Monthly Archives: November 2011

An Emotional Business

I was talking with a friend the other day about “owning” and accepting your emotions, and as the conversation sloshed around in the back of my mind, it started me thinking about emotions in business.

Running a small business, especially, I assume, if you’re fairly new to the game, can be a really emotional business. There’s the high when you get that first big customer, or actually have to pay tax on your first year’s income (I’ve made enough to pay tax! Maybe that’s just me … ); the low point when work gets a bit sparse; the utter cringing horror when you make a mistake – sure, no one likes to make mistakes when they’re an employee, but it seems so much worse when it’s your own business, utterly your responsibility, your own customer who’s personally chosen you to work with …

It’s important to acknowledge these emotions rather than let them boil away unnoticed. Running a business can be stressful at the best of times – good stress or bad stress, it’s still stress – and having stuff you haven’t taken out and given the light of day can make you stuck and hold you back.

Here are a few ideas which might help deal with those emotions in a constructive way:

  • Be happy. Yes, do acknowledge those good times. Celebrate in your newsletter, Tweet about it, tell your friends (but see below). Also, make this last and cash in on it. If a customer has praised you, ask if you can quote them on your references/testimonials page. Then you’ve got that happy time forever. I also save emails with praise on them so I can revisit them in quieter moments.
  • Be decent and do the right thing. If you’ve made a mistake, instead of dwelling on it, do something. First of all, do the right thing. That means apologising, in writing or on the phone, if you’ve messed up a job for someone. Don’t bluster, excuse and hide: just state what you’ve done, honestly, how sorry you are, and what you will do to put it right. You would appreciate a supplier or other company who did that, wouldn’t you?
  • Use your mistakes constructively. Early on in my career with Libro, I didn’t have such strong Terms and Conditions as I have now. So when I “under-delivered” in a client’s opinion (I didn’t rewrite their essay, which of course I shouldn’t have done), they complained and withheld payment, criticising me fairly strongly for what I had done (or hadn’t done). I felt awful for longer than I should have. Then I used the experience to a) firm up my terms and conditions so new clients would know what to expect, and b) inspire a blog post or two!
  • When you’re at a low point, realise it’s a low point and you will come back up. I keep a record of jobs and income per month, and my billable hours per week. I can see it dips, and I can see that some weeks I don’t do so many billable hours; but then I can see, now I’ve run the business for a few years, that these dips are temporary and it always comes up again. Every business area has cycles; keeping records helps identify these and reassure you that it’s not the end of the world.
  • Have something other than the business. Yes, your friends, your partner, your kids, the lady in the supermarket are interested in your business. But do they need to live the business alongside you? Keep some other interests if you possibly can – I’ve temporarily lost my ability to read so many books, but then again most of my work involves reading of some kind: but I’ve made the effort to keep on with the gym and running; it’s kept me sane and given me something else to think about / concentrate on / talk about (but I know I’ve been bad about this at times: sorry, friends/M!)
  • Be honest with your peers. Gather a group of people around you who also run their own business / work from home / work in the same area. This is a group of people who understand the highs and lows, who you can celebrate the highs with – but also be honest about the lows – and they will be too, and you can support each other. I was most despondent about a tricky potential customer a few months ago. I went along to my usual monthly networking event, not feeling that positive about going and having to be all jolly and upbeat. I ended up talking to a few people about my problem; they gave me excellent advice and more than one opened up about issues they were struggling with.

So, be honest, be decent, try to keep your perspective, and acknowledge the highs, lows, blahs and whoo-hoos!


Posted by on November 30, 2011 in Blogging, Business, Ethics, New skills, Organisation


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Me or I?

When do we use me and when do we use I, in a sentence where we’re talking about ourselves and another person? “Ali and me went for a walk”, or “Ali and I went for a walk”? “Gill gave presents to Matthew and I” or “… Matthew and me”?

