An American Editor

January 12, 2015

The Proofreader’s Corner: Editorial Business Promotion — Four Mistakes to Avoid

Editorial Business Promotion —
Four Mistakes to Avoid

by Louise Harnby

Wrong and right aren’t words I’m particularly comfortable with when it comes to marketing, given how many different approaches we can take. Nevertheless, there are four basic mistakes that should be avoided when launching an editorial business.

Mistake 1: Not Actually Doing Any Marketing

Here are three ideas that I think it’s important to embrace when launching an editorial business:

  • All businesses should have a marketing strategy
  • All successful businesses do have a marketing strategy
  • If you don’t make yourself interesting and discoverable to potential clients, they won’t know that you can solve their problems

Let’s say that I’ve completed the relevant training, acquired the kit I need, worked out who my target clients are, notified the tax authorities of my business plans, acquired some experience via my mentor, designed my stationery templates, created my accounting spreadsheet, and hired a professional designer to produce a fabulous logo.

Now I need the clients. That means they need to be able to find me and I need to be able to find them. If ne’er the twain meet, I’m unemployed. Being discoverable is the first step to the success of any business, editorial or otherwise, because it bridges the gap between the services we offer and the people who need them. The second step is being interesting enough to retain the potential customer’s attention. Having found us, our potential clients need to feel they want to go further and actually hire us to solve their problems.

If you’re an inexperienced marketer, and feel nervous about the process, take a look at the marketing archive on my blog, The Proofreader’s Parlour; look at Rich Adin’s marketing archive here on An American Editor; explore KOKEdit’s Copyeditors’ Knowledge Base, especially the article Marketing Tips for Freelancers; and read my book Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business (there’s a sample marketing plan in the final section to guide you).

No matter how much the thought of actively promoting your editorial business sends shivers up your spine, to not do so is a mistake. Marketing your business gives you opportunity and choice. It puts you in a position where, over time, you can develop the client base, pricing strategy, service portfolio and income stream that you require and desire.

Mistake 2: Marketing Via a Single Platform

Relying on only one particular channel to make yourself discoverable to your customers is better than not doing any marketing at all. But it’s hugely risky—if that platform fails, so do you.

One of my most valuable marketing assets is my website. It’s my shop front and it’s the only space in which I have complete control over the content and design. I’ve put a lot of effort into SEO so I rank highly in the search engines. I use Weebly as my host. But what if the folks at Weebly ran into some horrendous problem and the site was inaccessible for a few days, or even a few weeks? It’s unlikely to happen, but even if it did it wouldn’t be catastrophic because I don’t rely solely on my website for work leads. It’s simply one tool among several.

Another scenario is more likely. Imagine I used to work for a major academic publisher. Now that I’ve launched my new editorial business, I ask a former colleague who works in the journal production department if I can proofread for them. They agree. The publisher has a huge journal list and my colleague keeps me busy with as much proofreading as I need. I don’t solely work for this press (here in the UK, HM Revenue & Customs wouldn’t like that) but it the provider of my primary income stream. Then double disaster strikes — the press merges with a competitor, and my colleague is made redundant. He gets a job for another press, though his new role no longer requires him to hire editorial freelancers. I don’t know anyone in the newly merged organization (though rumor has it they’re taking journal proofreading in-house in order to cut costs) and my colleague can’t take me with him to his new press. I’m scuppered.

Even if you’ve been able to establish a couple of apparently stable and lucrative work streams, and you’ve found that one particular marketing platform or tool works well for you, take the time to investigate other channels. At the very least they’ll provide you with a backup. Moreover, by experimenting with new avenues, you may find that customers whom you’d been invisible to beforehand are now placing you on their radar. That means more opportunities and more choices.

Mistake 3: Focusing Attention in the Wrong Place

Some new entrants to the field can make the mistake of giving information that focuses potential clients’ attention in the wrong place.

Focus on stand-out statements: Imagine a well-educated material scientist who’s decided, for health reasons, to move out of the professional lab and work from home, copy-editing written materials relevant to his scientific educational and career background.

