Monthly Archives: October 2011

Be careful! Literally

I was watching one of those antique hunt programmes while I was in the gym the other day, and I heard one of the experts say, “These table legs are literally on fire”. But of course, they weren’t; they were just sitting there, being table legs. In the same way, you didn’t literally sleep all day, and you’re probably not literally dead on your feet. But if you have a friend who’s a Harlem Globetrotter and he’s on his own at a party, yes, he’s literally the tallest person there. Keep literally for when it means ‘in a literal sense’. If you don’t mean it in a literal sense, don’t use the word.


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Posted by on October 31, 2011 in Be careful, Errors, Language use


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Helen McPherson

Welcome to another Saturday business chat. Today we’re talking to Helen McPherson who runs a Hypnotherapy practice in Northampton. I think hypnotherapy is brilliant – I went to a local place a few years ago and they pretty well cured me of my fear of needles, which was becoming a problem for me – and I had gone in thinking that I couldn’t even be hypnotized! Helen’s been running her business for a few years now and had had business experiences before that too; her varied career path shows once again that there are so many paths to business success – in her case she’s moved from a huge organisation to a partnership, to working for herself, and it’s not uncommon for people to move around within different business areas or set-ups before they find the one that fits. Don’t despair if the first attempt doesn’t work out: pick yourself up and carry on! Like Maxine in last week’s interview, Helen is tailoring her business around her family, demonstrating yet again that, as entrepreneurs and business people, we don’t have to push family and friends aside in the rush to make money, unlike the traditional idea of an entrepreneur, perhaps!

Let’s meet Helen!

What’s your business called? When did you set it up?

My business is Helen McPherson Hypnotherapy, and it was set up in 2008.

What made you decide to set up your own business?

I was leaving the Armed Forces and had always been desperate to run my own business.  I have always been looking out for opportunities.

What made you decide to go into this particular business area?

It has more synergy with being an Army Officer than you could possibly imagine!  It also combined my interest in complementary health and my skill at coaching and motivating and helping people change their lives.

Had you run your own business before?

I had been in partnership with a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine.  He was like a millstone and eventually welched out on me.  We parted on less than amicable terms.

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 am still part-time!  I have a small son so I work school hours.  My Army pension has kept me going.

What do you wish someone had told you before you started?

That it takes far longer to get established than you expect.  Never go into a partnership!

What would you go back and tell your newly entrepreneurial self?

Borrow some money early on and spend it on marketing, and don’t be afraid of the competition – you are going to be better.

What do you wish you’d done differently?

Not had a business partner early on who sucked the life out of me and prevented me moving forward.

What are you glad you did?

Joined a friendly networking group.

What’s your top business tip?

Use social networking intelligently and develop a passive income stream.  Don’t be afraid of competition

How has it gone since you started? Have you grown, diversified or stayed the same?

I have grown hugely and branched out into new aspects too.

Where do you see yourself and your business in a year’s time?

Moving away from pure therapy and more into coaching and corporate work, with a web-based income stream.

Find Helen at her website, or email her.

It’s great to see people who are ambitious, switched on to the new technologies, yet striking a balance between business and family.  I look forward to finding out how Helen’s doing in a year’s time! And find out what she WAS doing, here!

If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please click here for more freelancer chat, or here for information on how you can have your business featured.


Posted by on October 29, 2011 in Business, New skills, Small Business Chat


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Bare or bear?

I think I’ve seen “just bare with us” while we fix this site, reprint our menus, etc., etc., one too many times – but of course it is a troublesome pair, and not really one you’d want to mix up!  If the company or person asking you to bare with them knew that they were asking you to get naked alongside them, would they be so keen to say it?

As well as being a large, dangerous mammal in its noun form, to bear means to carry, to convey, to support (a weight) and, in the form in which we are encountering it here, to bear means to manage to tolerate (with the negative: “I can’t bear that colour!”) and to bear with someone or something means to be patient or tolerant with. “Please bear with us while we fix this website; in the meantime, here’s a picture of a puppy to look at.”

