Today’s interview is with Alison Neale, AKA The Proof Fairy. And yes, she’s another proofreading / editorial type freelancer – like me. I don’t find that overt competitiveness and bitter rivalry is a good way to work in our industry. I’m a member of an online copyediting group that is so supportive and helpful, and having people working in the same areas who you know and are trustworthy is great when you have too much work on and need to pass something along, or get a prospect who doesn’t quite fit your specialities. Alison and I have certainly passed work and prospects between each other, and I’m sure will continue to do so in the future.
I met Alison years ago, through BookCrossing, and she’s been something of an inspiration to me as I’ve watched her build her business. Her experience shows that you can move on and learn from each business venture in which you involve yourself. She’s also taught me how much variety there is in our industry, and how we can diversify in so many different directions. I’m happy to stay with classic proof-reading, while Alison has moved forward to carve out a very successful niche in designing and hosting WordPress websites. She was the person I went to when I needed to sort out my own domain name, and has given me some good advice on my own website and networking opportunities too. It’s so difficult to juggle work and family, and I very much respect Alison for managing this so well – it also reminds me how lucky I am to be able to concentrate as much as I like on the business without having to worry about anyone else.
What’s your business called? When did you set it up?
My business alter ego is The Proof Fairy; however, this wasn’t my first business. I initially went self employed to run a franchised local magazine, which was great fun for nearly three years till a combination of my poor sales skills, the recession and the franchisor going into liquidation saw me close it down in November 2009. As a sideline I’d started doing proofreading and editing for a few businesses, so I decided to make that my main business and The Proof Fairy was born. However, I needed a bit more variety than 8 hours a day of proofreading could offer, so I now do web design, writing and brochure production as well.
What made you decide to set up your own business?
I think I’ve always been headed towards self employment – I have a feeling that I’ve always left jobs shortly before being sacked, because I’m not good at toeing the line and I hate all that “process for the sake of process” that comes with a corporate job! However, my son was actually the catalyst for me starting my own business. He has special needs and was increasingly struggling at school, requiring me to collect him early two or three days every week. Working for myself meant that I could be flexible for him and around when he needed me.
What made you decide to go into this particular business area?
Prior to becoming a full time mum I always worked in publishing and proofreading was a huge part of every job. I am very good at it though I have to admit that some jobs can bore me to tears! I get much more pleasure from messing around building WordPress websites but I never thought I’d actually be doing it professionally; I kind of fell into that when someone admired my own website and asked me to build one for them. When they referred more clients to me, who were all happy to pay me to build websites for them, I realised I may have a new business on my hands!
Had you run your own business before?
As I said, this is my second business; the local magazine was the first. Prior to that I had done some bookkeeping on a freelance basis, but nothing that really constituted a business.
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 launched full time, aided by a bank loan and a bonus from my previous job. It is taking a long time to make the business profitable though, and as I’m a single parent I am lucky to have been financially supported through tax credits.
What do you wish someone had told you before you started?
I wish I’d been told that the franchise company I bought into were not to be trusted! Looking back, I could have launched a magazine myself without the franchise costs, and it would probably have made me profitable much quicker, rather than leaving me heavily in debt. As The Proof Fairy I wish someone had told me that by investing in my business I would take it more seriously – which would mean other people would take me more seriously. It was only really when I paid for a professional brand to be created that I began to treat it as a fully fledged business!
What would you go back and tell your newly entrepreneurial self?
Go for it!! I would definitely tell myself to trust in my own abilities. I’ve always loved messing round with websites and even though I would never describe myself as a web designer, if I’d known I could be paid for building websites I’d have done it years ago.
What do you wish you’d done differently?
I wish I had done more research beforehand and not bought into a franchise. Looking back I don’t really know what I got for my money that I couldn’t have set up myself. Having said that, without the franchise I don’t know if I’d actually have had the confidence to go it alone, which would have been a shame as I now absolutely love what I’m doing.
What are you glad you did?
I’m glad that I didn’t go back into paid employment once I decided to close the magazine down. I did consider it, and even applied for a couple of jobs, but I soon realised that I would miss being my own boss and the flexibility and freedom that self employment offers, and that was worth more than a steady income.
What’s your top business tip?
Always be open to new opportunities – you never know what may come of them.
How has it gone since you started? Have you grown, diversified or stayed the same?
I have definitely diversified! I still do some magazine production, but for other people so I get the fun part – putting it together – and other people have to deal with the sales! But I also do proofreading, editing, writing, blogging, leaflet design and WordPress stuff … no two days are ever the same. Size-wise it is still me, though I have occasionally had to outsource work because I’ve had too much for one person to cope with, and I hope that will happen more regularly!
Where do you see yourself and your business in a year’s time?
I hope I will be doing more of the same, but I would like to be doing much more website work and maybe managing a small outsourced team of writers and proofreaders.
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