Kateproof offers an affordable and efficient proofreading service

Taking your editing or proofreading service on the road: Practicalities

Posted on 24th October 2017; revised and updated 19th March 2018

In my previous blog posts, I've already mentioned the practicalities of office set-up when on the road, with the use of a good monitor on your laptop, a stand, and external mouse and keyboard. For this blog post, I thought I'd instead focus on more of the travel-related elements of making it easy to run a proofreading or editing service (or any other business) on the road.

When travelling for fun, priorities will obviously be different, but when running a business, that more or less becomes the focus of what is required.

In Europe, we've mainly used Airbnb (Affiliate link for Airbnb sign-up) to book apartments, tending to always choose entire apartments or houses for ourselves and making sure there's decent, reliable wifi/internet and comfortable tables/chairs for working. In Latin America, however, there are not so many suitable rental options and I admit I found working in this part of the world more difficult than in Europe (in reality, this meant I took a lot more time off work, so I am not complaining but mentioning this in case you are thinking of heading there and hoping to work). It was sometimes a question of reliable electricity before even considering the internet – thankfully we just had one minor power cut but we heard stories of people having three-day blackouts with no warning and no emergency backup. The reality of this is that I wouldn't choose to take on urgent or last-minute work, always wanting enough buffer in my schedule to accommodate for infrastructure issues.

When it comes to choosing where to stay, we spend a lot of time looking at photos of the apartments and checking the specifications, then emailing owners to get details about the internet access/speed and then add requirements from there – a washing machine is probably third on our list of essentials (after internet and somewhere to work, though I guess a bed is pretty essential too). The one time my lifelong dream of living in a certain part of Berlin with a balcony overrode the business requirements was the one time I really struggled with the table. Not that I could tell from the photo but the desk was much too high, even when I stacked two chairs and a cushion, and I got quite a sore arm after a long day. I could have gone to a coworking space or asked the apartment owner if another table was available but I just plodded along as it wasn't unbearable.

I often also ask owners if there is any building work going on nearby to determine noise levels, but I never even considered to ask how loud the local hawkers are when selling their wares at 7am. Note to self: you can never have enough earplugs! Sometimes you can plan all you want and then a cultural insight hits you right in the ears.

Pete ended up taking on a project I'd worked on a few years ago – when I did it, I had two monitors to help but we don't currently travel with extra monitors. (I've not used any but there are now some great apps that can convert tablets into second screens.) Instead though, we had something like a 44-inch TV with an HDMI port in the apartment we were renting. He used this to cross-refer photos of an ancient manuscript with a PDF file, which was much better than on his 15-inch laptop screen. I think it might have been too big, and he seems to be sitting very close to it, but I guess everyone will find a way that works for them. In another apartment, there was actually a really good monitor available so for another formatting-heavy copy-editing project, this was a real time-saver, as well as meaning the project was more enjoyable.

Pete using a massive TV screen to enable him to see the files much easier when proofreading a manuscript

To cowork or not?

By booking places to stay that seem suitable for me to run a proofreading business from, so far I have generally not needed to look into coworking options. However, once I was booked to present at an editing conference about being a digital nomad, I thought it would be good research for me to try out a coworking space. I've gone into details about it here (yes, I used a hyphen there and not here but the jury is still out on which is right/wrong, so I'm going for internal consistency in each blog post – my website, my style guide, my rules) so I won't repeat all of that, but if I get to an apartment and the internet isn't reliable or the set-up doesn't work, or perhaps I just want a change of scene or opportunity to meet people, I'd certainly look into local coworking options. New shared office spaces open all the time so it's worth doing some research to find a suitable place for your business when you're on the road.

On one occasion, during a supposed holiday, I took on a last-minute bit of editing work for a regular client but the hotel I was staying in didn't have a desk, so I used a free trial day at a local coworking space and that did the trick. If I'd been staying in the city longer, I'd certainly have looked into returning to the coworking option as it was nice to meet people in an otherwise quite big, faceless city.