To bare means, in the language of the dictionary, to uncover a part of the body and expose it to view. We’re bare when we’re unclothed, we might bare our legs in the summer, and we can bare our teeth, which means to show one’s teeth, typically when one is angry. Like when one reads “please bare with us”.

Well, actually, we all know by now that I try to bear with people who make these mistakes, understanding that not everyone’s good at English, or can write well, or spell, or has English as their first language. I don’t ever mean to mock. And I certainly won’t start taking my clothes off next time I read “please bare with us”. Not unless the person behind the sign does it first, of course!

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.


Posted by on October 28, 2011 in Errors, Language use, Troublesome pairs, Writing


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Proofreading as a career – some pointers

Sometimes I feel that people think “proofreading and editing” is one of those things that anyone can do, that’s a good fall-back position if you’re looking around for something to bring in a few pounds.  I think it’s a common misconception that if someone is well-read and good at spelling, that’s going to transfer into something out of which they can make a career.  There is a bit more to it than that, and as I’ve had several people ask about it, it’s got to the point where it feels useful to put something down that I can direct future enquirers to.  So, if you’re thinking about being a proofreader and you don’t know quite what it entails, read on …

Get your terms right

If you think you want to be “a proofreader” then you probably don’t know what one is.  Sorry to be blunt!  But a proofreader is a very specific kind of job, where you check materials that are just about to be published.  It’s not going through a manuscript for a novel and commenting on it (that’s copyediting) or making suggestions on changes (that’s substantive copyediting) or checking the facts in an article (that’s fact-checking) or writing up an article from bullet points (that’s copy writing).  For more on all this, see my post on proofreading and copyediting or my skill set series.   OK: so what you want to be is a copyeditor.

Get the skills

It’s not that easy correcting someone’s grammar and making their sentences work.  Sometimes, it isn’t actually that much fun.  Of course I enjoy it, but see below for why it takes a particular kind of person. And you do need to have the theory behind the practice solidly backing you up.   One way to get the knowledge is to go on a course.  Do not look at any other courses apart from those run by the Society For Editors and Proofreaders or the Publishing Training Centre.  Yes, there are lots of other courses advertised in the paper, etc.  These are the two that the industry in the UK recognises, that publishers send their editors on.  The courses and exams are quite expensive, but so are the other ones.  SfEP has a useful test on its website that might help you decide whether you’re suited for this work.

An admission: I’m not a member of SfEP and I don’t hold their qualifications.  But, and this is a route you will need to take too, I have lots and lots and lots of experience.  Most of that experience, pre-Libro, was unpaid – editing and indeed proofreading for local publications, author friends, typing theses back in the old days before everyone had a computer.  Writing.  Writing press releases and marketing material.  Working with UK and US English.  I’m nearly 40.  Most of my working life has involved this kind of stuff.  Oh, and the English Lang & Lit and Library and Information Studies degrees helped a bit, too.

If you go into this business, you will still need to take specific tests from prospective clients, even if you have qualifications.  I tend to pass these tests with flying colours, so I can get away with not having the exams.  If I was doing this again, and I didn’t have any experience, I would take those exams.  I’m going to learn Indexing one of these days.  I’m going to take the courses and exams for that: oh yes!

Are you suited for the work?

You might want to have a look at my previous post on deciding if you’re suited to freelance work at this point. In general, freelancing in whatever area you choose will have common points.  Particular to editing are the facts that: you can’t usually do it with other people around, as it’s really concentrated work; it can be a bit repetitive if you’re working on one huge text or lots of things on the same subject (if you get into student work, clients tend to recommend you on within the same course); you really don’t get to choose the subject you’re working on, and it’s fairly rare to be something that you’ll be interested in on its own merits. There are plus sides to these points, of course: if you enjoy being alone, the first is fine, and you can take your marketing work, blogging, etc., to the local cafe; it can be soothing to press on with the same thing hour after hour; and you get to learn an awful lot about an awful lot of subjects, which can be handy for pub quizzes and the like!

