In this month's blog post, Embarker Kathleen S. provides an overview of the online course offered by UC San Diego Extension that's designed to help new copyeditors launch their freelance careers. Leave your questions or comments below!
WHEN I COMPLETED MY SPECIALIZED CERTIFICATE IN COPYEDITING through the online program at UC San Diego Extension, I felt ready to dive in and get my new career underway. I envisioned lots of assignments to keep me busy and happily engaged in my new occupation. However, the cold truth for any freelancer, and colder still for editorial types who may not love marketing and greasing the gears of industry, is that you can't engage in your chosen profession without figuring out the basics of business.
No marketing means no new work. No understanding of the back-office aspects of running a business means no sustainability.
Fortunately, UC San Diego Extension provides a course associated with their copyediting program that goes beyond the fundamentals of copyediting. The four-week course, Editing as a Business: How to Succeed on Your Own, gives a comprehensive overview of the necessary steps to establish any freelance copyediting business and a framework for thinking about your own business goals.
To anyone who is ready to get a new freelance business underway, especially a first-timer such as myself, I say a four-week breather to develop some understanding of business essentials is time well spent indeed.
The online course had four learning objectives:
• Know how to launch and maintain an editing business
• Know where to obtain valuable resources related to running an editing business
• Develop a plan to find and approach potential clients
• Develop an online professional business presence
The online program uses Blackboard, an interactive learning site. Each week, new web-based lectures are provided by the instructor, along with reading materials and thought-provoking assignments about which detailed feedback is given. I found participation in the student/instructor discussion forum especially helpful as it introduced a wide array of views and resource referrals.
Also, since not many friends or new people I meet seem to find the idea of copyediting exciting (no doubt thinking of their red-pen-wielding high school English teachers), I also enjoyed engaging with eager, like-minded people seeking to get their editorial feet wet. The instructor encouraged active, thoughtful, and respectful engagement in this process, and it worked well for me as a learning experience.
LESSON 1: Setting up Shop
Is it possible to make a living as a freelance copyeditor? The instructor says it is, with proper rates and management. Whether to jump in full-time or ease in part-time is a question for each person to answer depending on circumstances. Six months of savings are recommended, if possible, but you should not let this become a barrier that keeps you from ever making your move to freelancing. The first lesson also focused on two key topics.
i. Clients / Niches
Know thyself. Choosing your preferred types of clients and niches is an important early step. Unless you know who your ideal clients are, you spread yourself thin and don’t achieve a good return on your marketing investment. Finding your niches may be the best way to ensure an enjoyable work life as well. Would you rather work for a publisher, a corporation or nonprofit organization, or perhaps directly with authors? Each provides a different client experience. Each has benefits and pitfalls. Working with publishers, for example, provides steady work and respect for one’s skills but the downsides include competition and non-negotiable rates. Working with individual authors may offer the ability to have more impact in shaping a book, but it also involves the need to explain more editing decisions with authors. There’s a lot to think about when honing your target client audience.
ii. Business Structure
You need to think about whether to work as a sole proprietor or set up a corporate entity. There are pros and cons—often specific to your state or city—that you need to weigh carefully.
Separate your personal accounts from business accounts? Yes, a good idea that will make your business life easier. And keep good records! There are a number of affordable online accounting software brands available that will save you a lot of work come tax time.
LESSON 2: Finding Work
How do we drum up business? The course helps you brainstorm your approach to marketing, looking at word of mouth, college campuses, cold calling, networking, blogs, job listings, and development of a website (your online business card and shop front).
LESSON 3: Back Office
No amount of professional expertise in your subject area will keep your business afloat without mastering the essentials of the back office. The bottom line of this lesson is to treat your business as a business, focusing on these key areas:
• Work Practices
• Time Management
• Setting Rates
• Paperwork and Files
A reliable computer, high-speed internet, supplies, and reference materials, as well as a quiet place to work are pretty much what a freelance copyeditor needs to get started. Not bad, compared to many other businesses.
LESSON 4: Growing Your Business
You need more than one or two clients to build a healthy business. This lesson explores the keys to a sustainable business:
• Cultivating regular clients
• Professional presence (business cards, fliers, etc.)
The Way Forward: Business Plan
The most effective and challenging aspect of the course was the ongoing assignment to develop a business plan. This is not accomplished in one sitting. I built a plan in layers as I honed my thinking around answering some critical questions. The instructor gave me feedback at each phase so that, in the end, I went away with a two-page document that spelled out the following:
• My business goals
• Types of services I planned to provide
• Niche and specialty areas I would pursue
• Types of clients I should target
• A list of potential clients to contact
• Business tools to use
• My approach to charging for my services
I took this course as soon as I completed my certificate program, but before I was quite ready to start my business. Since then, I retired from my career in the insurance industry, and I am now getting my freelance business underway. I’m glad I took this course; it provided a wealth of information and resources to keep me on track and ready to tackle the challenges of working on my own—a very different mindset after years as someone else’s employee!
If this approach to getting ready for business appeals to you, here is a link to the course website for further information.
About the Author
Kathleen Shewman is a newly minted freelance copyeditor and indexer working from her home in Western Massachusetts (shewmancopyediting.com), having recently retired from an insurance claims career. She obtained a Specialized Certificate in Copyediting through UC San Diego Extension, and completed the “Indexing: Theory and Application” course at UC Berkeley Extension. Kathleen copyedits nonfiction and fiction, and she does pro bono copyediting work for new authors and nonprofits through Embark Editorial Agency.