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Small business chat update – Al Hunter

mugs It’s Small Business Chat time again, and today we’re saying a warm hello to Al Hunter from Mobile Remaps, a man who does something I’ll admit that I’ve never fully understood about cars (this is OK: I don’t have a car, I don’t drive, I don’t plan to drive or have a car, and if anyone asks me about this stuff I’ll point them Al’s way …). Al started off with us in January 2012, and at that point he’d been running his company for a couple of years and had big plans. By our next chat in March 2013, things had changed and evolved, and Al was into the mobile remapping side of things. He’s always shared lots of information and advice in these interviews, and with typical detail, this was his plan for the year ahead, this time last year: “By the end of Q1 2014, we’d like to see Mobile Remaps fully funding itself. By this we mean the business it turns over being 100% profitable rather than using funds from Auto Evolution. I say this as although throughout this update we’ve focused on Mobile Remaps, it does not mean we’ll stop doing the bumper scuff repairs, windscreen chip repairs (this what Auto Evolution will focus on once we’ve got Mobile Remaps fully profitable) … but we want those services to be add-on services to cross-sell to our customers for additional profit rather than relying on that to boost Mobile Remaps’ profit. Achieving this will also mean I can give up the part-time job I took up as well … thus freeing up time and money to drive Mobile Remaps forward. Fortunately, I think we have the team behind us now to achieve that. So that’s encouraging. It means, though, a long hard year ahead, often working from 6am to 8pm, just as we did in January.” 

So, let’s see how Al is doing!

Are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?

Without sounding cocky in any shape or form… No. I’m where I planned to be. And as such, I’m where I expected to be. Which is good but not great. But it now means that as a business, it should be possible to move ‘onwards and upwards’, as they say. Twelve months ago I said I wanted at the end of Q1 in 2014 for Mobile Remaps to be able to stand on its own two feet as far as profitability goes. And that goal has been met. It’s been a jolly hard slog for a cash-restricted company (i.e. one that doesn’t have thousands of pounds to spend on advertising each month), but slowly and surely we have been developing a solid reputation for both a quality product and service whenever customers have had a question or a concern. And now we actually receive calls and emails stating the reason for contacting Mobile Remaps is because of the reviews that these individuals have read about us online!

What has changed and what has stayed the same?

In our last annual update, I mentioned that as I felt it important for a business to do what it says on the tin, and because as a business we were introducing a mobile remapping service, we introduced our trading name as Mobile Remaps as well as our website www.mobileremaps.co.uk. At the time, I said I expected the small car body repairs to run alongside the new remapping arm. As it turns out, with the exception of performing car body and alloy wheel repairs for existing customers, we have struck up a partnership with another local company for this service for all new customers that has allowed Mobile Remaps to focus on providing its mobile ecu remapping service. This has been of tremendous benefit, as our mobile remapping business is not weather dependent. As such, the first website I built for auto-evolution.co.uk that featured our car body repairs has remained very static, whilst our mobileremaps website has been very dynamic and is constantly being updated.

Around the 3rd quarter of last year, it was anticipated that our van would get a new livery for Mobile Remaps. As chance would have it (and you do need a bit of luck from time to time!) a former Saatchi executive ‘liked’ Mobile Remaps on Facebook. Having left the corporate world, David responded to a question I put on FB regarding the look and feel of our website at that time. His words were not overly complimentary. They weren’t rude, either. It was his comments stating that our website was ‘not sexy’ from an advertising professional’s perspective that caught my attention. The last thing I wanted was a sexy website as a) I’m not a spotty teenager looking at the back pages of a Max Power magazine and b) I didn’t want to alienate our potential female customers. So, without being precious about our website or brand in any shape or form, I found out David’s number, spoke with him and engaged his own newly started business to provide a marketing strategy for Mobile Remaps. And it’s been this strategy that slowly and surely I’ve been saving towards and implementing when funds allow.

Part of David’s observations were that the original Mobile Remaps Logo was not in keeping with the professional, corporate image I wanted for our company to portray. As the first part of his report, it was the branding image that has taken up my energies when I’ve had the time. It’s taken a while to get our logo and image as I wanted it. Partly I suppose because of my own failure to get across the image I had in my head to professional designers (despite writing what I considered a detailed brief – perhaps too detailed?) and partly because some professional designers simply didn’t come up to scratch and so I went from designer to designer…  But sure as night follows day, my determination to work towards my goal has meant that in February the corporate image started to come to life as we collected our Mobile Remaps van in its new corporate livery. I also commissioned a new corporate uniform with our logo and colour scheme which should be delivered to us by the end of March.

Now that we both have our brand and are building a solid reputation, we can actually start advertising (aside from my own SEO work) to truly move the business forward. And this advertising will be done through online paid-for advertising, social media (our Facebook site is growing all the time) as well as email shots and flyers.

What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?

Communicate, don’t dump… My wife is very much a part of my business, even though she has absolutely nothing to do with it. Sounds like an oxymoron, I know. But it’s not. My stress in working part time as well as full time on my business has meant time for the two of us has been limited at best. And it’s meant that meaningful communication has often been more like social media sound bites. But in seeing both our reputation grow and as recently as this week [at the time of writing] the realisation of Mobile Remaps’ branding come to life… my wife mentioned that I should be proud of the hard work that has led to where we are at today.

But if there is a learning point here it is this…. I need to include my family more. Seeing my stress and tiredness  has led to my wife and others being stressed more than they would otherwise have been if I had improved my own communication with them about all that has gone on in the background. Due to my lack of communication regarding all the balls I’ve been juggling over this last year, I have appeared distant from my loved ones when nothing was further from my mind. If I had realised this a year ago, I would have changed my behaviour at home instantly. But it only came to a head this January and since then, not only has my stress reduced but I also have a sounding board that I respect and trust which, without dumping all of the world’s business concerns on my wife and family, allows me to obtain an unbiased, unprejudiced and alternative opinion to my own on certain business aspects.

Any more hints and tips for people?

