Category Archives: Freelance life

Information for freelancers.

A week in the life of an arts, culture and lifestyle editor

Meredith Olson is an arts, culture and lifestyle editor who works in both American English and British English. In this article, she shares how she started her editing career and how a typical week can pan out.

When people asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, I did not know that the dream of ‘getting paid to read’ was even an option. The other thing I had hoped for, ‘getting paid to sleep’, has still not materialised, but we forge onward.

As a dual US/UK citizen, I work in both American English and British English – doing everything from copyediting and proofreading to copywriting and research – for publishers, websites, individuals and arts/heritage organisations.

The topics I encounter range from notorious serial killers to the world’s rarest plants, stopping to consider arts and crafts based on the music and life of Prince or behind-the-scenes military history along the way. I learn a lot, I get to read all day (albeit carefully and slowly) and with each successive project, I become a far more formidable pub-quiz contestant.

Proof of life

‘Everyone needs good copy.’ It was something I used to say to people at parties or networking events, when they asked about the ins and outs of copyediting, copywriting and proofreading. Banks, start-ups, arts institutions, brands, countless personal websites – someone had to create (and edit) that copy. Why shouldn’t it be error-free and well written, with an eye to marketing, search engine optimisation and the brand’s established tone of voice? I know I’m not the only one who, as a potential customer, went off a company once I’d seen their blatant website typos or redundant, unclever messaging. ‘Hire an editor,’ I used to say, emphatically (and will again, when I return to parties and networking).

In a now-overused line, then the pandemic hit. Suddenly, not everyone needed copy, especially not arts-, culture- and lifestyle-focused entities or publications. Gone were the discretionary budgets for improving the blog, checking the concert programmes or revamping the events guide. Many clients were not only not hiring freelancers, but they were also furloughing, laying off or offering voluntary redundancy to their permanent staff, often in shocking numbers.

Though this feels acutely personal to discuss, I know many people have experienced moments, especially during this pandemic, wherein their livelihood seemed out of their control. I suspect for many of us in the CIEP, the fact that our job is often inextricable from our passion and our skilled trade makes this even tougher.

For the first six weeks of the UK’s March 2020 lockdown, my previously scheduled projects went ahead. After that, the work almost entirely evaporated, along with my understanding of my professional purpose – I always knew I wasn’t curing cancer with my red pen and tracked changes, but I had always felt I was doing my bit to shear an author’s argument of clutter and improve people’s reading experiences. I believed I was bringing readers closer to the joy of the arts or history – or even recipes for homemade cleaning products.

In light of all the terrible things this pandemic had already wrought, it felt trite to worry about losing work. But after a month and a half of no real projects to speak of, panic had started to set in when I heard from one of my editors in non-fiction books. The publisher was seeing more demand but now had fewer staff members, so the editor suddenly had twice the amount of books in her care, meaning a steady schedule of manuscripts that needed a copyeditor or proofreader. I gratefully accepted this work, which kept me sane and financially afloat in some of the hardest moments of the pandemic. I’ve missed the challenge of bouncing from a newsletter to a website revamp to a book to a presentation deck, all with their own styles and demands, and look forward to tackling a variety of mediums once again.

A brief brief

When I graduated from university into the ongoing recession in 2009, publishers in New York City were almost all on a hiring freeze. Eventually, I landed at Condé Nast, working in a small team on special-interest publications that covered a wide swath of the company’s brands and content. Rather than only engaging with one type of content, as at a traditional magazine, I was able to work with, and around, fashion, art, cuisine, living, politics and anything else they decided to turn into a collector’s edition ‘bookazine’ (0/10 for this portmanteau, though).

As the only junior member of this newly established team, I pushed the boundaries of my role, learning on the job from editors, designers and writers who were some of the industry’s best, and had worked at every major publisher in NYC. I started lingering by the copy desk with a million questions on style, which were generously fielded by the patient copy chief. I brandished proofs – these had landed on my desk in what was probably just a nice gesture by the team to include me – that I had marked up in my spare time. The thrill of finding an error and ‘saving’ the proof before it went to print matched my burgeoning interest in the contrasting minutiae of house styles.

A few years later, I returned to London, where I was born, to get a master’s degree in Issues in Modern Culture. As my family had suspected I would, I stayed in the UK after my graduation and later decided to continue my freelance career here, but with more of a focus on copyediting.

It’s been … one week

A week’s work can vary wildly, as can the parameters of ‘a week’. I’m strict about work–life balance, but like many freelancers, I sometimes choose to work evenings or part of the weekend in order to be able to accept and deliver certain projects, and then I take other time off. This week+ involved:

  • copyediting three sets of AI-generated video subtitles for a branded media collaboration
  • working a multi-day contract as marketing editor for an arts centre
  • copyediting the first 20,000 words of a non-fiction book on the history of colours in fashion
  • copyediting an academic paper, about Jewish households in Europe in the 1500s and 1600s, by an author who is not fluent in English.

A week can also include:

  • Americanising a UK manuscript (and vice versa)
  • writing or editing copy for a website, with attendant style and tone-of-voice research
  • copyediting business or brand pitches/decks
  • professional development
  • everyone’s favourites: invoices (and subsequent chasing), upcoming contract paperwork, remittance-notice filing, scouting for new work.

Of course, somewhere in that week it’s likely I will wake at least once in the middle of the night, having copyedited in my sleep (for free!?) or having thought of the perfect word to supplant the slightly off one that’s been giving me trouble in a manuscript; I can also be enticed by larger style questions, endless comparisons of British English (BrE) and American English (AmE) and fact-checking wormholes (though I think I’ll cheekily class these as ‘professional development’).

As a freelancer, I get to dip into many worlds that I might not have been privy to otherwise, and it remains a privilege and delight not only to be continuously learning but also to be a guiding hand helping to get a message across clearly and concisely.

About Meredith Olson

Meredith Olson is a freelance editor and writer covering the arts, culture and lifestyle (and beyond). She is a Professional Member of the CIEP, and a dual US/UK citizen specialis(z)ing in gearing copy towards one or both of those audiences. More information, and a selection of her work, can be found at mereditholson.com.

 

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: open book by Jonas Jacobsson; origami colours by Ice Tea, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Putting pensions in perspective for editors

It can be hard to know where to start with pensions, especially if you don’t have an employer to make some of the decisions for you. John Firth takes us through some pension essentials.

Pensions are a fairly simple idea (saving for the future) surrounded by baffling T&Cs. You don’t need to learn the detail so long as you clearly separate:

  • short-term needs and long-term saving
  • risk you can live with and risk to protect against
  • costs and benefits (protection costs but provides a benefit)
  • what advisers can offer and what you must do yourself.

I say a little about growth over time. Finally, when you want to draw on your savings you have options.

Most of this article comes down to ‘what do you want?’, ‘that all depends’ and ‘don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good’: rather like editing.

Saving is Good, and we Ought to Do It, but first, we must put food on the table and then some bills we must pay because, if we don’t, we could lose our home. Not everybody can save.

This article is focused on the UK; pension options and legislation will be different in other countries.

Short term and long term

If you can manage to put money aside, first plan for the short term (today, tomorrow, next week). The best way is to put money aside regularly (out of every invoice paid, say), but a good second-best is to put something aside today, no matter how small. Doing nothing till you can afford to save regularly is a bad idea: rainy days come, whether you’re ready or not.

That money needs to be somewhere easily accessible. Find a bank deposit or building society account paying some interest; some people keep a cushion in such an account, and the rest in vehicles that earn a bit more, but can’t be drawn on so easily: different kinds of ISA, say. How many balls are you happy to juggle at once?

The National Insurance pension gets a lot of undeserved criticism. You would struggle to live on your state pension alone, but it’s the cheapest way to make a real difference to your standard of living in retirement, because

  • it’s guaranteed, no matter what the markets do between now and when you retire, and
  • it’s inflation-proofed.

If there’s a gap in your NI record you can pay voluntary contributions to fill it (check at gov.uk/check-state-pension). I think doing that is more important than making private pension savings.

So, you’ve planned for the short term and made sure you’ll get the full state pension. Now you can start to think about the long term. Pensions offer tax relief on what you put in (the government pays roughly 20% of your contributions to your pension provider, more if you pay higher-rate tax); also, tax breaks on the interest or investment growth you earn. But once you are in a pension, it is difficult and expensive to pull your money out until you retire: so think about whether you can afford to lock money away.

What’s next?

If you can afford a private pension, think about risk. Would it worry you if your pot’s value went down this year? Decide your ‘risk appetite’, on a scale from 1 (‘it would keep me up at night’) to 10 (‘not at all’). What about timing? While you’re younger you might be happy to wait out a slump; however, you probably want to protect your savings if you plan to retire next year, and after you’ve started to live on them. A good adviser will suggest when one investment approach is likely to suit you better than another, and many fund managers offer investment switching options. Some packaged products offer ‘lifestyling’ (higher-risk investments when you’re young; safer ones after 50 or 55): the government’s NEST scheme, for example.

