Welcome to another NEW small business chat. Unfortunately, a few people have dropped out of the roster for whatever reason (I do try to update people’s last interviews with a note as to whether they’re still in business or have sadly ceased trading, if I know what has happened to them). But that means that I can fit in a few new people into the series, keeping it fresh and keeping you up to date with more and different business viewpoints.
Today, we’re meeting Karen White from White Ink Limited. I always like to meet businesses of about Libro’s age, and White Ink is about a year older, so at the same sort of level of maturity.
What’s your business called? When did you set it up?
My business is called White Ink Limited. I set it up in June 2008.
What made you decide to set up your own business?
I’d been working in-house for ELT (English Language Teaching) publishers for 11 years, and a combination of a house move, stepsons leaving home to go to university and a restructuring at the company where I worked seemed to coincide perfectly to make it the right time for me to start freelancing.
What made you decide to go into this particular business area?
When I left university I went to Greece to teach English as a Foreign Language (EFL) for a year. When that contract ended I got a job at a university in Turkey where I stayed for five years, the last two of which I spent working on a textbook-writing project. It was then that I realised I enjoyed working on the teaching materials enough to want to pursue it as a career when I came back to the UK. That led to my first job with a UK-based ELT publisher, and between 1997 and 2008 I worked my way from Editor to Publishing Manager in several companies, all the time focusing on ELT materials, which I still love. I’ve since extended my editing work into project management and editorial training, and I love sharing my knowledge and experience with newcomers to the business.
Had you run your own business before?
No, I hadn’t. However, lots of my friends had left to do similar things – it’s very common in ELT publishing where so many of the editors are women, for people to start freelancing after having children because it can fit around family commitments so well. Although I don’t have children, I could see that it was an appealing way to work, but I don’t think I gave the business side of things a lot of thought before I set up!
How did you do it? Did you launch full time, start off with a part-time or full-time job to keep you going … ?
I just launched myself into it full time! I had worked out how much I needed to earn, and how many hours that meant I had to work per week. I let people know I was going freelance well ahead of leaving my in-house job, and by the time I left I had some work lined up, and off I went!
What do you wish someone had told you before you started?
Sometimes enough is enough and it’s OK to say no. I have been fortunate in that I’ve always had plenty of work, but that means I tend to work a lot of evenings and weekends. On the whole, I get a lot of satisfaction from doing that, but occasionally I think I could take on a little less work, and have a bit more time off.
What would you go back and tell your newly entrepreneurial self?
Get an accountant! Focus on the things you’re good at, and let someone else take care of the things you don’t enjoy (or fully understand), even if you have to pay for their services. It’s money well spent.
What do you wish you’d done differently?
Actually, nothing. I’ve loved it from day one.
What are you glad you did?
Lots of networking. When I started working from home when we’d just moved house I knew that I’d have to get out and meet people in my area. I joined a local business networking group and met lots of people who I’ve since worked with – my accountant, for example. I also do a lot of active networking with other ELT freelancers and organise regular get-togethers where we can chat and compare notes. Freelancing can be lonely, so having a good network of people to ask for help and advice is invaluable.
What’s your top business tip?
Be nice! The world of ELT editing is a very small one. There’s no point in jeopardising work opportunities or your reputation. If you have negative feedback to give, do it constructively. In the long run that will pay dividends.
How has it gone since you started? Have you grown, diversified or stayed the same?
I’ve diversified. As well as hands-on editing I do a lot of editorial project management and training now, which I love. I’ve set up a company Facebook page which has become a forum for ELT freelancers, which I know people find useful. I’ve also set up another company with two colleagues helping ELT teachers improve their materials writing skills, which complements my editing work very well.
Where do you see yourself and your business in a year’s time?
I’m pretty much at maximum capacity now, so pretty much in the same place in business terms. The world of ELT publishing is in an exciting phase of going digital, so I expect to do more work in that area in the next year.
What an interesting specialised part of the editing world! I’ve worked on some ELT materials for non-native clients, and there’s certainly a lot of that sort of work around. Karen appears to have segued into her freelancing life in textbook (ha ha) fashion, setting up those contacts in advance, doing something she already knew, and following an established career path. I find it fascinating that she operates using a Facebook page rather than a traditional website, but then all of that networking and community-based mutual support really lends itself to the more connected world of the Facebook page. I’ll look forward to hearing about these digital changes next time.
Here’s Karen’s Facebook page for White Ink Limited. She has set up a database for ELT freelancers and also has a new company being run with colleagues.
If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please see more small business chat, the index to all the interviewees, and information on how you can have your business featured (I have a full roster of interviewees now so am only taking on a very few new ones). If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my book, Going It Alone At 40: How I Survived my First Year of Full-Time Self-Employment.