Conference 2004: A meeting of minds

Page owner: Conference director

Reports from the 2004 conference, Royal Holloway, University of London

At the AGM that preceded the conference, one of the first pieces of business was to elect Professor David Crystal, MBE – who had delivered the Whitcombe Lecture at the 2003 conference – as the SfEP's first honorary vice-president. You can read Professor Crystal's message to the conference.

Workshop round-up

These edited articles first appeared in the conference supplement of the November/December 2004 issue of Editing Matters

Whitcombe Lecture

Virtual learning:

John Stephens, dean of School of Printing and Publishing, London College of Communication

Reported by Olwyn Hocking

A flypast by the Red Arrows was an unexpected flourish at this year's annual Whitcombe Lecture, when conference delegates were given some insight into the evolution of e-learning.

John Stephens described the battles, frustrations and successes he experienced when adapting training tailored for hands-on printing processes, to make it suitable for a virtual learning community potentially scattered around the world.

Wizardry

A radical commitment to change has been reflected in a name change: the London College of Printing is now called the London College of Communication (LCC).

And those Red Arrows arrived thanks to the wizardry available on electronic learning devices such as the World Wide Web and CD-ROMs. Animated graphics developed by the LCC for its new virtual study courses provided smart, silent illustrations of traditionally noisy production processes. The SfEP audience saw examples of magazine compilation using stitching and adhesive bending – and very pretty it was too!

Devastating collapse

So what was the reason for investing so much effort in e-learning? The main cause, according to John Stephens, was a 'devastating' collapse in the number of training centres around the UK that serve the printing industry. A survey by the LCC found that the number had fallen from 40 to 5 – totally insufficient to meet the needs of the industry.

The LCC sought more hard evidence. A 'needs analysis' discovered that 56% of printing companies wanted to retrain their staff, but only 13% of them favoured sending their employees away from the workplace for training. Training on site was preferred by 81% of businesses.

Funding

E-learning seemed to be the solution – Canada and Australia had already introduced this successfully. Armed with its research results, the LCC won European funding and agreed partnerships with companies and colleges around the UK. The initial funding was £250,000, but the LCC went on to attract further grants six times higher: increasing the use of e-learning is a key goal of the European Union (EU).

Bland and boring?

Pitfalls were found as the LCC tried out this very different approach to tuition. Field tests revealed that:

  • Even young people (who are often assumed to be at ease with text messaging and email) could be uncomfortable when relying primarily on these methods for communication.
  • A text-based course could be bland and boring, and tempted students to move on to later parts of a course without first assimilating earlier stages adequately.
  • Students craved the clarity and variety of illustration by graphics, video and animation, but technology was not yet sufficiently advanced to allow full integration of these resources into the core website training courses.

Tutors were concerned that students wallowed in the 'web world', and did not venture out to explore other relevant materials. Even worse, they sometimes entered a loop in which they read text information online, then cut-and-pasted it back into their reports to tutors: 'A tendency to regurgitate online material in assignments is a weakness.'

The real McCoy

Nevertheless, the lessons learnt from the field studies have resulted in successful performances from the first two years of 'the real McCoy'. A virtual course now runs in parallel with a traditional two-year HND course in print and publishing production, covering the same content in the same timescale.

'We've found higher standards of work and engagement than with the full-time students,' said John Stephens. The online benefits include student-to-student support via bulletin boards, a potentially powerful source of peer group support. 'As global virtual learning develops, there's a huge community of students to help. In colleges, students are locked into a small circle.'

International use

Expansion from these two initial courses is already under way. Current negotiations are likely to lead to a new course in Singapore, and the LCC has other ambitions for international use of its training materials.

The audience was encouraged to consider these international factors in their own freelance work. European funding is geared to cross-border schemes, especially those involving countries that have recently joined the EU.

Striking a chord

What might be the implications for work opportunities here in the UK? The trend towards e-learning means there will be a big demand for the transfer of existing learning content to the web, CD-ROMs and other electronic sources. Those interested in such opportunities should contact university departments to offer to assist with content transfer.

