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Category Archives: Ethics

Medalling, podiuming and singular they

Of course this isn't exactly what "medalling" means

Of course this isn’t exactly what “medalling” means

Languages change. If languages didn’t change, we’d be speaking like Chaucer, British and American English would be identical, or we’d still be using words like “chairman”, “crippled”, “omnibus” and all sorts. We also wouldn’t have a way to describe “selfies”, “Brexit” or “omnishambles”.

The verbs formed from nouns, “medalling” and “podiuming” have been heard again recently, as they are every four years in an event whose name is controlled so closely you’re not supposed to go around mentioning it in blog posts. Lots of people have been complaining about these, saying it’s an erosion of the English language, etc., etc.

Now, I’m one for making sure we retain two words with a close but not identical meaning in order to be able to distinguish between different concepts or things. But in this case, it’s not taking away the distinction between two different things, it’s just adding another word to say the same thing. And we form words in all sorts of ways – by blending, shortening, lengthening them and shifting the part of speech they belong to. Once, we weren’t even allowed to start sentences with and or but …

The other wordy thing I wanted to mention briefly was singular they. This is something editors and other wordy people are still arguing – quite bitterly – about. “They” used to be used just as a plural. But, just as we’ve removed words like chairman and dustman from the language to cover the fact that different genders of people do different jobs, over recent years there’s been an acceptance that binary genders – the idea that everyone is either “he” or “she”, has joined up with a common dislike of the clumsiness of using “he” and “she” in alternate chapters or “he/she”, “s/he”, etc. to promote the use of singular “they”, i.e. the use of “they” to refer to one person in the singular. An example would be, “When someone gets to the front of the queue, they should go to the first available window”.

Now, some people rail against this change, but I think that it can be made to work grammatically, it gets rid of clumsiness and it doesn’t exclude people to whom, for whatever reason, it’s not appropriate to refer using binary gender wording. This is standard in my editing, although I’d never make this kind of change without consultation if it appeared more than very sporadically.

I’m not expecting to change anyone’s mind here; I’m just setting out my stall. These are my personal opinions, but these are interesting topics to think about and they’ve been at the front of my mind recently. Thank you for reading!

I generally talk about word stuff in my Troublesome Pairs posts which do distinguish meanings between pairs or triplets of words. Have a look at the index here!

 
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Posted by on August 17, 2016 in Be careful, Errors, Ethics, Writing

 

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Can I edit what I am not? Editing outside your direct sphere of knowledge

DictionariesThis year so far, I’ve worked on, among other things, a book about Black history in the UK, incorporating a number of responses in prose, poetry and rap which reflected the spoken norms of inner city youth; a project about (very) experimental architecture; and a book giving advice to gay men on dating and relationships. I’ve transcribed interviews with bands I know nothing about, and I’ve localised texts about items I’m never going to use. As a straight, white woman who is not an experimental architect, doesn’t follow those bands and is unlikely to use a remote-controlled helicopter, should I have engaged with these texts where I was quite clearly the “Other” in the relationship or knew little about the topic? Or should I stick very closely to what I know?

I think it’s fine to edit and otherwise work on texts that are outside your direct experience, as long as you’re flexible, keep the audience in mind, are willing to learn and keep an open mind. I also think that there are limits to what you can work on, and I’ll talk about that, too.

Why I think it’s OK to edit outside your direct experience

It’s my personal opinion that it’s OK to edit texts that are outside your direct experience, as long as you bear a few things in mind.

  • Be flexible. The language of an inner-city rap poet might not be the same as your own casual register, let alone the register you use for formal academic writing. Think about the conventions of what you’re working on, not your own preconceptions, go with the flow and keep things consistent and clear (which is the editor’s mantra anyway)
  • Be open-minded. The advice given in a dating book on apps for hooking up with people might be way beyond your comfort zone as a happily married, middle-aged woman, but that doesn’t mean you’re right and it’s wrong, or bad, it’s just different. Which leads on to …
  • Think of the audience. What will the readers of this book want? Is the relaxed style with all the I’d and should’ve contractions something that they will feel more comfortable with? Leave those in.
  • If you’ve got a good amount of life experience and a solid general knowledge, that will see you a long way into an unfamiliar topic.

