Are Networking and Marketing
Essential to an Editing Business?
by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter
A recent discussion on the Copy Editing List (CE-L) raised the interesting question of whether it’s necessary to do marketing to have a successful editing business. At the heart of the conversation were varying takes on what “marketing” actually means. Networking came into the discussion as well.
Most of the participants in the conversation agreed that it’s essential not just to market your skills and business to be a success, but to do so constantly and regularly. A number of participants spoke up to reassure the introverted and shy amongst us that “marketing” can be done in a way that doesn’t force them into behaviors that don’t come naturally.
I see marketing as a necessary process for the success of any business, and as a constant one to work effectively on your behalf. I also see networking as a vital element of your marketing efforts.
A couple of “CELmates” argued that they have successful freelance editing businesses without ever doing any real marketing, making the point that having worked in editing jobs created a natural base of marketing and networking activity for their freelance ventures. They had a built-in network of employers and colleagues who would call on them for freelance services without their making much of an effort to get work from those prospective clients. Just “hanging out a shingle” by letting those former employers and colleagues know they were going freelance was often enough to establish a strong base of ongoing work. They saw no need to do any conscious marketing or further networking.
That laidback, no-effort approach may work — but only “may.” Nowadays, when the marketplace includes consolidation in the publishing world, outsourcing to cheaper markets or providers, and the proliferation of inexperienced people using the Internet to hang out their shingles as freelance editors, marketing and networking become more important to a freelance business, especially for anyone who doesn’t have years of experience and contacts to rely on.
What the colleagues who were able to launch their editing businesses didn’t realize is that simply letting an employer and coworkers know that you’re going out on your own is marketing. It may be a one-time effort, it may not feel like a marketing campaign — but it’s still marketing. Marketing is nothing more than letting the world know, on a large or small scale, that you’re open for business and available for assignments. Whether you tell five people or 500 that you’re a freelance editor, you’re doing marketing. The larger audience you reach, the more likely you are to succeed.
Neither networking nor marketing has to be especially aggressive. Among the less-aggressive techniques is joining professional organizations or communities that have membership directories you can be listed in or discussion lists where you can be visible. A well-crafted profile on LinkedIn can result in prospective clients contacting you, instead of you having to contact them; participating in relevant LinkedIn groups takes some time and energy, but also can generate new clients and assignments by clients coming to you, rather than you having to find or go to them.
Having your own website is also an effective marketing tool, because it gets your name (or business name) out there among those of other freelancers and in the environment that many prospective clients will use to find us. Once the site is up, you can let it function as a static “online business card” or you can make it active and up to date; how much time and effort you want to put into it is up to you and where you fall on the passive–active scale of marketing efforts.
These are essentially passive marketing activities that are ideal for the shy and retiring types, because they don’t involve any in-person, face-to-face activity and they don’t require leaving the comfort of a home office to engage directly with the outside world.
One colleague made the point that rethinking her approach helped her be better at marketing, despite a reluctance to engage in that activity in any formal way. She started focusing on how she could help her clients and presenting herself from that perspective, which felt more comfortable and less-pressured than anything using a “here I am, hire me!” approach that she saw as marketing.
That ties in nicely with another colleague’s approach: to put the focus on storytelling — telling people something about who you are, how you approach the editing world or process, how skilled editing can make a difference in the value of a document or project — and “stop beating people over the head with ‘marketing.’”
That makes sense when you consider that many freelance editors find the whole concept of marketing a little scary. We don’t want to seem pushy or aggressive; we just want to get and do the work. But you can do networking and marketing without much effort or being more aggressive than is comfortable for you (although more — when done well — is usually better in terms of building up your business).
Even subscribing to and commenting on a blog like this one is a form of networking — you’re interacting with colleagues, making your views known, showing how well you use language or understand the business of editing, as well as the editing process itself. Making cogent, coherent contributions to a blog or discussion list is also marketing, because it’s another way of putting yourself and some aspects of your skills out there, in front of potential clients or at least colleagues who might refer you for projects.
The vital thing for any freelancer, whether a newbie or a long-time pro, is to find ways to get in front of prospective new clients. Those prospects include friends, family, colleagues, and employers from past jobs, clients you haven’t heard from or worked with in a while — and people who don’t know you yet. How you do this is less important than that you do it. Whatever you call it and however you do it, marketing is important, if not essential, to a successful editing business — just as it is to any business.
We freelance editors have to remember that we are businesses and have to act like businesses, and that includes getting the word out about who we are and what we can do for clients — that is, marketing. Because we are businesses.
Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is an award-winning freelance writer, editor, proofreader, desktop publisher, and speaker whose motto is “I can write about anything!”® She is also the owner of Communication Central, author of the Freelance Basics blog for the Society for Technical Communication, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.