Freelancer of the Month September 2013 – Kelly Owen0
Can you tell us a bit about the nature of your business?
I set up Ultimate Proof Publishing Services in 2004, to provide proofreading, copy-editing and copywriting services, primarily via our website (www.ultimateproof.co.uk), throughout the UK and Europe.
At first I picked up any job that came my way… my first ever paid job was creating a CV of all things, but it got the business off the ground. Today, I’m in a position to focus my company’s services on two core client bases: businesses and independent authors, both areas complementing my expertise and experience. With a strong client base and regular work, I now employ a small network of professional freelancers to support the workload.
Tell us about your journey to becoming a freelancer.
My first job was as a proofreader for a computer training company – which in hindsight was a perfect start, as not only did I hone my proofreading skills but I had in-depth, free computer training in all the common Office applications of the time.
I went on to work for a design and advertising agency – starting out in production control and working my way to account management for some exciting accounts such as KP and Coca-Cola Schweppes (as it was), and then Publications Manager for the company’s in-house tourism and corporate titles. It was full on and fun, and helped me further develop my skills and experience in all aspects of business: being organised and self-motivated, project and client management, understanding how to run a business (working to a profit, generating new business, dealing with suppliers and clients, etc). Proofreading, editing and writing were key parts of each role I held.
I then became a Publications Officer in a public sector organisation, which involved producing around 100 titles a year. I’d always like the idea of being my own boss and had often looked into working for myself, so with the organisation I was working for undergoing major staff changes, I decided to use the opportunity to set up on my own in 2004. The business grew year on year and Ultimate Proof went Limited in 2010, and we’ve not looked back since!
What do you enjoy most about running your own business?
There are many practical things I enjoy about running my own business, but the very fact that it is my own business, that it’s successful and that I’ve so many clients who come back to me time and again is what really motivates me. There’s nothing like the feeling of having helped a client with getting their copy up to a professional standard and then becoming their ‘go-to editor’ for future jobs.
What are the downsides to working for yourself, if any, and how do you overcome them?
I’ve listed quite a few areas here classed as downsides, but each one has an upside to it! I don’t believe I have ever regretted becoming self-employed, and only wish I had the confidence to do it sooner!
No sick or holiday pay – once you become self-employed you’ll find you’re rarely too ill to work, working for yourself kicks all those duvet days into touch! Mind you, now I’m not in public work spaces so often, I catch far fewer bugs anyway. Similarly, the days you’re not working, you’re not earning, so when you pay for a holiday you have to factor in the cost of xx days’ unpaid leave too. But, because you’re ‘the boss’, you can take holidays when it suits you and your schedule.
Long, long hours – in the early days, I worked all hours to get the business off the ground; now that it’s more established, it’s not quite so crazy and I have most of my evenings and weekends back. But if an urgent job comes in then it’s got to be done, regardless. I often get a rush of emails around 4pm on a Friday, all with Monday morning deadlines. Having said that, I am far more productive than I was when employed (no cake-related office distractions I expect), and I’m able to work much more efficiently than I did when I first started out.
Being supplier side – I’ve been on both sides of the account – client and supplier – and it is certainly easier to be in the client’s seat. Now, as a supplier, I have to ensure my clients are happy and deal with any issues promptly – that’s everything from queries with a job to chasing late payments. I am solely responsible for making things happen!
Irregular income – this isn’t so much a concern these days, as I have a good number of regular jobs coming through, but I can’t take any regular job for granted. I have sometimes missed the regular pay packet at the end of the month, but, on the plus side, I love the fact that my earning potential is much higher and that I’ve earned every penny of it, for me.
Working alone – proofreading is an isolating job. To work efficiently, you need peace and quiet. There’s also no one to chat to about work, so it’s important to network with like-minded people and make time to get away from the desk and the house regularly.
How do you go about promoting your business/finding clients?
I’ve pretty much tried everything over the years, but I’ve settled on listing on relevant online directories like Find a proofreader and FreeIndex, and using my website and social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to attract new business and keep in touch with clients. The key is to be where your potential clients will be looking for help, and that means being visible online.
What is your most treasured work-related possession?
It’s got to be my smartphone – what a brilliant invention! When I started out, I had a basic Nokia and an ancient PC. I was able to get work in and deal with clients, but the smartphone means I can respond to enquiries if I’m away from my desk.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working with words?
I joined a running club a few years ago as I found sitting at my desk all day was making me sluggish (and a little podgy!). It’s something I book in the diary at least twice a week and have run a few 10ks and a half marathon since I started. It’s a great way to de-stress and, in fact, sharpens my mind as I can think through things while I run or have a chat with my running buddies. It also balances out my love of baking (and testing!) novelty cookies and cakes. I’m also quite crafty when I want to be and enjoy cross-stitching and knitting, but I know work is really quiet if I have much time for either of those hobbies!
What’s your favourite book?
I think, as an editor, that’s a difficult question to answer quickly, as I read so much and enjoy different books for different reasons.
I don’t have a favourite book as such, but I enjoy reading historical fiction. I love books that have been researched and written to give a believable account of a story from the past; pulling the character out of historical figures and events is an admirable skill. My interest started when I was in my teens with Jean Plaidy’s novels and I’ve always enjoyed anything to do with the monarchy or key historical figures. A book I recall putting down and thinking ‘that was wonderful’ was ‘Katherine’ by Anya Seton, it got me hooked on her novels. Michelle Moran, Margaret Atwood, Phillippa Gregory, and Deborah Swift are all authors whose books I’ve held on to. A book’s got to have substance and depth for me to want to read it (during my precious, free reading time!). In saying that, I like to follow a heavy book with a lighter read, like an autobiography or comedy.
Have you got any advice for aspiring freelancers?
If you’re going into this without previous experience, I’d say don’t give up your day job! Regardless what qualifications you have, being a professional proofreader is something that comes with time and experience. If you have some other money coming in, it means you can relax a bit and spend your proofreading time really honing your skills and service. It’s not as flexible a job as some people might think and if you want to be seen as professional you have to act that way. You can’t miss deadlines and you can’t let people down at the last minute.
I’m often asked about how to get into proofreading and it seems most people literally think they get paid to read books. Running a proofreading business is so much more than that – the proofreading is the fun bit! Most of my clients are businesses which expect a certain standard and level of service. Be sure everything you do is as professional as possible – from the layout of your invoice and email signature to how you respond to clients and being clear about what service you offer – and you won’t go far wrong.