Why I think it’s positively GOOD to edit outside your direct experience

The good editors I know are wise in knowing what they don’t know and seeking to expand their knowledge. They love to learn. What teaches you more than grubbing around in the very innards of a text on something you never even knew existed? There are other positives, too.

  • By approaching the text as the “Other” (while retaining a sensible approach to the privileges you might have as someone who is not usually the “other”), you might be able to suggest subtleties or pick up on attitudes that are going too far the other way. Maybe you can help reassure an author and their readers that people outside the core audience DO understand / empathise.
  • More importantly and commonly, the aim of all writing should be to be clear and express its author’s intentions clearly. So if you, as an outsider, don’t understand the text, maybe it does need to be simplified a little. If I don’t understand something on the second or third go, I’ll pop a comment in the margin that this might need to be clarified.
  • I think I have a tendency to edit better and more carefully when I’m working on something slightly unfamiliar. It’s like editing your own writing: if you really know the topic, you tend to see what you expect to read, and may skim over errors. I know I have this propensity, so I work extra hard on texts on known topics, and try not to enjoy the process too much at the expense of doing a good job!
  • You learn all sorts of things that might be useful in your everyday life, the next thing you edit, or even pub quizzes. Your next client will benefit from that extra knowledge (or maybe the one after that – I edited a load of texts on Agile working a few months ago, so can cheerfully say I know all about it when another prospective text comes in).

When I think it’s NOT good to edit outside your direct experience

There are some occasions when I do think a text is best left alone. Complete incomprehension of a technical topic or genre is not going to make for a good editing process. I pass those jobs along to a colleague (and get some co-opetition karma in the process). Examples in my own work of jobs I’ve turned down have included:

  • A book all about optimising your motor vehicle engine use, with lots of diagrams and examples. I know nothing about this, and there was little value I could add to something so technical.
  • A localisation job where I would have had to research European legislation on a topic I knew little about to start off with, and match it up to US legislation. That’s too dangerous to mess with.
  • Editing novels in genres I am not familiar with myself such as romance and science fiction – you do need to know your genres if a book is to be edited to fit into them. I’ve actually pretty well stopped working on fiction apart from the odd thriller for an on-going client, as they are pretty well all in genres where I know someone else will do a better job.
  • Specialised transcription – medical and legal in particular. I’ll cheerfully type about makeup I don’t wear or economic policy that can be checked easily, but I don’t go near the specialised terminology used in medical and legal transcription.

In summary … in my opinion, it’s good to stretch the boundaries of the areas you work on and to edit and otherwise work with texts on topics that are unfamiliar, unless the level of technical or specialist content is high enough that you are floundering and uncomprehending. In that case, there’s always someone who  knows more about the topic that you can pass it on to. Happy learning!

What are your thoughts on the subject?

 
 

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What to do when you encounter plagiarism: business content

PlagiarismThis post is for editors who suspect that they might have encountered some deliberate or accidental plagiarism when dealing with content for their business clients, particularly in regard to websites and blog content. By sharing my tips and practices, I hope that I can gather a resource of best practices for other editors / proofreaders.

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is the act of passing someone else’s work off as your own. In the business world, this usually involves copying someone else’s content, word for word, without linking back to the original work or acknowledging that it has come from elsewhere.

I’ve noticed that I and colleagues are fairly often confronted with content to edit that has  been pulled wholesale from another (often rival) website, used word for word without attribution. That would be stolen. It’s found most often, in my experience, in business marketing content such as websites and blogs. Note that I have written about plagiarism in student work in another article.

Plagiarism in the business world

Why is plagiarism bad? Two reasons:

  1. If you steal someone else’s content, you are liable to be found out, either by a prospective client who is looking at several different websites in one business area, or by the originator of the content, who may be alerted by a search service such as Google Alerts or plagiarism-detecting software such as Copyscape (thanks Arlene Prunkel for the heads-up; she has blogged about her own experiences using this software).
  2. Using the exact same wording in two places alerts the search engines that something is amiss. It’s never clear exactly how the algorithms work, but you run the risk of your content not being indexed and found anyway.

Why is not flagging plagiarism bad for the editor?