I have to admit here that this is one I get wrong, I’m not sure whether I somehow learned it wrong, it’s sheer sloppiness, or that I get all psychologically discombobulated when I’m coming up to it (Don’t drop that! Don’t think of an elephant! have the same effect on people).

Anyway, there is a trick, as there so often is, and the trick is: Take the other name out of the sentence, and which of the words would you use?

“I went to the pub”, “He handed a glass to me”, “George said I was lucky to get a glass”.

Put the other person back in, and you get the correct versions.

“George and I went to the pub”, “He handed glasses to George and me” / “He handed me and George glasses”, “George said he and I were lucky to get glasses”.

So, do get it right in future. I’m looking at you, Liz

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



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


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Lend or borrow?

Welcome to another Troublesome Pair – I wonder if I can keep these going indefinitely. I’m almost sure I am – but I do appreciate when people take the time to suggest pairs for me to write about, so do drop me a line and let me know about any you need explaining, or any you see around you and think need explaining to people in general.

Apparently these two, lend and borrow, do get mixed up often. I can’t say I’ve seen it that much, but the person who suggested it isn’t the only one to have confirmed they’ve noticed it.

It should be quite simple. When you lend something, you are allowing someone to use it, on the understanding that it will be returned will be returned.  So Max lends Jim some money that Max has, and Jim needs. The library lends out books.

To borrow, on the other hand, is to be on the other side of the bargain and to be the recipient of the loaned item. Jim is borrowing Max’s money, and you borrow books from the library. You borrow money from a mortgage lender, for example.

The slight problem with lend is that it does tend to get used in the “wrong” way in colloquial speech and regional dialects, which means it’s floating around more, gets heard more, and the hearers can become inclined to think it’s the correct usage.  We’ve probably all heard “can I have a lend of your pen?” and, while the use might be regional and the sense can be perceived, it would be best if people whose regional dialect it is not part of, especially people learning and speaking English as a second or additional language, refrain from using it like this.

So – I have a book. You don’t have a book. I lend you my book. You borrow it. Now you have the book – but you will be giving it back (otherwise I’ve given it to you).

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


Posted by on November 25, 2011 in Errors, Language use, Troublesome pairs, Writing


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My short cuts – proper page breaks

As promised in my original post, I’m going to write some quick guides to things you do when you’re writing documents which you think are a short cut but actually cause more trouble than they’re worth.

The idea of this series isn’t to criticise people, just to show you how to do things in a more formal way which will actually make things easier for you in the long run, especially if you’re dealing with a larger document like a dissertation, a thesis, a funding proposal, a workbook, a technical guide …

Please note: these examples can look rather wide. I want them to be as near full-size as possible, so you can see exactly what I’m doing. If you’re looking at this post on a monitor, you should be able to scroll across to see the full image. If you’re viewing on a tablet, some of the screenshot may be cut off: hopefully you can see enough to get an idea of it, or you should be able to select the image to view it separately.

Today we’re going to talk about page breaks. If you’re writing a document that has sections, chapters, etc., you might well want to start a new chapter on a new page, and have it look something like this:

So far, so good – you’ve got your new chapter starting on a new page. But I bet you finished one section and hit the “Enter” key until you got to a new page, didn’t you? The way to tell is to hit a rather magical little button that shows all the formatting you’ve done.  In Word, you’ll find it in the Home menu; if it’s not there, play around with the display until you’ve found it and add it to the menu bar. Here it is:

That’s actually the “paragraph” symbol or pilcrow used for centuries in manuscripts and printed books. Anyway, it’s ever so useful if you want to show what you’ve done to a document. Press it a second time if you want all the formatting marks to disappear again. So, pressing this with our document open shows the horrible truth – enter, enter, enter you’ve gone, six times, down the page …

And that’s all well and good – until you change the text above the page break. You’ve done this and it all looks nice, then you notice that repeated line on page 1. Oh, well, you can just delete that. So you delete the repeated line, and the text on page 1 is now one line shorter – one line further up the page. Below the text, you hit Enter 6 times to make Chapter 2 start on the next page. Those six lines are below your chunk of text still, but your text is one line shorter than it used to be. So what happens … ?

