What’s in a business name? One woman’s journey.

After taking voluntary redundancy in early 2011, I started to think seriously about how I could set myself up as a freelance proofreader and copy-editor. In 2012 I registered with HMRC under my own name as a sole trader. This was just the beginning.

I’d set up a personal Twitter account in May 2012, and realised by October that a Twitter handle for my business would be more useful than my personal one. After several attempts to find a name that wasn’t already taken, I came up with @spellegance, which I felt was just on the right side of corny.

In November 2012, I asked on Facebook if any of my friends had any suggestions:

If I plan to go freelance, is it best to have a company name and website? And if so, how do I pick a good name?

I had some interesting responses, among them:

M (freelance translator, copywriter and editor) suggested avoiding the limited company option:

you have to pay to be a limited company, whereas trading as freelance (sole trader) is free and easy.

A friend who works as a professional photographer advised:

Don’t register as a company. Website maybe but not necessary. Definitely get business cards though, and get nice ones, good quality, good design etc. Affects how professional you look when you whip it out!

Having not yet registered as a limited company or even having looked into it yet, the fact that I’d have to pay put me off, at least at this early stage. As for business cards, I hadn’t settled on a name yet, let alone a logo, font or any of those other things crucial to making a good impression.

I decided to look into two options – using my name, and using a business name:

Using my own name

I’d attended a course run by social marketer Keith McMean (www.keithmcmean.co.uk) back in October. His preference was for using real names if you work as a sole trader, on the basis that appearing ‘human’ is very important, and if you work alone you are essentially your own brand. This seemed fairly logical, although being a regular, responsive presence on Twitter and blogging could also be ways to come across as more human.

AB (owner and manager of a publishing services company) was also in favour of this option:

Yeah, go freelance, use your own name. Otherwise you end up adding loads of overheads you don’t need.

The main justification here seemed to be the issue of cost rather than the name itself. However, a lot of the work I’ve done for publishers has come via a relative by marriage, and communicating in anything other than my maiden name could look like nepotism. I also hoped at some point to promote my services locally, in many cases to friends and connections, and using my maiden name in these cases might well cause confusion for everyone involved!

As for using one name for some people and another for others…well, that was a non-starter.

Using a ‘business’ name

I was now leaning towards picking an original name. There are quite a few web pages on naming your company, and I particularly enjoyed reading the advice at Startups on choosing the perfect business moniker. One sentence that really resonated with me was “Humour or a nice play on words is an effective way to stand out from the crowd.” My job, after all, is to ‘play’ with the English language, collaborating with authors, translators, editors and publishers to polish manuscripts until they are the best they can be.

A software engineer friend (K) had these words of advice:

You can be a sole trader and still have a ‘company’ name though if you wish. Good names are subjective though. Short and memorable, tripping off the tongue easily and easily associated with what you do all make for good names in terms of word of mouth and people remembering you.

Another friend (A), self-employed as a counsellor and therapist, said:

Go for it Sarah. Sole Trader (free), catchy company name and tag line that sells the benefits of what you do… And good record keeping for when you sort your tax out…sorted!

I already had come up with a strapline – Changing the world one comma at a time – and was pretty happy with that.

My record-keeping was also in order – or at least I had a spreadsheet of all my income and a load of receipts shoved in the back of a notepad…

As K put it, good names need to be memorable and associated with what a company does.

I spent the next few weeks asking family and friends about various options I’d been considering, googling possible names to see if anyone else was using them, and generally getting myself even more confused.

As I was tempted to start trying to secure work from local clients, I wondered about selling the local angle, with names like Lake District Proofreading, Cumbria Proofreading and Editing…the list goes on. However, as I can potentially work for clients from all over the world, I wondered if this would make my appeal less global. I certainly didn’t want to put anyone off!

Although I didn’t want to go down the limited company route, I did want to have this as a potential future option, so I used HMRC’s WebCheck tool to make sure any names I thought of weren’t already in use.

I was also aware that I’d probably want to set up a website at some point, so I checked online to see if various domain names, both ending in .com and .co.uk, were available at that point. I used GoDaddy’s domain name search, but there are plenty of other sites that you can use to check.

