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12 things I learned from the Great Computer Crash of April 2016

deskI have automated back-ups that keep a copy of my work every day. I have a system in place for if my computer fails. I thought I had it all covered, and I almost did – but this is what I learned when my hard drive suddenly crashed in somewhat epic fashion one week last month, followed by another, more catastrophic crash of the cobbled-together system I was working on while plucking up the courage to move to my new computer. I thought it might help other people – do share your tips in the comments!

1. Check your back-ups are working

It’s great to have back-ups running, but do check periodically that they are running.

2. If you have two back-up systems, one immediately accessible, one not, it is the accessible one that will fail

Therefore, be prepared to have a short time without your data before whoever it is that can access your back-up can do so.

3. Have a reserve computer of some kind

Don’t assume you will be able to use your computer after a crash. I had my laptop as my reserve; I would now be using my old computer as a reserve, if I hadn’t broken in.

4. If you have a reserve computer, run maintenance on it every few weeks

That way, when you come to use it in a panic (see 5), it won’t be wanting to do 5,000,000 updates and will have a wi-fi connection that works more quickly than wading through mud.

5. Crashes aren’t predictable but you can predict one thing …

They won’t happen when you have three weeks with not much work on. They will come when you have a busy week. If it crashes twice, that will be in two busy weeks and might make you miss a theatre trip.

6. There is no good time to move to a new computer, but do it as soon as you can

If you get a new computer but you’re baulking on swapping over to it, make yourself do it as soon as you can. Doing that “one last thing” before I moved over was when my second and worse crash – the one that lost data – happened.

7. Always be ahead with your work deadlines

This saved me, just. I lost two half-days but was able to salvage my work. I will even more strive to work ahead of myself.

8. Don’t get so hyper-vigilant that you stress yourself out

I had a separate special folder for all the work I’d done since the crash, on an external hard drive, for far too long, out of fear. That’s the same fear that stopped me moving to the new computer.

9. If you have to upgrade to Windows 10, it’s easier to do on a whole new machine

One positive: I ended up on Windows 10 by default, as my new computer has it. Much less stressful than having to do an upgrade on your current computer.

10. Keep a list of what software you use regularly

Not everything you’ve downloaded, but when setting up a new computer or restoring things from a crash, you might well need this in order to get going quickly.

11. Keep all your access codes, software licences etc. in one handy, easy to find place

I’m not suggesting you write down all your passwords – you can use a system like LastPass if that’s feasible for you, but all those codes and licences, etc. might be needed when reconstituting your computer – keep them somewhere sensible, like a special folder in your email.

12. Have a disaster plan; review the plan; keep everything for the plan up to date

It will happen to you: don’t think it won’t. Keep reviewing that plan. For example, I’m reviewing how I back up my files, although I have contracts in place that don’t allow me to store data in The Cloud.

These are the things I learned. Anything particularly helpful there? Anything to add? I’d love it if you popped your words of wisdom into a comment.

 
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Posted by on May 4, 2016 in Business, Errors, Organisation

 

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Using a style sheet – for editors and proofreaders

DictionariesA little while ago, I wrote an article explaining what a style sheet was, mainly for my own clients, so I could send them a link when I sent their completed work and style sheet to them.

It struck me, though, that it might be useful to write about style sheets from the perspective of the editor / proofreader as well (I’m going to use “editor” to refer to both here, for simplicity, unless I’m distinguishing between the two).

I assume this will primarily be useful for people new to editing who are picking up tips from those of us who have been in the game a little longer. But whoever you are and however long you’ve been editing, do pop a comment below if you have anything to contribute!

What is a style sheet?

A style sheet is a list which spells out how things are to be done when writing and/or editing a text, including information on spellings, hyphenation and capitalisation, referencing and special information. Its aim is to keep texts consistent.

