The Proofreader's Parlour
A blog for editors, proofreaders and writers
A discussion on the Gpuss proofreading forum about earnings prompted me to consider the financial considerations of freelancing a little further. In my previous post Proofreading – Does it Pay? I looked at the rates a UK proofreader might realistically expect to earn and I offered some thoughts on working for what might be perceived by some to be “low” rates in order to get experience and build a client portfolio.
Since I wrote that article, Erin Brenner, on Copyediting.com, has posted a very informative piece about rates for the job that US editorial freelancers will find valuable: Tip of the Week: What a Copyeditor Earns.
In this post I’ll focus on some of the hidden savings and costs that are worth taking in to account when thinking about whether a freelance business is financially sustainable; I’ll also address the issue of emotional earnings – the so-called cultural capital (sometimes called human capital) that can be generated from editorial freelancing.
The obvious place to start when considering whether to embark on a freelance editorial career is what you can earn in term in terms of currency per hour. This will depend on where you live, the types of client you’re targeting, the subjects in which you specialize and the level of expertise required. This is discussed in more detail in Proofreading – Does it Pay? The economic climate will also affect the amount of work going around, just as it does in any industry, anywhere in the world. Editorial freelancing, however, has important hidden savings attached to it that should be taken into account when comparing it with office-based work.
Commuting: For those working and living in central London the annual tube travel card would cost between £1168 and £3040. I live in rural Norfolk. Busses run twice a day (not always at work-friendly times) and take an age to get anywhere. Furthermore, I don’t live in walking distance of a train station. If I worked for an employer in the city, I’d have to commute by car, roughly a twenty-mile round trip, five days a week. We already own a car so I can’t slam the whole cost on an office job, but the additional wear and tear, parking fees and horrendous UK petrol costs would be considerable. I, however, am a freelance proofreader. My trip down the stairs every day is free. I estimate I save around £1500 a year by working from home. When you work out what your freelance proofreading business pays, you should take the avoided commuting costs into account.
Childcare: I have a child so if I was office-based I'd have to pay for childcare during the holidays. Good quality childcare doesn't come cheap - nor should it - so that's another saving. If you have a supportive family network local to you, parents or grandparents, perhaps, who are prepared to look after your kids for free, lucky you! For many of us, however, this is not an option.
Work clothes: This may sound trivial but in some workplaces there's a certain dress code to which you will be expected to adhere. Two or three good suits and matching shoes don’t come cheap. This editorial freelancer, on the other hand, once proofread for four hours in her pyjamas. It’s not something I like to brag about, but I don’t spend a bean on work clothes even when, as usually happens, I do get dressed.
Food: I’m not sure where my US, Canadian, South African, Indian or Australian colleagues bought their lunch before they were freelance, but here in the UK, a lot of us spend huge amounts of money popping out from the office down to the company canteen, or nipping out to Pret a Manger or Marks & Spencer for a freshly made sandwich and a piece of fruit – and at a cost that makes me blush now that I’m digging around in my freelancing fridge every day.
When working out the financial merits of freelancing, it's about not just what you earn but also what you don't spend.
It would be ingenuous not to address some of the hidden costs, too. These need to be offset against the hidden savings and any cultural capital earned.
Health insurance: In the UK we have a wonderful, if struggling, National Health Service that’s free at the point of delivery. Every worker pays national insurance contributions to fund this. If you live outside of the UK, working in an office may give you health insurance entitlements that you would have to pay for yourself when freelancing.
Pension provision: If you’re an employee, your company may have a contributory pension scheme that tops up what you put in. These vary in their generosity, but need to be considered.
Sick pay: There’s no such thing as sick pay in the world of the freelancer. If you don’t work, do you don’t earn – simple as that.
Maternity/paternity benefits: Again, there’s no external financial provision for this when you work for yourself. If you have a child and decide to take time out from doing paid work, that time represents income lost.
Indemnity insurance: Some editorial freelancers take out professional indemnity insurance in order to cover themselves in the event that legal proceedings are taken against them. To my knowledge, this is more of a concern for editors than proofreaders and is more prevalent in the scientific, technical and medical fields.
Earning cultural capital
If the term cultural capital (or human capital) sounds like sociological buzz talk, I won’t apologize, because the concept is something I believe in. Cultural capital refers to the skills, training, education, information, knowledge and benefits that a person gains in order to better themselves, There are many ways of earning cultural capital – just a few include enrolling in college, having kids, volunteering, going to work, training, networking, and socializing. Another way is to be a business owner, even if you’re the only employee.
Investing in yourself: When you decide to move from office-based work to building your own editorial freelance business, a hugely important cultural shift occurs. Every step you take on the journey will be an investment in yourself. Every piece of training or work that you do will be for you and your business. Every stamp you lick, every letter you post, every email you send to a prospective client will be for you. Every new client you acquire (and every rejection you receive) will be another step on your freelance journey, not an employer’s. At each step, you’ll be earning cultural capital.
Tens of thousands of UK companies have signed up to work with Investors in People. Launched over 20 years ago, Investors in People "is the UK's leading people management standard. It’s a business improvement tool designed to help all kinds of organizations develop performance through their people” (http://www.investorsinpeople.co.uk). When you decide to set up your own freelance editorial business you’ve become an investor in people without even trying – you’ve invested in you. And in doing so, you’ve earned more cultural capital.
The way you talk about yourself: Office-based “part-timers” (I've been one) typically put in more hours than they're paid for in order to be seen to “keep up”. They don't always get the same breaks as full-time colleagues or have the same degree of influence within a department because they're not always on site. Freelancing offers another cultural shift on this front: I don't talk about myself a part-timer; rather, I'm a freelancer. I'm not an employee; I'm self-employed. I'm not even just a proofreader – I'm also the owner of a business, the chief accountant, the marketing director, training developer, web manager, coffee maker, and the errand runner. That’s a lot of cultural capital, and I'm really proud of that.
Measuring your cultural capital: Measuring cultural capital in strictly financial terms is impossible. However, I think the things I’ve learned (through self-teaching and training courses), the people I’ve met, the planning I’ve done, the work I’ve completed, the flexibility I’ve embedded in my business model, and the obstacles I’ve overcome have given me new skills and confidence. I hope to pass on this emotional capital base to my daughter when she’s ready. And if my business went belly-up in the next twelve months I believe I’d be better placed to pick myself up and re-enter the market because of the cultural capital I’ve earned on my freelance journey.
Freelance colleagues, what do you think? Is it all about the dollars and cents or does emotional capital count, too?
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