Tag Archives: self-employment

Reviving my editing business

By Louise Bolotin

Like many freelancers, I was hit hard by the pandemic. 2020 started well enough, including a huge two-month project for a Commission. But in the week before we went into lockdown last March, I ran into deep trouble. First, as businesses battened down their financial hatches, all the projects I’d had booked in up to mid-June were cancelled by my clients. And then the local weekly newspaper where I’d worked as their subeditor for several years rang to say they were laying me off. In the space of a few days, I lost 100% of my work. Utter despair and panic set in because after the final week of that lucrative Commission job, I had nothing – for the first time in 15 years of working for myself.

Normally I’d never admit this, but I was not alone. I heard countless similar tales from other freelancers. For a few weeks I seriously contemplated getting a supermarket job. I had bills to pay, after all. I even got as far as half-heartedly filling out some of an application form for one supermarket. But I reminded myself that I still wanted to be my own boss, rather than someone’s employee. So as the public clamoured to ‘build back better’, I resolved to do the same, as there was no point dwelling on what I’d lost.

Once the shock had settled, it was time to roll up my sleeves. Under lockdown, I had plenty of time to review what I needed to do to bring work back to me – I’d let a few things slide for a while because when you are busy you’re often too busy to do marketing essentials. I also thought about what I didn’t want so I could make the big decisions. One thing I definitely didn’t want was to commute again. I’d worked at the newspaper one day a week, sometimes two, but the prospect of sitting on a train for 45 minutes each way in the middle of a pandemic was now unthinkable.

Despite the prospect of no income for goodness knows how long, I pledged to do a minimum two things every day that might generate work, and I also felt I could afford to spend a bit to earn a bit as I qualified for the government’s SEISS grant.

First, it was time to invest in a new website and logo. My then website was 10 years old and looked dated and unprofessional. Within a few weeks of launching my new look, my site analytics were showing increased visits and enquiries.

Next, it was time to up my CPD. First in my sights was the CIEP’s Medical Editing course, something I’d planned to do for a while but not got round to. Under lockdown I had time to get cracking. I completed the course in October and then paid for a freelance directory entry on a specialist network with the aim of finding medcomms work. That is starting to pay off.

As a member of the National Union of Journalists I have access to a huge suite of free courses run by the Federation of Entertainment Unions. In April I joined their webinars on Cash Flow Planning and Freelance Finance to get a quick grip on loss of income. These helped ease some of the financial stress I was experiencing. I also did the FEU’s Grow Your Business via Email Marketing webinar in August – it was both useful and inspiring. Within days I’d opened a Mailchimp account and am now sending a monthly newsletter to my clients. Late last year, I attended the FEU’s course on goal-setting. I’d never done this before, but I set two goals for this year and I’m reviewing them every month. One was to find three new long-term contracts – two of them found me in December.

There were other things – signing up to some paid-for freelancing newsletters that signpost work opportunities and yet more webinars, and joining a Slack community for journalists that was hugely valuable in providing camaraderie and support for lockdown stress and mental health.

Among my ‘two things a day’ pledge, this was a good time to update my various directory entries, including my CIEP one. I polished my CV and opted to spend more time on LinkedIn engaging with colleagues. I scoured job sites most days to look for freelance work. I got commissioned by a national newspaper to write a feature on being separated from my husband under lockdown. My NUJ branch also hired me to update my training courses on the business of freelancing and run them for branch members on Zoom.

The hard labour paid off and work has come back – in November I was fully booked for the first time since lockdown. And I learned the following:

Resilience matters: I’ve always been strong, and have bounced back from some of my life’s most challenging situations. I drew on that in 2020 to rebuild my business, bank balance and sanity. Never underestimate the power of keeping going – you’ll get to where you want to be eventually.

Envy is pointless: I felt irrationally furious at some colleagues who were still busy. Why them? Why not me? Especially the ones who’d only just started freelancing. But who knew what trouble they too might be in? For all I knew, just because they seemed busy, it didn’t mean they too weren’t struggling. I felt better when I let go of the envy and focused on building back.

It’s OK to ask for help: I’m not great at this, but I did. I was honest on social media, in the forums of my professional bodies and to friends offline about being in a hole and needing work. This helped keep my spirits up and some CIEP colleagues were kind enough to put work my way. I have since given interviews on how freelancers were hit and what I did to get back on my feet. I hope that helped others.

Louise BolotinLouise Bolotin began her career in journalism, turning her attention to the editorial side after a decade. She still writes occasionally, but has been a freelance editor since 2005 and is an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP. She specialises in working with companies on business documents, alongside copyediting a few books every year. An NUJ trainer on the business aspects of freelancing, she took her own advice when the pandemic struck.


Photo credits: empty train by Carl Nenzen Loven; small business fighting for survival by Gene Gallin on Unsplash

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Forum matters: Setting up your own business

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

With so many new members signing up to the forums, now is a good time to discuss the many things you have to consider when setting up your editorial business.