When you’re an editor, you will encounter three types of style sheet:

  1. Style sheets you receive from someone earlier in the process or general ones prepared by particular publishers, journals, etc.
  2. Style sheets you create yourself as you work on a project
  3. Style sheets created by the previous editor when you’re taking over a job or doing the proofreading for something that’s previously been edited (this is unfortunately rare, in my experience)

All three types serve the same purpose: to record the style decisions (more on this later) that have been made in order to keep the look, feel and detail of the text or texts consistent.

When you’re creating a style sheet, it might only be for a single use, for a single client (e.g. a PhD student). When one is created by a journal or publisher, it’s usually so that their “house style” will be consistent across publications and journal issues. But the idea is the same: it’s a tool that’s used to keep things consistent.

What do you mean by “style decisions”?

English is a funny old language. Even if you’re adhering strictly to one of the major style guides, (Chicago Manual of Style, Oxford Style, etc.), you will find there is still room for choice in some aspect of your text.

An example where even Oxford didn’t tell me what to do: I was editing a set of articles which included lots and lots of words and phrases in a different language to English. Each then had the English translation in some form before or after the foreign word. Of course, the articles were all written by different people who had used different ways to express this (word in italics / non-italics / double or single quotation marks and English in parentheses or not, italics or not, quotation marks or not). I was looking to make this consistent … but after some rules on what to do, Oxford told me to choose a way I did this as long as it was consistent!

There will also often be individual names, phrases, etc. in the text you’re editing which will need to be set out in a consistent way, which might not have rules.

An example where there can’t be any rules: your client has lots of interviewees and they’ve referred to them with a code to ensure anonymity. Do they put Respondent OH1, just OH1, OH-1, (OH1), [OH1], etc., etc.?

Although a client a while ago said that his first editor “kept it all in his head”, I prefer to note all of this down so I have it to refer to and keep things consistent.

What does a style sheet look like?

I’m sharing here an example of one of my own style sheets. Note that I have a little explanatory note at the top to explain what it is.

You can see that I set out the most common things that can differ (in my experience) and need noting down – s or z spellings, how the paragraphs are set out, how the headings and figure / table titles are set out, etc.

style sheet 1

In the second half, I go on to dates and numbers, how references are laid out, and some specific things to do with the particular text I’m working on.

style sheet 2

I find that a publisher’s style sheet is set out in the same way, although it might sometimes be online or a pdf with links.

If I’m working on a text destined for a particular publisher or journal article, if their own style sheet is very long and my text is quite simple and doesn’t need all that detail, I’ll often summarise the parts I need on my sheet anyway.

When should I set up a style sheet?

I set up one of these for any text that …

  • Isn’t for a publisher or journal that has its own style sheet
  • Is for a publisher or journal that has its own style sheet but that sheet is very long and complex and I can use a summary
  • Is more than a few pages long
  • Is being sent to me chapter by chapter (this happens with PhDs I work on)
  • Is going to form part of a larger body of work or a series (e.g. the regular publications of an organisation
  • Is being worked on with a colleague – this is quite rare but does happen

When and why should I send a style sheet to my client?

I pretty well always send the style sheet to my client along with my completed work.

I typically send it with a note in the email directing the client to my explanatory article, as I’ve found that most of my clients haven’t come across this before (I happen to work with a lot of students and self-publishers, as well as translation agencies; your experience may differ if you mainly work with publishers).

I will send the style sheet to my client if …

  • They’ve asked me a lot of questions about grammar and wording issues before we start (I will probably pop down the standard hyphenation and capitalisation rules on it if that’s the case)
  • They are likely to add to the text (for example if I’ve pointed out gaps or missing references)
  • They are sending me their work chapter by chapter – sending the style sheet with the first chapter can often nip certain issues in the bud, the client learns from it and they’ll be more consistent in the next chapter (I’m always so happy when this happens!)
  • They plan to send me regular publications, etc. – if they didn’t have a style sheet I provide one for their writers to use, making my work easier and less time-consuming and meaning they have less to correct
  • It’s a substantial document (more than a few pages)

Hopefully, having a style sheet from me will mean that the client will keep things more consistent in the future.

