An American Editor

January 16, 2017

On the Basics: Some Ideas for a Strong Start to the New Year

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

It’s a new year, so it’s time to stop for a moment and think about everything that we should or could do to start 2017 with fresh perspectives on what we do and how we do it as editorial professionals. Here are a few ideas.

  • Change your passwords.

The beginning of a new year is a great time to refresh and revise the passwords for all your accounts — email, social media, bank accounts, credit cards, website(s), memberships, etc. It doesn’t have to be a big change; even switching one letter or number will do — if you used 2016 or 16 in last year’s passwords, change the 6 to a 7. Hacking and security are such huge issues nowadays that changing passwords on occasion is the smart thing to do to protect your identity and accounts, and the new year provides the perfect opportunity to take steps to do so. Consider putting a reminder in your calendar to make another change every quarter. You might also take steps to enhance your computer’s overall security against malware and ransomware. Search AAE’s archives for suggestions.

  • Update your account contacts.

Check in with whoever you have designated to handle your accounts —especially social media and e-mail discussion lists — should you have a crisis of some sort, to make sure they’re still willing and able to handle this for you. No one wants to think about mortality, but having someone with access to those accounts who can notify communities (including clients) of illness, injury, or death is important. If you haven’t asked a relative, friend, or colleague to do this, now is the time to give someone trustworthy your account passwords so they can act on your behalf. (It’s also a good time to update your will and healthcare proxies.)

By the way, if you ask someone to handle your accounts in the event of a crisis, make sure to provide language for them to use — don’t assume they’ll know what to say. As an example, a friend’s Facebook account status recently said, “I passed away on date X. See you on the other side.” The immediate reaction of her friends and colleagues was shock and confusion, since this isn’t how someone’s death usually appears in that arena. Some thought it was a macabre joke, others thought her account had been hacked. Since the comment appeared on a holiday, it was difficult to confirm what had happened. It turned out that she had actually died and one of her relatives thought that was an appropriate way to announce it, but those two or three days of confusion were quite upsetting.

  • Change copyright dates.

Update the copyright date on your website, client newsletter(s), and related material to 2017. It may not be mandatory, but it’s good sense in protecting what you write or produce.

  • Budget for professional development.

Start now to set aside funds every month for conference attendance, memberships, training, new tools (whether books, updates for or new software and hardware, office equipment, business cards, etc.), so you have funds on hand when an opportunity arises and don’t have to scramble to cover it. (Keep the fall Communication Central Be a Better Freelancer® conference in mind — and calendar September 15–16, 2017 — it’s a great way to meet colleagues and learn new professional “tricks.”)

  • Plan your promotions and marketing projects.

Even if you have plenty of work in hand, but especially if you don’t, use the first few weeks of the new year to set up a formal plan for promoting your business and marketing your services if you’re a freelancer, or working toward a promotion, raise, or change in assignments if you work in-house. Be prepared to meet new opportunities as they arise, rather than panicking because you haven’t thought about what you want to or where you want to go.

If promotions and marketing will require money, set something aside every month, just as you do for regular expenses or professional development.

Successful freelancers know to market their businesses constantly, because even the most reliable long-term clients can disappear in a moment. We can’t assume that any project or client will last indefinitely. We can’t even assume that high-paying clients won’t suddenly reduce their rates or the volume of work they provide to us. Companies and publications downsize, fold, are acquired, or change policies on using outside services; long-time contact people leave for new opportunities or retire. The classic Girl Scout motto “be prepared” is well worth adopting, and being prepared means doing something on a regular basis to bring in new business, or at least be visible to potential new clients in case the status quo suddenly changes.

  • Update your résumé.

Make sure your résumé reflects both your recent achievements and any new trends in design or structure. Keep it fresh and current so you can respond to requests for it immediately, so you don’t have to worry that you might have left something out or don’t appear up to date in terms of layout and content.

Even if you don’t make any changes, but especially if you do, ask a colleague to proofread it for any egregious or subtle errors that you might have overlooked, or anything worth including that you might have forgotten to add.

You don’t have to be job-searching for an up-to-date résumé to be useful. You might want it have it handy for freelance projects outside a regular job, if you’re asked to make a speech, as the basis for requesting a raise or promotion, as the starting point for an “About” page at your website, or as the foundation of a blog post about career development and progression. And, of course, for that lovely moment when a headhunter contacts you about an amazing, perfect-for-you new job that you weren’t looking for but are thrilled to be considered for. And be sure to update your LinkedIn and other bios, directory listings, and profiles.

  • Review your expenses and income.

Take some time to create a formal, written overview of your financial situation. List all regular/recurring expenses and when they occur. Ask yourself where you can cut back to build up a savings cushion or add to funding the projects mentioned above (professional development and promotions/marketing).