Younger editors and proofreaders may not be as adept as might be expected at handling this need. John Stephens struck a chord with his audience when he described youngsters with little patience and low awareness of basic skills, such as typography. A generation used to instant results from computer games and mobile phones found it more difficult to get satisfaction from longer-term projects.

John Stephens was optimistic about the changes convergence is bringing, but only if individuals and organizations face them head on: 'It's a potential threat but also a huge opportunity for those who can engage with it.'

A world of our own?:

Jane Ward, SfEP conference director

Each conference seems to develop a life of its own, and defies its organizers' attempts to cover every eventuality. This is the ethos that comes under the heading 'If you're not there, you can't share'.

These reports offer an opportunity to share and revisit the work side of the SfEP annual conference, but even here it is hard to do justice, in 300 words, to a 90-minute workshop, and it is impossible to document the discussions that occur informally around these events.

Bizarre routes

So what made this year's conference unique? During the first evening, the phrase 'You can't miss it' bounced from group to group, meaning: the site map is a nightmare, requiring a good editor, and even if you find where you are going, you may never find your way back! Talk was punctuated by battle stories of bizarre routes between venues – and, of course, by wine and more talk as delegates met old friends and made new ones.

The second unique feature was the surroundings for the conference dinner. Here, the impressive main building, with its exuberant towers and turrets, came into its own. The magician, Rob Cox, was funny and good, and he was ably helped by the delegates who donated their best jackets to be sliced.

Feedback

The work side of conference is always intense and very varied. Often, the success of the workshops, in particular, lies in the character of the particular set of delegates attending them. The presence of beginners, old-timers and several in-house delegates can lead to many of the most useful exchanges of information.

One problem is that, if each delegate can attend only two of the 12 workshops offered, there are always lots of things that one has missed. How to have a programme each year that reflects this and yet has fresh new topics is not easy. Often, the next year's programme is heavily influenced by the feedback from delegates.

Hot water

In terms of venue, we also fall uncomfortably between two stools – or beds. University venues are cheaper, and most of us have to pay for ourselves and lose work time. However, universities have student-style accommodation.

My room this year was lovely: clean, quiet, good bathroom, kitchen with tea, etc. Some people had problems, such as having only hot water in the shower, and a few found the rooms too basic. Next year we will be in a hotel, so the rooms will be smarter and closer together but this will be reflected in the price we have to pay.

Sympathy and snippets

The conference itself is bigger than the content of its programme, and the feedback forms make it clear that much of its value lies in the networking and discussions that occur around the main events. This is where one can find companionship, new friends, a sympathetic ear, a snippet of information on a tricky problem, a potential (or actual) new client or a new way of dealing with a situation. Conference is the place where it all comes together.

Keynote Speaker

The future for people in publishing:

John Whitley, chief executive, Publishing Training Centre, London

Reported by Sara Hulse

It is a huge challenge to try to predict the future of the publishing industry, and John Whitley of the Publishing Training Centre (PTC) admitted at the start of his talk that it was the scariest thing that anyone had ever asked him to talk about!

Overloaded

The PTC recently ran a competition entitled 'A Day in the Life of …', and John Whitley began his talk by reading extracts from a couple of the entries. From these, it was clear that there were several themes common to both in-house and freelance editors – lack of time and constant interruptions being just a couple.

Ten years ago there was no internet, virtually no use of email, and most people couldn't type and so they used secretaries for their correspondence. Editors today have to be much more technologically aware, and often have to learn how to use many different software packages. As a result of this vast increase in new technology, many people are overloaded with communications and feel swamped by them. The skill of managing our communication and information flows is something we all have to learn – and quickly.

Life in house…

John then went on to talk about what life is like for in-house editors today. Most are young and inexperienced, because publishing houses have lost more experienced people and now have to rely on outsourcing to provide that expertise. Publishing still seems to believe in the 'sink or swim' approach to personnel management, but this can be costly and frustrating.

