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The middle years - questions and answers

Posted on 29th June 2016

It's been a little over three years since I did my Q&A session with four other freelance proofreaders/copy-editors and I thought it would be interesting to go back to the same people to see how things have panned out. I think there are quite a lot of blogs out there for newbies (as was the focus of the last blog with these lovely people) but I wanted to instead focus on what keeps people motivated and on track, and how things have developed.

As I'm including links to all of the full answers, I aim to mainly just provide a summary here and draw out a few hints and tips for those of you perhaps a few years into your freelance proofreading/editing career.

Louise, Richard, Nick and I are all still freelancing, though Charlie is now in-house. It is interesting to see in the individual replies, however, that all of us feel like things have changed slightly, be it in our personal business focus and/or in the overall industry.

I think a key part of the 'middle' business years, so to speak, is having the client base, experience and confidence (hopefully) to be a bit pickier in what work you do and don't take on. This is the same for Charlie, where an in-house option was just too good to turn down, and I know a few others in this situation. I don't wish to get all preachy at this point but it's certainly worth noting that going back to The Man shouldn't be seen as a personal business failing but might be right for someone given all circumstances (I know I'd like paid holiday and sick leave!).

It's clear from the replies that those of us still freelancing have been able to be pickier, no longer feeling we have to take on everything and anything offered. This has led to less work for publishers, with Louise saying that's due to many not offering competitive rates and Richard not having capacity for short-notice work (which publishers often ask for while self-publishers are starting to realise they need to book in advance to get the editor/proofreader they want, not to mention they tend not to have such concrete print schedules). From what I've seen on forums and heard from editorial friends, this is a wider trend and ties in with the recent changes in the industry, notably the boom in self-publishing. This boom has led to many opportunities for editors and proofreaders, as well as writers, obviously, and I don't see this dying down any time soon.

In the previous blog, I focused a bit on training and this is something I'm still asked about a lot. It's interesting to see that less formal training seems to be the main CPD approach for us five, with a focus on non-proofreading-specific skills, such as SEO and social media. You never stop learning in life and especially in this industry, as language evolves and we need to stay on top of it. Talking to others in the industry and being open to other people's ideas, including via blogs or forums, helps keep us up to date and confident in our services.

Key pointers for the middle business years:

Keep time for marketing. It's easy to get distracted by work and think that as you're busy, you don't need to do any marketing but that's not the case. Tied in with this, don't assume that the business plan you created when starting out will be valid forever. Review it and stay focused on what you want to achieve, especially as that can change quite a lot over time.

Try to separate work and home life. Maybe not everyone has space for a home office, has such a defined school holiday schedule to aim for or can sell up and travel while working, but find a way that helps you to keep business and personal life separate, assuming you want to. Burn-out is never a good thing and everyone needs time off.

Don't just look at formal training as CPD. There are many elements to running a business and as well as expanding your skill set, seeing the wider picture with CPD can be useful not only for your CV and attracting clients but also for keeping fresh and meeting new people.

Learn from the less-than-great experiences. I'm yet to meet a proofreader or editor who hasn't agreed to do some work they shouldn't have done or wishes they'd been firmer on price or schedule or some element, but these points on the learning curve all help to ensure that you develop the business as you want it to be.

Get involved. Forums, social media, conferences, events etc. all provide great opportunities to meet people and remind yourself that there are people beyond your home office and PC.

Don't be afraid of change. I think this final point is key: be it work-related or private, stagnation can occur and unlike when working for a company where sideways opportunities may arise or you may go for a promotion, as a freelancer that sort of change needs to come from you, if you want it. Whether that's a new hobby, a second string to the work bow, or deciding to go in-house for a new challenge, it's worth being open to the opportunities as you never know what might happen.

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.