If a slump comes, don’t stop saving! If you think the market’s overvalued, don’t stop saving! The times you bought when investments were cheap will compensate for the times when you had to pay more for them. This ‘pound-cost averaging’ will save you money; moreover, would you be able to spot ‘the right moment to invest’? Consistently, over 20 or 30 years?

Next, when could you retire? If your family all live to be 100, you need to save for as long as possible; if your genes are not so kind, you might want to retire sooner. It all depends …

Hidden and visible costs

Remember risk? Investment guarantees are often provided by ‘smoothing’ returns: the investment manager holds on to some growth in good times, to protect the fund in bad times. You will pay something for this protection, but that cost is hidden.

Index or ‘tracker’ funds aim to ‘track’ a particular investment index, more or less (some funds ‘track’ closely, others within a band above and below the index). These offer some protection – you never get significantly less than the market average – at some cost – you never get significantly more, either.

You could invest ‘actively’, in stocks, shares and other things that can be valued. These go up and down, and your fund manager tries to limit risk by spreading across different types of investment. There are many kinds of specialised fund, including ‘ethical’ funds. Active investment managers usually state costs clearly: often they make separate charges for managing the fund and for new investments, and specialised funds may charge more.

You could do all the investment yourself: many providers market ‘self-investment personal pensions’ (SIPPs).

It’s good to know what you’re paying, but don’t let the tail wag the dog. If ‘active’ investments would keep you awake at night, they probably aren’t right for you; simply accept that you may have to pay a bit more for a safer approach.

Advisers

Advisers charge for their services, some by billing you, some by collecting from your fund’s manager. A good adviser will help you make all the decisions we’ve talked about, tell you whether you’re on track or need to pay more (in an annual report) and help you when you retire. You can expect high costs when everything’s being set up and when you start to draw your benefits, and lower costs in between. Some advisers offer ‘smoothed’ charges, which will probably cost more overall (because they gave you credit during the setting-up, and anticipate costs when you retire).

Most of us should find a good adviser and trust them, but ask lots of questions. The Financial Conduct Authority offers guidance on finding advisers and what to ask (fca.org.uk/consumers/finding-adviser), and a register that you can search for firms qualified to offer advice on pensions (register.fca.org.uk/s/); Unbiased.co.uk is also quite good. Ask friends and colleagues who they trust, and who they don’t – and why.

Doing the maths

Recently, you might have earned 30% in some years, and lost 15% in bad ones. Over time, the good and bad years average out. What matters is outpacing inflation. If your pot grows (on average) by 7% while inflation (on average) is 2%, you’re earning 5% in real terms (7 – 2 = 5). But future charges are probably going to average somewhere between 1% and 2% a year, so your net return may be 3% or 4%. A simple spreadsheet model focusing on the net return is a good way to work out how your savings might grow in real terms.

You should be able to earn a net 4% a year over shortish periods (five or ten years), but there will be bad years and could be bad decades (remember the 1970s?). Over longer periods you’re safer assuming low net returns (2% a year, say). You won’t mind if you do better than budgeted; although, budgeting for 4% and actually getting 2% would mean a big shortfall.

Drawing your savings

Retirement is more flexible than it used to be. You can start to draw benefits from 55 (that will shortly increase to 57), or you can wait: there is no upper age limit. You can even draw some benefits and carry on contributing, but then a tighter ‘annual allowance’ will limit what you can contribute.

Up to one-quarter of your pot can be drawn in cash, tax-free; in stages, if you like (the one-quarter limit applies to whatever is left, so if your pot grows, so will the cash you can draw tax-free).

You can draw the remaining three-quarters in cash, and if your pot is very small, this would be tax-free; however, above this ‘triviality’ limit, HMRC charges a special tax rate to claw back the tax relief you received.

So, most people will use that three-quarters to provide an income, which will be subject to income tax. If you make the necessary arrangements before you retire, you won’t need to buy an annuity with this money: you could leave it invested and ‘draw it down’ (monthly or whenever). Annuities (insurance policies that pay a guaranteed income for a guaranteed period – usually, the rest of your life) don’t deserve their bad reputation. While interest rates are low, and because many of us are living longer, they are expensive in our 60s; but they can be good value when we’re older, or if our health is bad (some insurers offer special rates for particular medical conditions). An option to consider is buying an annuity at (say) 75, to guarantee (say) half the income you want to draw, and continuing to draw down from your remaining pot.

I’ve just described what the law allows. However, your plan’s documents might contain tighter terms than this: ask your financial adviser. Don’t ask me: I’m not FCA-registered.

About John Firth

Long before he became an editor, John Firth worked in pensions. He suggests we need to see savings as different pots for different purposes.

 

 

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: Old Man of Storr by Matt Thornhill; calculator by recha oktaviani, both
on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

 

How editors and proofreaders can make more money

Just as important as our ability to edit text to a high standard is our ability to run a successful business. Liz Jones looks at ways to maximise your earnings as a freelance editor.

  • Asking for more
  • Keeping emotions out of financial negotiations
  • Selling extra services
  • Explaining when a budget is insufficient
  • Fee structures
  • Charging for extras
  • Charging what you’re worth

The point of running an editorial business, apart from getting to read all day, is to make money. There’s no shame in this, but money can still be strangely difficult for editors to talk about. Perhaps because, by and large, we’re quite nice. Perhaps because, secretly, we can’t quite believe we deserve to be paid well for doing something so civilised.

We’ve all heard of editing gigs that pay less than minimum wage. Many of us have probably been offered them. But this is not the norm, and it’s not necessary to support it. It’s perfectly possible to earn a good living as an editor, working reasonable hours for pay that reflects our experience, skill and level of professionalism.

That doesn’t take away from the fact that it can be hard to be hard-nosed about money. Even after 13 years of hustling, I still sometimes have to psych myself up to charge what I know I’m worth, without apology or qualification. But it can be done. Here are seven tips for making more money from your editorial business, while keeping your clients happy, and without selling your soul.

1. Ask for more

I’m not going into whether you or your client should be setting the rate, here. I suspect that for many editors, a combination of approaches works for them. Sometimes you’ll be asked to quote for a job; sometimes the client will suggest a rate or fee. It’s the latter option I’m interested in here, and ‘suggest’ is the key word. The client is suggesting what they can pay you, not telling you. There’s always room to ask for more if you think the job warrants it. It’s quite likely that if you do ask for more, there will turn out to be some wiggle room in the budget to accommodate that.

2. Break the emotional link

When talking money with clients, be ice cold. (You can still be polite, don’t worry!) Remember that the price is simply about the work you can do for them, not your worth as a person. It’s also nothing more than a transaction: the client needs something doing, for which they will have to pay. It doesn’t matter how lovely they are to work with, or how amazing the project is, or if you feel you should help in some way. It’s business, pure and simple. Anything on top of that transaction is a bonus, but a bonus that is entirely separate from your need to be paid properly and on time for work completed in good faith.

3. Offer more yourself

Sometimes a client says they want a proofread, but you know a project really needs more development work. If you can show the client how they will benefit from commissioning you to do a larger job, even with the increased cost, this can be good for everyone. You’ll earn more, and the client will get a better result. A crucial part of successful freelancing is selling yourself – and not just making clients aware of your presence, but ensuring they fully understand the value you can bring to a project.

4. Say no and say why – because this can lead to yes

I sometimes see freelancers discussing ‘how to say no’ as if it were a dark art. It’s not, it’s just a word. I’m a nice person, and I care what people think about me too, sometimes too much, but still I have no trouble with saying a blunt no. If someone offers me work for a rate that is very far below what I find acceptable, I don’t want to waste either of our time. I’ll say a brief but polite no, but I’ll also say why. Not ‘I’m fully booked’, or ‘I don’t think I’m the right fit for this job’, but ‘I can’t do this because I would charge at least double what you’re offering’. Mostly, I never hear from the prospective client again. But sometimes, they genuinely didn’t realise how far off the mark their offer was – and they revise it accordingly. Then it becomes something I can consider – and we’ve both benefited.

5. Find a different way of charging, acceptable to both sides

Sometimes I’m offered an hourly rate for work that is far below the CIEP suggested minimum rate. However, if I ask to see the job in its entirety and provide the client with a fixed fee for what they need doing, it might be that I can provide a quote that is within their budget but that also results in a fee (and an hourly rate) that I’m happy with.

