Monthly Archives: May 2015

Small business chat update – Kath Kilburn

Small business chat update – Kath Kilburn

It’s Small Business Update – and today we’re chatting to Kath Kilburn from wool shop from Three Bags Full, who is one of our newer interviewees, although she’s been in business for a while. We first met Kath in June 2014, when she was having a bit of a tricky time, having had to move locations, and start to rebuild her trade. We don’t have a lot of shop owners on here, and it’s not an area I know much about, but it’s easy to see that this will have had a massive impact on the business, and require an effort akin to starting all over again – a very big challenge. This is what Kath had to say about her upcoming year in her last interview: “Unfortunately last year the council closed our building in a very clumsy fashion and we consequently lost quite a lot of trade, so we’re now in a new location and slowly re-building our clientele. I’m hopeful that by next year we’ll have regained the ground we lost!” Let’s check in with her and see how she’s doing now …

Hello again, Kath? So, the big question: are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?

I did hope that we’d be a bit further along the road to recovery by now. It took till February this year for us to start regaining ground lost with last year’s move. (This was much worse than it would’ve been had we moved to a place with a high street shop front – we’re a bit hidden from view where we are.) It’ll be hard to tell really how things are going until after this year’s annual summer slump.

What has changed and what has stayed the same?

What has changed – we’ve expanded our list of classes and I’ve started teaching more of them myself in small groups. I’m hoping to expand the range even further with the coming autumn season. I also made online contact with some other lovely bricks and mortar shop owners and that’s been nice, hearing that we all face the same issues and can support each other when needed.

What has stayed the same – our stock is pretty much as it was, although we’ve fine-tuned it as and when necessary – due to identified gaps or lines being discontinued by the supplier. We’ve also modified the stock a little to allow for the fact that we don’t get many tourists in our new location. Some lovely, local customers have also ‘stayed the same’!

What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?

I’m learning all the time – about people, about wool and knitting, and about running a business. It’s a slow process and I think if I had the shop till I was eighty there’d still be lots I didn’t know. And of course, all the while you’re learning new things, they’re changing and you have to keep up – with new trends, new business practices, new companies. There’s been some bad stuff happen this last year – very bad service from the company that dealt with our website card payments, for example – but I’m not sure knowing in advance would’ve helped.

Any more hints and tips for people?

I think it’s vital to diversity to stay in business: we’re selling more on eBay these days and I’m still intending to set up folksy and etsy shops for finished garments as soon as I can. And if I had space I’d also stock fabric in the shop, as there’s a lack of shops selling fabric locally, but I think it’s something you have to go into full-on or not at all. People these days want to see a massive choice as well as good prices.

And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?

Well, I hope that in a year’s time we’ll be back in our old location welcoming customers old and new; we’re currently waiting to hear the terms and conditions the new owners of our old building will offer returning traders. So, for us it’s make or break time – next year we could be back in business and enjoying a boom time or we could be operating online only or we could be retired. At the moment we really can’t call it. We’re living in interesting times.

Gosh, that’s the most diverse range of options I’ve seen in one of my interviews, and I really hope that it’s the “back in business and enjoying a boom time” option that prevails. Talking about diversifying, Kath’s right, of course – whatever line of business you’re in, keeping things diverse makes sense, as you can weather the drops in particular kinds of business and optimise your workflow and income (I blogged about this a while ago). Best of luck to Kath and I hope we have a cheery update next year. Maybe you’d like to support her by having a look at the online options on eBay, etc!

You can find Kath’s website at and call her on 07941133155 or email her if you want to get in touch, and read her e-book, “So You’d Like to Open a Wool Shop…“.

If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please see more small business chat, the index to all the interviewees, and information on how you can have your business featured (I have a full roster of interviewees now so am only taking on a very few new ones). If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my books, all available now, in print and e-book formats, from a variety of sources. 


Posted by on May 30, 2015 in Business, Small Business Chat


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Small business chat update – Stephen Tiano

Small business chat update – Stephen Tiano

Welcome to another Small Business Update – and today we welcome Stephen Tiano from Tiano Book Design to the blog for the fourth time! His original (2012) and 2013 posts told us all about his double life working in the civil service and then doing book design in the rest of his time, and when we caught up with him in April 2014 he was planning a move: “I’m hoping to be busy again. I want to move on to working in ebooks. But I still love print books and hope to work more of those. In a year … I’m not so sure. I do, however, have a 20-month plan … tentatively. My wife and I are looking to relocate—perhaps staying on the east coast somewhere in the Delaware/Maryland/DC/Virginia/North Carolina orbit; or on the west coast in northern California’s wine country. I’m hoping for a golf community. And I think I’d like to go in-house at a small publisher or university press. We’ll be downsizing some and switching to a slightly less expensive lifestyle, if all goes according to plan. I’ll also be pulling in a pension from another life I’ve lived in civil service. That means I’ll be looking for supplementary income, as opposed to my main deal. In another year, I’d like to have dominoes lined up so that these plans are on their way to reality”. So, how’s Steve getting on towards that goal?

