Category Archives: Freelance life

Information for freelancers.

Relative density: kids and coping in the time of COVID-19

By Cathy Tingle

It’s Tuesday. I was supposed to write this blog yesterday. According to our COVID-19 routine, on Mondays my husband runs ‘school’ for my two children, aged 7 and 9. But yesterday the kids were particularly restless. They didn’t want to do the tasks set by their teachers. The younger one kept interrupting me in my ‘office’ (bedroom). There was a lot of shrieking as they chased each other around the house. Add to that the summons to buy our possessions back at their ‘shop’ (I couldn’t miss that: there was an iPad going for 45p), a surprise Zoom meeting for my husband, and some complicated new logging-on process for online school followed by my son sending his friends excited greetings (which had to be typed, finger by finger, on my laptop), and my day was pretty much shot to pieces as far as writing was concerned.

Hello again, old routines

We parents are used to the feeling that our best-laid work plans are precarious. You might be halfway through editing a chapter and the school phones to say your daughter has a tummy ache and can she be collected. You could plan an evening of proofreading but your son decides now is the time to find getting to sleep difficult. It goes with the territory.

But this prolonged uncertainty about when we can work is new for most. Or, rather, it’s a revisiting of something many of us experienced when our kids were tiny. In a recent CIEP forum thread about parenting, members described a common pattern. As a newish parent, to find time to work you rely on nap times, evenings and weekends (the last if there’s a partner or other co-carer to share the load). A little way along the line you can then add the hours that playgroups and nurseries might give you (sometimes only a couple of mornings a week, but it’s something). CIEP members reported having to take laptops or study books on family holidays.

The long and winding quest for productivity

Then, one blessed day, they get to school. Once you’ve got over the surprise that a day at primary school isn’t actually as long as you thought, and realised your most productive times of the day are not during those six hours (one of our editors only really hits her stride at 2.30pm – she has to leave the house to fetch the kids at 3pm), you get the high school years. The kids can at least find their way to school and back, but transporting them to extracurricular activities might take time. And at home? ‘The younger one [14] does seem to feel the need to talk to me about random things when I’m trying to work’, one of our editors reported. Another, whose children have now left home, comments: ‘What I learnt was that a 5-second question requiring only yes or no would cost me 10 to 15 minutes’ work. That was how long it took before I had everything back in my head.’ Bear this in mind when you’re thinking, during these lockdown days, ‘My teenagers don’t require a lot of attention. Why on earth aren’t I more productive?’

So, while we’re required to use ‘school’ hours to educate our children ourselves, many of us are grabbing evening work, weekend work, first-thing-in-the-morning work, as we did in the early years, and as many of us still do in the school holidays. One CIEP member with three children starts working at 5.30am; another uses the hour before the family stirs to answer emails and prioritise her day’s work to avoid stress later. Sometimes there is a tag-team within the parent unit, with one parent covering mornings, the other afternoons, or, if the other parent lives somewhere else, with children going away for a couple of days or more each week. If all else fails, we’re sitting with everyone else with our laptops, snatching ten minutes here and there.

No answers, just a few tips

Many people choose to become freelance precisely because of the flexibility it offers when you have a family. But many editing and proofreading parents are finding lockdown difficult, and it’s not the bare fact of spending more time with our children that’s making us feel like this – of course not. We love them. It’s the pressure of balancing working and caring that’s the problem. If we get paid by the project and don’t have time to complete projects, or we’re paid by the hour and our hours are vastly reduced, how’s that going to work out? It’s worrying, and we don’t have any clear answers, apart from to investigate any government support for self-employed people during this crisis. But here are a few tips for negotiating work and life right now.

  • If you have work, make sure your clients know your situation. Many of them will be in the same boat and will understand, but at the very least it removes the terrifying feeling that you have absolutely no wiggle room on your projects. You might not need to ask for extra time, but knowing you could in an emergency helps everyone.
  • This isn’t the time to be aiming high, so don’t put pressure on yourself to be marketing or rebuilding your website. Don’t listen to those people who talk about achieving great things in lockdown. The achievement level you should be aiming for is ‘coping’.
  • Easier said than done, but if you can, separate work and caring for your children. We often feel we do neither very well, but trying to do them concurrently just confirms this feeling.
  • If you do get a quiet few moments while they’re doing their maths worksheet or drawing a flower, tackle those mundane tasks that might help your business. Personally, I’m deleting old emails. It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for forever and it will be useful once we’re all up and running again not to have (cough) 45,958 unread messages in my inbox.
  • Screens aren’t the enemy. From the BBC Bitesize educational programmes to the fantastic Horrible Histories and Operation Ouch!, telly can educate, entertain and buy you some valuable time, and there are a wealth of online museum tours, story readings, science demonstrations and language tutorials too. It doesn’t need to be highbrow – kids will find educational opportunities in most things. When I sought reassurance that there were educational benefits to the Captain Underpants Movie, another CIEP member testified that her son had gained three things from it: an enthusiasm for writing comic books; an introduction to classical music; and an ability to execute armpit farts. All of which will be invaluable when filling in his UCAS form, I’m sure you’ll agree.
  • Take that #StetWalk, as we say in the editing world. Get out for your daily exercise with your child(ren), whether you feel like it or not. It will do everyone good, and the break from work may mean you’re more productive this evening when things are quieter.
  • When you do try to work, don’t beat yourself up if you can’t concentrate very well. This is a completely natural reaction to everything going on in the world, and something that was reported by a number of CIEP members.
  • It might be that we can accomplish more together than apart right now. Reach out to others you could team up with. One member says that one of the lessons she has learned over many years is that ‘some of the most valuable things I do in my business are not done alone; they’re shared’.
  • Sneak off now and then. Not out of your front gate: to the kitchen, or the garden, or into your own choice of fiction, or a podcast. Too often I find myself retreating to Twitter, and that ends up being far from a moment of peace. Find other ways to escape, if you can.
  • As you’ll all be living under the same roof in these conditions for some time yet, try to focus on what matters. As one member says: ‘being extra kind is more important than ever, and remembering that it really, really doesn’t matter whether they learn their grammar or long division is helpful’. Another says: ‘Every single night that your little one goes to bed fed, warm, well, and loved is not failing, whatever else might be going on. Be kinder to yourself.’
  • Get them involved in what you’re doing, if you think it will interest them. My kids have helped me find the pictures for this blog, and for the first time ever they’re helping me lay the table for meals. They even seem to enjoy it.
  • Sometimes you’ve got to throw your plans up in the air and take the opportunities life presents. And if life is presenting you with a child who wants to sing ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ with you, cuddle up in front of a movie or have a chat about Instagram (or whatever young people talk about these days), just enjoy the moment and the chance to spend some time with them.

