Tag Archives: Finance

What’s e-new? Open banking

This article by Andy Coulson, for the regular What’s e-new? column in members’ newsletter The Edit, looks at open banking, and how it can help with keeping track of personal and self-employed finances, and tax obligations.

Open banking is an innovation that aims to open up what has until now been a very conservative industry – banking. The UK regulation enabling this, the Payment Services Directive, came into law in 2018, but we are now seeing more services that use open banking becoming available. Originally the intention was to open up competition, particularly in personal banking, but it has led to some entrepreneurial companies offering new services to us based on how we spend our money.

A style guide for money?

The idea is to create an application programming interface (API) – which is a way of describing how two pieces of software communicate, kind of a combined dictionary and style guide – for the financial industry. This enables new companies to get involved with the finance industry, for example by creating an app that can bring together all your financial information in one place, so you can see multiple bank accounts and credit cards together. The API is run by a not-for-profit company called Open Banking Ltd and is regulated by the Competitions and Markets Authority and Information Commissioner’s Office.

Keeping it safe and secure

Most people’s first thought when they hear about this might be to run a mile, as security immediately springs to mind. The key to open banking is that the account holder has to give explicit approval (or not) to any data sharing. The sharing is done in such a way that your bank and you are the only places where your password is accessed. This means that the system should be at least as safe as your regular online banking. As a further check, all the providers of open banking services have to be regulated by the Competitions and Markets Authority, and there is a list of regulated providers here: openbanking.org.uk/customers/regulated-providers/. Set against this is the fact that more organisations have potential access to your data, so the potential points at which hackers could access things increases. So far security in the banking industry has been good, as it must be to keep our trust, so I personally don’t think this makes me significantly more vulnerable to hacking.

The best way to look at the advantages of the system are through some examples. I’ve picked three – Money Dashboard, Coconut and PledJar – that illustrate the range of services that are now on offer.

Money Dashboard

Money Dashboard is an example of a personal financial dashboard – an app or program that allows you to bring your finances together in one place, analyse your spending, and set and monitor goals. It uses open banking to connect the bank accounts, savings accounts and credit cards that you choose (over 40 are currently supported) to the app and share your transactions with it.

The app then allows you to look in detail at your finances. It will show you all of your regular outgoings in one place, so you can see your direct debits and standing orders, and based on that project through to your next payday, allowing you to see whether you have enough to get through. It will also try to categorise your payments, allowing you to analyse what you are spending on and informing your decisions. You can then also set budgets to help you manage those spend categories. This is all backed up with presentation features such as bar charts that make comparisons simpler.

Many banks are building similar features into their apps, and are increasingly enabling you to display transactions from other accounts in one place. There are other apps, for example Yolt, Spendee, OpenMoney, Moneyhub and Cake, that will do something similar. I would expect some of these to be bought out by traditional banks and incorporated into their apps over time, but I think this type of offering will be one of the most common applications.

Coconut

Like Money Dashboard, Coconut is a dashboard type of app. What sets it apart is that it is focused on the self-employed. It helps you to monitor your business performance by estimating tax, enabling you to set aside money for taxes, PAYE and savings; it also helps you to recognise your expenses and get your finances in better shape for your accountant, and send your invoices.

Coconut sells itself as a simple system for organising your business finances and simplifying tax returns. It doesn’t market itself as a bookkeeping system, but it has a lot in common with one. Open banking links also support a number of the online accounting systems such as QuickBooks, FreeAgent, Quickfile and Xero to add bank reconciliation and other features to a more traditional accounting package.

PledJar

PledJar markets itself as the digital alternative to collecting tins. It works by rounding up transactions to the nearest pound and then donating the difference to a charity of your choice. PledJar allows you to connect to a number of charities and, should you wish, make additional one-off donations. It will also allow you to register for Gift Aid through the app, so that that is applied to all your donations across several charities.

While PledJar is aimed at charity giving, it is illustrative of a type of application – one that helps you to save by using the idea of rounding up transactions. Beanstalk is another app that takes this approach to help you save for the future.

