An American Editor

May 29, 2013

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

Filed under: Business of Editing — Rich Adin @ 4:00 am
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In “Business of Editing: Solopreneur or ‘Company’ (I)”, Ruth Thaler-Carter made her case for solopreneurship. There are a couple of fundamental points that I want to address.

An underlying premise of Ruth’s argument is that she is satisfied with her level of income. Although not stated this way, I think that is an implicit recognition that there is a income-limiting factor that is self-imposed by the solopreneurship. That limiting factor is the focus on the smaller projects.

Consider it from just one angle. When Ruth takes on a 25-page journal article, the work is finished in a (relatively) short period of time and Ruth now needs to find additional work. The nature of dealing with small projects it that there is a frequent cycle of work-no work. Ruth may be able to find another project in a day or a week, but the point is that because the project is small it provides a finite return and requires faster return to self-marketing.

When I take on a 6,000-page project, that project could provide work for months, depending on the number of editors needed and the schedule. Large projects limit the work-no work cycle. From a financial perspective, too, the larger project is better because it assures a steady income for a longer period of time.

But that is only one aspect of the large versus small project scenario Ruth discussed. (I am ignoring her statement, “As an editing company, I might miss out on smaller projects that I really enjoy doing.” because it assumes — falsely — that only small projects are enjoyable. Personally, I find book-length and longer projects significantly more enjoyable than short projects. It also falsely assumes that an editing company cannot or does not do small projects.) Ruth’s foundation is that both the solopreneur and the company work on one project at a time. I think that is more true of the solopreneur than of the company; it certainly is not true of my company where we work on multiple projects — or the equivalent — simultaneously.

The single-versus-multiple project is important only from a revenue-generating perspective. If you can only work on one project at a time — and, let’s admit it, an editor can only edit one project at a time even if the editor has three projects in-house for editing; in that case, we edit them sequentially, not simultaneously — and your hourly rate is $30, the most you earn is $30 for one hour of work. On the other hand, if you are able to have work done simultaneously on multiple projects, you can earn that same $30 plus a portion of the other projects.

Another assumption made in the solopreneur argument is that all companies are similarly structured. It does not account for the various arrangements that can be made that can make up a company. The argument confuses the presentation to the world with the arrangement between members of the company. A company can be a traditional employer-employee arrangement or it can be an association or it can be one of myriad other arrangements. But regardless of the arrangement, the presentation to the world of clients is a presentation of unity. It is not safe to assume, as Ruth did, that, depending on the arrangement, she couldn’t end up with “the whole fee [for her work] in [her] pocket, rather than some of it going to colleagues, employees, or subcontractors.”

Consider one possible arrangement. The agreement between the editors is that the editor who brings in the project receives 25% of the fees generated by the project. In this case, the editor has to do nothing to earn the 25% except find the project and sign it on. But suppose it is a project that requires three editors, and the finder is one of the three editors who will edit the project. In this case, the finder would receive 100% of the fee for the material she edits plus 25% of the fee generated by the editing of the other two editors. Doesn’t the finding editor still get “the whole fee in pocket” plus some?

Even if the finding editor received no fee from the other editors’ work, she still would be receiving “the whole fee in pocket” for her work, just the same as if the client’s in-house editor had divided the project among three editors rather than the finding editor dividing the project.

Another assumption Ruth makes to the company approach is that company fees are higher and authors might not be able to afford them. Just as easily, the fees might be significantly lower than those of the solopreneur. Considering the lack of standardization of fees in the editing industry, I’m not sure how one can draw this conclusion. Ruth’s rationale is that companies have overhead and other expenses that solopreneurs don’t have.

Again, this depends on how the company is arranged. In the association-type company where one editor finds the work and then subcontracts parts of the work to other editors, the only increase in costs would be the cost of check writing to pay the subcontractors, a very nominal sum in view of the increased work and fee opportunities. Even in a traditional structure company there need not be significantly greater overhead. In fact, based on my own experience, I can see where the overhead of a traditional company could be less, as well as more, than that of the solopreneur. The solopreneur has to bear any health insurance costs, which can be staggering (until recently, e.g., I was paying $1500 a month) whereas a company doesn’t need to offer it at all. On the other hand, companies do have costs that solopreneurs do not have, such as being required to carry worker’s compensation and disability insurance and contributing half of the cost of Social Security to anyone receiving wages. I suspect that in the end it balances out.

There is no easy, single solution. What it comes down to is trying to predict what the market is going to require in the future. The trends I see increasingly point toward collaboration among editors in some type of arrangement as a company. I think it will become increasingly difficult for the solopreneur to find sufficient amounts of work that pays enough to keep the lights on. The reasons for being a solopreneur will not change but the economics of solopreneurship will.

The argument about solopreneur versus company, however, misses a key point. The primary purpose of a company of editors is to create opportunities to increase work availability and income. This is done by relieving diminishing in-house staff of the responsibility of finding and managing multiple editors. The arrangements between the editors are not what matters; what matters is that a cohesive group of editors who can work together when needed do so and present themselves to potential clients as having that capability. In addition, it enables editors with different areas of expertise to contribute to the group by expanding the areas in which the group can comfortably work.

It is at least something to think about and not dismiss by simply saying, “I became a freelancer so I could work on my own,” especially if what you are earning is less than what you would like to earn or need to earn.

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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