An American Editor

July 3, 2019

It’s All About the Benjamins! EditTools’ Time Tracker (Part I)

By Richard Adin

In the early years of my freelance editing career, I joined the EFA (Editorial Freelancers Association) as a way to “meet,” via its chat list, other freelance editors. One thing that struck me was how united — except for me and a very few others — EFA members were in their approach to the business of editing. We outliers viewed our chosen career as a business, while most of our colleagues viewed what they did as more like art; that is, they paid as little attention as possible to the business side of freelancing and as much as possible to the skill (editorial) side.

There were many discussions about financial struggles, poor pay, added tasks, multiple passes, and the like. There were few discussions (and very few discussants) regarding advertising, promotion, business practices, calculating what to charge, negotiating — any of the business-side skills. And when business-oriented discussions did start, they often ended quickly because colleagues piled on about how craft was so much more important than something as pedestrian as business and money.

As I said, I was an outlier. For me, it was about the Benjamins (the money). Freelancing was my full-time job — my only source of income. I had a mortgage to pay and two children to feed, clothe, keep healthy, and school. I had no trust fund or wealthy relative who couldn’t wait to send me money on a regular basis. Although how well I edited was very important to both myself and my clients, the money was equally important to me.

I recognized from the start that if I didn’t pay close attention to the business side of freelancing, my family and I would be in trouble. When my son needed $5,000 worth of dental work, it was my job to make sure he got it. It was not my job to tell the dentist, “Sorry, but I am an artisan without sufficient income to pay for your services.” When it came time for college, it was my job to try to get my children through with minimal or no debt for them to deal with upon graduation. And this doesn’t even address such things as providing for my retirement or providing health insurance and auto insurance and the myriad other things that are part of modern life.

In other words, for me, it was all about the Benjamins in the sense that my editorial work could not be viewed through rose-colored glasses as if the only thing that mattered was artisanship.

Which brings me to the point of this essay: EditTools 9 and the project management macros that are part of the just-released EditTools 9 (www.wordsnSync.com).

In Business, Data Drive Success

What seems a lifetime ago, I wrote a series of essays for An American Editor about calculating pricing and why it is important not to look at rate surveys or ask colleagues for guidance (see, for example, the five-part essay “What to Charge,” beginning with Part I, and “The Quest for Rate Charts.” ) Yet, when I go to chat lists like Copyediting-l, it is not unusual to find colleagues asking “What should I charge?” or “What is the going rate?” Nor is it unusual to see a multitude of responses, not one of which is really informative or meaningful for the person who asked the question.

When I meet or speak with colleagues and these questions come up, I usually ask if they have read my essays (some yes, some no) and have ever actually gathered the data from their own experiences and used that data to calculate their personal required Effective Hourly Rate (rEHR) and their actual EHR, both for a project and over the course of many projects. Nearly universally, the answer to the latter questions (about data collection, rEHR, and EHR) is “no.” Why? Because “it is too much effort” or “the XYZ rate chart says to charge X amount” or “I can’t charge more than the going rate.”

But here are the problems: If you don’t collect the data,

  • you can’t determine what you are actually earning (as opposed to what you are charging; you can be charging $3 per page but actually earning $45 per hour, or you can be charging $5 per page but actually earning $9.25 per hour);
  • you can’t know what is the best way to charge to maximize your EHR for the kind of projects you do;
  • you can’t determine whether some types of work are more profitable for you than other types; and
  • you can’t easily determine what to bid/quote when asked for a bid/quote for a new project.

Ultimately, if you don’t know your rEHR, you don’t know if you are making money or losing money because you have nothing to compare your EHR against.

It is also important to remember that there are basically two ways to charge: by the hour or not by the hour (per word, per page, per project). Although many editors like to charge by the hour, that is the worst choice because whatever hourly rate you set, that is the most you can earn. In addition, it is not unusual to start a project and suddenly find that it is taking you less time — or more — to work than originally expected. If you charge by the hour and it takes less time than originally thought, you lose some of the revenue you were expecting to earn; if it takes more time, and assuming nothing has changed, such as the client making additional demands, you run up against the client’s budget. I have yet to meet a client with an unlimited budget and who doesn’t rebel against the idea that you quoted 100 hours of work but now say it will take 150 hours and expect the client to pay for the additional 50 hours.