More than one of our members reported that home schooling had been their way of life even before COVID-19 struck. They’d been down a similar path to the one many of us are now treading, and had realised that, in one editor’s words, ‘what I’d feared would be strange and isolating and terrible turned out to be none of those things. My child has blossomed, found their own path, and taught me that there are many ways to live a life, to be a parent, to educate’. Some situations might not look ideal at first glance, but they end up being rewarding in ways we never anticipated.

And so, working-from-home parent, in the words of one CIEP member addressing the other parents on the forum, ‘hugs and solidarity vibes’ to you. We’ll get there, even if it’s by a different route to the one we were expecting.

Many thanks to the contributors to the CIEP forums, who so generously shared their experiences and their child-squeezed time.

Cathy Tingle is a CIEP Advanced Professional Member based in Edinburgh who specialises in copyediting. After trying and failing to work ‘alongside’ her children, she’s offering a reduced service until they go back to school. She’s terrible at baking.

 

 


The CIEP’s forums are a great place for members to connect with and support each other.

CIEP members shared their pandemic concerns and experiences with Liz Jones in April.


Photo credits: family with tablet by Alexander Dummer; child with heart by Anna Kolosyuk, both on Unsplash.

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

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

Know me, pay me

By Robin Black

Working in the shadows of nearly every project, editors could do with a bit more public understanding. ‘We don’t have much of a budget,’ invokes the client, though I wonder about companies that don’t have the budget to be good. Who sets a budget to be bad?

Show me a copy-editor and I’ll show you a living combination of robust general knowledge, an eye for detail that won’t quit, and a flair for the metaphysical. (You try rearranging the words so readers are visibly moved by the end.) Do you care that your editor detects that a particular adjective can make two appearances in a single chapter but not three or four? Either way, you should absorb the manuscript, whether it’s a white paper, a website or a manual, without tripping over such infelicities. In that sense, you should forget about us.

But not so much that we’re taken for granted when it comes time to employ our services. I’m uncomfortable about driving home the point, however: surely there’s scarcely a métier out there whose adherents don’t feel misunderstood and underappreciated from time to time? Lawyers, for example, lament that they could do more to help if only they were consulted before things go haywire. The stewards of the Southwark Household Reuse and Recycling Centre, where a maze of conveyor belts criss-cross in improbable fashion, aren’t asking you to rinse out your discarded materials for their health; it gums up the system, slowing down the work of nearly everyone on the premises. And in the face of a public that doesn’t listen, the distinct burdens of climate scientists weigh heavily: armed as they are with the science that impinges on you and you and you, they can scarcely daydream about escaping to New Zealand any more. (A desperately hungry populace tends not to care overly about property rights.)

It is with gentle misgivings about self-centredness, then, that I invite you to turn your attention expressly to editors, for whom the information imbalance translates into high demands for humble pay. I self-select out of some of the worst of it by rejecting low-paid jobs and seeking out the clients who feel as I do about a job really well done. And while quality is its own reward, equally, someone out there wants to pay for that quality, and my idealistic mind aims to keep finding them.

But then my sister called. Her website needed some tidying up, and she’s a pragmatist: ‘Let’s just do what we can in the time we’re given and get this crap out the door.’ So much for my idealistic mind, I thought. I demurred, and she rolled her eyes and politely dropped it.

Should I have just sidestepped my standards and been helpful? For the answer, I look to the guiding principle of 28th annual SfEP conference: ‘It depends.’ When newbies jump on the forum to ask for feedback on their websites, I may steel myself ahead of reading those threads because the general positivity of our members, which I laud and cherish, means the critiques veer towards the reliably panegyric instead of the helpfully critical.

I’m quite unsure whether that’s a bad thing, however, though I admit to a little frustration, and indirectly it has to do with money.

Ugh, money. I’m one of those people who is uncomfortable talking about it, likely to my own detriment, so let’s get this over with: the choice I make not to list my rates on my website – I never discuss fees until the client expresses an interest in hiring me – maps onto the editor and business person that I am. My approach is to psychologically leverage clients with my chat, my bearing and my materials, only to strike with a generous payment suggestion once the iron is hot. But such wiles could go awry in the absence of the rest of me – which is to say that my approach comes off naturally and therefore honestly from me, but grafting it onto you is iffy.

For me to insist that you should never publish your fees on your website is glib, and besides, look at all those lovely, experienced editors telling you something different. I throw up my hands in friendly defeat, satisfied that everyone is acting in good faith as they post disparate advice, and I stay quiet.

And yet. There is an assumption among our members, which I share, that we concentrate on doing a very good job while employers exploit us with low fees and outsized projects at capped rates. Leaving aside my contention that no one should be taking lower than the CIEP’s suggested minimum rates (Glib? But I stand by it), I put to you this question: why would a client pay you professional rates when you’ve got an amateur public face? When clients move forward with unedited or poorly edited materials, as is their wont, how long can you stay indignant when your own website is untouched by proper design and typography?

We prize words over images, but our Venn diagrams may or may not overlap with those of potential clients, so see it through their eyes, and subdue your inclination to tell them everything! that! you! do! well! As editors toil in the shadows and the public neglects to recognise the metaphysical power we wield boosting human connection through communication, nearly everyone appreciates a professionally rendered website. It makes budget holders relax.

Allow me to be mercenary for another moment: if you want to be paid properly as a professional editor, by clients with robust budgets, then hire a professional to craft your website. And for Heaven’s sake don’t talk them down in price if you want to be extended the same courtesy.

Look, the things I’m doing wrong with my own sole proprietorship are legion. In business, you can’t do it all; there’s always something more you should be doing. And that’s not advice; I’m trying to tell you it’s a trap. In his wisdom, Oliver Burkeman warns us that ‘getting it all done is an illusion. You’ll never get to the summit of that mountain because the climb goes on forever’. Consider the editors who do quite well, thank you, with no website at all or an online offering barely a step up from GeoCities chic.

Being a capable editor – doing the work well – is more important in my mind than having a professional website anyway. I view with mistrust careers that coast on marketing and talking instead of execution and elbow grease, but I would say that, wouldn’t I? Execution and elbow grease is what I know how to do! Persuading people to buy things they don’t initially want or fundamentally need embarrasses me, which means that my own self-marketing is lacklustre.
As for my sister’s website, months later I relented, agreeing to help if and only if we could start small, rendering good text and better design choices with a one-page website that tacitly communicates to visitors that they’ve landed where quality matters.

