Because, well, you know. Bloggers, be kind to yourselves. Nobody expects you to be churning out quality content at a time like this.
When I first started working with my coach, what I really needed was someone to kick my arse. Accountability has been something I’ve really struggled with since I left my old job. I’d always worked for an organisation and always had a boss. And even though I always had bosses who very much trusted me to manage my own time, just knowing there was someone who would notice and care was enough to make sure all my shit got done, even the boring bits. Of course now I have my clients, and I daresay they’d notice if my work wasn’t done. Because I know they’re waiting, their stuff does indeed get done, without fail. But all the rest of the things involved in owning a business… well, they can easily fall further and further down the priority list, which obviously isn’t ideal. If you don’t do all that admin and marketing and other non-client-facing stuff, your business will eventually suffer, or at least stagnate. I also had a suspicion that I even though I was getting the editing done, I could probably get even more done, and therefore earn more, if I could just stop wasting so much time, mainly on social media.
Gina introduced me to a concept that has genuinely revolutionised my life. It’s called time blocking, and it’s pretty simple. You organise your day into chunks of time, and assign a task to each chunk. You also schedule in breaks where you will do something else, away from your desk. Crucially, you do this in advance, at the start of the week or each evening for the next day, so you never have to waste time dithering about what it is you’re supposed to be doing. As I am a consummate ditherer, this sounded perfect.
For accountability, I would send my time blocking to my coach, and she’d check in to make sure I was staying on track.
Here’s what a typical day of time blocking might look like for me:
- 09:00–09:45 Edit 2000 words of current manuscript
- 09:45-10:00 Strip beds and put wash on
- 10:00-10:45 Edit 2k
- 10:45-11:00 Put the girls’ clean clothes away
- 11:00–11:45 Edit 2k
- 11:45–12:30 Empty dishwasher and have lunch
- 12:30–13:15 Draft new blog post
- 13:15–13:30 Put the sheets on to dry
- 13:30–14:15 Edit 2k
- 14:15-14:30 Sort hair out (because I probably haven’t done anything with it yet)
- 14:30–15:15 Social media
- 15:15 School run
As you can see, I schedule EVERYTHING. I get little bits of housework done around my work. I have dedicated social media time. I make sure to include marketing and admin tasks as well as my editing work. I remind myself to brush my hair. This way of working brought me a startling revelation: if you put aside time to do things, things get done. Who knew?
Time blocking has many advantages:
- It forces me to plan my day effectively to make sure I can fit everything in.
- It takes away the time and mental effort wasted on deciding what to do next – if you’ve done it the night before, the decision is already made.
- It’s forced me to think about how I work and how to get the better of myself – if I know I’m likely to put a task off in favour of editing, I schedule it in my first block of the day so I can’t use the excuse of running out of time or energy.
- It’s helped me (somewhat) to use my social media time in a targeted, focused way (I’ll be honest – there’s still a fair amount of slippage in this area.)
- I can work with my natural dips in concentration to get the most out of my editing time – after about 45 minutes of editing, my brain always starts to wander, so I might as well take advantage of that.
Like any system, it’s not perfect. Time blocking does have its disadvantages too:
- Disruption can throw you into a tailspin, whether that’s a minor one like a knock at the door or a huge one like having to pick up a vomiting child from school. It’s easy to get stressed out if you fall behind, and the temptation to say “Oh, fuck it all” and drift Twitter-wards when your blocking has gone to shit can be strong.
- It can take time to figure out the right chunks for you. And then when you think you’ve figured it out, you get a piece of work that’s completely different and you need to reassess it all again.
It’s important to find a balance and a rhythm that works for you. And it’s important to recognise that it’s not always going to work – some days you just need to be more flexible. Another important thing Gina made me realise is that some days will just go badly, and that’s OK. It’s not necessarily my fault, or the fault of the time blocking system; it’s just life, and you can try again tomorrow.
