Keep calm and carry on


I should be heaving on with another big chunk of work right now, but I need to decompress a bit and take stock – and ask some advice, too, if anyone doesn’t mind sharing.

Oh, and this is a photo of me taken during the Birmingham Half-Marathon, 2010. Half way round and looking cheery for the camera, but it was a big effort. I was better prepared last year, and it went a lot more smoothly. I need to learn from that.

This is a bit of a rambly post which I have used to work things out in my head a bit. I would appreciate your advice and feedback, though, so do read on (there’s a nice bit at the end).

So, Libro’s doing really well – too well, in a way. Yes, you can be doing too well. Not in that “I feel too well: oh, heck, I’m going to have a migraine” way, but in that “I actually have a little too much work to do right now” way.

And I am organised. I have my famous Gantt chart, in which I book either regular work (like the Moseley B13 magazine that I know will come to me around the 14th of each month), my regular coaching clients who let me know their deadlines in advance, or work booked way in advance (usually student dissertations and theses).  I also block in work I wasn’t expecting as it comes in to me, and I colour it in so when it’s in, it’s in red, I know I need to do it, but I have a visual reference of the work that’s in and when it’s due. This is really helpful for knowing which order to do my work in and I can see my deadlines, the weekends, etc., at a glance. I would go badly wrong without this!

I have several categories of work that come in to me:

  1. Regulars who can send me big chunks of work, BUT I always have the option to say no. I can literally tell them what I can take and what I can’t. One of these is my big transcription client. I know when the next conference is, and I know that when that comes up I can look at what work I have booked in and say “I can take x hours of transcription to do by 9.00 tomorrow morning”. Similarly, I work for a student proofreading company. They get in touch to say they have x number of words to do, or they tell me when busy times are coming and I email in the morning and say “I can take 10,000 words today” and that’s fine. With both of these clients, I feel I can say no: they have a pool of other people who can work for them, too, so no guilt,  no worry.
  2. Non-regulars who have booked in advance. If they know when their deadline is, they don’t usually need a mad and terrifying turnaround time, so I book them in with a nice big space so I know I have room to move them around if I have something urgent in (this is why I charge extra for urgent work for these people: if it’s urgent, it’s on a shorter time scale and I can’t move them).
  3. Non-regulars who haven’t booked in advance. If they are a potentially useful or interesting client who I can fit in now and would like to add to my roster, I agree and do the work. If I really cannot fit them in, or they don’t fit my skillset exactly, I have a group of trusted people I can refer them on to. If it’s a student dissertation, I’ll drop Linda a line. If it’s video transcription, off it goes to Michelle.
  4. Regulars whose work is always urgent. This is my tricky category (1). Let me state here and now that I like working with them. They have interesting work, they appreciate my hard work, and they pay on time: maybe all three! There are a few translators/translation agencies whose work is usually urgent, however it’s also usually short and doesn’t take too long. Then I have a couple of clients who send me larger projects. Quite often, this involves me dashing back home from a cafe or zipping upstairs from the sofa – or there’s an email to Matthew to say I won’t be around this evening … again. These clients don’t have another proof-reader / editor type person. I am the only one set up to help them.
  5. Previous clients with a little more work … that isn’t often little and is often urgent. This is my tricky category (2). I worked for them before, I know how their document works … so I should do it. But they are on my old pricing schedule and I feel I should honour that …

So, here’s my problem. I enjoy my work (on the whole). I am happy to work hard for my clients. I am happy to put in THE ODD 11  hour day for them. But I do not want to work all the hours there are and tire myself out. I don’t want to put back my gym trip or eat cereal at 2.30 pm for lunch. I do not want a chaotic day.  I want to do the things I did this for: freedom to read, review, exercise, have my life back after working two jobs for a few years.

What do I do? I am not prepared to employ people on an employed or contractual basis. There is not enough work all the time to do this, and the administrative burden is large. I’m going to write a “Where next?” post soon, but just assume I will not be taking anyone on permanently. Managing expectations is all very well, but these clients need the work quickly, and I can’t make infinite deadlines for my less urgent clients: their work has to be done at some time!

I think I need to instigate a back-up plan. After all, I might get really poorly, or want to – shhh – go on HOLIDAY one day. I am not indispensable and I know that is a problem I have dragged with me from my employed life: I am good at what I do, and reliable, so an assumption builds that I have infinite capacity and can take on this, and this, and this … I am good at saying no to new clients, now, but I need to know how to work with current ones.