It certainly doesn't make things easier for freelances, who often end up becoming advisors to young in-house editors. It is the experience of freelances that is the glue holding publishing together, and it is their tact and diplomacy that helps their clients to survive – and commission further projects.

There is one key skill that our new generation of publishers needs to learn much earlier than their bosses ever had to: project management. The PTC courses in this subject are generally full, and the delegates are, by and large, quite junior.

Book publishing has never been strong on identifying, encouraging and even testing skills to enable career advancement. Much of the talent that the PTC sees among young recruits at Book House tends to walk away to better-paid and more career-minded sectors. The result, sadly, is sometimes sloppy publishing, which is in nobody's interest.

…And out of house

John then considered what has changed for freelances, and how they should respond to this situation. There is a real threat to jobs from other English-speaking nations: new technologies bring increasing challenges, and the expectations of clients are growing. The encouraging things from the freelance point of view are that publishers are still determined to overpublish and that new publishers in every guise are appearing all the time.

Two parallel trends over the last decade or so have really influenced the role of freelances. One is the evolution of technology that changes everything in a fundamental way. Geography is no longer important, which means you are no longer competing locally, but with a world market of people with similar skills. The second is a structural trend – as publishing houses shed staff, they also lose experience, and they have to re-acquire it, either by 'buying in' or by training from within. The experience of freelance editors and proofreaders is now critical to publishers.

The global market

If it truly is a global market, how are you positioning yourself to take advantage of it?

One answer is that it is always a good idea to get to know your clients – it is almost impossible to achieve this if you are delivering a service from another continent. Freelances need to develop the kind of add-on services that clients need. We have already identified the potential lack of project management skills – so become a project manager and sell your project management skills. It may mean investing in some training, but it is becoming increasingly important to do so.

Increasing fees

John Whitley urged freelances not to sell themselves short – if you are turning away work then you are probably working too cheaply. Apply the principle of supply and demand, and increase your fees, despite the risk.

With one-man or one-woman businesses, work tends to be along either feast or famine lines, so you should be secure and have regular work before you can confidently raise your prices. But if you are consistently overbooked, why not do it?

Trends in training

John finished his presentation by talking about trends in training. The PTC is changing in response to several factors – increasing conglomeration, leading to larger workforces and more co-ordinated training demand, increasing pressure of work, and technology. Its courses are changing – e-learning is being introduced to extend the experience of learning beyond the classroom.

The clear trend is away from long training programmes to short, intensive courses, backed by online tutorial support when needed. The customers for the PTC courses are also changing substantially – it now delivers almost 40% of its training to the non-traditional publishing market, and this percentage is growing.

A full transcript of John Whitley's speech is available.

The lament of the freelance on-screen copy-editor:

Jenny Bassett

Sung by the SfEPLinnets at the 2004 conference. Musical arrangement by Janet Wheeler (via Sarah Patey)

Oh, the client wants the job back yesterday,
But the script is several hundred pages long,
There are 15 heading levels, the citations are all wrong,
And I'll be burning midnight oil to get it done.

The author has no time for semi-colons,
And he's muddled text and tables in one file,
Wretched Word won't track my changes, and keeps messing up my styles,
And I wish I'd never taken this job on.

Chorus
Oh, when the dog has chewed the style sheet
And the courier's at the door,
Oh, the freelance life is not a happy one, happy one.
No, the freelance life is not a happy one, happy one.

On SfEPLine they give loads of good advice,
Like the hourly rates you should negotiate,
But the publisher pays peanuts, and the cheque is always late,
And I wish I had a cushy nine-to-five.

Now the author is rewriting chapter seven,
Putting footnotes in and taking endnotes out,
Blasted Word has trashed my macro, my template's up the spout,
And I'd rather be a plumber any day.

