Monthly Archives: May 2013

What is worth it for me?

dictionary coins watchIn Part 1 of this article I talked about how to tell if a product, service or outsourcing is worth it for your business. In Part 2, we looked at Return on Investment, and how both the investment and the return can take the form of money, time or effort spent or saved. This time, I’m going to share some examples of what investments have worked for me – and for some other people, too.

Investing in hardware and software

In terms of hardware, I’ve mainly spent money on these three:

  • New PC – definitely worth it in terms of speed and reliability. My current one doesn’t fall over if I try to look at a whole PhD thesis in one go.
  • New laptop – definitely NOT worth it. I could see myself working in cafes with a coffee … but of course the kind of work I do doesn’t do well in a noisy environment. And I can’t transcribe on a laptop keyboard and find a trackpad tricky for editing. In addition, I spent extra getting a giant laptop with a separate numeric keypad … which means it’s massive and heavy and hard to lug around.
  • External hard drive – definitely worth it. I spent under £100 and it automatically backs up all of my files every day.

My editor colleague, Laura Ripper, wishes she’d thought more about her printer:

What I wish I had spent more money on, in hindsight, is a printer that will take several sheets at a time for photocopying. I hate standing over it feeding in one sheet at a time!

I’m glad that we invested in a printer/scanner/copier as the most printing I do nowadays is contracts and other forms, which I invariably have to sign, scan and return to the client.

In terms of software, it boils down to:

  • Microsoft Office 2007 then 2010 – must-have items although I haven’t picked up Office 2013 yet as I don’t think any of my clients are using it yet and I need to put aside time to learn it. However, my clients use all sorts of ancient versions of Word, so I keep both 2007 and 2010 open on my machine and tend to use 2007 unless I have to move to 2010.
  • Transcription management software – I have the paid version of the software I use (full article on this here) as it saves me time so makes me more money, being able to manipulate tapes using the function keys.
  • Invoicing and time management software – I did download a free time tracker but got so obsessed with my percentage of productive time that I became less productive. I have a simple invoice template and use that at the moment.
  • Financial management software – I will be using my new Accountant’s online system to record my bank reconciliation information – watch this space for whether this is useful!

Investing in other office equipment and reference materials

I am lucky in that my partner invested in a very expensive, posh office chair when he ran his own business. I’ve inherited that up in my office, and it’s very comfortable, adjustable and cool in the summer. If you use a laptop a great deal, here’s a nifty tip from Laura:

My laptop stand from IKEA has meant I can actually sit at my desk all day if necessary without feeling like my wrists, neck or fingers are going to drop off. It was less than a fiver (£3.50) and was definitely worth the money!

I’m very glad that I’ve invested in my reference books. I have a range of them: I update the basic ones that I started off with whenever there’s a new edition, and I’ve also bought more on Plain English and international Englishes as I’ve gone along. I like using paper copies, having them there in front of me, and they save me from getting things wrong!

Investing in memberships and training

I’m going to present two different points of view on industry-related memberships here. Please bear in mind that these are about different people at different stages in their career. It might make you think, though, or feel better about not having industry memberships.

I’m an established editor who also works in lots of other different fields, has clients around the world who don’t tend to be publishers, but translation agencies, translators, marketing companies and individual writers. I have decades of experience and lots of testimonials, and I’m busy enough that I am very choosy about taking on new clients. I also work predominantly on electronic documents.

This does not make me too arrogant to join industry based associations. I did try it, but I found that, while they’re excellent for new editors, and provide training courses and forums and advice, most of the training is around paper-based editing for publishers, something that I very, very rarely do. For me, personally, it’s not worth the effort, time and money to do qualifications in an area in which I don’t actually work in order to progress my membership. But this is a very personal decision. Read on for my colleague, Laura’s, take on things:

Laura Ripper told me how useful she finds her membership of the Society For Editors and Proofreaders:

It means I can attend my local SfEP group, so that’s one way of meeting other freelancers and sharing ideas and information. It also gives me access to online forums like the Marketplace where members can post jobs they’re too busy to do, and I’ve got a couple of jobs through that. You also get discounts on SfEP training if you’re an associate or member. At the moment I’m only an associate, which isn’t as good for marketing as I can’t appear in the public directory, but after doing more training I’ll upgrade. Oh and there’s also the reassurance aspect for clients. I don’t blog, so, especially before I got any testimonials, I felt that being able to use the SfEP logo (I checked this was OK) and say I am an associate would reassure potential clients that I’m professional in my work.