Hi again, Stephen, and welcome to your fourth interview! Are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?

No, not at all. Ever the optimist, I always start out with the intent that the current year will be better than the year before. That I will make it better than the year before. But last year, in a word, stank. I simply didn’t have enough freelance paydays. If it weren’t for my 9-to-5 civil service job it would have been … well, very uncomfortable. Remember, I’ve freelanced “with a net” for over 35 years—first as a proofreader; and the last 23 years, as a book designer/layout artist.

On the other hand, I finished two book projects and cultivated a few contacts, at least two of which have resulted in book projects this year. Hopefully, there are more to come.

That’s the thing about freelancing, I can never take my eye off the ball—fully two-thirds of the gig is about finding the next project(s). So rather than growing depressed over not having as much work as I would like, I always choose to view such “down” times as opportunities to mine the market. The first thing I remind myself during those times is to stay the hell away from all the freelance “meat market” sites, the ones that always bill themselves as sites for people to find freelancers willing to work for ever-lower rates. The ones where freelancers reverse leap-frog each other to bid less and less for projects.

What has changed and what has stayed the same?

Self-publishing has gotten stronger still. To be sure, the traditional publishers still exist—the handful of mega publishers, as well as thriving independents and university presses. But it’s the self-publishing sector that continues to expand and show increase in movement. Sure, a John Grisham book will always sell big, but more and more doors are opening for self-publishers: for legitimate reviews and the possibility of being picked up by a traditional publisher.

What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?

Well, I’ve been working on growing my software skills a bit. It hasn’t escaped me that self-publishers often think their task is to make a DIY project out of making a book. So I’ve been spending some time working with an open-source page layout software package, Scribus, to get familiar with the kind of tools DIY-ers might embrace. I figure that gives me a little more credibility when trying to reach potential self-publishers with my message that the idea is to make books that rival the traditional publishers’ in both quality and value, rather than just making books as cheaply as possible. Thing is with the latter: the product reflects those nickel-and-dime values.

I actually began writing a book about designing and typesetting books in Scribus. I’ll pick it up again at some point, too, because I think there ma be a need for such a book. When completed, it will offer both a step-by-step in using Scribus to design and make the pages of a book, as well as a discussion about the printed book as art, developing an aesthetic for making books that are art (of course, the question of whether any one book a “creative mortal” like myself makes or tries to help others make is GOOD art can only be left open).

I guess I wish I had known how to better find and reach people who are possible self-publishers. But I can’t say I spend much time with such “wishing” I’d done more or done things differently, as that leads to regrets and doubt.

Any more hints and tips for people?

What I said above: The idea is to make books that rival the traditional publishers’ in both quality and value, rather than just making books as cheaply as possible. Book designers need to teach this to prospective self-publishers and self-publishers need to embrace it.

And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?

Hopefully, increasing the activity in my book design practice. If all goes according to plan, I hope to retire from the civil service 9-to-5 and, with my wife, relocate off Long Island and out of New York to someplace milder in the U.S.—northern California (near where our granddaughters live with their mom and dad) or perhaps somewhere on the east coast around D.C./Maryland/Virginia/North Carolina, in a university town, where I can perhaps catch on for just a little in-house work at a university press and a whole lot of golf.

The self-publishing phenomenon is indeed growing and growing, and hopefully people will realise the need for a good designer that goes hand in hand with the need for editing, cover design, etc. to make a professional package.

Stephen Tiano
Book Designer, Page Compositor & Layout Artist

tel. & fax: (631)284-3842 / cell: (631)764-2487
Skype: stephentianobookdesigner
FaceTime: Stephen Tiano
email  website:
blog  Twitter  Facebook

If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please see more small business chat, the index to all the interviewees, and information on how you can have your business featured (I have a full roster of interviewees now so am only taking on a very few new ones). If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my books, all available now, in print and e-book formats, from a variety of sources. 


Posted by on May 23, 2015 in Business, Small Business Chat


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Why do transcribers charge by the audio minute, not by the word?

keyboard earphonesWhat is the industry standard and fair way to charge for transcription work? Why do transcribers charge by the audio minute rather than by the typed word? This article explains why and offers a fair and standard pricing structure, too. It’s part of a series, and you can find the other articles in the series and a link to my popular book on the subject at the bottom of this article.

I was working with an agency on presenting an offer for a transcription job to a company. As usual, we provided a per-audio-minute rate. This works well and is the industry standard, as it’s predictable in advance and doesn’t change according to how long it takes the transcriber to do the job (of course, it’s up to the transcriber to check the tape and make sure they’re charging a per-minute rate that’s fair to them and the client. Mine is based on two speakers, a clear tape and non-urgent turnaround time, with fair and transparent add-ons per minute for more speakers / tape issues / urgent turnaround).