Chorus
Oh, when the dog has chewed the style sheet
And the courier's at the door,
Oh, the freelance life is not a happy one, happy one.
No, the freelance life is not a happy one, happy one.

Short talks

Printing, training and translation:

Ken Stanger, The Hardy Group

Graham Smith, Publishing Training Centre

Timoteo Rabasco, SDL International

Reported by Allan Rostron

A very useful feature of recent SfEP conferences has been a series of three short talks, each lasting about half an hour, on some aspect of publishing. They are not always directly related to the stuff of most SfEP members' livelihoods, but their subjects are always something we should know about.

Ken Stanger:  Paper and ink

This year's short talks were given on the morning after the conference dinner, when the quality and duration of our attention might have been limited. No fear, Ken was here. Ken Stanger is a printer, not a professional speaker, but some people just have the gift. Ken did – in caseloads. He told us about printing – not an inherently amusing subject, but there was plenty of mirth during his half-hour.

The first game was to open our 'props pack', take out Prop A, an A4 sheet printed on both sides with the numbers 1—16 in dashed boxes, and fold it into a 'signature' with the numbers in order. Having attended the excellent SfEP course 'Production for copy-editors', I was naturally able to do this first time, but I managed to resist a smug survey of other people's attempts.

Game 2 was to make a 32-page booklet out of two A4 sheets and assemble it for saddle-stitching, with one signature inside the other. This needed a degree of topological sophistication not reached by the SfEP course, but the noises of satisfaction in the auditorium indicated that many succeeded.

Ken went on to explain the relevance of this 'imposition' to costs. For example, if you want colour on a few pages it is cheaper to lay out the publication so that you can restrict the colour to one side of the printed sheet. (An aside from Ken: 'Did you hear about the dyslexic agnostic insomniac who lay awake all night wondering if there was a dog?')

Humble household requisites were used to explain the difference between two printing processes: absorbent Andrex for the cold-set web process, which is used for cheap and cheerful applications such as newspapers; and shiny Izal toilet 'tissue' (teacher's revenge) for the better-quality and faster heat-set web process, in which the ink is dried by heat.

Lastly, we were advised to match the job to the machinery the printer has available. If you have a four-colour job, don't use a printer with a one-colour press unless you have a leisurely schedule. Washing the rollers takes time.

Graham Smith:  Professional development

We are all interested in continuing professional development, of course. Graham Smith, of the Publishing Training Centre (PTC) in London, told us about its new online training material in proofreading and copy-editing.

This online material does not provide full courses, but is intended mainly to help those who enrol on the PTC face-to-face and distance-learning courses in copy-editing and proofreading by providing supplementary material for revision and practice. Anyone can register and enjoy free access to a cut-down version of the online course material as a taster.

You have a choice of ways in which you can tackle the course material, which is tailored to your style of learning. (According to Honey and Mumford, learners are activists, pragmatists, reflectors or theorists, or, if you prefer, doers, experimenters, observers or thinkers.) You find out what your learning style is – or what the computer thinks it is – by answering some questions when you first log on to the site.

As well as the course material, there is also a 'Toolkit' where students can read announcements and log on to a bulletin board.

Timoteo Rabasco:  Translation software

The delightfully named Timoteo Rabasco spoke about computer-assisted translation (CAT). Teo works for SDL International, which sells translation software and services. These appear to be considerably more advanced than whatever it is that produces the unwitting poetry of Google translations (e.g. 'And in this apotheosis of buttock we were, when it dropped its thin forms on my escuálidas legs').

If I understood Teo correctly, in CAT there is a team of human beings who use sophisticated translation software to do the donkeywork. Using their skill and knowledge and a variety of supplementary software, they produce something that actually makes sense. Two types of software aids are terminology databases that can be plugged in to help improve accuracy and consistency, and 'translation memory', which recognizes words or phrases that the system has translated before, so that they can be translated again in the same way.