And you’ve got to be happy to do this, day in and day out.  You might have to miss a cinema trip with your friends.  You might be poorly – but there’s not really sick pay as such (we’re lucky to have the NHS in the UK, of course – in other countries this point is even more important). Again, these are general points. In summary from the editing side of things: you need to be good at concentrating; nit-picky; good at going for hours with no distractions; good at finding odd topics interesting enough that you’re not wandering off to Twitter every five minutes; good at keeping to deadlines (it’s often someone else’s deadline you’re affecting if you run over time).

Dealing with clients

OK, I do have great clients who come through recommendation and send me work reasonably regularly.  But I still had to prove myself to them in the first place, and I still have to send in my invoices on time and do the work when I say I will.  You will need to be able to justify what you’ve done to someone’s work, make their work demonstrably better, come in to their deadlines, keep them informed.  It’s not just a question of sitting nicely at a desk and playing with a sentence or so, just like gardening isn’t all wandering around in a big hat with a trug, snipping at a rose every now and again. You need to market yourself, be cheeky, throw business cards at all and sundry – you can’t just sit back and expect the work to come to you.  Which brings me to my next point …

Building things up

It’s over two years since I launched Libro.  Only now am I thinking of going full-time.  Much of my work comes through repeat business (hooray for repeat customers) and recommendations.  But that’s hard work in itself.  If someone is kind enough to recommend your services to a friend, you have twice the pressure: do a good job for the client and make sure you don’t ruin their trust in the original client who recommended you.  You have to do a really good job to get these recommendations, in the copyediting that you do and in the customer care and marketing that you do.

I have found myself diversifying over the years, so I now do transcription, writing, localisation from US to UK English and all sorts of other things. Do you have skills you can add in to your basic offering, that form a good portfolio (copyediting and clowning might work, but would be difficult to market, perhaps).  The other way to go is specialisation.  I’ve done this with my localisation work, building a reputation as someone who is good at turning US into UK English, and I know copyeditors who are very well-known in their field of, for example, editing medical journal articles.  But you need an outside speciality you can bring to bear on your copyediting work if you want to go down that route (for example experience in other jobs, your previous education …).

Is this for you?

So, a summary.  If you really want to make a go of a proofreading career, which we now know is actually a copyediting career, you need to:

  • enjoy working on your own
  • have a high attention span and a very high boredom threshold (I’m not saying that the work is boring: I love it; some people would be bored silly by it)
  • write a very high standard of English (oh yes, and everything else that you send out into the world has to be perfect or people will spring on it with glee!)
  • do a fairly expensive course or have demonstrably high levels of experience
  • be prepared to work very hard
  • be prepared to work on stuff you do not find interesting
  • be prepared to do all the usual freelance stuff of losing your weekends and evenings “just to turn this project round”
  • be prepared to do marketing and customer care and maths stuff as well as playing with the order of words to make the most elegant sentence
  • have other skills you can diversify into
  • or have a very particular skill you can specialise in

I don’t want to put people off, I really don’t.  But hopefully this has given you some insight into the kind of person you need to be to do this kind of work, and the kind of work it actually is.  Think of copyediting as a positive choice rather than a fall-back position, and you’ll be fine. Drift into it, and you might get some work and payments, but you might be happier somewhere else.


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The Libro Newsletter!

I’ve decided to launch a Libro newsletter, and you can sign up here !

I won’t be sending it out too often, probably once a month, if that – but I’m hoping it will be a useful thing for my clients, prospective clients and friends. The first edition has gone out now, and I’m looking forward to finding out what you’d like to read about in it.

So far, my ideas for what to include are …

  • News of what’s going on in Libro-land – for example an announcement when I go full-time with the business
  • A summary of interesting posts on this blog
  • Information on my services – if you came to know about Libro early on, you might not know the full range of what I do
  • Case-studies (any clients brave enough?)
  • Answers to questions submitted by my readers – grammatical, business-related …

But it’s you (and other people) who are going to be reading it. So tell me what you’d like to see!

If you could bring yourself to share this post, either using the buttons below or by Retweeting or Facebook sharing my posts about this post, I’d be ever so grateful – I want to reach out to people who won’t automatically see about this on this blog, but who might find it useful.  You know how I like to be useful! Thank you!

