by Janice Hanson
A Rochester native and proud alum of Brighton High School, Ruth E. Thaler-Carter
) is an award-winning freelance writer ("I can write about anything!"®), editor, proofreader and speaker. She also owns Communication Central, which hosts a conference for freelancers every fall.
Following studies in comparative literature at Indiana University-Bloomington and French at University of Missouri-St. Louis, she worked as a staff reporter for a St. Louis weekly newspaper and spent a year as Ford Fellow in University of Missouri-Columbia's graduate program in journalism.
Thaler-Carter has been a full-time freelance writer and editor since 1985, working on a wide variety of projects for local, national and international clients. After spending time in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, she moved back to Rochester 14 years ago because, as she says, "I married a nut who wanted to retire here!"
Here is a video interview with Ruth Thaler-Carter:
What follows is an edited conversation about her consulting business.
Q: What does your consulting/freelance business do?
A: I write articles, web content, annual reports and more for businesses, organizations and publications, and I help my clients look good in print and on the web by providing editing and proofreading services. You might be amazed at the client errors I keep from seeing the light of day!
Why did you start your business?
Because I discovered that my maximum time before burnout for a full-time, in-house job is two years, and then everything just starts getting to be too familiar, too routine. I had been working for a trade association in Washington, D.C. - the American National Metric Council - which was fascinating. It was very involved with the business world and international trade. But month in and month out of putting together an eight-page newsletter, writing press releases, compiling newspaper clippings and so forth always on the same topic … eventually I get bored. What I have discovered is I can work on the same project or topic with the same client for many years, as long as it isn't the only thing I'm doing.
How did you prepare to go out on your own?
When I got ready to freelance full time, I had already done some projects on the side through a regional writers group I belonged to. I convinced the people at the metric council to convert the full-time job to a consulting gig - I still worked on the same projects, but I could do 90% of it at home and I could do other things at the same time.
One of the things about being in business is you have to understand your strengths and your limits. For me, as long as it's one of several things, I can keep going on a project probably forever. If it's the only thing I'm doing, then two years and I'm bored. I don't like being bored. That's one of the advantages to me of a consulting or freelance business: I'm never bored.
What do you enjoy most about consulting?
The variety of people, topics and projects. I'm very much a generalist. I have a theory that specialists may be able to charge more for what they do, while generalists probably get more jobs, so I think the financial side of that equation pretty much works out even. I know people who only do consulting in one topic or area. To me, that would not be worth the bother - might as well be in-house.
How has your business changed over time?
Mostly through the electronic and digital aspect of our world today. I've been doing publications work long enough to have worked with actual typesetting and hand-assembling of pages before they go on the press, and then making the transition from that into desktop and electronic publishing. The biggest difference for me has been going from the typewriter to the computer. I never thought I would be good at working on the computer because I'm not a technical person - I used to say that the most technological I wanted to get was a self-correcting IBM Selectronic typewriter. But I've discovered that I've very good at many aspects of writing and publishing electronically. I get a lot of pleasure out of assembling things on the screen, using PageMaker or InDesign, for publishing online or sending to a printing service.
Another thing is that, several years ago, I started a business called Communication Central
that hosts an annual conference for freelancers, usually in Rochester. That's been fascinating because it has shown me that I also have abilities in event management that I never knew I had. Plus, it's a lot of fun!
I know you're a member of almost a dozen professional groups - how have your various memberships helped you be a better consultant?
By helping me stay up-to-date on trends and changes in everything from language to technology to skills, and by giving me more opportunities for projects because of meeting people and showing people what I can do for their businesses or companies. When you're out there in these organizations, you're more than an electronic presence, email address or photo on a website; you're a real human being and, ideally, when some of these other human beings think of things they need done, then they think of me for a project I can work on. It's also been a way of meeting people and making new friends. When I was in D.C., I was considered the queen of networking. Now that I'm back in Rochester, I still have a lot of old friends here, but this has been a good way to widen my scope.
How has the RPCN helped you as a consultant?
I joined because I was looking for local connections with like-minded people who were also doing consulting work. I love being involved with the newsletter because I like getting to know the people I'm writing about, and I've made a couple of very good friends in the group. I'm not as visible in person as I'd like to be, because I tend not to be functional at 8 a.m. on a Friday - one of the joys of freelancing is not having to get up at 7 a.m. - but I've gotten a few projects through being a member.
What advice would you give to someone looking to become a freelancer or consultant?
Remember that you're in business and position yourself accordingly in everything you do. Everywhere you go is a business opportunity. Be aware of the potential for new clients and new projects even if you're just going to the grocery store. You never know whom you might meet that could turn into a consulting project.
Editor's note: For more advice on getting into freelance communications work, you can purchase a copy of Thaler-Carter's booklet Freelancing 101: Launching Your Editorial Business via the Editorial Freelancers Association website
, or her self-published booklet, Get Paid to Write! Getting Started as a Freelance Writer, via her website (www.writerruth.com
On Monday, May 5, Thaler-Carter presents a workshop on The Basics of Editing and Proofreading
at Writers & Books in Rochester.
Janice Hanson, JK Hanson Wordcraft, helps you communicate effectively and offers services in copy editing, proofreading and marketing. She is chair of the RPCN Communication Committee.