Writers and editors can make CAT more effective by expressing complicated ideas as simply as possible, using consistent terminology, keeping sentence structure simple, avoiding informal phrases, using punctuation correctly and tagging text that is not to be translated. Incredibly, the European Union now has a campaign with this aim, called Fight the Fog. The watchword is KISS: keep it short and simple. A suitable message for editors everywhere.

Workshops

Adobe Acrobat for beginners/Advanced Adobe Acrobat:

David Penfold

Reported by Mary Korndorffer

David has worked in publishing for over 30 years and as a freelance consultant, project manager, editor and writer for nearly half of that period. He led two workshops: one for beginners, with an introduction to Acrobat and PDF files; and a more advanced workshop covering areas such as pre-flighting, Acrobat forms, structured PDF files and the relationship between PDF and XML.

Of course I know it's not a real acrobat, but the program certainly can perform the most intricate of moves, and all in the cause of aiding and abetting the swift circulation of copy.

My nodding acquaintance with the free Adobe Acrobat Reader had intrigued me, as had frequent threads on SfEPLine about how marvellous it was to be able to send long essays, even books, direct to other computers. PDF stands for 'portable document format', so that your document can be in a format that can be transferred between computer systems without necessarily being compatible with them.

For the beginners' workshop, 20 delegates each had use of a screen in the computer lab, with Adobe Acrobat 6 ready to run.

We learned to convert Word or web pages into PDF files. We attempted to manipulate the text and photos, by cropping or rotating them. The most recent release, Acrobat 6 (Standard and Professional versions available), can be used to provide page proofs, which can be reviewed, be 'marked up' in an uncannily realistic fashion and have 'comments' added to them. The comments can be exported to a Word file for ease of listing. In all, it appears to be a useful editorial tool, with many functions to be assimilated.

Not as many delegates felt up to attending the advanced workshop, but I battled ahead, discovering that Acrobat was developed from a compiled version of PostScript files, which are generally used by printers. Within the Acrobat suite is a program called 'Distiller', which can convert files into PDFs.

PDFs may be used for distribution, editing, printing or loading on to a website. The technical specification of the files can be adapted to suit the content of the input and the end-use of the output.

If PDF files are to be sent to a large number of recipients, security devices may be applied so that they cannot be altered. For loading on to a web page, it is useful to be able to alter their resolution; if they are to be sent directly to a printer, 'pre-flight' information should be embedded in them.

New software has been developed to permit the design of interactive forms for web pages, useful for internet purchasing, and for the collection of information into databases.

The textbook that accompanies the suite was recommended: Adobe Acrobat: Classroom in a Book. Further information is on the comprehensive Adobe website.

Computer housekeeping:

Mark Lovegrove

Reported by Virginia Masardo

Mark Lovegrove works within a large IT department of an international company, as well as running a small company that supports computer users in small businesses and at home. His workshop touched on the use of firewalls, anti-virus software and anti-spyware to avoid disasters. It also considered how to minimize the impact of hard-drive failure, virus attacks and adware/spyware through the use of system back-ups and data back-ups.

It is impossible to give failsafe advice on how to deal with all the idiosyncratic gremlins that crawl around in our systems and motherboards, and which affect our working capital. However, Mark touched on most of the basic things to do to minimize those heart-sinking events that non-techie users dread: crashing disasters; hard-drive failures; virus and spyware invasions; exasperating slow-motion mode; pop-up irritations; impolite server cut-offs at a time of intense need to Send; and so on.

Mark's workshop comprised three sections: back-up; internet hazards; and system maintenance. The final part touched on housekeeping (and maintenance). It contained a wealth of tips on improving performance, faster memory, quicker processors, the effects of having a full hard drive, defragging and removing old applications using the Uninstall provided and the control panel Add/Remove facility.

Most people who attended this workshop will have gone away with a clearer understanding of what they are dealing with outside the job for which they are using their PC. As one person said: 'Where I felt powerless against the unseen problems before, I now feel empowered to do something about them.'