  1. OK, we haven’t signed a Hippocratic Oath of Editing or anything, but it’s the job of a principled and decent editor not to allow plagiarism to happen – surely?
  2. Someone finds out that a site you’ve edited has plagiarised their content. You let it pass unmentioned. The plagiariser says, “Oh, my editor didn’t flag it up”, and the finger starts to point at you.

What form does business web content plagiarism take?

As with student plagiarism, business plagiarism can be deliberate or accidental – or a mixture of the two.

Deliberate plagiarism

I’ve edited web text where the style and content varies so much that it’s clear that it’s come from different sources. Sometimes the client is clear about this, “Oh, I picked it up from various places, it doesn’t matter, does it?” Yes, it does.

On other occasions, I’ve been given a link to a single blog post or article, or perhaps a web page, usually by necessity published by the client’s rival, and been asked to “rewrite this so it doesn’t look like we’ve used their words”. Not ethical.

Deliberate or accidental plagiarism

Sometimes it’s not clear whether a client realises that you’re not supposed to lift text wholesale from another place. So it’s important not to pour scorn or invoke human rights and laws, but to quietly educate.

Accidental plagiarism

Very often, a client or indeed other blogger won’t realise that reposting the whole of an article or web page, with a reference or link at the bottom, will prejudice the search engines against them and lead to their content not being indexed. Here, it’s useful to drop them a line to suggest that they only post a few lines of the original with a link to where it can be found in full. Link-backs all round and happily shared content!

What to do when you encounter plagiarism in business texts

I have a sliding scale of activities depending on the level of plagiarism and overtness about the plagiarism:

Here’s what I do to avoid my clients plagiarising on their websites and blogs:

  • If I find lots of reposted blog content which is referenced, I will have a quiet word about posting teasers and links instead.
  • If I suspect content has been lifted from elsewhere, I’ll pop a few sentences into Google and see if I can find the source. Then I’ll raise the issue with the client by marking the sections or just emailing them to ask if they had permission to quote the source. I’ll then suggest that they rewrite it (or have it rewritten) using a variety of sources.
  • If a client has quoted an industry leader or other person but not referenced where they got those quotes, and it’s clearly not from a direct conversation, I will advise them that they should quote their sources in a source list or footnote or link.
  • If I am asked to rewrite one blog post or web page to make it suitable for the client, I will go back to them and either offer to research the topic myself or ask for a list of suitable resources from which to research it (which can then be referenced in the text)

I will always explain why plagiarising is a bad idea and the effects it can have on their business, reputation and search engine results. Most clients understand the issues once they’re explained: any that ask me to continue helping them to plagiarise whatever will become ex-clients. I can’t risk being associated with this kind of activity, and I don’t wish to be implicated in any scandals, plus it’s against my ethics to promote or encourage plagiarism.

I’ve talked here about strategies for dealing with plagiarism in business texts. If you have any other practices you’d like to share, please do submit a comment below!

Related posts on this blog:

What to do when you encounter plagiarism: student work

Top 10 blogging sins

My terms and conditions

 
 

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What to do when you encounter plagiarism: student work

PlagiarismThis post is for editors who suspect that they might have come across deliberate or accidental plagiarism, or are concerned that they are doing “too much” and thus causing their client to unwittingly engage in plagiarism. By sharing how I approach this, and asking for comments, I hope I can gather together a resource of best practices for other editors / proofreaders.

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is, at its most basic, the act of passing someone else’s work off as your own. It usually involves copying someone else’s work, text, content, however you want to describe it, without pointing out that  you’ve copied it or referencing it back to the original work.

In my work, plagiarism is found most often in student work and business marketing content such as websites and blogs. This post is about student work, and I discuss business content in another post.

Plagiarism in academic work

Plagiarism is, unfortunately, rife in academic work. You can kind of understand it: students are under a lot of pressure, and overseas students in particular can have a lot of financial pressure from their funders to return home with a good degree and pick up a high-level job. With courses over-subscribed and A-levels often not preparing students for the rigours of academic work, the student may not understand that they are not supposed to use other people’s work unattributed, although universities do provide them with reams of paper and things to sign which are intended to explain and prevent plagiarism.

I tend to find two kinds of plagiarism, deliberate and accidental:

Deliberate plagiarism

I’ve come across some pretty shocking examples of deliberate plagiarism in my work. This includes sections marked in a different colour, with a note in the covering email: “Can you please rewrite the sections I’ve highlighted”. More heartrending are the examples where the author says to me, “My English is not good enough to rewrite the parts from other authors, please help me to rewrite them”. But I can’t.

