Interview: Lorraine Williams

Lorraine Williams

We sat down with Lorraine Williams, owner of Lighthouse Proofreading to talk about being a business owner, her career journey and more!

As with many women that we have had the pleasure of interviewing, Lorraine never knew what she wanted to do as a career. 

“Instead I’ve followed whatever I thought I’d enjoy at the time and that I knew I’d be good at. It’s important to me to know I’m already capable so I can make a difference straight away. I love taking on a job, seeing what I can streamline and improve so that what I do makes things easier for others. 

That’s the nature of me: creating order, refining, streamlining. It’s what’s driven me in all my jobs. Add in my eye for detail and being a proofreader hits the spot. I do miss working in an office: the banter, working on a team goal, people to bounce ideas off and collaborate with. I’ve plenty I want to achieve on my solo journey first though, so I’m excited to see where it leads me.

Looking back at the things I enjoyed as a child, I can see how I’ve taken the direction I have. I loved playing with the case that opened up to be a Post Office with the little hatch and stamps. I always wanted a blank copy of the class register. It had squared paper, red and blue lines, and corners that folded over so the teacher knew what week we were on.”

Lorraine took a route in education that many of us have also taken but with a twist, studying the human communication side of English, at the University of Sheffield. Proving yet again, the versatility of the subject and the doors it can open in terms of career opportunities and progression.

“Studying English came naturally to me and I’d proofread work for my school friends. I was keen to go deeper into how we communicate so I studied Speech & Language Science. I was all about phonetics – the real detail of how we produce speech. I went really specific and researched how we use our tongue to produce the sound / dz/ compared to / zd/ in casual speech. So fascinating! I’m still all about the details.

After uni I didn’t know what to do so I went to a temping agency. They initially refused to take on someone without admin experience. It took some persuading that keeping things ordered was my thing as I had nothing to prove it. I just knew. 

I’ve worked on receptions and was an administrator in many different businesses. I switched things up and became an events manager for a radiology charity and then for a university. All this time I’d proofread anything that came my way. Often insisting it came my way.

I originally set up my proofreading business around 6 years ago. It was short-lived. A few months. I didn’t know what I was doing and lacked the confidence to push forward and learn. I cried in the loos at my first networking event as I felt so out of place. I didn’t even eat the free buffet. That’s how hard it hit me.

I took the role as an administrator in a small and growing digital marketing agency where I was promoted to office manager within six months. I loved setting up, pulling apart and developing the processes behind the scenes. 

The proofreading had been ticking away in my mind the whole time though and I left to try again after four years. I unexpectedly ended up working part-time in a social media agency as I built things up. I’m so glad I didn’t get the business going the first time round as I needed the agency experience to give me the oomph to try again. 

The fun I’d had setting up those integral office systems was applied to my own business. I’m freelance now but I run my business the same way we ran those marketing agencies.”

Lorraine has some excellent advice for women who want to start a business in the same way that she has. Noting that we often find ways to stop ourselves, doubt our skills and get caught up in the mindset that we need to conform to be successful.

“If we’re aware we do these things, then we can move forward with much more ease rather than getting stuck in them. So expect to get caught up in self-sabotaging tangles. Expect to ignore your intuition and take on clients you wish you hadn’t. Expect to question your way because you’ve seen someone else do it another. Accept these will happen and that we’ll learn and grow through them. 

But don’t let them stop you. Get on and start the business. Stay true to what you want. Do it on your terms. It probably won’t be easy but you’ll know you gave it everything whatever happens. And get the business rolling before you give up your job if you can. I lived off savings for the first 6 months. I needed that time to get to where I am but I know exactly what I’d do with that money if I still had it now.”

When it comes to the challenges of being a business owner, Lorraine is refreshingly honest. 

“As a business of just me, the hardest thing is being a business of just me. In some ways, it’s wonderful because I do it my way, at my pace and how it feels best. But no one’s offering other ideas and opinions. No one’s pushing me. Slowing me down. I have no one who understands my business enough to bounce ideas off. I’m fortunate that Cornwall has an amazing hub of small and growing businesses, and that I’m friends with amazing women that run them. I’ll ask them for advice or put a message up in a freelancer Facebook page so I’m not always in my head.”