It was only after running through several different names that I realised I already had a web presence that wasn’t under my own name. My Twitter handle.

I’d been sending out sporadic tweets for a while, but hadn’t ever thought about using it as a name for my business, and certainly didn’t have any kind of strategy for using Twitter to market myself at that stage. I ran through a mental checklist:

  • Describes my business: CHECK. (Or at least the spelling part of it)
  • Memorable: CHECK. (I think so, at least.)
  • Humorous: CHECK (As above.)
  • Available: CHECK.

And that was that: spellegance it was, and spellegance it is to this day.

Are spelling mistakes costing you money?

A while back, I was asked by a friend and ex-colleague if I’d be able to put an ‘idiot-proof checklist’ together for a local further and higher education college to use to proofread documents they were producing.

Well, not exactly.

Although I could suggest people systematically check each piece of written work they produce and make sure they’re not just relying on their computer’s spellchecker, that wouldn’t really be advice worth paying for:

I’d feel a fraud trying to put together some kind of ‘checklist’, as a lot of the work is just a case of having a good ‘feel’ for spelling and grammar, a decent dictionary or two, and reading carefully.

Instead, I chose to focus on other things the organisation could do to ensure consistency. As the college produces a large volume of written and web content, including an annual prospectus, my first suggestion was to develop a ‘house style’:

They’d probably be better off trying to write a ‘house style’ manual if they don’t have one of those already, so all their communications are consistent, and making sure that any documents going out to the general public/online are read through by someone other than the writer (ideally a professional proofreader or editor, but at the very least a second pair of eyes) – people tend not to notice their own mistakes.

The website was my second point of focus:

Your website is probably the first thing most people go to for information, and as you are often trying to ‘sell’ the college, it would be best to focus time and energy on making sure anything that goes online is rigorously checked. I appreciate that if it’s coming up with tweets and things are added by lots of people via content management that it might be difficult to ‘police’ spelling/grammar/style to make sure it’s entirely consistent and ‘correct’ – but if documents are uploaded in PDF (for example, I just had a quick look at the website and opened the ‘Equality and Diversity Strategy’ on there) they really need to be tightening things up. I noticed quite a few mistakes and inconsistencies in punctuation, capitalisation, etc. in it, including reference to ‘a Inclusive Culture’ in a heading, and this doesn’t support statements on the website and promotional materials about the quality of teaching and learning. I know many people won’t be bothered, but there will be others who care, and it’s getting increasingly difficult to get people into higher education as costs of learning rise.

I finished off my email by suggesting that they ought to at least hire a proofreader to check documents that are very important, such as prospectuses and large PDF documents – after all, I have a business to run and need to self-promote as well!

I’ll end with some comments on lost revenue from web entrepreneur (or webpreneur, but I can’t get my head round that word) Charles Duncombe (apologies for the three-year-old link), and leave you to decide whether it’s worth taking a DIY approach to the written material you produce…

Mr Duncombe says that it is possible to identify the specific impact of a spelling mistake on sales.

He says he measured the revenue per visitor to the tightsplease.co.uk website and found that the revenue was twice as high after an error was corrected.

“If you project this across the whole of internet retail, then millions of pounds worth of business is probably being lost each week due to simple spelling mistakes,” says Mr Duncombe, director of the Just Say Please group.

Spelling is important to the credibility of a website, he says. When there are underlying concerns about fraud and safety, then getting the basics right is essential.

“You get about six seconds to capture the attention on a website.”

Taken from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-14130854.

Don’t sell yourself short – be selective!

I recently had an experience that I’d like to share with you.

A couple of weeks ago, I responded to an advert on LinkedIn for freelance proofreaders for ‘the UK’s leading independent digital publisher’. If they liked the CV and covering letter you sent, they’d send a proofreading test to see if they wanted to take things further. This seemed like a great opportunity to build my client base…

After sending through my tailored CV with a kick-ass covering letter, I waited a few days, and was full of anticipation when I received a test from them in my inbox.

The test itself was pretty much as expected. The company only publishes eBooks, so it was to proofread several pages of a book as it had been scanned in via e-reader, tracking any errors I found in Word’s ‘Track Changes’ function.