6. Don’t give work away for free

Here, I’m not talking about proofreading a whole book for ‘exposure’, which is obviously not a favourable proposition, but rather about the little extra aspects of a job that can seem insignificant, but which we should be charging for. Do I charge for meetings? Hell yes, and particularly if they involve preparation or travel. Even a friendly Zoom call has associated costs for the freelancer. You may choose to include these kinds of extras in the overall fee for a job, which is fine, but make sure you take them into account one way or another.

7. Be bold

This circles back to tip 1. Quite simply, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. Sometimes it pays to work out what you think you should charge, and then charge more. You will read advice that tells you to try doubling your rates. (I’ve never attempted this myself; perhaps one day I will. I recommend reading Cash Money Freelancing by Tom Albrighton for lots more ideas like this – you can follow @CashFreelancing on Twitter for regular tips.) But I have often worked out a good rate for something and then added a bit extra to my quote. Not just for contingency related to the project. But because of all the things we have to pay for ourselves as freelancers: time off, sick leave, pension and so on, as well as quality of life. In this instance, the worst anyone can say is no, and even then, all is not lost – you can still negotiate. The point is, no one is just going to hand you money for doing this wonderful job. You’re going to have to stand out, you’re going to have to earn it, and you’re going to have to ask for it. And that’s fine.

Summing up

This article has looked at ways to maximise your earnings, while providing an excellent service and, crucially, keeping your clients happy. It can be done – and it leads to better outcomes for everyone. For more information about pricing work, I recommend the CIEP guide Pricing a Project, by Melanie Thompson. It’s also worth checking the current CIEP suggested minimum rates, and directing clients there if they are offering less.

About Liz Jones

Liz Jones has been an editor since 1998, and freelance since 2008. She works on non-fiction projects of all kinds, for publishers, businesses and independent authors. She’s
also one of the commissioning editors on the CIEP information team.

 

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: currency by Jason Leung; Nope by Daniel Herron, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

 

What editors think about planning financially for the future

Last month, Liz Jones asked in the CIEP forums for editors’ thoughts on preparing for the future, from a financial point of view. Liz mentioned pensions specifically, but it became clear from the responses that the picture is more complicated than that.

Some people described how they were able to save a good chunk of their earnings each month or year. For many others, especially when working freelance, earnings can fluctuate, so it can be difficult to save a fixed amount per month, or to save as much as we think we should be saving! This article considers the different approaches editors have, and also provides a list of useful links recommended by members.

  • Starting to save
  • Dividing up earnings
  • Pensions
  • ISAs
  • Other investments
  • State pension (in the UK)
  • Financial advice
  • Not stopping
  • Summing up – there’s no one size fits all, but make a start!
  • Useful links

Starting to save

One point that came up again and again was that it was more important to make a start with saving for the future – any kind of start – than it was to be able to implement the perfect retirement plan right away. It turned out I wasn’t the only editor who, until recently, had been burying their head in the sand, hoping the future wouldn’t apply to them. Obviously, there are ideal levels of savings to aspire to, which might keep us in the style to which we’ve become accustomed. But if that isn’t achievable right now, because of fluctuating earnings and other financial commitments, it’s still better to start saving something than nothing at all, and then build things up over time.

A tip I heard was to frequently (say, every six months) raise your pension contributions by £5–10 or so. You won’t feel it, but it all starts to add up.
– Sophie Playle

Dividing up earnings

Various editors who responded said that they saved 30% or even 50% of every single invoice, putting aside this money to cover tax, National Insurance, pension(s) and other savings. However, this is clearly not possible for everyone to achieve, and a lot depends on levels of earnings, stability and regularity of earnings, other sources of household income and other financial commitments. A clear theme was that everyone’s circumstances are different, and no advice can apply equally to everyone. Others explained that they set aside fixed amounts each month to pay into pots to cover tax and savings. Any surplus left over in the business account in good months could then be invested in one-off payments to pensions or to buy business equipment.

Pensions

Most of the editors who responded were thinking in terms of pensions as the main way to save for their future. Obviously this is a huge and complex subject, and off-putting to many, and John Firth has written a useful introduction to this topic here. Many editors reported that they had small pension pots (sometimes several) from past employers, and some had decided to consolidate these to make them easier to manage. Several people shared useful links to advisory services (see the ‘Useful links’ section, below).

The key was to stop thinking, ‘Well, I haven’t got enough time left to accumulate a sensible pension’, and start thinking, ‘Where is the money I am able to spare likely to grow best?’ From this point of view the label ‘pension’ is incidental (although obviously the attached rules and regulations still have to make sense for the individual’s position).
– Kersti Wagstaff

ISAs

The other main type of savings account people mentioned, apart from pensions, was the Individual Savings Account, or ISA, which is relevant to savers based in the UK. Some people had ISAs as well as pensions, while others were saving only into an ISA. This is an example of where taking professional financial advice can be crucial.

I followed the advice of a financial adviser about 11 years ago, and set up an ethical stocks and shares ISA … I pay into it every month, and it has performed very well indeed during that time … I’m really glad that I got the advice at that point.
– Hester Higton

Other investments

Aside from pensions and ISAs, people also mentioned factoring the value of property they owned into retirement plans. Other suggestions included investing in businesses via crowdfunding appeals, and even investing in art.

State pension (in the UK)

Editors based in the UK mentioned the state pension as forming an important part of their retirement plans, even if they did not expect to be able to live on it on its own. The benefit of the state pension is that it is protected from inflation. However, receiving the full state pension does depend on a record of National Insurance payments. Several editors mentioned that because they had lived outside the UK for periods earlier in their lives, their state pension had been impacted. You can check your UK state pension entitlement here.

Financial advice

Another common theme was the importance of taking professional financial advice. Many members commented on how pleased they were that they’d consulted a financial adviser over retirement planning (even if that wasn’t what they’d originally approached the adviser for). Others wondered if they had enough to approach a financial adviser to talk about. The general feeling was that retirement planning was such a big and important subject – with such far-reaching significance for most of us – that it was well worth consulting a professional. Just as we would advise people considering editing their own books or getting their mates to do it …

Anyone who is considering moving overseas would be well advised to do their research. I had a small personal pension and planned to move the money to an Australian fund but was caught out by a change in UK law after I moved here. It prevents me from moving the money until I turn 55.
– Kerrie-Anne Love

Not stopping

Not all members who responded were counting on retirement, or expecting to stop editing completely. Some members wrote that they positively wanted to continue working because they enjoyed it, while also managing to save more now they were older.

Summing up – there’s no one size fits all, but make a start!

In summary, it’s clear that planning financially for the future is a very individual decision, and there’s not going to be a solution that suits everyone, or indeed is possible for everyone. But the most important message seemed to be that it was better to get something in place to help manage your finances and support yourself in the future than nothing at all – and that it was never too late to do this.

Useful links

Thanks to the following contributors

Louise Bolotin, Catherine Booth, Margaret Christie, Hannah Close, Louise Duckling, Catherine Dunn, Kate Haigh, Jane Hammett, Kay Hawkins, Hester Higton, Gerard M-F Hill, Andrew Hodges, Margaret Hunter, Sue Littleford, Christopher Long, Kerri-Anne Love, Sarah Lustig, Kathleen Lyle, Hetty Marx, Christina Petrides, Sophie Playle, Abi Saffrey, Cory Stade, Melanie Thompson, Kersti Wagstaff, Anna Williams.

About Liz Jones

Liz Jones has been an editor since 1998, and freelance since 2008. She works on non-fiction projects of all kinds, for publishers, businesses and independent authors. She’s
also one of the commissioning editors on the CIEP information team.

 

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: hazy mountains by Simon Berger; growth by Micheile Henderson, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

 

Planning for your financial future: top ten areas to consider

Self-employment brings with it many benefits, but not often financial predictability. Some months, it’s all about bringing enough income in to pay the bills. Paul Hammett looks at where to start if you’re looking towards your financial future.

I’ve been a financial advisor for 30 years, and have talked to a lot of clients about how they can plan for the future and make the most of their money. This article lists the top ten areas to consider.

1. Do you need life insurance?

The vast majority of people with children should consider life insurance cover. When did you last look at your life insurance arrangements? Is your life insurance up to date, appropriate, and held in trust? If you or your partner has company benefits, make sure you complete a nomination form to ensure the money passes to who you want it to.

2. Do you need income protection?

This is an area that many people overlook. Have you considered protecting your income in case you are unable to work? Income protection plans can be expensive, but what would happen if you were unable to work for a time due to an accident or illness? How would you pay your mortgage and bills?

3. Get a forecast of your state pension

If you’re in the UK, visit gov.uk/browse/working/state-pension to obtain accurate, up-to-date information about your state pension: this website will tell you how much you will receive and when it will be paid. In future, you will actually have to apply for a state pension instead of your pension automatically starting when you reach retirement age. This will give you an idea of how much you will have to live on in retirement, and you can start to consider personal pensions to top up your state pension. If you’re based elsewhere, check your state pension provider for similar.