Time blocking changed my days almost immediately. Even now I’m no longer working with Gina so no one sees my blocking but me, having it written down in front of me helps keep me accountable to myself. This change happened right at the start of my coaching journey, so it became clear that maybe accountability and efficiency was really only a tiny part of what I needed help with. Perhaps there were bigger fish to fry. But that’s a story for another day.
As I’ve mentioned before, in the second half of last year I worked with a business coach. I always intended to write a blog post about what I learned from that experience, but it turns out I learned a WHOLE LOAD, far too much for one post. So it’s going to be a little series of posts instead, if that’s OK. Or even if it’s not. It’s my blog.
Anyway, my coach. I found her via a local women’s business network I belong to on Facebook. Initially I was looking for someone to help me to, basically, stop wasting time. I found I was always getting my client work done, but all the other stuff in my business, and in my life, kept getting pushed aside. I needed a taskmaster, so that’s initially what I asked the group for. The lovely Gina Trick replied to my post, and even though she was in the process of changing her business focus to helping child-free women entrepreneurs achieve more freedom, she must have taken pity on my child-encumbered self and agreed to work with me (side note: a reminder that having a niche doesn’t mean you have to close yourself off to all other opportunities altogether).
It was really hard to take that initial step and start working with Gina. It’s a difficult thing for people like me (a typical Virgo) to admit they need someone else’s help to do things better, and another difficult thing for people like me (a typical skinflint) to spend large amounts of money on it.
I agonised over the money for ages. I had been planning to spend it on a new computer, a much more tangible benefit. I knew a new, faster computer would save me valuable time each day (by all means, Word, take five minutes to load one file). But what if a coach could help me save even more time than that? In the end, I figured that learning new ways of working and focusing was likely to be a good investment, so I took the plunge.
I was right, thank God. With Gina’s help, I found ways of taking control of my working day and becoming more productive. And I learned a lot more than that too – I learned the value of thinking strategically about what activities I invest my time and energy in. I learned to look at how far I’ve come and be proud of that, instead of despairing at how far I’ve got to go. I learned how to have more confidence in myself and what I have to offer. I learned to plan for the things I want instead of just vaguely hoping they will happen. (I’ll talk more about all these things in future posts.) So while I can’t put a specific number to the return I’ve made on my investment, I feel pretty confident in saying it’s been a good one.
I still need a new computer though.
I get/have to spend all of this week with my children. At the moment, I’m at the first option, because they’re being pretty cool. By the end of the week, when we’re all bored of each other’s company, it will lean more toward the latter, I’m sure. I’ve managed to organise my workload so I can take pretty much the whole week off (I’m shipping them off to my parents’ house tomorrow so I can get some admin things done), and hopefully we’re going to have lots of fun. (And I mean actual fun, not the usual me-sitting-on-the-couch-on-Twitter-while-they-play-Minecraft fun.)
One of the most challenging things about being a parent (I’m being careful not to say “mum” here, because I don’t want to be sexist and exclusive, but let’s face it, most of this still falls to mums) is working around school, or the lack of it. I thought childcare was a problem when they were smaller, but now I look back with ridiculous fondness on the days I could just chuck them in nursery at 8.30 and leave them there until 6. Now, not only are there the shorter school hours to contend with, there are school assemblies, meetings, “Mam, I forgot my guitar! Can you bring it in?” phone calls, and of course, the are-they-aren’t-they-ill-enough-to-stay-off-school days.
When you work outside the home, some of these decisions are, to a certain extent, taken out of your hands. My children would often claim illness on a day when I had important meetings, so I would tell them they had to try school and that I would pick them up if I had to. I invariably felt a huge amount of guilt over this (although the fact that I rarely had to then actually go and get them helped) but it had to be done. Sometimes school meetings and assemblies had to be missed, and if one of them left something at home, tough. When you work at home, you can, in theory, take care of all these situations, and because you can, you feel like you should, and so you do. And then you often end up frazzled from trying to DO ALL THE THINGS.