Lorraine accredits her best accomplishment to the day she found her voice.

“In person, I’m an over-sharer. I don’t wait to be asked to tell you something. And whether it’s appropriate to chat about my periods or not doesn’t bother me. But with social media? I don’t feel comfortable openly sharing. Weird, huh. So I don’t use social media personally.

Earlier this year I had to accept that I needed social media to bring in business. I started using LinkedIn. It felt awful. I had nothing to say yet I was forcing myself to say something. The idea of trolls, confrontation and someone getting shirty makes my stomach turn. I’ve life modelled, and sharing posts was worse than standing naked in front of strangers.

I’ve always told myself I don’t like writing. Looking back now, I’d boxed myself in out of fear of the response. I don’t find writing for other people easy but writing for myself has become unexpectedly fun. 

I’m still figuring out how to write to encourage my connections to get chatting and for them to book my services. I still worry that I don’t have anything valuable to share. My posts tend to be the daft things I’ve said or done or typed – it’s top-level whimsy chit chat. It’s become fun to write and people now engage. Whether it brings in more business or not, it’s forced me to do something I’d categorically declared many many many times that I didn’t enjoy. And I was wrong.”

When it comes to digital burnout, Lorraine is a confessed avoider of social media. However, this in itself has thrown up some challenges!

“I’m not that into social media so I’ve never felt burnt out by always having my phone and being online. As I’m not a big user though, I do find it quite stressful to keep up with notifications. I focus on LinkedIn. I’m often told I should be using Twitter but I find it stressful and fiddly. I’m on there but hardly use it. It’s not worth me forcing myself to try and write for the sake of it – my apathy would show through. Keeping on top of LinkedIn is tricky enough and I only post once every day or so. I can’t imagine how people who make their living from managing social media cope with it all.”

As with any businesswoman, Lorraine maintains a structure to practice self-care. 

“I work at home but still follow the 9-5 structure. I thought it suited me as I’m great at getting up and getting on. I’ve recently realised I’m better off if I’m a bit more flexible with my time. I have got the habit of pushing through to get things crossed off my list even when I’m not feeling it. If I’m not in the mood to work on something, I won’t force myself now. And if I’m in the mood to start it on an evening or weekend, I will. Not because I have to but because the creativity and drive are there, and that’s where my best work is. So if I fancy spending the afternoon reading on the beach with a flask of coffee then I go with it. I’ve never regretted spending time on myself.

I live a few minutes’ walk from the beach in Newquay so I toddle down to the sea to unplug. Sometimes I take a book. Sometimes I wander up and down the sand. Sometimes I just stare.

I love to read and I’ve noticed that I’d cosy up in bed with a book then end up scrolling and scrolling through Instagram. I’ve never followed a hashtag and not followed anyone new since I set it up. I’d be scrolling and thinking, ‘What am I even looking at? Do I care? Stop it! Pick up the book!’ So I’m getting back into a better bedtime routine. I’ve deleted the app from my phone.”

Lorraine is a big fan of books. Her recommendation for people who spend a lot of time in digital is to pick one up and get lost within the words and images.

“We can take them anywhere. They’re easy to forget about though when we have phones close to hand all the time.

The two books that have had the biggest impact on me aren’t about business as such but about how we see ourselves. By working on our issues we can take the leaps in our business, have the confidence to move forward the way that feels right to us and to trust in both our ideas and ourselves.

Feel the Fear And Do it Anyway, Susan Jeffers

It was written in the late ‘80s, and some of the examples and phrasing are a little questionable these days. But this was the first book I read that made a noticeable impact on me: how I saw myself, my business and my life. I can’t remember what it was, but something genuinely flipped in my mind. This book gave me the confidence to carry on with the business at a time I was starting to doubt myself.