Disaster! Chapter 2 doesn’t begin on the next page any more! It’s crept up a line! And, similarly, if you’d added some lines of text to Chapter 1, this chapter heading would start part way down this page. Messy! And when you’ve submitted your work to an editor like me, you can bet we’ll be suggesting adding lines in or taking them away; when you get the document back the spacing will be all over the place (or I’ll have done it my way and made it tidy already … )

So how do you do it properly so this messiness doesn’t happen? Simple – you “force a page break”. Again, in all versions of Word, when you get to the place where you want to force a new section to start on a new page, press Control-Enter (or choose Insert – Page Break). Turning on your formatting display, and using our original text again, you’ll see this:

And because it’s a forced page break, it doesn’t matter what you do to the text above the break, the new text will always appear on the next page. Make the Chapter 1 text shorter again by deleting that extra line and you get this:

No hopping around – and even if you add so much to Chapter 1 that it goes onto the next page, Chapter 2 will just hop on down to the page after, automatically.

Of course, your document still looks like this:

But you’ve done it all correctly, in fewer keystrokes, and you know that whatever you do with Chapter 1, Chapter 2 will always start at the top of its new page, nice and tidy, going where you need it to go.

I hope that’s helped – it’s a very common issue, which is why I’ve tackled it first. There will be more of these posts coming over the next few months – do pop a comment on this post if I’ve helped you, and let me know if there are any other issues you’d like me to look at.

Please note, these hints work with versions of Microsoft Word currently in use – Word 2003, Word 2007 and Word 2010, all for PC. Mac compatible versions of Word should have similar options. Always save a copy of your document before manipulating it. I bear no responsibility for any pickles you might get yourself into!

Find all the short cuts here


Posted by on November 23, 2011 in Copyediting, Errors, New skills, Short cuts, Word, Writing


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Be careful! Unique

I’ve heard a lot of comments about unique since I originally wrote this post, and most people think it should be used as I originally thought it should be used. So hopefully this post will clear things up and stop people getting annoyed about an “incorrect” usage that actually turns out to be allowable!

The word I’m talking about here is unique. Unique, according to the dictionary, means “being the only one of its kind” and “unlike anything else”.  So if it’s the only one of its kind, something can’t be more unique than something else, can it? Or very unique. Or a bit more unique, or less unique. Can it? Many people feel this usage is creeping in and diluting the “original” meaning of the word.

However: It also means “special or unusual“! The Oxford Concise English Dictionary says that the less precise sense of “special or unusual” is a valid one and that means it CAN be modified! So, next time you see something described as being more unique than something else … save your irritation for some of the other Be Careful! words I write about!

Be careful! is a series of posts about words that are misused commonly – but really shouldn’t be. It’s not a new variant of meaning, it’s an error that gets duplicated as people see the word misused and copy it. Contact me via email or via my contact form.

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Posted by on November 21, 2011 in Be careful, Errors, Language use, Writing


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Valuable or invaluable?

Remember Gill and her Libro Holiday?  Well, I’m still working through the word pair suggestions she sent me after that!

Today, we’re going to have a look at valuable and invaluable. You might be thinking that this might be another pair like flammable and inflammable, that mean exactly the same thing. Well, not quite, this time.

Valuable means either worth a great deal of money or extremely useful or important.  “Meryl’s contribution to the meeting was valuable; she provided tea and coffee and took the minutes”.

Invaluable means extremely useful; indispensable – very valuable, if you will. “Valerie made an invaluable contribution to our awayday when she single-handedly saved our MD from drowning.”

So in this case, the in- prefix does its usual job of multiplying the meaning to become, well, more so.

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


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… but you still have to BUY a lottery ticket OR, making your own luck

In my time as a small business owner, and indeed, ordinary woman on the street, using social media, I’ve had a few noteworthy examples of how being in the right place, at the right time, within the world of social media such as Twitter and Facebook, can reap dividends for your business and personal development.

