A recent discussion with a publisher colleague on the subject of business-building costs got me thinking about ways of saving money when editorial freelancing. Free or cheap isn’t always the best option, but if you do your research and try some of the options that your colleagues have already explored, you can save yourself a small fortune. These are a few of the savings I’ve made or that I plan to explore.
PDF editing software
Many of us use the free PDF readers available on the market, but some of us want the higher spec that comes with the paid-for (Pro) versions. Acrobat’s great and it’s the market-leading brand. But for the purposes of proofreading or editing PDFs you can get the same functionality with alternative products at a fraction of the price. I use the excellent PDF-XChange Viewer Pro, following the recommendation of several SfEP colleagues. Opting for the latter, for example, will save you hundreds of pounds. (Note: If you’re a Mac user you’ll need to be running conversion software, such as Parallels, to use XChange.)
Online dictionaries and reference resources
Check with your local/regional library system to see what freebies are on offer. For example, the UK library system has a deal with Oxford University Press enabling free access to Oxford Dictionaries Pro. This gives you online access to a range of OUP’s excellent dictionaries, thesauri, New Hart’s Rules and Pocket Fowler's Modern English Usage. Contact your library for more information. My own library system in Norfolk offers a range of additional online resources that are free at the point of delivery but that I’d not realized I had access to. These are funded by my local authority through taxpayers’ contributions so it’s good to know I'm making the most of them.
Efficiency tools – macros and add-ins
There are some fabulous free editing and proofreading tools available. Some are not free but still offer great value for money not only because they are reasonably inexpensive to purchase but also because of the time they save the freelancer, thus enabling them to improve their hourly rate. Two of my favourite paid-for tools are ReferenceChecker and PerfectIt, both of which come in at under fifty quid for the standard versions. My colleague Paul Beverley offers an excellent free book featuring over 400 editorial macros: Macros for Writers and Editors.
For a list of other editorial tools, most of which are free, take a look at Roundup: Links to Editorial Tools. They include free backup tools, file transfer tools, online style guides, and a downloadable job-tracking/accounting template.
If you want to upgrade, say, MS Office, take a look at what offers you might qualify for. Software4Students might be an option if you (or someone in your family) fits the criteria; UnlimitedSoftwareSource is another resource that my colleague Nick Jones of Full Proof told me about when I upgraded to Office 2010 Pro. Ask your colleagues what versions they are using and where they bought them. There are some fabulous deals to be had on legitimate software if you know where to look.
Adding on a large second monitor is a much cheaper option than upgrading your laptop or desktop PC, especially if you're increasingly working onscreen. For the purposes of onscreen proofreading and editing you can pick up a perfectly suitable 24” monitor for under £120. Not only will you have the benefits of a larger screen on which to work but you’ll also be able to increase your efficiency by reducing the amount of toggling you do between programs. If you're looking for a new PC, make sure you've explored all the online deals first and asked colleagues if they know about any special offers available and what software/anti-virus protection is included.
Society and training deals
Consider what deals your national/regional editing and proofreading society is offering. A good example is the UK’s Society for Editors and Proofreaders – joining in January gives 14 months’ membership for the price of 12. Keep a look out for early-bird registration discounts on training courses, too. Your local chapter may also offer valuable informal training sessions covering technical and business-building elements of editorial freelancing, none of which will cost you anything more than the petrol to attend.
These are worth joining because your colleagues hold a wealth of knowledge about useful free tools. Just the other day a discussion on the SfEP Forum about onscreen proofreading generated a tip from a colleague about a free resource called A Ruler for Windows. I’d not heard of it but now it’s on my desktop and it’s the perfect tool for measuring and for checking the alignment of chapter drops and page lengths when proofreading PDFs. I learn something new every time I drop into the SfEP Forum and, now that I’m a member, none of this knowledge costs me a penny.
There are also free online learning tools that you might consider exploring – see the Hewlett-Packard Learning Center for one example of free online classes related to the home office. Even if these give you only an introductory flavour they may indicate where the gaps in your knowledge are, thus enabling you to make strategic decisions about which professionally run courses you should invest in. Microsoft also provides a number of free video tutorials covering their most popular programs.
Savings through networking
If you can't attend your local group (or you don't have access to a national/regional society), make the most of online professional networking through media such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. These are superb for connecting with like-minded professionals willing to share their knowledge freely through informal chat, blogging and organized discussion groups.
International money transfers
PayPal or even your own bank might not be giving you the best deal on exchange rates and international transfer fees. Ask your colleagues if they are using alternatives payment options when working for international clients. One example is CurrencyFair, a peer-to-peer marketplace that offers savings on international transfers. Take a look at this recent article on the Parlour, CurrencyFair: A Cheaper Way to Transfer and Receive Funds, written by my colleague Averill Buchanan, for more information.
You don’t have to pay for a website – there are some great free self-build options: WordPress or Weebly, for example, which offer pre-designed templates and the ability to customize, depending on whether you’re a complete beginner or a pro. For more information about building your own website on the cheap, see Roundup: Websites for Editorial Freelancers – Why? How? What?
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I’ve only scratched the surface, but careful research and networking with colleagues can generate savings small and large for the editorial freelancer considering investing in hardware, software, training and development, and professional resources. For a list of freebie tools and resources featured here on the Parlour, browse this list of links in the Free Stuff archive.
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I'm an Advanced Professional Member of the UK's national editorial society.
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