However, to charge by something other than the hour requires past data so you can have some certainty, based on that past experience, that you can earn at least your rEHR and preferably a much-higher EHR. The way it works is this:

If you charge $3 per page for a 500-page project, you know you will be paid $1,500. If your rEHR is $30, you also know that you have to complete the job in no more than 50 hours. If you can complete the job in 40 hours, the client still pays $1,500 because the fee is not tied to the time spent but to the page count, and your EHR is $37.50. If you were charging by the hour and charged your rEHR of $30, you would be paid $1,200 — a $300 revenue loss.

All of this is based on knowing your data. During my years as a freelancer, I accumulated reams of data. The data were not always well-organized or easy to access until I got smarter about how track the information, but it was always valuable. Within months of first collecting data, I learned some valuable things about my business. I learned, among many other things, that for me (I emphasize that this applies solely to me and my experience):

  • medical textbooks earned a higher EHR than any other type of project;
  • charging by the page was better than charging hourly;
  • calculating a page by number of characters rather than words was better;
  • high-page-count projects that took months to complete were better than low-page-count projects (I rarely edited books of fewer than 3,000 manuscript pages and usually edited texts ranging between 5,000 and 7,500 manuscript pages; I often edited books that ran between 15,000 and 20,000+ manuscript pages);
  • working directly with an author was highly problematic and to be avoided;
  • limiting my services to copyediting was best (I phased out proofreading and other services);
  • working only with clients who would meet my payment schedule was best;
  • saying no, even to a regular, long-time client, was better for business than saying yes and not doing a topnotch job because I hated the work.

I also learned that investing in my business, such as spending many thousands of dollars to create and improve EditTools, paid dividends over the long term (the more-important term).

And I learned a lesson that many editors don’t want to accept: that sometimes you lose money on a project, but that is no reason not to try again. Too many editors have told me that when they have charged by a non-hourly method, they lost money, so they returned to hourly charging. How they know they lost money, I do not know, because they had no idea what their rEHR was, but their assumption was that if they earned less than they would have had they charged by the hour, they lost money. This is not only incorrect thinking, it is short-term thinking.

Such decisions have to be made based on data. Because collecting and analyzing accurate data is a stumbling block for many editors, EditTools 9 includes the Time Tracker project management macro, discussion of which will begin in Part 2 of this essay.

Richard (Rich) Adin is the founder of the An American Editor blog, author of The Business of Editing, owner of wordsnSync, and creator/owner of EditTools.

April 22, 2019

On the Basics — Making time for marketing

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Editor-in-Chief & Owner

We’ve all heard the seemingly constant drum roll about the importance not only of marketing our editing services and businesses, but of doing so constantly, regularly, eternally. We’re expected to develop and post regularly to our own blogs, comment on colleagues’ blogs, be active in Facebook groups for our various business niches, post often at LinkedIn, blather on Twitter, join in professional associations, participate in the discussion lists and other outlets of those groups, create and send out newsletters, even be visually present in places like Instagram and YouTube. Not to mention attend meetings of those associations, go to the occasional conference, maybe even make presentations.

Oh, and don’t forget learning about and enhancing the keyword and search engine optimization (SEO) aspects of, and updating content at, our websites — assuming we’ve all created websites for our editorial businesses, or had them created for us.

On top of all that, there are also reminders to contact past and potential clients regularly with pitches for new work. It never ends!

Doing all that seems daunting, for introverts in terms of their personalities and extroverts in terms of their energy levels — and, more importantly, seems to leave little time for actual editorial work. One of my clients provides its clients with a list of awards worth entering, and just carrying that out — preparing submissions targeted to various awards, geographies, individuals and services — could require one or two full-time staffers (or freelancers!) with no other responsibilities.

What rarely gets mentioned is how to make time for all that promotional effort when there are actual projects to complete and deadlines to meet (not to mention a personal life). Here are a few ideas.

Oh, and by the way — marketing your skills is important to in-house editorial professionals as well as freelancers, although perhaps not as much. You never know when a full-time in-house job might suddenly go poof! and disappear. If you wait until that moment to start marketing yourself, it will take much longer to get noticed and rehired, and any interim freelance efforts will be much harder.