If you’re a freelancer, list current clients and how much income each one generates. If you work in-house, break down your salary into monthly segments. Compare the income numbers against the expense numbers to see if there’s a gap. Once you put those factors down in writing, it might be a little scary — but it’s a vital first step in getting those finances under control, reinforcing a need to generate more income, and reducing any stress you’ve been experiencing about making ends meet.

  • Improve your health.

Among the potential challenges of the new political world in the USA will be health insurance coverage, so it might be smart to start the new year with a physical exam and a commitment to eating and behaving more healthily. The fewer medical services you have to use, the better off you’ll be — both physically and financially.

  • Think about service.

A new year is also a good time to look for opportunities to support a community, cause, or organization. It can be a challenge to fit volunteering in a busy schedule, but making time to do so can be rewarding on many levels (and might even lead to new projects or jobs!). If you can’t commit to personal involvement, at least try to put some money where your social conscience is.

  • Look ahead.

Depending on your age and career status, the first month or two of the new year might be a good time to think about, and do some formal planning for, the future. Younger colleagues might want to invest some time in formal plans for how you want to progress and set some specific, achievable goals for advancing your careers. Older colleagues might want to start planning for retirement — when you’ll be ready, what you’ll want to do with your time, how much money you’ll need, where you might want to live, etc.

  • Start something new.

A new year is also a great time to try something new, whether a hobby, sport, or project. This might be the year to try blogging, either as a contributor to someone else’s or on your own. You could try getting training in a new skill that you could offer in your freelance business or as the stepping stone to a new in-house job. If you’re single and want to meet new people, consider joining a dating site or a hobby group of some sort (participating in hobby groups, a church, or a social service project could lead to editorial work!). If you’re chronically disorganized, look into hiring someone to help you try to get things sorted out — whether files or your home — so you can feel more in control and less frustrated.

Doing something new can change your perspective, cheer you up, help you meet new people, make you feel better, get you unstuck. It’s worth a try!

  • Become active in online discussions.

We often forget how important it is to let people know we exist and that we really are highly skilled. Finding ways to get that word out means we can help others achieve their literary goals. One of the best ways to get referrals is to participate in online groups — actually participate, not just lurk. Make this the year to be more than what I call a “checkbook member” of a group or organization: one who joins but never contributes anything. Post to online discussions, offer to speak, write for an organizational newsletter or blog, etc. An American Editor has its own LinkedIn group — a great place to start making your voice heard!

  • Invest in tools for your business.

Investing in your business is a good way to make your career more rewarding. Who doesn’t feel better when cash flow improves? Investing in tools to make us more productive and efficient is but another method of improving that flow. Look into the resources of the Editorium and EditTools, for starters, as well as the offerings of various professional associations.

However you use these first few weeks of 2017, here’s wishing all of our readers good health, fulfilling work, high incomes, and happy home lives. Feel free to share your plans for making the most of the new year!

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is an award-winning freelance writer, editor, proofreader, desktop publisher, and speaker whose motto is “I can write about anything!”® She is also the owner of Communication Central, which hosts an annual conference for colleagues, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.

March 23, 2015

On the Basics: Coping with Emergencies

Coping with Emergencies

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

A combination of losing Internet access twice in not quite two weeks, hearing from a colleague with a health crisis, reflecting on a health crisis for my husband a couple of months ago, and seeing extreme winter weather create all kinds of headaches for people recently made me start thinking about how editors and writers in general, and freelancers in particular, handle — or should handle — emergencies.

Of course, we can only plan for emergencies but just so far, since emergencies by definition are unpredictable. The problem could be almost anything: a technology meltdown, one’s own or a spouse’s/child’s/parent’s illness (whether short- or long-term), equipment failure, whatever. But there are ways we can do business from day to day that provide at least some, if not the most, protection against the unknown and unexpected as possible.

Having reliable e-mail and Internet access these days couldn’t be more essential to having an editorial business, no matter what services you offer. Losing that connection for even a few hours could mean losing out on hearing from a new client, losing a current client by missing a deadline, or not having access to tools you need to work on a project — fact-checking resources, online style sheets or manuals, cloud-based versions of software, etc.

I get my Internet access through a landline with the local phone company. A couple of weeks ago, I suddenly had no phone service — there was a busy signal instead of a dial tone when I picked up the phone — and thus no Internet or e-mail access. Voicemail worked, but I couldn’t use the line for outgoing calls or to connect to the electronic world. I could make calls (starting with an irate one to the phone company) with my cellphone, but it’s a somewhat “dumb” phone that doesn’t have Internet connectivity.