Keep clear and accurate records. It’s difficult to know a good business from a bad business at times, as we found out with a less than satisfactory service from a bookkeeping company. But due to our own clear and accurate records, Mobile Remaps were able to document dates, times, phone records and fees paid for all services (or lack thereof) provided by this third party. Such records enabled Mobile Remaps to not only put an unsatisfactory experience behind them but also focus on the future, which is equally if not more important.

Keeping clear and accurate records has also been beneficial when scouting out new suppliers for products and services and in negotiating better deals… so there are potentially many benefits from this tip!

Develop a strategy for yourself. That old saying ‘failing to plan is planning to fail’ is true here. Having the strategy developed by David for Mobile Remaps gave a focus that was lacking previously. That’s not to say we’ve followed the strategy religiously. We couldn’t. Restricted funds saw to that. But what it did to was provide a goal (working towards being able to afford a complete rebranding exercise) that we could work towards and then once achieved, understand what the next step would be.

Keep an open mind. One of the best things we’ve done this year has been to join the networking group BNI. Originally I visited BNI 3 years ago and was not impressed. But at an alternative networking group an attendee said ‘have you heard of BNI? Why not visit my chapter and see if it’s any different to the one you experienced before?’ Every bone in my body said don’t go but I fought my own prejudice and went thinking… what have a I got to lose except for a couple of hours and perhaps a wrong impression?!  Well for I have found BNI beneficial for the business as well as me personally. It’s improved my communication and presentation skills as well as confidence. I’ve also found it to be a brilliant resource for finding other reputable companies who can help Mobile Remaps grow.

And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?

As I said in last year’s review, I expect from the end of Q1 in 2014 to be a year of growth. And this is still my goal and expectation. Without going into too much detail on goal specifics, the aim for the end of Q1 in 2015 is to be in a situation where Mobile Remaps cannot serve all customers who would like our service. And, by this I mean that we are too busy to travel too far away to see our customers. This situation would lead to Mobile Remaps considering training an employee or franchising the business so that we can provide national coverage with local reach, which I think is the ultimate goal. But before we can do that, Mobile Remaps must first perfect as best it can both its local advertising strategy and service. For after all, the best national companies and franchises are just local business repeating themselves.

Wow – such a lot of useful information which can really benefit other businesses as they think about their growth and branding. Al has a very sensible approach to spending money on marketing which I really echo – only spending when you’ve got the money to spend is good and sensible way to go about things, and can lead to a healthy and growing business, as we can see. I wonder what Al will have to report this time next year!

Al adds: If anyone wants to keep in touch with what we do they are most welcome to keep in touch with Mobile Remaps on Facebook and Twitter and we’ll be happy to answer any and all questions that may be raised for our attention. If anyone wishes to learn more about remapping, please do feel free to also visit our website at www.mobileremaps.co.uk.

f 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 books, all available now, in print and e-book formats, from a variety of sources. 

 
 

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Using LinkedIn for your business

Using LinkedIn for your business

LinkedIn is seen primarily as a networking tool for the more corporate end of the market. However, you can set up your own business page on LinkedIn now, and there is a lot more interactivity and ‘social’ activity than there used to be – or than you might think.

Setting up a LinkedIn profile

Once on www.linkedin.com you can join up and set up your profile.

1 profile

It’s a good idea to include as much information as you can on here – and in a professional way. While it’s never a good idea to allow typos and grammatical errors on any professional profile, it’s vitally important here, as people tend to make more of an effort, and so any errors will be very glaring.

There are various sections to fill in on the profile; including past jobs allows your ‘network’ to grow, as LinkedIn, unlike other social media, will not let you even request to connect to just anyone. For example, I’ve added my experience in here:

2 profile

… and I’ve added information about the books I’ve written in the Publications section:

3 profile

Find your way around LinkedIn

Your home page will contain a feed a little like your Facebook timeline, with updates from people to whom you’re linked. To find people to link to, you can search in the search box at the top of the screen. Once you’re linked to someone, they will appear in your Connections list, which you can access by clicking the [number] connections icon to the bottom right of your profile picture area.

Your profile also includes a link to People You May Know. This will give you people in networks connected to you by other connections, workplaces or interest groups to whom you might want to link.

4 connections

Click on People you may know and you’ll be given a list of possible connections (I’ve blanked out names and obscured photographs because this is my own LinkedIn profile):

10 people you may know

You can see your invitations and notifications at the top right.

Invitations allow you to see who has invited you to connect and any messages they’ve sent you via LinkedIn:

11invitations

Notifications show you who has liked your updates or shared your profile:

12 notifications

Linking to people on LinkedIn

LinkedIn is different from other social media networks, in that you have to have a tangible connection to a person in order to ‘Link’ to them. If you find someone you want to link to and press Connect, you’ll be asked how you know that person. If you say that they’re a colleague, or that you’ve done business with them, you’ll be asked which of your jobs they are a colleague from – that’s why it’s important to list all of the companies that you have worked for on your profile. If you say that they’re a friend, you’ll be asked to prove you know them by providing their email address.

You can find people just outside your network by clicking on the People You May Know link. This will give you a list of either friends of friends or people who have said that they work or have worked at the same organisations that you’ve worked at. You can connect to these people in the same way. You can also search for people using the search box at the top of the screen (Note; I asked Janet’s permission to use her profile in these images):

5 search

However you access them, click on the person’s name to see their profile and then use the Connect button to ask them to link to you:

6 connect

It will then ask you how you know that person: when you click on one of the radio buttons, you will be asked for more detail.

7 connect

Here, I’ve clicked Colleague, so then it will ask me which company that I’ve worked at relates to this:

8 connect

Setting up a company page

You can set up a company page on LinkedIn for your business – this will give people another way to find you and will provide another link to your website and other social media.

To set up a company page, click on Interests at the top, then Companies from the drop-down.

13 add a companyAt the top right of the next page you’ll find a link for Add Company.