Other professional organisations do exist, in editing and in other professions, of course. But it’s always worth reviewing when you’ve paid for that first year, what you got out of it in terms of support, jobs or referrals.

One membership that has worked well for me is my local business association. I pay a minimal sum, have an advert in their directory, and get to go to breakfast get-togethers: just this week I met a carpenter, financial advisor and solar panel installer who I will be in touch with later!

With regard to training, if it’s tailored to what you need and focused on your business, it can bring a great return. I’m largely self-taught but I have an English degree including a lot of Lingistics behind me, plus jobs working on dictionary editing and in marketing. I discussed my choice NOT to take an indexing course in the first post in this series, and I keep up my professional knowledge by reading blogs and participating in forums.

Sarah Bartlett  has had this good experience:

I have come to value one-to-one training from trusted freelancers in their area of expertise with the training tailored to my needs. That’s the best money I’ve spent this year so far and I intend to do it again. It’s brilliant value for money.

Investing in marketing and advertising

This splits down into two sections in my book: marketing and advertising that you put money into, and marketing and advertising that you put time and effort into.

Paid-for advertising

The two main things in terms of advertising that have done it for me have been:

  • Very local and specific advertising – early on in my career, I advertised my student proofreading services in the University staff magazine. I ran the ad for a year at a cost of £120 and made that back many times over.
  • Thanks to my friend, Sian, I bought membership of a site called Proz, which is mainly for translators, because I work editing people’s translations and people also go there looking for localisers and transcribers. That costs around £50 a year, and for that, your details are put in front of prospective clients when they put forward a particular job. I have made this money back many, may times over; probably a hundred-fold each year. Definitely worth it.

I have joined some free listings sites and get a few enquiries from them, but not enough to justify paying for enhanced listings. Some listings companies charge a fortune; others, like the thebestof range in the UK can be useful if you have a very local client catchment area.

Marketing-wise, I tend to be a bit mean and use Vistaprint for business cards and postcards. While there is a general dislike of Vistaprint, I am careful to design my materials carefully and attractively and pay to not have “” on the back. People have generally liked them, and I do too – but I don’t give out millions of cards, so it is worth going to a more specialised designer if you’re giving them out all of the time.

Julia Dickson from Patricks Pieces has a good point here:

I quite like my vistaprint cards but that’s probably because I use their plain template and import my images, that way I don’t have the same motif as everyone else.

If you need to call attention to yourself at craft fairs and around and about, here are some great investments people have made:

Sarah Goode from jewellery company, Pookledo says, “I’ve invested in good display units to make everything look coherent”. And Hev Bushnell from Hev’s Happy Hounds explains an interesting marketing concept:

My car. I covered it in pawprint vinyls and also paid to have lettering on the back. I also invested in car business card holders. Since doing the car, my business has boomed!

Also worth paying for:

  • Professional photographs. I was lucky and called in some social capital here (i.e. got a friend to do it – but he is a professional photographer)
  • Website – If you’re not an expert, it’s far better to have a website designed and written for you than to link to a woeful attempt full of 1990s design and typos

Marketing using your own efforts

I’ve invested time and effort, but not money (unless you count the money I could have made if I wasn’t doing this – however paid work comes first and these efforts fit around it) in the following:

  • Website(s) and blog – they maintain and grow my reputation, bring people to me, and allow me to share what I do as well as help people. They take a long time to put together but showcase my writing and I do enjoy doing it, too.
  • Guest blog posts – I’ve been placing these more recently, to help to promote my books. It’s a good way to get link backs to your own website/blog and to get your name known. I offer guest spots on my blogs, too, of course.
  • Commenting on other blogs – comments I’ve made on colleagues’ and other writers and business people’s blogs still send people over to my own sites even years later, and you never know what someone might be looking for
  • Social media – having a presence on Facebook and Twitter has definitely got me clients. All of my music journalist clients have come out of one response to a tweet from someone looking for a transcriber, taking me on and recommending me to her colleagues (thanks, Jude!)

Investing in networking

I looked at the big, nationwide networking groups, and they can be good for some people: personally, I find that it’s hard to explain what I do in 40 seconds round a breakfast table and I’m not able to bring in referrals for other people to every monthly meeting (to squish together what the two main big organisations do). I do however go to more informal networking groups, and I’ve made friends, got advice and support and made contacts that have led to jobs at the Social Media Cafe in Birmingham.