When I started writing the first draft of this post, I was at the end of a week that seemed to be determined to prove how tough life as a work-at-home mum could be. There was a meeting about SATs for my Y6 child, which I felt I should go to, even though I don’t really care about the SATs or how well she does in them at all (in an anti-pointless-testing way, not in an unengaged-parent way, I hasten to add). My neighbours ordered about a billion parcels that I took in for them, so I kept having to get up to answer the door. (I swear the postman doesn’t even bother trying their houses anymore and just comes straight to me.) On the Thursday, my younger daughter threw up at school, so I had to go and collect her, then scrabble around for someone to collect the elder one so I didn’t have to drag the sick one back out again. Then, because of the 48-hour exclusion policy, I took the no-longer-sick-in-any-way younger one to my parents’ the next day in the hope of getting some work done. So of course school rang me at lunchtime to come and get the other one. And in amongst all of this, my work still needed to be done. There are no colleagues to pick up the slack when you’re freelance, just you and your creeping-ever-closer deadline.
But I’m hoping this week will show the other side of the freelance parenting coin (that’s being a parent who’s freelance, not offering freelance parenting services. That’s a business idea for another time). I don’t have to pay for any childcare while my children are off school. I have been able to negotiate my own deadlines and take this week off, and if anything comes up that I really have to deal with, I can do bits and pieces while they watch some thing about a ladybird superhero on Netflix or after they’re in bed.
I’m lucky I’ve been able to do that for these holidays. It doesn’t always work out that way. And when it doesn’t, as I’ve mentioned before, I get guilt. I’ve got pretty good at protecting my family time from work – out of necessity if nothing else. But I’m less good at protecting my work time from … I was about to say my family, but that sounds terrible, doesn’t it?
Ah, fuck it. I need to be better at protecting my work time from my family. Working outside the home puts a barrier around your work time. Sometimes things barge their way through it, but in general it stays intact. When you work at home, that barrier is mental, and it only exists if you put it there and refuse to apologise for it. So this week, I will not apologise for my day off from parenting. I might not have any paid work to do, but the admin of a business is never-ending, so tomorrow I will see my admin day as something necessary and valuable. I might even enjoy it. There’ll be spreadsheets, after all.
Unusually serious post (with a rather unwieldy title) today; sorry about that. Joking and swearing will resume before long, I’m sure.
Recently, I received an email from the client whose manuscript I was working on. It said: “Just touching base to see if we are still on track for delivery of my manuscript by xx?”
I had given the author no reason to believe we wouldn’t be, so I could have, were I the type to take things overly personally, bristled at the implied questioning of my professionalism. But I hadn’t been in contact for a while (she’d sent the manuscript well before Christmas, but I wasn’t due to start until January), and I knew the author was on a tight schedule, so I sent a quick message back to say yes, still on track, and if I got done a few days early I’d send it back immediately.
I received an another email straight away: “Wonderful. Thanks for the update. With the last editor, I sent a similar message and never heard back. It was a relief to even just see your name pop up.” Then I remembered – the reason this client came to me was because they had been horribly let down by another editor, who had just disappeared on them after taking payment.
Editors like this exist, unfortunately. Outright scammers, or just unreliable people who have no idea how to act in a professional manner. They can be found in every profession, and ours is no exception.
Most of the online editorial circles I move in are filled with people who would never dream of taking advantage of a client. They would be ashamed of doing a half-arsed job. They could never imagine ignoring a client for weeks on end. This kind of behaviour is so far from their own experience of being an editor that I think many of them don’t quite understand just how often this happens to unsuspecting authors, and how devastating it can be. So when they start working with a client who questions all their procedures and ways of working, or who bombards them with emails and requests for progress reports, those editors can see these things as signs of an overbearing client. To be fair, that’s sometimes exactly what they are. But sometimes they’re the sign of someone who’s been badly burned. Every editor, and every business owner, for that matter, should remember that not all clients are approaching the relationship with the same expectations and baggage.