14 add a companyYou will first need to confirm that you’re eligible to create and moderate this page, so there will be an email sent to you to confirm, and you must have a personal LinkedIn account to create a company page.

14.5 add a company

Fill in all of your company’s details and save – and there you go.

To edit your company information, go and find the company page and click on Edit.

15 add a company

Getting social

This section is about social media – so how do you get social on LinkedIn?

Updates

You can post updates, just like on Facebook – do this from the Home page. Your updates will appear on your connections’ home pages, just as theirs do on yours. You can like and share updates in a very similar way to Facebook.

17 updates

You can direct most blogging platforms to automatically post links on LinkedIn – all of my WordPress blog posts do this. You can also link your Twitter account to LinkedIn by going to your account settings (click on the small photo in the top right of the screen), clicking on your name and choosing Manage Twitter Accounts.

18 link to twitterClick on Add your Twitter account:

19 link to twitter

20 link to twitter

If you’re logged in to Twitter you will see this Authorize app message, if you’re not logged in, you will be asked to log in first. And there you go:

21 link to twitter

Recommendations

If someone has done a good job for you, you can click on Recommend in their profile and type in a recommendation. They will be emailed this and will have the option as to whether to publish it or not (this prevents people posting negative comments without the member knowing).

16 recommendations

Groups

There are thousands of interest groups on LinkedIn and these can be a good way to meet new people, spread the word about what you’re doing, and find out what other people are up to.

Access Groups by searching in the top search bar (you can click on the icon to the left of the search area and select only Groups to search) or by clicking on Interests then Groups. Once you’ve joined some Groups, you will find them listed on your Groups page, and then some suggestions underneath.

22 search for groups

When you look at the Groups screen, you can see all of the groups you have joined, and you can also create a group if you wish to.

23 groups page

You will also find suggested groups at the bottom of the page:

24 groups page

Groups work very simply – you can post a new message or reply to another one, just like in other social media like Facebook and Google+. You can choose whether you are updated by email for all posts and replies in the group, or whether you want to just access them via the LinkedIn website.

I have found that some groups do become clogged with too many adverts and not enough discussion, but others can be really useful. The usual rules apply about reciprocity and kindness when using LinkedIn for social media communications.

Golden rules for using LinkedIn

Be professional. LinkedIn is known as a professional and careers-orientated site, although there is certainly room for the self-employed. But you do need to be extra professional and not very personal on here.

Reciprocate – if people like and share your updates and group posts, say thank you and like and share theirs.

Similarly, if people recommend you, or if they use the Endorse buttons that appear at the top of the screen when you log in to say that you’re knowledgeable about a certain topic, do try to recommend and endorse them back.

 
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Posted by on April 9, 2014 in Business, Social media

 

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Small business chat update – Stephen Tiano

mugs Got that kettle on? Good, because I’ve got a great interview to share with you today. Stephen Tiano is a book designer. His original (2012) and 2013 interviews have proved to be popular with my readers, and here’s his update for 2014. This time last year, this was Stephen’s plan for the year ahead: “Well, generally, this never changes. I always hope to have at least two books in process at a time. And I’d like each year to see me surpass the most money I’ve ever made annually to date as a book designer. But as to the work itself, I’d love to begin working with reasonably well-financed new publishers to establish a ‘house style’ for their books. (I guess perhaps I’m too influenced by all I’ve read about Jan Tschichold and his work at Penguin in the 1930s, tho’ I hope to continue to take myself less seriously than it sounds to me like he did.)” So, how are things going for Stephen a year on …?

Are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?

I have to admit, no. I thought I was going to continue to pick up the pace after a slower year—the way it’s worked out after most other slow years. But it turns out that my market has changed yet again. I adapted when publishing companies seemed to give way to self-publishing. My business is almost all self-publishers these days. Now I’m having to think on my feet once more and move into ebooks from print in a bigger way than I’d anticipated I’d have to at this point.

What has changed and what has stayed the same?

Well, as I said above, the work seems to have moved farther into and more quickly to e-versions. It hasn’t been without bumps in the road, my getting to the point where I’m willing to produce ebooks. For one thing, I don’t like the routes that require me to code. I just don’t enjoy that side of things enough to naturally internalize coding skills. It always requires a kind of intellectual “hunt-and-peck” process. But after a couple of false starts—not exactly failed methods or tools that are lacking, just tools that aren’t quite the ones for what I need to do—I’ve been able to progress.

In the first instance, Book Creator, a great little app that works right on the iPad and makes epubs that can be adapted for other environments, suffers for its lack of the ability to flow long stretches of text from page to page throughout the file. Apple’s Pages is not something I would use for prepping a print book. I’d still leave that to one of the big two, InDesign or QuarkXPress; or else I’d make a move into the open-source Scribus (especially since I’m disgusted with Adobe and have no plans to spend another dime with them, because their perpetual-pay subscription model for buying InDesign, Photshop et al. stinks.)

But Pages sounds like it’s got legs for making pubs that can be repurposed for other formats. I suspect it was just me, but I couldn’t pick it up quickly enough to adapt for some of the particularized effects I wanted.

So, like Goldilocks, I needed to try a third tool to find the one that was “just right”. And that led me to Apple’s iBook’s Author. Now many, if not most, designers, artist, and readers will at least have reservations, if not outright opposition to ever using a proprietary format that’s as closed as iBooks. I mean, it can only be sold through Apple’s iBookstore. But iBooks Author provides a rich environment and splendid tools for presenting a complete multimedia “book”.

What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?

Well, I confirmed once again that the more technical job of coding can go hand-in-hand with design. But it’s not the work I’m interested in doing. I guess I wish I’d picked up sooner that print really is becoming a tougher business model to sustain. Oh, print books aren’t going anywhere. But I think off-shoring at really cheap prices, as well as the do-it-yourself ethic that drives many self-publishers, are making it less likely that print book design and layout work is the way for a freelancer in the U.S. to earn a living. It’s possible that in a few more years the same might just be said of ebook design and production.

Any more hints and tips for people?

