Themes from the ELT Freelancers’ Awayday 2018

Last week I attended the fourth ELT Freelancers’ Awayday, a highlight in the calendar of many freelance editors in our industry, myself included. I can’t possibly capture everything from the day in this post, or begin to do it justice really, but there were some recurring themes which jumped out at me, which I thought I’d try to summarise here.

Theme #1: Finding new opportunities and working in new ways

Sarah Patey, Karen Spiller, Jo Sayers (ELTjam) and Deborah Tricker (Richmond) participated in the panel discussion, entitled ‘Broadening Horizons’. It covered ideas for broadening your client base, pitching your services and diversifying into other fields where editorial skills are in demand. (For those interested in a complete change of focus, note that the SfEP offer an online course on getting editorial work with non-publishers.)

Next, Kathryn Munt and Caroline Boot from Integra gave an interesting overview of outsourcing, the reasons for it, the kind of work they do as packagers and implications for their suppliers.

So what are ELT publishers and packagers looking for in their freelancers? What attributes and skills are particularly in demand? Throughout the day, speakers stressed the value they place on freelancers who:

  • show problem-solving skills and a willingness to take ownership of a task,
  • are familiar with publishing technologies such as project management software, freelance management systems and content management systems
  • have digital editing and writing skills,
  • can keep an open mind about different ways of working, especially when working with people from different fields, or when working with uncertainty,
  • above all … show a readiness to learn the skills they lack.

The need for effective communication while navigating this changing digital landscape also emerged as a bit of a theme, most memorably in Diane Nicholl’s informative and amusing talk on ‘How to tame your developer’.

Theme #2: Networking

Networking was mentioned by Karen White in her brilliant list of top tips for successful freelancing, and the day was certainly set up to encourage this. Representatives from publishers including Richmond, Nat Geo, Macmillan and Pearson had stalls at the friendly ‘jobs fair’, together with EMC, Integra, ELTjam and the Content Station. It was a great opportunity to get to know fellow freelancers too. I think most delegates will have come away with new avenues to explore and contacts to follow up.

Theme #3: Finance and tax

Financial advisor Rebecca Kingwell’s persuasive talk about pension planning and ISAs was an important reminder to all of us about making the most of the tax breaks on offer when planning for the future. Phil Hendy from PAH Accounting introduced us to ‘Making Tax Digital’, HMRC’s plan to roll out digital record keeping and quarterly reporting. Don’t tell me you’re not excited by that prospect! But seriously, it was great that the day included a focus on these issues. They are easily neglected in life’s day-to-day hustle and bustle.

 

Julie Moore’s excellent ‘corpus hacks’ talk doesn’t fit neatly into the categories above, but definitely also deserves a mention, not least because it has made me totally paranoid about my apparently fairly idiosyncratic spelling preferences! (Want to check you’re keeping up with the latest trends in hyphenation and spelling? There’s a corpus for that.)

Huge thanks to the day’s organisers Karen White, Helen Holwill and Jemma Hillyer for another great day. It has certainly given me lots to think about. Best wishes to Karen as she moves on to pastures new.

For photos and more information on the Freelance Awayday see the official page here and check out #FreeELT on Twitter for updates from the day and more freelance chat throughout the year.

You can see my write-up of last year’s awayday here. If you’re interested in writing, you may also find my summary of the Education Writers’ Seminar from the Society of Authors helpful.

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