Other applications

There are a range of other applications too. There are many that focus on comparison of financial products – suggesting loans, savings products or credit cards based on how you earn and use your money. There are also several products that aim to make payments simpler and cheaper. Apps like Wise (formerly TransferWise) target specific areas such as foreign transactions. Credit score management is a further field this reaches into – whether this is an app like CreditLadder that helps tenants to improve their Experian score, or some of the comparison products that give you a better indication of what financial products might be most suitable.

The big banks are starting to incorporate this type of technology into their offerings, but some are adopting it quicker than others. It will be interesting to see how this develops over the next few years.

About Andy Coulson

Andy Coulson is a reformed engineer and primary teacher, and a Professional Member of CIEP. He is a copyeditor and proofreader specialising In STEM subjects and odd formats like LaTeX.

 

 

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: online banking by Austin Distel; coconut by Corentin Largeron, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The filter

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

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

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

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

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

Right, to business.

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

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

Let’s keep it simple for now.

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

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

Now you’re cooking!

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

Coming to a price – or evaluating a proffered fee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Establishing a probable duration

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who is my worst payer?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional help

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

For PCs

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

For Macs

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

About Sue Littleford

Sue 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.

 

 

About the CIEP

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

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: numbers by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

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.

How can I be more productive? Part 2

By Abi Saffrey

Keeping track of time and projects (and money)

Part 1 looked at ways we can increase our focus and reduce distractions when we’re working. This post looks at efficient and speedy ways we can keep an eye on our time and projects.

I once went on a three-day training course where the trainer told us to leave our watches behind. She took the clock off the training room wall. And we weren’t working on computers. I can’t really remember what the moral of the story was, but I do remember how odd it felt to have no idea how much time had passed, and how long it was until lunch. There was certainly some discussion about how we are all pretty much constantly aware of the time, with it in the corner of our computer screens. And that weird thing about looking at a watch, seeing the time, and then having to check again barely a minute later.

Anyway … Now I keep tabs on what I’m doing pretty much every minute of my working day, and I know what projects I have to prioritise this week and next (and occasionally next month too). Here are a selection of tools that could help you maximise your monitoring – and if you know of something good that isn’t mentioned, please do share in the comments below.

Time monitoring

It’s really important, for your business records, to keep track of how much time you spend on each task or project. Even if you’re not charging an hourly rate, you can use the time taken on one project to estimate how much time a future similar project will fill.

You can use paper and pen to note down times as you work, or Excel: a recent CIEP forum post highlighted some Excel tips for time tracking (following Maya Berger’s excellent conference session on using Excel to manage your business). The Pomodoro Technique (covered in Part 1) lets you assign 25-minute blocks to each task, and then tally those blocks up at the end of the day.

A popular time tracker is Toggl Track (previously known as Toggl), which has a web version as well as desktop and mobile apps. The desktop version pops up regularly if you’re not tracking your time to prompt you to start; the easy-to-use reports (only accessible via a web browser) can be filtered to only show specific projects or specific timeframes; and you get a weekly email summarising what you’ve been doing (free and paid plans available).

RescueTime is a desktop app that keeps an eye on what software you’re using (and which websites you’re visiting), and then categorises your activity – you can then finetune that and add more granular details if you wish. You can set goals and receive a weekly report. The premium (paid-for) version has distraction-blocking software, so can help you stay away from your favourite procrastination websites (free and paid plans available).

FreshBooks is accounting software, but all its paid plans come with a time-tracking app included. The time-tracking data can be automatically pulled into an invoice and sent directly to clients (free trial, followed by paid plans).

Work management

How do you keep track of what you need to get done today, tomorrow, next week? There’s always the classic notebook option (I do like a Collins Metropolitan Glasgow), or a physical diary (I’m trying out a BLOX one in 2021).

All laptops, phones and tablets have an inbuilt calendar of some kind or another, and they have very similar functionality.