I think the most relevant piece of advice I can give is a real downer: Be prepared to be irrelevant. But don’t live in fear of it, as It’s not inevitable. But depending what stage of your earning life you’re in, keep looking for “the next thing”. Pick up new skills. Make yourself a better value for potential clients.

And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?

I’m hoping to be busy again. I want to move on to working in ebooks. But I still love print books and hope to work more of those. In a year … I’m not so sure. I do, however, have a 20-month plan … tentatively. My wife and I are looking to relocate—perhaps staying on the east coast somewhere in the Delaware/Maryland/DC/Virginia/North Carolina orbit; or on the west coast in northern California’s wine country. I’m hoping for a golf community. And I think I’d like to go in-house at a small publisher or university press. We’ll be downsizing some and switching to a slightly less expensive lifestyle, if all goes according to plan. I’ll also be pulling in a pension from another life I’ve lived in civil service. That means I’ll be looking for supplementary income, as opposed to my main deal. In another year, I’d like to have dominoes lined up so that these plans are on their way to reality.

So exciting and changing times in the world of book design, and I do think the advice Stephen gives here is very useful for anyone in any industry – nothing stays the same, and we’re always having to adapt and change to avoid getting left behind. I’m hoping that I’ll have a guest post from Stephen this year about book design, something that I’m not that familiar with, so we have that to look forward to, too. Best of luck to Stephen in looking for his new home and lifestyle arrangements!

Stephen’s website is at www.tianobookdesign.com and you can email him or call if you’re in the USA on tel. & fax: (631)284-3842 / cell: (631)764-2487 or Skype him using stephentianobookdesigner. Do have a read of Stephen’s blog and follow him on Twitter!

f 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 books, all available now, in print and e-book formats, from a variety of sources. 

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2014 in Business, Small Business Chat

 

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Small business chat update – Anastasia Bird

mugs Hello! Get that kettle on and curl up for another update from one of our interviewees, one year on from her first one back in March 2013. Anastasia Bird runs Jellybean Home Decor & Gifts, still a relatively new company, only set up in 2012. Where did Anastasia want to be by now? Her reply was: “We hope to have a fully equipped workshop and continue to grow in terms of products, orders and advertising”, which is a modest but targeted aim. Let’s see how she’s doing now …

Are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?

Not quite, as I had quite a few personal setbacks, including a house move and various family crises, which had to come first. But we’re not far off. I’ve been building up buying equipment, and I’ve just applied for funding to enable me to buy a wood-cutting machine.

In terms of orders, we’re absolutely where we want to be at this point. There’s the task of streamlining things to enable customers to get their orders more quickly by reducing our turnaround time, ensuring that the quality stays the same, of course. It’s more the waiting for stock that is a big, big factor in turnaround time, so we’re working really, really hard to combat that.

Advertising has been great: we stocked in a shop in Essex last year, and this year are stocking in a local shop and have been looking into different advertising areas and finding the one that suits Jellybean.

What has changed and what has stayed the same?

My hours have definitely changed. At the time of the last interview, I was working all hours, but I’ve learned to time block so I get more work done in less time, to a higher quality. Less procrastination. I feel this is important on a massive scale, because it enables me to have a much better work/home life and achieve the balance that so many small business owners strive for, and it lets me be a happier person and become better at my job.

The passion I have has definitely stayed the same, if not grown even more … oh and I love Twitter now! Haha!

What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?

I’ve learned a ton of new techniques, different ways to photograph things, etc. I wish I’d known that Christmas was going to be insane! I knew it was going to be busy, but it was a totally new experience managing so many orders!

Any more hints and tips for people?

Stick at it! You will have times of doubt and crisis, but you can do it!

And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?

It’s really hard to say, because I can’t predict what happens in my personal life, but I hope that we’re doing a lot more events like fairs, and I hope we’re stocked in a shop long term, and I hope we’re cutting our own wood!

Well, that sounds like a good set of aims, again, to me. Well done to Anastasia for getting that work-life balance back on track – always a tricky thing, but it is possible to manage it. Time-blocking is, indeed, the key there. And it sounds like orders are going well, and with plenty of orders, she’ll be able to fulfil her other plans more easily. I look forward to hearing how things are going next year!

You can visit Anastasia’s website at www.jellybeanhomegifts.co.uk where you can also sign up to a monthly newsletter, or email the company. The company is on Facebook and Twitter, and you can phone Anastasia on 01623 620 14301623 620 143

f 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 books, all available now, in print and e-book formats, from a variety of sources. 

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2014 in Business, Small Business Chat

 

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Small business chat update – Debbie Copas

mugs Hello! It’s Saturday and so it must be a small business chat (update) … and here we’re getting into the holiday spirit with Debbie Copas from Norfolk Coastal Holidays. I originally featured Debbie in March 2013, when she’d been going for a few years and had added a second property to her portfolio two years previously, and this was her plan for the upcoming year: “I’m still learning a huge amount on the marketing and social media side, so I hope to have ventured into Twitter and several other areas of marketing. I think this year is more about consolidating what I already have. If the business expands in the future, it will be as an agent for other local properties. I can then pass on all the experience I’ve learnt, to help other owners. I’ve been asked several times already, but I’m not ready for that leap yet!

So, how did Debbie get on with her marketing and social media? Did she consolidate or did she expand? Grab a cuppa and read on to find out …

Are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?

I’m perhaps a little further behind where I hoped I’d be, but I have made definite progress, so I’m not beating myself up over it!

What has changed and what has stayed the same?

I wanted to get into Twitter and I certainly have. I have built up a good following on there and I’m sure that will just continue to grow. I am a softly, softly networker; I have simply chatted to people on there on a couple of networking hours and have made some really good connections. I have a Google plus account but it’s not very active. Google is now offering me a new page to link with my Google Places entry, so things are very messy at present, as I don’t want two pages.