We should tell her story, I insisted, bringing her role out of the shadows … um, relaying the underlying, human aspects of her profession for clients … or something like that. Wait: What is it you do again, Stephanie?

Pfft. There goes the public again, scarcely taking the time to understand.

 

A financier and editor-who-does-it-for-love, Robin Black believes that no profession or livelihood will escape without integrating the climate crisis into its day-to-day, and he finds writing about himself even more embarrassing in an era of existential threat. Bravery is called for, however, so he manages it here.

 


Photo credits: For hire Clem Onojeghuo; All we have is words – Alexandra, both on Unsplash

Proofread by Andrew Macdonald Powney, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Freelance editing and COVID-19

By Liz Jones

As editors, we’re used to seeing the big picture as well as the small details, moving effortlessly between the two states of looking in the course of a project, or within a single page, often from one minute to the next. Our editorial eye shifts and refocuses, shifts and refocuses, until the job is complete. We are sometimes mistaken for perfectionists, but in reality we are bound by schedules and budgets, depending on pragmatism to guide us in our interpretation of the brief. We can only do what we can do. As professionals with a strong urge to make everything right, still we must accept that not everything is within our control.

Editors have been discussing these limits to what they can and can’t control in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic in the CIEP forums. As business owners we are encouraged – we encourage each other – to believe that we have autonomy. This is why we are freelance: it gives us the theoretical freedom to shape our working lives. To those who argue that it’s hard to wait for a reliable workstream to build up, we answer ‘put yourself out there, do more marketing’. To those who cite the seeming avalanche of competition for high-quality work, we reply ‘train harder, make yourself stand out’. We revere proactivity – and usually, this is reasonable. One of the measures of a successful freelancer is an ability to keep going through difficult times: to bounce back, to persist, to prevail.

But perhaps there are some crises in the face of which no amount of imagination, energy or tenacity will enable a coherent or effective response. And perhaps the social, emotional and economic shock we’re currently enduring is one of them. When asked about the effects the pandemic was having on their businesses, editors duly reported on the relatively ‘small’ details: loss of work, financial uncertainty, effect on mental health, juggling childcare/schooling, support from industry contacts, the (UK) government’s support package for workers. These are all things we can observe and measure, if not necessarily control, and people were thoughtful and generous in the responses they shared.

Loss of work

Work lost so far varies between individuals and by sector – and as some pointed out, it depends on how much work particular editors had in the first place. Some members have reported a complete loss of all work. Most had noticed a slowdown in new enquiries, especially from businesses and individuals such as self-publishing authors or academics, and many reported that projects had been delayed or cancelled. Not everyone has lost work, however. Those working in medical editing have reported more work than usual relating to the current situation, along with those working in educational publishing, as the need for teaching resources surges. Some publishing clients have been open with their freelance editors about their schedules, especially where they remain unchanged for now. Others have gone very quiet, especially when pushed to pay outstanding invoices.

Financial uncertainty

Of course, freelance work entails living with financial uncertainty at the best of times. We’re always expendable, vulnerable to the changing fortunes of our clients. But editors discussed the expectation of needing to depend on savings and investments in the coming months, if they have them, or of having to rely on a partner’s salary for support – again, if they have one. Even for those continuing to take on work, there’s more concern than usual that invoices will not be paid. (This might be a good time to start invoicing for at least part of the work upfront, for all clients, where usually we might be happier to work to 30-day terms for publishers and similar organisations.) People reported some immediate hardship, and the threat of more the longer this situation goes on.

Mental health

Most editors who answered reported that their mental health was OK – for now. Some acknowledged that it could be fragile, though, and needed monitoring. People were finding it hard to be physically separated from friends and loved ones. In terms of managing mental health, a few alluded to the medicinal properties of wine, while conceding that this could be a false friend. They also mentioned continued physical exercise, exposure to the outside world where possible, music, yoga and meditation, and pets as being beneficial. Perhaps freelance editors have an advantage when it comes to dealing with relative isolation. We are already used to working alone for long periods, and finding ways to restore our sanity and feelings of connection. People thanked the CIEP for continuing to support meetings between groups of editors via Zoom – an option increasingly taken up by various local groups. It’s possible that the immediate flurry of trying to reorganise our lives around the sudden restrictions has distracted us to the point of deferring a collective mental health crisis, but it was good to read that people are coping so far and have strategies to fall back on.

Caring responsibilities and school closures

Many of the editors who responded had caring responsibilities, including for school-aged children currently at home (and in need of some sort of schooling). This was affecting people’s working hours and causing some stress as a result. Of course many of us are fortunate in that we have relatively flexible work – but the days still have the same number of hours … and trying to look after children, provide them with some form of ongoing education and get some meaningful work done is exhausting, especially for those with younger children. Again, the restrictions on what can be done with children outside the home make things extra difficult. It may prove impossible to do anything other than the bare minimum of work in these conditions, meaning that regular activities essential to the growth of a business, such as marketing, are sidelined. It’s early days, but these challenges are only likely to increase, with no fixed end in sight. A few editors commented on the effects of having a partner working from home (where this was not usual), which can disrupt routines and put extra pressure on space.

Help from the industry

It was generally agreed that industry contacts can best support freelancers in this situation by being as open as they can about the impact of the crisis on schedules and workflows; keeping lines of communication open. This should apply in less extreme circumstances, too, but it’s especially important now. And arranging to pay freelancers on time for their work, and early if possible, is crucial. Perhaps it should go without saying, but it bears reiterating, that project managers (in-house or freelance) should only commission editorial work they can be confident of having sufficient cashflow to pay for.

Government support

At the time of writing, the UK government had offered a support package to self-employed people which should enable them to receive a grant of 80% of their average income for the past three tax years – three months’ pay up to a maximum of £2500 per month, in one lump sum. This was broadly welcomed by those it would help (though the money is not likely to be available until at least June) but, as many pointed out, it does leave key groups of freelance editors without access to adequate support or compensation. People who operate limited companies are not covered, and it also neglects people who have only recently become self-employed. The offer of support has also been made in such a way as to entrench the widespread (and unhelpful) perception that self-employed people habitually pay less tax than employees.

That’s a brief overview of what editorial freelancing in the current climate looks like, for now – the detail of our working lives in lockdown. People remain as positive as they can, but I think we should acknowledge that it is scary, and certain things do look really grim. Global events continue to unfold at a speed we’ve never really witnessed; by next week this article could look quite quaint. And as for that bigger picture – the long-term outlook, the landscape we’ll all be navigating once the crisis has passed? That remains to be seen.

