I recently posted an article on the Parlour about how I believe that loving reading isn’t in itself enough if you want to run a proofreading business (Proofreaders-to-be: Loving Books Isn’t Enough).
One commenter suggested that my approach was “over-complicated” and could be seen as “throwing the kitchen sink” at someone “who just wants to know how to fix a leak”.
I thought long and hard about what he said, and I think he’s right. I do tend to throw the kitchen sink. But, actually, I’m okay with that. Though it's not everyone's way, it's the way I approach my business. I take it very seriously and, like every one of my colleagues and friends (in the editorial community and beyond), I’ve worked very hard to make a success of my enterprise.
By “success” I mean that it delivers what I need it to deliver in terms of career fulfilment, personal satisfaction, and a decent living wage.
I like surprises as much as the next person – an unexpected bouquet of flowers from a client, an unplanned visit from a dear friend, an unknown gift under the Christmas tree, an email from my partner that pops up in my inbox during the working day for no other reason than “I wanted to tell you how much I love you”. Yup, I like surprises very much indeed.
But I don’t like the surprise of finding there’s not enough money in my bank account to pay the mortgage because I’ve not had enough work. I don’t like that element of the unknown that comes from wondering when the next client is going to contact me. I don’t like the idea of taking the plunge into a new area of my life and not having a strategy for how I’m going to make it work.
That’s why I’m a planner. I don’t do dabbling or toe-dipping very well. I know some people who are far more relaxed than me and take a more easy-going approach to aspects of their lives in general and their businesses in particular. And that is fine. Vive la différence.
Some years ago, a friend and I decided to take a trip around Italy. His attitude was: “Let’s just get there and see what happens. It’ll be part of the adventure!” I was horrified. “No way! We need pre-booked tickets and accommodation. We need to read the guide books so that we know where we’re going and how we’re going to get there. We need emergency credit cards and emergency #2 credit cards in case the emergency credit cards get stolen!”
Road trips are fine for me – as long as I have a map, and a phone, something to write with, something to write on, internet access ... and emergency credit cards, of course. Lots of them! Others are happy to start their journeys and see where the roads take them. I respect them for that because that’s their way and it matches their personalities. I, however, am not a risk-taker. I’m a bit more of a straight-down-the-line person. That’s my personality and it’s therefore no surprise that this concords with the way I built my business and the approach I take when I give business advice.
When I started to think about proofreading as a career, I approached it my way: For example, I found out what publishers want in terms of training, and I did that exact course. It took seven months. I found out what professional membership they respected, and I joined that organization. I found out what directories they found their proofreaders from, and I did everything I needed to do to qualify for entry. Bang bang bang, straight down the line. I researched and planned and researched and planned. I had a business plan and a marketing strategy on the go before I’d even finished my training. I’ve tweaked them both again and again as I’ve acquired new skills, explored new client groups, and learned about new resources and tools, but I was planning from the word “go”. I threw the kitchen sink at myself!
Can you do it any other way? Of course you can. You can do it however you want. Sitting in a bar one night some years ago, my friend Bernie came out with some words that I’ve treasured from the minute she spoke them: “There are many ways to live a life.” She’s right – there are, and there are many ways to build an editorial business, too. But if you want advice about the other ways, ask someone else. Because if you’re a new starter and I’m the person you choose to call or email, I’m going to throw my kitchen sink at you! I’ll do it gently, I promise. I’m a nice person and an optimistic person. But I’m also an organized realist and this is my way. I can’t help it – it's like that proverb about the scorpion that stings the fox during their river crossing: it’s in my nature.
So what I have learned? If there’s one very important and valuable thing that I gained from this exchange of blog comments it was this: I need to make sure that I make it clear to my readers that I don’t think my way is the only way. It’s not. Self-righteous blogging is no use to anyone and was never my intention. I welcome comments, and discussion and disagreement ... as long as they are orderly, written in nice straight lines, and come with an index ;)
Oh, and one more thing – if you're one of the proofreaders-to-be whom I've thrown my kitchen sink at, I've loved talking with you and I hope I didn't dissuade you. My intention was to inspire you and to help you think about substantive ways in which you can get your business off to a good start. I want all the best for you. I want you to love your new editorial career as much I love mine, and to enjoy "success" in the way you define it. But there are indeed many ways to go about it. That's the great thing about working for yourself – you get to choose.
Louise Harnby is a professional proofreader and copyeditor. She curates The Proofreader's Parlour and is the author of several books on business planning and marketing for editors and proofreaders.
Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader, say hello on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or connect via Facebook and LinkedIn.
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I'm an Advanced Professional Member of the UK's national editorial society. Visit the SfEP website for more information.
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