by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter
The value of presenting an editorial services entity as a business has been discussed here several times. A dreary, rainy day of doing more business tasks than actual editing, writing, or proofreading led me to think about what it means to be, and be seen as, a business.
As has, again, been said before, many freelance editors see ourselves as individuals providing services to clients and value our image as individual, independent, freelance workers. We see ourselves as professionals in terms of our training, experience, skill level, and ability to do what our clients need to make their publishing activities better. Many — maybe even most — of us, though, don’t want to be seen as companies or even formally as businesses. There’s a sense that our individualness is something to cherish and that it doesn’t quite fit with the idea of being “a business.”
But being an individual freelancer doesn’t have to mean appearing to be unbusinesslike. And being businesslike, or presenting ourselves as businesses, doesn’t have to mean being a company with employees or subcontractors. You can be an individual editor and still have a businesslike image.
Rich Adin, An American Editor, has laid out several of the factors he considers essential to being seen as a business: regular work and access hours, a formal phone greeting, etc. (For additional views, see the list of select related AAE essays at the end of this essay.) Here are some of the factors I see as helping an individual, whether freelance writer, editor, proofreader, indexer, whatever, present a businesslike front to the world.
- Business name: Even if you function as a sole proprietor, it probably looks better to have a company name. I’ve been doing this so long as an individual that I can usually get away with being seen simply as Ruth Thaler-Carter, Freelance Writer/Editor, especially because I started out more as a writer than an editor or proofreader. If I were to start out today, though, I’d use something other than my own name as the identity of my business. I have had a couple of clients request that I provide a business name, so my business checking account has one so I can deposit checks regardless of how they’re made out.
Your business name should say something about what you do. Poetic names like “Blue Horizons” are all very well, but they don’t tell prospective clients what services you offer, so they won’t help you gain new projects or be visible on the Internet. Blue Horizons Editorial Services, sure.
Opinions vary on what to call ourselves. I have no problem with being called a freelancer, but some colleagues prefer to use consultant, contractor, entrepreneur, or even (business) owner.
Opinions also vary about whether to incorporate. This is something worth discussing with an accountant or tax professional.
- Website: A businesslike editor will have a website, and it will look polished and professional. No amateur snapshots of the editor with kids, cats or dogs, messy desks; no photos of someone other than yourself pretending to be you. No irrelevant information. Easily navigable. Information about your background, training, experience, skills, and why someone should hire you. Whenever possible, examples of your work or, if that isn’t doable, strong testimonials from clients.
- Work samples: A businesslike freelancer will have a way to present work samples to potential clients without violating the confidentiality or egos of past and present clients. This is more of an issue with editing and proofreading services than with writing; after all, most writing work is meant to be published and seen, while much editing or proofreading work is meant to be invisible. The finished product is what matters, and most clients don’t want the world to see what a mess their original versions were before we made our improvements. Always ask before making editing/proofreading samples accessible; use only excerpts that don’t identify the client; look for other ways to present your skills, such as testimonials and references from clients who have been happy with your work.
- E-mail address: A businesslike editor will have a domain-based e-mail address. Using Ruth@writerruth.com or owner@FreelanceWhatever.com looks more professional and more businesslike than Ruth@gmail.com or FreelanceWhatever@aol.com. Sending e-mail from your domain-based account also might get messages through when major servers like AOL, Hotmail, Juno, etc., experience blockages for some reason. Having such an e-mail address also means you can change service providers every other day without having to notify dozens, if not hundreds, of colleagues and clients of a new address.
- E-mail signature: Every e-mail message you send should include a signature (sigline). Opinions vary about what it should include; mine has my full name, business name, e-mail address, website URL, Twitter handle, reference to a booklet I’ve written and self-published, and a separate line with the name of the business through which I host an annual conference for freelancers. My e-mail program includes it automatically in every message I send. The only time I have to think about it is when I want to use variants, also stashed in the appropriate area of my e-mail program, that relate to my roles with organizations or clients/projects. Some colleagues include phone numbers in their siglines; I don’t do that much phone contact with clients, so I don’t include my number, but it is on my website and in directory information (yes, I still have a landline), so it’s easy to find when needed.
- Phone: A businesslike freelancer can have either a landline or a cellphone/smartphone, but whichever you use, will answer it in a businesslike manner. I usually say “Good morning/Good afternoon, this is Ruth,” but some colleagues swear by “I can write about anything®, this is Ruth. How may I help you?” Either way, go beyond a plain “Hi” or “Hello” to let callers know whom they’ve reached when they call you. A businesslike editor also makes sure that their adorable five-year-olds or clueless spouses don’t answer their business phones; that callers don’t have to strain to hear them against background noise of barking dogs, loud TVs, clinking dishes being washed, or intrusive music.
- Queries, job-listing responses, proposals, and pitches: A businesslike freelancer takes a little extra time to make every query, response to job-list opportunities, proposal, and pitch as perfect as possible. That starts with doing at least nominal research on the publication or potential client before pitching/querying ideas for articles so all are relevant to that publication, and only responding to job listings for which the freelancer actually is qualified. It also includes proofreading all such items before sending them; if necessary, having a friend or colleague take a look at them first.
- Tools: We’ve talked here several times about the importance of having the right, and many times the most-current, tools for the freelance or editing job. This includes soft- and hardware; backup systems; style manuals to back up editing decisions; even business cards that go with you everywhere. Backup in the sense of equipment or files is one thing, by the way; in terms of coping with a crisis is another. A businesslike editor has colleagues to turn to if illness or injury — your own or that of a child, spouse, sibling, parent, or good friend — interferes with meeting a deadline.
- Finances: The businesslike editor sets rates appropriate to the editor’s experience and skill level; has a business checking account and credit card for business-related expenses and payments; and has a savings cushion so the editor doesn’t have to beg to be paid earlier than usual or accept projects at rates well below the norm. It’s also important to present requests to resolve late payments in terms of being paid because of having done the work, not needing the money to pay the mortgage.
- Invoices: A businesslike editor will have invoices that look official and go out promptly on completing a project. They will have all the necessary information to make it easy to get paid — an invoice number; your name; your mailing address and e-mail address so clients can choose between sending checks or paying online; your payment terms; any late fee terms you choose to use; perhaps a statement that the edited version of the work belongs to you until you’ve been paid.
- Memberships: The businesslike editor will belong to associations or organizations that offer useful benefits such as job opportunities, educational programs, interaction with colleagues, and more — all aspects of being a lifelong learner and professional.
What all this boils down to is that, regardless of whether you want to be a sole-proprietor freelance editor or the owner of an editing company, Thou Shall Be Businesslike in all you do. What else do you do to present a businesslike persona?
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.
Select Related An American Editor Essays:
- The Commandments: Thou Shall Know the Basics or Don’t Edit
- The Commandments: Thou Shall Establish the Rules of Engagement Before Beginning a Project
- The Commandments: Thou Shall Treat Editors as Partners
- The Commandments: Thou Shall be Efficient
- The Commandments: Thou Shall Use a Professional Editor
- The Commandments: Thou Shall be Profitable
- The Business of Editing: The Key to Success
- The Business of Editing: Why a Company?
- The Business of Editing: Domains & E-mail
- The Business of Editing: Thinking About Invoices
- It’s Fundamental & Professional, Too
- What? The Fundamental Question