Liz Jones is one of the editors on the CIEP’s information team.


CIEP members can keep in touch on the forums.

Follow your government’s coronavirus guidance (the UK’s is here).

If you are self-employed and eligible for a grant from the UK government, HMRC will be in touch.

IPSE is providing regular updates on support for the self-employed and limited companies during the pandemic.


Photo credits: Stay home Mohammad Fahim; Child and dog on laptop – Charles Deluvio, both on Unsplash.

Proofread and posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Wise owls: managing money

It’s coming up to the end of the UK tax year (5 April) – the CIEP’s wise owls have turned their thoughts to keeping track of income and outgoings.

Liz Jones

Here are some things I’ve learned about managing money in 12 years of freelancing:

  • Tax is a potential killer. I’m happy and proud to pay tax, but it’s one of the things I’ve found most challenging to manage in terms of cash flow, especially in years when I’ve taken a few weeks’ ‘maternity leave’. It’s really important to set aside more than you think you’ll need: if your earnings fluctuate, so will your tax bills. I’ve found paying an accountant to be a worthwhile cost to help me get my tax calculations right and understand how I can make the most of allowances.
  • It’s essential to get into a position where you’re not depending on a particular payment being made on time in order to pay vital bills such as the rent or mortgage. Even with the best clients, timely payment is not 100% reliable.
  • I never justify charging clients a high rate by citing my circumstances. As it happens, mine is the main income for my family, but that’s irrelevant to them. They’re paying for my work, not to support my lifestyle.
  • I use FreeAgent to manage my invoicing, and my accountant takes the information directly from this to complete my tax return. It’s not free but it’s saved me a lot of time over the past few years.
  • I chase invoices as soon as they go overdue. After once losing nearly £2,000 on an unpaid invoice when a client went into administration, I also invoice regularly in smaller stage payments for large jobs, to mitigate the risk of a client going bust.

Louise BolotinLouise Bolotin

My nickname is The Spreadsheet Queen! I use spreadsheets for everything, although I’m barely proficient in Excel. No matter, as you don’t need to be. I created a spreadsheet to track my invoicing just by setting up a few columns with headings such as date, client, what the job was, PO number (if applicable), how much I billed, when I invoiced, when the money is due, etc. I have extra columns for notes and to tick off when my client has paid. I also have a spreadsheet for tracking client hours, with my per hour rate in a column. I bill some of my clients monthly, so I can tot up jobs on the tracking spreadsheet and transfer the billable sum to my invoicing one.

My outgoings are minimal – I’m mindful that expenses are tax-deductible (mostly). My biggest expenses are my CIEP fees (and conference, if I decide to go) and my trade union subs. Then there are costs for software, and, occasionally, stationery, plus fees for my accountant and PC fixer (an essential expense!). Again, I track all these on a spreadsheet – it’s useful to see how much I’m spending per year, including versus how much I’m making. I aim to limit expenses to 5% maximum of my turnover, but it’s usually below that.

I check my business bank account on my phone daily to see what’s gone in (or out). Yes, I have a separate business account – I find it easier to track income and expenses without having to trail through my supermarket shopping, Spotify subs and utility bills. It’s not possible to separate business and personal completely, but it’s about 99% foolproof. I set aside 20% of every invoice as it’s paid – it goes into a dedicated savings account for my tax bill after my accountant has filed my tax return. Setting that aside also stops me from thinking I have more disposable income than I actually have.

Hazel Bird

Managing money is about finding a system that suits your business model. For example, if you’re raising lots of low-value invoices, it might be worth paying for a system that raises, sends and tracks invoices for you, and integrates this data into an accounting package. I’ve seen CIEP members recommend the likes of Crunch, FreshBooks and QuickBooks for this purpose. I tend to raise fewer high-value invoices, so I use an Excel template (which I complete and convert to PDF) and do my tracking in Google Sheets. This lets me geek out with functions to create my own personalised reports. It also means I have no money-management-related expenses beyond the time I take.

It’s definitely not essential to have an accountant, especially if your finances are simple. But naturally this means keeping on top of current tax and accounting requirements, particularly if you’re registered for VAT or invoicing clients in jurisdictions outside the UK. Members often raise very helpful threads on these topics on the CIEP forums.

Finally, there’s a stereotype that freelancers never complete their tax returns until the week they’re due – and then discover we owe the government far more than we expected. I’ve always consciously avoided that approach, because it’s important to me to know my exact tax liability and ensure my cash flow will cover it. To make this as painless as possible, I tend to be one of those insufferable people whose accounts are always up to date. This is inevitably a bit tedious, but it shouldn’t be too tedious. Your system should slot into your work as seamlessly as possible. Money management should serve our businesses, not the other way around.

Nik ProwseNik Prowse

A wise man – a mentor from my early days as a freelancer – once said to me: ‘Put aside your tax money before you spend it.’ He also advised separate bank accounts. So I have a bank account into which all of my business income goes, and as soon as I have a receipt I put a percentage of it into a savings account to cover tax and National Insurance. I set the percentage slightly over what my tax will be, so that I save something each year just by hiving off my tax money.

I don’t use anything other than Microsoft Excel to manage my business income. I have a spreadsheet with columns for date, project name, invoice number, ingoings and outgoings, with a reminders column for payments due for bills and the mortgage. I have separate sheets for the money put aside for tax, business expenses and income from clients. That way, when my tax return is due my business income and outgoings are all present in one handy file.

These two systems have always allowed me to know how much I have, and to be certain that I can’t dip into crucial money that will need to be paid to HMRC.

Sue BrowningSue Browning

My key advice is to do things as you go rather than leaving them to pile up and need sorting out later. Sent an invoice? File it and record it on your income sheet. Renewed your CIEP subscription? File the invoice/receipt and record it on your expenses sheet. I give each invoice and expense a unique reference. Then each month, I download my business bank statement and reconcile it with the invoices issued, marking up each item on the statement with its reference number in my accounts. This reconciliation takes me less than half an hour each month. I do everything electronically, scanning paper receipts on the rare occasions I receive them. I also use a program called Cushion for scheduling, time-tracking and invoicing so my information is all in one place, but do what works for you.

I also put about 20% of my month’s income into a savings account earmarked for tax. This means I don’t dread the total when I submit my return. My accounts spreadsheet has a totals worksheet that collects the monthly figures and gives me an annual total. Come tax return time, I have only to refer to that sheet, knowing that all my invoices and receipts are in order, so my tax return takes me about half an hour. That’s when I am grateful to past me for taking a few minutes regularly to keep on top of things.

