In 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.
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 “vistaprint.com” 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!
Finnish translation agency
May 30, 2013 at 12:45 pm
Good stuff, Liz!
Just some notes.
1) Actually, I never use external hard drives anymore. Dropbox is easier – I don’t need to do anything, I can get back older versions of files, too (did you know Dropbox saves version history?) And what’s best – I can access the files from any device and share them with my colleagues. Unfortunately, cloud space on Dropbox is quite expensive.
2) Whether it’s worth ot to invest in laptop depends greatly on your work practices. While working in a cafe may not be a good idea, working at summer cottage or in a library may well be. I couldn’t live without a laptop!
3) It’s worth investing in free stuff like Ditto clipboard manager (http://ditto-cp.sourceforge.net/) – helps so much in editing complex texts or translations – or Evernote (http://evernote.com/). Those are really worth every penny!
4) If you do have any programming/scripting skills, you can turn your computer a real power machine with MacroExpress (http://www.macros.com/). Cost a little, but saves hours in the long run! All your resources – and all the resources on the Internet – are just one key away with this tool.
5) Some may like RecentX (http://www.conceptworld.com/RecentX)… I never really started using it, I guess MacroExpress already streamlined my work so much that I was not too lost with files. But I guess I could give it another try.
Liz at Libro
May 30, 2013 at 1:22 pm
Thanks for your comment – this is all very interesting. I am a bit wary of using Dropbox for this purpose – I’m still a bit unsure about “the cloud” and also my NDAs with some of my clients forbid me from putting any of their files onto any file-sharing sites or mechanisms, including places like dropbox.
I think I’d use my laptop more if it was smaller. If I had a summer place or was based in more than one place, I’d probably get one of those holders, a keyboard and a mouse for it, and then I could be both mobile and ergonomic!
May 31, 2013 at 12:03 pm
Joining AMWA and taking their ELS courses has served me well. Also keeping up with old friends, students, and colleagues on FB and letting them know I am ready and able to edit their documents. I also invested in a range of style and reference guides to update what I already own.
Liz at Libro
May 31, 2013 at 1:47 pm
Thanks for your input, Edith – networking and keeping up with people is vital, isn’t it.