I suspect Excel is used by most self-employed editors and proofreaders to collate the details of the work they’ve done – I use a spreadsheet to note down all the information about a project, and a summary sheet tallies up my total earnings, and my average hourly rates. Every financial year I copy the last spreadsheet, remove all the data and start filling it in again. The CIEP will soon be launching a range of Excel templates to record work, finances and CPD to accompany a new edition of its Going Solo guide. Maya Berger has created The Editor’s Affairs (TEA) – a selection of spreadsheets that will give you an insight into what you’re earning and what you could be charging (paid for, with personalisation available).

Todoist is a comprehensive but simple task manager – or to-do list – app; it allows you to add tasks by forwarding emails, and has integration with many other apps and tools (including Alexa) (free and paid plans).

Trello is based on Kanban boards, a project-management tool where tasks can be moved from one section within a board to another, or across boards. This has been the one thing I’ve tried in recent years that has really worked for me: I’ve been using Trello for about two years, and create a board for each week. Within each board I have a list for each day, as well as a master ‘to do’ list and a ‘done’ list. I start the week with all my cards (tasks) in the ‘to do’ list, and drag them across to the day on which I want to get them done. At the end of the week, I move all the things I haven’t done into the next week’s board and close down the now old board (free).

A quiet week on Trello

Sue Browning wrote a blog post last year about Cushion, an app that helps you plan your schedule, track your time and sort out your invoices (free trial, then paid-for plans).

There are lots of accounting software/app options too; QuickBooks, FreeAgent and FreshBooks are set up for sole traders, and can save you time when it comes to tracking expenses, invoicing and preparing your tax returns (all free trial, then paid-for plans).

The good news is that these two posts on productivity have barely scratched the surface of what’s available. New options appear all the time, so keep in touch on the CIEP forums, or comment below if there’s something you really rate that hasn’t been covered. We may even be able to produce a third blog on productivity. Now that’s what I call productive.

Abi Saffrey is an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP. She’ll try any productivity gimmick or gadget but really didn’t get on with bullet journaling. A member of the CIEP’s information team, she coordinates this blog and edits Editorial Excellence, the Institute’s external newsletter.

 


Andy Coulson’s most recent What’s e-new? post covers some other tools that can help you boost your business in 2021.


Photo credits: clock by Sonja Langford on Unsplash

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

What’s e-new? Free and easy accounting

By Andy Coulson

Accounts are a fundamental part of your business, but like many people, I loathe doing them. For a long time, I’ve used Excel and an accountant to deal with mine, but have been exploring accounting packages for some time. I experimented with FreeAgent, which offers a discount to CIEP members, and found it clear and easy to use, but eventually gave up on it because I found it really fiddly to pay myself. My accountant sorts my payroll, but FreeAgent seems to insist I run payroll, or else have to go through a real rubbing my tummy while patting my head process to record it. I suspect that if you are a sole trader or happy to run the integrated payroll this would be easy (ie you are not trying to bend things to your will!).

This led to me discovering QuickFile, a largely free, UK-based accounting package. QuickFile doesn’t include payroll, so I can simply add the salary and categorise it as a PAYE salary payment, which I find simpler. I can leave payroll to the accountant. I say largely free because you won’t pay anything if you have fewer than 1,000 ledger transactions per accounting year. There are also some optional chargeable items, like open banking links that enable you to auto-update your accounts from your bank. This costs a very reasonable £15 per year.

The initial setup of QuickFile is very straightforward. You add details of yourself (and your company if you need to), set up your bank accounts and the opening balance for when you want to start using QuickFile, and you can get started. You can then manually import bank transactions and set up open banking feeds if you wish.

Like most other accounting packages, QuickFile is built around a dashboard. This gives you a quick, clear overview of what is coming into and out of your business and quick access to your bank accounts.

Invoicing and purchasing

Invoicing within the system is straightforward. You can customise your invoices around a number of templates, allowing you to add your own branding to invoices. The system allows you to create your invoices or estimates and have a nice clear ‘Draft’ stamp on them until they are ready to send. The system also includes client management, so you can build a database of the people and organisations you invoice, making repeat invoicing simple. There is an option to import clients from a spreadsheet, and the program has guidance on how to do this, but you will need to have a bit of skill with .csv files in spreadsheets to use it. Once your invoice is ready, you can send it from within the system using a customisable email. Your invoice list then gives you access to all your invoices with clear amber (sent), green (paid) and red (late) status flags. An outstanding invoices report allows you to keep track of these, and you can also set up automatic reminders for when an invoice goes over its due date.