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford

Knowledge is a wonderful thing. First, know your money style. Are you disciplined? Does it trickle through your fingers? Track your invoices, and pounce on any that become overdue the first day they’re overdue. Don’t be shy. You’re in business, not pursuing a hobby. Be polite but firm, and repetitive – it works in most cases. Don’t be afraid you’re ‘nagging’ – you’ve done the work, so your client should pay up! Budget for your business and household expenses: work out what you want to spend on training, marketing, CIEP membership and conference attendance, materials, resources and overheads – and know when those become due.

Work out what you need to live on, likewise. Use that knowledge to help you set the hourly rate you want to earn. A simple spreadsheet of your invoices with a running total can be used to forecast your tax and National Insurance bill. According to your money style, either save enough from each paid invoice to pay the tax on that invoice or do your tax return as early as you can and set up a direct debit with HMRC to pay in monthly instalments (more like a PAYE scheme, and there’s no temptation to dip into your tax pot before you pay it to HMRC). With interest rates so low, the satisfaction of knowing you’re paying down that tax bill rather than saving the money and earning on it may balance out easily. Attend HMRC webinars on business expenses and filling in your tax return.


If you’re starting out on your freelance journey, the CIEP’s guide Going Solo covers the finance basics, including tax and record-keeping obligations.


Photo credit: owl – Dominik VO on Unsplash

Proofread by Victoria Hunt, Intermediate Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

 

 

 

 

 

A week in the life of a picture researcher

By Lorraine Beck

Monday

I spent most of my weekend working on what I call the ‘Art Book’ – the history of a well-known art school published by a small university press, featuring photos of works of art by its many successful staff and alumni. Clearing photos of works of art is tricky, as there are twice as many permissions to clear. First you need to obtain a good image of the artwork and clear that, and only then can you apply for permission from the artist or their estate to reproduce the work.

There has been great support for the book with former staff, alumni and their families/estates/galleries all interested and willing to supply images, in many cases for free, with only a relatively small number coming from image libraries.

Today I find myself engaged in a brief email conversation with an artist who has been nothing but helpful – but who was once perceived as a bit of a bad boy of British art – about his memories of his time at the school…

I found out on Friday morning that the deadline for high res photos is tomorrow – so I have been working hard all weekend to tie up as many loose ends as possible, resulting in a huge flurry of emails to answer. I don’t make a habit of weekend working, but this time, I’m happy to put in a few extra hours to finish the job, so as many high res photos as possible can be included in the first proofs, as in the long run, I know this will make my job easier.

Tuesday

Deadline day – a flurry of last-minute approvals, including several for photos I initially thought would be impossible to clear: I need a signed permission form/written agreement from all picture sources and artists before I can supply the high res images. Much of today was spent updating my master spreadsheet to keep track of agreements now in place or still outstanding, plus labelling and filing permission forms and images ready to send to the client. I wrote the image credits, clearly indicating which wording can’t be changed, adding a note to suggest they will need a thorough copyedit. As there are so many different image sources in the book, the credit style varies significantly, but I do my best to make this straightforward for the copyeditor by ensuring details are in a consistent order and with consistent punctuation.

I hit my deadline of 5pm after a brief phone conversation with the author to discuss the two or three images where final permissions have not yet been obtained. An email arrives from an educational publisher I work with regularly asking for a few new images for an ELT workbook.

Wednesday

Catching up with other projects today. I send in a few new images requested for the ELT title – the editorial team are still chasing an unreleased image featuring children that they found online but I’m pretty sure the publisher won’t agree to this, so flag it up as a reminder when I send the new image selections in.

I receive a flurry of email questions about captions and credits from the Art Book publisher. They decided to clear some local archival images themselves, to save costs, but at this late stage realise they need to check some copyright issues and need advice rewriting credits. I direct them to the excellent DACS summary of copyright.

I make a start on a new job – reclearing text permissions for an Italian publisher for three ELT textbooks for which they have bought rights. I recleared some images for them a few years ago and although I work mainly on picture research, I’m happy to clear text permissions if I can fit this in.

Thursday

Continue working on Italian text permissions job. In a world where we face the freelance dilemma of ‘If I say I can’t make the schedule will I lose the job?’ I’m glad I told them when they emailed last week that I wouldn’t be able to turn this around in the week they had originally requested – mostly because I wasn’t free to start work until yesterday, but also because past experience suggests permissions departments for large publishers frequently take longer to reply. Sure enough, today one warns me when I fill in their online form that they can take up to 6 weeks to reply to an initial query. Hopefully it won’t take that long! Two of the permissions are proving to be tricky. They are biographies of well-known children’s authors from websites that have since been updated, rather than extracts from books, which means lots of emails between permissions departments/agents/the authors themselves/the previous publishers to try to obtain permission.

Friday

Unusually I find myself in the car at 7.45am wearing smartish clothes and driving up the A34 to Oxford for my first ELT Freelancers’ Community Awayday. From my initial arrival into a room buzzing with over 150 people, I was made to feel most welcome. The varied programme included presentations from large publishers about how they work with editorial freelancers and an open discussion about rates and fees, as well as a series of springboard talks with the opportunity to discuss issues raised in breakout groups afterwards. Lunch and refreshment breaks provided plenty of opportunities for networking with colleagues and potential new clients, and although some sessions were aimed more at freelance ELT project managers, copyeditors and proofreaders, there was plenty to interest me and the other picture researchers who attended. By the end of the day I was struck by the huge amount of expertise in the room – something it can be easy to lose sight of when you work alone. The day ends with a glass of wine and me agreeing to write a blog post for the CIEP!

Lorraine Beck is an experienced freelancer picture/clip researcher currently working on a variety of schools and ELT titles, but is happy to turn her hand to any subject. She’s a member of the Picture Research Association and listed in the ELT Publishing Professionals Directory.

 


We’re always looking for new contributors and exciting topics for the blog. If you’d like to contribute or wish we’d blog about something in particular, do get in touch!


Photo credits: Hanging photos Brigitta Schneiter; images on shelf Annie Spratt, both on Unsplash

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

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

Dealing with imposter syndrome

By Lisa de Caux

The Manchester CIEP local group meets every three months, and chooses a discussion topic in advance. ‘How to deal with self-doubt, lack of confidence and imposter syndrome’ was a very popular topic with those who attended the January 2020 meeting.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines imposter syndrome as ‘The persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills’. Meanwhile, googling ‘imposter syndrome’ brings up more than three million search results. And a quick survey of the CIEP’s forums reveals that it’s a problem familiar to many editors.