I completed the test that evening, fired off an email to the company, and waited for a ‘thanks’. And waited…

After a week of radio silence (and suspecting that I’d not been successful), I emailed, politely asking if they’d had a chance to look at the test I’d sent, and if it would be possible to have some feedback. They duly responded the same day with an email asking if they could send me a ‘test manuscript’, for which they’d pay me. This was quickly followed by a rather lengthy email detailing all the formatting changes I’d need to make for it to match house style (in addition to proofreading for errors introduced by the e-reader).

So the role wasn’t just for a proofreader – it was somewhere in between proofreader and copy-editor. The bulk of the copy-editing (suggesting changes to sentence structure and punctuation; querying anything unclear with the author/translator) had been done as the books had been copy-edited when they were previously printed, but as it didn’t fit the new publisher’s house style, all the formatting needed to be done as part of the ‘proofreading’ process. That wasn’t a problem for me; I had all the tools necessary to do a good job.

As with these things, there had to be a catch somewhere. A big catch.

We pay £50 for work on a manuscript under 80,000 words, and then more when they go above that.

That.

Excuse me? £50 (the equivalent of $78.43 in the US) for doing an involved and skilled job? I’d hate to try and work out the hourly rate there.

To put things in perspective, I worked out the average rate I’d been paid for the last ten or so books I’d worked on as a proofreader (ignoring for the time being the elements of copy-editing involved in the role). What they were offering was at least half what anyone else had paid (and these were mostly small independent publishers, who don’t have a lot of cash to splash but value the people who work for them), and in some cases four times less.

Yes, you read that right. Four times less.

I duly sent them a polite email in return.

…there are too many requirements for the rate of pay you’re offering.

I’ve done a fair amount of work for various publishers in the last two and a half years, and during that time have been paid different rates depending on the book length, publisher and whether it’s been copy-editing or proofreading work. To give you a guide, this is what I’ve received for the last few titles I’ve proofread: 22,937 words = £65; 79,190 words = £250; 134,050 = £375; 74,425 = £230; 78,748 = £230; and 47,790 = £140, averaging £236 for 80,000 words.

As you’re asking for a lot of formatting changes, there are elements of a copy-editor’s role involved, which would normally pay more than a ‘straight’ proofread.

Although the publishers I have worked for tend to pay different rates, most have been small independent publishers who can’t afford to pay a lot, yet have on average been able to offer more than twice the amount you’re able to.

I’m sorry to say no at this stage, particularly after you’ve spent a lot of time emailing me the information, but I can’t really make my business sustainable unless the pay I receive equates to a high enough hourly rate.

I’m still waiting for a response.

The moral of this story? While it’s good to build your client base, it’s not good to sell yourself short. Yes, it would be nice to have an additional source of income, but not if it’s barely pocket money…

S

My ‘learning curve’ – tips I’ve found helpful in my work

Making the step from work in local government communications (with only part of my role to proofread and edit documents) to freelancing and working with several different publishers and style guides was a real eye-opener, and I have learnt a lot in the last few years. When I first started, I remember thinking that proofreading was going to be very simple and that I’d automatically be a ‘natural’ at editing, with all authors happy to accept my changes without question.

Like all jobs, however, you don’t just go in and find you’re 100% perfect all of the time; there’s a learning curve in any role, and you pick up tips to add to your ‘toolbox’ as you go along. Here are some of the things I’ve learnt and traps I’ve learnt not to fall into:

Proofreading

  • Checking endnotes thoroughly is vital. Authors may have left references like ‘p.xx’ as a placeholder, and if you don’t pick up on these, someone else may not (luckily, in my case, they did!). I also find a lot of instances of titles where the serial comma has been left out despite it being a US book/paper, and where a web address containing part of the article’s title is misspelt but the article title are not. 
  • Endnotes are tedious, no matter what you do. This is relieved if you proofread each chapter’s notes immediately after finishing said chapter. Not only does it break them up, but you’re much more likely to spot errors if you’re in the mindset of that particular chapter/section. Unlike food, these aren’t the ‘best bit’ to be saved until the end.
  • There’s no real point in numbering queries. If you realise you want to insert an extra query between two others, it just causes confusion if they’re numbered. Much better to make a bulleted list, with page and line numbers and a short extract of text copy-pasted to illustrate what your comment/question refers to.
  • Keep the publisher updated and don’t be afraid to ask. I have been guilty in the past of ‘ploughing on’ through a book to the end and blindly using the publisher’s style guide no matter what. Sometimes style guides are not rigid – many publishers will be happy if the manuscript is internally consistent, whereas others will not. If in doubt, check at the beginning! Also, if you’ve annotated, say, 10-20 pages and found more than 3 errors per page, send the person you’re working for a quick email to alert them and be prepared to attach a copy of the annotated manuscript so far – sometimes they will need to negotiate more money for typesetting and other additional work on the book before it can be printed!