First of all I need to source another couple of people I can refer on to. I could do with someone with good corporate experience, a marketing person who is also good at editing. I would prefer this to be someone I know, but if you know someone you can put in touch with me, great. This is NOT a job position or a guarantee I will send anything on. Also I would like to be able to avoid them poaching my good clients, although obviously if the client wants to move, that’s up to them.

Then I need to arrange with my clients that we have a back-up person to cover me. I hopefully get first choice over if I can take the work: if I can’t, I will refer it on to a named, reliable, hand-picked partner. But then their relationship with my client is their own, they invoice them, and that’s that, nothing more to do with me, for that job.

So this is similar to not taking on a job but recommending a friend, and in fact the transcription company now uses two other transcribers I have recommended, so I know that works OK.

Has anyone actually done this kind of thing? Does it work? Am I missing something here? Please share, either from a freelancer’s perspective or that of someone who uses freelancers. I would love to know how it works for you. I don’t want to let anyone down, but I also don’t want to let MYSELF down.

Oh, and here’s a picture of Matthew, Tower of Strength to me. He has to ferry cups of tea upstairs and put up with me being “only half an hour late tonight!” to watch one telly programme before bed. He microwaves pre-made bean sauces for me (he hates beans) and doesn’t mind (too much) when I get behind with the housework I say I’ll do.  This is a picture taken (by BRMB: thanks) at the Walkathon last year. He dragged me round, much as he drags me through some of these difficult days. Thank you, Matthew!

Book reviews: Pawleys Island, The Serpentine Cave, Gardens of Delight

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Dorothea Benton Frank – Pawleys Island

(16 Aug 2011)

Sprung upon in a charity shop because I have read another of her South Carolina novels, but a “meh” read. Two old friends on an island have their quiet lives interrupted by the new girl in town, fleeing from an unpleasant husband and her uncaring children. Will Abigail dust off her law qualifications and come to the rescue? We are meant to identify with the characters early on and root for them, but I couldn’t really involve myself with them. Frank seems to love her characters a  bit too much and the divorce story just wasn’t that hugely interesting to me. Good atmospheric scenery though.

Jill Paton Walsh – The Serpentine Cave

(16 Aug 2011)

Having met the author at the Iris Murdoch conference in 2010, I have been vaguely looking out for her books since, and added two of them to the August charity shop haul I seem to be working my way through at the moment. I felt really upset for her when I found some glaring editorial errors in this book (published by Black Swan): an artist’s “pallett” (and art is a big theme: it is spelled correctly the other times it’s used), and the central character wakes up in one bedroom and goes to bed that evening in a different one, which was odd indeed. A well-done story but maybe  a bit slight – I was expecting more bulk, somehow. But I liked the locals in the book, the Cornwall setting, and I will read more of hers.

Erica James – Gardens of Delight

(BookCrossing, 27 Aug 2011)

I wouldn’t normally read this genre (womanlit?) but couldn’t resist the setting on Lake Como. That part is done well, but the book OPENED with an editing error (someone being subordinate rather than INsubordinate!) and it didn’t really hold my attention, though it was competently enough done and passed the time. I never really engaged with or cared about the characters, and it seemed over-planned and under-executed in parts, not properly thought through in others.

Book reviews: Reading Groups, A Walk Around the Lakes, Palladian

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Jenny Hartley – Reading Groups

(23 May 2004)

A re-read for my Iris Murdoch research of a very useful book about UK reading groups, with lots of demographic information that I can compare with my results, and even mention of Iris, too!

Hunter Davies – A Walk Around the Lakes

(16 August 2011)

Hunter Davies belongs to the group of writers whose books I will always pick up, regardless of the subject matter. But the appeal of this one was obviously also in the subject, as we had our first visit to the Lakes last year and loved it. Mixing the history of tourism and the Wordsworth set with his 1970s trip walking in the Lakes, this is affectionate, funny, intelligent and informative. I even enjoyed reading about Wordsworth (I liked the admission that yes, some of his poetry is BAD), although I enjoyed reading about the parts of the area we know ourselves, fell runners and Chris Bonington more. This could have done with a map of the whole area as well as the individual lake maps.

Elizabeth Taylor – Palladian

(03 Feb 2012)

Purchased and read for the LibraryThing Virago Group’s Taylor read – I think the only one of her books I didn’t already own. Taylor’s second novel, and her take on Janes Austen and Eyre. Orphaned Cassandra leaves what passes for the real world (school, then a quiet life with her father) for seclusion as a governess, all too ready to fall in love with the master of the house.