I think that as editors we could sometimes do better when it comes to understanding our clients’ concerns. There are people out there doing great damage to the reputation of our profession, in the indie world at least, and there’s a lot we can do to undo some of that damage and restore our collective good name.
Freelancing is full of risk. Good business owners do what they can to protect themselves from those risks. But we need to be aware of the effect this might have on our potential clients. For example, you could ask the question “Should an author pay an editor in full before receiving the edited manuscript?” in an editors’ group and a writers’ group, and you’d get two different sets of answers. Editors would lean towards “Always get payment first”, backed up with horror stories of being ripped off by clients. Authors would lean towards “Never pay first”, backed up with stories of being ripped off by editors. Both things happen. Both sets of concerns are legitimate.
The problem comes, then, when we start seeing the expression of these concerns as red flags, when they might be nothing of the sort. An editor might be the perfect person for an author’s work, but if both have been cheated with regard to payment in the past, and so the editor refuses to release the edits before payment, and the author refuses to pay before seeing the edits, they’re at an impasse. A potentially brilliant working relationship could be lost before it’s even begun.
I think the solution lies, as it so often does, in empathy, honesty and communication. Our clients are investing sometimes huge sums of money with us, and handing over a piece of work that could have taken them years. That’s a lot to trust a total stranger with, so we should respect that. Where we have developed practices to protect our businesses from risks, perhaps we could be better at explaining to clients why. We don’t have to, of course – we are entirely free to run our businesses as we see fit and only work with clients who accept that unquestioningly. But honesty and openness are generally good things, and we could be opening up great opportunities for ourselves by bringing more of those things into our interactions with potential clients.
And perhaps there is also room for compromise. Again, no one has to compromise on anything if they don’t want to. But are there ways we can protect ourselves while also allowing our clients to protect themselves? For example, I have recently decided to move to asking for payment before delivery of the full edited manuscript. But I recognise that this might make some new clients nervous, so I offer to send an edited chapter on request, any chapter of the client’s choosing, so they can be reassured I have actually done the work.
It can be a difficult thing, to give people the benefit of the doubt when the stakes are high. A non-paying client, or one who oversteps boundaries, can cause huge problems for an editor. But we aren’t the only party who has something to lose. I wrote once about editing with kindness. We can do business with kindness too.
Four years ago today, I applied to join the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. And in just a few weeks, I will no longer be a member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. No, I’m not abandoning my editing career or flouncing from the society in a huff. The SfEP has been granted chartership, so on 1 March it will become the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (I just had to look that up AGAIN. I promise I will remember the new name properly by March). Woop! Party poppers all round!
So to celebrate my SfEPiversary, and the end of the SfEP as we know it, I’m taking a look back over what membership of this society has meant to me over the last four years.
Doing things properly
Joining the SfEP was one of the very first things I did when I decided to become an editor. Like, really, one of the very first things: I quit my old job at Christmas, and one month later I had joined. I stumbled across the existence of the SfEP during one of my epic googling sessions as I tried to figure out how the hell I was supposed to change my whole career in my mid thirties. The truth was, I’d wanted to be an editor for a long time, ever since my sister asked me to look over her friend’s book “to check the spelling and stuff” (said friend is now a successful author and regular client, so I must have done something right). But I didn’t know how to achieve that dream. Part of my inertia had been because I’m the kind of person who likes to do things properly. I could have just got myself a website and called myself an editor and started taking bookings, as many people do, but that’s not me. The thought of making it up as I went along filled me with terror. I wanted to do things right. Of course, I’ve since learned that there is no one right path to building a business, and there has to be a certain amount of making it up as you go along, but at the time I needed some kind of framework. The SfEP, with its reassuringly professional acronym, its standards and its training courses and its reputation, was just what I was looking for.