4. Check your previous pensions

If you have paid into any pensions, when did you last review their value? You may have a pot of money: is it in the right fund for the level of risk you’re happy with? How has your fund performed? Have you completed a beneficiary nomination form so that, if you die, the money will go to your partner or children? This is a complex area so it’s often best to seek expert advice from a financial advisor who specialises in pensions.

5. Make a will

Have you made a will? If so, when did you last review it? Is it still relevant? Are the executors still the people you would choose, or are they old friends who have since moved away and you’re no longer in contact? This is important: the people you choose will have to administer your will and carry out your wishes, so you must be able to trust them.

6. Safe as houses: is your mortgage the best one for you?

A house is the biggest purchase most of us will ever make, yet many people stay with the same mortgage provider for years and don’t review their mortgage. Many of these are interest-only mortgages with no form of repayment vehicle. Make sure this is not you! Mortgage companies in the UK are now writing to homeowners to check that they have a repayment vehicle in place. An ISA is the most common repayment vehicle today, but you may have an endowment if you took out your mortgage some time ago. If you want to restructure your mortgage, most lenders will insist it is done on a repayment basis (so your mortgage is repaid by the end of the mortgage term). Ask your mortgage lender for advice, or see a mortgage advisor.

7. If you can, overpay your mortgage

If you’re happy with your current mortgage deal, I strongly recommend that you take advantage of the current low interest rates and think about making monthly overpayments, however small. You will be amazed at the difference this makes to reduce the term of your mortgage. If you can afford to overpay now and get used to paying the higher rate each month, when interest rates start to go up, as they probably will, this gives you a buffer against your monthly mortgage increase. For example, imagine your mortgage is £500 per month but interest rates go up and you have to pay £600 per month. If you’re already overpaying your mortgage and paying £600 per month, you won’t notice this increase.

8. Review your income and expenditure

Once a year, make a coffee – or a pour a glass of wine – then sit down with whoever shares your financial decisions and list all your income and outgoings, to find out where all your money goes and to see whether you can make any savings anywhere. Be honest with yourself: if money is tight, is paying for Sky Sports or having a takeaway latte every day more important than paying for life insurance to protect your children should the worst happen? I advise clients to do this exercise separately then come together to compare their lists – they may look quite different!

9. Carry out an annual business review

When you’ve finished talking about your personal income and outgoings, do the same for your business. Do you know all your running costs? Without doing this, how can you quote for any work or know what you need to charge to cover your costs?

There’s more advice on this in Going Solo: Creating your freelance editorial business by Sue Littleford.

10. Shop around to get a better deal

Rather than clicking on ‘renew’ when an insurance renewal notice drops into your inbox, why not look at price comparison websites to see if you can get a better deal? Try moneysupermarket.com, comparethemarket.com or confused.com. A lot of companies give introductory discounts, so changing insurer means that you save money. The same goes for gas and electricity: check out moneysavingexpert.com/utilities/you-switch-gas-electricity/

Putting the pieces together

Financial planning is like a jigsaw. You may not have all the pieces, but the more you can collect and put in place, the prettier the picture you will make – and the better your financial future will look.

Don’t be put off if you can’t take action on all of these suggestions. Prioritise the list for your circumstances, then review it every year to see if anything has changed.

About Paul Hammett

Paul Hammett specialises in giving advice on investment and pensions, providing an all-round financial planning service to help clients meet their financial goals. He enjoys advising clients and their families over the long term, and has worked with many clients for over 20 years.

 

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: coins by Nick Fewings; house by Tierra Mallorca, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Should I volunteer when my business is established?

Many editors and proofreaders volunteer time and skills at the beginning of their careers to gain valuable experience that might lead to paid work. But once you’re established in your business, with a regular client base, what are the benefits of volunteering? We talked to some CIEP members to find out how volunteering works in a more settled career landscape. In a previous blog, we looked at volunteering when you’re just starting out, and covered the questions you need to ask yourself before giving away your valuable time.

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • Value-led volunteering
  • Making yourself useful
  • Helping colleagues out
  • Supporting the wider editorial community
  • Reaching across the earth
  • Giving back

Value-led volunteering

All volunteering is value-led to an extent, but for some of our members their values are the deciding factor in working out what volunteering work to take on.

CIEP Professional Member Ben Dare says: ‘I have offered voluntary proofreading to a number of organisations that I knew were either volunteer-led or had very restricted budgets. I thought that all of them were interesting or aligned with my values.’

In the end, some of this value-led voluntary work turned into value-led paid work:

  • One turned into a counter-offer of a few hours a week of paid work.
  • One connected Ben with a publisher’s editorial assistant, also volunteering, who connected him with their publisher. That turned into a number of proofreads, Ben’s first copyedits, and an ongoing relationship with the publisher.
  • One organisation incorporated Ben’s work into their funding applications so that they could start paying him for his work on their projects.
  • One remained a voluntary role, but it was fun and meaningful.
  • One remained voluntary with a paid project in the middle and the possibility of more in future.

Ben continues: ‘I also offered to do an unpaid proofread for a few charities when Covid was at its peak, knowing that finances were so uncertain, but also not expecting it to remain voluntary for future projects.’

  • One insisted they pay and sent a few projects Ben’s way.
  • One took a voluntary proofread and continues to follow up with paid projects, and referred Ben to another client.
  • One took a voluntary proofread and continues to follow up with paid projects.

Even with this impressive return, and a client base that increasingly reflects his values, Ben consistently offers a certain proportion of his hours for free. From his records, he has noticed that his percentage of voluntary hours has remained at around 10%. He says:

While I’d obviously have been better off had all those voluntary hours been paid, it’s not a big portion on paper. The important thing is that I only offered voluntary proofreading where I thought there was a need, and when I knew I would be satisfied doing the work, paid or not.

Making yourself useful

Some people volunteer long term for one organisation when there is absolutely no chance of ever being paid for it. Editing church or other faith-based magazines is a good example of this. CIEP Intermediate Member Annie Deakins has been volunteering for her monthly parish magazine since 2017. Her account of how this has benefited her, giving her skills that have helped her wider career, echoes the experiences of some of our newer members:

2017: I offered to proofread the monthly parish magazine for the local church. I was an Entry-Level member. I learnt how to use the PDF tools.

2018: The magazine editor retired, so she trained me to take over. I learnt about having a style sheet.

2019: A new church administrator was appointed. Her job role was tightened, so I took over invoicing the advertisers. I placed my own advert for proofreading services. I learnt about communication, diplomacy and tact. Very handy when querying.

2020: The vicar got promoted. She had done all the church social media. She taught me how to do it. I learnt how to market my own business.

There’s no denying that volunteering will push you towards skills and knowhow that you might not feel comfortable trialling in a paid role. However, for Annie, it’s also about offering a talent that’s genuinely useful to others:

I still volunteer with the Publicity Group at church because that is where my talents lie. I’m not happy doing catering, DIY or Finance. Therefore I do the church social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) and edit the church magazine.

During lockdown, when we weren’t sending the magazine to print, I still produced an online PDF version, accessible from the church website. Usually the magazine is printed in black and white with a colour cover. During lockdown, when it was online only, the illustrations on each page could be in colour, which made each issue cheerier and raised spirits. Even if they didn’t have the hard copy in their hands, I still felt that my volunteering was valued.

Helping colleagues out

Kath Kirk (Gecko Edit) and Christina Petrides (Last Glance), both Intermediate Members of the CIEP, trade their skills by editing each other’s blogs before publication. Working in different sectors – Kath edits fiction and educational materials while Christina focuses on academic and business editing – there’s rarely overlap in their blog material. Their informal barter arrangement benefits them both, and pushes them to dig into aspects of editing that they might not encounter in their usual work.

Sue Littleford, our columnist on business matters, explains how this arrangement works tax-wise:

If you swap proofreading services with a friend for your blogs or your websites, you need to enter the cash value of the services received and rendered in your accounts, too. If they balance, it’s ‘free’ in monetary terms (other than your time), as the tax liability will exactly offset the tax relief. But if you spend one hour on your friend’s blog and your friend spends two on yours, there’d be greater tax relief than the tax liability (and vice versa), which is why it has to go through your accounts.

Supporting the wider editorial community

As a non-profit organisation, the CIEP relies on voluntary help. Its directors give a certain number of hours voluntarily every month, for example. Our social media team (SMT) is made up of volunteers, too. Obviously we have to keep the names of these ninja-like communicators secret, but one comments:

I’ve learnt about tone of voice, and tweeting for the CIEP has sharpened my copywriting skills. Being a member of the team has thrown me together with CIEP members with similar interests, eg in content marketing and user design. I feel I better understand engagement, and I’ve learnt how to write for the different social media platforms. All really useful for my business. And when I was starting out, I learnt about loads of interesting organisations in the publishing world by seeing who the CIEP follows on Twitter etc.

