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Freelancer of the Month July 2014 – Victoria O’Dowd

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Our Freelancer of the Month for July 2014 is Victoria O’Dowd, a proofreader and copy-editor based in Bingley, West Yorkshire.

Hi Victoria! Can you tell us a bit about the nature of your business?

I offer proofreading and copy-editing services in various different areas and, to date, I have taken on a varied portfolio of work, which includes websites, brochures, business reports, student essays, dissertations and fiction. The student work I have worked on is mainly from ESL students either here or abroad. Also, with my background in literature, I really enjoy working with self-publishing authors, mainly in the capacity of a copy-editor. The decision of a family member to self-publish a book provided me with my first invaluable experience in the field of fiction.

Tell us about your journey to becoming a freelancer.

Prior to working as a freelance proofreader and copy-editor, I worked in the conference industry in London and Leeds, organising all aspects of conferences and events from research, writing proposals and planning through to the event itself. Although I enjoyed many aspects of the job, I didn’t find it particularly fulfilling, so when I stopped work to start a family I made the conscious decision to change direction.

Following my first degree in English Literature I decided to go back to University and gain a Master’s in 20th Century Literature. This involved a lot of research, which I particularly enjoyed, and faced me with a decision: either to continue with further research and study or go back to work. As it turned out, I did both. To gain experience I took on various research projects on a voluntary basis, including one for the National Trust. It became very apparent to me at this point that many people offering research skills were also offering proofreading and copy-editing. I decided to enrol on the Publishing Training Centre’s Basic Proofreading Course, which I thoroughly enjoyed…so much so, in fact, I decided to continue (studying!) and enrolled on the Copy-Editing course. It was at this point that I realised this was where my real interest and skills lay.

Of course, getting the training under my belt was very important; however, getting that first piece of work was harder than I thought. I used friends and family as initial contacts and did some small pieces of work for recommendations; this led to more work and, by chance, I was put in contact with a proofreading company looking for more proofreaders. This proved to be my lucky break and my first paid work! Shortly after, I set up my own website, joined the SfEP and took out listings in various different directories. Since setting up my own business I have been fortunate with work—although it can ebb and flow at times—and I have really enjoyed proofreading and copy-editing, which has become my main focus now rather than the research I originally set out to do!

What do you enjoy most about running your own business?

I enjoy the freedom that it affords me. Yes, I have to be very organised and gauge the level of work that I am able to take on, so that I don’t fail to meet deadlines. But I can also plan work around my home life and, as long as you don’t mind that your work doesn’t always fit into a 9am-5pm schedule, having the flexibility is definitely worth it.

What are the downsides to working for yourself, if any, and how do you overcome them?

For me, the only downsides about working for myself are the time pressures. When I’m really busy, I get up very early to work before the rest of the house is awake and often work past midnight to meet a deadline. Keeping on top of the admin side of proofreading can be a challenge too when I’m busy. It is tempting to focus on completing one piece of work and then move straight on to the next, but admin is equally as important. Being organised is crucial when working for yourself.

How do you go about promoting your business/finding clients?

In the initial stages of proofreading and copy-editing I realised that networking was key; it was this that got me my first work. In addition to that, after setting up my website and printing business cards and leaflets, I took out listings in online directories, both general and specific to proofreading/copy-editing. These have proved to be my most useful source of business after word-of-mouth recommendations. I have only just put my toe in the water as far as social media is concerned—having recently joined Twitter—and I find myself on a great learning curve of possibilities!

What is your most treasured work-related possession?

Definitely my reference books: these are the tools of my trade. Part of what I love about what I do, working with language and words every day, is that you are always learning. My MacBook is also invaluable to me. I switched to a Mac a few years ago, and I haven’t looked back!

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working with words?

When I’m not working the thing I like to do most is to go walking in the Dales. I’m a keen skier and hill walker and have done several walking challenges for charity like the Yorkshire Three Peaks, the National Three Peaks and also two attempts at the Welsh 3000s—we were beaten back by the weather on both occasions. A good hike across the moors is the perfect antidote to the deskbound work of proofreading.

What’s your favourite book?

My favourite book is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert M. Pirsig; I can equate to Pirsig’s philosophy on quality:

‘Care and Quality are internal and external aspects of the same thing. A person who sees Quality and feels it as he works is a person who cares. A person who cares about what he sees and does is a person who’s bound to have some characteristic of quality.’

However, for as long as I can remember I have had a passion for mountain literature, and I collect mountaineering books. My favourite of these is The Shining Mountain by Peter Boardman.

