ELT freelance rates

ELT FREelance rates

A hot topic at this year’s ELT Freelancers’ Awayday, and on pretty much any other day on the White Ink Facebook page, rates are a fact of freelance life. And if I’ve understood the general mood of the community correctly, they’re not going anywhere. Quite literally. In fact, as I sat down to write this, a cartoon from The New Yorker came up on my Facebook timeline, shared by another ELT editor – an appraisal scenario with the caption “In five years, I see myself with the same job title, about the same salary, and significantly more responsibilities.” Sound familiar?

As I see things, there a number of issues around the rates discussion that have been hitting the ELT freelance community for the last few years, and seem to be gathering pace at the moment  …

Publisher relocation has meant that editorial staff unwilling or unable to make the move with their employer have made the move to freelancing, increasing the number of freelancers looking for work. Similarly, redundancies at many of the large ELT publishers have forced more editors out into the freelance market. More freelancers = more competition for work = it’s a buyer’s market and publishers can force rates down.

Hand in hand with redundancies comes general in-house belt-tightening and close scrutiny of P&Ls. Even if a freelancer is offered ‘their rate’ for the work, it’s likely that the number of hours will be pared right back. We also know that in large publishers, rates for the same type of work can vary between departments, and can depend on who is commissioning the work.

Some of the ELT publishers who provide a large proportion of a freelance editor’s work have made the move recently to paying fees rather than hourly rates. Anecdotal evidence shows that this can work well, with the fee divided by the number of hours the work takes working out at a good hourly rate, and on occasion can work in the editor’s favour. But there are also tales being told of scope creep (where the brief for the work keeps expanding, but the fee is fixed) and non-negotiable fees when the work required turns out to be considerably more demanding than originally described. If you’re a freelancer who finds yourself in this position, do you try and renegotiate the fee, or say nothing  for fear of being labelled a troublemaker and not being offered work in the future? Tricky, isn’t it?

At the Awayday in January I heard one freelancer make the point that she is charging the same rate as she was ten years ago but feels unable to ask for a rate that factors in inflation, cost of living rises, increased experience, overheads, etc. that have come her way in that time. Imagine working in-house without a pay-rise for ten years and you soon realise that it doesn’t seem acceptable.

So, what can we do about it? In an attempt to find out what ‘the going rate’ for certain editorial jobs is, and what people are really experiencing in terms of rates and fees at the moment, Helen Holwill and I have set up our second Survey Of Freelance ELT Editorial Rates (we did the first one in 2013 so it will be interesting to compare results). There are 18 questions and it should take about ten minutes. Please do take some time to complete it before May 13th if you haven’t done already. Results will be available within a few weeks. You might also like to read An American Editor’s blog (and the comments) on Eight Reasons Why Editors Are Underpaid (Parts I and II), and have a look at the SfEP’s suggested minimum rates, although I think it’s worth bearing in mind that we offer a specialisation that posts like these don’t always account for.

I’ll be back again with a summary of the survey findings, but do please share any thoughts you have on the issue in the comments below.

Vitamin CPD

Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is the term used to describe the learning activities professionals engage in to develop and enhance their abilities.

The CPD Certification Service

Although CPD is a term I’ve only picked up on relatively recently, when I worked in-house as an editor and project manager it was part of the deal so didn’t need a label. I had the opportunity to attend conferences, training sessions on any new software I was expected to use, refreshers for best editorial practice, and various improve-your-productivity days. And it didn’t cost me anything more than a few hours away from my desk. As time passed, I became increasingly aware of, and responsible for, training budgets, but the money wasn’t coming out of my pocket or my salary, so I made the most of whatever was available for myself and my team.

Now I’m a freelancer and have to find, and fund, my own development opportunities, so everything must be a bit more considered in terms of time and cost commitments. I thought I’d take a post to conREMAIN CURIOUS AND KEEP LEARNINGsider the options for your next dose of vitamin CPD.

Let’s start with the most costly. Conferences are often two or three days long and some distance away. That’s several days’ lost income, plus travel, subsistence and accommodation expenses, and not forgetting any additional childcare costs or calling in of favours from family and friends to meet all your commitments while you’re away. But consider the benefits of learning new skills, making new contacts and catching up with others, and finding out what’s happening in your industry, and the costs might just be outweighed. This year I’ll be going to the IATEFL conference to catch up with the latest in the ELT industry, and the SfEP conference to see what’s happening in the editing world. I’ve planned for both well ahead of time, have told clients I’ll be away, and will keep the weeks either side of both conferences fairly free for getting ahead/catching up with work.

If getting to major conferences like these isn’t an option, check to see if they are live-streamed or recorded so you can catch up later. IATEFL Online is a great way of watching some of the sessions live from that conference. Also look out for Twitter hashtags and follow them to find out what’s happening either at the time or from the comfort of your sofa after a day at your desk.

There’s also the day conference option – either attending a single day of a longer conference – or going to events that only last a day, often at a weekend so there’s no need to miss a day’s work (although there may be other implications for family matters, etc.). You may still have travel costs, but again, consider the benefits like networking. I’ve already been to three day events this year: the ELT Freelancers’ Awayday (I organised that one), the MaWSIG conference, and The Enterprise Network’s Women In Business event. These events have given me a good mix of specialised and general input – and a wide range of sandwich fillings and biscuits. (Tip: take your own lunch to any event if you’re concerned about healthy eating.) Any events like this will be live-tweeting with a hashtag, so all is not lost if you’re not there in person.