Copy-editing clangers:

Lionel Browne

Reported by Anne Borcherds

Lionel looked at real examples from recent jobs and ran through the 20 most common copy-editing errors. He began by explaining that the inspiration for the workshop had come from a particular proofreading job that had been littered with the sorts of errors that 'should never be allowed to slip through the copy-editing net'.

The main part of the workshop consisted of discussing common errors, illustrated with examples from actual copy-editing or proofreading jobs. There is insufficient space here to list all the categories of error discussed, but they included misuse of commas, problems with plurals and possessives, missing or double-duty verbs, wrong prepositions and sheer muddled thinking.

The last item on Lionel's list was 'Read it!': a reminder that each sentence we edit should be useful and comprehensible as well as grammatically correct.

The session ended with a brief discussion of how we, as editors and proofreaders, can train ourselves to be alert to common errors. It was suggested that certain words (such as 'compared', 'while' and 'both') should ring alarm http://www.sfep.org.uk/book-reviews/related-skills-guides/from-flock-beds-to-professionalism-a-history-of-index-makers/s. Kathleen Lyle contributed a helpful suggestion: if you notice that your author often uses a particular word incorrectly, use Word's search feature to highlight all instances of that word in the document.

This workshop provided a rare opportunity to see how other editors tackle the kinds of problem sentences that most of us come across every day in the course of our work. It was reassuring to find that, in the vast majority of the examples presented, the group quickly agreed on both what was wrong with the sentence and how to correct it.

Develop your own website:

Shena Deuchars

Reported by Frances King

Shena started working life as a computer programmer, and her workshop explained the technical side of how websites are placed on the internet. It examined the tools you can use to create a website and discussed some of the design issues to be considered when developing one.

What is involved if I want to create a website myself? The basics needed are a computer, an internet connection, software, a domain name and web space. Oh, and some time and ideas!

When considering website design and content, put yourself in the users' shoes and think about what they need. Website text should be useful information (not just 'filling'). Shena favours a balance between white space and text. Users lose interest if they have to click more than three times to obtain the information they want. Images can be slow to download with a dial-up connection.

I thought that I would need to buy expensive software to create a website. Not so! Cheap (or even free) HTML editors can be downloaded from the internet.

Once created, my website needs to be published. File transfer protocol (FTP) programs are available to do this, and HTML editor software often has one built in. Then I need a domain name (i.e. a website address – URL – that isn't dependent on a particular internet service provider), typically at a cost of about £36 for two years' use. A tip from Shena was to beware of tricksters offering, for a lot of money, to reserve a domain name for 10 years – they would just renew my domain name five times!

Shena suggested that, for most of us, it probably isn't worthwhile paying to have our URL sent to search engines. It can be useful, however, to have a link from your online SfEP Directory entry.

And, as it appears neither expensive nor difficult to create a website, I'll add it to my list of things to do!

Hone your marketing skills:

Penny Poole

Reported by Sue King

Penny undertakes project management, research, writing and editorial assignments related to a broad range of products. Participants at this workshop exchanged ideas and discovered ways of extending work opportunities with existing clients, while fine-tuning methods of making new contacts.

Non-publishers tend not to know what editors and proofreaders actually do, and, in particular, what we can do for them. One way of explaining our function to a potential client is to offer to review (without charge) something they have produced, and to show what we could do with it.

A member of the group said that he has clients who initially gave him simple proofreading, but, as they began to see how he could help them, gradually gave him projects at earlier stages – correspondingly increasing his rates of pay. Penny suggested that we should always analyse completed projects to see how things have happened and what has, and has not, worked.

Penny is convinced that the best way to obtain work is through referrals and recommendations. She told us, for example, that she keeps the manager of a local instant-print shop supplied with her business cards so that he can refer to her any of his customers who might benefit from editorial services.

We could build up a file of recommendations by asking clients for feedback (the SfEP Code of Practice includes a specimen feedback request form). Feedback, however, need not be formal: we could simply ask clients what they thought of what we have done, and use the responses – verbatim – to promote further business.

