by Suzanne Townsend and Jean Weber
Blue Pencil, May 1998. (Newsletter of The Society of Editors (NSW) Inc.)
Many thanks to Suzanne Townsend, a freelance editor and technical writer who teleworks from Nova Scotia, Canada. Suzanne co-wrote this article, which was first published in “Active Voice,” the national newsletter of the Editors’ Association of Canada, http://www.editors.ca/ and also appears on the website of House Bound Press, Canada.
Although the computer-savvy editor is ideally positioned to provide remote services, you have to work hard to get the work. Most managers, regardless of the industry, are slow to accept teleworking, even though the technology is “there.” As one manager said, “If you are going to be successful in convincing your management to let you telecommute, or convince your customers to let you work for them long-distance, it’s going to take more than ‘I have all the tools.’ It’s going to take creative selling, just like anything else.” This article provides a few tips for “creative selling.”
The biggest hurdle seems to be managers’ fear of losing control. Their concerns include issues such as: What’s the status of the project, at any given point in time? What if the electronic file transfers don’t work? How available is the editor during my work day? What are our responsibilities, and what are the editor’s, in terms of providing the appropriate technology? And the biggie — Is my teleworker being productive? — lingers, whether or not you have provided a quotation for the work.
These questions might be totally unformed in the manager’s mind when considering hiring your remote services. If you can address them up front, you’re sending two clear messages: you are a competent teleworker, and you are going to make their job of managing you easier. Here are some of the things you can be ready to discuss at your first meeting with a prospective client. Choose what fits your situation.
Your delivery of reports and products is “seamless” — it fits into (and enhances) their existing procedures.
- Your software fits with theirs — and/or you are prepared to invest in an upgrade of your system to meet their needs. Your reports are faxed or attached to e-mail in the client’s software of choice for word processing, page layout, compression, and even their browser. (If you have the basic elements, the client is often happy to provide any specialized software, especially for long-term projects. But go as far as you can to match their tools — even to the point of using the same courier they do.)
- Very early in the project, perform tests on file transfers, e-mail and attachments, printing, etc., to ensure compatibility. Leave no stone unturned! One editor found out a bit late that her Internet Service Provider put a 2MB limit on e-mail attachments. Another used the same word processing software and printer as the client but the document printed differently. Let your prospective client understand that you never assume, that you always test.
- You can produce the same reports as on-site employees, so they fit into existing procedures for processing reports. Ask for a copy of the time sheet forms and other status forms used by/for in-house personnel, so that you can duplicate them.
- You can detail your time sheets by project, phase, and draft. You also might use a computer-based tracking program that provides any level of summation.
- If you are working with someone else on the same documents, you can mirror their directory structure, style files, and everything else you can possibly think of.
- Find out when they process invoices, and make sure yours gets there the day before.
You have a plan for maintaining consistency.
- You can follow their style guide, or create one for them. This includes notation conventions, file naming conventions, and paragraph styles and macros used in the applications.
- You can follow or suggest change control methods. (For example, you make lists of what you’ve changed in the product. Some editors use a database for tracking changes.)
- You are a communicator, but you don’t bug them too much. You talk with your co-workers a lot, by phone, in person or by e-mail, but you also batch your queries and notes.
You’re available to talk/meet when they need you.
- You have at least the bare minimum of communications equipment: phone, fax and e-mail.
- Offer your availability up front. Let them know when they can call you (during business hours, or any time between 7:00 am and 9:00 pm, for example). Always use your client’s time zone, and say so in your spoken and written communications. (“1:00 pm your time” leaves no doubt in their minds.)
- Find out when regular internal meetings are held, so that you can schedule your telephone meetings accordingly. (Is there information you need to communicate to the meeting? Is there information coming out of the meeting that you need to know?) Batch your notes/queries for these regularly scheduled phone meetings.
You have a plan for helping the client assess the teleworking project.
- You can provide a detailed schedule for your work that includes milestones when progress (and therefore productivity) can be measured.
- You can provide weekly reports stating (a) work you’ve completed in the week to date, (b) work you expect to complete during the coming week, and (c) issues relating to your productivity.
- Some teleworkers propose a trial period, with scheduled review meetings with the manager about every two or three weeks and at the end of the trial period. It is reassuring for managers (and their higher-ups) to know that there’s a pre-defined plan to assess the teleworking project.
- Other teleworkers offer to spend a specified amount of time working in the client’s office before providing remote services.
You can show that working remotely is an asset, not a problem.
- Having their publications files at your site provides an extra backup in case of disaster at their office.
- Time zones can be your friend. When Jean (in Sydney, Australia) was editing a book for a client in New York, the 10-hour time difference meant the author effectively had an editor on the “night shift.” The author would e-mail a chapter to Jean at the end of his working day; she would receive it at the beginning of her working day, edit it, then e-mail it back. The author would find the edited chapter waiting when he logged on in the morning — the work got done while he was asleep. You probably won’t have such a large time difference between your office and your clients’ offices, but even an hour or two can make a difference — to everyone’s advantage.
Their data is secure at your offsite location.
- You have offsite backups and an established backup schedule.
- For lengthy projects, you send them work in process on disk, on a regular basis, for their own storage.
- Your office has an Uninterruptible Power Supply system, or at least a surge protector.
- You use a name-brand virus checker and keep it up to date.
If you want to learn more about teleworking
Search the web for telecommuting/teleworking sites. There are a lot of them, but it’s hard to find relevant information. Here is one site to get you started; it has numerous links to other sites: http://www.escapeartist.com/tele/commute.htm
This list was revised in December 2000.
- Working from Home: Everything You Need to Know About Living and Working Under the Same Roof by Paul and Sara Edwards, 5th edition (J P Tarcher, 1999, ISBN 0874779766). Order from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk
- The Underground Guide to Telecommuting by Woody Leonhard (Addison-Wesley,
- The Telecommuter’s Handbook by Debra Schepp (McGraw-Hill, 1995, ISBN 0070571023). Out of print.
Additional resources (Web sites)
Added June 2003 by Jean Weber. Addresses amended September 2003.
Guide to Telecommuting
Last updated 23 September 2003