Monthly Archives: April 2016

Text expansion: Your magic secret helper


Anyone who has talked computers and productivity with me for more than five minutes knows of my love for TextExpander, a program that lets you create shortcuts for typing text that you use over and over and over again. TextExpander is a Mac program, but there are several similar programs for PC; my PC-based friends tend to use PhraseExpress. TE is what I know, so I’ll be writing from that point of view, but PhraseExpress will probably do most, if not all, of the same things.

(TextExpander just — as in not even two weeks ago — released version 6, and they’ve gone to a subscription plan for $40/year for individuals. While I have my quibbles about subscription software in general, I think that’s still a good value for something I get so much use out of. YMMV. And it’s also supposed to work on and coordinate with iOS, although I haven’t tried that aspect yet. They offer a trial, so you can try it out before you commit.)

The idea is fairly simple: You set up a shortcuts, and when you type your shortcut, TE automagically expands into the text you’ve associated with it. For example, since I type my business name so often, I set up a shortcut for it. When I type ]]ps, it expands into Pax Studio with a space after it.

You can set up just about any shortcut you like. I like to use two closing square brackets in front of my shortcuts, because they’re not something I would otherwise type in the normal course of my day, and I don’t have to use the shift key to get them. You, of course, can make your shortcuts be anything you like.

TE works with longer snippets (that’s what TE and PE both call the longer text you expand into), too. I have one shortcut set up that will expand five characters into a four-paragraph email.

And you can get even more complicated. You can insert dropdown menus, blanks, and the like into your snippets. You can include fields that will populate with the contents of your clipboard, or the current date or a calculated future date. Snippets will hold styled text (limited) and images as well, and scripts (although I haven’t been brave enough yet to try those).

How is text expansion useful for editors? 

  1. Create shortcuts for phrases, sentences, and paragraphs you regularly use in email correspondence. For example, it’s a lot faster to type “]]msret” than it is to type “Attached are the manuscript, stylesheet, and invoice for this title. Please confirm receipt. [paragraph break] As always, please don’t hesitate to let me know if you have any questions or feedback. Thank you for this project, and please let me know if there’s anything else I can put on my schedule for you.” At the paragraph break, I enter any information specific to the project that the project manager needs to know. I’ll also tweak the wording to fit the situation (e.g., the manuscript is large enough that I have to send it via Dropbox rather than email attachment). But the bare bones of the message are there.
  2. Create shortcuts for common author queries. I use ]]dok for “AUTHOR: Deletion okay? //” (years ago, one project manager requested that I end my queries with two slashes, and I’ve adopted the practice across the board; it makes it easier to know when the query is at an end, especially when Word truncates the text in the balloons). I have one also set up just to generate “AUTHOR: ” for when I have to type a query from scratch.
  3. Create shortcuts that expand into marketing or agreement text. I have snippets set up that describe exactly what is included in each of my services. For bonus points, incorporate a date calculation into your quote snippet that will indicate that your quote is good until a specific future date, say one month or three months or one year from today.
  4. Create shortcuts for those numbers you never remember. For example, one client wants me to use their special invoice form, and I have to fill in my EIN on that form, so instead of looking it up, I just type ]]ein and it automagically expands.

Lori’s tips for using text expansion programs: 

  1. Pick some standard preface for your shortcuts, and make it something easy to type. I use ]]. You might choose yy or == or whatever works for you. Just make sure that it’s not something that occurs naturally, or you’ll end up with unwanted expansions in the middle of your words as you type. (It’s not necessary to use a preface, but I found that it’s a lot easier than trying to find plain letter combinations that don’t also occur naturally in words.)
  2. Make your shortcuts several letters long after your preface so that you have many options. If you simply use, say, ]]a as an expansion, you’re limiting the number of expansions you can have, because you can’t then start any other snippet with ]]a. Most of mine are three or four letters long.
  3. Think about choosing the option to play a sound when a shortcut is expanded. I like the aural cue that something has happened so I can be sure I’m not inadvertently typing something I didn’t intend. I like the friendly little bubble sound.
  4. Don’t set up too many snippets at one time. It’s hard to learn and implement a new routine all at one time. Pick a few things to start with (maybe your business name, an email closing, a common author query), then get used to using those for a few days or a week before you start adding more. TE has a handy little popup, too, that will remind you when you’ve typed something that you’ve already set up a shortcut for and tell you what the shortcut is; you might consider turning that option on.
  5. Take time to explore the more advanced options, once you’ve had a chance to get used to the basics. There are some really interesting possibilities there.


I’d love to know:

  • Do you currently use a text expansion program?
  • What types of things do you use text expansion for?
  • If you don’t currently use a text expansion program, do you think it might help you be more efficient?

Leave a note in the comments. (ALL comments are moderated, because OMG the link spam, and the spammers are getting more clever with their legitimate-sounding first posts, so please be patient if your comment doesn’t show up right away.)

(FYI, I just turned everything under the horizontal line, minus the specific bullet points, into a snippet, since it’s something I intend to use on most posts: ]]postend, baby.)

Building a business manual

At the 2016 American Copy Editors Society conference, I presented a session on systems and shortcuts for running a solo business that was well received — standing room only, in fact. (I’m a little bit blown away by that, actually.)