In this case, the client wanted a quotation by the number of words typed and/or the time it was going to take me to transcribe the tape. So they wanted to know my words-per-minute typing speed for a standard transcription.

Is there such a thing as a standard transcription speed?

In a word: No. There is no such thing as a standard transcription typing speed.

For a start, the speeds you can calculate from your own documents are not worked out in the same way the typing test people work out your official typing speed. That’s done on the basis of a standard five-letter word plus one space (I worked this out, because I’m like that, and a document that showed as 11,582 words would be 10,459 “standard words” which gave me a typing speed of 50 or 45.5 words per minute).

For another thing, the typing speeds you are measured on as a copy-typer are different from those you can achieve doing audio typing / transcription. I can type at about 70 wpm, but my transcription speeds vary WILDLY, as you can see below. If a client is used to hearing about a good typist typing 70 wpm, are they going to be impressed if we offer them a price based on 35 wpm? Probably not.

Of course, when transcribing, it’s rare to be able to keep up with the speakers without pausing the tape. It’s also rare to be able to hear everything perfectly first time – everyone has to rewind and check. In addition, a good transcriber will fact-check as they go along – company names, people’s names, the names of albums … and this slows things down, too, of course.

In addition, it’s completely impossible to calculate a standard transcription speed as it will vary according to

  • Number of speakers
  • Accents of speakers
  • Speed that the speakers speak
  • Turn-taking versus overlapping speech
  • Background noise
  • Quality of the tape
  • Degree of accuracy / in-transcription editing the client wants (e.g. turning non-standard English into standard English, transcribing every um, er and repetition vs. tidying the tape up slightly to not include ums, ers and repetitions)

I actually went back and checked a few transcriptions that I’d done recently (I note how long jobs take me and could take the word count from the Word document. My words-per-minute varied between 35 wpm and 60 wpm over a range of transcriptions, and that variation was not predictable by the type of client or the type of content (I do mainly journalists’ interviews and corporate work transcribing presentations, videos and conferences).

What is a fair way to charge for transcription?

The fair way to charge for transcription is by the audio minute. This is fair on the transcriber, if they have a range of pricing to suit different situations, and is fair for the client because they will in most cases know the charge up front (an exception to this would only come if they booked in 30 minutes and sent 90 minutes of tape with more speakers than expected and suddenly super urgent: if the client specifies exactly what they have, the transcriber will be able to quote clearly in advance for them).

I charge …

  • A minimum rate per audio minute for up to 2 speakers, speaking clearly on a good quality tape and not urgent (with 24 hours for up to a 60-minute tape)
  • A certain amount extra per audio minute for each additional speaker
  • A certain amount extra per audio minute for a particularly challenging tape quality (checked beforehand and only used if it’s a truly terrible tape or with huge amounts of background noise)
  • A certain amount extra per audio minute for urgent turnaround (under 24 hours for up to 60 minutes; negotiable over that tape length)

This charging structure has worked well for me over my transcription career so far.

If you are asked to provide other kinds of pricing, do bear in mind my points above, and feel free to refer your client to this article to explain further!

If you’ve found this article useful, please click to share!

If you want to learn more about Transcription as a career, buy my book: A Quick Guide to Transcription as a Career – buy from Amazon UK or visit the book’s web page for worldwide links and news.

Related posts in the series:

How do you start a career in transcription?

Why you need a human to do your transcription

Being a professional transcriber – software to use to help

Ten top tips for transcribers


Posted by on May 20, 2015 in Business, Jobs, New skills, Transcription, Word


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Small business chat update – Helen McPherson

Welcome to another Small Business Update – this time with Helen McPherson who produces hypnotherapy CDs. We last updated with Helen in November 2013 so we’re a little out of sync with the whole “once a year” thing, but that’s OK – it’s always good to catch up, whenever that might be! Helen’s in an interesting position as she returned the world of full-time work from being self-employed, but she’s keeping her business going as a side project, and it’s instructive to see how that’s working for anyone who’s considering moving in this direction. Back in 2013, when asked about her plans, Helen replied “I can see my business being pretty much in the same place in a year’s time. I may have been able to bring out another CD over the summer, but it very much depends on how busy I am over the summer term. CD sales have continued to grow this year and I expect further growth next year, especially if I win the Mother and Baby Award”. Let’s see how she’s doing now.

Hello again, Helen! Are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?

Almost! I am firmly back in the ranks of the employed, with my business toddling alongside as a passive income stream.

I didn’t win a Mother and Baby Award, primarily because it was a very wide category of unrelated products that my product was competing in. I was competing against products that cost £1 because they were a “value” range, whereas my product was fairly firmly in the luxury end of the market, costing £20. Consequently, the £1 item won. I was disappointed but I will enter again this year, maybe even entering 2 items.