I’m using a web designer to try to help me get through this very challenging maze! I still have the same website, but instead of employing someone, as originally planned, I’ve decided to build my own with support and lessons from a website designer. It’s taking a long time, but I’ll get there eventually!  I stay active on Facebook and through this have met the most fabulous group of ladies. We set up a group called Small Business Support Group and we help each other in business as well as chat about our personal lives. I now have a virtual office, which is great after so many years of working alone! Some of us have even met in person last month in Birmingham, with more meetings planned for the future.

What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?

Everything takes twice as long as you hope! Google has changed many things in this last year and I have been hit by less traffic to my website, and I’m sure this has also affected the listing sites I advertise on. I wish I’d known that the winter was going to be bad for bookings; I would have done a better marketing drive last Autumn. However, I’ve done lots of marketing this year, so things are on the up again!

Any more hints and tips for people?

Be the person you are, especially within social media. Don’t try and just sell, sell, sell; people like to connect with real people and get to know the person behind the business. Always be willing to adapt and change things if they are not working. No business progresses into the future unless they explore new ideas and take on new challenges. Don’t be afraid of competitors, but learn from their success (or failures!) and simply be the best you can be.

And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?

I will have a new website with all the bells and whistles, including the ability to fill out forms online. Currently I send out a word doc which does bring occasional problems. I will have learnt a lot about WordPress, various Google products and the dark art of SEO! The business has a mascot now, a cuddly dog called Charlie. I hope my guests will have taken him out and about exploring Norfolk and sent me photos. I have lots of ideas in my head to build on my customer loyalty and reward them in some way. I will have a logo (that’s in the pipeline) and new business cards, and hopefully will have built on my brand name even more. It’s all very exciting still!

I think Debbie’s done a very important thing in running her own website but with the support of a web designer – that’s a super idea and means that she maintains control of the content and operation of the site, while having expert advice on how to go about it. I meet too many people who have no control over their own website at all, and have to pay to make the smallest update – I really do think that Debbie has found a good solution there. It’s great that she’s found a group of like-minded people, too – I wouldn’t be without my support group of fellow editors as well as other general small business people. A case study in how to do it, then, and how lovely that she’s still excited by it all. I look forward to finding out how Debbie gets on over the next year!

Debbie’s website is www.norfolkcoastholidaycottage.co.uk
She’s maintaining her presence on Facebook and Twitter
Phone: 07780 99476807780 994768

f 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 books, all available now, in print and e-book formats, from a variety of sources. 

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2014 in Business, Small Business Chat

 

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Growing your business – moving into premises (case studies)

Sneak preview of the image from my new bookWhen you start to grow your business, it can become obvious that you need to move out of the dining room or even home office and into your own premises. I was lucky enough to be able to dedicate a room in our house to Libro, and I work quite happily up here and don’t intend to move out. But if you don’t have space to put aside a dedicated and undisturbed area of your home (or you don’t want to work from home), you are making something that you want to be able to leave out overnight, or you are planning on seeing clients, it can become a matter of necessity.

Here we meet three people who have expanded into their own new premises, and learn how and why they did it, and what happened next …

Jennifer Woracker of Twinkleballs, who makes cake toppers and is one of my Small Business Chat interviewees, has just moved into a workshop in the garden. She and her family recently moved in with her parents in Wales, and her mum helped her to convert the summer house, paying for the initial work, which cost around £1000. Jennifer is now paying her mum back in monthly instalments.

By doing this, Jennifer has none of the disadvantages of paying business rates and rent on a premises, and all  of the advantages of having her own studio to work from, which has made the world of difference to both her business and her home life.

Before getting her own space, she had to work from the kitchen in my home, which meant that she couldn’t start work until the family were fed and all the cleaning up done, she could only work at night and had to clear everything away before she could go to bed, “often at 2am!”. She also had to kick out all the pets and make sure the area was spotless before work could commence. What about now?

My purpose-built studio has everything I need to store my tools and materials and I can leave my work out to come back to as and when I want, this means I can pop in and work for an hour or so during the day when the children are other wise occupied. When the children go to bed I escape to my little shed in the garden and get down to doing the work I love, I use a baby monitor so I can be sure the children are safe and sound while I am working.  My studio is a lovely fresh, clean and pet free environment that is a pleasure to work in, it has a sink with a water heater, a huge work top and loads of cupboards. I also have a kettle for the all important tea brakes and my laptop with Spotify playing my favourite tunes. It is great to have a place of my own to explore and develop my creativity!

John Ellery of Ellery Consulting, a firm that specialises in grant making and fundraising, has taken one private and one government-initiated path to having premises. Why did he take this route? After trying for a short period to work from home, with a young family and many distractions, he realised that working from home wasn’t ideal for him. As he was a relatively new business with the associated cash-flow concerns, he wasn’t keen on paying out an expense for an office initially.

His initial solution was signing up for a Regus Goldcard, which he did in his second month of operation. This allowed him use of Regus Business Lounges across the country (he picked up a free Goldcard with his membership of the Federation of Small Businesses. It looks like you get a different level of free membership these days: do check before joining either service). His assessment of these spaces:

Whilst these do not provide private space they offer a professional environment, a place to go to work to – separating work and home environments – and free tea and coffee. The Business Lounges were still a fairly informal work environment, with sometimes Lounges being very busy and noisy and the annoyance of having to pack and unpack everything if you wanted to nip out to get lunch.

Looking for something more private as he grew the business, John then found the government ‘Spaces for Growth’ scheme, offering free space for start-ups, SMEs and social enterprises through the use of empty government buildings. This gave him a permanent space of his own, an offer of additional desks as the business grew and a formal office to invite contacts and partners to. In his words, “This gave the business a great saving as we attempted to grow”.

John says of his adventures in low-cost premises:

I have used both of these schemes in order to provide myself with a work space, a place away from home that I can go to do a day’s work, with this separating the work and home environments. Through these two approaches I have managed to do this at a minimum costs allowing me to focus use of business funds on growth opportunities.

They both have the additional and unexpected benefit of mixing with other people and businesses in a similar situations, with this network found to be vital as he faced the challenges of being a new business owner. The biggest issue was the lack of meeting or private space in these environments, “However, this is easily overcome through meeting partners in their offices or going out for a coffee!”