Deliberate or accidental plagiarism

I often come across direct quotations used as if they are the author’s own words. Unfortunately, to the experienced editor, it becomes all-too-clear when a direct quotation is being used without being referenced. Here are some markers of the unattributed block of text that I’ve found:

  • The language changes subtly: more multi-syllable words, different kinds of linking words used
  • The standard of the English becomes markedly higher, with no corrections needed to be made (even if you miss these as you go along, the island of white in a sea of coloured corrections and highlights stands out as you look at the page)
  • The language changes from American to British English or vice versa (many students are inconsistent in their spellings, but a block of the opposite type of English is a real giveaway)
  • The font, size or colour of the text, or the indentation, line spacing or justification changes – a classic case of copy and paste

Sometimes you can give the student the benefit of the doubt here. Maybe they meant to rewrite and reference and forgot. Maybe they didn’t realise that they couldn’t use blocks of text like this. But it doesn’t mean that it can go unmarked.

Accidental plagiarism

I would count accidental plagiarism as a case where a student who has clearly rewritten ideas taken from other texts and referenced direct quotations and such ideas misses off a reference after a piece of text that is clearly from someone else. Of course, the cases above may be accidental, too, but they do still need to be addressed, as does the odd missed reference.

Plagiarism by the editor

There’s another form of plagiarism which the editor must resist themselves: rewriting so much of the text that it’s the editor who has in effect written the text, and not the student. I talk about how I avoid that below.

What to do when you encounter plagiarism in student work

It’s our duty as decent and principled editors to flag up plagiarism when we find it and help our student customers to realise how they should be referencing and when they’ve made a mistake. It is not our job to rewrite text or make so many corrections and suggestions that we have in effect written the essay ourselves. There are plenty of dodgy proofreading companies out there that will do that (and essay writing companies that will sell students ready-written essays), but as a decent editor, you should not be involved in those sorts of practices.

If you don’t flag up these problems, it is likely that the essay will be run through the university’s plagiarism software and that will flag them up to serious effect (many students know this, and that’s why they might ask us to rewrite sections for them). If you’re concerned about returning work to a student with plagiarism noted and discussed, remember that you’re saving them from possible penalties or even expulsion from their course if they continue to plagiarise and attempt to pass others’ work off as their own, even if you’re not concerned about helping people to obtain qualifications fraudulently.

Here’s what I do to avoid helping the student to commit plagiarism by passing off my own words as their own:

  • I always work with Track Changes turned on and instruct the student to check each change and accept or reject it themselves. Yes, I know they can press “Accept all changes”, but I send them instructions on how to work with Track Changes that don’t include this option.
  • I will delete, add and rearrange only if either the words are all correct but the order is incorrect, or the order is correct but the tenses are incorrect. You soon get a feel for the light touch needed to bring writing up to a clear output without rewriting.
  • If a sentence is obviously wrong in terms of content, I will insert a comment and advise the student to check the correctness of the content.
  • If a sentence is so garbled as to not make sense, I will insert a comment and ask the student to rewrite it.
  • If a sentence could mean one of two things, I will insert a comment to suggest the two opposite meanings and ask which they mean.
  • I am clear in my terms and conditions on this website and in my initial text to the student that this is how I operate.
  • When dealing with a bibliography, I will make small amendments to isolated errors in punctuation or order, usually up to about 10% of entries. If more than 10% of entries are not formatted according to the rules the student has sent me, or are completely chaotic, I stop editing the bibliography and insert a comment to remind the student that the bibliography is supposed to demonstrate their skill and knowledge, so they must work on it themselves.