Have you got any advice for aspiring freelancers?

Firstly, I would say that training is key. Perhaps the best piece of advice I was given when I decided to pursue proofreading and copy-editing was to choose the right training course, i.e., one that is recognised by the industry; for example, the Publishing Training Centre and the SfEP courses are the ones to enrol on. This helped to provide me with a firm foundation on which to build my business.

There are some great guides too about getting started; for example, Louise Harnby’s Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers: A Guide for New Starters covers everything from setting up your business, finding work and also really useful advice on looking after the admin side of your business, which is incredibly important as being organised and maintaining a professional image with your clients is also key to being successful.

Finally, everyone knows that networking with potential clients is very important, but networking with fellow proofreaders can be equally as important. As a member of the SfEP I have attended local group meetings and met other freelancers from varied backgrounds and with different levels of experience. This is a vital source of help when starting out. After all, who better to get advice from than those who are doing it already!

victoria o'dowdVictoria O’Dowd is a freelance proofreader and copy-editor based in Bingley, West Yorkshire. Her website is www.proofandcopyedit.co.uk and her Find a Proofreader listing can be viewed here.

31/07/2014 |

Freelancer of the Month June 2014 – Mary McCauley

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Our Freelancer of the Month for June 2014 is Mary McCauley, a proofreader and copy-editor based in Co. Wexford, Ireland. 

Hi Mary! Firstly, please can you tell us a bit about the nature of your business?

I’m a copy-editor and proofreader. My main clients are independent authors (fiction and mind-body-spirit), state agencies and businesses. Most of my clients are from Ireland and the UK, but I’ve also worked with authors and academics from continental Europe, China and the US.

Tell us about your journey to becoming a freelancer.

I’m relatively new to publishing! I spent fifteen years in research, administrative and supervisory roles in the state sector (aviation and local authority) in Ireland, and report writing and editing were skills I had picked up along the way. In 2008, while serving on a local community centre fundraising committee, several of us agreed to produce and sell a booklet on the history of our local national school so as to raise money for the centre. The ‘booklet’ grew into a 380-page hardback book on the history of our parish, and Booker-prize winning author Roddy Doyle, whose grandfather grew up in our village, agreed to write the foreword. Though I researched and wrote very little in the book, as editorial secretary I was heavily involved in project managing, editing and proofreading it. A friend on the committee, who knew I had dabbled in creative writing for a long time, suggested I consider doing some editing and proofreading training. She sowed the original seed – I blame her for all of this!

Around that time, I went on a weekend writing workshop with the brilliant Irish writer Claire Keegan. She slashed through my short story with a red felt pen, and I was devastated and left raw after the experience (of course, in hindsight, nearly everything she wrote was true!). However, she told me that my manuscript was the only one correctly formatted and that I was good at giving fellow workshop writers feedback on their stories. Looking back it all seems very clear now, but at the time it was a massive step for me to enrol on the Publishing Training Centre proofreading course. In 2012, while on a short career break following maternity leave, I established my business. Once the career break ended I took the plunge, resigned from my secure state sector job and haven’t looked back since!

What do you enjoy most about running your own business?

I love the fact that I have sole authority over decisions relating to the business. If I want to change some aspect of my business I don’t have to go through a long chain of command in order for a decision to be reached and implemented. As a solo freelancer I have to stand up and be counted – there’s no one to hide behind. That can be scary sometimes but hugely satisfying. Running my own business involves incredibly hard work and the hours are long, but I like that I can manage my own schedule. I don’t need anyone’s permission to take a few hours off for an appointment, for example – I just get up a few hours earlier on the day in question.

What are the downsides to working for yourself, if any, and how do you overcome them?

As I work from home, separating home life from work life is sometimes very challenging. I’ve learned to keep at least one full day a week completely work free. I also turn off my mobile phone at around 7 p.m. each evening to avoid the temptation to keep checking emails and messages. I recently discovered the Cold Turkey software that allows you to block certain websites and applications on your computer for as long as you schedule it to – I’m planning to block access to my email and social media accounts for the duration of our annual summer holiday!

How do you go about promoting your business/finding clients?

I find networking important and I have invested a lot of time in my website and social media accounts. The majority of my business has come from referrals and repeat clients. In the early days I sent a few targeted cold-letters to Irish publishers and received some replies to say my details had been added to their databases. To date I’ve been too busy with current clients to send any further letters, but it’s still on my marketing to-do list! I advertise in the Association of Freelance Editors, Proofreaders and Indexers (AFEPI) member directory and on the Find a Proofreader website. I recently upgraded to member of the SfEP – I haven’t yet taken a listing in its directory, but I plan to.

