Welcome to another Small Business Update – today I pop back into a business area close to mine, chatting to Karen White, ELT editorial project manager from White Ink Limited. Karen’s a relatively new member of the interview club, first featured in March 2014, and then again in June 2015 – she’s actually been going a year longer than me, though, and is in what I’d call a mature business position, although, as we’ll see, her business area has been changing recently. When I spoke to her last year, where did Karen want to be by now? “I hope that by this time next year, the third ELT Freelancers’ Awayday will have been a huge success, and that the fourth one is in the pipeline. I hope the industry will have settled down a bit, with plenty of work for everyone who needs/wants it. I hope I’m still remembering to put my desk into the stand position!” Let’s see how she’s getting on …
Hello again, Karen, and welcome back! Are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?
Well, I’m standing up to write this! I did buy an adjustable desk (an IKEA Bekant), and I love it. The second awayday went really well, and my colleague Helen and I have had a meeting this week to plan the third one for January 2017. Otherwise, things are pretty much the same, but …
What has changed and what has stayed the same?
In the last 12 months there have been quite a number of redundancies from ELT (English Language Teaching) publishers, so the pool of freelancers has grown. I’m finding that there is definitely less work about – either because there are more freelancers for it to be spread around, or because there is less publishing being done. I’m not sure which it is. Fortunately, I’m working on a big, interesting new project, which will keep me going for some time, but I’m used to having a couple of small jobs on the go alongside a big one. At the moment the small jobs are few and far between, and I’m aware that others in my industry are experiencing the same thing. I recently carried out a survey of ELT editorial freelance rates, which showed up some interesting results. Hourly rates have barely increased in the three years since I did the last survey, even though the level of experience of the freelancers has increased, and I haven’t put my rates up for a couple of years. All of these factors are worrying, and are issues we’re hoping to discuss at the 2017 awayday.
What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?
I’ve learned that a sit/stand desk is a good investment. I’ve learned how to use WordPress, and have set up a blog. This is something I had been thinking about for some time, but finally got round to doing it. (Although I wish I’d know the difference between a WordPress.com and WordPress.org before I started!) I’ve also learned how time-consuming blogging is! I’m publishing one post a month at the moment, and can’t see that changing in the near future. I’ve also learned how useful Evernote is for storing blog ideas and links to useful articles.
Any more hints and tips for people?
I still think networking is the best thing small business owners can do. As well as organising the awaydays for freelances in my field, I’ve joined a local networking group this year, which is full of like-minded people working from home and running small businesses near me. I may not meet my next big client at a meeting, but I’ve picked up lots of tips, heard some inspirational speakers, and joined some really great netwalking sessions. (No, that’s not a typo – we live in a rural area and have stunning walks on our doorstep. Some of our meetings take the form of a morning walk with some business-related chat and it’s a great way to start the day.)
BONUS NEW QUESTION: What question would YOU like to ask other small business owners?
How do you go about finding work if you’re having a quiet period?
And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?
I hope that by this time next year, the third ELT Freelancers’ Awayday will have been a huge success, and that the fourth one is in the pipeline. I hope the industry will have settled down a bit, with plenty of work for everyone who needs/wants it. I hope I’m still remembering to put my desk into the stand position!
Scary times indeed. Fear of work from one source drying up is what drove me to diversify in terms of the types of customers I have, their locations and the actual work I do – but that’s not for everyone and does mean it’s more difficult to get known as a specialist in a particular field. I’m sure Karen’s resourcefulness and great contacts will help her ride out this tricky time.
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.