You can sign up in advance here. I’m using MailChimp, which doesn’t like spamming and seems easy to use and reputable. People enjoyed the first issue in November, and the next one will have exciting news and some exclusive content …


Posted by on October 25, 2011 in Business



Lose or loose?

Another suggestion from Sorcha this morning – I really appreciate when people come up with ideas for these, so please keep them coming … (and watch out for Ron Usage and his Wrong Usage, coming soon with those troublesome single words!).

So today, we’re going to look at lose vs. loose. I do see this one a fair bit, although the two words are not really that similar or connected.

To lose something means to mislay it, to forget where you put it down, or to end up without it. “He tends to lose his gloves when they fall out of his pocket”; “I always lose the keys somewhere in the house and I can’t come out until I’ve found them”; “she would go on to lose her fiance in the First World War”.  The past tense of lose is lost. Something can’t be lose, it can only be lost.

To loose something (as a verb) means to set it free, but it isn’t often used. “She loosed the horses into the paddock”. More often, it’s used as an adjective: wobbly, not secure, not firm, not tight. A loose tooth; “This printer cable is working loose and that’s why you can’t print”; “She wore a loose and flowing dress”. The past tense of the verb loose is loosed, but again, this isn’t used much. The more common verb is to loosen – “He loosened his tie as the evening got hotter” and this means to make less tight, rather than to set free, although you can also loosen the horses into the paddock.

“His loose tooth fell out, and he managed to lose it somewhere around the house.”

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.

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Posted by on October 24, 2011 in Errors, Language use, Troublesome pairs, Writing


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Maxine Johnston

Welcome to another Saturday business chat. Today we welcome Maxine Johnston from Personalised Parties. The business has only been going for a few months, but Maxine’s (sensibly, in my opinion) established a great presence on social networking sites like Twitter, and has started with a few ideas, gleaned others from her customers, and is building up the diversity of what she offers slowly and carefully. Like Sharon Hawkins, who we spoke to last week, Maxine has made sure to develop her business around her family, and in fact the idea for the business came from her daughter. What a great role model as her daughter grows up and sees Mum running a successful and fun business. Maxine’s seen a need in her own life and gone out there and developed a product that will fill that need – market research is important, and so is seeing that niche in the first place.

So, let’s meet Maxine!

What’s your business called? When did you set it up?

My business is called Personalised Parties. The website is and was launched on 1st May 2011.

What made you decide to set up your own business?

It was actually my daughter that gave me the idea to set up my own business. She turned 6 last January and when I asked her what kind of party she wanted, she said a “Musical Statues” party. So I set about organising the party myself and it struck me that there is an overwhelming amount of work involved in a child’s party. I knew at the time that I was likely to be made redundant, so I established Personalised Parties as a business providing a ‘kids’ party in a box’. Everything that is needed at a child’s party is included in the box and it really couldn’t be easier. The parents receive tableware, games ideas with full instructions on how to play, wrapped up prizes, craft kits, filled party bags, music, banners, balloons, and much more. The products are designed to give busy working parents a stress free experience but the child a fun party. All the parents need to do to book a party is to complete a 2 minute booking form on my website and I’ll do the rest. I have pirate and princess parties at the moment, however if somebody wants a different theme, all they need to do is get in touch with me and I’ll work with them to provide them with exactly what they want. The aim of Personalised Parties is to make everybody’s lives much easier!

What made you decide to go into this particular business area?

The likelihood of redundancy was a major factor in exploring this business avenue and I also enjoy organising children’s parties and sourcing ideas for a fun time.

Had you run your own business before?

Never! In my career I had more or less always worked in Business Finance and therefore sat on the other side of the desk! I am enjoying every minute of being self-employed but had never fully appreciated just how much hard work it is.

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 actually launched the business before I got made redundant and spent most of my evenings working on the business once my daughter was in bed. However once I was made redundant in August I have been working a lot of hours on the business.

What do you wish someone had told you before you started?

Make sure you are fully up to speed on the technology side of things.

What would you go back and tell your newly entrepreneurial self?

Get ready for some very enjoyable but incredibly long hours!

What do you wish you’d done differently?

