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The middle years - Louise Harnby

Posted on 29th June 2016

What are you doing now?

I still run my own proofreading business (Louise Harnby | Proofreader).

Do you think the industry has changed in the last few years and if so, how?

Three or four years ago, my client focus was primarily publishers. In the years since, I've noticed a stagnation in the rates that many (though not all) mainstream publishers are offering. Meanwhile, the market of non-publisher clients has continued to expand, with ever more independent authors, students and businesses becoming aware of the value that professional third-party editorial-service providers can bring to the table. These client types are often prepared to pay fees that reflect this value.

Has your approach to your work changed?

My approach has changed on two fronts. First, I've changed the way I quote for non-publisher clients – my fees are now based almost solely on word counts (subject to seeing a sample of the proofreading project). I used to think in terms of £X per hour, but after discussions with other colleagues about the benefits and challenges of different quotation models, I decided to test an alternative. The outcome has been pleasing. Using the word-count model, I've seen an increase in both my overall income and in my average hourly rate, and without doing any additional hours.
Second, I've shifted my client primary focus away from the mainstream publishing industry and towards the self-publishing market. I've also started to work for students again, when the projects are a good fit. I do still take work from three publishers whose pay scales are in line with my own, but I'm no longer actively targeting this sector. This move is in response to the rate-stagnation issue I mentioned above. Shifting my client focus has enabled me continue to work the hours I want to make available for proofreading, and to earn a higher income from that work.

What CPD have you done, if any, to stay up to date?

I'll be attending the SfEP annual conference in Aston later this year. I'll be speaking there – about marketing for editorial freelancers – but I'll also be attending a number of workshops on a variety of topics including style sheets, macros and editing non-native English.
I've also taught myself (with help from YouTube and editorial colleagues) a number of additional skills such as screencasting, podcasting and video creation. This has been a steep learning curve for me, and there's plenty more for me to learn in order to develop these crafts.
My local SfEP group has run sessions to help editorial freelancers develop their skills in working with editorial macros and other MS Word add-ins. These have really helped me to work more effectively with the tools and resources I already have on my desktop.
I've also done some formal courses on proofreading indexes and working with digital workflows.

What do you think has been important in helping you maintain/build your business?

Marketing, without a doubt. I've continued to ensure that marketing is one of the pillars of my proofreading business. It's not something I do now and then. Rather, it's an everyday part of business practice, just like proofreading, invoicing and checking my emails. Regular marketing has kept my SEO strong, which means I'm discoverable. I wouldn't have been able to make the decision to shift my client focus if I'd not been visible to my preferred target customers in the first place. Regular proactive marketing has given me choice, and that means I've been able to make changes to my practice with confidence and enthusiasm, rather than fear.

Do you have any advice for people who have been in the industry a while who might be feeling flat/stagnating?

If you promote your editorial business actively, then you have choice. Choice allows you to make change. Whether you feel you're stagnating emotionally (i.e. the work is no longer engaging) or financially (your current clients aren't paying you what you want/need to earn), regular marketing empowers you so that you can move/tweak your client focus, increase your fees, expand your skill set, and experiment with new ways of being visible. Having choice puts you in a place where the mindset is one of learning rather than failing, moving forward rather than standing still. The changes we can make to our editorial businesses don't need to be big to be effective. What they must be is stimulating and goal-driven.

Do you have any specific plans for where you see yourself/your business going in future?

Broadly speaking, my current business model – of offering professional proofreading solutions to a range of clients – suits me very well. It provides me with the income I want to earn, a healthy number of well-paying clients, a nice variety of work, and a comfortable work–life balance. I take off all the school holidays and that equates to around 13 weeks' holiday a year. Until my daughter is older, I think I'm likely to stick with the current plan.

Do you have any regrets about how the last X years of your business have gone? And/or what have you learned from your business experience so far that you wish you'd known when starting out?

No regrets. Certainly, I've had a couple of experiences that left an unpleasant taste in the mouth, but I like to think of these as learning experiences that have helped guide me. Forewarned is forearmed, and all that! In the main, though, I've been privileged to work with amazing people, many of whom have become regular clients. And, ultimately, I get paid to read books – what's not to like?
Prior to starting my business, I had no idea that such a vibrant, diverse, friendly, knowledgeable and international online community of fellow editorial freelancers existed. I think I might have taken the plunge earlier had I known this!

Kate's views on the past three years in the proofreading/copy-editing industry.

Louise's views on the past three years in the proofreading/copy-editing industry.

Richard's views on the past three years in the proofreading/copy-editing industry.

Nick's views on the past three years in the proofreading/copy-editing industry.

Charlie's views on the past three years in the proofreading/copy-editing industry.

Written by Kate Haigh.