I do also mention that they should send this on to their proofreader if they’re planning to use one in the next stage of publication. This saves their proofreader from busily changing all the Chapter Ones to chapter 1 (or at least it explains that it was an active, considered choice on my part, and not an error).

Making changes to a style sheet

If I send my style sheet to my client mid-way through a project, for example with their first PhD chapter, I ask them to look through it carefully and let me know if there’s anything they’d like to change or they’re not happy with. Sometimes in this case I ask them questions (e.g. “You’ve used ‘Interviewee RD1’ and ‘RD1’ in equal numbers in your text; which one would you prefer to use throughout it?”). If they give me feedback, I record that, or if they ask to change something and their change does actually defy a stated grammar rule I will explain why I can’t.

Working with an established style sheet

If the text I’m working on is destined for a publisher or journal that has a full style sheet, I will of course obey that to the letter, to make things as easy as possible for the in-house editor or designer. Even if that means leaving footnote numbers before the punctuation, something I don’t like to do (but some publishers prefer).

If I’m proofreading a text that someone else has already edited, or I’m working on for example corrections in a PhD that someone else has worked on, I will use their style sheet to guide the changes I make. Even if I don’t approve of their decisions personally, as long as they don’t defy a rule of grammar, I’ll keep it consistent (even if I have to move a footnote number to before the punctuation!). I aim to make as few changes as I can at the proofreading stage, in order to keep corrections (and the chance of new mistakes creeping in) to a minimum.

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I hope this post has been helpful and given you some more information about why we use style sheets, where they come from, setting up your own one and working with your style sheet with your clients. Do pop a comment at the bottom or like and share this article if you’ve found it useful and interesting!

Related posts on this blog

What is a style sheet? For people working with editors

 
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Posted by on February 4, 2016 in Copyediting, Organisation, Word, Writing

 

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What to do in 6 common freelance crisis situations

To do listsOh, the freelance life is one that’s full of peaks and troughs, feasts and famines. I’ve already written about how to avoid running out of work and how to avoid overwhelm, and in this article I’m going to run through some common crises and my top tips on how best to cope with them.

I’ve been through all of these in my time … I’d love to know if you have more coping ideas, so please pop a comment at the end if you’ve got something to add!

Notehere are a few links in this article – all of them are to other content that I’ve posted on this blog, so you can click through safely and happily for more information.

What do I do when I’ve got no work to do?

If you’ve got no work to do – don’t panic! It will probably be temporary

What can I do now?

  • Take a deep breath and embrace the fact that you’ve got some down time
  • Make a list of admin tasks you’ve always meant to do
  • Do some brainstorming on some job searching you can do, whether that’s networking, looking for some jobs on Twitter or joining some free sites (see more on how to find freelance jobs in this article)
  • Spend a third of your time doing admin, a third marketing yourself and a third taking a little time to do some things for yourself

What can I do to stop this happening?

  • Consider new avenues of work – diversify
  • Let people know you’re available – including customers you’ve worked with before
  • Keep a note of the ups and downs in your business – if they follow a nice predictable yearly cycle, you can plan holidays and downtime for the low points and hard work for the high points

Tips to avoid running out of work can be found in this article.

What do I do when I’ve got too much work?

Having too much work can be a bit scary. Again, don’t panic. Make lists, be super-organised – you CAN do it!

What can I do now?

  • Don’t panic – take a deep breath and plan instead of panicking
  • Write a list of the tasks you have, their due dates and how long you think they’ll take (better, draw them out on a Gantt chart or calendar)
  • Make a priority list – what must be done first?
  • If you really CANNOT do it all …
    • See if you can rearrange any deadlines
    • See if you can get a colleague to take on any of the tasks
  • Work through your jobs in priority order

Tips on what to do when you’ve got too much work can be found in this article.

What can I do to stop this happening?