Here’s what I do to stop the student plagiarising:

  • If I find the odd missed reference for a direct quotation, I will highlight the offending quotation and insert a comment reading “Reference required”.
  • If I find the odd obvious copy and paste which has not been referenced, I will highlight the offending sentences and insert a comment reading “Reference required”.
  • If I find an isolated substantial section which has clearly or even possibly been lifted from another source, I usually copy a few sentences and pop it in a Google search to see whether I can find the original. Then I will highlight the section and insert a comment along the lines of “This appears to come from another source without being referenced. Mark as a direct quotation and reference, or rewrite in your own words and reference”.
  • If I find several substantial sections like the above, I will stop editing and write to the student advising that much of the text has been lifted from other sources without being referenced, this is plagiarism and they need to address the issues.
  • If I find anything more than the odd missed reference to a direct quotation, I will mention the referencing issue in my covering email when returning the work, to ensure that the student is reminded to reference all direct and indirect quotations (thanks to Liam for his comment below reminding me that I do this).

What if the student says it’s OK to rewrite their work?

Sometimes when I return work to a student advising that it’s risking plagiarism to have me continue working on their text (usually because of the level of changes I’m having to make to the text rather than lifting work from other writers), they will come back to me to say that their supervisor / tutor says that it’s OK to do this amount of rewriting.

If they do this, I request that their tutor writes to me telling me it is OK to engage in this level of correction. I require this letter to be on headed paper, signed by the supervisor and scanned in and emailed to me. This hasn’t happened very often; when it has, I have contacted the supervisor to check, and continued with the work. I have saved the scanned letter alongside my copy of the student’s work in case of any comeback.

This article has outlined what I do when I encounter plagiarism in student work. I have resources on this website about plagiarism (listed below) which I am happy for you to reference if you need to (but not copy!). If you have other ways of overcoming this issue, please do submit a comment!

Related posts on this blog:

Plagiarism in business texts

On plagiarism

How to quote sources without plagiarising

Referencing for academic writing

Choosing a proofreader – student edition

My terms and conditions

Why has my proofreader not edited my bibliography?

On (not) crossing the line

 

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When should I say no?

Say noWhen you work for yourself, especially when you’re starting out, it’s all too easy to say “Yes, please!” to every job that comes your way. But it’s a good idea to start saying “No, thank you” early on – not to everything, but to certain kinds of job. What you say no to depends on where you are in your career and what your schedule’s looking like, but here are my top jobs to turn down …

Note, with all of these, it’s often OK to say “yes” to one of the kind of job, just to see. But you’ll probably find yourself saying no later on!

What to say no to early in your career

  • Working for free. Caveat. If someone asks you to work for free AND they are an influencer who is likely to recommend you on AND they agree to give you a reference AND you’ve got time to do it without turning down paid work, then go for it.
  • Doing something you feel uncomfortable about. It’s good to push yourself into new areas. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about content farms or writing essays for students, if you’re an editor (see this article for more on this kind of thing), or anything on the wrong side of your ethical line. Just because you’re just starting out and you’re a bit desperate for work doesn’t mean you should go against your own morals.
  • Doing something way outside your normal line of work. I think it’s a good idea to consolidate your reputation in one area and then branch out from there. By all means try something out, but if you don’t like doing it or it doesn’t fit, say no next time.
  • Working again with rude, pushy or unreliable clients. If someone’s rude to you on the first job you do for them, or they don’t pay when they say they will, it’s OK to say no next time. You are worth more than that, and a difficult client now will always be a difficult client. Demanding, fine; rude and pushy,  not fine. Don’t let your self-worth get undermined before you get started.

What to say no to at the mature stage of your business

  • Anything that will  overload you. If you find yourself saying, “Well, I could fit this in if I don’t sleep on Thursday night” or “Well, if person x doesn’t send me their chapter on time I could do this”, it’s probably time to say no and recommend someone else.
  • Small jobs that don’t look like they’ll turn into regular customers. Cruel but true – the smaller the job, the more noise to signal (admin to work) there will be. Pass the little ones on to your newer colleagues who need to build up their portfolio.
  • Discounts. You should be experienced enough to stand by your pricing. You will have discounts worked out for various sectors (I give them to students and individuals) but at this stage, you shouldn’t be in the business of buying work, and that’s what this is doing. If your prices are fair, don’t offer discounts except in exceptional circumstances.
  • Regular clients who don’t match your needs. Maybe they don’t pay well / on time or are difficult to deal with or have time scales that don’t match your own – sometimes it’s time to say goodbye and pass them on to another recommended practitioner.