But joining the SfEP doesn’t make you an editor. I might have had experience of “checking spelling and stuff”, but that wasn’t enough. I needed to learn some shit. So I started with some of the SfEP courses – they were short, online so I could complete them at my own pace, and relatively inexpensive compared to some others out there. I invested in Proofreading 1 and Copyediting 1, both of which solidified for me that I wanted to be an editor. I was quite surprised to discover through these courses that proofreading wasn’t for me – I like to get my hands a bit dirtier, editorially speaking. The courses showed me I had some skills already, but hoo boy did they show me how much I had to learn, too.
As well as providing that initial training to get wannabe editors started, the SfEP also provides its members with a framework for continuing professional development. There are courses designed to develop your skills and help you learn new ones, professional development days, local CPD events, and of course, the annual conference. (I love conference. Have I ever mentioned how much I love conference?) The SfEP encourages its members to keep learning and progressing. This is reflected in its system of membership grades, from Entry level to Advanced Professional. One of the proudest moments of my editing career, maybe my entire career, maybe my actual life, was last spring, when I found out that after amassing hours of experience, gathering references, completing training, and passing the editorial test, I’d been awarded Advanced Professional status. Well, I was proud for about half an hour (there was shrieking). Then I checked the date, realised it was April Fool’s Day and spent the next few hours convinced this was some kind of evil joke.
Through the SfEP, I’ve also reconnected with some of the skills that had been lying dormant somewhere in my brain for a long time. I rediscovered my public speaking skills to lead sessions at conferences. I dusted off my event organising skills to plan the north east mini conference. I’m currently channelling the me who used to love writing up procedures to help out with revamping some SfEP guidelines. And, most importantly, my pop trivia skills have been brought of out retirement to smash the first-lines round of the SfEP conference quiz two years in a row.
But the absolute bestest, most wonderfullest thing about the SfEP is the community. I know, I’ve banged on about it before. And I’ll never stop, ever. From the moment I first posted on the SfEP forums, everyone there made me feel nothing but welcome. Established editors gave me their time, advice and support for free, and without those people I’d be nowhere. If there’s one thing about the move to chartership that’s a slight shame, it’s that “institute” doesn’t feel quite as homey as “society”. Because that’s what the SfEP has been for me – a place to call home, with people who make it feel that way. But I’m sure that as we move forward into this new chapter, that sense of community won’t change, because all those awesome, generous, kind, talented people will still be there, for me and for all the lost, frightened newbie editors who find their way to the CIEP.
Thank you, SfEP, for everything.
I’ve broken my New Year’s resolution, which was to stop making New Year’s resolutions, because I always break them. My resolution-breaking resolution is this: in 2020, I’m going to stop breaking my resolutions.
Confused yet? I know. Give me a minute.
This year, I need to make my business grow. It has been growing, over the past four years since I started on this path, but this year I need to put even more effort into that, because my family’s circumstances are changing a little (Mr Kia Thomas Editing, or Mr Thomas, as he could more sensibly be called, has a new job), and also because when you have a business, that’s the kind of thing you really need to be doing.
And to make my business grow, I need to stop breaking the promises I make to myself. My work with a business coach in the second half of last year taught me a lot, about running a business and about myself, far more than I could ever hope to encapsulate in a blog post (although I’ll try to write about some of it over the next few months). One of those things is that it’s no good saying I want to do something, or even that I’m going to do something, if I don’t actually do it. (I know most people don’t have to spend money on a business coach to figure that out, but I am not most people.)
That’s why I’m writing this blog post – I promised myself I would blog this week, and it’s almost 7 p.m. on Friday evening and I have not yet done it (although I obviously will have, by the time you read this.) I don’t want to start my first business week of a new decade with a broken promise.
Is this the best blog post in the world? Fuck no. Is it something anyone else needs or wants to read? Maybe not? Is it valuable content to my potential customers? Doubtful. But to me, it is something bigger than that – it is a promise kept. May it be the first of many this year.