Start small

To keep from feeling overwhelmed, especially to the extent of letting the pressure to market keep you from doing anything at all, start on a small scale. Don’t commit to blogging every day or posting everywhere every day. Choose a given day, or week, for blog posts, and one or two channels to focus on at first. As the process becomes easier and more routine, increase the scope and frequency of your efforts.

Accountability

Establishing accountability systems is a great way to structure marketing — and work as well. Some colleagues partner with individual accountability buddies to keep themselves on track and make sure that neither marketing efforts nor deadlines go awry. Others participate in accountability groups whose members keep each other on schedule.

One of my online groups invites members to post about their recent successes every Friday. I’m not sure how much good that does for my business, other than keeping me in their minds when members of that group need to subcontract to or refer someone by reminding colleagues of the kinds of projects I handle, but it’s fun to do and a useful reminder of things I might want to add to my website. However, when the new Friday thread would show up, I couldn’t always remember what I wanted to post. I started keeping a Word document on my computer to record a week’s activities, achievements and issues as they occurred; when Friday comes along or I’m ready to do some website updates, all I have to do is copy from there.

Scheduling

One of my clients suggests setting a quarterly schedule for law firms to update attorney bios at their sites, to accommodate news about successes, new professional development activities, pro bono projects, presentations and publications, rankings, and other aspects of individual members of a firm that don’t necessarily change from day to day.

We editors and writers, both in-house and especially freelance, can do the same kind of thing. Having a schedule makes it easier to organize the information you need to add without making it feel quite as daunting to do. If you assign every Monday or Friday afternoon to marketing activities, and put that on your calendar as well, it’s easier to do those activities. Seeing them on your calendar also provides an often-needed nudge to pull together the information you need, or make the effort required, to get it done. It’s always harder to avoid something that’s staring at your from the calendar page or in that to-do list!

Automating

Another helpful approach is to automate your social media postings. There are a number of apps for doing this; you write a post — or several posts — ahead of time and the app sends out the information on a schedule that you set. All you have to do is remember to write something to be disseminated; the app does the rest for you.

Office hours

Using office hours to manage regular work can help free up time to do the marketing activity that we need to do. To keep from being overwhelmed by the combination of client demands or expectations with marketing efforts, set office hours and stick to them (at least as far as clients can see — we can work into the late hours, on weekends and holidays if necessary, but clients don’t have to know we’re doing that).

Many of us put our office hours at our websites. Others craft responses ahead of time to be prepared for those inevitable times when clients ask for work to be done at what we consider unreasonable hours.

Deadline-driven

Another approach is to treat marketing activity as an assignment. This is similar to scheduling specific days to do marketing: Put it on your calendar as if it’s a work deadline.

Networking

You knew I couldn’t write about a business aspect of editing without mentioning networking. Being active and visible in professional organizations, discussion lists, LinkedIn and Facebook groups, Twitter, etc., is essential to your marketing activity. Networking is where you meet and are met, see and are seen. The more people see that you are someone with skills who is worth working with, the more business you will generate.

Rewards

Beyond all of these approaches, some of us respond best to rewards. Be your own Pavlov and build in treats to motivate yourself to market your freelance business. A day off, a brisk walk, a generous helping of chocolate or ice cream, a movie outing … whatever makes you feel good about accomplishing a marketing goal, give yourself a reward for making progress. Sometimes the carrot of that reward is all it takes to push yourself to include a marketing effort on a busy day. And it doesn’t have to be a major move. Something as basic as updating a LinkedIn profile, adding new language to a website, answering a question at a discussion list, attending a networking event — it’s all grist for your marketing mill.

How do you make time for marketing your editorial work? What has worked best for you?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com) is the editor-in-chief and — as of 2019 — owner of An American Editor and an award-winning provider of editorial and publishing services for publications, independent authors, publishers, associations, nonprofits and companies worldwide. She also created and hosts the annual Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference for colleagues (www.communication-central.com), this year co-hosted with the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (www.naiwe.com). She can be reached at Ruth.Thaler-Carter@AnAmericanEditor.com.

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