What to say no to throughout your career

  • Any job with “danger” flags. To me, the main one here is “We’ve been through a lot of people and haven’t found the right partner yet” or “I’ve had problems with my previous editor / roofer / plumber”. By all means, check what the problem was. There are bad examples of every job out there, and you can be the one to fix the problem. However, if there’s an on-going pattern of problems, or they can’t be specific about what went wrong last time, my advice is to avoid.
  • Any job where you need to spend a lot of time learning a new system or skill UNLESS you really do have the time to do that and it’s going to be useful for lots of work in the future. I have had to turn down jobs that involve learning a new kind of translation software recently – I knew I had time to do the work, but not to learn the software. Best to tell the client up front!
  • Any job that goes against your moral code – however much of a dip or a bad patch you’re going through, however much it comes from a current client, if you feel uncomfortable doing it, don’t do it. (I had that situation a little while ago – I said no, I said why, they were fine with it and are still working with me.)
  • A client with unrealistic expectations. If someone expects me to write their book from their notes in a small space of time but call it (and charge for) proofreading services, or think you can transcribe 10 hours of tape in 12 hours, they are likely to be turned down. Setting and managing expectations is a whole nother post, of course …

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It’s great to say yes and it’s great to be busy – but it’s also vital to be able to say no and to be able to keep your busyness to a decent level. If you’re going through a dip in your mature business, go back to those early stage nos, and keep firm about them!

Oh, and although I do say no fairly regularly, I do almost always refer the prospect on to a recommended colleague who might have the time / capacity / skills to help them better. Which makes it a win-win-win – the client will come away with a great impression of you, your colleague will have a new prospect, and you will feel reassured that you’ve done the right thing and not left them without any support.

What do you say no to in your line of work? Have I missed any? What has been your experience of saying no to customers?

Related posts from Libro

Careers index

How do I decide who to work with?

What’s the best mix of customers?

How to make more money in your freelance business

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2013 in Business, Copyediting, Ethics, Jobs, Organisation

 

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How to turn a new customer into a regular customer

handshakeWhatever field you’re working in, having a stable of good, reliable regular clients who send you work, are good communicators and pay decent rates in good time is a good place to be. The kind of client you want as a regular is the kind of client who follows all of these rules. You may have chosen to work with them based on these criteria. And, in fact, if you follow these rules for freelancers yourself, you should have no trouble in attracting regulars.

I’ve written about how to decide which companies to work with. Here are some ways to help you turn a good first-time client into a trusted regular. If you have other suggestions, do add a comment to this post!

Do a good job the first time

This one’s a bit obvious, but it’s worth saying. Do a good job the first time, and you’re likely to create a regular client just like that!

Be memorable for your good customer service

Leave the client with a good final impression. I’m always sure to say thank you for their payment and to wish them well with the publication / website / new service / novel / whatever it is that you’ve done for them this time.

Make sure that your client knows you’d like to work with them again

When I send my thank you for their payment, I make sure that I make it clear that I’d like to work with them again. Something along the lines of “I’m looking forward to working with you on future projects” will set a good note.

Remind the client that you’re available

When you’re establishing a relationship with a client, the odd little email reminder of your availability is fine (obviously don’t hassle them). If you have a newsletter, asking them if they’d like to be added to your mailing list and sending them a monthly newsletter can keep you in their mind.

Make sure that clients know about all of your services

If, like me, you offer more than one service, make sure that your clients know this, too. I’ve got several long-term customers who use me for more than one service – one has moved from using my transcription services to using me as an editor (I also still transcribe for them) and a few use me for editing and localisation. Even if they only do one thing themselves, it’s useful for people to know your range, in case they recommend you to their colleagues.

Offer an incentive

Once I have completed a job for a new customer and they’ve paid me successfully, I offer then an incentive. No, not money off! But I will usually offer to invoice them for all of the jobs I do for them in a month, at the end of the month. Win for them: they are given longer to pay and will receive one invoice for several jobs. Win for me: I only have to produce one invoice and record one payment, and I can add them to my monthly invoice run.

Note: make sure you are clear that this is an offer and they don’t have to take it up. If they don’t want to do this, make a note and invoice them how they like it to be done, for example.

