The Business Side of the Business
This fourth episode details the business of preparing for proofreading jobs, and the administrative and accounting side of my proofreading business.
Who admits that they actually like paperwork?!
One of my strengths, I have found through the years, is that I am efficient at paperwork and recording. One of my roles in our household is handling the finances. So I was keen to start things properly as a business owner, and have legally binding templates in place. Three of the following I found on this page of the SfEP website or recommended on forums:
- T&Cs (Terms and Conditions);
- feedback form to prompt a testimonial from a happy client;
- a recording system for paid invoices.
If you read this blog all the way to the end, you will find the link to free resource templates on my website, which you are welcome to tweak.
You soon discover, as a freelance, that you wear many *hats*. Well, my job as a teacher was very similar – time had to be managed efficiently to fit it all in. One of the many *hats* you wear as a freelance sole trader is that of business admin.
Once I had built a basic form of my website, I registered as self-employed for self-assessment with HMRC, then prepared the documents. Now I was ready for my first client … eek!
Where to find freelance jobs?
I see this question asked many times on Facebook freelance group pages and on the SfEP forums. “Where do you find opportunities for paid work?”
I signed up for Find a Proofreader. This was the directory I preferred to use to register my services. There is a wide selection of directories out there. There are also strong views about the poor rates offered. They are good to start with for experience. But that’s not for now.
Initially, I targeted students, as education is my specialism. I followed the advice of Nick Jones (owner of FAP), from his session at the SfEP 2017 Conference, to make my profile as relevant as possible. Sadly, I have never been quick enough to land a proofreading job with this site. Your application has to be very quick off the mark – as soon as a query is sent out!
Universities are another source of work from students. I googled many universities and, in some cases, found the relevant proofreading guidelines page with their policy. I could, therefore, gauge the advice students were being offered.
My first proofreading job
I confess I didn’t know much about marketing when I first started my business. So, imagine my joy, three months after I had applied to be on the Register of Proofreaders at a major university in East Anglia, to receive a query from a student.
Once I had seen a sample, we agreed a rate per 1,000 words and the deadline for the return of the dissertation. She agreed to my T&Cs. And I conscientiously got on with the job with fervour.
I finished the job in good time. When I returned her checked writing, I attached a copy of my invoice. I was lucky that she was a prompt payer; also that she was happy to give me a good testimonial about my thorough approach. An excellent first job. Phew!
Since then I have done proofreading for about 10 students, checking for errors and inconsistencies in spelling, punctuation, grammar and context.
Working for students
Of course there are issues around proofreading for students … How much of the writing do you change?
One non-English speaking student wasn’t happy with my proofreading when I sent the proofed dissertation chapter. He pointed out the *errors* I had *missed*. After enquiring, it transpired that he wanted his English to be improved. I recommended that he look for an editor with the permission of his supervisor.
As a result of the misunderstanding on his part, I tweaked the wording on the website page for student clients. To make my terms absolutely clear. I emphasised my role: to indicate errors only. With the permission of the supervisor. The SfEP have excellent guidelines on this area called ‘Proofreading Theses and Dissertations’.
Payments, deposits and late payments
A question many people ask is “Will I earn enough to pay the bills?” The answer: It depends … Probably not to begin with, as, on average, it can take up to two years to grow your business to something sustainable. In fact, many people have a part-time job alongside editing or proofreading. I go out every afternoon to tutor Primary children – the change of scene does me good. Two other members of my family also have a *portfolio* of jobs: my husband, for example, has a gardening business to pay the bills alongside his other vocation of art. His week is a mixture of both.
How much you charge is another debate. A popular guide from the SfEP is ‘Pricing your Project’.
Bank transfer is the usual preference as a payment method by clients. Some freelances prefer, depending on circumstances, Paypal or Stripe, amongst others. Again I have observed many views on this subject amongst Freelance Heroes on Facebook (link in TTT3).
A tip I have picked up from fellow SfEP-ers is to charge a deposit if the project is large, or going to be split over a few weeks. For one student client, I have charged 50%. But it depends on the freelance and client. For example, that student wanted to send me module 1 to proofread immediately, then, a month later, module 2. She was happy. I was happy.
A huge and growing problem which freelances experience is those clients who pay late or, worse, not at all. A solution offered on the Freelance Heroes Facebook page is to include a clause on your invoice explaining the Late Payment Fees. (See my invoice template.)
I have got used to spreadsheets. I record the invoice number next to the client name, the amount paid and when. This way my accounts are accurate and up-to-date for tax purposes.
Creative paperwork – no not that kind!
When you are busy being creative with the images and banner (maybe even a logo?) on your company branding for your website and social media, here’s another tip. Remember to carry it through onto your business templates. It continues your personality and makes it consistent. (Again, I can’t take credit for this one either. Thanks, John Espirian.)
My to-do list …
Now (two years later) I have evolved with my business. More SfEP training and a wide range of networking has encouraged me to psych myself up to try a variety of marketing strategies. ‘Imposter syndrome’ has a lot to answer for.
- Cold email local businesses, such as Chambers of Commerce, to advertise my availability.
- Advertise myself to more educational publishers to proofread Primary textbooks, now that I feel competent enough.
- Provide proofreading specialisms to publishers of children’s fiction and non-fiction. I have discovered that this really excites me!
Therefore, my next job is to add to my spreadsheet of publishers to contact.
This involves listing the publisher/packager name, project manager/editor contact email, date of my introductory email sent, date of reply (if any). I am pleased to say that, out of the first 15 publishers I emailed, I had a positive reply from two! So have a 13% success rate. Which I’m told is good!
But it does mean investing a huge amount of emotional energy, which most of the time isn’t rewarded. But so worth it for the 10%. Learn to develop patience, persistence and perseverance. Or, put another way, ‘a dropped pebble starts ripples’.
Find free resources for newbie editors on my website. It can be very daunting starting your own business. If you want to ask questions or to share experiences, I’m here.
Proofread by Lisa de Caux, SfEP Intermediate Level Member, https://www.ldceditorial.co.uk
Credit: My resources are tweaked from the resources available on the website for the Society of Editors and Proofreaders.