Would John recommend these two schemes? “Definitely. The Spaces for Growth is an especially strong and under-used scheme which will be of great benefit to help the business grow”.

Karin Blak of Interrelate has taken a slightly more conventional approach to business premises. She’s a psychosexual and relationship therapist in private practice but also runs a training business providing courses in emotional first aid, listening skills for teachers, emergency workers, etc.

Karin founded Interelate in 2005 but only offered the training on an ad hoc basis, so premises were not a priority. However, when she started to run this side of the business seriously, she realised that something would have to give:

At the moment, any work relating to Interelate is done at the dining room table at home, which now is no longer appropriate.  Having to clear all my work into piles on the floor every evening when the family sits down for dinner is not good and does not encourage my family to realise that this is a business not just something Mum does to keep her occupied.  For me, it will instill a working day rather than working from the moment I wake until going to bed at night.  I so look forward to regaining my home and having to get out of the door to go to work.

She does already have a practice room in town for her private practice, but there is not enough space there for her desk, books, papers and stuff that is needed to run a training business. So she began to look at other businesses and how they were going about expanding or moving. Having noticed that some were getting some good deals on rent or getting landlords to include additional services, “I realised that I needed to be cheeky, so when I went looking at premises I began to bargain with landlords and managed to get a really good deal without too much haggling”.

The upshot of this haggling is that Karin is currently moving into a lovely room in the centre of town with enough space for both therapy and training, and paying less than she did for just her therapy room. Although she had the experience of running the therapy room before, it’s clear that looking at others’ experiences was really helpful for her [as I hope this series of expert opinions and case studies is for you!]. She has some useful things to say about the financial side of things:

The cost side has become more important than before because of launching Interelate and having to invest in business development services, updating the website, telephone answering services, equipment and so on before I have earned any serious income.

Karin admits that she didn’t do as much budgeting as she now thinks she should have done, and suspects, “I could probably have got more out of my little pot of money if I had”. She did go to her bank, but, while they were willing to help, could only contribute half of what she was asking, mainly because the business wasn’t creating an income yet.

Would Karin do it again? It’s early days and, as she says, it was a leap of faith but in going about the process of research and evaluation, she has already made some valuable connections who are going to be helping her by selling and even buying her training courses. Like John, she’s found a side benefit to getting out of the home office and into the wider world in terms of networking and connections. Her final comment:

My message is that I would always take that leap of faith again because a. I am enjoying all so much b. I am meeting some fantastic people c. I will never be able to say that I didn’t try hard to make it work.

So, we have three ways here in which you can expand your business by expanding into premises. You can build a garden office/workshop, invest in various schemes that give you more or less temporary space, or take the leap of faith and trust that your business will make enough in its new home to pay those rental and service fees. All of them take planning, and you must continually check that you’re getting value for money.

Thank you to Jennifer, John and Karin for their input into this article. I’m hoping to find an estate agent to contribute an expert post on this topic – if you are one or you know one, please do get in touch with me!

Jennifer Woracker TwinkleballsFacebookTwitter

John Ellery Ellery ConsultingTwitterFacebook

Karin Blak Interelate

———-

This post is part of my series on growing your business. Read more here and read about my own business journey in my books.

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2014 in Business, Guest posts, Organisation

 

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Small business chat update – Dick Margulis

mugs Hello! I’m going to have a bumper crop of updates for you over the next few weeks, with all of my March interviewees getting back to me and letting me know how they’re getting on within a few days of me contacting them. First up, we have Dick Margulis of Dick Margulis Creative Services an editing (and more) colleague, who we first met in February 2012, and then again in March 2013. In 2013, this was Dick’s plan: “In another year, my wife and I will, we hope, be preparing to move into the first cohousing development in Connecticut. Meanwhile, my business continues to grow, and I continue to learn new things.” So put the kettle on, brew up a nice cuppa, and find out what’s happening in the world of Margulis Creative Services …

Are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?

Not at all. The cohousing project is moving more slowly than I had hoped (but it’s still moving—ask again next year). And my business is growing much faster than I anticipated. For the last several months I’ve had to turn away new prospects with interesting projects that I just didn’t have the time to take on. A few have agreed to wait for me, so my calendar is full for months to come.

What has changed and what has stayed the same?

Le plus ça change . . .

Book publishing continues to undergo massive changes worldwide in terms of who publishes, how they publish, what they publish, and how they market it. Ebooks are clearly here to stay, and in some areas they dominate. The cost of putting out an ebook without benefit of professional editing has dropped essentially to zero, so the market is flooded with unedited dreck. This provides a strong incentive for those who want to keep their heads above water to seek help from people like me.

At the same time, the cost of print continues to plummet, so it gets more and more affordable to produce a high-quality printed book.

What has remained the same is people’s aspirations become published authors. I hope that never goes away.

What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?

Well, I’ve learned that having a docking station is very convenient, and I wish I’d bought one several years ago. I’ve updated or added a number of technical skills, but that’s a constant in my life. And of course I’ve continued to learn from my clients, which is one of the great joys of this business.

Any more hints and tips for people?

Still none. People have to find their own way and learn from their own mistakes, I fear.

And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?

I’ve quit making predictions. I just take it as it comes.

That last one will be an interesting one to ask about this time next year … it’s great to see my colleagues doing well, even to the point of having to turn work away (I think this is a real feature of a mature business; I am very careful what I take on now and say no (with a recommendation of an alternative) quite a lot of the time). I actually think that there are more people aspiring to become authors now, as do-it-yourself and indie publishing become more mainstream and well-known, and there is a realisation that we editors add very important value to the indie published ebook, although too many do go out with no editorial control. I hope that the family’s move does happen this year, and look forward to finding out what happened next …

Those contact details if you need any of the services Dick offers:

Dick Margulis Creative Services
284 West Elm Street
New Haven, Connecticut 06515
+ 1 (203)389-4413 office
+ 1 (203)464-3199 mobile
www.dmargulis.com (site)
www.ampersandvirgule.com (blog)

f 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 books, all available now, in print and e-book formats, from a variety of sources. 

