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Building an editing/proofreading business: things to read

When it’s freezing outside and it gets dark at 4:30, it’s a good time to curl up in front of the fire with some reading. Here are some of my favourite business resources and sources of inspiration.

Some of my favourite writers and resources

These resources are mostly (though not entirely) about the business of editing and proofreading rather than about the actual skills involved. In these books, websites and online groups, you’ll find a wealth of information about setting up your business, branding, marketing, invoicing and the dozens of other things that go into running a successful business – and much of it is free. If I’ve forgotten any, please let me know and I’ll add them.

Not just for Americans! This site was established by Rich Adin and is now owned by the amazing Ruth E. Thaler-Carter. Blog posts address all aspects of editing, from skills to technology to the freelancer lifestyle. There is no end of valuable advice here – see, for example, ‘What not to do as a newcomer to freelance editing’ or ‘A continuing frustration – the “going rate”’ or ‘Is it smart to give clients freebies?’ There is a vast amount of information here about finances, including the concept of the Effective Hourly Rate (EHR), which is covered in detail. You can easily spend hours on this site, and it’s all very generously provided for free.

Liz Broomfield (now Dexter) set up Libro Editing in 2009 and soft-launched her business over a couple of years. In her book How I Survived My First Year of Full-Time Self-Employment: Going It Alone at 40 she talks about how she built a solid business in a relatively short time: how she found clients, how she initially juggled another job and a growing business, and how she handled taxes, holidays and much more. In Running a Successful Business after the Start-up Phase or, Who Are You Calling Mature?, she gives advice on refining your client base, networking, using social media and more. These two books are available in an Omnibus edition.

Dr Freelance is Jake Poinier, who blogs about aspects of running a freelance business. Visit his website to download a free copy of his 40-page book, The Smooth-Sailing Freelancer: How to Find, Sell, and Retain More Freelance Business; it’s full of great tips on negotiation, pricing, getting referrals and other aspects of building a business.

Facebook Groups

There are several Editors’ Association of Earth groups. The regular group is open to anyone; the EAE Backroom is a closed group and offers a place to talk candidly about every aspect of editing. EAE Ad Space is where you might find the perfect job listing. (I have only ever applied for one job through Ad Space, and I got it; I’ve also passed along a couple of projects here that I couldn’t take on myself.) The Business + Professional Development for Editors group is a great place to get advice on questions like ‘How do I get started?’ or ‘Which course should I take?’

I pick up Michelle Goodman’s book My So-Called Freelance Life at least once a year, and every time I take something new away from it. Michelle takes the new freelancer through the entire process, from writing a business plan to getting a website, deciding what to charge, finding clients and much more. Although not intended specifically for editors and proofreaders, the book is full of good advice, and Michelle (herself a freelance copywriter) writes in a very accessible style.

Like Michelle Goodman, Chris Guillebeau does not write specifically for editors and proofreaders. His books are, however, fascinating. In The $100 Start-up, he writes about people who had an idea for a business and ran with it, investing only $100 or less. Along the same lines, in Side Hustle he shares a series of steps for setting up a side business, along with stories of people who did just that. Read about the Montessori teacher who sells lesson planning guides online, or the couple who import cashmere accessories from Nepal, or the man who makes chopping boards out of slate. These are fun reads for anyone interested in business.

No list of this kind would be complete without mentioning Louise Harnby. Her books are the go-to, must-read resources for anyone running an independent editorial business. Whenever anyone posts a question online about business planning, Louise’s name always comes up – and with good reason. Newcomers to the profession should start with Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers, while those who need more information on marketing should definitely include Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business on their reading list. Like Michelle Goodman’s book, this is one that I dip into regularly, and every time I do, I get something new from it. Louise’s business strategy for Jim the ex-soldier is especially worth a read. Don’t forget her blog; if you have a question about any aspect of working as a freelance editor/proofreader, there’s a good chance Louise will have written about it. Like An American Editor, this is another site where you can spend hours soaking up freely provided information, and it will be time well spent.

In his blog The Freelancery, Walt writes in a clear, no-nonsense style. Read, for example, ‘How do I possibly survive against so much competition?’ or ‘What if you doubled your fees? Tomorrow?’ These blog posts are not editing-specific; Walt’s readers include writers, graphic designers, translators and others, and their replies are often as interesting as the posts themselves. Walt’s book, Way Smarter Freelancing, is more of the same. Here, you will read sections on how to close a deal when the client goes quiet, or why you only need ten true fans. Not all of this will be relevant to editors, but it makes for an enlightening read.

I bought Adrienne’s book Marketing Action Plan for Freelancers a few months ago, and I loved it. Unlike some of the authors I’ve listed here, Adrienne is an editor, and her book is written specifically with our needs in mind. The book takes the editor through a series of exercises, from identifying your ideal client to networking to being findable online and more. There are case studies to read and worksheets to complete. Business cards, Christmas cards, cold calls, CVs – it’s all here. By the end, you should have a good idea of who your clients are and how to reach them.

Like Louise Harnby, Katharine O’Moore-Klopf is another editorial professional whose name often comes up when people ask online for advice on how to build their careers. Katharine maintains the Copyeditors’ Knowledge Base, which contains dozens of links to articles from various sources on getting started, editing and business tools, networking, finding work, and more. There is a vast amount of information here. Katharine says, ‘I do this as a service because I like editors.’ It is a service that editors certainly appreciate.

I only recently discovered Sophie’s blog, probably because she edits in a genre that I don’t touch – fiction. Sophie’s blog posts address aspects of both editorial skills and the business of freelancing. She addresses such topics as websites, social media, going to conferences and more. And who can fail to be inspired by her post about spending a year living as a digital nomad in various European cities? Don’t we all want to do this?!

Not a one-time read

For several years I trained people to become ESL teachers. I always thought that those trainee teachers who did best in the course were the ones who had a bit of teaching experience behind them – a year in Japan or some local volunteer teaching. Unlike the total newbies, they had something to relate my teaching to. When I talked about approaches to classroom management or teaching resources or evaluation, they could refer back to their own experiences.

I think it’s the same with these resources. I sometimes go back and look again at something I read when I was starting out, and it means so much more to me now that I have a few years behind me. I can now read something and think, ‘Oh yes, that reminds me of the time when…’ So I’d strongly recommend to anyone that they keep these resources bookmarked on their computer or easily accessible on their shelves – you’ll want to come back to them.

Happy reading!

Next week: Review of the annual ELT Freelancers' Awayday


Tania Pattison is an editor and proofreader specialising in English language teaching, education and related subjects. When not editing, she is an EAP textbook writer, curriculum designer and occasional university/college teacher.


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