The Business Plan
Most businesses, whether publishing or air fresheners, start with a business plan. Ours didn’t. We began what is now Chapterhouse because we had run out of work and money and had three very young children to keep in shoes and nappies.
Daisy and I had left safe, well-paid publishing jobs in London for the good life in Devon. We both had consultancies with big book and journal publishers until the late eighties’ recession hit us very hard and surprisingly quickly. Consultants were the first to go. No notice, no severance. Help!
Cash flow was dire and the interest rate on our mortgage climbed from six to fifteen percent!
We managed to keep some freelance proofreading and editing work which saved us from the bailiffs. Just. At one time we were copy-editing thirteen manuscripts between us and sharing three under-fives.
The Light Bulb
I cast around frantically and was offered a good job as CEO of a medium-sized educational publishing house. I said yes but the start date was delayed. At the same time I had the weird idea that other people might want to learn to copy-edit and proofread books. It was the skill Daisy and I both had. Why not give it a try?
Daisy put ads in our local paper in Exeter. Within a couple of weeks we had a class of six who turned up every Monday evening. I lit the fire, offered wine or coffee, and literally made up the course in chunks each week. It was great fun and they enjoyed it! One became a very successful book editor and started his own training company, another got work with a national newspaper, and a third worked for Chapterhouse for several years as a tutor.
Next came correspondence courses in both proofreading and editing. I dictated these to our long-suffering secretary, Sue, who put up with me for many years. These we advertised in The Guardian. Within a month it was clear that a small business had begun. It was a shock! No business plan, nothing costed, nothing forecast.
Tricky. I had the job in the bag, but had started Chapterhouse. I had given up corporate life. I hated the politics, back-stabbing, endless pointless meetings and profit-chasing. Would I go back to that? To add to the confusion, Daisy was offered a job as marketing manager with the same company.
But what about the monthly pay cheque, the security, our family? Would Daisy and I risk it for a new business – untried, untested, unplanned? No one else was doing what we had embarked on. (Many have joined us since!) But there was no model to follow, no business plan to plan. It was our own creation. What if we were wrong?
Well, of course, we went for broke. And broke we were for a couple of years. Then gradually our little idea flourished. We have never been a big venture, just a family partnership. But it paid the bills and encouraged many people to take the plunge into editing and proofreading. To that little group drinking red wine by our log fire we owe so much.