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Freelancing in one country when you live in another

I’ve recently seen a couple of people in different Facebook groups asking the same question: “How can I find editorial work in the UK when I don’t live there?” I come from the UK, I live in Canada, and over the last five years I have written and/or edited ELT and other educational materials for publishers in the UK, Canada, the US, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Poland, the UAE, and Singapore. If you include my editing work with individual academic clients, the list is longer. Here are my thoughts on this question.

First, ask yourself why you want to work with international clients

It sounds exciting to freelance for clients around the world, but the opportunities available at home may actually be more rewarding. The ELT publishing world in Canada is small compared to the UK, but that means I have a better chance of getting a book proposal accepted. Earlier this year, I wrote a curriculum for a new EAP program in Canada; I’m now working with that client again on one of the most interesting writing projects I’ve ever done. It’s easier to stand out to a client when there is less competition.

Another potential concern is that you find yourself at the mercy of currency exchange rates. Brexit has cost me thousands of dollars, and I have been making a conscious effort to do more Canadian work. It looks as if my income for 2017 will end up around 65% Canadian, the highest it has ever been.

But if your area of specialization is based in another country, or if there is more (or more lucrative) work elsewhere, read on …

Stay well informed about language differences

If you’re North American and planning to freelance with UK clients, you need to be fully aware of language conventions in both varieties. You’ll need a good working knowledge of differences in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and lexis. I’m still proud of myself, as someone who doesn’t cook much, for remembering in a UK/US localization project that coriander and cilantro are the same thing. Language changes, too. There was recently a discussion online about the use of get vs. have in British English, as in the sentence Can I _______ a cup of coffee? I spend several weeks each year in the UK, and it does help me to stay on top of contemporary usage of British English.

Use your knowledge of different varieties of English to your advantage. My CV includes a line to the effect that I write and edit in both varieties of English. Being more-or-less bidialectal has led to work doing localization of teaching materials.

So how do you find clients?

Invest in face-to-face marketing

You need to convince a potential client that it’s worth hiring you, even though you may live several time zones away. If you can, try to make personal connections.

When I went freelance five years ago, I had decent credentials but not many contacts. That has changed a lot, largely because I have invested time and money in going to conferences and other events. I’ve been going to IATEFL for years, and I’ve met a lot of people through my work as editor of IATEFL Conference Selections. More recently, I’ve become involved in MaWSIG, and I am now Joint Coordinator. Another event that has become a regular in my calendar is the annual ELT Freelancers’ Awayday, held every January in Oxford; this is a great combination of professional development and networking.

This is a lot of travel, but it has more than paid for itself in contacts made and work received. One project came about because I happened to sit next to someone at lunch in Oxford. Another resulted from meeting someone at the first MaWSIG one-day conference. And just this morning, I woke up to find an interesting offer of work from a new UK client in my inbox, the result of a referral from someone I met last year.

While work travel counts as marketing in the sense that I can deduct it on my taxes, it’s actually much more than that. These events are opportunities to make new friends and to hang out with my fellow ELT writers and editors – and they are fun! IATEFL and the Awayday are the highlights of my professional year.

Make online connections

It’s great to go to events and meet people, but on a daily basis, online is where you need to be. I can trace quite a number of my projects back to initial online postings.

My very first freelance project was UK/US localization for the British Council, an opportunity I heard about through the IATEFL Facebook page. One of my favourite editorial projects came about because I was scrolling through LinkedIn; the in-house editor I worked with has since moved to another publisher, and I recently did a project for her. Like many ELT freelancers, I keep an eye on Karen White’s White Ink Facebook page, where there are often good jobs posted; my big adventure in 2016 – my trip to Kazakhstan – came about in this way. I’m just finishing up a book edit for a US client, which originated as a job ad on the EAE Ad Space page on Facebook.

When you’re an editorial freelancer, social media is far more than a place to hang out socially – it’s a crucial source of work.

Try cold emailing

Quite honestly, I’ve only sent a cold email to a publisher two or three times – and I have never got work in this way. It’s something I might try again next year if I’m looking for a new project. I’d love to hear from people who have done this successfully.

Join organizations with online directories and job postings

I have recently joined the UK-based Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP), and I’m going through the process of upgrading to a higher level, which will give me access to the online directory. Everyone I talk to reports finding work through SfEP, so I’m looking forward to seeing what this will yield. Since I have a side line in academic editing, I have a membership of Find a Proofreader, also based in the UK, and I have picked up several good projects here.

As you work internationally …

Work with time differences and national holidays

As I write this, it’s a national holiday in Canada and the US; on the other hand, it’s a normal workday in the UK, hence the job offer I received this morning – remember to keep an eye on your email! Try to stay on top of when bank holidays and other days off fall in various countries. Also, since I’m five hours behind the UK, I’ve got into the habit of waking up at 4 a.m. to check email. Be prepared for occasional early-morning Skype meetings, too.

Be clear about the financial implications of working elsewhere

As a freelancer, you’re not likely to have any tax deducted at source, so there should be no problems there. I pay tax in Canada, and I keep a record of how much I invoice and of what the bank converts it to. Normally, payment from publishers is through bank transfer in the home currency of the client. With individual clients, I use PayPal. Transfer fees do add up, but it’s all deductible if you keep track of it.

The most complicated thing for me is sales tax. If I do a project in Ontario, where I live, I add 13%. If I work for a client in another province, it varies. If I work for an offshore client, there is no sales tax. Don’t hesitate to get advice from a professional tax expert on such things.

Working internationally may take a little more work, especially in the early years while you are building your network, but it can be done. I’d love to hear from other freelancers who work for clients outside their home countries.

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