Finally, Penny urged us to try to maintain regular contact with clients. If we were really lucky, we might be able to persuade a client to ensure our availability with a retainer, and thus guarantee ourselves a steady stream of income.

Getting stress into balance:

Jill Norfolk

Reported by Jennifer Bew

Jill has been a complementary practitioner for more than 11 years. Working with aromatic oils, photographs of flowers and flower remedies, individuals can put the stresses of life into a proper balance.

Many of us have come across the stresses of freelance life, so the chance to learn how to balance these stresses with general day-to-day work seemed too good to miss.

Jill's speciality is aromatherapy and flower essences, and we were all hoping for some tips on how to use these to help us relax – maybe even a demonstration of aromatherapy – but this was not to be. We did eventually have a chance to sniff some of the oils and to guess their source, but very little real information was forthcoming on their potential uses or how we might select those that might be of use to each of us. Jill was interesting to listen to on the subject of how she makes the flower essences, but again, this did not really address the subject of the workshop.

A few tips on avoiding stresses in the first place, on learning how to recognize and minimize their effects, and how we could integrate these techniques into our working lives would have been far more useful. On balance – sorry! – I feel that the workshop did not live up to its promise and that the best thing to do to avoid stress would be to go for a massage or to settle down and read a good book!

Tax, finance and business for the editorial freelance:

David Rice

Reported by Mandy Macdonald

David is senior partner in a firm of chartered accountants. His workshop dealt with queries raised in advance by participants. The following were among the topics covered.

VAT registration

David clarified that you do not have to register for VAT unless your turnover for any 12-month period (rolling) is £58,000 or more. Below this figure, you can register for VAT if you want to. But why would you want to? We discussed two reasons for registering:

  • to save on capital investment
  • to look more professional and larger than perhaps you are

David also gave helpful information on a new feature that allows you to make money on VAT if you decide it is worthwhile: the fixed- or flat-rate scheme. Available to those with a turnover of less than £150,000, this had been used by at least one of the workshop participants. With this scheme, you can charge your clients VAT at 17.5%, but you only pay VAT at 11% (or 9.5% if you are within the VAT definition of publishing).

Becoming a limited company

The advantages can be summed up as:

  • increasing your professionalism
  • providing limited liability if something does go wrong
  • potentially saving money

However, with increased professionalism come increased responsibilities, such as the obligation to prepare formal accounts that comply with the Companies Act (in a format not very user-friendly to small companies). There are also higher and more complex tax liabilities.

The Finance Act 2004 closed a loophole allowing possible avoidance of corporation tax, but even so, some tax savings can be made. However, these are not great at the bottom end of the income scale, and could easily be outweighed by accountancy fees (higher than those for individual sole traders), time, stress, paperwork, etc. The savings do rise with income or profit – but becoming a limited company is by no means an easy option for freelances.

We're all in sales and marketing:

Chris Smith

Reported by Christina Thomas

Chris went freelance in 1993. His skills and expertise are in copy-editing, copywriting, marketing letters and … cold-call marketing.

Chris promised masses of marketing ideas, loads of tips, do's and don'ts, what works – and what doesn't. He certainly delivered, going into a lot of detail about how to identify potential clients, and about the many sources of information (both printed and on the internet) that are readily available. Chris talked about the best way to make a call, how to be prepared and how to handle obstructive receptionists, and enlivened his audience with a real-life example that had yielded results.

He also gave some solid advice on follow-up: what to do; what kind of letter or email to write; and when to do it (as soon as possible). Keeping track of calls and follow-up actions is important, too. After all, it is no use promising to call back and then not doing so.

Chris is a man with great enthusiasm. His gift is to make everyone feel that they, too, can succeed in an area where many feel ill at ease.

Working for a client:

Rosemary Roberts

Reported by Jane Ward

Rosemary is the chief copy-editor for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (OUP). This workshop was a taster for the SfEP 'Working for a client' training course. It introduced such skills as: how to interpret a brief and assess a text in light of it; how to edit a text consistently; what to check and crosscheck; and what to query.