The practicalities

If you’re based in the UK, take a look at www.gov.uk/set-up-business for information on all the financial and practical aspects of setting up a business. You will have to register it, decide on a name, keep records of the money you make and your expenses, and complete self-assessment tax returns. Many editors are sole traders, and information on this is at www.gov.uk/set-up-sole-trader. Business expenses for sole traders and other freelancers were discussed on the forums in the spring.

If you get stuck, then contact the government helpline.

As also discussed on the forums recently, HMRC runs helpful webinars on a range of relevant topics. CIEP members testified to their usefulness and the value of seeing the human faces behind the tax system.

Your local council may hold seminars on how to run your own business and may offer business grants for new starters, so check out their website.

If you’re in another tax jurisdiction, ask about equivalents on the forums.

Editorial training

It’s not enough to be good at spelling and eagle-eyed at spotting typos. If you want to work as an editor or proofreader, there’s much more you need to know about, from style sheets and house styles to grammar, consistency, layout and presentation. Good-quality editorial training will: (a) reassure you that you know what you’re doing; (b) fill in gaps in your knowledge and help you review learned habits; (c) help to set you apart from the thousands of other copyeditors and proofreaders, and (d) assure clients that you are a professional who knows what you’re doing.

The CIEP runs core skills training courses and courses on other editorial skills, from medical editing to working on fiction.

So the first answer to the question ‘Why train?’ is the obvious ‘To gain and then improve core editorial skills’. If you have never been taught, systematically, how to edit or proofread, you should start [training] now. Nobody would wake up one morning with a desire to be an accountant and set to work without help. Professional editing and proofreading are no different.[1]

There have been recent forum discussions on proofreading web content and proofreading training for American editors.

What equipment will you need?

  • Somewhere you can work without being disturbed by your household (including pets). A big enough desk and a comfortable, supportive office chair.
  • A computer, preferably with a screen that is large enough to view one or more whole pages.
  • A professional email address (charlotte-edit@host.com or charlotte@businessname.org rather than chaz-lol-xx@host.com).
  • Style guides – so you can answer the many questions that will come up, such as ‘should an ellipsis have a space before and after, or be closed up?’ New Hart’s Rules is a commonly used guide for British English editing and Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) for US English, but which style guide(s) you buy will depend on which language you are using, the type of client you work with, and the subjects you work on.
  • A dictionary – there are plenty of free online ones and a popular one is Lexico.

CIEP members get a discount on many dictionaries and reference books: see the members’ area. For general recommendations on reference works, see www.ciep.uk/resources/recommended-reference-books/general-editing-publishing-style.

CIEP members discussed their favourite work-related purchases on the forums in July.

Marketing yourself and finding clients

Now that you’re all set up and raring to go, where are you going to find your clients? This question comes up regularly on the forums, especially the Newbies forum, so do have a look. Recently there have been threads on next steps in starting a business and business networking.

Also, check out Louise Harnby’s great resources: www.louiseharnbyproofreader.com/marketing-your-editing–proofreading-business.html

Working from home

If you’re used to working in an office with other people, the transition to working on your own can be tricky. It’s not for everyone; some people need the buzz of a busy office and don’t cope well with looking at the same four walls each day.

You need to be self-disciplined and stick to working hours – however you define them! – or you could find the days drifting past in a fog of Twitter, daytime TV and housework: ‘I’ll just pop a wash on … oooh, the floor needs sweeping. Where did that hour go?’ If this is you, you might find a recent discussion on time-tracking tools helpful.

Make a list of the things you need to accomplish each day, so you can tick them off and feel a sense of achievement.

CPD

This has been more difficult during lockdown, but there are still plenty of ways to keep your editorial knowledge up to date. Many local CIEP groups are meeting via Zoom and there are always the forums. See www.ciep.uk/standards/continuing-professional-development for more CPD ideas.

Anything else?

This is only an overview. If you have a question on anything not covered here – who to choose as a website host? What social media platforms are best for networking and finding new clients? – then ask on the forums! Many CIEP members are happy to share their experiences of setting up their own businesses. In August there was a lovely forum thread entitled ‘How did you get started?’ in which many members, experienced and not-so-experienced, shared stories of their first steps into editing and proofreading.

You’ll find a list of recommended resources to help you set up a business on the CIEP website: see www.ciep.uk/resources/recommended-reference-books/running-freelance-editorial-business.

Running your own editorial business can be a hugely rewarding, worthwhile and satisfying way to earn a living. Enjoy the journey!

[1] ‘Why train?’ Rosemary Roberts MBE. This article first appeared in the SfEP’s then newsletter, Copyright, in June 2000 and was updated in May 2004. See www.ciep.uk/training/why-train


Photo credits: Come in we’re open by Álvaro Serrano; Home office by Mikey Harris; Office space by Annie Spratt, all on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

 

Freelance editing and COVID-19

By Liz Jones

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

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

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

Loss of work

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

Financial uncertainty

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

Mental health

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

Caring responsibilities and school closures

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

Help from the industry

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

Government support

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

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

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


CIEP members can keep in touch on the forums.

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

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

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


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

Proofread and posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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