I have not brought out another product yet but I think I may be able to this year.

What has changed and what has stayed the same?

I am still a teacher! Everything else has changed. The one constant in my life is change. I have moved house yet again, back to where we started 2 years ago. Our previous move was never a good idea and I just longed to go back, so we moved last summer. Obviously I had to find a new job, which was not too challenging and I now teach in a wonderful school. But, undaunted, I will be changing employer again at the end of the academic year! My current school is quite a drive away from home so I have managed to find another good post at a school far closer.

I have not managed to record another CD yet, due to moving house. However, I could have made time over the past few months and I have not. The stress of the constant moving and changing is taking its toll and sometimes I need downtime, in order to get some mental headspace. I may need to push myself some more over the coming months.

CD sales are unfortunately down since last year. There may be 2 reasons for this. One is that my best-selling product received 2 unflattering reviews on Amazon, which actually seemed to bear little relation to the product, as if the reviewers hadn’t even listened to it. Since then, sales fell badly. Another reason may be that people are passing these CDs around their friends. I do want to get them onto download, so I must try to get onto that quite soon.

I recently gave a hypnotherapy session to a colleague of my husband, who has to fly a lot for her job and needed me to help get her over a fear of flying. I was concerned I would forget the techniques but it came flooding back, with good results so far.

What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?

I have learnt that I (still) need to be confident in my own skills. I am really good at lots of things but forget this fact most of the time. I must work on being a bit more arrogant perhaps!

I wish I had known that we would be settled and living here a year ago. Then I could have worried less.

Any more hints and tips for people?

Instinct is never wrong. Ever. You must always trust a gut feeling.

And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?

With my tracks available on download. It would be nice to have another CD recorded and being marketed. I must try to work on that very soon.

Helen’s CDs are available on Amazon and you can contact her by email. The new website is not quite finished yet but the old pages are available on

If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please see more small business chat, the index to all the interviewees, and information on how you can have your business featured (I have a full roster of interviewees now so am only taking on a very few new ones). If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my books, all available now, in print and e-book formats, from a variety of sources. 

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Posted by on May 16, 2015 in Business, Small Business Chat


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What can the politicians do for small businesses?

What can the politicians do for small businesses?

I was kind of challenged by one of our local councillors to write a blog post on this topic. I want to be clear that I’m not being political here – although the discussion was on what one party could learn from the election about engaging the “aspirational”, I am making these general points to politicians of all parties.

You see, I don’t see much mention of the self-employed person, the sole trader, in all of the political talk. When offers are made “for small businesses”, they’re often along the lines of helping them take on apprentices, or cutting the National Insurance for people who take on their first employee. However, there are around 3.6 million sole traders in the UK – a significant proportion of the 5.2 million SMEs in the country (source: British Chambers of Commerce, The Guardian). So what are the parties doing for us? Were we mentioned in their manifestos? If they’re so keen to get the country on its feet and moving upwards, shouldn’t they take us into consideration?

Here’s a personal list of things I’d like to see the politicians (both those in government and those formulating their policies outside government) to consider. I also asked in a small business Facebook group and got some extra ideas in areas I know nothing about, like VAT and childcare issues – all contributions are referenced below.

Acknowledge our existence

It’s time for people to actually acknowledge we exist in great numbers, it’s not just about small businesses who employ people. I’d like to bet that everyone knows someone who’s a sole trader. We sort out your gardens, do your accounts, paint your houses … Talk to us about what we need, include us in your plans. 3.6 million voters isn’t a small number …

Sort out the help HMRC gives us

Top of my list here is restoring the personal training sessions that the HMRC used to run. When I was setting up my business, I went to a training session in our city library. It was great – one trainer, about 20 people, and she tailored her advice to our individual needs (me, working and self-employed at the same time; a partnership; people using cars; people who needed food hygiene certificates) as well as covering general issues. Now, that doesn’t seem to happen, and you can just look at a range of videos online. You can’t ask those videos questions or network with the other people attending the course, can you!

My colleagues mentioned the HMRC, too. Alison Mead from Silicon Bullet made the point that it was now much harder to navigate to the pages about VAT including submitting your VAT return. Katie Walker from I Say Digital was fed up with having to phone them and be put on hold for up to 45 minutes, commenting that we’re not allowed to email them – “why can’t they sort out the security to do that?”

Sort out VAT

While we’re on the subject of VAT, several of my fellow sole traders had something to say about this issue. Alison Mead, as a bookkeeper and Sage consultant finds that people need more support and advice on VAT in general. Heather Barber from Minty Moose raised the issue of the VAT on digital products. This applies VAT to all digital products, leading people who don’t have to be VAT registered otherwise to have to register, and those of us who only sell through resellers (with eBooks etc.) having to lose profit or put our prices up. There was a huge outcry at the time, which was pretty well ignored- surely now is the time to review things, see what effect they are having, and work on making things more fair.