Looking at networking in a wider sense, I gain great support, laughs, help and a feeling of a set of peers from my editor colleagues on Facebook and in person and my business colleagues on Facebook and Twitter.

Investing in outsourcing

This is a work in progress. I’ve just taken on an Accountancy firm to do my bank reconciliation, provide me with certified accounts and prepare my tax return. I hope the financial cost will be outweighed by the peace of mind and time saved messing around balancing my books … I’ll let you know!

What works for you?

I’ve shared my personal experiences of what works for me, and those of a few people who responded to my call for input on Facebook and Twitter! Over to you – what has been the best thing you’ve invested in? Do share the area of business you’re in so other people who do something similar can learn something, too.


How do you know if it’s worth investing?

Working out your return on investment

Interested in finding out how I made the transition from part-time to full-time self-employment and built my business safely and carefully? Take a look at my new book, out now!


Posted by on May 30, 2013 in Business, New skills, Organisation


Working out Return on Investment

dictionary coins watchIn Part 1 of this article I talked about how you work out if an investment is worth making. Now I’m going to look at how you work out what the ROI (Return on Investment) is for something you’ve bought, and in the final post I share some examples from me and some other people about what’s worked for us – and what hasn’t.

What is Return on Investment?

Return on Investment (ROI) is what you get out of something as compared to what you put into it. A straightforward example is if you invest in some stocks and shares. If you put in £10,000 and get £1,000 back on top, that’s a good ROI. If you put in £10,000 and get back £8,000, not so good.

It’s not quite that simple if you’re looking at your own investments, though.

Time / money / effort

Investments and their returns can be subdivided into several categories, for example, time, money and effort.


  • Time: You might invest your time in learning a new skill or trying out a new tool, or writing your web text yourself.
  • Money: Lots of products and services and memberships cost money to buy. Even if you’re bartering,  there is still a “cost” involved, even if you’re paying your proofreader in falafels!
  • Effort: I’m including emotional/psychological factors here. You might put a lot of yourself into going out networking if you’re shy and would rather stay at home. Chasing late invoices can be full of effort if you hate hassling people for money. Working part time and running your business part time can involve a huge emotional and psychological investment, as can building relationships with your clients.

Returns on Investment:

  • Time: Do you save your time by using a new product or by out-sourcing? Your time is also money, of course, but there is only so much time in the day, or week, or month, and you should really be concentrating on doing the core tasks that only you can do, whether that’s making your jewellery, editing novels or selling widgets.
  • Money: If you streamline your production line with a new machine so you can make and sell more items per day, or get your invoices paid on time and improve your cash flow, or you buy a tool that makes your hand-made cards look more professional, then whatever you’ve done has saved you money, or made you more money.
  • Effort: If you hate doing something and you can pay someone to do it for you, or you want to branch out into a new area of work that you find attractive and interesting but need to do a course to get into it, or, indeed, you’re tired of the day job and know that by working hard on your business you can move away from it and gain a more free and flexible lifestyle, then those all save you effort or bring you an emotional gain in the long term.

These factors can inter-relate, so you might get something like this:

  • I spend MONEY on an accountant and she saves me MONEY in terms of the tax I pay
  • I spend TIME setting up automated invoicing systems and save myself TIME every month when I run my invoices
  • I put EFFORT into networking and save EFFORT in getting new clients in other ways I don’t like to use, like cold-calling
  • I spend MONEY on an accountant and she saves me time working on my accounts
  • I spend TIME setting up automated invoicing systems and make more MONEY because I’m more efficient, and save EFFORT tracking down invoices and chasing up late payers

And of course, you can have negative or neutral returns on investment, too:

  • I spent MONEY on paying to advertise on this website, but I’ve never directly made any MONEY from it (referrals can be tricky to work out as people sometimes see your name a few times before they buy, but if you pay for membership or an ad you should be able to see some direct worth coming from it)
  • I invested lots of TIME writing my blog but no one looks at it so I can’t be making any MONEY from it and if no one reads it and I never get any comments so I don’t get any emotional (EFFORT)  output either
  • I made MONEY making these rip-off teddy bears but I feel awful that I went against my principles

You get the idea.

So, is it worth it?

An investment, whether it’s in a product, a service or something less tangible, is only worth it if you get more out of it than you put in.