Playing Big, Tara Mohr

I borrowed a copy off a friend and immediately bought four copies as soon as I’d finished it. I needed one for myself and the rest were for friends. Once you read what Tara has to share you can’t keep it to yourself. You need to let the women in your life in on it too. It’s about how women ‘play small’ and either keep or allow themselves to be held back. It’s fantastic. I nodded along with so much of it and had a few realisations along the way. It looks at our inner critic, how we’re hooked on praise and criticism, and the way we hide ourselves and our goals behind ‘work’ so we end up doing more research, training or perfecting rather than doing the thing we want to do.

I’m so glad you asked this question as I need to read these both again. That’s the thing with self-development books. We read them, we’re inspired, we put things into action. But we can’t put a whole book’s worth of insight into action in one go. The rest can easily fall out of our heads. If we read them again we can work on even more and the things that are right for where we are right now. That’s what I need to do with these two.”

Other recommendations Lorraine suggests to spend time away from digital includes going for a simple walk. 

“It sounds easy enough but I used to find it hard to leave the house. If you struggle to spend time on your own outside of your home, I know how that feels. Give yourself a reason to get out. Take that letter to the post box. It’s a great excuse to write a letter. Don’t do all your outside jobs all at once as they’ll give you something to do another day. And turn your phone off when you’re out. I know I still check it when it’s on silent.

This all sounds so eye-rollingly obvious and easy. It isn’t always. It’s always worth it though.”

When it comes to mental health, Lorraine points out that due to working for herself, she’s been out of the workplace setting for a while.

“I know that it’s being talked about more and is less of a taboo but whether that’s creating any change within the organisations, I don’t know. When I did work in offices, I was either in a small business or a small team in a huge business. We always felt very close, so never a ‘one of many’ vibe. Even though they were all fantastic and close teams, I think how they’re managed top-down has a huge impact. Whether it’s mental health or another issue, how the people at the top see that issue is often how it’s communicated even if that’s not intended. I think flexible working can benefit how mental health is approached and accommodated but unfortunately, it’s not always an option.”

Part and parcel of working for herself, has been the loneliness that comes with it. Lorraine says: “It’s me, working from home, in the flat, I rent on my own. I work well from home and enjoy it – I’m good at getting up and on it. But the loneliness has started to creep in. It’s impacting on how I see myself and relate to the world outside the flat. I’ve become more insular and nervous about the thought of spending time with new people. Not what you need when you need to spend more time with new people. 

I know this isn’t all down to being freelance as there’s a bundle of factors that have led to this point: I had to move to a different town away from friends, my car was scrapped and I don’t have another yet and it’s meant I can’t get to networking events easily. The solutions tend to be hobbies and hotdesk. But when your income isn’t always so stable, it’s not easy to commit. And as a proofreader, I need the space and peace to concentrate. I’ve not found an answer for it yet but I’m aware of it now. That’s more than I was a couple of months ago. And I’m thankful I’m so close to the sea.

Social media is great for awareness and to discuss these key issues. But at the same time, some of these issues come from social media taking us away from the in-person connection we need. I’m all for a good natter and grew up in an age where you rang your friends from the house phone on the telephone table in the hall. You’d scribble on the Yellow Pages as you chatted away. I barely speak to friends on the phone now. It’s all WhatsApp and Messenger. I see them in person when I can. But to ring them out of the blue makes me feel uncomfortable. It shocks and upsets me that making a phone call makes me feel that way when ringing someone was the norm for me until a few years ago. As I say this, I see how this contributes to my loneliness.”

When it comes to being a woman in business, Lorraine hasn’t personally felt that she has had to prove herself more than her male counterparts.

“I’ve not personally felt it but I see it around me, even out of a business context. I’m so focused on trying to prove myself to myself more than anyone around me, regardless of gender.”

Lorraine’s words resonate with us, especially her experiences of loneliness as a one-woman band and how digital has been putting a distance between people as well as virtually bringing them together. 

At SOCIALight we feel as though she’s been incredibly brave and courageous to strive for the work/life balance she’s achieved, and thank her for her refreshingly honest answers to life as a business owner.

Are you a business owner or do you work for yourself? We’d love to hear from you. info@socialightmagazine.co.uk

Credit: Pip Hayler Photography

Website: Lighthouse Proofreading

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Twitter: @LighthouseProof

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