Another says: ‘I think it’s contributed to my appreciation of the wider industry. This can be a solitary old existence, so the team itself is a benefit. In terms of specific skills: awareness of use of appropriate language (gender-neutral pronouns!) and improved skills with web platforms, Slack, SmarterQueue, which is all very useful.’

Louise Harnby, the CIEP’s social media director (at the time of writing), testifies to the value of her team:

I work with an exceptional team of volunteers who deliver every piece of content that engages with the wider publishing and editing community. That frees up my time to focus on strategy and scheduling content that promotes membership growth, training, blog content, and our Directory of Editorial Services.

A team approach ensures the CIEP’s social media strategy is framed in a way that reaches beyond the bubble of a single director. Instead, there’s a support group in which we can share ideas about how best to put the strategy into practice – whether that be the design of our branded templates or the timing of our posts. Plus, there’s more than one set of eyes on our social media feeds and the questions our followers are asking. That’s more enjoyable and more effective.

Being a member of the SMT requires being able to write pithy messages that are engaging but hold our brand tone of voice, understand the principles behind content and social media marketing, and evaluate a post’s relevance and its alignment with CIEP values. For that reason, our volunteer editors and proofreaders tend to have some experience when they come on board.

Over the past few years the size of the SMT has decreased. But what’s stayed the same is the value and expertise our volunteers bring to the table. I love working with them and learning from them. And I’m very thankful for them! Delivering our social media strategy would be impossible without them.

Reaching across the earth

CIEP Professional Member Sarah Dronfield has become known among editors worldwide for running weekly blog round-ups on the Editors’ Association of Earth Facebook Page. She became a member of the editing community on Facebook soon after starting her editing and proofreading business in 2016, and explains how she spotted a need:

Lots of editors were saying that they read blog posts or listened to podcasts as part of their continuing professional development. I knew it was possible to follow individual blogs, but I thought it would be handy for us to have all the latest posts in one place to dip in and out of during coffee breaks, so in 2017 I started a weekly blog round-up in the Editors’ Association of Earth (EAE) Facebook group.

Later that year I took over the running of the weekly accountability thread in another of the EAE groups. That thread is a place for editors to share what they’ve done that week to market their business or advance their professional development. Many editors form their own private accountability groups with others who are at a similar stage in their career or who work in the same field, and the thread is useful for those who are not part of such a group. Having said that, I know lots of editors (myself included) who are in a private accountability group but still like to participate in the weekly EAE thread!

Posting these weekly threads makes me feel like I’m giving something back to the community that helped me so much when I was starting out. It also gives me a routine and a sense of normality that is essential these days.

Giving back

So, why do they do it? At this point in these professionals’ careers, their motivation isn’t so much future employment but adding something to their working lives. Volunteering can lead to work, but often it’s something that runs regularly alongside work, taking up a fairly predictable amount of time. It’s a way of getting CPD and forming new contacts as well as gaining satisfaction from helping in a way that’s consistent with their values. They’re giving something back, which may in time encourage others to do the same.

Do you volunteer? What do you do, and why? Let us know in the comments below!

Written by the CIEP information team. With thanks to the CIEP members who generously shared their experiences.

About the CIEP information team

Abi Saffrey, Liz Jones, Margaret Hunter, Cathy Tingle

Liz Jones, Abi Saffrey and Cathy Tingle are the CIEP’s information commissioning editors. If there’s a topic that you would like to see covered in a blog post, fact sheet, focus paper or guide, drop the team a line at infoteam@ciep.uk.

 

 

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: tree by Brandon Green; Why Not? by Ian Dziuk; sprout by Sushobhan Badhai, all on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

How to attract new clients by diversifying your editorial skills

Can you get more business by extending your offer beyond core proofreading and editing skills? Margaret Hunter knows this works, and she suggests ways to develop your own diversification plan.

Here’s what I’ll be looking at in this article:

  • Why some clients like working with multi-taskers
  • What sorts of skills and knowhow add value for clients
  • Working out what you can add to your business offer
  • How to use this to diversify your client base and grow your business

Why some clients like working with multi-taskers

They don’t want to be involved in the minutiae

I have two main types of clients who value that I can do more than ‘just’ edit for them: businesses/organisations and independent author-publishers. They don’t know all the ins and outs of the traditional publishing workflow – and they don’t particularly want to (or have the time to) manage different people doing the different tasks required. They want someone to trust that they can hand over their raw text to who will do what it takes to make it publishable.

It’s efficient and cost-effective

We’ve come a long way from the inefficiencies of paper-based editing, and content collaboration tools are evolving all the time. Why pay a graphic designer to rekey the amendments that the client has already paid a proofreader to mark up on a PDF if the proofreader could make the changes direct in the first place? If draft text doesn’t fit the page layout, the copyeditor is usually the best person to suggest a solution, so why not save time and money by giving an editor with the right skills access to the design file, rather than toing and froing with the designer?

But don’t take my word for it

Here’s what one of my clients says about why using a professional with multiple skills is an attractive offering for her.

Working with editors who are able to put documents into InDesign layouts as well as editing the content makes my life so much easier. Knowing that I can hand over this additional element means that one person can support a project from end to end. Familiarity with the copy means that editors can make informed decisions about layouts or provide advice working within branded InDesign templates to make sure that formatting and content work together.

Skills and knowhow that add value for clients

Clearly, what you can offer in the value-added line depends on both you and your client. You have to actually have the additional skills or knowhow and your client has to want them. That may mean doing some research on what your target clients publish and how they go about it. You could of course start by asking your existing clients whether there is anything else you could do for them to make the process more efficient.

Many businesses in particular already have streamlined content publishing processes that work for them, and asking your client to explain how they work may reveal somewhere else that you can get involved. On the other hand, some clients may be stuck using a process that would benefit from some fresh thinking or a different approach, so why not suggest one?

We editorial types know that publishing a text is not a simple, straight line from author to output, but a web of many ultimately ‘invisible’ tasks. If you can offer a number of those tasks, that makes you a better prospect for clients who are looking for the least complicated way to outsource their project.

What can you add to your business offer?

For me, my main value-added offerings are my skills in and knowledge of design, layout and formatting. I have secured some regular clients because they were specifically looking for experienced copyeditors who also knew their way around InDesign and could therefore be trusted to work directly in the layout files. In some cases they have already used another professional to set up their templates, leaving me free to ensure an efficient process by editing in Word then doing the final layout in the client’s template.

I also work with authors who are publishing independently. Typically this might be someone writing content to promote their business. They know their topic, but they may not have much idea of how to write about it or how to get it published well. Here again what’s attractive is that I can offer them more than one part of the process. I’ll edit the words, but I’ll also steer them through other aspects of the publishing process so they end up with the files they need to publish a professional book or document and an understanding of the ancillary tasks they need to do or manage. Possibly the most valuable thing I offer these clients is peace of mind that they’ll not be embarrassed by doing things in an unprofessional way.

I’ve developed my skills (and confidence) over the years so that I understand when to offer more than strict editing of what a client has written or to suggest something different from what they’ve asked for. That might be rewriting the bare bones of a text into a better voice for the intended readers, or suggesting a layout that breaks the information down into user-friendly chunks.

When you’re not familiar with the publishing process, you’re unsure of who does what, you don’t know where to look for help and you’re not entirely sure what your text needs anyway, having someone make sensible suggestions for the specifics of your project is immensely valuable.

What, then, could you offer? Perhaps you have experience of getting permissions for quoted works, or you’re skilled at writing marketing copy, or you were a graphic designer so can supply quality images. Or maybe you know a great book cover designer, ebook formatter or copyright lawyer and you could team up to offer a package service. Think sideways.

Diversify your client base, diversify your skills

To help you identify the added-value services you can offer, first have a think about your client base (or aspirations). It seems from what I read regularly on the CIEP forums that many people entering our profession (and some who have been around for a long time) are thinking too small. They associate editing and proofreading with publishers, with books.

If you shift your mindset and start from the base that anyone who writes words for public or organisational consumption (in any format) might need editorial support, the potential client world is your oyster. Of course, as with any oyster, you may have to work hard to find your pearl.

Once you start thinking outside the box about who your clients might be, then you are free to explore what they actually need and what bits of that you can do for them.

