Being a freelance editor isn’t just about words. It’s also about wages. In Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers: A Guide for New Starters, Louise Harnby leads people with no prior experience in publishing through the steps involved in setting up a business.
Harnby is the owner of a proofreading business, an advanced member of the U.K.-based Society for Editors and Proofreaders, and the curator of the blog The Proofreader’s Parlour. She has over twenty years of experience in the publishing industry and has been running her own business since 2005.
The core advice in her first book: write a business plan.
“Your business plan forces you to think strategically about the field you are entering, who your target market is, what training and skills are needed, how long it may take you to build up your enterprise so that you have the amount of paid work you need, what resources are required, and how you will sell yourself.”
Harnby urges editors to think of themselves as business owners first and freelancers second. You wouldn’t call your plumber a freelancer, would you? she quips. One of the goals of her book is to instill business mindset in those of us naturally drawn to the beauty of language and the craft of editing, but less inclined to think strategically about running a business.
Each chapter begins with a “task” and a “learning goal” that covers an aspect of the business plan. This feature compels readers to be active – to use the guide to draft their own plan, which Harnby believes will be different for each person. The content is easy to follow with headings and subheadings, short paragraphs, bulleted lists, and features like “top tips” and “key points.”
A “practitioner focus” provides real-life examples of how freelancers have applied the learning goals. The practitioners — Kate Haigh, Liz Jones, Nick Jones, Janet MacMillan, Anna Sharman, Marcus Trower, and Louise Harnby herself – represent a fairly wide range of experience, with perhaps more concentration in proofreading and academic publishing than other fields.
The book ends with three case studies of freelancers who reflect candidly on their personal experiences of starting a business, followed by a list of resources.
Harnby says that her book is intended for “new starters” – people with no editing experience. But I would widen the audience to editors who are already working as freelancers but who haven’t thought through all that running a business entails (this is me). On my “to buy” list is her follow-up book, Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business.
On a personal note – next steps for me
This book prompted me to think about my freelance work in a more organized way. To ask the questions I probably should have asked at the beginning. Two points stand out.
First, I need a website. “You’d be daft not to have one,” Harnby says.
Second, I need to decide on what Harnby calls “core specialisms” or “unique selling points.” My time is thinly spread across academic copyediting and proofreading, writing consultation for students, online instruction (this fall I’m teaching WRIT 265: Editing in Academic and Professional Contexts, an online course at Queen’s University), marking for Queen’s writing courses, manuscript assessments of fiction and memoir, and copyediting of fiction and memoir. I need a focus before I can create a website.
I do wish that Harnby had provided a template or some samples of business plans. I suspect she didn’t do so because, as she says, “people order their thoughts and ideas in different ways.” As well, she views a business plan as a dynamic tool, not as a fixed template.
What about you?
Do you have a business plan? Do you intend to develop one? If you have one, do you revise it as you go?