Online tools for a resilient editing and proofreading business

When I worked for a bank, the company had very extensive robustness tests and contingency plans and running a small business should really be no different. However, I know that until I got ready to head off with my business in my backpack, I admit I was perhaps a little lax on this. Not any more!

I have discussed some of the online tools in previous blog posts so will try not to repeat myself, but the following is a list of some of the key online tools and resources I use to ensure my business is fire/theft/ditsy-proof:

  • Cloud storage is essential; I use Dropbox but other options are available. By saving files to the cloud (with clients' permission), if something happens to my laptop, I will still be able to access the file on another computer, whether that's a quickly bought replacement or one I can rent/borrow.
  • As discussed in my previous blog, I switched to IMAP email so I can access my emails from any of my devices or even from an internet café or coworking space computer.
  • I have online subscriptions to dictionaries and style guides, and Oxford online gives me access to New Hart's Rules, The New Oxford Dictionary for Editors and Proofreaders, Garner's Legal Usage and Fowler's Modern English Usage.
  • I can still access the SfEP online forums (only accessible to members) and attend Cloud Club (a video conference meeting every other month with fellow editors and proofreaders who also can't attend a local meeting in person), meaning I can keep in touch with colleagues and stay up to date in the industry.
  • One of the first bits of business advice I ever received was to have at least six months' costs in savings so that the business is resilient to downtimes. I have always had this level of savings and an advantage is that if my laptop were to break (or be stolen), I would at least in theory be able to go out and buy a replacement straight away (the reality will obviously depend on where I am in the world and if there's a computer shop nearby).

Some random things to take that you might not have considered

Not all of the below relate entirely to my ability to offer my editing and proofreading services but being comfortable and happy in general will obviously make work more pleasant. It goes without saying that the laptop, stand and keyboard and mouse will go with you but the below are a few more slightly random items:

  • An HDMI cable is really useful if you do end up staying somewhere with a TV or monitor. We could have bought one when on the road but it's lightweight and small so we carry this with us.
  • A travel Bodum cafetiêre, because let's face it, what proofreader or editor can function without a daily hit of coffee (says the non-tea-drinking Brit)!
  • A knife sharpener! Travelling across borders or in planes with large, sharp knives probably isn't wise but if you take a sharpener, no matter how blunt the knives are in the apartment, you should be able to sharpen it and chop vegetables. After all, my proofreading service would stall somewhat if I had a hand in bandages because the knife slipped while chopping onions.
  • A means of satellite navigation – I say this in a convoluted way because we use a Garmin GPS device but I know many people now prefer to use their phones. I prefer the two-day battery life of the Garmin and the fact it doesn't rely on internet, but either way, something to get you round a new city or down from a mountain is always good (N.B.: if we go for 'proper' walks, we do buy the best map we can find of the area and then leave it where we're staying; I would never recommend relying solely on an electronic map).
  • A copy of your passport in a waterproof folder. We carry this with us most of the time, leaving our passports in more safe places. We also have photos of all other important documents saved on the cloud, for example visas (where applicable), yellow fever certificates, my glasses prescription, details of injections we've had and anything else we think we might one day need.
  • We've also been known to travel with a potato masher (lifehack tip, discovered when I really wanted a cottage pie and couldn't find a masher: use a mug instead and save yourself the luggage space!), a corkscrew, plastic champagne flutes and even Pete's favourite (thankfully small) statue. We've downsized considerably over time and different things take on different levels of importance.
  • A well-equipped first-aid kit! Another tip is to know the generic name for some common medication in case you need to stock up locally: we were shocked by the cost of some branded painkillers in Latin America but then realised Acetiminophen is another name for paracetamol, and those tablets cost less than 50p.

If you're travelling and working and have any really useful ideas or tips for what helps make working as a location-independent professional easier, do let me know.

Written by Kate Haigh.