I posted on LinkedIn ahead of the meeting to elicit thoughts on #ImposterSyndrome. I had a fantastic response, and people were so willing to share their experiences, just as they were later in person. We had a lively and engaged meeting – we all had stories to share, from the newbies among us to more experienced members.

This post covers what came out of that meeting, focusing on imposter syndrome and editorial professionals. I’ve included a list of helpful resources at the end.

What is imposter syndrome?

I’ve shared the dictionary definition, but let’s talk about it in a less formal way. It’s the feeling that ‘I’m not good/qualified enough’. It’s about self-doubt and lack of confidence. We set ourselves exacting standards as we work on clients’ projects, and this tends to carry through into the standards we set for ourselves and our businesses. You don’t want to feel as though you haven’t met your own expectations.

Most of the people at our meeting were freelancers, so we concentrated on this area. As a freelancer, especially working from home on your own, you can experience feelings of isolation. While one of the benefits of being a freelancer is a lack of structure, which allows self-direction and taking control of your business, the flip side of this is there is no one to automatically check in with you. When you’re an employee, you have appraisals and regular meetings with your manager to provide validation, and you have conversations with colleagues about questions and minor hiccups while making a cup of tea. As a freelancer, there is no built-in interaction with people – you must build it yourself. It’s one of the reasons the CIEP’s forums are so popular – they provide a chance to talk to others who understand where you are coming from.

The CIEP has a newbies forum, where I posted about imposter syndrome after our meeting. It struck a chord with a lot of members. While imposter syndrome may be more common for newbies, it can come back in waves for more experienced professionals. As we moved through our meeting, we talked about how imposter syndrome might be triggered by changing your business’s direction (for example, moving from non-fiction to fiction) or by taking the next step professionally (for example, upgrading to a higher level of CIEP membership). Instead of taking pride in your achievement, you may feel anxiety in case people think that standards must have dropped for you to have succeeded. When something new and unexpected happens, you may feel that you *should* have known. Then imposter syndrome builds up and you discount your experience.

Recognising it

Whether you’re a newbie or an experienced editor, imposter syndrome reflects the level of stretch you’re going through and how far out of your comfort zone you are. We all agreed that it’s particularly important to acknowledge this feeling if it starts to take over more of your thoughts. It can impact your mental health, and then you need to take action. We talked about the practical impact of imposter syndrome too – for example, the knock-on effect on the way you quote for work. Imposter syndrome can encourage you to be apologetic about raising rates, especially for existing clients. Whether you’re thinking about your mental health or the practical impact, a strategy to cope with imposter syndrome needs to be found.

Overcoming imposter syndrome

The group suggested lots of ideas. Some come from external support (for instance, talking to people) and some are internal support mechanisms (like creating a win jar). What suits one person won’t necessarily suit another. Call it what you will – this is an individual demon/monster/battle to face.

We recognised that, as a newbie, you have less experience and less chance of positive feedback to turn to. At this stage, talking to people is so important. Then, as you complete more projects, you will, hopefully, receive good feedback. An even better weapon against imposter syndrome is repeat work. It’s a real vote of confidence in your service. Although experience brings great benefits, we spent a lot of time talking about coping strategies that are useful to all.

Coping strategies

You can record positive feedback in a notebook, a ‘sunshine file’ or a ‘win jar’. You could have a gratitude journal. It’s so useful to have tools that you can constantly keep updated. A ‘win jar’ is a jar you keep on your desk, where you leave positive feedback (for instance, a complimentary email). If you feel like you need it, reach in and pull out a win to read. A sunshine file is a similar concept. Since our meeting, I’ve created a Word document where I save screen shots of positive feedback.

Another way to cope is to understand the value that you provide – not everyone can do what you do. How do you track improvements over time? What experience and training do you have? When you’ve found a typo or factual error, what impact would it have had on the document if you hadn’t found it? Keep track of these achievements!

At the meeting, we were keen to embrace talking to friends and colleagues – CIEP local groups and forums really come into their own here. Attending face-to-face courses or professional development days can provide reassurance about what you do know.

Finally, our conversation moved gently into the positive side of self-doubt. A little (in moderation) will keep you learning and trying harder. It will improve your business. It may lead to a particular type of training. I was surprised to discover that a long course (like the PTC proofreading course) is not completed by everyone who signs up for it. Completing training acts as a confidence boost!

There’s such a lot to think about – at the end of the discussion, we were all ready for our mid-meeting comfort break.

You are not alone

I’ve focused on the editorial profession, but imposter syndrome does not have industry boundaries and it does not respect your level of experience. I recently caught up with a friend who’s an oncology consultant. I explained about writing this blog and asked if she’d come across imposter syndrome. She smiled in recognition – yes, she often feels it and often talks about it with her medical colleagues.

Every conversation gives me the clear message: you are not alone.

A lot of us are going through it, including the people you assume are absolutely fine. You can find a coping strategy that suits you. My own battle with imposter syndrome will continue, I’m sure. If you’re battling too, I wish you the very best!

Helpful articles and blogs

Mental Health Today: Imposter syndrome
Northern Editorial: Time to kill the monster
KT Editing: Imposter syndrome and editing
The Avid Doer: Imposter syndrome: Intuition in disguise?
Harvard Business Review: Overcoming imposter syndrome
Louise Harnby: I’m a newbie proofreader – should I charge a lower fee?

 

 Lisa de Caux is a CIEP Intermediate Member and coordinator of the Manchester CIEP local group. She specialises in editing and proofreading for business. Lisa is a career changer, and spent many years as a chartered accountant before becoming a proofreader.

 


Face-to-face interaction with peers can help with imposter syndrome and provide a great boost to confidence and motivation. A recent blog post covered upcoming in-person CPD, and the CIEP’s local groups meet regularly. (And don’t forget that booking for the first CIEP conference opens later this month!)


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

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

Scammy editors, cautious editors, and the clients in between

By Kia Thomas

Recently, I received an email from the client whose manuscript I was working on. It said: ‘Just touching base to see if we are still on track for delivery of my manuscript by xx?’

I had given the author no reason to believe we wouldn’t be, so I could have, were I the type to take things overly personally, bristled at the implied questioning of my professionalism. But I hadn’t been in contact for a while (she’d sent the manuscript well before Christmas, but I wasn’t due to start until January), and I knew the author was on a tight schedule, so I sent a quick message back to say yes, still on track, and if I got done a few days early I’d send it back immediately.

I received another email straight away: ‘Wonderful. Thanks for the update. With the last editor, I sent a similar message and never heard back. It was a relief to even just see your name pop up.’ Then I remembered – the reason this client came to me was because they had been horribly let down by another editor, who had just disappeared on them after taking payment.