What about going on a course to brush up or learn a new skill? Check out your local adult education college for a huge variety of subjects (I’ve recently done an eight-hour WordPress course for £75 at mine), the more costly but highly focused Publishing Training Centre, a local enterprise network, or an independent supplier. The most useful session I’ve done since going freelance was a morning learning about Twitter. Spending a small amount of time and money to learn the basics and a few tips has saved me hours in the long run. A quick online search ought to sort you out with whatever you’re looking for.

One online course supplier I’ve used on several occasions is Lynda.com. You can get a free 10-day trial of any of their courses – ranging from business, to tech, to something you haven’t even thought of yet – then follow them in your own time. If you know what you want to learn, YouTube might be a good first port of call before you go to a paid service like Lynda.com. I’ve learnt some nifty Excel tips, eyeliner application pointers, and how to empty the grey water tank on a motorhome from vloggers there. Not all strictly CPD, but you get the idea.

In a similar vein is the webinar. Look out for topics related to your area of expertise advertised on social media or through professional memberships. I’ve watched some great IATEFL webinars in the last few months, some social media-related things from Socially Sorted, ELTjam’s LX for ELT webinar (link to replay here), and Dr Freelance and Laura Poole talking about getting the work–life balance right. Webinars usually offer an opportunity to ask questions and interact with the speaker more than you can with something like the Lynda.com courses, and are an excellent way of getting some CPD from the comfort of your own home. Look out for replays if you can’t make the live dates, although some are limited-time only, so don’t delay too long.

While we’re talking about online delivery, have you listened to any podcasts as part of your CPD? I recently met coach Ruby McGuire at a networking meeting and heard her mention her Rock Your Fabulous Biz podcast so went off to iTunes to check that out. It’s important to factor time into your schedule for CPD, but I find listening to a couple of podcasts while I’m out for a walk gets two things done at the same time. Download some for the next time you’re in the car/on a train and reach your destination with some new ideas to follow up when you get home.

What haven’t I mentioned yet? Blogs. The best are those that give you some content that leaves you thinking when you’ve finished reading. My current regular work-related reads are the SfEP blog, Louise Harnby’s Proofreader’s Parlour and the Copyediting blog.

Forums. Got a question that you want expert help with, or some suggestions for further reading on a topic? Post on a group forum (or, similar, in a LinkedIn group or on a Facebook group or page), and you could have your answer in minutes.

Books. Whether a print copy for your reference shelf, or an eBook for your Kindle library, a new book is a sure way of learning something new.

Leave a comment and tell me what you’ve learnt lately, and which are your favourite ways of learning as a freelancer.

An unexpectedly quiet week

Here are a couple of snippets from conversations I had with a client last week …

Monday
Me: Can you help me prioritise the tasks I need to do this week? I know I need to do a, b, c, d, e, f, g, and possibly h, but I’m not sure which are most urgent.
Client: Sure. Please do c, f, e, h, a, b, d, then g. If you finish those, do i, j and k.

Friday
Me: I think I’ve nearly finished. Can that be right?
Client: I think so. Have a good weekend.

Having worked flat out on this project for a couple of months, it seemed incredible that I’d been so engrossed in meeting the deadlines of last week that I’d totally failed to notice that everything would be off my desk this week. So imagine my surprise when I sat down on Monday morning and realised that I don’t actually have anything pressing to do this week. I have a new project coming in towards the end of the month, and some further stages of the busy project to oversee in the next few weeks, but for now the pressure seems to be off for a few days.

What a relief. Or is it? As someone who likes to be busy, I always find it a bit odd when I have a (fortunately rare) bit of down time. When I first became a freelancer, someone who’d been at it for some time told me to make the most of the quiet times because there won’t be many of them. She was right, but I find it very difficult to step away from my desk when I’m so used to being there. I think that’s probably a hangover from working in-house when you’re expected to be at your desk from 9 til 5. Seven years of being my own boss haven’t fixed that quite yet.

Having said that, I have been quite productive in other ways and it’s only Tuesday. Here’s how I’m using my quiet time …

  • I’ve published an eBook for ELT Teacher 2 Writer. ELT T2W is one of my other hats. Anyone who has ever published a book on Smashwords will know how time-consuming it can be to meet all of their formatting criteria for inclusion in their Premium catalogue. Amazon is much more straightforward, but having a chunk of time to devote to getting this done is time well spent. On publication day there’s always more activity on our social media so it’s also good to be able to follow up on that as it happens.
  • I’ve spent some quiet time doing some reading for ELT T2W. It’s great to be able to focus without emails and Skype messages coming in all the time.
  • I’ve written a guest blog post for the Indian Copyeditors Forum and this blog post, which was totally unplanned.
  • I’ve read the latest members’ magazine and had a mosey round the forums on the Society for Editors and Proofreaders’ (SfEP) website, having just become a member.
  • I’ve thought about installing Adobe DC on my desktop PC. I might actually get round to doing it tomorrow but I’m not feeling brave enough just yet.
  • I’ve updated the Recommendations page on my website and my LinkedIn profile.
  • I’ve had a wardrobe clearout and taken six bags of stuff to the charity shop. Some stuff I hadn’t worn since I worked in-house in 2008. Ridiculous.
  • I’ve arranged to have lunch with a friend on Friday. Can the quiet time last until then? I hope so!

How do you spend your time when you don’t have much paid work on?

charity shop stuff cropped