Nothing. I realise that sounds terribly arrogant, but I’ve learned so much in such a short space of time. The learning curve has been incredibly steep but I think that the business has been a better success because I have been prepared to learn and take advice and guidance from people.

What are you glad you did?

I’m glad I launched the website before I got made redundant. It gave me chance to make mistakes and get the business completely organised before I had to solely rely on it.

What’s your top business tip?

Trust your instincts. Take as much advice and guidance from people as you possibly can but ultimately trust your instincts and if something doesn’t feel right, then don’t do it, or investigate it fully before you take the plunge.

How has it gone since you started? Have you grown, diversified or stayed the same?

The business has grown phenomenally since the website was launched in May. I won the Theo Paphitis #sbs retweet* in August too which helped in raising the businesses profile and generating sales. I have also been approached by many customers looking for different products from just the children’s parties. As such I have a new website launching very soon This will feature all my new products, for example: milestone birthday celebrations, sleepovers in a box, Hen Parties in a Box, Pre Wedding Slumber parties, Wedding Activity packs (designed to keep the children entertained on your big day) and much more. The new website is all about celebrations and I look forward to its launch, which is anticipated to be at the beginning of November. I am always open for ideas on the site so if you have any celebration ideas that you would like me to turn into reality then please get in touch. The new website will also have seasonal products so there will be Halloween parties, Oscars parties, Eurovision Parties and much more.

Where do you see yourself and your business in a year’s time?
I would love to see the new Life’s a Celebration website take off as well as Personalised Parties At the moment I am working from home but I would love to be in a position to be exploring small business premises in a year’s time.

*The Theo Paphitis #sbs retweet is a competition the Dragon’s Den participant runs on Twitter every week. Small businesses send a tweet about themselves to Theo, and he picks his top 6 each week to retweet. It’s fun thinking of an exciting way to describe your company every week, although I’ve not won myself … yet …

Here are Maxine’s contact details: Phone: 07852 955 800 Skype: celebratelife11

You can find her on her website and blog, Twitter feed, Facebook page and Pinterest.

I, for one, am looking forward to seeing how this young company develops over the next year – remember, we’ll be popping back to visit Maxine in a year’s time to see how it’s all going!

If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please click here for more freelancer chat, or here for information on how you can have your business featured.


Posted by on October 22, 2011 in Business, New skills, Small Business Chat


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Regretfully or regrettably?

Another troublesome pair suggested by Gill – the list she and her husband generated on their trip away is still going strong but I’ll get to the end one day!

So: regretfully or regrettably?  These two look quite similar, but as usual have quite different meanings.

Regretfully means in a regretful manner. Regretful? Full of regret. So you are full of regret: “She walked away regretfully, upset that she had left him sinking into the mud, but with no other choice” (sometimes I do wonder where I get my examples from. All are made up out of my head).

Regrettably means unfortunately. “The mud was regrettably sticky”.

Now … apparently regretfully gets used where regrettably should be used “Regretfully, this branch is now closed” and the dictionary says that “despite objections from traditionalists, this use is now well established” but I think we now know which one to use when, don’t we!

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.


Posted by on October 21, 2011 in Errors, Language use, Troublesome pairs, Writing


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What can Libro do for you?

What can Libro do for you?

Here’s a handy list of everything that Libro can do for you, to make your life that bit easier and make your words work better …

Libro is all about making your words work, whether the words themselves need tweaking (editing what you’ve written, proofreading and polishing before publication), or writing (from your notes or a chat with you), or changing in terms of location (localisation from US to UK English or vice versa), or changing in terms of medium (turning handwritten notes or a taped interview into a typed document).

Follow the links for more information, but here’s a summary:

Editing  – making sure your words, grammar, punctuation, sentence structure and even your plots and non-fiction books don’t contain gaping holes.  Checking marketing content (leaflets, websites … ), blog posts, letters, reports …

Proofreading – checking that what you’re about to publish in print or online looks right and works as the document you expect it to be – checking page numbering, headers and footers, website links, etc.

(and for the difference between editing and proofreading, see here)

Copy writing – writing text for your book, downloadable e-book or leaflet, brochure, website, letter, press release, advertorial, advertisement, etc. from your notes or a conversation with you.  I can add in SEO keywords to build your presence in the search engines with text that potential clients will want to read, too.  I work with web designers, too – writing content for the websites they design.