Editors like this exist, unfortunately. Outright scammers, or just unreliable people who have no idea how to act in a professional manner. They can be found in every profession, and ours is no exception.

Most of the online editorial circles I move in are filled with people who would never dream of taking advantage of a client. They would be ashamed of doing a half-arsed job. They could never imagine ignoring a client for weeks on end. This kind of behaviour is so far from their own experience of being an editor that I think many of them don’t quite understand just how often this happens to unsuspecting authors, and how devastating it can be. So when they start working with a client who questions all their procedures and ways of working, or who bombards them with emails and requests for progress reports, those editors can see these things as signs of an overbearing client. To be fair, that’s sometimes exactly what they are. But sometimes they’re the sign of someone who’s been badly burned. Every editor, and every business owner, for that matter, should remember that not all clients are approaching the relationship with the same expectations and baggage.

I think that as editors we could sometimes do better when it comes to understanding our clients’ concerns. There are people out there doing great damage to the reputation of our profession, in the indie world at least, and there’s a lot we can do to undo some of that damage and restore our collective good name.

Freelancing is full of risk. Good business owners do what they can to protect themselves from those risks. But we need to be aware of the effect this might have on our potential clients. For example, you could ask the question ‘Should an author pay an editor in full before receiving the edited manuscript?’ in an editors’ group and a writers’ group, and you’d get two different sets of answers. Editors would lean towards ‘Always get payment first’, backed up with horror stories of being ripped off by clients. Authors would lean towards ‘Never pay first’, backed up with stories of being ripped off by editors. Both things happen. Both sets of concerns are legitimate.

The problem comes, then, when we start seeing the expression of these concerns as red flags, when they might be nothing of the sort. An editor might be the perfect person for an author’s work, but if both have been cheated with regard to payment in the past, and so the editor refuses to release the edits before payment, and the author refuses to pay before seeing the edits, they’re at an impasse. A potentially brilliant working relationship could be lost before it’s even begun.

I think the solution lies, as it so often does, in empathy, honesty and communication. Our clients are investing sometimes huge sums of money with us, and handing over a piece of work that could have taken them years. That’s a lot to trust a total stranger with, so we should respect that. Where we have developed practices to protect our businesses from risks, perhaps we could be better at explaining to clients why. We don’t have to, of course – we are entirely free to run our businesses as we see fit and only work with clients who accept that unquestioningly. But honesty and openness are generally good things, and we could be opening up great opportunities for ourselves by bringing more of those things into our interactions with potential clients.

And perhaps there is also room for compromise. Again, no one has to compromise on anything if they don’t want to. But are there ways we can protect ourselves while also allowing our clients to protect themselves? For example, I have recently decided to move to asking for payment before delivery of the full edited manuscript. But I recognise that this might make some new clients nervous, so I offer to send an edited chapter on request, any chapter of the client’s choosing, so they can be reassured I have actually done the work.

It can be a difficult thing, to give people the benefit of the doubt when the stakes are high. A non-paying client, or one who oversteps boundaries, can cause huge problems for an editor. But we aren’t the only party who has something to lose. I wrote once about editing with kindness. We can do business with kindness too.

 

Kia ThomasKia Thomas spent 11 years in the arts before becoming a freelance fiction editor at the beginning of 2016. She specialises in contemporary romance and is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP. Kia lives in South Tyneside, and she can often be found networking with her colleagues in online spaces (ie spending too much time on Twitter).

 

This article was originally published on Kia’s blog on 4 February 2020. Many thanks to Kia for granting permission to amend and republish it.


Photo credits: notebook Kiwihug, baggage – Waldemar Brandt, both on Unsplash

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Coping with criticism

By Liz Jones

One of the most exciting things about freelancing, but also one of the hardest, is that feeling that the buck stops with you. You’re in control of the work you do, keeping the business going. You’re entirely responsible. On a good day, this can be exhilarating. It’s a buzz to win a new contract or client. There’s nothing quite like sending off a massive invoice for a job well done – a direct and tangible result of your efforts. And it’s a real kick to be praised for excellent work.

The flip side of this is that we also need to be prepared for feedback that isn’t so good. We’re all human, and sometimes we have off days, and we miss things, or misunderstand an aspect of a brief. Sometimes there’s a distance between what the client expects and what we think they want. Or maybe a document is just in such bad shape that it’s all we can do to make it better, and it’s still not going to be immaculate – at least, not in that timeframe, with that budget. Perfection is never a helpful aim.

How we deal with criticism of our work matters. Bad feedback can take a huge mental toll if we’re not careful. It’s not simply a question of avoiding it entirely, as it’s bound to happen sooner or later, no matter how careful we are. But there are strategies that can help us cope with it more effectively, and perhaps even turn it into a positive experience (eventually).

I tweeted about this recently: https://twitter.com/ljedit/status/1217800318932656129

My Twitter thread was in response to a client having commented on some things I’d missed in a proofread, some of which were debatable, but several of which were not – in an ideal world I would have caught them. My response to the client, after sleeping on it (and yes, after initially getting indignant and defensive, and stomping around the kitchen), was a succinct acknowledgement of the things I’d missed, while also drawing attention to the fact that it had been a heavily corrected set of proofs; no proofreader can catch everything. I also thanked them for their feedback. Later I received a positive response from the client, and more work. I think as a result of our exchange both sides felt heard, and also reassured that our good working relationship was intact.

Professional resolution

I shared the experience on Twitter because receiving bad feedback can be such a lonely experience, but probably a fairly universal one in our profession. It received quite a few likes and shares, and some responses indicating that I wasn’t alone. So, based on my own experiences of responding to criticism in the past 12 years (let’s just say I’ve improved over time), plus conversations with colleagues, here are some tips for managing in this situation.