While I was lucky not to be on deadline for anything that day, I do have several clients who send me work to edit or proofread on demand and expect to at least hear back from me with a “Got it, will do shortly” message, if not to get the actual finished work back that same day. Not being to communicate electronically was beyond frustrating.

The first time this happened was on a Friday afternoon and the line was fixed by Monday morning, so the impact on my work life was minimal, although the aggravation and frustration were still maximal. The line went out again on Thursday, and the phone company wouldn’t commit to getting a repair person out until the following Monday. The repair department doesn’t work after 5 p.m. on weekdays or at all over the weekend. That meant not just a disconnected weekend, but almost three work days without Internet access. Despite going somewhat ballistic with the phone company, there was nothing I could do but stew about it. For various reasons, I couldn’t spend the day somewhere with Internet access. I could still get writing, editing, and proofreading work done; I just couldn’t get online.

The line got fixed sooner than promised, but it was still a sobering experience.

When my husband had surgery last fall that involved twice as much hospital time as we had been told to expect (I stayed with him the whole time, making dashes home in the mornings to change clothes and pick up the mail), I was reminded of several years ago, when I had postsurgery complications that resulted in several months of recuperation. Luckily, I was already freelancing full-time and used to working at home, but that was before cellphones and laptops made it a lot easier to get work done. This time, I could communicate with clients from the hospital via my laptop and cellphone. If I’m struck down again myself some day, I’ve figured out how to use the laptop from a horizontal position and probably would have a smartphone or tablet that would be even easier to use if I couldn’t sit up and use my desktop computer.

We can’t avoid emergencies, but we can position ourselves to handle them. Here are a few suggestions:

  • If you use a landline for e-mail and Internet access but haven’t gotten a smartphone, consider investing in a smartphone. You can still keep the landline. If I understand them correctly, smartphones can provide connectivity without using your landline. I’ll be looking into options for one that won’t cost as much as a regular line that I’d use all the time, because that isn’t what I need; I just want — and probably will need — backup Internet access. Another option might be a wireless phone service.
  • Record your deadlines as a day or week earlier than they really are, so you’re working ahead of schedule. That will save the heart-stopping panic of “Oh-my-God, I’m heading to the hospital and the project is due tomorrow and I have no way of finishing it in time to send it to the client!” or “Oh-my-God, the project is due today and I have no power/no e-mail access and can’t get to a cybercafé!”
  • Update your résumé, website, and any other standing promotional items (brochures and fliers, for instance) regularly, so they’re current whenever someone asks for a bid or you get inspired to send out a query. That way, you won’t lose out on an opportunity for new business that comes in when you’re swamped with current work — it will take that much less time to respond with current information, and you’ll be more likely to make that response than if you have to stop what you’re working on to make the necessary updates.
  • Don’t wait until you need something work-essential that very minute; my version of Murphy’s Law is that things only break down, run out, or otherwise don’t work when we need them the most urgently and have the least time, money, and resources to cope. Whenever you have a few extra bucks, order new business cards, promotional items, subscriptions, etc.; buy extra ink cartridges for your printer(s), new equipment, supplies, print versions of dictionaries and style manuals; pay for a class, membership, conference, or computer/software upgrade; even pay a couple of bills early — phone, utilities, credit cards. If you have a desktop computer, get a laptop as a backup. If you work on a laptop, get another one as your backup machine. If you don’t have a “popout” external hard drive as part of your backup system, get one. If you don’t want a physical hard drive, or even if you get one, be sure to use Carbonite or some other reliable online, offsite backup service.
  • If you’re at all tech-savvy or want to be, consider taking a course in basic computer repair so you can do such repairs yourself. Be sure you have local copies of all files and software programs; it doesn’t do much good if what you need is cloud-based and you can’t access the cloud. If you plan to use a backup computer, be sure to do daily synchronizations. Think about regular cloning of your hard drives.
  • Build up a network of colleagues you can trust to take over projects so you don’t lose clients because you can’t work for a few days, weeks, or months. Know enough about their skills, work ethics, reliability, and honesty to be confident that they can do the work as well as you do, and won’t steal your clients.
  • Have a nearby friend, neighbor, or colleague who would let you use a computer or wifi network if yours goes down.
  • Develop a stash of “evergreen” backup articles — ones that aren’t time-sensitive or can be quickly and easily updated, for those times when you (as a writer) have writer’s block or a new assignment pops up while you’re in the midst of working on another one, or (as a managing editor) an assigned story doesn’t come in on deadline. Writers might even be able to sell those backup articles in and of themselves.

How have you responded to emergencies? What are you doing to be ready if one strikes?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is an award-winning freelance writer, editor, proofreader, desktop publisher, and speaker whose motto is “I can write about anything!”® She is also the owner of Communication Central, author of the Freelance Basics blog for the Society for Technical Communication, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.

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