We are editors, not accountants or administrators. Our job satisfaction primarily comes from helping authors deliver their messages to their readers as clearly as possible, not from crunching numbers. And I doubt many freelance editors started their own businesses simply for the joy of budgeting and tracking their allowable expenses.
Photo by Iryna Tysiak on Unsplash
With all the spinning plates that editing and proofreading involve – plus the other responsibilities we have in our everyday lives – keeping on top of your business affairs might not be your highest priority.
Running a business is tough, and I'm not here to wag a disapproving finger or put pressure on anyone who lets their admin slide a little. But if you're looking to get organized with your business data and add regular admin check-ins to your working life, the tips in this article can help you cut through the barriers that may be holding you back.
I have no time for admin in a full day of editorial work
Thinking ahead can be a real advantage here. If you’re not already including admin time when you quote for a project and plan out your working day, you’re telling your client (and yourself) that invoicing, responding to emails, monitoring your editing speed as you go, flagging any major problems early on, and all the other responsibilities under the “admin” umbrella aren’t valuable. And that’s simply not true.
These tasks aren’t just extras that you can squeeze into an already full day; if the admin doesn’t get done, projects fall apart, clients are dissatisfied and you don’t get repeat business. Building in admin hours to each one of your project quotes – the number of admin hours will depend on the complexity of the project and your knowledge of the client – will ensure the editorial work doesn’t eat up all of your time.
And chances are that by investing in your admin, you’ll be less tired and rushed while doing your editing work, because you’ll be more knowledgeable about your editing speeds for different types of projects and you’ll have identified the clients who offer fair rates and manageable turnaround times.
Admin is boring
Recognizing the importance of admin work to your business can in itself make the admin seem more interesting, but there’s also nothing wrong with making an effort to jazz it up a bit.
Colourful column headings from The Editor's Affairs (TEA) Income and Expenses spreadsheet
I find that colours motivate me and brighten my mood, and my Excel spreadsheets are no exception! My income from Canadian clients is highlighted in one colour and my income from British clients in another, and I even have cells that turn red to alert me when a client is late paying an invoice.
Think of your business data as a record of all your achievements, something to look at to inspire you and fill you with professional pride. Feel free to add little motivational notes in your private files, and celebrate milestones such as upping your hourly rate, getting a new client, or increasing your working speed.
In the end, you may have to accept that checking in with the financial side of your business is boring but necessary. My good friend and fellow editor Janet MacMillan has a saying about an editor’s need to stay on top of copyright rules: “Better bored than sued.” A similar principle applies to the admin side of your business:
“Better bored than barely afloat.”
If you’re not on top of your business spending, whether your invoices are getting paid on time and in full, and whether your actual hourly rate is anywhere near your estimated one, you might be earning less than you need to meet your expenses – and you’ll have no idea why. Tracking that data will put your business in the best position to succeed.
I can't cope with all the calculations
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Getting organized and investing a little time and energy in deciding how you’re going to track and analyze your business data will save you hours with a calculator down the road. This initial set-up can involve creating your own business metadata templates where you can plug in the details of each project and transaction. Or, if that’s not your idea of a fun afternoon, invest in a ready-made system where the structure and formulas have been created for you. Once you have your system set up, the day-to-day calculations will be minimal or nonexistent.
That initial set-up investment will also pay dividends during tax season. Just think of how much less stressful it will be –for you and your accountant – if you have all your income and expenses details ready when it comes time to file your taxes.
My business is too new / too established to track
If you don’t have a regular roster of clients and paid projects yet, your priorities may be courses, marketing, networking and volunteer editorial work. You may think that you don’t have enough business data to record and analyze. Similarly, if you have steady paid work coming in, it’s easy to make that the only priority in your working hours. And if you haven’t run into any issues with your clients, then tracking who they are, how long it takes you to complete their projects, and what percentage of your income you receive from them can feel unnecessary.
I encourage you to challenge both of these assumptions. Failing to keep up with your financial affairs can have major consequences for the health of your business, and this is true whether you’re new to freelancing and struggling to get your first clients or whether your business has been going strong for decades.
If you’re new to freelance editing, it’s worth recording how much time you spend on each of your marketing endeavours and how much work they bring in. If you’re doing some work, whether paid or volunteer, tracking your editing/proofreading speed will help you quote more accurately for projects in the future.
And if you’ve been in the biz for many years, you may have been relying too heavily on ongoing work from a single client and failing to reach out to other clients or invest in marketing; you may have fallen behind with your continuing professional development in the areas of knowledge that bring you the most work; or you may have lost track of when you last raised your rates.
I hope this article has helped you understand why having regularly updated admin data all in one place will save you time and mental energy down the line. It can motivate you to celebrate business wins, and tracking your data can be as simple as picking a system and then plugging your income and expenses into it. Most importantly, embracing the admin side of freelance life will empower you to keep your editorial business healthy and strong.