  • Find a colleague to work with and make an arrangement to cover each other’s work
  • Look through your client list and see if there are any clients who make your schedule difficult – then see if you can work things out or pass them on to someone else
  • Learn to say no!

What do I do when I’ve made a mistake?

We all make mistakes. All of us. Just the other day, I didn’t pick up on a duplicated word in a text. Most clients should understand that little mistakes come with the territory. Big mistakes need a big apology.

What can I do now?

  • Own up and accept responsibility – don’t fudge or blame other people or things
  • If there IS a reason (e.g. your sewing machine broke or you ran out of thread; your computer crashed and you lost a chunk of the spreadsheet) explain it briefly
  • Offer to make it right – whether that’s doing the work again or reimbursing / not charging your client (see the section below, though)
  • Explain concisely how you will prevent that mistake happening again
  • Forgive yourself and try to move on – better to admit a mistake, redress it and move on and give that customer a chance to forgive you than to hide it all, dwell on it and get in a state

What can I do to stop this happening?

  • If you know what caused the mistake, make a wholehearted attempt to remove that cause from your work life
  • If it was human error down to tiredness / lack of a cuppa / bringing a bad mood from your home life to your work, make a wholehearted attempt to recognise that and work to avoid it in future
  • Accept that everyone does make mistakes sometimes, and move on

What can I do when the customer doesn’t like what I’ve done?

This usually happens with the more creative industries like writing or making craft items for people. It’s a tricky one, but these points might help.

What can I do now?

  • Ask the client for as many details as you can – it might be a minor point that they don’t like
  • Offer to redress the issues – if it’s something I’ve written, I will do a rewrite (although see below, this is included in my Terms and Conditions)
  • If the client has already paid, offer a refund unless this is discussed in your terms and conditions
  • Personally, I’d say the client is always right and apologise / refund / replace graciously as this gives a much better impression than messing them around

What can I do to stop this happening?

  • Make sure that your Terms and Conditions cover this eventuality
  • Firm up the way you do the initial discussion with the client – can you use a tick-sheet or prepare a sketch that they agree on before you start working?
  • You could include x number of rewrites / alterations in your Ts and Cs if you offer graphic design or writing, for example
  • If you make craft items, you could send a photograph of the completed item before sending it off and taking payment
  • Build up a library of items that you’ve made or created so your customer has more to work from when telling you what they want

What do I do when I’m going to miss a deadline?

Everyone misses a deadline every now and again. It’s horrible and sick-feeling inducing, but sometimes things are beyond our control. If there is a genuine emergency, your clients will understand. If it’s down to too much work, also have a look at the section above on that topic.

What can I do now?

  • Be honest and contact your client as soon as possible – this is easier if it’s a sudden emergency than if you’ve got behind
  • Offer an alternative deadline or colleague who can do the work (don’t just send the work to a colleague – do it openly and keep the client informed)
  • Apologise and explain how it won’t happen again very briefly – allow your client time to reschedule the work

What can I do to stop this happening?

  • If it’s down to overwork, review the section on how to cope with too much work above – if you’re missing deadlines and nothing’s actually wrong with you, that’s too much work
  • Cultivate good and honest relationships with regular clients – that way, they’ll stand by you if you have a sudden illness or emergency
  • Enlist a colleague to cover your work if you’re taken ill or otherwise occupied (this is good practice anyway)

You can read more about what happens when you have to cancel a job in this article, which I wrote just after I experienced a sudden and temporarily debilitating bout of flu.

What can I do when it’s All Too Much?

You know what? Sometimes it is just All Too Much running your own business, being freelance. Sometimes you’re in a bad mood, there’s a fly in the room, all your customers seem to loathe you or have impossible demands and you’re finding it all boring. You’ve probably got a cold, too. Is that you?

What can I do now?