Purchases are similarly easy to manage. You can enter these as one-offs or as recurring – for example, my hosting costs are paid monthly, so I set up a recurring payment each month for these. You can also enter them retrospectively (I’m sure I heard my accountant tut there) via the bank account screen, so that you enter the details when the purchase is paid for. While this is perhaps not good practice, it is simpler when you have a small number of outgoings. Like many other packages, it allows you to scan receipts straight into the system or import them, and the freely available app enables you to scan these on the go. As with invoices, you can build a list of suppliers.

Reports and support

Reconciling everything with your bank account is a chore that I don’t think anyone likes, but QuickFile keeps the pain to a minimum. Clicking through to your bank account gives you a list of transactions with money in, money out, a running balance, status, space to add notes, and a search tool to find similar transactions. The status shows in red until a transaction is tagged. Clicking on this gives you a short menu with the main types of transaction. Clicking through on, say, ‘Payment to a supplier’ or ‘Payment to a customer’ will attempt to find a matching purchase order or invoice, allowing you to reconcile quickly and flag these as paid.

QuickFile also has a comprehensive set of reports, allowing you to produce everything you need for year end, tax and VAT (should you need it).

The system has comprehensive community-based support that provides quick, helpful answers to most problems. This works something like the CIEP forums, with users and support staff from the company involved. There is also a good online knowledge base that covers a lot of common items and has some ‘get you started’ guides. These are really well-written and have been helpful to get me into using the system.

QuickFile provides a professional, easy-to-use accounting system for small businesses. The fact that it is largely free is astounding. Looking into the pricing structure for more than 1,000 transactions annually, the £45 + VAT per year cost looks remarkably good value. If the system isn’t right for you, you can export your data to import into another system, so I would recommend you look at QuickFile as an alternative to other online accounting systems.

Andy Coulson is a reformed engineer and primary teacher, and a Professional Member of CIEP. He is a copyeditor and proofreader specialising In STEM subjects and odd formats like LaTeX.

 

 


‘What’s e-new?’ was a regular column in the SfEP’s magazine for members, Editing Matters. The column has moved onto the blog until its new home on the CIEP website is ready.

Members can browse the Editing Matters back catalogue through the Members’ Area.


Photo credits: Accounting calculator by StellrWeb; paying online by rupixen.com, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Freelancing job websites: are they worth it?

By Sofia Matias

At the beginning of our self-employed journey, we editors and proofreaders are, more often than not, overburdened with questions, but none perhaps more important than this one: where can we find work?

If we trust Google with answering that for us, the outcome is near-unanimous: most hyperlinks on the first page of results lead, in some form or another, to freelancing job platforms. They promise that ‘millions of people use [us] to turn their ideas into reality’ (Freelancer), that ‘we’ll make earning easy’ (Fiverr) or that they will give you ‘access to a stream of projects from our international client community’ (PeoplePerHour). But, with so many competing platforms – and millions of freelancers vying for the same jobs – is joining them a good idea?

As is the case with most aspects of self-employed life, what works for one person might not work for another, so ‘your mileage may vary’ is an appropriate sentiment to bear in mind. I know of several people who have successfully found work on these platforms, but my personal experience with them has not been the same. Here is what I learned from my time on these freelancing websites.

Fees, fees, and more fees

These websites are, of course, a business in themselves, so they must make money. Joining them is always free so there are no upfront costs to creating your profile on them, which makes for a good starting point for editors and proofreaders who are not ready to invest in, for example, building their own website or paying for advertisements. Even on the platforms where you can list your services as a product that interested people can buy outright, instead of bidding on listed jobs (such as Fiverr), doing so is free.