 
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Posted by on March 15, 2014 in Business, Small Business Chat

 

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What to do when you encounter plagiarism: business content

PlagiarismThis post is for editors who suspect that they might have encountered some deliberate or accidental plagiarism when dealing with content for their business clients, particularly in regard to websites and blog content. By sharing my tips and practices, I hope that I can gather a resource of best practices for other editors / proofreaders.

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is the act of passing someone else’s work off as your own. In the business world, this usually involves copying someone else’s content, word for word, without linking back to the original work or acknowledging that it has come from elsewhere.

I’ve noticed that I and colleagues are fairly often confronted with content to edit that has  been pulled wholesale from another (often rival) website, used word for word without attribution. That would be stolen. It’s found most often, in my experience, in business marketing content such as websites and blogs. Note that I have written about plagiarism in student work in another article.

Plagiarism in the business world

Why is plagiarism bad? Two reasons:

  1. If you steal someone else’s content, you are liable to be found out, either by a prospective client who is looking at several different websites in one business area, or by the originator of the content, who may be alerted by a search service such as Google Alerts or plagiarism-detecting software such as Copyscape (thanks Arlene Prunkel for the heads-up; she has blogged about her own experiences using this software).
  2. Using the exact same wording in two places alerts the search engines that something is amiss. It’s never clear exactly how the algorithms work, but you run the risk of your content not being indexed and found anyway.

Why is not flagging plagiarism bad for the editor?

  1. OK, we haven’t signed a Hippocratic Oath of Editing or anything, but it’s the job of a principled and decent editor not to allow plagiarism to happen – surely?
  2. Someone finds out that a site you’ve edited has plagiarised their content. You let it pass unmentioned. The plagiariser says, “Oh, my editor didn’t flag it up”, and the finger starts to point at you.

What form does business web content plagiarism take?

As with student plagiarism, business plagiarism can be deliberate or accidental – or a mixture of the two.

Deliberate plagiarism

I’ve edited web text where the style and content varies so much that it’s clear that it’s come from different sources. Sometimes the client is clear about this, “Oh, I picked it up from various places, it doesn’t matter, does it?” Yes, it does.

On other occasions, I’ve been given a link to a single blog post or article, or perhaps a web page, usually by necessity published by the client’s rival, and been asked to “rewrite this so it doesn’t look like we’ve used their words”. Not ethical.

Deliberate or accidental plagiarism

Sometimes it’s not clear whether a client realises that you’re not supposed to lift text wholesale from another place. So it’s important not to pour scorn or invoke human rights and laws, but to quietly educate.

Accidental plagiarism

Very often, a client or indeed other blogger won’t realise that reposting the whole of an article or web page, with a reference or link at the bottom, will prejudice the search engines against them and lead to their content not being indexed. Here, it’s useful to drop them a line to suggest that they only post a few lines of the original with a link to where it can be found in full. Link-backs all round and happily shared content!

What to do when you encounter plagiarism in business texts

I have a sliding scale of activities depending on the level of plagiarism and overtness about the plagiarism:

Here’s what I do to avoid my clients plagiarising on their websites and blogs:

  • If I find lots of reposted blog content which is referenced, I will have a quiet word about posting teasers and links instead.
  • If I suspect content has been lifted from elsewhere, I’ll pop a few sentences into Google and see if I can find the source. Then I’ll raise the issue with the client by marking the sections or just emailing them to ask if they had permission to quote the source. I’ll then suggest that they rewrite it (or have it rewritten) using a variety of sources.
  • If a client has quoted an industry leader or other person but not referenced where they got those quotes, and it’s clearly not from a direct conversation, I will advise them that they should quote their sources in a source list or footnote or link.
  • If I am asked to rewrite one blog post or web page to make it suitable for the client, I will go back to them and either offer to research the topic myself or ask for a list of suitable resources from which to research it (which can then be referenced in the text)

I will always explain why plagiarising is a bad idea and the effects it can have on their business, reputation and search engine results. Most clients understand the issues once they’re explained: any that ask me to continue helping them to plagiarise whatever will become ex-clients. I can’t risk being associated with this kind of activity, and I don’t wish to be implicated in any scandals, plus it’s against my ethics to promote or encourage plagiarism.

I’ve talked here about strategies for dealing with plagiarism in business texts. If you have any other practices you’d like to share, please do submit a comment below!

Related posts on this blog:

What to do when you encounter plagiarism: student work

Top 10 blogging sins

My terms and conditions

 

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Small business chat – Karen White

mugsWelcome 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.

 
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Posted by on March 8, 2014 in Business, Small Business Chat

 

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What to do when you encounter plagiarism: student work

PlagiarismThis post is for editors who suspect that they might have come across deliberate or accidental plagiarism, or are concerned that they are doing “too much” and thus causing their client to unwittingly engage in plagiarism. By sharing how I approach this, and asking for comments, I hope I can gather together a resource of best practices for other editors / proofreaders.

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is, at its most basic, the act of passing someone else’s work off as your own. It usually involves copying someone else’s work, text, content, however you want to describe it, without pointing out that  you’ve copied it or referencing it back to the original work.

In my work, plagiarism is found most often in student work and business marketing content such as websites and blogs. This post is about student work, and I discuss business content in another post.

Plagiarism in academic work

Plagiarism is, unfortunately, rife in academic work. You can kind of understand it: students are under a lot of pressure, and overseas students in particular can have a lot of financial pressure from their funders to return home with a good degree and pick up a high-level job. With courses over-subscribed and A-levels often not preparing students for the rigours of academic work, the student may not understand that they are not supposed to use other people’s work unattributed, although universities do provide them with reams of paper and things to sign which are intended to explain and prevent plagiarism.