There’s also a thought that the VAT threshold should be raised: as Tony Antoss Puplett from Flintshire FItness Supplies mentioned, it can make a big hole in your income if you’re just above the current threshold, and “20% is still a killer if you are a bricks and mortar business competing with online businesses”.

Don’t pile the tax on

I have no problem with paying tax. No problem at all. The bit of my income that pokes up into the higher-level tax bracket – fine, take some more off me and redistribute it. Cool. However, the payment of tax on account system (whereby once you get to a (quite low) profit level and associated level of taxation, you have to start paying estimated tax in advance) can be crippling. Basically, you end up paying two lots of all of your tax in one year. The year I tipped over the limit, I ended up paying 49% of my total income for that year in tax, rather than my usual around 24%. If I hadn’t known it was coming (which many people don’t know), that could easily have caused a big problem, and I k now people who it has really knocked back.

Limited companies and other forms of small business don’t have this issue. I can’t think that it raises more revenue for the tax office, since they just get it all a year early and don’t get anything out of your last year trading. Taking this away would have a BIG impact at surely not much cost. More info on how payment on account works here.

Give us the odd tax break

There’s a scheme for giving small businesses relief on their NI for their first employee. This hasn’t apparently had much takeup. Maybe there could be a rise in the threshold at which we start paying NI, or a let-off for those earning a low amount from their business, but more than the current £5,500-odd covered by a Certificate of Low Income – I don’t mind paying the amount I do, but when people are starting out, it would be nice to give them a little boost. If money was set aside to cover this scheme for employing, maybe it could be released to promote such a scheme.

Make it easier to access benefits

Self-employed people can claim statutory sick and maternity pay. But it’s really complicated trying to work out how to do this, and I don’t know many people who’ve managed.

And while of course it’s important to make sure people don’t over-claim or claim when they shouldn’t be, it seems to be too difficult at the moment. Christine Whyte Hahn from Iesha’s Attic reported that it was impossible for her to claim any benefits when she was starting her business because the authorities demanded to see her audited accounts, which she had not yet had to provide to do her self-assessment, etc. (In fact, sole traders don’t have to provide full audited accounts to do their self-assessment. They cost several hundred pounds to get from an accountant, potentially wiping out the value of any benefits).

Sarah Banks from Banks’ Business Solutions also shared that it’s not possible to get childcare vouchers as a self-employed person, limiting her opportunities to grow her business.

If you read my Small Business Chats, so many of my interviewees starting their own businesses have childcare responsibilities. Surely they could be encouraged to grow their businesses by giving them the same childcare vouchers that workers can access?

Make it easier to access training and support

As well as the HMRC problem, it’s difficult to access training and support. I’ve done a few courses sponsored by service providers, which give some training but then include a pitch for the sponsor. Christine Whyte Hahn has had difficulty accessing government grants that are already there and waiting for her, being “passed from pillar to post”. Maybe some of the money the big corporations aren’t paying in tax could be reclaimed to pay for educating micro businesses so that they can make more money and give more tax back into the system!

Help us by lobbying the banks

I have a simple business model which doesn’t require loans, special banking facilities, a business bank manager, etc. But I’m still expected to have a business bank account – basically paying a fee to have an account whereby I don’t take advantage of any of the facilities. That doesn’t seem fair to me, and I would like some kind of regulator to talk to the banks – who are supposed to be helping small businesses with business loans, etc. – and get them to remove this stipulation and give free basic business accounts to those of us who don’t need the whistles and bells.

This has been a personal list, with the help of a few friends. Of course, I’m not the only person to be thinking about this, although my emphasis is firmly on those of us who are micro-businesses – sole traders. The lovely folks at Enterprise Nation came up with a list, too, which covers things like employment regulation as well, so supporting the small and mediums as well as the micros. If you have any other suggestions for things that the politicians could do to help sole traders / micro businesses, do please pop a comment below. And if you have a friendly politician in your circle, maybe you’d like to show them this, and Enterprise Nation’s list …

Thanks for reading! I’ll be back to the Word tips soon, but this felt important to write about.

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Posted by on May 13, 2015 in Business



Offering my services (free) for charities or community groups

Offering my services (free) for charities or community groups

I’m not going to get all political here, but what I will say is that I’m concerned for the vulnerable in our society over the next few years, whether they’re vulnerable because of poverty, mental health, physical health, food poverty, lack of opportunities, disability, ethnic background, refugee status, gender, sexual orientation, age, or any other reason. Rather than ranting about it uselessly, I’ve decided to try to do something to support people who support people who are vulnerable.

I’m offering my work, free of charge, to a charity or community group. I will work for you in the same way that I do for my regular, paying customers. Here are some more details – feel free to ask questions in the comments or in any other way you choose.

What can I do for you?