Spare, exacting writing mercilessly dissects the characters just as failed medical student Tom draws images of his dissected household, and Taylor does not even flinch from a somewhat shocking death part way through (which is foreshadowed by a sad pet bit that I was glad to be warned about in advance but that I managed OK).

Unsparing and uncompromising as it is, it is a good read, which must have influenced Barbara Comyns in her writing (do we know about this?). Not enjoyable, exactly, but intriguing and beautifully done.

How to be an overnight business success

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Someone posted on Twitter the other day that people should follow me because I’ve built up my business so quickly.  And yes, through the first 50 days of my full time business adventure, I have been running at full capacity. But I don’t feel like it’s been an overnight success, and here’s why (and why I think that’s a good thing).

You’ll have read all about the way I started Libro by now, so I won’t bore you by going on about that. But how have I brought that up to full capacity since I went full time? It’s been a combination of things:

– having a good set of regular customers I can rely on to keep sending me work

– having a marketing strategy which keeps people aware of what I do

– carefully using a few sources to help me gain more work

– keeping careful track of what I can and can’t do, and being selective about what work I take on

These all mean that I could grow the business slowly while I was part time, and then ramp things up to fill in the full time hours.

Keeping regular

I’ve built up a roster of regular customers over the last couple of years – some who send me lots of work, some who send me something every now and again. I’ve made sure to keep them happy, keeping them informed of when I was available when I worked part time, setting sensible expectations and being reliable. I’ve also kept these diversified, from editing, to writing, to transcription. I let them know first when I went full time, I have kept them as my priority customers, with others fitting around them – and they have rewarded me by sending me more projects to work on.

Read all about it!

My Libro blog is primarily written to be useful and helpful, of course. But my aim is also to drive business to my website. Do a quick Google search for “troublesome pairs”, “spelled or spelt” and “what is a transcriber?” and you should find me on the first page of results. This time last year, I instigated a policy of making sure I got hits on the website every day, and often had to go and publicise myself on different fora to do so on a particular day. Now I have lots of hits every day, I never have to do that, and most of my hits come from search engines.

I have also kept on networking and using social media. All of this ensures that I have a steady stream of new customers finding me and heading my way.

Paid help

I looked at a lot of freelancer websites when I started out – where you register and then bid for jobs. But I was never successful and I found that I was constantly underbid by companies offering the work for peanuts. Thanks to my friend, Sian, I found which is a site for translators. I took out a paid membership last year, which means that people who want editing, proof-reading, transcribing and localisation services are given my details and can come through to me for a price and service estimate. Some really good, regular, clients have found me this way, with minimal effort from me (setting up my profile and then of course responding to questions and requests for quotations) and it was well worth choosing this one site to use. Getting a recommendation to use the site from someone else who had success with it was key here.

Being choosy

I gained great experience in being choosy and setting expectations when I was juggling the business and my part time job. Now it’s a case of juggling projects large and small – my Gantt chart is my friend here, but so is being honest about myself and my abilities. I’ve been working a lot on a big transcription project and other ongoing work recently, and I know that around 40 billable hours is the maximum I can really do in a week – it’s hard work that involves a lot of concentration, and that’s not counting admin time.  I am lucky enough to have a few people I can recommend a prospect to if I can’t take on their work, and I am getting better at doing that rather than taking too much on. That way, I can make sure I do a good job for my customers, and keep reliable for my regulars.

The next step …

I’ll write another post about where I go from here, as I’ve had a few questions and suggestions recently. I’m really happy that I have avoided the quiet couple of months I was fearing when I went full time, and I did take the day off today …

If anyone else has recently gone full time self-employed, I’d love to hear about your experiences and how you’ve grown to fill those new available hours!

