The last time I took proper stock of The Fine-toothed Comb was way back in March. It was supposed to be the first of my Quarterly Reviews but, as it turned out, it was also the last. The longer I spent bobbing about in the ocean of self-employment, the harder I found it to tread water, watching my plans drift away from me.
That’s not to say I drowned (he says, belabouring the metaphor), simply to acknowledge that I’m not currently where I’d like to be as a small-business owner. I only earned half my target for the year, yet some significant progress has been made too. Let’s look at the challenges faced first, then move on to those brighter aspects both here and on the horizon.
I began 2021 having already lost my three most secure sources of income: a full-time position at the bank; a solid author, whose ongoing career promised much until he cratered his reputation on social media; and the small-press publisher (one of my most valued, reliable, and regular clients) who took the financial fall for that event. These last two were a particular blow, leading to my next issue: workflow.
In times of famine it has felt impossible to envisage anything else, whilst feast periods left me struggling to keep up. Until they dried up, the streams of expected regular work (mentioned above) was supposed to have helped moderate this, along with the Advanced Payment Plan I’d designed. The APP enables clients to book in advance, and should therefore allow me to plan ahead with greater confidence. However, take-up on this has been lower than expected.
It’s impossible to say to what degree the twin catastrophes of the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit have affected my prospects, and futile to imagine what might have been. Nevertheless, it’s plain these have caused significant economic impacts that continue to ripple through society. As belts have tightened, the ‘luxury’ of hiring an editor has become harder for indie authors and small presses to justify to themselves.
Finally, my website fell victim to hackers in 2021, which cost me financially and also destroyed the relationship I had with the technical whizz who’d previously maintained it. I’d forgiven a few red flags in the past, but the stress and anxiety caused by repeated outages pushed us past the point of no return. I have since had to step up to take greater control of my online presence, pushing out of my comfort zone.
As discussed elsewhere the role of an editor is very much behind the scenes, yet we need to be visible to potential clients in order to grow. I was thus determined to keep writing my blog with strict regularity. Between the Personal posts, the Reviews, the Business and the Hobby posts, I’ve shared insights into both The Fine-toothed Comb and the human being at the heart of it, keeping me visible, relatable, and accountable.
I have also made steps towards diversification. By opening new revenue streams, I increase the likelihood of paid work at any given moment, appealing to a broader spread of customers and so strengthening the workflow. These are:
i) Performed Readings. The recordings I’ve produced in my Hobby weeks have proven popular enough to warrant further exploration in terms of the services I offer. What initially looks to be small-scale narration work may expand into acting roles on audio dramas, live readings on behalf of tongue-tied authors at events, and producing marketing material for agents and publishers alike.
ii) English as a Second Language clients. I have now edited for several authors who speak English as a second language. Building a reputation as a UK-based editor who is welcoming, patient, confident and enthusiastic about working with foreign authors could open up a whole new seam of talent, eager to have their work read by Anglophones across the world. It is a small but important part of repairing relationships and building understanding between cultures.
I have joined the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading and demonstrated my experience to their satisfaction, leaping straight to their Intermediate level. Had I kept records of my editing hours from the start, I could have gone further. However, with the resources and opportunities available through the CIEP, my journey to the Professional level should be swift.
First up will be a long-overdue redesign of my website, while shifting over to a simpler, more secure system. I’m taking a business-focused web-design course for this, with the twin aims of making the site more fit for purpose in terms of navigation, and presenting myself more professionally.
Secondly, I’ll be taking advantage of the CIEP membership benefits. These include access to industrial training courses, specialised editing software and – critically – appearing on the IM Available list, which opens up a whole raft of opportunities to fast-track career progression.
I increased my hourly rate when this became my full-time job, but I was still very much undercharging. In order to match industry standards, I shall have to raise it further in 2022. Whilst that may put some clients off, others will draw confidence from my CIEP membership and will be prepared to pay my worth. The Advanced Payment Plan remains an option, to help spread the cost.
Finally, I still have my ‘Ambition Engine’ plotted out—all those tasks and goals required to send this business into the stratosphere. I’ll need to review it, rethink some elements and make adjustments for 2022, but the bare bones remain. And, thankfully, I still have a portion of my redundancy money left over as a buffer. Not as much as I’d like, to be sure, but sufficient to know I can weather at least one more year out here in the wide ocean of self-employment.
Wish me luck!
I’m proud of what my clients think of me. Check out my Testimonials.
I’m just as proud of the Performed Readings I’ve produced.
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