  • Stop – if you can possibly stop – stop
  • Even if it’s for half an hour or ten minutes, do one of these things:
    • Go outside and walk around
    • Do some brisk walking or vigorous exercise
    • Read your book
    • Have a bath
    • Phone a friend
    • Rant and rave IN PRIVATE for example with a friend on Facebook messenger or in a private group you might have set up for that purpose
    • Another thing that you like to do that centres and calms you
  • If you only have 10 minutes to deal with hating your life right now, step away from your desk / workbench / stall and do some calm, deep breathing, imagine your happy place, centre yourself and relax
  • Give yourself a little treat
  • Try not to discuss this in public or anywhere where your customers might be – you never know who might be looking, and who might have been just about to book your services

What can I do to stop this happening?

  • Learn to say no so you don’t get overwhelmed
  • Take regular breaks during the day AND regular days off
  • Don’t work late into every evening and over every weekend
  • Have a serious think about how you can redress your work-life balance, because that’s what this is all about – then do it
  • Cultivate a group of like-minded business people or people in your area of work or geographical area and talk to them – you’d be surprised to find that everyone feels like this sometimes

I hope these ideas will help you when you have one of these common crises. Why not bookmark this article or select your most common crisis, print it out and pop it on your noticeboard!

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please use the sharing buttons below to share it on your social media platforms. Thank you!

Related posts on this blog

How do I cope with the ups and downs of the freelance life 1: when the work dries up

How do I cope with the ups and downs of the freelance life 2: when there’s too much work

Top ten tips for freelancers

How do I get freelance work?

How to decide who to work with

How to turn a new customer into a regular customer

What’s the best mix of customers to have?

How to make more money in your freelance business

When should I say no?

 
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Posted by on June 25, 2015 in Business, Organisation, Skillset

 

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How do I cope with the ups and downs of the freelance life? 2 – when there’s too much work

To do listsIt can be a bit scary being a freelancer / self-employed. One minute you’ve got no work at all, the next you’ve got all the work in the world, deadlines coming out of your ears, and you’re drowning in a sea of … stuff. To accompany my article on what to do if the work seems to have dried up, here are my top tips on coping with overwhelm – those times when all the work has come in and you don’t know what to do first. Maybe we can even work out a way to avoid that happening in the first place!

How do I cope when I’ve got too much work?

Yes, it’s the other side of the coin, which it doesn’t do to complain about as such, but can be a scary prospect. If you’ve got a lot of work but it’s not physically or mentally too much for you to complete in the deadline, that’s OK for short periods of time. We all get that. I’ve just booked in a large job  which will involve doing just one job for just one client, 9 hours a day for 4-5 days. However, you can bet I’ll be taking plenty of rest and cancelling everything else while that’s happening.

But what happens when you just have Too Much Work, too much to do in the time, too much to do without exhausting yourself mentally or physically?

It’s harder to organise yourself into not having too much work. Work does just tend to all come in at the same time: it’s a fact of life.

Here are some ideas for preventing overwhelm building up:

  • If you have a client who regularly overwhelms you, for example sending in orders for too many products in too short a timeframe or sending you work with no notice, reguarly, it’s worth talking to them and seeing how you can make the situation more predictable. If it’s really becoming a problem, consider offering to share their work with a colleague or tell them that you can’t fulful their requirements and they will need to find someone else to work with (yes, I know it’s really hard to do this, and you will probably want to have another prospective client lined up before you do this).
  • If you have a kind of work which regularly overwhelms you, consider how you can work to make that situation easier. I used to spend a lot of time with a particular kind of customer who tended to involve lots of emails and discussion and handholding. I now work mainly with an agency which specialises in this kind of customer – they do all the emailing, I do the work. It’s a lower rate of pay, but I am pretty sure I make that back in the time saved.
  • If you create trouble for yourself by scheduling too many jobs at the same time, keep some kind of record / calendar of what you’ve booked in. I do it on a Gantt chart with a line for each client, with the days I’ve got to do a piece of work or the dates they have booked me for coloured in. In this way, you can avoid scheduling All The Work for the same week.
  • If you have trouble with moving deadlines, put terms and conditions in place. This is a notorious problem for editors, as writers’ deadlines often slip back. Make sure you’re covered in your Ts and Cs for saying “No” if a job comes in later than planned and you’re already busy.