  • He’s a new entrant to the field of professional editing
  • He doesn’t have an extensive client list or portfolio
  • He has yet to acquire any paid work, though he has edited (on a gratis basis) two engineering theses for students he met through is workplace. He’s also edited and contributed a significant number of reports and papers, and been involved with the boards of several industry-recognized journals
  • He’s in the middle of a comprehensive copy-editing training course run by a recognized national provider
  • He considers advertising the fact that he can offer lower rates because he’s in the early stages of developing his editorial business

His clients don’t need to know most of the above because most of those facts don’t represent him in the best light. Instead, he should focus on his stand-out qualities:

  • He specializes in editing for students, academics and professional institutions
  • He has a BSc in Chemistry, an MChem in Chemistry with Nanotechnology, and a twenty-year career background in material science
  • His extensive scientific knowledge and experience enable him to copy-edit papers, books, journal articles and reports to an industry-required standard
  • He has contributed to and edited numerous reports for colleagues in his twenty-year career
  • He has published articles in Nano Today, Chemistry of Materials, Journal of Materials Chemistry A, and Materials Research Bulletin, and sat on the boards of The Journal of Materials Science (2003–2009) and Materials Today (2009–2012)
  • His rates are in line with those suggested by the Society for Editors and Proofreaders [or other professional editorial society] and the National Union of Journalists [or other recognized body]

If what you say doesn’t sell your business in a way that makes you interesting, recast your message. If you lack experience and an extensive portfolio, focus instead on positive selling points that make the customer feel confident about hiring you to solve their problems.

Our message needs to focus on the skills we have to offer, not those we’ve yet to acquire.

Sell your positives, not others’ negatives: It’s also imperative that your message does indeed focus on what you have to offer. Just case you are one of the few people on the planet who thinks that focusing on a competitor’s or colleague’s mishaps rather than your own skills is a good marketing strategy (I’m sure you’re not!), then this is a quick reminder that it’s disastrous in terms of PR. Why?

  1. Pointing out a competitor’s foibles focuses the client’s attention on the competitor’s business rather than your own.
  2. Such an approach destroys integrity, which leads to a lack of trust. And if they don’t trust you, they won’t hire you. We need to make ourselves interesting and visible rather than trying to make our competitors look incompetent and unworthy of discovery.

You might enjoy this article by Lauren Bacon, who considers the benefits for business owners who move away from critical thought processes (as well as actions), and turn instead towards a what-can-I-learn approach: “How Trashing Others Holds You Back.”

Mistake 4: Ignoring Traditional Marketing Methods

Before Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989, editorial professionals had to promote their businesses using telephone and postal services, face-to-face meetings, and onsite networking groups. These methods worked then, and they still work now—don’t make the mistake of ignoring them in the belief that they’re out-dated.

Social media profiles, websites, and emails are all excellent and immediate ways to make yourself discoverable. However, from the client’s point of view they are as easy to discard as they are to access, precisely because they are digital methods of contact.

A cleverly designed postcard can be tacked onto a wall; a targeted CV and covering letter can be read anywhere, even if there’s no internet connection, and held on file; a well-thought-out gift pack will be appreciated, talked about and used; and a business card can all be retained in a wallet, purse or card deck.

I’ve addressed in more detail the benefits of letter writing on the SfEP blog (“Don’t forget the “old” ways: marketing via letter writing“), and I’ve discussed custom card-giving here on AAE (“The Proofreader’s Corner: Giving Your Business Promotion the Personal Touch“). See also Rich Adin’s “The Business of Editing: Thinking Holidays“, an excellent guide to gifting.

Balancing immediacy and permanence is key to a well-rounded marketing strategy. By using a mixture of the two, you will enhance your visibility and spike your customer’s interest.

Summing up

  • Even if you’re nervous about the idea of actively promoting your business, don’t avoid it—make yourself discoverable to your clients so that, over time, you provide yourself with opportunities and choice.
  • Use a variety of channels to cover your back. That way you’ll minimize the chances of unexpectedly, and through no fault of your own, being without a work stream.
  • Make yourself interesting to your clients by drawing their attention to your business—the key skills and knowledge that you possess to help them solve their problems; the things about you that differentiate you, that make you stand out.
  • Use a combination of traditional and digital marketing tools so that your promotional campaigns have both immediacy and permanence.

Louise Harnby is a professional proofreader and the curator of The Proofreader’s Parlour. Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader, follow her on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or find her on LinkedIn. She is the author of Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers and Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business.


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