyediting for that kind of word count. You can see jobs ranging from 48 to 1,021 notes. What about the job you’re assessing? Where does it fall on this spectrum? You can see that jobs had few tables, but up to 52 figures, and you had a mixture of Harvard and short-title referencing. You can see how many days overall the project took, how many hours, what kind of speed you were achieving and whether you had a large number of authors or just one.

If you work in fiction, or in some trade nonfiction, you may have no notes, no references, and quite possibly no tables or figures. But you would still see your editing or proofreading speed, what you got paid and how complex the job was.

Whether you use just one filter, or whether you stack them, you do need to turn them all off once you’ve finished, or risk being really confused next time you open the spreadsheet, with a chunk of your data apparently missing (I speak from experience!). You can see which column(s) a filter is active on as it changes from the simple down arrow you’ve already seen to this, a down arrow alongside the filter symbol: 

You can see it in situ on the type of work and word count columns. Click on each active one and select the ‘Clear filter from …’ option, or to clear all the filters in one action, go back to the original Sort and Filter button and click on it, then either on Filter (to toggle it off) or on the option below, Clear.

Establishing a probable duration

Using these same principles, you can estimate how long the job is likely to take you. In the last screenshot of the filtered spreadsheet, you can see the words per hour range from 1,111 to 1,743. You still have the information about complexity – referencing, notes, artwork – so how does that stack up against the job you’re evaluating, or quoting on? Are you likely to be nearer the lower or upper end of this range?

When you’ve worked out how many hours you’ll probably need for the job, you can then see when and whether the job will fit in your schedule, assuming that the quality of the raw manuscript isn’t significantly different from the manuscripts you’ve already edited or proofread. That’s a big assumption, so think about that, too, when you’re looking at the sample to provide a quote, or the full manuscript to decide whether the fee being offered will be enough.

At the left-hand side of the spreadsheet, you have the number of elapsed days that the previous jobs took. That will also help you decide whether you can take the job on: how well does it fit in your schedule? And what else is happening at that time? Do you have some other commitments in your diary? Did you plan on taking some time off?

Incidentally, I’ve personalised my copy of the spreadsheet and include a column for days worked, too, that I take from the time-log for the job. I can then tell whether I was all-hands-to-the-pump or whether I was working at a more sedate pace. For the first job in the screenshot, 29 days elapsed from starting work to finishing it. But did I actually work 15 days, 20 days, 29 days of the 29? That will fine-tune the information and help me decide whether I can fit the proffered job in the timescale wanted.

I always give myself plenty of wiggle room when working for indie authors, particularly, and when necessary I negotiate with corporate clients on the deadline as well as the fee. Life happens, as the saying goes, so you want to have the time to do the work at a sensible and safe pace, and have some time in your back pocket for contingencies.

The information stored in your spreadsheet can support your quotations and evaluations, if you actively use it.

Who is my worst payer?

This is a question you should ask yourself at least once a year. And when you’ve found out who it is, in an ideal world you would fire them and make room for better-paying clients. You may have a sound reason to stick with a low-paying client, of course. Perhaps it’s work for a cause you want to support. Perhaps the work is really interesting, the deadlines are sensible and the client is a delight to work with. Then aim for the next worst-paying and fire them, instead! Don’t burn your bridges, though; just be ‘too busy’ the next time they ask so it’s open to you to accept work from them another time, if you need to or just want to.

Always take a look at the latest version of the CIEP’s suggested minimum rates, to inform your thinking.

But the first step is finding out who is your least-good payer.

The Work Record spreadsheet in the Going Solo Toolkit gives you two ways of looking at your earnings: per hour and per thousand words.

First, if you offer more than one service, you’ll want to filter by service: copyediting, developmental editing, project management or proofreading, for example. There’s no point comparing oranges with apples.

We’ve already seen that putting a filter on a column and then opening up the filter gives you the unique values in that column, listed in ascending order. That may be all you need. Select the lowest value – or two, or three or more – and see who those clients are. Or filter on numerical values, less than £x per hour, or less than £x per thousand words.