There are also three ways to cope with work overwhelm that involve other people …

  1. Contract out work. This involves having someone who you can book to delegate the work to. In this case, you will end up charging the cliient and paying the contractor. You may need to disclose that you’re using a contractor, i.e. someone other than you is doing the work, and I personally don’t use this method as my service revolves around me, to a great extent. Typically, the primary worker (you) will charge the client a little more than you pay the contractor, to give yourself a small profit on the job.
  2. Have at least one cover person who can take on work for your clients but act as an individual with their own relationship to the client. This is usually arranged in advance, but can be very helpful in this sort of situation (as well as when you want to take a holiday). If I am booked out and one of my clients with whom I have arranged this contacts me, I say, “I’m really busy at the moment, can you send this over to Laura, please?” They send the work to my colleague, then she will do the work and invoice them accordingly. Yes, I can’t make a little money on the fee, as you can with contracting, but my clients stay happy and the admin is minimal.
  3. Outsource work to someone else – for example, my journalist clients might usually transcribe their interviews themselves, but if they’re in a rush, they will send me the tape to transcribe while they get on with something else. You could either outsource the work itself or aspects of running your business that take up time – your social media updating, your filing, your invoicing … You may or may not have to disclose that you’ve done this (a journalist wouldn’t disclose that I’d typed out their interview) but you will generally pay the person you’ve outsourced the work to.

As with dealing with having too little work, there are two principles involved here:

  • Try to run your business such that it’s less easy for you to get overwhelmed
  • Have plans for what to do when overwhelm hits, and put them into action appropriately

With these tips and the ones on how to cope when the work dries up, I hope that I’ve given you some useful tools for smoothing out the ups and downs of the freelancer’s life. Good luck – let me know which ones work for you, or if you have other suggestions!

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please use the sharing buttons below to share it on your social media platforms. Thank you!

Related posts on this blog

How do I cope with the ups and downs of the freelance life 1: when the work goes away

Top ten tips for freelancers

How to decide who to work with

How to turn a new customer into a regular customer

What’s the best mix of customers to have?

How to make more money in your freelance business

When should I say no?

 
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Posted by on June 17, 2015 in Business, Organisation, Skillset

 

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How do I cope with the ups and downs of the freelance life? 1 – when the work goes away

To do listsOne of the things that puts people off freelancing or self-employment is the ups and downs, feasts and famines, highs and lows of the workflow. While the freelance workflow can be tricky to manage, it is possible to get a handle on it and maintain your work-life balance (most of the time). I’m sharing with you my tips for making that work.

In this post, we’re going to talk about what happens when it feels like the work has all dried up. In the next post, we cover the other side of things: overwhelm!

The important thing to note here is that this all comes with time. No one starts out super-organised and busy at just the right level all of the time. Cut yourself some slack – things get over-busy or yawningly low for all of us, but these tips will help that to become less of a problem.

How do I cope when the work dries up?

The scariest thing about being a freelance is when the work appears to dry up. It’s easy to catastrophise here: what if NO WORK EVER COMES AGAIN? Well, in my experience, unless you’ve done something really wrong (like produced very sub-standard work or reneged on all your deadlines), the work will come back again. Part of learning to deal with the fallow periods is making yourself believe that they will come to an end.

There are two things to think about here …

  • What to do during fallow periods
  • How to prevent fallow periods happening in the first place

Let’s look at them in turn.

What should I do in times when I have no work?

There are so many things you can do to fill in the times when you have no work. They basically break down into three areas, though …

1. Rest

When it’s busy busy busy, I bet you don’t get all the rest you need. I try to get some downtime for myself when I’m slow at work – extra sleep, quiet reading, a cafe visit with a friend. Recharge those batteries ready for the next busy time!