However, this is as far as the free lunches go. If you want to make your listings stand out, you can pay a fee to have them be featured on searches and reach more people, increasing your chances of booking work. This is not uncommon, but the point where some people might turn away is the one where, if you do get that all-elusive job, the platform will then take a cut of up to 20% from your payment. This, in conjunction with taxes and other fees (such as having to pay for the opportunity to bid on jobs, with no guarantee you will get them), can make earning a living on these job platforms an uphill battle (and definitely not as ‘easy’ as some of them claim).

High competition for little pay

With such high fees, you would assume that getting a job would be somewhat possible, right? Since it’s in their best interest to make money from you?

Again, your experience may differ, but if there is one thing that most editors and proofreaders agree on, it is that these platforms are filled with millions of people that can do (or claim to do) the same as you do, and who are more than willing to undercut your prices. In fact, you might even struggle to achieve fees that reach the UK minimum wage, let alone the CIEP suggested minimum rates. This is the main reason why I never booked a job on them: I had interest from buyers and personalised invitations to apply for jobs, but I did not want to work for less than my established fee, so I rejected them.

Remember, these platforms are worldwide, and what accounts for a low fee by UK standards can be perfectly acceptable in other countries (and the same applies to the standards of work produced). So, if you want to succeed, you might have to compromise what you are hoping to get for your work, or put in a lot more effort.

Opportunity to learn and acquire experience

Even though I personally never got work from any of the websites I was signed up for, I learned invaluable lessons that I successfully applied when it came to launching my own business. I realised just how important marketing is to succeed when self-employed and learned what to do and not to do when pitching my services.

For people who have an interest in editing or proofreading, but are not sure if it is the right career choice for them, these websites provide the opportunity to try it out without a sizeable upfront investment. For aspiring professionals who want to embark on full-time self-employment but do not want to do so without earning relevant experience, these platforms can be a good opportunity to get some testimonials under your belt, especially if you have another source of income and can be flexible with your prices.

The competition will still be there if you decide to create a business outside of these platforms – and can be just as fierce – so having a place to at least practise how you put yourself across to possible clients is a huge plus.

In short …

Not every editor’s journey is the same, so answering the question ‘are freelance platforms worth it?’ is not as simple as a ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

If you are considering looking for work or establishing yourself in any of these freelancing websites, at the very least do your research on which ones are more suitable for you and the work you offer, be fully aware of how they operate, and read reviews (from sellers, not buyers).

What they are not is a magical road to success, so be prepared to be flexible and put in the time and effort these platforms demand. They might just work for you and, if they do not, you can still learn valuable skills you can apply in your career as an editor or proofreader.

Sofia Matias is a professional writer, editor and proofreader based in the South East of Scotland. She specialises in working with independent authors of Young Adult and general fiction, arts and humanities students (including ESL) and businesses, charities and publications in need of clear and concise copy or editorial content.

 

 


The CIEP’s Pricing a Project guide describes the quotation process, from taking a brief to agreeing terms and conditions. This practical guide comprises tips, checklists and worked examples to assist not only freelancers but also clients who seek the services of editorial professionals.


Photo credits: Woman at desk by Andrea Piacquadio (Pexels); pennies by Josh Appel (Unsplash); person at desk with notes by Startup Stock Photos (Pexels).

Proofread by Kelly Urgan, Entry-Level Member.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Uncovering the value of your work

By John Niland

In a recent conversation, a copyeditor posed the following question: How can I justify a higher rate, when I’m ‘just’ being asked to review a couple of thousand words of text?

I hear a similar question nearly every week, from accountants, lawyers, web designers, video producers, trainers … all professionals who are constantly being asked to ‘just’ do something. Indeed, I sometimes wonder if certain clients use the word ‘just’ to devalue a job, even before a professional ever gets to quote for it.

Nevertheless, I had to issue a gentle challenge to my copyeditor friend. It is apparent to me that she is already doing more to devalue her work than her client is. Can you see how?

You may wish to take a moment to reflect back before reading on. What’s the problem with the way that she is looking at value?