But start on solid ground

Before you get too far into diversification, check that your starting point is a solid one. If you’re offering any sort of editorial services professionally, make sure you’ve got a good grounding in the core skills of copyediting and/or proofreading, and have a plan in place to keep your skills up to date through regular continuing professional development (CPD). It’s not enough to have an interest in words and language, a degree in English Literature or be the go-to person in your office for spotting typos.

Think like an electrician or an accountant, or anyone else preparing to offer a trade service, and get the right training to justify taking people’s money and assure them you’re providing a professional service. That’s probably not going to be from a quick one-off course that offers you an easy route to a ‘qualification’ (who’s judging?) with the promise of earning loads of money working from home. It takes grind and reliable study material.

Even if you think you’ll never work with clients in the traditional publishing industry (I’m talking mainly books here), it will still serve you well to learn the basics of long-honed publishing practice and the art of editing from a solid course.

But if you’ve not completed your core skills training yet, you don’t have to wait until you’re finished to start thinking about how you can supplement your core skills and add value to the services you offer.

So, what’s your added value?

It’s over to you now to start thinking (and planning and learning). As with all good marketing approaches, start with your clients, not you. What tasks do they need done? Can you do them, or learn to?

If you’re stuck for ideas, why not take a look at the CIEP’s Curriculum for Professional Development? There are enough areas for CPD there to last an editorial lifetime. Perhaps one of those could turn out to be that special thing that makes you the go-to editorial professional for the added value you bring to a project.

About Margaret Hunter

Margaret Hunter has been diversifying her editorial services business since 2003 and trades as Daisy Editorial. She is an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP and at the time of writing is the CIEP’s information director.

 

 

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: colourful flowers by Henry Lorenzatto; lightbulb by Riccardo Annandale,
both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Should I volunteer when I’m starting out?

Wherever you are in your editing or proofreading career, taking on voluntary work can benefit you and others. But, as many who have done it will tell you, it’s not without its snares and snags. With the help of some generous CIEP members who have shared their experiences, in this article we’ll look at how volunteering can work when you’re starting out. We’ll also suggest some questions that you should ask yourself before you start offering your valuable time for free. In a future CIEP blog, we’ll look at how volunteering works when you’re established in your editing or proofreading career.

Below we’ll cover:

  • Discovering a taste for what you enjoy
  • Learning with less pressure
  • Declaring yourself
  • Getting your foot in the door
  • Using voluntary work for membership upgrades
  • Four questions to ask yourself before you volunteer

Discovering a taste for what you enjoy

Unpaid work is the way that many proofreaders and editors start – in fact, it can be how they realise they have an aptitude and enthusiasm for what will later become their career. Perhaps a friend, knowing you’re good with words, asks you to check the grammar and punctuation in their thesis, and halfway through you think: ‘I’m really enjoying this!’

Learning with less pressure

Once you’ve done your basic training, volunteering can help you test your new editing or proofreading skills and learn a few more without the stresses that could come from being paid. One of our members described the voluntary jobs she had taken on since completing her CIEP Proofreading courses – proofreading two series of short stories, some poetry and three website articles – and the impressive set of new and improved skills she acquired in the process:

  • increasing her competence and confidence in using Track Changes and Find and Replace, and starting to explore Word Styles
  • learning how to save a web page as a PDF, and practising using the Adobe Comments tools
  • using PerfectIt and other macros for the first time
  • compiling a style sheet to use as a template
  • keeping a record of time spent and work carried out, which helped her calculate her average proofreading speeds.

This member has appreciated the time and space that volunteering allows for growing into a new career:

I am finding this period of focusing on voluntary work to be hugely beneficial. With each job I develop new skills or learn about new tools which I can incorporate into my practice. As an Entry-Level Member, I like not having the pressure of being paid – for now!

At the same time, however, she hasn’t lost sight of the ultimate plan – to get paid work:

I am also building up a little bank of testimonials which I can use on my website, and at least two of the clients have said they will recommend me to friends and colleagues.

Declaring yourself

Sometimes you might be volunteering in a different arena from editing and proofreading, but if you tell the people you meet what you usually do for a living, more relevant volunteering work could come your way. One member says:

My daughter is a pharmacy dispensing technician at a village medical centre near to us. During the summer of last year, they were looking for volunteers to step up and help manage visitors attending for their flu jab, along with those attending for other medical appointments and pharmacy collections. Always happy to help out, up went my hand, into which was promptly thrust a high-vis jacket.

When asked what I would normally be doing, I was happy to tell folks that I’m a novice proofreader and occasional copywriter. The next thing I knew, my lovely daughter came home from work with a bottle of red in one hand and the medical centre’s newly penned ‘Team Handbook’ in the other.

Always remember, though, that if you’re accepting ‘payment in kind’, such as wine, you need to declare yourself to the tax office, too. Sue Littleford, our columnist on business matters, explains:

Had the CIEP member’s bottle of red wine been handed over for some proofreading, it would have been a ‘payment in kind’ and yes, it’s taxable. He’d have had to put the cash value of the wine in his accounts.

Getting your foot in the door

Getting paid in wine, or cake/casseroles/bedding plants if any of those are more your thing, is great, but at some point you’ll need to get some paying clients. One member described how this happened for her:

When my youngest was a baby (2012), I was involved with my local NCT branch. I worked with the newsletter team, and somehow took on the role of getting 700+ printed copies of this booklet distributed to local members every quarter!

I carried on proofreading for the branch long after I’d left my NCT days behind. It was only about five hours’ work a quarter, but it was great experience and something regular to look forward to while I was starting out.

Then last year, someone I knew from that time contacted me through LinkedIn. She remembered what I’d done with the NCT newsletter and thought I’d be a perfect fit for a project she was leading on at work. I’ve now had 8–9 months of consultancy work through this company on two different projects, helping me towards my most profitable year by far!

It’s not going to work quite like that for everyone every time, and this won’t last forever for me. But I do think that doing those little jobs on a voluntary basis can sow the seeds in people’s minds, and you never know when they might need you for something different (and paid). It shows people what you can do and how you work, and they’ll remember that.

Another member says:

When I started my freelance proofreading business last July, I contacted many companies and charities offering my services for free in exchange for a testimonial, as I felt this was the best way to gain experience and also increase my exposure in the form of having recommendations to hand.

I had a few positive responses, one of which was from Kathy Bishop, the editor of the Catholic magazine The Faith Companion.

Kathy’s initial response was that she would be happy to help me out as everyone ‘needs a helping hand’, and that she would send me a couple of articles to work on for the next issue, but she wanted to make it clear that they weren’t looking to take anyone on. I replied saying that wasn’t a problem at all, I was just happy with the opportunity to gain some experience and increase my hours.

I now have The Faith Companion as a regular client for the foreseeable future, and I really don’t think this would have happened if I hadn’t originally offered my services on a voluntary basis.

Using voluntary work for membership upgrades

Can voluntary hours count towards a CIEP membership upgrade? They can, if you’re using certain core skills and applying for a certain level. Professional standards director Lucy Metzger says:

For someone seeking an Intermediate Member (IM) grade, it’s fine for some or all of their 100 hours of work experience to be voluntary, and we wouldn’t expect it to be done for a traditional publisher. Some paid proofreading or copyediting work would strengthen the IM application overall, but it’s not a requirement.

However, in order for volunteer work to be counted in an IM application, it still needs to be work using what we call our ‘core skills’ – proofreading and/or copyediting. If a person’s voluntary work has included non-editorial tasks, as well as some core skills work, we would count only the number of hours using the core skills.

For upgrading to Professional (PM) or Advanced Professional (APM), the core skills work experience needs to be for publishers who understand the standards we are looking for in the core skills. If the work is for another body whose core business isn’t publishing (a ‘non-publisher’) the applicant’s experience can be validated by passing the Institute’s editorial test. If a previous application for IM relied mostly on voluntary hours, those hours would most likely be for non-publishers, which would count in a later application for PM or APM only with a test pass, demonstrating that the applicant had the required level of expertise in the core skills.

Four questions to ask yourself before you volunteer

So far, so good, then. However, there are some important questions to ask yourself before you take the plunge and offer your services for free. These questions are taken from an archived blog about volunteering written by a previous blog coordinator, Tracey Roberts.

1. Who should you volunteer with?

Not all charities or non-profit organisations need free help, so do your homework: ‘many charities have healthy budgets’, as Tracey points out. You could follow your interests, and volunteer to proofread or edit something in the fields of gardening, poetry, politics, sport or history, for example. There may be a newsletter for a club or organisation you belong to that you could help with. Some of our members edit their local church magazine.

2. What will you get out of it?

‘This is important,’ says Tracey. ‘If the person or organisation you are volunteering for doesn’t know what’s required of a good editor or proofreader, how valuable will their testimonial really be?’ Tracey makes another very valid point which touches on an aspect that many editors and proofreaders have been burned by: ‘Working for a client (or especially a friend) who doesn’t understand the process (and while you are still learning yourself) could turn into a tricky or negative experience.’ So make sure you go in with open eyes.