Localisation – adjusting your copy to match UK or US English standards – not just the spellings but sentence structures, word usage, etc.

Transcription – saving you hours of time typing up dictations, interviews, meetings; why not produce a transcript of your webinar or training session to offer to your clients as an added extra?

Copy typing – bundles of notes and no inclination to type them up? Scan them in, send them to me and I’ll produce a nice, tidy, grammatically correct and properly spelled document.

I also offer all of these services as an add-on for virtual assistants, meaning they can offer a wider service without having to have all the skills themselves.

Contact me via email or via my contact form.


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So you want to be a freelancer … Part 2

Right, so once you’ve gone through the questions I posed in my last post and decided that you are suited to freelance work, and you’ve been on the initial courses that I recommended, it’s time to set up good, reliable working practices right from the start. These are some things I’ve found handy:

•    Prioritise. This is key. Make sure you have time for work, yourself and other people. If you work all hours, you’ll run yourself into the ground. That won’t do anyone any good. And if you are likely to end up doing lots of little projects …
•    Organise. I set up a Gantt chart on a spreadsheet – clients down the side, dates along the top, and I colour-block in dates that projects are booked in for, changing the colour as they arrive, when I’ve invoiced, when they’ve paid.  It’s a really good way to see what you’ve got on and whether you can fit in that extra client project.
•    Set up terms and conditions.  I have standard email text that I sent out when I’m quoting for a job, stating when I will ask for payment, how they can pay, what I’m doing, etc.  For larger ongoing clients, I set up an agreement in a Word document and make sure we’ve both agreed to it.  It’s better to know how you’re going to end things or deal with conflicts before it comes to the crunch.
•    Invoice. Make sure you invoice clients as soon as you’ve done the job. Or before, if you work that way round. If you arrange to invoice people for several projects at the end of the month, do it.  There’s software you can buy, or you can just set up a Word template.  Then make sure you check and record their payment. That’s where the Gantt chart comes in handy.  Not in green – they haven’t paid and it might be time to chase up.
•    Tools. Make sure you have up to date and legitimate versions of the software you need – Word, etc.  If you will be working with any kind of software, whether to read knitting patterns or invent widgets, there are often free downloads available, or trial copies.
•    Work for your clients, not yourself. Some of my clients, like students and translators, need me to show all the changes in Track Changes so they make the decision on what to change and I’m not writing their work for them. Other clients just want me to go in, rewrite and send it back to them. Offer your clients choices, but be prepared to make recommendations based on what similar people have requested, too.
•    Be flexible and open. I started off as an editor and proofreader. But as clients asked me to do more things, I added in writing, transcription, copy-typing and localising to my portfolio.  All things I could actually do already! More income streams, more work!  Have a think about what you can offer outside of your core products.  If you knit toys, why not run a class or knit some funny shapes for adults. That came out a bit funny, but you know what I mean!
•    Network. Both among your peers (in the business and other freelancers who work from home) and among other businesspeople in your area. Twitter and Facebook are useful for finding out what’s going on. It gets you out of the house and meeting people.  LinkedIn offers business networking online – join the groups and get chatting.
•    Outsource. Know when you need help. If something is going to take you longer in terms of hours and cost more in terms of work you can’t do while you’re doing a task, outsource it. Freelance journalist – get someone else to transcribe your tapes. Not good at sums – get a bookkeeper or accountant in to control your records.  It’s also useful to know people in the same line of business as you to whom you can pass work in an emergency.
I hope you find these handy hints useful.  I’ve grown in confidence and developed my skills and, not a natural entrepreneur, have built a successful and flourishing business!

You might also find my Freelance/Business people Saturday interview series useful to find out what people who are already in business wish they’d done differently, and their top tips, as well as my resource guide to articles on careers on this website. Also, do take a look at my e-books, which cover this topic in detail.

This article is based, with permission from the blog owner, on a guest post I wrote for the Subs Standards blog. That was for editors; this one’s for everyone!


Posted by on October 19, 2011 in Business