Context

Value is all about context, as the following story illustrates. A father once said to his son, ‘You graduated with honours. As a reward, here is a car I acquired many years ago. It is now several years old. But before I give it to you, take it to the used-car dealership and tell them I want to sell it and see how much they offer you.’ The son went to the used-car place, returned to his father and said, ‘They offered me £1,000 because it looks rather old.’ The father said, ‘Take it to the pawn shop.’ The son went to the pawn shop, returned to his father and said, ‘The pawn shop only offered £100 because it is such an old car.’ The father asked his son to go to a car club and show them the car. The son took the car to the club, returned and told the father, ‘Some people in the club offered £50,000 for it since it’s a Nissan Skyline R34, an iconic car and sought after by many.’

In the usual telling of the story, the father then lectures his son: ‘The right place values you the right way. If you are not valued, do not be angry, it means you are in the wrong place. Those who know your value are those who appreciate you. Never stay in a place where no one sees your value.’

Extrinsic value

So far, so good. However, there is a more fundamental point to this story: that value is extrinsic (ie based on context), rather than intrinsic (ie based on content). It’s not the condition of the metal that defines the value of the car, any more than the quantity of text defines the value of the copyediting job. It’s not the age of the car, any more than it’s the age of the copyeditor. Nor is it even the mileage of the car, any more than it’s the experience of the copyeditor.

The copyeditor is looking in the wrong place to find her professional value. As professionals, we will never find our full value in the content of our work: it’s the context that makes our work valuable. Needless to say, this distinction often produces howls of protest from purist practitioners. ‘What! No! It’s the quality of my writing / design / coaching etc that’s the key to my value!’ Well … not really. Most clients see quality as fitness to purpose and the value of that purpose lies squarely in the client’s world (context) … not in your content. No matter how good your content is.

Let’s walk through another illustration. Two web designers draft identical webpages: same text, same images, same design, same call-to-actions. One of those pages sits on a busy site, on a ‘crossroads’ often visited because of links from partners and associates. The other page is part of a standalone website, rarely visited, with no links. Which page has the most value? Which page would you spend most money to enhance?

Not content

Value depends on context, not content. When I work with my professional clients to fully master this distinction, it’s often quite liberating. They become much more fluent in the issues of their chosen client world; hence more compelling in first meetings. Their time-management improves – often quite dramatically – as they align their hours with the value added by their work. Over the course of a few months, they often learn to double and triple their fees, because they are no longer competing with generalists and instead can point to the true benefits of their unique value-centred approach. Younger professionals learn that they don’t need to first amass years of experience, but can differentiate themselves early on in their career, simply by becoming masters of context, not content.

There are many practical skills to learn here. Let’s look at some opening questions that our copyeditor friend might ask, to focus on the context (rather than the content) of her work. Here are some examples:

  • How will the client judge the success of this project?
  • Who will be making that assessment? When and how?
  • What impact could this project have on sales/engagement/signups, etc?
  • What’s their experience/history so far? What happened last time they tried to engage someone like me?
  • What other initiatives are going on that we should take into account?

You can quickly craft some of your own questions, to fit your style and market. As a rule of thumb, ask yourself if your questions are about them and their world, or about you and the work you are being asked to do. If it’s the former, you are well on your way to uncovering context, wherein lies the real value of your work.

Of course, there are challenges along the way. There are clients who block professionals from context. There are agents and middlemen who could not care less. There are last-minute clients who constantly suffer from hurry-sickness and just don’t have time for a value conversation. This is when your own self-worth is vital. Whatever happens, you know you don’t belong in a place where people don’t want to see real value. So find better clients and move on.

© John Niland, August 2020

John Niland runs regular webinars for professionals to improve the value of their work. See www.selfworthacademy.com/webinars/ for the current schedule. John’s book ‘The Self-Worth Safari’ is available on Amazon.

 


The CIEP’s Pricing a Project guide looks at preparing quotations for editorial work.


Photo credits: Plant in coins – Micheile Henderson; Nissan Skyline – Ondrej Trnak, both on Unsplash

Proofread by Emma Easy, Intermediate Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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