Rosemary reviewed the relationship with a client in terms of being professional, likening freelances to any expert, such as a plumber, who provides a service. This requires clear thought on what factors contribute to providing an expert service to clients, so that you become a preferred supplier.

Three attributes contribute to providing a good service:

  • listening to what the client wants
  • advising on the best way to achieve this
  • working on time, to budget and to an acceptable standard.

These features are interrelated. A written brief helps freelances to be clear about what clients expect. A good brief will give information on market, readership, the budget and the 'usability' required for the finished material, as well as on routine issues such as style. Advising involves assessing what the problems are in achieving this brief. If it is overambitious in terms of budget or time, then good advice on how to overcome this makes a freelance a valuable expert whom a client will want to use again. Lastly, being reliable in terms of timing, standards and budget is the sign of a true professional.

In a good relationship, the freelance examines the evidence, analyses the problems, and works out and proposes a solution. At the end of the job, the freelance has carried out the work, articulated what has been done and ensured that those further down the production line know about potential problems.

Our goal should be to be seen as professionals. In this way, we gain both power and satisfaction.

Negotiating skills:

Sue Bennet

Reported by Stephanie Hall

Sue looked at the choices we make in different situations. She stressed that negotiation is about communicating. It is about finding common ground.

In discussion, we identified the following key areas of negotiation with a client you want to retain:

  • rates of pay
  • the schedule
  • level of responsibility
  • approaching clients
  • how to refuse work gracefully

Here some of the tips and techniques to use in negotiations:

  • Make sure you are prepared. Ask yourself: 'What do I aim to achieve?' Then hold that intent in mind during the negotiation. Ask yourself: 'What makes me special?' You can't succeed until you're clear about this. List what you are good at, and remember that not everyone can do what you do.

    Have a range within which to negotiate: for example, state that your rates are 'between X and Y, depending on the complexity of the job.' Also, know your cut-off point – the price you will not go below.

  • Practise on something small.
  • Before telephoning a client, make a note of the points you want to discuss.
  • Bear in mind the concept of fairness: do as you would be done by.
  • Remember the power of silence: don't blather – silence gives the client a chance to think.
  • Keep in mind the word together – as in, 'Let's look at it together.' Negotiating is a working together. Use inclusive language – 'we' more than 'I' and 'you'.
  • Conclude and summarize: 'So we've decided to …' Follow up the meeting with an email summarizing what was agreed.

A lively, useful and enjoyable workshop. Highly recommended.

Macro magic:

Anne Waddingham

Reported by Sue Peter

Anne specializes in on-screen editing. She discovered macro magic early on, and has been spellbound ever since.

This was a thoroughly worthwhile, but all too short, workshop, run with Anne's usual care and attention – computers set up and ready, excellent hands-on exercises, good handouts and friendly, patient answers to all our questions.

After demonstrating how much time even simple macros can save us (for example, by ridding documents of incorrect punctuation and spaces), Anne gave us a wealth of further uses to consider, so much so that those of us who had not yet attended the SfEP On-screen editing 1 training course (and even some who had) cannot wait to put our names on the list and learn more!

We received some guidance on where and how to build our store of macros and how to use them in our work. We also received a brief introduction to Visual Basic, the language in which macros are recorded, and which we need to use both to edit macros and to save those handy little macros that sometimes come up on SfEPLine.

Anne was careful to stress that it is best to think out what you want to achieve – and even write down the instructions you intend to give – before you start actually writing your macro in Word. The computer will follow your incorrect instructions just as slavishly as your correct ones! She also told us about the large number of macros available from the Electric Editors website, and gave us a few pointers for further study.

Although writing macros is bound to cost a bit of time, especially initially, now that we know how much boring repetitive work they can save us, I am sure we all went home intending to revolutionize our editing lives!