This can be very subjective. If you hate doing your bank reconciliation, you might be happy spending more on an accountant to do it for you than your friend, who quite likes doing it. If you join a professional association but get no business, kudos, support or fun through it, then it’s not worth paying those fees next year – but that can be very different for your colleague at a different stage of her career, as we will see.

So, it’s a question of sitting down and looking at what you’ve bought, and working out whether the return on investment, in terms of money, time or less tangible factors is worth it. You can do this in advance, too, for example “I need a new computer, it will cost me money but save me time recovering from crashes and increase my income as I can do more work more efficiently”, but you MUST also do this in arrears, rather than spend-spend-spend and never tot up the benefits.

Next time I’ll be talking about the investments I (and some other people) have made, which have been worth it and which have not.


How do you know if it’s worth investing?

What is worth it for me?

Interested in finding out how I made the transition from part-time to full-time self-employment and built my business safely and carefully? Take a look at my new book, out now!


Posted by on May 23, 2013 in Business, New skills, Organisation


How do you know when it’s worth investing?

dictionary coins watchYou want to invest in something, but how do you know when it’s worth it? Is it worth laying out a sum up front, or is it always better to save up first? In this article I reflect on some purchases I’ve made which have been worth it (and some that haven’t), and discuss how you tell if they’re going to be in advance.

How do you tell whether an investment is worth it?

Investments for a small business can be broken down into

  • Outsourcing (paying other people to take on tasks you might do in-house)
  • Products, materials and services
  • Training

Is it worth outsourcing this task?

In a previous post, I talked about how to tell when it’s time to outsource a task to do with your business. My rules then were:

  • If you’re rubbish at doing something and I’m good at it, outsource it to me (even if you’ve got the time to do it yourself or it’s going to cost you more per hour)
  • If the time it will take you costs more in your worth per hour than it would cost to pay someone else to do it, then outsource it (e.g. transcribing your interview will take you 6 hours and you’re worth £40 an hour (£240) – better to send it to me who can do it for you for £60.

This links into a couple that are about time:

  • If it’s going to take you 6 hours to do but me 3 hours to do, then outsource it to me
  • If it’s going to take you 6 hours to do and me 6 hours to do, but you don’t have those 6 hours free, then outsource it to me

But you can add in some other factors, too, such as the boredom factor:

  • If you’re perfectly able to do the task and it would cost more to have someone else do it, but it bores you to tears and you never get round to doing it until it turns into an unholy mess, outsource it to me.

This last one is how I decided to hire an accountant to do my accounts and my bank reconciliation.

Is it worth buying this product or service or these materials?

That’s all about outsourcing. What about investing in products and services? These are my rules:

  1. If it will make my work more quick or more efficient – consider buying it
  2. If it will make my records more secure – consider buying it
  3. If it will advertise my services to my core market – consider buying it (for a year on a trial)
  4. If it costs under £100 – go for it

Points two and four combined to make me buy my external back-up drive and my professional version of my transcription management software.

Points three and four combined to make me sign up for membership to Proz (a jobs board service), which I’ve stayed with, and other sites and associations, which I have trialled and haven’t stayed with (see section on Return on Investment in the next article).

Of course the £100 level is an arbitrary level I selected. In fact, I didn’t select it consciously: I’ve just noticed that that’s the level I’m comfortable with.

Regarding materials, I don’t use materials in my editing business. But the golden rule here has to be:

  • Will the price of the item you’re making be higher than the cost of the materials? If not: find cheaper materials or adjust your prices within sensible limits

Is it worth buying this training course?

And a special consideration on training, as this is something I have been pondering and decided not to invest in:

  1. Is the training run by an accredited provider that is respected in my industry?
  2. Does it train me on something I will use in my everyday work life?
  3. Will it add a skill to my portfolio that I
    • know there is a market for
    • will enjoy doing
    • have got time to commit to fully once I’m trained up?

Point two helped me decide not to take the training provided by a well-known and respected association in order to gain qualifications with them, because they are all about editing on paper and I have done one job on paper in four years.

And the last bullet in point three is how I decided NOT to pursue training in the art of indexing. Yes, there’s a market for it; yes, I would enjoy doing it; but no, I have a full roster of valued clients at the moment. If I was to take on indexing work, something would have to give: either my evenings and weekends, which I have pretty well reclaimed from Libro, or one or more of my current customers. I wasn’t ready for either of those scenarios, so let it go.

Do I invest in advance or arrears?

This is a tricky one. I’m facing it at the moment with my book.