3. What skills do you want to practise?

If you want to work in fiction editing, look for experience there. If your aim is to be a scientific editor, volunteer to proofread a PhD thesis in biology.

4. How much time are you happy to provide?

Tracey explains:

In the early stages of your freelance career you will be busy building your new business and need time to develop your marketing strategy, website etc. Any time spent volunteering must fit around the creation of your new freelance business, and other important personal commitments, to ensure a healthy work–life balance is maintained.

Remember too that if you work for a client for free, or even a reduced rate, it will be very difficult to start charging at full rate when asked to take on future projects.

So remember not to overwhelm yourself, and as time passes think carefully about the balance between your unpaid and paid work. As your career matures, however, there’s no reason why you should give up volunteering if it’s still benefiting you and your business. In our second related blog, we’ll look at what you can get out of volunteering when you’re more established.

Written by the CIEP information team. With thanks to the CIEP members who generously shared their experiences.

About the CIEP information team

Abi Saffrey, Liz Jones, Margaret Hunter, Cathy Tingle

Liz Jones, Abi Saffrey and Cathy Tingle are the CIEP’s information commissioning editors. If there’s a topic that you would like to see covered in a blog post, fact sheet, focus paper or guide, drop the team a line at infoteam@ciep.uk.

 

 

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: welcome by Andrew Neel; raise your paw by Camylla Battani, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Flying solo: Customer service – being people-centric

This article by Sue Littleford, for our regular Flying Solo column in member newsletter The Edit, looks at a skill you need beyond editing in order to run a successful business: great customer service.

The article covers:

  • What is customer service?
  • Using the resources of the CIEP
  • Why does customer service go wrong?
  • Why you should demystify things for your client
  • Learning to communicate effectively
  • Getting the most out of contracts

For all we talk a lot about your editorial business being a business, it is a people-centric business. It’s not just indie authors – organisations are made up of people. You need people skills as well as word skills (and all the other skills).

Customer service isn’t just about doing a good job. It’s about how you do that job. You can be technically very good (nobody’s perfect, of which more anon) but you won’t get repeat clients if you’re a nightmare to deal with, or even just a bit prickly or offhand. On the other hand, you can be absolutely lovely, saying yes to everything, but fail to deliver on quality or timeliness.

Customer service comes up frequently for discussion. In 2019, Cathy Tingle, then I, then Vanessa Plaister all had something to say on the Institute’s blog. And shortly after I started the first draft of this piece, Cloud Club West started discussing the ethical side of dealing with clients (both clients’ ethics and ours), using the CIEP Code of Practice and Dignity Policy as a springboard. The same day, Hazel Bird published a great blog on being trustworthy. There was something in the air!

What is customer service?

We’ve all been customers ourselves, so it’s no mystery. I want to get what I meant to ask for, on time or a little earlier (so I’m not fretting down to the wire), at what I think of as a fair price. I want to be kept in touch with the process, but not feel I’m doing the job myself. I want to be alerted early of any difficulties. I want your technical competence.

Most of all, I want to feel secure in a safe pair of hands. And I want kindness – especially in a service like ours, where editorial comments and queries can be an endless stream of barbs puncturing the client’s feeling of pride in their work, and even their self-worth.

But if you’ve not been in a customer-facing role before, or not for a while, it can be easy to think about the job only from your own point of view: your own convenience, your own way of working, your own priorities, your own standards.

Remember: customer service is a two-way street, a conversation, an agreement between two parties, and those parties are people.

Using the resources of the CIEP

As ever, the Institute has already covered this ground in the Code of Practice and the model terms and conditions (T&Cs). Note that, at the time of writing, the T&Cs are being revised, but we’re talking principles here, not hard-and-fast wording.

If you’ve not been in a customer-facing role before, the Code of Practice section 3 and section 5 cover what’s required for freelancing copyeditors and proofreaders. If you offer project management, then you also need to read section 6. If you’re in-house, then you want section 4.

The Dignity Policy focuses on how members treat members, but there’s a reminder in the ‘Statement of expectations’ that there’s an overlap with section 3.1 and section 3.3 of the Code of Practice regarding what may be construed as unprofessional conduct.

Why does customer service go wrong?

My opinion is that it’s usually down to a mismatch of expectations. No, a proofread isn’t a development edit. No, a proof-edit isn’t a great way to save money getting your first draft published. No, I can’t rewrite your 10,000-word dissertation over the weekend for you, and I wouldn’t even if I could. No, my schedule isn’t all about you.

No, your first-time author doesn’t understand publishing inside out. No, your novice client doesn’t have a crystal ball to know all the assumptions you’ve made about their experience. No, your client probably has no idea that sending in a novel chapter by chapter is less than helpful, and demanding it back chapter by chapter so they can carry on changing stuff is even less so. Please no Google Docs! Please! You can’t edit or proofread while your impatient author watches you fillet their book, and keeps adding little tweaks while you’re doing that … And remember, your client may not be your ultimate client, especially if you’re working with business materials.

Many clients have no idea what it is they don’t know. You’re in a position of power, here, and you mustn’t misuse or abuse it.

Educating your client well (and nicely) is an opportunity for great customer service.

Why you should demystify things for your client

In my long-ago salaried days, when I moved from central government to the private sector (a move that very much felt like gamekeeper to poacher) one of the buzzwords my new employer used a lot was the need to make my erstwhile department an ‘intelligent customer’.

What that apparently rather insulting phrase actually means is educating your client to understand what’s sensible to ask for, what’s going to be ruinously expensive, how much time things are likely to take and that scope creep is a Bad Thing. I heard it most whenever contracts were being negotiated for new services, the kind of contracts that run into eight figures.

Starting to sound like a useful concept, once the prices are scaled down? Editors dealing with novice clients have to, or ought to, spend a fair bit of time educating those authors about the publishing process insofar as it applies to them.

The bottom line is that it’s worth the effort of ensuring both you and your client understand each other’s needs, wishes and expectations – unless you like tearing your hair out, giving refunds and worrying your reputation is going to be trashed online, of course.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

A year ago, Caroline Petherick was kind enough to share an information sheet that she sends to prospective clients, on the CIEP Forums (thanks to Christina Petrides for reminding me of this, and for finding the link).

Explore what the client wants. Find out what they actually mean by the words they use. We’ve all had a client ask for a ‘proofread’ when they mean a developmental edit and a copyedit or two first. Why should they already know the intricacies of our world?

Explain what you can and can’t do. If the client is a student, you also need to ensure the supervisor has approved outside help, and get hold of the institution’s guidance on what you’re allowed to do and, importantly, what you mustn’t do.

Ask questions – I often ask which draft number the client is on (too low a number and I know it’s not ready for a copyedit quite yet) – and if the client is surprised that the first draft isn’t the one that’s published, you know where you are in terms of what you need to teach the client, if you’re interested in taking on the job.

On the other hand, don’t bury your client under a tidal wave of interrogation that seems very one-way. It’s a conversation, remember.

Perfection, the impossible dream

Do not, under any circumstance, say you’ll make the text ‘perfect’. There is no such thing. Honestly, there isn’t. Language being what it is, how we express ourselves is an art rather than a science. Comma placement, for starters. Your perfect is my ‘I don’t like that’. My perfect is your ‘who on earth does it that way?’ Spelling, hyphenation, what’s italicised … whatever you’d put in a style sheet is a place for your client to say ‘I don’t like that’ or even ‘You’re wrong. When I was seven, Miss told me you do it this way.’

Promising the impossible is not good customer service, and it gives your client an enormous stick to beat you with, because the two of you will have different ideas of what perfection looks like.

Keep it real

Manage your client’s expectations. The standard advice is under-promise and over-deliver. I’d agree with that, but caution you not to take liberties in either direction.

Over-promising is a pretty daft thing to be doing. It may win you the job, but that’s about all – and the downside may just keep on giving. Don’t promise a standard you can’t deliver, a speed you can’t meet or a competence you don’t yet have.

But don’t go so far the other way that your performance overrides the service the client thought they’d agreed to. They may not believe your assertion that you really need four weeks the next time, and insist your deadline is in ten days, ‘because you did it before’. Wild over-delivering is also a pretty daft thing to be doing.

Use your contract for the heavy lifting

Your contract is another good place to start on the route to an intelligent customer, this time on the business aspects of your relationship. I’m happy to recommend Karin Cather and Dick Margulis’s book The Paper It’s Written On as, although the authors are American, the principles apply across jurisdictions. The book takes you through the type of content you may want to include as it sets out the basis of your working relationship with your client. What will you do? When will you do it? What are the client’s obligations to supply original material, on time, in no worse condition than the sample and of the length you quoted for?