Thank them for their repeated custom and treat regulars well

I regularly tell my regulars how much I appreciate their regular custom and I treat them well in as many other ways as I can, too:

  • I make it clear that at busy times, I will prioritise their work over new work (and I tell new prospects this, too – I think it gives a good impression to let everyone know that I treat my regulars well).
  • I will also go above and beyond, doing a super-fast turnaround or working late to fit a job in – not to the detriment of other clients or my own health and sanity, but I treat them as well as I can.
  • If I’m booking holiday or other time off, I will email my regulars in advance to warn them, so they don’t just find out when they get my out of office reply.
  • I will offer regulars a named holiday cover contact who they can work with when I’m not available, and introduce them to a trusted colleague if they wish me to.

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This is how I have converted one-off customers into regulars, and have built a group of regulars who bring me regular work and income and peace of mind in knowing I’ve got a stable business. And how I keep them!

If you have any more tips and tricks do share them in the comments. And do please click on the buttons below to share this post!

Find more articles about careers and freelancing in this resource guide. Related articles:

How to decide who to work with.

What’s the best mix of customers to have?

 
9 Comments

Posted by on September 30, 2013 in Business, Ethics, Jobs, Organisation

 

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How do I decide who to work with?

dictionary coins watchWhen you’re new to your editing career – or any other freelance career for that matter, it’s tempting to rush around picking up every job you can. But it’s really worth evaluating the companies with whom you choose to work, from the very beginning. At the very least, you can avoid making yourself uncomfortable or making a small amount of money for a large amount of time. At the most extreme, you can avoid losing money, or even breaking the law! Read on for my hints and tips, and do add a comment if you can add any more!

Do conduct background checks

When a company contacts you to book your for a job, it’s easy to say yes without thinking. But it’s always good to do a few basic background checks.

  • If the company has found you through a professional organisation or website that has discussion boards or feedback mechanisms, check what other people have said about the company
  • Run a Google search for [company name] and phrases such as “bad payer”, “didn’t pay”, “don’t work with]
  • Ask your peers or any networks you’re in (on and offline) about whether they’ve worked with them before

I love it when a company approaches me via Proz, a jobs website I belong to, because members can see peer reviews of companies that are also members. The only time I’ve had a problem with a company that booked me through Proz was when I forgot to look at the “Blue board” and assumed they’d be OK.

Do check what they say on their website

This can tell you a lot about the company that wishes to book you. Is their website professional? Does it have terms and conditions? If it’s a middle man itself, does it seem to offer fair terms to its clients (and what’s the difference between what it charges its clients and what it’s offering to pay you – always interesting!).

You can also find massive red flags by doing this. This article was inspired by a friend, new to the editing business, who told me that they were doing tests for a company that offered student proofreading. When we had a look at their website, they were boasting that their rewriting service was able to bypass plagiarism-detecting software! Now, of course, it’s not ethical to rewrite student work – so we could see immediately that this was NOT a good company to work for. Which brings me nicely onto the next point …

(If you’re considering going into student editing / student proofreading via middlemen, it’s worth reading my Choosing a Proofreader: Student Edition article and using that to help you decide who to work with.)

Don’t do something that goes against your ethics – or the law!

Is it worth undermining your own ethics to make a bit of cash? I don’t think so, personally. One, you’re going to feel uncomfortable about what you’re doing, and two, it might come back and bite you later. I certainly wouldn’t want to work with the company I talk about in the above point, and I also wouldn’t want my name to be associated with any company I wouldn’t be proud to be associated with!

I’ve turned down jobs for companies that operate in areas I’m not personally comfortable with (someone writing a website in order to attract people in the sex industry to his professional services springs to mind), and I have certainly turned down work for SEO and linking farms, which I don’t agree with as a concept. I’ve never been asked by a company to write an essay for a client, but I know that I’d say no if I was asked. You can find articles by people who work for content farms, or write fake reviews of products for money, or write essays for people and feel they can justify it*, so it’s not black and white, but do stick with your own boundaries and don’t upset yourself by crossing them,

I have written text for marketing websites that I find to be a bit cheesy and I am not exactly hugely proud of. But they don’t tell any lies (and it was “white label” work, i.e. my name is not on it. Doesn’t mean I’d go against my ethics if my name wasn’t on something, though!).