I’m an editor, proofreader, writer and transcriber. In practice, this means I can do things like …

  • Proofread your website, leaflets, training materials, newsletters, reports etc.
  • Proofread and make suggestions on your bids for funding (I have experience editing tenders that businesses submit to get work from local authorities etc.)
  • Write up text for you for your website, newsletters, bids for funding, reports, etc. from your notes
  • Help you to optimise your website to appeal to search engines
  • Transcribe tapes of meetings, dictated letters and other materials
  • Review your use of social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) and write a report with my suggestions

I can do any or all of these things for you on a one-off or monthly basis.

Obviously, you’ll want to check that I can do what I say I can do – please do have a look at my references page to see comments from satisfied customers. I’ve been in business since 2009 and work full-time for many regular customers.

What am I offering you?

I’m offering 5 hours of my time per month.

Why 5 hours? I can get a lot done in that time. For example, I could review your website and check the words in your weekly newsletters, edit a funding bid or write one up from your notes.

Why only 5 hours? I have a full-time job (but I’m self-employed, which makes it easier to fit your work in) but I do also have other volunteering commitments (training people on using social media and volunteering at parkrun) and I want to make sure that I can deliver what I promise to deliver. Once I’ve been doing this for a few months, I will review how it’s going and see if I can offer more.

What do I want from you?

Nothing. Apart from working well with me, not rushing or over-burdening me and taking account of my terms and conditions (see below), I will ask nothing of you. I’m not looking for any links, references, mentions, etc. Thank yous are always nice, of course, but that’s all I would ever ask of you.

How would it work?

If you’re a local organisation (in Birmingham, UK), I’d be happy to meet up with you initially if you’d like me to.

Once we’ve got going, it’s easiest if you send me work via email in a digital format, e.g. a Word document with your newsletter, an MP3 file with your tape to transcribe, etc.

I will keep track of the time I’ve spent per month and let you know how much time you’ve got left every time I do some work for you. You can use the 5 hours all at once, or throughout the month. I will never charge you for any work, but I will reserve the right to turn down work if it goes over the 5 hours.

I would like to try to avoid last-minute rushes (as I do have customers with deadlines I need to honour), so it would be great if you could let me know when you’ll need me and send me work in good time, to avoid panics and rushes.

My standard terms and conditions do apply here (except for the bits about payment) so you might like to pop over and have a look at those.

How do you sign up?

If you’d like me to help you, please get in touch via my Contact Form or email.

Please let me know …

  • Your organisation’s name
  • What your organisation does and who it supports
  • A website or other source of information about your organisation (and your charity number, if you have one)
  • How you think I can help you

If I get several enquiries, I will choose someone to help based on how much I think I can help them – whether what they do fits in with topics and groups I know about, for example. I would also like to help groups local to me in Birmingham at first (I also donate to national and worldwide charities).

If I can’t help you, I will ask around and see if I can find someone else willing to help. I will let you know whether I can help you as soon as I can – I will make my initial decision within a week of posting this information, so by 18 May.

I hope to hear from a charity or community organisation that I can help. If you do have any questions, please get in touch using the Contact Form or email, or write a comment. If you know of someone who could do with my help, please share this post with them. Thank you!


Posted by on May 11, 2015 in Volunteering


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Small business chat update – Debbie Copas

Small business chat update – Debbie Copas

Welcome to another Small Business Chat update, today with Debbie Copas from Norfolk Coastal Holidays. We originally met Debbie in March 2013, and had our first update in March 2014, and at that point, this is where Debbie wanted to be in a year’s time: “I will have a new website with all the bells and whistles, including the ability to fill out forms online. Currently I send out a word doc which does bring occasional problems. I will have learnt a lot about WordPress, various Google products and the dark art of SEO! The business has a mascot now, a cuddly dog called Charlie. I hope my guests will have taken him out and about exploring Norfolk and sent me photos. I have lots of ideas in my head to build on my customer loyalty and reward them in some way. I will have a logo (that’s in the pipeline) and new business cards, and hopefully will have built on my brand name even more. It’s all very exciting still!” That was lots of plans – has Debbie achieved them all or, as is the case with so many of my participants, have the goals changed as she’s gone through the year?

Hello again, Debbie! Are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?

In some areas yes and in others no, but that’s the nature of business! You have to adapt to the challenges life throws at you and boy there have been some big challenges this year.

What has changed and what has stayed the same?

My new website finally went live in September. It took so much longer than I anticipated, but I’m really pleased with the result. I feel it reflects my business; it’s not super polished and perfect, but I think it reflects me and my small, personal business. I’m not a big corporation so I didn’t want a shiny corporate site. Sadly I didn’t get organised with a logo and getting printed material, as my focus had to be on the online side of my business for reasons I talk about below, but I do hope to crack that one this year.