Of course, being in the right place at the right time is important In Real Life, too.  I picked up a few new clients at the book launch for a novelist client – because she was there, her book was there, my cards were there, and I was there. But social media runs round the clock, doesn’t involve dressing up, and doesn’t only happen at set times.

Yes, I’ve been lucky. And yes, I’ve probably missed as many opportunities as I’ve grasped – after all, who can keep up with all of the tweets by all of the people they follow? But here are some things that have happened to me in the last couple of years …

Client A tweeted one late evening (afternoon for her) that she was looking for a copyeditor. She was in the US, I’m in the UK, so the time difference was important. In fact, I found this tweet by re-running a saved search – see below. But there she was, and there I was, within 2 minutes of her tweeting. So I tweeted back. She sent me one project, then became a regular client. Then she recommended me to someone else, who I would NEVER have reached on my own, who is now another, larger, regular client.

Client B was stuck for a transcriber. She’s a journalist and interviews people regularly. Help – she needed a transcriber. Could anyone recommend one? At the time, transcription wasn’t even one of my core offerings. But I trained in audio typing and had done work with tapes over the years, so I got in touch. Again, I happened to catch her a few minutes after she’d posted, so I got in first. And, a year on, she’s another of my cherished regular clients. And has given me lovely references and recommended me on – via Twitter, of course!

And a personal one. Libro had been a bit quieter this week than it had been of late. So I had time to look at Twitter during my working day. I noticed one of my favourite running magazines was asking if people were booked in to do a particular race. And because I struck while the iron was hot, I ended up reviewing it for them!

How to create your own luck

All these three examples did depend on luck and good timing to a certain extent. But they also depended on me doing certain things to help create that luck and good timing:
–    I have a presence on social media, backed up with a website where people can find out more information about me, and linked to that website via my profile. So I’m already there, active and tweeting or updating my status, and anyone finding me for the first time can see I’m legitimate, busy and (hopefully) useful.
–    I follow people who are interesting to me and linked to my interests in some way.
–    I ran searches on Twitter in my areas of interest (“need proofreading”, “need transcriber”, etc.), saved them (did you know you could do that?) and run them regularly (even when I’m busy!). Then I contact anyone who looks like they might appreciate my help. Not aggressively or spamming, just asking politely if I can help and directing them to my website.
–    If I see an opportunity, I go for it. When I asked to review the race, I then had second thoughts, worrying that I’m not a good enough runner to review for them. But I’d already put in for it, and when I asked the contact at the magazine, she reassured me that my kind of runner was just the kind they wanted!

To win the lottery, you have to buy a ticket. Get on to social media, get them to serve your purposes, and see a whole new world of lucky chances open up! Go on … create your own luck!

Libro offers copyediting, copy writing, proofreading, transcription, typing and localisation services to other small businesses, individuals and corporations. Click on the links to find out more! Contact me via email or via my contact form.


Posted by on November 16, 2011 in Business, Jobs, New skills, Organisation


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Here! Here! or Hear! Hear!

This isn’t quite a classic Troublesome Pair, in that one of them is definitely correct, and one of them is definitely incorrect – as a result, you only tend to them mixed up in one direction. Well, I’ve never seen them mixed up in the other direction, but I bet someone has!

The phrase I’m talking about is Hear! Hear! What do we see used instead? Here! Here!

The only time you should use Here! Here! is when you’re playing a team sport and want the ball to come over to you, or perhaps if you’re at a lecture and you want someone to notice your hand waving in the air so you can ask your incisive and apt question and make the lecturer feel all upset and silly.  And even then it’s a bit rude to shout out too, if you ask me.

If you’re agreeing with someone and supporting their statement, it’s Hear! Hear! That’s what the MPs are saying in the Houses of Parliament! I know it sounds like Here! Here!, but it isn’t.  I suppose it stands for “I hear you! I hear you!” and maybe that makes it a bit easier to remember.

Contact me via email or via my contact form.