Do go to the edge of your comfort zone; don’t cross out of it

I took on my first transcription job as a “why not?” kind of test – but I did have audio typing training, so I knew that the skills involved would be close to ones I already had (read more here about what happened next). I also once took on a job doing some audio recording for a website that needed an English accent. I didn’t really have the experience or equipment to do this, and although I did a decent job, I turned down further requests to do this kind of work. The return on investment and the professionalism of the job I was able to do didn’t match my expectations or requirements, so I ditched that idea.

So do push yourself a bit and move into new areas by all means, but don’t jump too far in one go.

Don’t do (too much) work for free

I will do a test for a company for free, but I won’t do more than one, small job for them for free. And I don’t do anything for free for a commercial company (I do do the odd bit for other start-ups or local small businesses, to help them out) nowadays.

Even if you do end up doing something “for free” for a company while you’re building your client base and establishing your reputation, make sure up front that they will supply you with a testimonial / reference with their name and company name that you can publish on your website if you do a good job for them. This does give you some sort of return for the work.

It’s also OK to do work for a ‘skills exchange’ – I wrote some marketing materials for someone who designed some graphics to use on this site. Don’t do too much of that, though, as the tax man can get quite interested in that sort of thing …

The main point is, you don’t want to end up labouring away at unpaid work and – heaven forbid- turning away paid work because you’ve got to get the project finished!

Do ask for recommendations

Hopefully you’ll have been building networks and contacts in your area of work. I have lots of colleagues who I can turn to for advice, and I have a few colleagues who are just starting out in full-time editing businesses. I’m happy to turn to them for holiday, sickness and I’m-too-busy-help cover, and I’ve also passed on some of my clients to them – as my client base has matured, I’ve had to move away from some of my clients who needed me to be able to drop everything to do work for them on a tight deadline, regularly, whereas someone starting out who might be a little less fully booked is ideal to take them on.

It’s always worth asking colleagues if they would like some holiday or sickness cover, or just establish mentoring kinds of relationships that will promote this kind of thing. Hopefully, the clients who your colleague passes to you will be decent payers and good clients (otherwise you might want to look at your choice of colleagues!) so you’re likely not to get burnt.

Do check your return on investment

When you’ve done some work for a new client, and they’ve (hopefully … eventually) paid you, then do take the time to monitor the project and check for return on investment. For example, I always think that a client who sends you several small jobs a month and always pays on time is better than one who sends you a few big jobs but always needs chasing for payment. How much time are you wasting on chasing for payment? Here’s how I tell if a client is worth working with again:

  • Were they decent and easy to deal with?
  • Did they communicate effectively with you?
  • Did they pay me on time? (the payment schedule might be a long one, but did they match it?)
  • Was the work interesting? (this can matter, although at the start and through your career, you will need to accept that sometimes it just isn’t!)
  • Am I proud to be associated with this work / client?

If you can answer yes, then they’re good at working with freelancers (see this article for more detail) and hopefully you’ve got yourself a regular client – try to keep hold of them and make sure you say thank you for their payment and express interest in working with them again.

If they …

  • Didn’t resolve any project teething problems in good time
  • Made you feel uncomfortable with what they asked you to do
  • Didn’t communicate with you and answer questions
  • Didn’t pay / paid late

… those are red flags and, even if you’re just starting out and you feel you’re desperate for clients, I’d have a good think about whether to work with them again.

Do listen to your gut feeling

On most of the occasions when I’ve had trouble with clients and have made a bad decision about working with one, I’ve found that I had a gut feeling that it wasn’t a good idea. If you get a gut feeling, by all means back it up with some of the ideas above, but do listen to it, and save yourself hassle and possibly heartbreak!

———–

When it comes down to it, we all want clients who:

  • Pay well and on time
  • Have interesting and regular work to do
  • Are likely to become regular clients

These tips and hints will hopefully help you to end up making good choices about the companies with which you work.

* Thanks to Linda Bates for alerting me to this article and this more recent one about why people work for essay writing companies. I wouldn’t do this, but it’s worth acknowledging that these things are a matter of personal preference. I do NOT recommend doing this, however!

Do share this article using the buttons below if you’ve found it interesting and useful, and do post a comment if you’ve got something to add!

More articles on careers can be found here.

Here are tips for how to turn that new customer into a regular customer.

What’s the best mix of customers to end up with?

How to make more money in your freelance business

When should I say no?

 

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