There’s an ultra-quick way of taking a look at how much your clients vary, though. Click on the top of the column to select it, and look in the status bar at the foot of the spreadsheet, towards the right side. If I select the £ per hour column in the spreadsheet I mocked up for this article, I see this:That shows me that my rate per hour runs on a spectrum from £21.98 to £38.11, via an average of £30.28. If you do this on a spreadsheet of your own, and don’t get these values showing up, then right-click on the status bar and start ticking some of the options in the pop-up box:The ones you want are in the third section from the bottom of this list, from ‘Average’ to ‘Sum’.

Am I happy to be earning £21.98 per hour? What’s the minimum I want to accept from now on? Let’s say £27.50 for the sake of demonstration.

So on the £ per hour column, I set the number filter to ‘less than 27.5’, in the same way as before, and I get this result:

I can see that the three clients who paid me less than £27.50 per hour are all different, and for only one job each. Two of the three worst payers per hour were for proofreading. But look at that difference in £ per 000 words: from £12.88 to £17.68, although the lowest rate per 000 words paid more per hour than the job below it. I can see that the good £ per 000 words job had a lot of references and notes, which would have slowed me down, and yes, that’s reflected in the words per hour column. Do I want to fire Barbara Seville? Let’s take another look at the data and filter just the jobs for that publisher, turning off the filter on the £ per 000 words column to get everything for that publisher:Now I can see that low fee in context. That low rate is looking like an anomaly, and all the other jobs I’ve done for them paid more than my line in the sand of £27.50 per hour. Maybe I’ll keep accepting work from Barbara Seville, but keep an eye on how the fees work out.

The worst payer of all was Barry Island Press, so let’s look at them in context. Clear the checkbox for Barbara Seville from the filter and tick Barry Island Press:I’ve only done two jobs for them, but I can see that their proofreading rate is a lot less than their copyediting rate, although it’s hovering just a few pennies above the suggested minimum hourly rate (as at the time of this writing). Maybe my decision will be to decline any proofreading from them, but keep on copyediting for them – or maybe I’ll decide to ask for an increased fee, if I otherwise like working for them, and see what happens.

Play around with the filters: in the numerical filters, the above average and below average are useful for deciding who you want to work for less, and who you want to work for more often. The Top Ten option allows you to pick a number other than ten, and the bottom as well as the top of the pile – you could easily find your top three earning jobs, your bottom three earning jobs, or ten jobs, actually up to 500 in either direction, but I suppose ‘Top Ten’ is snappier than the ‘Top or Bottom up to 500’.

Additional help

There are, as you may expect, YouTube videos and other resources on how filtering works. Here’s a small selection:

For PCs

  1. Microsoft’s instructions on how to apply filters: https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/office/filter-data-in-a-range-or-table-01832226-31b5-4568-8806-38c37dcc180e#ID0EAACAAA=Windows
  2. This video is by a Microsoft employee: youtube.com/watch?v=BtiVbY7lhqw
  3. Here’s another guide on filtering, which includes keyboard shortcuts if you prefer those to all-mouse: youtube.com/watch?v=wMlTDXPEjag
  4. And if you’re very new to spreadsheets, here’s a beginner’s YouTube video: youtube.com/watch?v=k1VUZEVuDJ8

For Macs

  1. Microsoft’s instructions on how to apply filters: https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/office/filter-a-list-of-data-8ec38534-e2f1-41d0-b8bb-e3f5fcad95a0?ui=en-US&rs=en-US&ad=US
  2. Some intermediate features, including filters, are covered in this video (if you want to skip to filters, they show up at 19:34): youtube.com/watch?v=Z9sKEjHaIm4
  3. And if you’re very new to spreadsheets, here’s a beginner’s YouTube video: youtube.com/watch?v=znqfM4ligew

About Sue Littleford

Sue Littleford is the author of the CIEP guide Going Solo, now in its second edition. She went solo with her own freelance copyediting business, Apt Words, in March 2007 and specialises in scholarly humanities and social sciences.

 

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: numbers by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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