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Inside freelancing: Louise Le Bas, Editorial

Louise Le Bas is a Senior Associate at Just Content, with experience across the broad range of formats, media and sectors spanning academic (books and journals), professional and education. Here Melody Dawes interviews her.

1) What do you offer and who are your clients/have you worked with?

I specialise in education and professional publishing, though I do also do a bit of work on the academic side of things. Most of my clients are education or vocational skills awarding bodies or publishing houses whom I offer a range of services from a classic commissioning and development editing service to project management, and from time to time the odd research and consultation report. I also do a fair amount of work on digital products which includes e-learning project management and website management and development. 

2) What’s your background/experience and what made you make the move to freelancer?

I’ve worked in publishing for coming up to 14 years now and taken a fairly traditional route really – from Editorial Assistant to Co-ordinator, to Publishing Editor, Commissioning Editor, Publishing Manager and Publisher. A move to the north from London (I live in Leeds) and the desire for a more flexible lifestyle was the catalyst behind my change from in-house work to the freelance life. I also found the constant change between projects and changing quite appealing as it keeps things varied.

3) What are your greatest achievements so far?

It has to be the volume of projects I’ve covered in the last few years – a few of which have been pretty large undertakings for high profile clients. I think the best thing about freelancing for me has been the exposure to a wide range of different project and client types which has enabled me to get a really wide range of different experiences and really added to my knowledge, skills base and confidence. 

4) What are the challenges you’ve faced?

I think when you first start out it’s important to put boundaries down in terms of how much work you feel you need to take on – there is always the temptation to say yes to everything in case that’s the ‘last project you ever get offered’ – it never is! I think there is also the need to develop a slightly different way of manning your finances along with balancing off the busier periods with the quieter ones – but these are very navigable once you get in to the flow of things and change you mind set.

Other challenges are probably around getting the contacts and leads and building your confidence around negotiating terms and fees. It’s key to remember the skills and experiences you have and to be confident.

5) What’s changing within your area of freelancing, and how do you see the role of freelancers in this area developing?

It feels like the types of work needed by freelancers tends to go in waves – I think that recently there has been a wave of development support and list research needed but this now seems to be levelling off a bit in place of the need for more general edits and project management. Education publishing tends to be dictated by government funding and qualification review schedules so you can almost set your predicted busy periods and types of tasks by the types of reviews likely to come up. 

It does feel like there is an increasing trend for publishers to use freelancers as the amount of change and uncertainly we’ve seen in the economy in the last few years has made it much more appealing for publishers to have less fixed costs. That said, whilst I ‘d like to see this continue, there is some uncertainty in the education space at the moment which may well effect the amount clients have outspend on product development an freelance support. Let’s hope not as I really think having a pool of experienced, flexible resource is vital and compliments an in-house team well when work peaks hit….

6) What tips would you give to someone wanting to go into/who’s new to freelancing?

I would probably say don’t do it too early in your career. I personally think a lot of the value I have to add is the years of experience I have, especially the thorough understanding of how the in-house processes work so that I can best slot seamlessly in to these and really support the client.  That said, when you do reach the right time (for both professional and personal reasons) definitely go for it as it offers a completely different professional experience which allows you to experience a wider slice of the publishing landscape than you’d perhaps get if you are working in the same one role for years. 

I’d also say make sure you have a good network of possible clients (old employers, contacts in other publishing houses) before you take the plunge, and if possible line up your first project/contract.  You need to make sure you have a financial barrier in place as you get started and be ready to plan your finances a bit more once you get on your feet (tax returns, pension plans, do you want to be self employed or start a limited company).

I’d also say think about where you want to work and ensure you’ve got the right facilities and equipment so you can get started. Do you want to work at home or rent some communal working space? Is it viable to split your working time between home and a cafe maybe? 

I think the key thing to realise is that it really is possible to be self-employed and continue building your career. With a bit of luck and good portfolio of clients and different types of projects you can, in fact learn more, more quickly than you did in-house. 

This is a guest interview from Melody Dawes. Melody has over 15 years of education publishing experience and is the Managing Director of Just Content, a freelance services consultancy working mainly with education publishers.

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