A note from Louise: I’m very pleased to welcome my colleague Kate Haigh to the Spotlight section of The Proofreader’s Parlour. Kate is an editor and proofreader based in the UK who works extensively with non-publisher clients. Kate’s agreed to talk to me about one particular segment of her portfolio, the business client.
Louise Harnby: Welcome, Kate. And thanks for taking the time to share your experience with us. My own client base is very much based in the publishing house sector, so I’m keen to get a sense of how things differ when working with a business client. First of all, can you tell us what kinds of material your clients ask you to work on?
Kate Haigh: Hi and thanks for inviting me to participate in this and give my views on working for business clients. I would like to start by highlighting that my experiences may differ significantly from other people’s as the scope of non-publishing work is so broad; different people may have different USPs or ways of approaching these clients. On the whole, though, I tend to work on three main types of material – websites, reports and marketing material. Different clients tend to use me for different services, i.e. I have one client for whom I solely proofread the website, whereas another regularly sends me reports but no web or advertising work. It means the work is very varied, which in my opinion is a bonus, and also means I learn a lot of random things.
LH: And are you editing, proofreading, writing, or a little bit of all three? And how do you think the job differs from work with other types of client (publishers, self-publishing authors or students for example)? Are the requirements different and, following on from this, does your method/approach vary accordingly?
KH: To be honest, it depends on the client. Some of them aren’t native speakers/writers so I edit quite heavily and am given free rein, while others just want me to tidy up documents and ensure consistency. The lines are more blurred between proofreading and copy-editing, especially as almost all of the work is done on-screen – it doesn’t tend to have pagination issues or print deadlines in the same way that book or magazine work may have. I don’t have the same level of querying as I do for self-publishers or students; most business material is black and white with limited grey areas. I may query something occasionally but it’s usually a content issue; the client handles the query internally so I don’t deal with it any further.
LH: When proofreading for academic publishers, I’m given a very clear brief and a house style guide. Is it different with corporate clients? Is this something you have to work with them to establish when you first make contact? In other words, is the brief a more dynamic affair that evolves as the work proceeds or are the clients clear from the outset what they want from you?
KH: Again, it can depend on the client. Some have style guides in place, others ask me to create one and then implement it, while others are only concerned with consistency in the one document I am working on at that time. On the whole, the brief is clear, though, and I know the level of input I can make, though I guess that comes with experience for each client. One client recently sent a document that was theoretically in the final print stage so we agreed I would only make essential amendments; in future I will see the work earlier and they want me to make stylistic changes and copy-edit the document as I see fit.
I think overall the issue is more fluid, and definitely more so than with academic and non-fiction publishing, where there tend to be so many rules. For clients who are new to using a proofreader or editor, I can play a big role in shaping my job and their expectations, which I personally enjoy. However, if you’re keen to be told what to do or have a set function to follow, this type of work may not be quite so suitable.
LH: The editorial function is an established part of the process in most traditional publishing houses. Unless a press is a small, independent publisher that has to handle all of its editorial work in-house (for economic reasons), it’s not difficult to persuade them that our services are of value. I've tended to assume this isn’t the case in the business market. Do you actively market yourself to this type of client, do they come to you? Regarding either option, what are your most effective marketing outlets?
KH: I find that businesses with active marketing departments are often already aware of the benefits of proofreading but no longer have capacity in-house (horrible to admit but the recession served me well there), so they come looking or just need a tiny nudge to make them aware of my existence. I got totally lucky with my first and most repeat client – I met a PA at a training event about writing copy for the web; she ended up giving me a lift home, took my card and passed it to the marketing manager. The rest, as they say, is history. Other companies looked for me, and thanks to my website, the SfEP directory and other online presence, I appear to be relatively easy to find.
The best marketing I have actively done has been local networking. Some businesses have then found out about proofreading and asked me to work with them as they never even knew such people existed, while word-of-mouth from those events has served me brilliantly. It takes time to reap rewards with networking, at least it did for me, but has been invaluable in the longer term. It’s the face-to-face element that works, and the rapport you build over regular breakfast meetings at some ungodly hour. On the whole, I don’t think the clients I met at networks would have responded to a cold call/email but over time they get to know you and trust you – that’s what leads to the work.
I also think that for business clients, a website is essential, not just for enabling people to find you but also for adding integrity and a professional look. Unfortunately there are a lot of people who claim to be proofreaders when perhaps they’re not qualified for the job, so having a website with information about you, testimonials, contact details, etc. really helps a client to relate. I guess that links in with the face-to-face element of networking.
LH: Do you mind talking to us about the rates of pay? I’ve blogged about the different rates of pay within the publisher sector, and how the suggested minimum rates (as defined by the SfEP) aren’t always in line with the reality of the market place. Would you say that the corporate sector is more lucrative for editorial freelancers?
KH: For business clients, my rates are almost never lower than the SfEP guidelines so in itself that possibly makes it more lucrative than the publishing industry. I think awareness of other proofreaders is lower in the corporate world and this works in my favour. When a company has decided they have the funds and the need for a proofreader, I think they value that service highly. Also, they get used to working with you, your style, and the way you interact, so they’re less worried about squeezing every penny compared with publishers, or at least that’s my perception.
I have one or two clients who pay quite a bit more due to the heavy editing/re-writing element, or other functions, but on the whole I charge in line with the SfEP’s rates and no company has ever quibbled.
LH: If you had one piece of advice to impart about working for business clients, Kate, what would it be?
KH: Ultimately, I think people need to make a positive choice to work in business proofreading rather than seeing it as a fall-back option. I like the commercial world and what it encompasses, and find working on the associated content interesting. If, however, people are doing it because they can't get work in their chosen field, it could be very boring. This would make the job less fulfilling and the resulting loss of focus could lead to an increased error rate. Sorry if this sounds dogmatic, but it's something I feel very strongly about; being able to really focus on your clients’ materials and their particular needs is important, whichever area you’re working in.
LH: Thanks very much, Kate. I’ve found this hugely informative and I’m sure that many “newbies” and seasoned professionals working in other areas will learn a lot from your experience.
Says Kate: "With a degree in German and Politics and a love of travelling, languages have always been important to me. Learning new ones and improving on those I already know are some of my greatest joys. I started working life in on-screen editing for a non-publishing business, then moved into magazine publishing, loving the frantic race to hit the deadline, signing off the copy, then reading each printed page in fear of a howler. However, life moved on and I ended up working in finance at the Bank of New York in Manchester before realising that my heart was in the pedantry of words and not numbers. However, this experience in the corporate world gave me a great foundation for the freelance career and is perhaps what gave me the confidence (alongside the knowledge gained from the PTC course) to aim for the business market rather than the publishing one. That’s not to say I don’t work in "traditional" publishing – I do occasionally – but my regular clients are businesses in the West Midlands, the UK more broadly, Europe and beyond.
If any prospective proofreaders or copy-editors want more information on working for business clients, feel free to get in touch. I don’t mind sharing a few secrets – after all, what goes around comes around."
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I am an Advanced Professional Member of the UK's national editorial society. Visit the SfEP website for more information.
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