KOK Edit: Your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM)
KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) Katharine O'Moore Klopf

Monday, June 02, 2014

Dear Newly Self-Employed Editors . . .

A few newly self-employed editors and soon-to-be self-employed editors kept me awake the other night.

No, they weren't partying noisily in my living room. They were in my head, asking for reassurance that self-employment won’t leave them broke and regretting that they left the safety of a weekly paycheck and workdays laid out for them by a supervisor. Those editors in my head told me that all the good things I’m always saying online about being self-employed helped convince them that they too can succeed at self-employment. To get them to leave my head, I had to write this post. I had to make sure that they’re developing a realistic view of freelancing.

Even after nearly 20 years of running my own editing business, I haven't burned out. In fact, some might say that I sound like a cheerleader for self-employment:

I started my own business in 1995. Coincidentally, I haven't hated work since December 1994.
~ * ~
My international authors rock! One of my longtime authors from Japan was having trouble finding the right words in English to explain to me the concept he was trying to express in his manuscript. I don't speak or read Japanese, so we couldn't use that route. So I guessed, he guessed, and we still weren't where he wanted to be. Teacher that he is—in addition to being a surgeon and an author—he drew me a picture and sent it to me. Ta-da! I saw exactly what he meant, I emailed him to confirm, and we're done with another manuscript!
~ * ~
Starting the day with two happy authors and a new author by way of referral. Who needs caffeine?

And self-employment usually is joyful for me. The happiness I express here and on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and email lists isn't faked or inflated.

But I want newbies to know that I have hard days too—and that I love freelancing despite those days. At different points since I started my business in 1995, I have

  • Wondered whether insanity was what led me to believe that I could run a business while parenting children
  • Tried multiple times to put a baby down in a crib for a nap so that I could edit with both hands, only to hear indignant shrieks when the baby realized I wasn't still holding him
  • Edited while wearing pajamas, sipping chicken soup, and dabbing at my nose because an upper respiratory infection had me feeling miserable and a looming deadline left no time for me to crawl back into bed
  • Taken multiple breaks from editing to make sure that a distracted child was still on task at homework time
  • Asked my spouse, who is also self-employed, to stop talking about his own workday long enough for me to finish editing a problematic sentence that I have just reread five times and still don't comprehend
  • Had a day from hell when the manuscript I was working on was in horrid shape but the client's budget didn't allow for extensive editing, and the client had the interpersonal skills of a rhino . . . and my preschooler started and stopped 12 different craft projects and then had a screaming fit because most of them weren't turning out how he had planned
  • Panicked when I realized that as soon as I finished the project I was working on, I wouldn't have a new project to start on right away
  • Wondered how I was going to be able to make the month's mortgage payment anywhere near on time, because three clients hadn't paid me when they were supposed to
  • Lost a major client because the client and I were no longer a good fit
  • Fired a major client because the project manager treated me—and all other freelancers—shabbily
  • Made a mistake in the way I scheduled multiple projects that angered several clients, so I panicked about how I was going to get everything done and appease everyone
  • Worked a 15-hour day to meet a deadline and had no time to relax with family members
I have improved my self-care, time-management, budget-management, client-management, and marketing skills tremendously over the years—and my children are a lot older and more self-sufficient now—so bad days happen a lot less often than they once did. But there are still tough times, and I have to cope with them. How?

  • When I have to concentrate no matter what difficulties are going on at home or in the work sphere, I mentally compartmentalize. Get busy working, and your brain’s worry subroutines will run slower or even shut off for a while. But curl up in a ball on the couch and watch cartoons all day, or mope around and worry all day, and your problems will just keep piling up. Plus, you might miss a project deadline and thus lose a client.
  • I give myself little bits of time for fun and relaxation throughout the day, whether that is talking with a friend or family member, going outdoors and enjoying birdsong and flowers, looking at online photos of cute animals, reading a novel, or taking a short nap.
  • Every time I put together a project schedule, I add extra time to it because I know my initial schedule will be too optimistic, which will make life tough for me and tick off clients.
  • Every single weekday, and sometimes even on weekends, I spend time marketing. That means keeping my name in the minds of people who can supply me with work: clients, potential clients, and colleagues. For me, what works is spending some time on profession-related email lists and blogs, on Twitter, on Facebook, and on LinkedIn, and staying in contact with existing clients by email. Because I do all of that consistently, it has been many years since I've had gaps in my work schedule, which means that income flow is much steadier now than when I first started freelancing. Even when I have more than enough work and am on deadline, I still do some marketing every weekday.
  • Some colleagues might believe that I only chirp happily about self-employment. They would be wrong. I vent privately to a few friends, to mentors, and to family members.
  • I focus on the good parts of self-employment. When I celebrate the happy-making stuff, I feel empowered and even get into the magical editing zone. And potential clients find my enthusiasm catching. But when I go over and over the occasional upsetting stuff, I feel robbed of my power and skills and start making more mistakes in my work. Potential clients are turned off by negativity, and colleagues aren't inclined to give referrals to a freelancer who constantly complains.
So yes, starting self-employment is scary, can induce vertigo, and can make you want to pull your hair out. But if you keep at it, learning new skills and getting reassurance from fellow freelancers, you just might find that it makes you quite happy.

Here's an update.

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