Have any particular developments occurred within your business sector that have affected the way you work or the way in which you are taking your business forward?

The rise of the self-publishing sector has brought me a lot of business and I’m following its progress and evolution with the utmost interest.

What is your most treasured work-related possession?

My reference library – I’d be lost without it! I especially love the look and feel of one of my first purchases, New Hart’s Rules, complete with all my page markers. An equal treasure is the view of our front garden from my desk. Over the course of the year I watch nature present her best and worst – stopping to stare at the greenery and ever-changing sky can eliminate stress or indecision regarding some tricky syntax. Every editor should have a good view!

What’s your favourite book?

The Lord of the Rings is my all-time favourite but my current favourite is Donal Ryan’s The Thing About December. Its main character, Johnsey, haunted me for weeks after I’d finished it. I also loved the story behind Ryan’s route to publication. His first published novel was rejected 47 times before Sarah Davis-Goff, then an intern at Lilliput Press in Dublin and now CEO of Tramp Press, picked it off the slush pile and championed its worth.

Have you got any advice for aspiring freelancers?

Strive to offer excellent customer service. Your clients are more likely to rebook your services if you are pleasant to deal with, meet deadlines and offer an exceptional service. Also, don’t give up at the early hurdles. When you’re having a bad day remember to tell yourself that it will not last forever. If you have a day (or two or three …) when your inbox is empty, your phone isn’t ringing and your schedule is empty, hang in there and remind yourself that it won’t last. Your next project is on the way and in the meantime there are a million things you can be doing to promote your business while you’re waiting! Work hard – a good dose of luck helps, but as the saying goes, the harder you work the luckier you get!

Mary McCauley

Mary McCauley is a freelance proofreader and copy-editor based in Co. Wexford, Ireland. Her website is www.marymccauleyproofreading.com and her Find a Proofreader listing can be viewed here.

30/06/2014 |

Freelancer of the Month May 2014 – Valerie Skinner

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For this month’s Freelancer of the Month feature we spoke with Valerie Skinner, a virtual assistant, writer, proofreader and audio transcriber based in France.

Hi Valerie! Firstly, please can you tell us a bit about the nature of your business?

Almost anything to do with English words! Currently my main clients are an international legal transcription company and a UK-based technical publication, but over recent years projects have included writing website content, travel guides, real estate and product descriptions and proofreading novels prior to publishing.

Tell us about your journey to becoming a freelancer.

I was a City PA for almost 20 years before moving abroad. When my son arrived, I needed to generate a more steady income to support us so went back to my roots. I joined several agencies and received a small amount of online work but was then also approached by several students at the University of Malta to help with the presentation of dissertations. They still contact me today.

What do you enjoy most about running your own business?

It’s the single mum thing. As I work from home, I’m here for the school bus, for sick days and school holidays. I still have to work but at least I am here if needed, and I don’t need to ask permission to collect a poorly child from school.

What are the downsides to working for yourself, if any, and how do you overcome them?

The only solution to the pile of paperwork and accounting requirements of the French bureaucratic system is a very large jug of coffee and intense concentration every three months.

Also there is a common misconception that freelancers are unskilled labourers who should accept minimum wage.  When starting out I was faced with this constantly, but since establishing a small client base I earn enough to cover living expenses. It does involve long hours, 24/7 availability and an inability to spend much quality time with my little boy, but hopefully over time that will improve.

How do you go about promoting your business/finding clients?

To be honest, I don’t promote it anymore. I receive requests from the University students through word of mouth and my other clients are ongoing so there is currently no need.

What is your most treasured work-related possession?

My English laptop. I live in dread that one day it will decide to go to Techno Heaven and I will have to relearn everything to be able to work on a French keyboard.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working with words?

Tormenting my child by surgically removing him from the PlayStation so that he will walk the dogs with me. He refuses to believe that we do actually need to get out of the house sometimes.

Have you got any advice for aspiring freelancers?

Work out exactly what your strengths are and promote them. If you provide what you promise and you provide it well, with luck you will establish ongoing relationships. Unless you possess a unique skill that commands a high rate, be prepared to work long and hard to make ends meet. The absolute upside is that at least you can do it in the comfort of your own home.

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Valerie Skinner is a freelance proofreader, virtual assistant, writer and audio transcriber based in France. For more information on Valerie’s services click here to view her Find a Proofreader listing.

30/05/2014 |
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