Posted by on November 14, 2011 in Errors, Language use, Troublesome pairs


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Rain, rein or reign?

Today we have three very different words, spelled differently and with different meanings.  I think most people, if they stop and think, could define each one individually.  But where I see people constantly coming unstuck, even venerable institutions that should know better, like authors with several books published, newspapers and the like, is with the phrases in which these words are commonly used.

Some definitions first.

Rain is precipitation of non-frozen nature – water that falls out of clouds.

A rein is a leather strap attached to a bridle, with which you guide a horse’s direction, either from on its back (usually reins) or walking by its side (a lead rein) or standing in the middle of a paddock with the horse going in a circle around you (a lunge rein).

A reign is the period of time during which a monarch (or, by extension, any high-up leader) rules over their people (or, in the extended version, their social group, organisation, etc.)

So far so good. So, those tricky phrases. In fact, you can work out quite easily which one should be used where, by considering the literal meaning.

“Don’t rain on my parade” – don’t ruin my fun (I’m having a parade up the main street of town, if it rains it’ll get all soggy and ruined and everyone will go home – no one’s ruling anyone (reign) and there are no leather straps involved (rein)).

“We’ll have to rein him in” – he’s out of control and we need to limit what he’s able to do and bring him back under control (we need to have a little pull on the reins and stop the horse running too fast – we’re going to rule him but not in the sense that we’re a monarch and he’s one of our subjects (reign), and he’s not going to get wet (rain))

“A reign of terror” – something or someone is making things rather uncomfortable for everyone else (they are reigning over something that they are able to rule and control – no one is getting wet (rain) and we’re not frightening any horses (rein))

So that should be all clear now, right?

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


Posted by on November 11, 2011 in Errors, Language use, Troublesome pairs, Writing


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Your short cuts: my short cuts

Whether you’re using office software for work, fun, creative writing, or studying, it’s very common to not worry about learning how to do things properly, but just to launch in and start typing. How hard can it be?  That’s fine, if you’re just typing a document or making a very simple spreadsheet.  But when things get more complicated, documents need more formatting, and the right way to do things isn’t immediately obvious, it’s very tempting to fudge something together and hope it’ll work out in the long run.

Your short cut: don’t learn how to do it properly; just make up your own solutions.

You would not believe how many documents I’ve been sent where the writers have done this.  In fact, it’s so common that I usually send clients a note to congratulate them when they’ve done something the right way.

This is not just me being over-picky or trying to persuade people to pay out for my services. I once spent seven hours – that’s SEVEN HOURS (remembering my rates vary from £10 per hour upwards) sorting out the formatting and contents page of a PhD that someone had got in a mess with.  What took up most of those seven hours? Stripping out the attempts to do it right that the author had flailed around with, before calling me in.

I’m going to share some of my short cuts. They involve knowing how to do something (I’m not blowing my own trumpet here: people pay me to know how to do this stuff) and doing it properly, to save yourself time and, indeed, money.

I’m going to look at various tasks your documents need to perform (we’re mainly going to be looking at Microsoft Word here, although other wordprocessing programmes will have similar features and capabilities), how you tend to do it, so you recognise what you’re doing even if you don’t use the same words to describe the task, and then show you how to do it “properly”, i.e. the way that is most suited to the software you’re using; the way that will make it easier for you.

I might even go all daring and post some video! Not sure yet …

So, the kinds of issue I’m going to cover will include

– making a new section start on a new page

– using tabs and margins

– using heading hierarchies and creating an automatic Table of Contents

– counting particular instances in Excel

– page numbering

– saving time typing and coping with words you regularly misspell

All quite simple stuff, but you’d be truly amazed at the muddles people can get into …

I’m also planning to do a series of posts that go into more detail, for those of you who really want to know about the nuts and bolts of how to do these things. Please do get in touch if you have any issues you’ve been wrestling with that you’d like me to cover, especially any short cuts of your own that you know aren’t quite right!

Contact me via email or via my contact form.


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