2. Admin

There’s always admin to do, and you know it. Whether it’s clearing out your inbox, following up on leads that never came to anything, tidying your desk or sorting out your receipts, now’s the time to do it. (Extra hint: set a stopwatch. Do it for half an hour. You’ll be amazed at what you can achieve.)

3. Marketing

You can do a lot of your own marketing for no monetary cost – but there’s usually a time cost. If you have a free day, make it your mission to, for example …

  • Register on a few more free-to-advertise online boards
  • Write some amazing website content to promote your products or services, or overhaul what you’ve already got
  • Write and schedule some blog posts to keep your website regularly updated and cover you in the busy times
  • Go to that networking event you don’t usually have time for – or a new one
  • Overhaul your profiles on social media and make sure your message is getting across
  • Write some products for awareness-raising, passive income generation – free downloads, pdfs, an ebook …

The message here? Put your down time to good use, and use those troughs in incoming work to tidy things up and work to generate new business to diminish the next low point.

How can I guarantee to have a steady stream of work all the time?

You can’t. But you can work towards that situation, and this is something I have a lot of experience with, and it’s how come I write my blog posts in little scraps of time while waiting for something to come in, rather than in great blocks during days and days when I have nothing to do.

The answer is, I think, simple: diversify.

While it’s great to be an expert in a niche or to have one big customer who “always sends you so much work”, it also lays you open to sudden downturns when the industry in which you specialise or the company for which you work takes a downturn itself.

If you work supplying widgets to Company A which are different from the ones Company B uses, and you only make widgets of that kind, if the market for those widgets goes down or Company A goes bust or changes what they use, you’re in trouble. If you make widgets of all kinds and supply company A and B, it would take the whole widget market and both companies to go downhill fast before you were in trouble.

I’m not saying be Jack of all trades and master of none, but a bit of judicious diversifying can really, really help to iron out those peaks and troughs which come in any line of industry.

Here are some general ideas, with examples from my specific work:

  • Work on different products or services – I do editing, transcription and localisation, so if the market for one goes down, I have the others to look after me. I usually work on a range of tasks every week, but I can end up having a week of transcription and that’s fine.
  • Work with different types of client – even in the area of editing and proofreading, if I just worked for students, I’d get massive peaks and troughs as dissertation season comes round at Easter and the end of the summer, but disappears in October/November. But I can fill in those troughs by doing editing of self-published books or working with translators
  • Work with clients in different places if that’s possible – I have customers all over the world. I used to have a lot of Chinese customers; at the moment I don’t. If I’d concentrated only on that region, I’d be in trouble now. Similarly, with the drop in the value of the Euro, if I just had European clients who paid in euros, I’d be looking at a serious drop in my income right now.

I’m not suggesting that you take on areas of work or industry sectors you’re totally inexperienced in and unused to – but have a think about how you can diversify a little. If you work editing legal texts, maybe you can offer your services to a local university with a large law department. If you sell your handicrafts in shops, why not consider an Etsy shop or going to a few fairs?

In summary

If you want to avoid the down times and keep a good flow of work throughout  your working year, you can approach the issue on two fronts:

  • Have a plan for what to do when you have no work – rest, marketing, admin – and put that plan into action when you end up with some free time.
  • Work actively to have a good mix of work coming in from various sources, so you aren’t relying on just one income stream and don’t keep all your eggs in one basket.

When we add to these tips with some on what to do when you’ve got too much work, I hope you’ll find here a useful resource for helping you to smooth out the ups and downs of the freelancer’s life. Do let me know which ones work for you, or if you have other practical ideas that work!

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Related posts on this blog

How do I cope with the ups and downs of the freelance life 2: when there’s too much work

Top ten tips for freelancers

How to decide who to work with

How to turn a new customer into a regular customer

What’s the best mix of customers to have?

How to make more money in your freelance business

When should I say no?

 
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Posted by on June 10, 2015 in Business, Organisation, Skillset

 

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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.

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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!