Tea Hee

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My name is Liz and I’m a tea-aholic. There: I’ve said it. And I don’t mean to mock AA meetings, just to echo. I probably, in reality, do have a slight problem. I get tetchy if I don’t have regular cuppas, and I have been known to develop a headache if I haven’t had my first cup of the day early enough. In fact, when I was sorting out a logo for Libro, I nearly went for a tea-related image … Anyway, although I’m not at the high level of tea expertise and variety achieved by my colleague Katharine O’Moore Klopf, I do have a large selection of teas in the kitchen cabinet, and I’ve realised that I use different teas for different times, different moods, different kinds of work …

Earl Grey

The LyzzyBee standard. This is my red label or builder’s tea. I start the day with a cup of Earl Grey, it’s my tea of choice when out and about, and when I was working in an office and it seemed a bit silly to stock the whole range, this is what I stuck with. A cup with breakfast and yes, teabags do travel with me to foreign climes, just in case.  I go for the Sainsburys Taste The Difference teabag in general, although I am given other brands and like them too. The Twinings one has apparently recently changed recipe, and there are some interesting variants, for example the lavender and jasmine ones. Stop press: I tried these and didn’t take to them, and had to pass them on to another tea-drinking household!

Lady Grey

A Twinings tea and my favourite for during the day, standard variety. It’s like the Earl, but with more citrus – refreshing on a warm day, cheery on a cold one.


I bought this when I was looking for an alternative to the Lady Grey – it’s another supermarket one, bought when I felt a bit guilty about spending out on tea (I don’t any more). Although it is sold as being light and delicate, I find it more oomphy than Earl Grey, and so it’s useful when I need more of a pick-me-up, or to be dragged through a difficult project.


For some unknown reason, I like to sip a Chai when I’m transcribing. Really, only then in a work context. Why? No idea! I drink it outside work, and tend to manage to avoid the compulsion to type out everything I hear, which is useful.

Spicy Tea

Beloved of Paul Magrs’ Brenda and Effie, my friend Ali got me some Taylors of Harrogate Spicy Christmas Tea leaves the other year and I love it and will be sourcing more. Sometimes it’s nice to go for the tea leaves – and I have a nifty in-cup strainer bought at Whittards so I don’t need to crack out the teapot every time.

Lapsang Souchong

I really, really have to be in the mood for this smoky tea – but when I am I have to have gallons of the stuff. I don’t think I’ve ever combined it with Libro work, though …

Peppermint, spearmint and green tea with jasmine

I have the odd flare-up of IBS and peppermint/ spearmint tea really soothe that. I had the green tea with jasmine in my library office drawer and had forgotten about it. It is, like all jasmine tea, oddly redolent of Savlon, but it is nice and calming. I might look at that for a mid-afternoon cuppa in future.

So there we go. Tea keeps me focused, it gives me exercise going down and up two flights of stairs every time I want a cuppa, and it keeps me hydrated and Libro running. What’s your favourite work tea?

Book reviews – The 4-Hour Work Week and Ghosting


Timothy Ferriss – The 4-Hour Work Week

(BookCrossing, 24 July 2011)

Helping people to leave the rat race, express themselves, etc. is a noble aim – helping them to bum around the workd while on their employer’s time quite another. I had picked up this book from Mozfest and then read about it in A.J. Jacobs’ “My Experimental Life”, where Ferriss asks to – and ineed does – lift an entire chapter on outsourcing straight into his book, and this is seemingly typical behaviour. Ferriss boasts of using loopholes to “achieve”, but is pushing people off a platform really achieving in Chinese wrestling? – I found this generally a bit unsavoury, to be honest. He does admit that one of his case studies was not keen on some of his methods, which is honest and fair enough. And I have taken an interest in some of the milder versions of his efficiency measures, such as checking email less often (but telling people you are going to do this: used today when I have a big work project in). I’m glad I didn’t buy this book – but then the author would probably approve of that!

Here’s a much fuller review of this book by the person I passed it to next!

Jennie Erdal – Ghosting: A Memoir

(BookCrossing, 30 July 2011)

As someone whose job it is to write for other people, on their terms and in their voices, a lot of the time, I was very interested to read this account of a ghost writer’s very heavy engagement with her craft. She ends up writing everything for her single client – letters, reviews, columns, non-fiction books … and then two novels! I now know where I, personally, would draw the line; I have been asked about writing fiction with people before, and I have turned them down – now I am committed to doing that! But as someone with more inside knowledge than presumably many of her readers, I did find her accounts of the process authentic and fascinating, and it would certainly prove interesting to anyone less aware of the processes and emotions. I would like to state here that I have never lounged by a pool with any of my clients, nor have I written the kind of material that will mean I have to release this book in the pub, and, sorry clients, but I’m not installing a fixed telephone line for any of you!

What I did in January

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Just to alert my readers that I’ve posted my What I Did In January update on my Libroediting blog, for a more work-orientated view of things …