Copy-editing

  • Introduce yourself. You want a good working relationship with your author/translator. It doesn’t cost much time to send a quick email with your contact details and anything else pertinent before you’ve properly started work on the book. I’ve copy-pasted below an example of an email I sent to the author of the last book I copy-edited:

I thought I’d get in touch now and send a sample of my work on the first few pages so you can see whether you’re happy with the sort of things I’ve been doing so far. As discussed with the publisher, I’m aiming for ‘Mid Atlantic’ in style (UK spelling and punctuation; keeping US terms that are understandable to UK readers). Please let me know if there’s anything I’ve changed that you think US readers will struggle to understand. I attach the document in MS Word showing markup and comments.

When I know that you’re happy with the way things are proceeding, I can continue work on the book. I’d be really grateful if you could get back in touch as soon as possible and let me know if there’s anything you are unhappy with/if you’re happy for me to carry on as I’ve done so far.

I’ve used ‘Track Changes’ so you can clearly see where I’ve made amendments.

The sample I’ve sent you shows all the changes, down to the smallest amendments to spelling/punctuation. To reduce the amount of extra work your end, are you happy for me to make some or all of the following minor changes without tracking? (Please indicate any you wish to review and I’ll keep these in so you can see where the changes are.):

– change to UK spelling; change to UK punctuation; deletion of repeated words; change colons/semicolons/commas where wrong punctuation used.

Obviously I’d query anything more substantial.

If you’re happy with the work I’ve done so far, and wish me to continue in the same vein, please let me know. Would it be easiest for you if I send the edited manuscript through a chapter at a time, or would you prefer me to edit it all and then send the completed work to you to go through in one go? I’d like to make sure we’re both proceeding in the same direction from the beginning…

  • Diplomacy is key. Working directly with an author can be daunting: you’re dealing with their ‘baby’, and they have spent a lot of time deciding on the exact words to write. No-one likes to be told something is wrong, even if you as the copy-editor are supposed to be the expert on the ‘nuts and bolts’ of writing! I tend to be super-polite (honed over years of working with local politicians) in my comments and never make anything other than superficial changes to a manuscript without explaining my reasoning in a brief comment.
  • MS Word compatibility with others’ software. I ran into problems last year when it turned out that the .docx version I’d done a sample edit on wasn’t compatible with InDesign being run on the Mac. Some of my changes were shown, while others were not, and the person who’d given me the job was understandably upset that I’d apparently ignored basic formatting rules! As a rule of thumb, it’s always a good idea if working in Word to check the ‘Maintain compatibility with previous versions of Word’ box and keep everyone happy.
  • Use the Review tab in Word. Initially it didn’t occur to me to check what my document would look like if all my changes were accepted; now I find it really helpful to untick all the boxes in the ‘Show Markup’ menu to see how the document would appear if I accepted all my changes. This makes it much, much easier to read through.
  • Using ‘Track Changes’. Showing all deletions within the text can be very helpful, but it can also interrupt the ‘flow’ of the text when editing on-screen. Setting the editing tool to show deletions only within the margins makes it easier to spot errors you may have accidentally introduced.
  • It’s not always helpful to track changes! If you’re making non-contentious style changes (such as deleting double spacing after full stops), turn it off, unless you want to waste a lot of time later!

And that’s my lot for now. If any more occur to me, I’ll post them in future entries.

I’m now looking at the time and realise I have a dinner to cook before school finishes, so I’ll sign off for now. ‘Til next week…