Eva van Emden (she/her), freelance editor

Certified copy editor and proofreader


April 3, 2013

Janet Mackenzie on running a freelance editing business

Book cover The Editor’s Companion, by Janet Mackenzie, has a great chapter on starting a freelance editing business. In eighteen pages, she deals with all the major points:
  • Qualities that make a good freelancer
  • Running your office and being productive: time management, dealing with clients, stress, professional development, choosing projects
  • Business considerations: what a business plan can do for you, insurance, bookkeeping
  • Contracts: what needs to go into a contract, and a nice half-page sample contract

What to charge

To calculate how much you need to charge to earn your target income, start with a list of business expenses, the biggest of which is your own labour. As part of the cost of labour, consider the time you will spend on administration, project management, and the cost of employment. Employment costs are vacation, sick time, and pension plan. The author suggests that the “loaded” salary that includes these expenses is 17 to 25 percent more than a person’s base salary. (When you take into account the cost of maintaining a work space, I’ve seen estimates of 40 percent or more as the markup that a contractor needs to charge above an equivalent in-house rate.)

Hourly rate

Mackenzie suggests that an editor who is competent according to the Australian Standards for Editing Practice is worth at least AUD 50 per hour (about CAN 53; this book was written in 2004). She suggests giving a price by the job rather than by the hour, and feels it’s quite appropriate not to reveal your target hourly rate to the client (“If he presses you, say primly that your accountant has advised you not to reveal it”). She mentions in passing that hourly rates are not a good predictor of project cost because working speed varies quite a lot.

Work flow

Mackenzie suggests a three-column table—see below—to track your schedule of projects to come, in progress, and due. I think I’m going to give this format a try. I’ve been marking dates to receive and send projects on Google Calendar, but I find that the display gets too cluttered when I try to show which projects are in progress.

Due in Working on Due out
1 Joe Bloggs copy edit, first round
2 Flash Magazine, July issue, editorial Bloggs copy edit
3 Bloggs copy edit, Flash editorial Flash editorial
4 Bloggs copy edit

Because many projects are delayed or sometimes cancelled altogether, Mackenzie recommends overbooking slightly. “Bite off a little more than you can chew, and occasionally chew like hell.”

Reviewed from a library copy of the book.

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