The other big change apart from my new website is I am now managing my first property for someone else! It’s in the next village and is a beautiful converted barn. The owner just wanted me to boost her bookings as she gains bookings elsewhere, but that’s great for me. It takes the pressure off feeling 100% responsible for the bookings and allows me to grow gently into the management side of my business. There have been a few more possible properties; none that have yet come to fruition, but I’m hopeful it will happen in its own time.

Lastly I’ve got into groups on Facebook a lot more. I find them really useful as a place to promote my business, but also to learn from others. I’m now an admin on a very busy and successful dog friendly holiday group and a group of us have created a small business group; at the moment we only allow in people we personally know. I hope in time that we will build on that more.

What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?

I’ve learned that there are some very naïve people out there when it comes to what’s out on the Internet and copyright. I had the very nasty experience of finding a website that had copied large parts of my old website and also a photo of mine was taken from the Internet and used in printed material. It was stressful, too close to my business and that made it really very unpleasant. However my web guy gave me good advice over the copying issue so it’s been dealt with and I’ve moved on. It really did ensure that I got my act together and focused on creating my new website!

Any more hints and tips for people?

Keep evolving. The world moves on so fast; in many businesses, what worked a few years ago won’t necessarily work now. It’s a very competitive marketplace out there, so stay focused but always be looking around the corner for what’s coming next in your particular industry.

And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?

I will have had the first year of managing the other property under my belt. I’d like to hope that I may have a second property to manage but I won’t pin any hopes on it. I really hope I will have finally had that logo designed and have some lovely glossy leaflets and business cards to hand. I’m still building on my Google page, so plan to learn more about using this to bring more traffic to my site. I also started a blog alongside my new website; I had great intentions and started well, but getting flu twice over Christmas and the New Year really knocked me back so I’m still playing catch up with so many areas of life! So I must blog at least once a month as a minimum.

Wow – that’s a really scary thing to happen, having web text copied and a photo used without Debbie’s permission. I’ve occasionally found entire articles of mine reproduced on other people’s websites (usually because all of my articles link to other pieces on my blog so I get an alert when a link is posted), but a strongly worded message on their comments or contact page has been enough to stop it. I’d love to hear if anyone else has experience of this situation and what they did about it. Thank goodness Debbie has a good web support person who was able to advise her! We wish her all the best with the coming year – let’s see if that logo is up and on the site next time we talk!

Pop and find Debbie and her lovely properties at

If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please see more small business chat, the index to all the interviewees, and information on how you can have your business featured (I have a full roster of interviewees now so am only taking on a very few new ones). If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my books, all available now, in print and e-book formats, from a variety of sources. 


Posted by on May 9, 2015 in Business, Small Business Chat


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What do I do if I have to cancel a booking?

What do I do if I have to cancel a booking?

As a freelancer, how do you handle it when something unexpected and important comes up – and I’m talking about those rare events like illness or a household emergency – and you have to postpone and cancel jobs that you’ve already booked in?

Last week, something happened to me which happens very rarely (thank goodness). I had the flu, and I was so ill that I could not work. At all. Couldn’t get out of bed. Had to have my husband send messages to clients on my behalf via my phone.

Look: it happens to everyone. No one is immune to all illnesses. However much we plan and back-up, life happens, things happen, and sometimes, as I did last week, we have to cancel jobs we’ve already firmly booked in. While I’ve been recovering, I’ve been thinking about how we can make the effects as minimal as possible (and how we can plan to a certain extent). Here’s what I’ve come up with – but I’d love to hear any points you’d like to add, too.

1. Accept that you can’t do it

I’d been ill for a while. I did reschedule some jobs the week before when I started to feel unwell, but I now wonder if I should have been stricter with myself at that point. Anyway, there’s no point railing against it and raising your temperature further. If you can’t do something, you can’t do it, and you need to work out what to do next, calmly and methodically.

2. Be honest

Like you, your customers are human. I contacted people with whom I had jobs booked and told them: I’ve got the flu. I can’t get out of bed; I’m too ill to work. I’m really sorry, I’m not sure when I’ll be fit, but for the time being, I can’t do your job.

3. Apologise but don’t make a big deal out of it

If you cancel a job, your client has to find someone else to do it. A brief but heartfelt apology with an explanation is fine; no one wants paragraphs of self-loathing and squirming. Keep it professional and honest, and brief.

4. Offer an alternative

For one client, I just could not offer an alternative – it’s a job I had to be trained to do and I don’t know anyone else who does it. I told them as early as I could, explained I couldn’t really take a delayed deadline as I didn’t know when I’d be better, and left it with them. For the others, I suggested they contact my wonderful colleague who covers me when I’m on holiday (having previously warned her).