I tend to find two kinds of plagiarism, deliberate and accidental:

Deliberate plagiarism

I’ve come across some pretty shocking examples of deliberate plagiarism in my work. This includes sections marked in a different colour, with a note in the covering email: “Can you please rewrite the sections I’ve highlighted”. More heartrending are the examples where the author says to me, “My English is not good enough to rewrite the parts from other authors, please help me to rewrite them”. But I can’t.

Deliberate or accidental plagiarism

I often come across direct quotations used as if they are the author’s own words. Unfortunately, to the experienced editor, it becomes all-too-clear when a direct quotation is being used without being referenced. Here are some markers of the unattributed block of text that I’ve found:

  • The language changes subtly: more multi-syllable words, different kinds of linking words used
  • The standard of the English becomes markedly higher, with no corrections needed to be made (even if you miss these as you go along, the island of white in a sea of coloured corrections and highlights stands out as you look at the page)
  • The language changes from American to British English or vice versa (many students are inconsistent in their spellings, but a block of the opposite type of English is a real giveaway)
  • The font, size or colour of the text, or the indentation, line spacing or justification changes – a classic case of copy and paste

Sometimes you can give the student the benefit of the doubt here. Maybe they meant to rewrite and reference and forgot. Maybe they didn’t realise that they couldn’t use blocks of text like this. But it doesn’t mean that it can go unmarked.

Accidental plagiarism

I would count accidental plagiarism as a case where a student who has clearly rewritten ideas taken from other texts and referenced direct quotations and such ideas misses off a reference after a piece of text that is clearly from someone else. Of course, the cases above may be accidental, too, but they do still need to be addresses, as does the odd missed reference.

Plagiarism by the editor

There’s another form of plagiarism which the editor must resist themselves: rewriting so much of the text that it’s the editor who has in effect written the text, and not the student. I talk about how I avoid that below.

What to do when you encounter plagiarism in student work

It’s our duty as decent and principled editors to flag up plagiarism when we find it and help our student customers to realise how they should be referencing and when they’ve made a mistake. It is not our job to rewrite text or make so many corrections and suggestions that we have in effect written the essay ourselves. There are plenty of dodgy proofreading companies out there that will do that (and essay writing companies that will sell students ready-written essays), but as a decent editor, you should not be involved in those sorts of practices.

If you don’t flag up these problems, it is likely that the essay will be run through the university’s plagiarism software and that will flag them up to serious effect (many students know this, and that’s why they might ask us to rewrite sections for them). If you’re concerned about returning work to a student with plagiarism noted and discussed, remember that you’re saving them from possible penalties or even expulsion from their course if they continue to plagiarise and attempt to pass others’ work off as their own, even if you’re not concerned about helping people to obtain qualifications fraudulently.

Here’s what I do to avoid helping the student to commit plagiarism by passing off my own words as their own:

  • I always work with Track Changes turned on and instruct the student to check each change and accept or reject it themselves. Yes, I know they can press “Accept all changes”, but I send them instructions on how to work with Track Changes that don’t include this option.
  • I will delete, add and rearrange only if either the words are all correct but the order is incorrect, or the order is correct but the tenses are incorrect. You soon get a feel for the light touch needed to bring writing up to a clear output without rewriting.
  • If a sentence is obviously wrong in terms of content, I will insert a comment and advise the student to check the correctness of the content.
  • If a sentence is so garbled as to not make sense, I will insert a comment and ask the student to rewrite it.
  • If a sentence could mean one of two things, I will insert a comment to suggest the two opposite meanings and ask which they mean.
  • I am clear in my terms and conditions on this website and in my initial text to the student that this is how I operate.
  • When dealing with a bibliography, I will make small amendments to isolated errors in punctuation or order, usually up to about 10% of entries. If more than 10% of entries are not formatted according to the rules the student has sent me, or are completely chaotic, I stop editing the bibliography and insert a comment to remind the student that the bibliography is supposed to demonstrate their skill and knowledge, so they must work on it themselves.

Here’s what I do to stop the student plagiarising:

  • If I find the odd missed reference for a direct quotation, I will highlight the offending quotation and insert a comment reading “Reference required”.
  • If I find the odd obvious copy and paste which has not been referenced, I will highlight the offending sentences and insert a comment reading “Reference required”.
  • If I find an isolated substantial section which has clearly or even possibly been lifted from another source, I usually copy a few sentences and pop it in a Google search to see whether I can find the original. Then I will highlight the section and insert a comment along the lines of “This appears to come from another source without being referenced. Mark as a direct quotation and reference, or rewrite in your own words and reference”.
  • If I find several substantial sections like the above, I will stop editing and write to the student advising that much of the text has been lifted from other sources without being referenced, this is plagiarism and they need to address the issues.
  • If I find anything more than the odd missed reference to a direct quotation, I will mention the referencing issue in my covering email when returning the work, to ensure that the student is reminded to reference all direct and indirect quotations (thanks to Liam for his comment below reminding me that I do this).

What if the student says it’s OK to rewrite their work?

Sometimes when I return work to a student advising that it’s risking plagiarism to have me continue working on their text (usually because of the level of changes I’m having to make to the text rather than lifting work from other writers), they will come back to me to say that their supervisor / tutor says that it’s OK to do this amount of rewriting.

If they do this, I request that their tutor writes to me telling me it is OK to engage in this level of correction. I require this letter to be on headed paper, signed by the supervisor and scanned in and emailed to me. This hasn’t happened very often; when it has, I have contacted the supervisor to check, and continued with the work. I have saved the scanned letter alongside my copy of the student’s work in case of any comeback.

This article has outlined what I do when I encounter plagiarism in student work. I have resources on this website about plagiarism (listed below) which I am happy for you to reference if you need to (but not copy!). If you have other ways of overcoming this issue, please do submit a comment!

Related posts on this blog:

Plagiarism in business texts

On plagiarism

How to quote sources without plagiarising

Referencing for academic writing

Choosing a proofreader – student edition

My terms and conditions

Why has my proofreader not edited my bibliography?

On (not) crossing the line

 

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