  • Dissociate yourself. It can be incredibly painful to have work criticised. It may even feel like a personal attack – but it (generally) isn’t. Remember that you are not your work. Even if it’s fallen short in some way, it doesn’t mean you have.
  • Don’t panic! Your first reaction might be to assume that you’ve messed things up completely and lost a valuable client. But feedback, even if it’s negative, is generally a good sign. It means the client is interested in an ongoing working relationship and building a dialogue with you. They don’t want to lose you, they just want to keep lines of communication open so you understand better what they need in future.
  • Give yourself time. Your instinct might be to write back immediately, to try to sort everything out right away. However, my advice would be to give yourself as much time to reply as you reasonably can. Sleep on it if possible. The more quickly you write back, the more defensive you’re likely to be, and the situation won’t be helped by heaping it under a load of excuses.
  • Assess the criticism. As I said, criticism is painful, and it’s even more painful to look it directly in the eye. But this is important: you need to understand what you did wrong. This means acknowledging to yourself as well as the client that you made silly mistakes, or were distracted for some reason, or were trying to do too many things at once.
  • You need to address the criticism, of course. It’s good to deal with all the points raised, even if only to say ‘yes, I should have caught that’. Own your mistakes; apologise briefly if necessary. Try to avoid lengthy justifications. Do stick up for yourself if you feel the client is being unfair, but don’t bang on about it, or retaliate with accusations about unreasonable expectations. This is not the point at which to try to renegotiate the contract.
  • If you honestly didn’t know how to do something before, don’t just stumble on in ignorance, hoping you’ll get away with it again in future. Take the opportunity to plug the gaps in your knowledge.

How far should you go to fix things?

This can be tricky. It might be your instinct, because you’re a nice person, to ask for the files back to go over them again. You might want to make the new corrections yourself. You might even think you should charge the client less than agreed. But don’t be too hasty; the client probably isn’t expecting any of this. Don’t over-compensate for something fairly minor. Reassure the client that you will look out for the points they’ve raised in future work, and make sure you don’t make the same mistake(s) again.

Red flags and abusive relationships

Although I wrote that criticism of work is not generally a personal attack, it’s worth remembering that on rare occasions, it is. I’ve been in situations, and I know many other editors have too, where criticism is not warranted, or is out of all proportion to the supposed misdemeanour. Most clients are entirely professional in their dealings, but a tiny minority are unscrupulous, even abusive. If you reach a point where everything you do for a client is criticised, and your professionalism is being called into question (even after you’ve conducted an honest appraisal of your work), or you’re made to put in more work than you’re being paid for to ‘atone’ for a string of supposed infractions, then it’s time to walk away.

As freelancers who often work alone, we can be vulnerable to a particular kind of toxic power struggle where we are made to feel useful, needed, part of a team – and as a result end up giving a client far more than they are paying us for. This can happen quite insidiously, so we should be vigilant in our setting and maintaining of boundaries in working relationships.

 

Liz Jones has been an editor since 1998, freelance since 2008. She works for a number of non-fiction publishers, agencies and individuals, and specialises in highly illustrated books on architecture, art and culture, as well as tech and electronics.

 

 


Editor and Client: building a professional relationship is an SfEP guide that aims to help freelancers understand the needs of their clients, and to give clients a clear awareness of freelancers’ requirements to do a good professional job.


Picture credits: Girl with head in hands – Caleb Woods; And breathe – Max van den Oetelaar,  both on Unsplash

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.

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.

 

 

 

Assume nothing, question everything

Five key questions to ask a potential client

By Jo Johnston

1. What services do you need?

Hands up who’s had a client asking for proofreading when they meant rewriting, or editing which later turned into needing a project manager to liaise with stakeholders?

Phew … glad it’s not just me.

Most of us editors can share funnies or horror stories about how a client has misunderstood something key during the briefing stage, or how we, as the supplier, may have failed to clarify something that later is glaringly obvious.

So if you offer more than one type of editorial service, double-check that your client understands the differences between them.

The definitions of copyediting and proofreading can vary from company to company, so don’t assume that just because the client is a communications professional, the definitions they use are identical to yours. And make sure you have the brief in writing in email or confirmed in a phone call, so that you can iron out any creases in understanding.

Takeaway: Include an outline of service definitions on your website or create a PDF handout to share at the briefing stage.

2. What’s the deadline and delivery method?

Some clients assume that you’re sitting around twiddling your thumbs waiting for their work to land; others understand that you may be juggling a range of projects.

So a vital first question is, ‘when’s the delivery date?’ Even if your client doesn’t have a date in mind, set one yourself. This gives you a goal to work towards and you can schedule in other work around the project – just as you would if you were working in-house.

Everyone has working preferences. So what format do they want to work in – Google Docs, Word, or PDFs? How do they want any amendments shown – as tracked changes and comments or edited directly in the document?

‘Assume nothing, question everything’ is the mindset you need when starting a new project.

Takeaway: Make sure that details such as the deadline or preferred way of working are listed in your project proposal.

3. Will you accept my rate and working terms?

Some freelancers say that they lack confidence when talking about the bees and honey, and let’s not even mention working terms.

It may be tempting to leave this bit until last, after you’ve established a good client relationship first, but don’t leave it so late that you’ve spent bags of time discussing the brief or even visited head office, only to find out that they won’t budge on your price and won’t sign your contract.

Being clear about prices upfront on your website could lead to an increase in higher quality clients. It may help to get rid of time-wasters or those trying to ‘pick your brains’.

Takeaway: State your rates and terms clearly and in writing, either on your website or project proposal.

4. Can you tell me about your target audience or how you will use the resource?

Most of the time, a copyeditor or proofreader is part of a much wider project team. You may have been drafted in at the last hurdle to make sure everything’s tickety-boo, or right from the beginning – as is often the case with developmental or substantive editing.

Whatever stage the project is at, you need to be brought up to speed. Find out who the project is aimed at and how it will be used. It will help you to do a much better job if you know why you’re doing it.

And don’t forget to include research within your project proposal – it’s perfectly OK to charge for background reading and familiarisation.

Takeaway: Ask to see a project brief, terms of reference or target audience research.

5. Can you give me feedback once the job is complete?

The job’s done and dusted. A week, a fortnight … darn it … a few months go by, and you’ve heard diddly-squat from your client.

One way to avoid this state of paralysis is by saying at the briefing stage that you’d like feedback once the work is complete. You may not feel you need this kind of reassurance, but you do need to make sure that the project is finished and won’t bounce back in six months.

Some clients are up against print deadlines and may not have time to respond – you’re not an employee after all. So it’s worth keeping all this in mind and not taking silence personally.

Takeaway: Get client feedback on the radar. It paves the way for you to ask for a testimonial in the future.


What are your key questions when liaising with a prospective client? Let us know how you go about starting a project.


SfEP Professional Member Jo Johnston has been working as a copywriter and editor for 20 years. She started off in the public and non-profit sectors, but now helps to finesse the marketing work of all business types from ambitious start-ups to global giants. As part of its social media team, Jo posts professionally as the SfEP on LinkedIn. Elsewhere on social media, she unashamedly shares countless photos of her beloved Labrador.

 


Photo credits: Trees Evan Dennis, Laptop – Markus Spiske, both on Unsplash; Mabel the Labrador – Jo Johnston.

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

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