 
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Posted by on May 6, 2015 in Business, Organisation

 

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Are you on top of your Terms & Conditions?

Are you on top of your Terms & Conditions?

Once you’ve been running your business for a while, it’s easy to let your Terms and Conditions just sit there idly, waiting for the next person to come along and half-read them. But a Terms and Conditions document should be a dynamic document which responds to (or hopefully pre-empts) changes in your market or things that your clients might do. My Ts & Cs have developed fairly reactively, based on issues I’ve had with customers, and I’ll admit that freely in order to save people from making the same mistakes!

How to stop overload

Even when you’re an experienced freelancer with a good handle on your workload, things can sometimes get A Bit Much. This happened to me just before our recent holiday (doesn’t it always!). I had promised two standard time turnarounds for two similar and large jobs, months apart. Both had negotiated and checked in through those intervening months, but not recently. Then – oh joy – they came in at the same time. Both of them. Within an hour of each other. And this tipped me into a situation where, although I didn’t miss any deadlines (of course), I was right up against my deadlines a couple of times, working flat-out, slightly too many hours a day, because those two promises had to be fulfilled and then the other work fitted around them.

The reason I couldn’t turn one of those jobs down? Well, I could have if it’d really wanted to, but it wouldn’t have felt professional. The problem was that I didn’t have anything in my Terms and Conditions that expressly covered this situation. So I got the job done, but I wasn’t that happy and had lost the relaxed and flexible lifestyle that I did this all for in the first place, working right up until the night before my holiday (I’m glad I’ve got holiday cover, anyway!).

Now I have a section in my Ts & Cs covering booking me in advance. This states that if a job is delivered to me late, I reserve the right to recommend the client on to another trusted editor (or transcriber or whoever) if I now can’t fit it in. No one likes turning down work, especially if it was booked in, but we have to retain our sanity and a rushed editor is never a good editor.

Interestingly, I read a post by a colleague, Adrienne Montgomery, about what happens if there’s a delay in submitting work to you and you have a gap in your schedule. I probably have a less-than-standard schedule because I tend to do lots of smaller projects rather than a few big ones, so I can always fill in gaps (with blog writing if nothing else, but that’s actually rare) but hit trouble when I get something in in the middle of other projects. But maybe that makes me more typical of freelancers as a whole.

How to firm up payment terms

Another example of learning from experience came when a client neglected to pay me. I had to call in a debt recovery company, and from them I learned that it’s customary to add in a paragraph to your Terms and Conditions that states that non-payers will be liable for your debt recovery company fees. You can’t claim those fees back from them unless you’ve put that in your Ts &Cs first, of course. So that’s gone in there, too.

Can you make people read your Terms and Conditions?

In my original negotiations, I always ask my prospective client to read my Ts & Cs and confirm they accept them. I’ve now tweaked that to say that sending in their document to me constitutes acceptance of my terms – this protects me if they claim they didn’t know they had to pay, etc., and might just lead them to read them. If you have ways of getting people to engage with yours, I’d love to hear them!

Other additions to Terms and Conditions

Your business will vary from mine. Mine are specific to my market and my clients, and the way in which I work. For example, I have a big section on how I work with students, in order to combat the issue of plagiarism – and to be seen to be doing so. This originally arose when a very early client complained that I hadn’t done as much rewriting of their essay as they’d hoped! I also have a section on corrupt files that releases me from having to fight with recalcitrant documents that won’t behave, and bits on plagiarism for writers other than students.

Check your Terms and Conditions now

Do yourself a favour and review your Ts & Cs regularly. I had my colleagues Laura Ripper and Linda Bates look over my additions and changes before I published them. As well as adding the sections on pre-booking and debt recovery companies, I firmed up a few other areas, too. It’s worth keeping on top of things.

Here are my Terms and Conditions – a work in progress, as I said. You may know me as an editor, transcriber, proofreader and localiser, but I also write business books and you can find out all about them here!

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2015 in Business, Organisation

 

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