In a previous article I discussed invoices and the importance of a professional look for them (The Business of Editing: Thinking About Invoices). A professional-looking invoice that establishes you as a business is only part of the solution to being perceived as a business, rather than as someone who is just looking for “vacation money.” Your e-mail address is another facet of the “look.”
When I see an e-mail from firstname.lastname@example.org, I wonder how well the sender is doing: Why would I buy a product from a gmail address? Having your own domain name is neither expensive nor difficult these days. Editors who write me seeking work from addresses such as gmail.com, aol.com, and yahoo.com give an initial first impression that editing is part-time work for them. I do understand that this may well (and often is) a misperception, but we are talking about first impressions — not true impressions, just first impressions. Such addresses make me wonder whether the editor is in the business as a business or just looking for occasional work more as a hobby.
Unlike some of my colleagues, I do not think an editor needs to have a website. I think having one can be beneficial, but depending on how you run your business and who your clients are, a website may be unnecessary. But having your own domain is an absolute must. If you buy goods over the Internet, as most of us do, do you prefer to buy from what appears to be a company or from an unknown person with a generic address?
You use your invoice to convey the image of a business. Why would you tarnish that image by not having a business domain name and an e-mail address based on your domain?
One argument I have heard is that it costs too much money. The reality is that it doesn’t. 1and1, for example, which hosts my websites and is the registrar of all my domain names (37 of them), offers the first-year registration of a .com domain for $7.99 ($10.99 for subsequent years). Website hosting for the first year is as low as 99¢ a month ($4.99/month in subsequent years). Other ISPs offer similarly low prices. Even if this did cost more, it’s an investment in your business and is still worth doing.
Another argument I’ve heard is that “it doesn’t matter; my clients don’t care.” I’m sure there is some truth to this sentiment, but it fails to address the underlying concern: How do current and prospective clients view you? Do they view as a “real business” or as someone looking for extra income to pay for two weeks at Disneyworld? Perhaps your clients don’t care, but they can not care just as easily if you have your own domain name. You really have no way of knowing whether prospective clients care or not, unless you keep track of the ones who never respond to your queries. For all you know, an unprofessional e-mail address is why.
Years ago, when I taught a marketing class for editors, I said that whatever you do and however you do it reflects on whether you are viewed as a professional and a business or as someone who is doing editing work just to earn extra play money. In those days, impressions were generated largely by telephone and snail mail; today, that impression is given by websites and e-mail addresses.
Ultimately, looking like a professional business is like a three-legged stool. The stool requires all three legs to be stable; editors today require more than topnotch skills and a good-looking invoice to give and reinforce the impression that they are a business. In today’s Internet world, we have to give an impression of ourselves using somewhat anonymous tools, of which invoices and e-mail are two such tools.
Not only should an editor have their own domain (I advise against domain names that are simply your name, such as janesmith.com) but, once the editor has established a business-like-sounding domain name, the editor needs to create an appropriate signature for e-mails.
The signature should reflect that you are a business. It should include your name, business name, mailing address, website URL, e-mail address, and blog information if you blog. Here is the text of my signature:
Richard H. Adin
Direct Line: 845-471-3566
(I do use the @ sign, not *at*, in my signature.) It is a little fancier than it appears here (but not much), but the point is that every e-mail includes this signature, and with every e-mail I reinforce the idea that I am a company by repeating the company name, Freelance Editorial Services.
My invoices include the company logo, company name, physical address, and telephone number (and, of course, my Employer Identification Number — not my Social Security number). They do not include my name. Many years ago, my invoices did include my name; in fact, the head on the invoice was almost a replica of my e-mail signature. But clients wrote checks to me or looked to make a direct deposit into an account that bore my name, neither of which did I want. I want payment made to Freelance Editorial Services because that is my company name and I want to be viewed as a company, not as an individual.
(Here’s a tip regarding invoices: For many years my invoices included both a telephone number and an e-mail address. About 7 years ago, I stopped including the e-mail address on my invoices. I found that a couple of clients were using the e-mail as a means to create a payment delay — it was so easy to not receive e-mail replies! I stopped including my e-mail address on my invoices and now only include a telephone number and physical address. If there is a question about an invoice from accounts payable, accounts payable calls me, which enables me to resolve all problems immediately without back-and-forthing. I can do this because of the types of clients I serve; you may not be able to do so.)
I’m sure you are asking, why does it matter? Why do I want to be viewed as a company rather than as an individual? We’ll discuss that in the next Business of Editing post, The Business of Editing: Why a Company?