An American Editor

February 3, 2014

The Proofreader’s Corner: Editorial Freelancing — Are You Really Ready for It?

Today inaugurates a monthly series of essays by Louise Harnby, “The Proofreader’s Corner.” In her essays, Louise will explore the world of freelancing, drawing on her varied background as an accomplished proofreader, author of books on freelancing, and businessperson. Please welcome Louise as a new columnist for An American Editor.


Editorial Freelancing:
Are You Really Ready for It?

by Louise Harnby

So you’ve decided you’d like to freelance. Congratulations! This means you’ll be self-employed. The survival of your new editorial business will depend on other individuals and organizations hiring your services.

A word of advice, however. If you currently work for someone else, make sure you’re actually ready for the world of self-employment before you clear your work station and wave goodbye to your boss, your annual-leave allowance, any pension provision (no matter how small), and your monthly salary.

There are lots of wonderful things about freelancing — things that most of us are ready for: control over who we work with, what we wear, the hours we choose to dedicate to our business, and the ability to work in the surroundings we choose.

There are lots of questions that we need to ask ourselves, too, before we embark on a freelance journey, not least of which is: Are we really ready?

“Ready for what? Ready to freelance? Definitely!” comes the response. “I’m sick of office politics. I’m sick of commuting. I’m sick of working with people who don’t appreciate me and who don’t behave professionally. I’m sick of not being paid what I deserve. I’m sick of having to barter with colleagues about who’ll come into the office over the Christmas holidays.” And so on.

Actually, I loved my last office job. Certainly there were times when things didn’t go as I wanted them to, but overall it was a lovely place to work and it was full of enthusiastic, inspiring people who were both friends and colleagues to me. I know many people who’ve not been so lucky in their careers; if you’re one of them, freelancing may seem like the solution.

An initial question…

If you’re still an employee and thinking of taking the plunge into editorial freelancing, ask yourself who deals with the following:

  1. Your tax deductions have changed in line with a salary increase/decrease.
  2. Your PC has broken.
  3. One of the organization’s customers hasn’t paid their invoice.
  4. You need to go on a course to learn how to use a specific piece of software.
  5. The company website is down.
  6. Your work station is filthy. The cleaner seems to have missed your work station!
  7. One of your external customers needs mail delivery of something TODAY.
  8. You feel ill and can’t attend a scheduled meeting; a colleague needs to stand in for you.
  9. You feel ill and can’t finish an urgent job; a colleague needs to stand in for you.
  10. The marketing materials need updating.
  11. The company’s suppliers need paying.
  12. The company needs to create/update/develop a mission statement.
  13. One of the department’s external suppliers has underperformed and a replacement needs to be found.
  14. You feel you’ve been treated unfairly by a colleague or client.

In my previous office-based job, where I was an employee rather than the employer, the answers to the above looked like this:

  1. A woman called Kim
  2. A man called Luke
  3. Kim again
  4. A woman called Jane
  5. Luke again.
  6. A woman called Marie
  7. A man called Paul
  8. A woman called Bernie
  9. Bernie again
  10. Me…or Bernie, Jane, Clive, Debbie, Lorna, and more!
  11. A man called Peter
  12. A man called Steve
  13. A woman called Claire
  14. A woman called Susan

In my current job as a freelance proofreader, the answer is “me”, and in numbers 8 and 9 I’d add: “Tough!  You’re on your own — deal with it.”

And all those things that you’re sick of…

Running your own business is empowering in many ways but it’s not a cure-all.

  • Politics — there may not be office politics, but there is still politics. Freelancers, editorial or otherwise, work with people. And where there are people there is politics. It’s unavoidable.
  • Lack of appreciation — many of your clients will be wonderful. But a quick browse on one of Facebook’s member-only editorial discussion groups will soon tell you that it’s not always an easy ride. Many editorial freelancers have had the odd run-in with a rude client, an unappreciative client, a “difficult” client, a client who doesn’t work within the same professional parameters. This is the world of work, and experiences like this are to be found everywhere – we’re not immune.
  • Appropriate remuneration — not all your clients will be prepared to pay what you feel is an acceptable rate. There are various suggested rates offered by editorial freelancing associations, but they are just that — suggestions. Furthermore, not all the work you do will be billable: while someone will pay you to edit, they won’t pay you to tune up your PC, update software, create an up-to-date CV, chase a client for payment, or take time out for training courses. Additionally, if you don’t have any work you don’t get paid — there’s no guaranteed monthly check.
  • Time off — don’t assume that you’ll never end up working holidays, evenings or weekends to hit a deadline. It’s unrealistic. Freelancing is hard, hard work. If you’re the primary income provider in your house there may be even more pressure on you to deliver, even once your business is established. In the early days you might be keen to accept anything you can, for the experience and the possible repeat work, even if that means putting in unsociable hours. Or one of your USPs (unique selling points) may be that you offer a quick-turnaround service. Reasons vary but irregular hours are anything but uncommon, even for established proofreaders and editors.

Getting ready…

Freelancing is hugely rewarding, though it will take most people time to build up a sustainable full-time business. Editorial work is also a wonderful way to earn a crust if you enjoy working with words and have the appropriate skills and mind-set for it. It’s worth being aware, though, that in order be ready to set up your own proofreading, editing, indexing or project management business, you’ll have to be prepared to sort out your own tax, insurance, IT, marketing, training, accounting, and administration. For many, that’s part of the fun of it; for others, those things are a chore. Whatever your view, once you become a business owner it’s your responsibility ­— take the necessary steps to prepare yourself.

Louise Harnby is a professional proofreader and the curator of “The Proofreader’s Parlour“. Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader, follow her on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or find her on LinkedIn. She is the author of Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers and the forthcoming Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business.


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