I really want to publish a print version of my e-book. I’ve got some quotes for producing the back and spine cover art and wording, and for producing it as print-on-demand and fulfilling it via the online bookshops. I would be able to buy copies for myself and sell them at events. I’d also have a physical book with my name on.

I was always adamant that the book needed to pay its way, i.e. I wouldn’t do new or paid-for initiatives until the book had actually brought in the money into my bank account to pay for it. Ignoring the hours I put into writing and promoting the book so far, I would need to sell approximately five times as many e-copies as I have already to pay for the setup, design and print-on-demand service (the fulfilment cost comes out of the profit on each copy).

I should make at least twice the profit on each print copy that I sell as I do on the e-books, if they sell.

Do I wait until I’ve made that money to go ahead? Do I wait until I’ve made half of it and then risk the other half, assuming it will take me half as many books sold in print to get the investment back? Do I do it now and hope I sell 2.5 times the books in print that I’ve sold in electronic form to pay myself back?

Before, I’ve always waited until I have the money put aside before I buy something – I didn’t invest in my new PC and laptop until my Libro business had been going for a couple of years and I had the money in the bank (were they worth it? Read next week’s article to find out!). But I’m eager to get those print copies out there … and I really don’t know what to do at the moment.

How do you choose how to invest / whether to invest?

How do you make your decisions? Have I missed something here? I’d love to know your thoughts – do post a comment! And … should I make a leap of faith and invest in print copies of my book? Help me to decide!

In the second part of this article, I talk about how to calculate your return on investment, and I’ll be going on to share what’s been worth it for me (and some other people) – and what hasn’t.


Working out Return On Investment

What is worth it for me?

Interested in finding out how I made the transition from part-time to full-time self-employment and built my business safely and carefully? Take a look at my new book, out now!


Posted by on May 15, 2013 in Business, New skills


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What to do if your comment boxes are too big in Word

I have already published a range of posts on issues with comment boxes or comment balloons, including ones on comment boxes suddenly going tiny, or comment box text running in the wrong direction, changing the language in your comment balloons. Thanks to my colleague, Laura, I realised that I needed to post an article on what to do if your comment box size, or the general comment box area, is bigger than you want it to be.

Help! My comment box margin is too large!

This is the problem that my friend, Laura, had. Her comment box margin was somehow spreading across almost the whole page. Although it doesn’t encroach on the text area on the page, it makes your total page really wide. It looked something like this:

1 too wide

Even on my wide monitor, if the comment box margin is too wide, you get the choice of being able to see all of the text, as above, or all of the comment, as below – not very helpful!

2 too wide

How do you resolve this issue? You need to pop into Track Changes (in the Review tab) and click on the little arrow at the bottom to give you the Track Changes Options. Right at the bottom, you’ll find options for making the comment review pane / margin smaller (and moving it to the left or top if you so desire).

The default is 6.5 cm but if you like to have your page of text bigger but still see your comments, change this to a smaller size.

Note, that like everything in Track Changes, this only changes the view on your computer – whoever you are sending the document to will see it however they’ve set it up.

Help! My comment box text is too large!

Are you experiencing this problem:

3 too big

To change this to a normal size, we need to access the Styles dialogue box, by either

  • Pressing Control + Alt + Shift + s simultaneously
  • Going to the Home tab and clicking the little arrow at the bottom right of the Styles menu

This brings up the Styles dialogue box.

Click the right hand button at the bottom: Manage Styles. When you first open this next window, the sort order is As Recommendedclick on the down arrow to change it to Alphabetical:

Find Balloon Text (note: not Comment text) and it confirms how you have your text set up (blue circle).

Click the Modify button … to change your font and font size. You’ll notice lots of other options (blue circle) to change the spacing, etc.

The standard size for balloon text is 8 or 10 so choose that and you’ll have a nice tidy balloon again!

Press the OK button, and carry on pressing OK buttons until you get back to your document. Now, your comment will appear in the style you have chosen.

Again, these changes will only affect your computer.

These related topics should help you further:

What to do if your comment boxes go tiny in Word

What to do if your comment boxes start running from right to left

Changing the language in your comment balloons

Customising your comment boxes – everything you need to know

Customising Track Changes

This is part of my series on how to avoid time-consuming “short cuts” and use Word in the right way to maximise your time and improve the look of your documents. Find all the short cuts here

Do let me know if this has helped you, saved your bacon, etc. – and do share with the buttons at the bottom of this article.


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