This leads on to some planning stuff …

5. Have back-ups set up in advance

I’m very lucky in that I a) have a group of people I can refer work on to, b) have a good friend and colleague who covers my work when I’m on holiday or unavailable (I do the same for her, obviously!). This is something that it’s much better to have set up in advance, so you know that you can contact them in an emergency and ask for their support, and your clients are used to occasionally using an alternative person to you. In the end, my cover lady couldn’t take everything, as she was busy, too, but she was able to cover a new customer and some stuff for an on-going one. If you don’t have a back-up person set up already, I strongly recommend that you do so. Have a formal agreement on not stealing customers from each other if you wish, but set something up. You won’t regret it.

6. Maintain good relationships with your clients

I am lucky to have good relationships with my clients, which means I can occasionally ask them to bear with me.

Scrap that: I’ve worked hard to build good relationships with my clients, etc. They know I’m super-reliable, and they know I’m honest and will keep them informed. This goes a long way to smoothing over any issues that might suddenly arise. Obviously, I’m not going to do this often, but when it happens, having good relationships will make it a lot easier.

Right, back to the situation at hand. A couple more tips.

7. Keep people informed

First of all, I put an Out Of Office reply on my work email which stated that I was unwell, that regular customers should consider using their named back-up, and that I probably wouldn’t be able to help new customers (but they should look at my Links page for alternative service providers).

I also then let those clients who I had had to let down know when I was well again – this was particularly important for the ones who regularly send me work and needed to know when they could start sending it again.

8. Be realistic about your recovery, whatever form it takes

I’ve been very careful not to take too much on since I was so badly unwell. It’s important to get better, not to plough straight into a full work schedule again. Similarly, if you’ve had a personal or family crisis, a bereavement or an issue around the house, there will be stuff to sort out practically, and stuff that you need to take on board.

In my case, I made sure that I was available for my regular clients again, but have turned down work from anyone new that needs to be done straight away, and will continue doing so until I feel 100% fit again. There’s really no point running yourself into the ground.


So, that’s what I’ve learned from having a think about how I should – and did – handle a health emergency. Is this helpful to you? Any other hints and tips or examples from your freelancing life? Do share using the buttons below or write a comment if you’ve got something useful to share. Thanks!


Posted by on May 6, 2015 in Business, Organisation


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Small business chat update – Dick Margulis

Welcome to another Small Business Update – and today we’re catching up with Dick Margulis of Dick Margulis Creative Services an editing (and more) colleague, who we first met in February 2012, and then again in March 2013, with our most recent update being in March 2014. At that point, when I asked him where he wanted to be by this time this year, he replied, “I’ve quit making predictions. I just take it as it comes” (but he did tell me to ask about the cohousing project in a year …). So, what effect does giving up making predictions have? Let’s find out!

Hello again, Dick – always nice to welcome a fellow editor to these pages. So, how are things going in relation to when you looked forward a year ago?

Of all the dichotomies of people I’ve encountered, the one that resonates with me the most is this: There are two kinds of people in the world, planners and problem-solvers. I’m squarely in the second category, as I think most craftspeople are. I don’t look forward or backward much. I mostly focus on the here and now. That said, it has been a great year, with varied and interesting projects, a steady work pace, and (just to keep the thread alive) good forward progress on the cohousing project.

What has changed and what has stayed the same?

I’m seeing more large, serious books from people who a decade ago would have felt they had to go to a traditional publisher but now are seeing the advantages of publishing independently. I’m also seeing more referrals from colleagues who are migrating to the indie publishing space (because that’s where the action is, after all) and who want to collaborate on projects, focusing on their core competencies and handing off the rest to others.

What has stayed the same is Sturgeon’s Law. But as indie publishing grows, the ten percent that is not crap grows right along with it, and that’s where the opportunities are for independent publishing professionals to make a good living.

What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?

I’ve been forced by circumstances beyond my control to learn much more about how ebooks are constructed than I ever wanted to know, but the knowledge has proved useful, and I’m able to add value in that realm. What I wish I’d known a year ago is this: the corollary to a standing desk is compression socks. In fact, I wish I’d known it forty years ago.

Any more hints and tips for people?

Dire necessity is the mother of reinvention.

And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?

Keeping on keeping on.

Sounds like a good plan to me! I can similarly say that I’ve had to learn about ebooks and the like, although in my case it’s also for my own books, benefitting me by making sure I know what my authors are going through. I haven’t got a standing desk, although they are all the rage, and if I do indulge in one, I will remember the point about compression socks. Oh, the glamour!

You can find Dick Margulis here:

Dick Margulis Creative Services
284 West Elm Street
New Haven, Connecticut 06515
+ 1 (203)389-4413 office
+ 1 (203)464-3199 mobile (site) (blog)

If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please see more small business chat, the index to all the interviewees, and information on how you can have your business featured (I have a full roster of interviewees now so am only taking on a very few new ones). If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my books, all available now, in print and e-book formats, from a variety of sources. 


Posted by on May 2, 2015 in Business, Small Business Chat


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