Welcome to another Small Business Update – and today it’s rather an exciting one with Karen White, ELT editorial project manager from White Ink Limited. Karen’s a relatively new member of the interview club, first featured in March last year, but she’s actually been going since 2008, so a year longer than me, and last year was in a similar place to me in terms of being at capacity, but experiencing a bit of a revolution in the way in which she was working, so this is where she expected to be by now: “I’m pretty much at maximum capacity now, so pretty much in the same place in business terms. The world of ELT publishing is in an exciting phase of going digital, so I expect to do more work in that area in the next year”. Well, although she was running what I’d call a mature business and had a reasonably calm projected year, she did have one area that took off in quite an unexpected way! Let’s find out more …
Hello again, Karen, and welcome back! Are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?
Editorially, yes, I am. I’m just coming to the end of a year-long digital project which has taught me a huge amount about the that side of things. I’ve also done print-based projects alongside that, but I expect to do more and more of the digital projects going forward.
Last year I mentioned ELT Teacher 2 Writer, which I set up with two colleagues three years ago. In the last year this has gone from strength to strength and we’ve just published our 15th ebook and launched a new website.
What has changed and what has stayed the same?
Not much has changed really – I’m fortunately still working flat out at my day job as an editorial project manager and spending evenings, weekends and about one day a month on ELT Teacher 2 Writer. I still spend far too many hours every day sitting at my desk.
Having said that, one very exciting project took off unexpectedly this year. When I left my in-house editorial job in Oxford in 2008 and moved to Wiltshire I used to organise a lunch for freelancers in my field of English Language Teaching about every six months for purely selfish reasons so I could keep in touch with people and have an excuse for a day out. Last summer we had a lunch and about 50 people came, which was pretty amazing. The restaurant we met in was really noisy with everyone catching up and a couple of people suggested it would be nice to meet somewhere else the next time. I also had a couple of people ask me if I did training on things like PDF markup (I do, but for in-house teams, not individual freelancers). Driving home I gave the new venue/training idea a bit of thought, had a chat soon afterwards with a colleague, and before we knew it we’d sent out a questionnaire about whether there would be interest in an awayday event – which there was – and booked a room for 120 people in a hotel. We invited speakers and interspersed the talks – one from a publisher about what they want from freelancers and how they’re working on digital products; one from a digital project manager; one from an accountant and one by me on PDF markup – with coffee and lunch breaks, and sold about 90 tickets. When the snow came down at the beginning of that week we panicked slightly but everyone made it on the day and had a great time. The feedback has been so overwhelmingly positive that we’ve just booked the venue for the second event!
What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?
I’ve learned a bit about digital ELT products.
I’ve learned that there is a desire for freelancers to get together and share knowledge and experience. I already knew that really – it just needed someone to organise it.
I wish I’d known more about ticket sales and the financial side of event planning. I’ve definitely learned some useful lessons for next time.
Any more hints and tips for people?
Share your knowledge and experience with others. At the awayday everyone in the room realised they knew a certain amount about digital processes, but no one knew where they were in relation to others. They didn’t know what they didn’t know. As soon as we all got together and started sharing, people began to relax and offer tips and listen to advice. If freelancers work in a bubble on their own, this will continue. I really hope I offer an opportunity through my White Ink Facebook page for this to happen a bit, but the more you can get out and chat to people, the more you’ll benefit.
And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?
Again I’ll say pretty much in the same place. I’ll have organised another awayday with a slightly different format so we’ll see how that goes. I might have bought an adjustable desk so I can do a bit more standing work. But the likelihood is that I’ll probably still be sitting down for about seven hours a day.
Wow – that was a new event that certainly took off, wasn’t it! It just shows that it pays to be flexible and to keep an eye out for new opportunities and challenges, however long you’ve been doing your job or running your business! I’ve been all-digital since I started, so it’s always interesting for me to hear about other people’s journeys into the digital world.
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.