What happens if something goes wrong, whether that’s illness, pandemic or some other crisis? Can you or will you be subcontracting the work? What if the client is unhappy with what you’ve done, or wants to cancel before you’ve started? What are the remedies? Anticipate, anticipate, anticipate!

When is it over?

One thing you need to be very clear about is when the job is finished. How many times, or how much later, can a client come back and say they found a missing apostrophe on p 327 and expect you to refund half your fee? When does the hand-holding stop?

This is where all your communication comes into play. From the outset, you must circumscribe the job. It must go in your contract and in your initial emails.

This is also a good defence against scope creep – just a new paragraph, just a new chapter, just this, just that. Remember the old adage: don’t set yourself on fire to keep somebody else warm.

So, what did Cloud Club West talk about?

A lot! (We always do, and I promised them namechecks.)

Key advice included:

Katherine Kirk reminded us that email etiquette is in the CIEP’s Code of Practice, and sent us to check out Malini Devadas’s podcast on maintaining boundaries.

Alice Yew has a boundary around working on shared documents, whether that’s Overleaf, Google Docs or what have you, but explains to potential clients the adverse impact of an author updating a file that’s being edited or proofread, so that they understand the reason.

Many people reported clients insisting on phone calls (which miraculously take up none of your time and are therefore free, as you aren’t actually editing or proofreading, are you? Katie Ellis reminded us of this recent forum thread on that point), or communicating via WhatsApp at unsocial times (or at all!).

Lisa Davis doesn’t publish her phone number anywhere; Janet MacMillan and several others have language in their contracts that stipulates communication must be by email only, so that both parties have a written record of what’s been said, asked for and agreed.

Laurie Duboucheix-Saunders and I told of technically challenged clients, unable to handle emails or Word documents. If you take on a client like this, your standard contract and up-front emails will need to reflect the different requirements, but be alert to the many ways that people can work around their difficulties with technology (including someone who printed out a PDF, hand-annotated it and sent back photographs of the pages) and make sure that you can either help your client to learn a better way of doing things, or that your contract enables you to increase your time and/or your fee if your client won’t or can’t follow the stipulated communication methods, although Christina Petrides reminded us to be flexible when we can.

Alex Peace’s contract sets out precisely how and in what format files will be exchanged. As she’s mostly an indexer, that’s critical to her.

Laurie Duboucheix-Saunders moved us on to the duty to respond to queries, even if you don’t want to take the job on, and Ayesha Chari advised telling students why you don’t want to take on a job, if their expectations are wide of the mark, and it’s not clear they have supervisor approval.

Sam Kelly reminded us of the importance of educating clients if they’re not yet comfortable with features like Track Changes. One of his rejected all the changes, thinking he’d accepted them, and the journal rejected the article as being in dire need of editorial attention. Cue much angst all round.

Helena Nowak-Smith has had too much experience with clients who don’t understand that they are not the only person in your life – expecting you to be there for them whenever they can get their text to you – and that late arrival impacts the delivery date; whereas Marieke Krijnen has encountered more plagiarism than she ever thought possible. Lots of advice followed from Cloud Club West members to include anti-plagiarism language on your website and in your contract as part of your intelligent customer efforts.

Conclusion

If you want your clients to be loyal and to keep coming back with more work, maintaining good customer service is part and parcel of the job. Some clients may forgive the occasional off day. Others won’t. Most won’t forgive multiple off days. Investing time in your clients and building those relationships, within healthy boundaries, is an investment in your business.

When my long-established freelancing brother heard I was throwing in the salaried towel and setting up for myself, too, this is what he drummed into me.

You. Are. Only. As. Good. As. Your. Last. Job.

I agree with him, but would add:

And. The. Way. You. Did. It.

Summing up

  • Customer service is essential.
  • Investing in relationship building is an investment in your business.
  • The standard of work you produce matters, but so does how you do it.

About Sue Littleford

Sue LittlefordSue 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. Before that, she had been the payroll manager for a major government department for some 14 years.

Her whole career had been markedly numbers based – both in central government and in the private sector – even though she became the go-to wordsmith everywhere she worked. She eventually switched to words full-time, transferring her skills and experience to hone her business efficiency and effectiveness.

 

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: boundary by Jan Canty; We hear you by Jon Tyson, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Forum matters: Developing as a professional

This feature comes from the band of CIEP members who volunteer as forum moderators. You will only be able to access links to the posts if you’re a forum user and logged in. Find out how to register.

In this article, one CIEP forum moderator looks at how we can improve our professional practice by:

  • networking
  • learning
  • reading
  • communicating
  • relaxing.

Start with networking

We all know the basic things we need to be an effective editor:

  • Training? Check.
  • Membership of a professional organisation? Check.
  • A sparkling website? Check.
  • Social media profiles? Check.

But there’s another, more nebulous side to improving our professional practice. Learning, reading and communicating are all ways to develop, although they may not be measurable on a balance sheet. The CIEP forums offer various suggestions, once again underlining the value of networking. If you have a question, however obscure it is, post it on the forum. You can bet that someone will know something (while others will offer a different perspective), and you will learn a lot from the helpful, supportive and knowledgeable answers posted by CIEP members.

Learn

You could consider mentoring – see ‘Advice on website and mentoring’. This doesn’t have to be editorial mentoring. Do you want to learn how to raise your rates and have more time to do things other than work, but you’re not sure how to go about it? Then business mentoring could be for you.

Form an accountability group – the blog ‘Accountability groups: What? Where? Why?’ talks about finding like-minded colleagues for support and encouragement.

Take up voluntary work – this could be related to your editing business, but it doesn’t have to be. CIEP members responded to ‘Tell us about your volunteer work!’ with their experiences of a wide range of organisations, including a church, a zoo and a nature reserve. You can make a genuine difference to a charity or not-for-profit organisation by, for example, removing typos, errors or repetition from their website, or by rewriting a funding letter. Volunteering doesn’t just give you a warm, fuzzy feeling; it also helps your communication skills, as you may be working with people who don’t usually use editorial professionals.

Read

I know, right? We spend all day reading other people’s words, but reading is the best way to find out more and to make yourself more attractive to clients (see the suggestions all over the forums).

You can go at your own speed and choose what you want to read. If you’re thinking about branching out into fiction editing, how about How Not to Write a Novel (Mittelmark and Newman, Penguin, 2009) or John Yorke’s Into the Woods (Penguin, 2014)? If you work on children’s books, then how about Cheryl B. Klein’s The Magic Words (W. W. Norton & Co., 2016)? Want to find out about self-editing tools to help your fiction authors? Then Self-editing for Fiction Writers (Browne and King, Harper Resource, 2004) ticks the box. History, with a feminist slant? A History of Britain in 21 Women by Jenni Murray (Oneworld, 2016). To generally improve your writing style: Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style (Penguin, 2015). Whatever you’d like to know, there will be a book – or hundreds – to help, and I bet that everything you learn will come in handy during editing – one day.

Still on the topic of reading, if you don’t have time for a book, then how about a blog post? Almost a year ago, Melanie Thompson started ‘Blog post corner’, which includes links to some great blogs all about the softer side of professionalism, such as Hazel Bird’s ‘How to be a trustworthy freelancer’. Some of Hazel’s top tips are: ask sensible questions; offer solutions, not problems; admit your fallibility; don’t overreach; anticipate surprises; check in without being asked; and build on the past.

Want to know what the best time-tracking software is? Then read ‘Keeping track of time worked’. Want to make notes and save paper? Check out ‘Paperless notes’.

Communicate

Communication is an essential ‘soft’ skill. Editors are generally good communicators, but lockdown has been stressful for many, perhaps making us a bit snappier than usual, and we should be mindful of this when we’re communicating with clients and other editors. We’d all rather do business with someone who’s pleasant, happy and upbeat than someone who is snappy, rude and downbeat. Perusing the forums is a good lesson in supportive communication (with the odd tutorial in soft diplomacy, if you look carefully enough!).

After all that, relax

Exercise is essential for physical and mental health. If we sit at our desk all day, we get sleepy, cross and lethargic. If we take a break, we return to work invigorated and energised. ‘Self-care ideas’ contains fantastic suggestions to help us wind down and relax, including meditation, mindfulness and getting out in nature. For a virtual breath of fresh air, keep up with the ever-popular ‘Wildlife distraction of the day’.

On that note, I’ve been sitting at my desk all day, the sun is shining and I can hear birds tweeting outside. Time for a walk. It’s good for my professional development.

Networking; learning; reading; communicating; relaxing. What will you try?

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: sunflowers by Roma Kaiuk; Always room to grow by Kyle Glenn, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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