An American Editor

May 27, 2013

Business of Editing: Solopreneur or “Company” (I)

Today’s article is a guest post written by Ruth Thaler-Carter, a long-time friend and colleague. Ruth is a freelance editor and writer, as well as host of editing and writing conferences.

Ruth and I have discussed numerous times whether it is better to be a solopreneur or a “company.” Here she makes her case for solopreneurship.

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A Solopreneur’s Perspective on Business Models

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

Rich Adin’s blog, An American Editor, has seen a number of convincing posts about the value of doing editing as a company with more than one editor on board, rather than working solo, and why that business model might be the wave of the future.

Becoming an editing company makes a lot of sense for anyone who wants to handle large publishing projects, which is the niche for Rich’s company, but I’d like to offer my reasons for planning to remain a solopreneur as a freelance editor.

Like many of my editor colleagues, I am comfortable working on smaller projects where the overall funds may not be as attractive as what a huge medical text, for example, might generate. The work can be as profitable when you take into account the different level of effort or scale of project and the fact that, as a solopreneur, I end up with the whole fee in pocket, rather than some of it going to colleagues, employees, or subcontractors.

My editing work involves articles for magazines, newsletters, professional firms, and blogs; book-length manuscripts for trade associations; website content; and other relatively short or small-scale assignments. Most of these projects probably would not be worth doing for a bigger business entity. I enjoy working on them, and I make enough on them to pay my bills and feel good about the income they generate. As an editing company, I might miss out on smaller projects that I really enjoy doing.

Based on what I see in discussion lists, many of my colleagues take a similar view of their editing work. Those who work with MA and PhD students, for instance, or academic authors trying to submit manuscripts to journals, often do quite well as solopreneurs on projects that might not be big enough for a company or whose authors might not be able to afford the fees of a company.

When he says that it’s difficult to find individual clients who will pay enough to be worthwhile for solopreneur editors, Rich also has a good point. It is true that finding individual clients can be a challenge, and that the expanding world of self-publishing may mean there will be more and more authors who don’t think they need editors, rather than more and more who understand the importance of editing to make their work its best. But some of us do well in working with such clients, once they find us or we find them; the challenge is more making that connection than whether those clients are comfortable working with us as individual editors rather than as companies or what appear to be businesses.

It is possible that some individual clients/authors might view a company name and identity as more trustworthy and “legit” than an individual freelance editor. That might explain why new authors go to web-based services for editing. However, I think those self-publishing clients who do want editing services also might be scared off by the prospect of working with a company, assuming – perhaps wrongly – that they wouldn’t be able to afford the fees that a company would charge. (I’m not necessarily comparing my fees and costs of doing business to those of a company, but companies usually have overhead and other expenses to cover that a solopreneur doesn’t have.)

There are when times when it would be easier if I had, or were part of, an editing company with employees or subcontractors already in place. When I’ve been offered a project much larger than what I normally work on, I turn to colleagues who might be comfortable working together.

If I had a business partner or employees/subcontractors, I could and would take on much bigger projects, but I also would have a whole new layer of administrative responsibility – even if some of it can be delegated – that I really don’t want. Having an editing company means finding, vetting/testing, hiring, training, overseeing, and paying the people who do some or all of the editing work. Only some of those tasks can be handled by someone other than the head of the company. I would rather spend my time doing the actual editing work; the billing and related aspects of my business are nominal compared with what I assume such administrative activity is for a larger-scale editing company (of course, we all know about the dangers of assuming!).

Some of this decision-making process, of course, is rooted in each individual’s personality and comfort zone. Not everyone wants to own and manage a company. Not everyone wants to handle huge editing projects. Not everyone even wants to make a six-figure income – someone might want to have such an income, but not want to do what it takes to earn it.

I’m open to reconsidering how I structure my business over time as the markets evolve. I’ve adapted to technology over the years in ways I never could have anticipated, so I probably could adapt to a new business model as well. At least for now, though, I don’t anticipate morphing into a company. My solopreneur model is working nicely for me, both personally and financially.

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What do you think? Do you agree with Ruth? Is the solopreneurship really the best model for the changing world of editing?

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