I’ve had many requests to share a little more in depth about some of the things I touched on there, since that hour went so quickly and I couldn’t dive too deeply into anything. So, here we are, at the start of an occasional series about working smart and building efficiency into the ways you do the things that support your business.

Note: While my presentation was aimed at freelance editors in particular, many of these systems and shortcuts could be applied to just about any kind of solo enterprise. I use the same approach in my other business, Alchemary, adjusted to fit how that business works.

And above all, as in all things, People Vary, and what works for me might not work the same or at all for you, so take what works, tweak what needs tweaking to fit your business and work style, and disregard the rest.


So, then, what is a business manual, and how does it help?

A business manual is where you keep all those nitpicky little details about your business that you need to know but don’t need to be rattling around in your head every day, taking up space. It also documents procedures for doing things that you need to do for your business but may not do very often and tend to forget (mail merge in Word, I’m looking at you). All of those details live together in one easy-to-access place.

That one place could be a Word file, an Evernote file, a password-protected webpage, a Google doc — whatever floats your boat. For extra bonus points, you can print it out and put it in a three-ring binder and keep it within arm’s reach of your desk, then update it as necessary. (I’m a bit old-fashioned that way.) Mine is a Word file that lives in my Dropbox, and a printed copy lives in a simple three-ring binder that sits on the bottom shelf behind my desk. I like prettying things up, so it has a nice cover, and I use sheet protectors rather than punching papers. Maybe one of these days I’ll get that cover sheet reprinted in color. Or pull out the crayons. Mine is not so hefty that I need subject dividers, but if that’s the way you roll, go for it.

Why does a business manual help? Because it gathers everything you need to know to run your business all in one place, you save a ton of time digging around and searching for info when you need it. Examples: On the rare occasion when I need to sign a contract in my business name (I’m an LLC), I don’t have to Google around to find the legal way to sign; it’s right there in the manual. Just this past week, I got a new UK client who is going to pay by wire transfer; all the info I need to give them is right there in the manual. For Alchemary, I have to file sales taxes twice a year, and the system to do so is clunky and opaque; the reminders for what numbers I need to gather and which ones go in which box are right there in that manual.

(On a somber note, it also serves as a repository of basic information about your business if something bad were to happen to you.)

Time is money. We’ve all heard this, probably for most of our lives. And it’s true. For every five minutes you spend poking around on the internet looking up how to do something for the umpteenth time, that’s five minutes you’re not spending on paying work. And let’s face it, that five minutes ends up being twenty minutes, because silly cat videos or someone was wrong on the internet. Sure, five minutes isn’t a big deal, but over the course of a day, week, month, year… all that time adds up. I’d rather spend it getting paid or — gasp! — doing something fun.

Here’s what’s in my business manual today: 


  • Bank info, including routing and account numbers and branch hours
  • Incoming wire information
  • QuickPay information & instruction link (Chase’s way to email money to someone)
  • Credit card number and contact phone in case lost or stolen
  • Breakdowns by year of income by client and by service


  • Account numbers (mine and clients’)
  • Cutoff times for different shipping locations
  • Info on what it costs to mail the types of envelopes and packages I send frequently (updated every time USPS changes it)
  • Link to product page for the mailers I like


  • Set descriptions of the different things I do (master)
  • General estimating and pricing info
  • Reminders to self (“this type of project always needs extra time for x, y, and z,” etc.)


  • Language about my policies (master) — turnaround times, rush fees, scope creep, etc.
  • Notes about my own internal policies and rules (never work for jerks, etc.)*


  • Reminders of the routines and timetables I’ve set up for myself*
  • How-tos about stuff I don’t do often enough to master (mail merge, Quickbooks reports — sometimes are just links to well-written posts)
  • Master checklists (reference only)

General office

  • Info on supply reorders, with links, where possible (printer cartridges, label maker labels, preferred pens & pencils, rubber stamps, notebooks, planner)
  • General timetable for upgrades
  • Equipment and software serial numbers, activation keys, and links


  • A link to my LLC formation papers (actual copy in printed manual)
  • How to sign contracts for LLC


  • Running holiday card/gift list
  • Links to purchase cards/gifts I like
  • References
  • Titles I’ve worked on in various categories
  • Cover letter language
  • Reminders of which resume is for which occasion (file name not perfect)


  • Jack Lyon’s awesome wildcards cheatsheet, which I picked up at one of his sessions at Communication Central a few years ago
  • Reminders of those keyboard shortcuts I need for just a couple projects each year but can’t be bothered to store in long-term memory
  • Things keyboard shortcuts cheatsheet (Things is the amazing to-do program that I use [Mac only], which I’ll write about another time)

*I find it extremely helpful to have these things written down. Having clear policies (and adding to them as I go along) about my boundaries and routines is a psychological trick that works for me when my monkey brain wants to go off on a blog-reading spree in the middle of work time or take on a particular type of project or client that just doesn’t mesh well with me. YMMV.

I add to the manual as things occur to me or if I find myself looking something up for the second time.

I also have a separate client manual for keeping track of things specific to each client, and I’ll talk about that another time.

I’d love to know:

  • What other information would you put in your own client manual?
  • Is there anything in my list that you’d like to know more about?
  • What other things would you like to know about running an efficient solo business?

Leave a note in the comments. (ALL comments are moderated, because OMG the link spam, and the spammers are getting more clever with their legitimate-sounding first posts, so please be patient if your comment doesn’t show up right away.)