by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter
I’m often surprised or amused, depending on the incident, by people who seem determined to limit their success as freelancers. Here are some of the ways that people limit their efforts (many of which also apply to writers, proofreaders, indexers, graphic artists, website developers, etc.) — and some ideas for overcoming those limits.
Limit: Refusing to use current technology
Years ago, I met a colleague who refused to use word processing or faxing, and was upset because clients didn’t want to receive her typewritten manuscripts by mail. There are fewer such Luddites around these days, but there are editors who use outdated versions of Word or programs that aren’t considered current leaders in the field, don’t bother to spellcheck their documents, and otherwise seem to be allergic to current technology that makes both their and their clients’ jobs easier. Someone who refuses to adapt to a changing world or understand that clients prefer to use the editors who make their lives easier is not going to prosper.
Limit: Keeping your focus local
You can probably find good projects and clients on a local level — and some of us like the opportunities to interact in person with local clients — but today’s work world is global. Thanks to technology, we can work with clients all around the country and all over the globe. Through the electronic world, you can do your research and work at all hours, send and receive information at any time, and be accessible to clients no matter where they are.
You’ll be more successful if you extend your reach beyond your geographic location — you’ll have more clients, and you just might find ones that pay more than your local contacts. Take advantage of that fact of contemporary life.
Limit: Not investing in your business
Whether you work in-house or freelance, editing is your business. That’s especially true, of course, of freelancers. Refusing to invest in that business is a great way to limit your income and success.
What does it take to invest in an editing business? Making sure that you, or your employer, have current versions of software, hardware, style manuals, dictionaries, and other tools that keep you on the cutting edge of what it takes to get the work done. It also means participating in professional associations and attending events where you can learn more about trends and new resources or techniques, as well as meet colleagues who might hire you for projects.
Limit: Not continuing to learn
Language changes. Tools evolve. New approaches arise. The business of editing is an ongoing process. Those who think they know everything there is to know about editing are doomed to limit their success.
Taking courses, purchasing new editions of style manuals or dictionaries, attending events, interacting with colleagues online and in person, reading leading publications, even enjoying hobbies all help editors keep learning and thus be more productive, professional, and successful.
Limit: Not networking
Many editorial professionals are shy, retiring, or introverted by nature and find it uncomfortable to network with colleagues or potential clients. Even those of us who are more extroverted may find it difficult to network because of where we live or because we do not know how to find outlets for meeting colleagues.
Make the effort to network, because getting to know colleagues is a great way to break out of limits on your editing business. Not only are you likely to learn more about trends, tools, techniques, and other aspects of language, editing, and business; you also are likely to meet people who might refer, recommend, or contract with you for new projects. People recommend those whom they know. Being visible in a professional association in person or online, in a Facebook or LinkedIn group, or at conferences (as either presenter or participant) can be a major factor in expanding your editing business by establishing yourself as a skilled colleague or expert in some aspect of the editing world and process.
Keep in mind that networking is a two-way process; it isn’t all about you. Before you ask for help or referrals to new clients, offer advice or answer questions — try to establish yourself as someone with knowledge to share and skills worth using.
Limit: Not understanding & knowing your effective hourly rate
Many of us simply take projects and get to work on them, accepting whatever clients offer in terms of rates or fees without tracking the time it takes to finish a given job or type of job. As a result, if a potential project comes in without an agreed-upon rate, we’re stymied — we don’t know what to charge.
Not knowing your effective hourly rate — how fast (or slowly) you work and what you need to earn to cover your expenses — puts you at a disadvantage when asked to quote a rate or fee for a new project. From now on, track how long it takes to edit whatever comes across your desk or inbox. Look at the income from each project. Use those numbers to figure out what you really earn, and compare them to your costs of living. Then you have a basis for establishing appropriate rates and fees for your work. This might even give you the courage to ask for higher rates and fees. (For a discussion of Effective Hourly Rate, see the Business of Editing: What to Charge series.)
Limit: Not promoting or publicizing yourself & your business
Promoting your editing business might be the hardest part of being in business. If you work in-house, this aspect of your job is less of a concern, although you still might want to help your employer promote the publication, company, or organization. If you work for yourself, marketing and promotion is essential. Those who sit back and wait for work to magically appear limit themselves to a nominal income.
Marketing or promotion is a constant, ongoing process. The classic example of a non–marketing crisis is when you’re so immersed in a current project that you forget to do any marketing for new work. When you wrap this one up, you have at least the traditional 30 days to wait before getting paid and nothing on hand to work on while you wait. To keep a regular income flowing in, you have to market yourself and your services regularly.
If you can’t handle doing your own marketing and promotions, find someone to help you out. Consider bartering editing services in return for designing a website for you, creating and distributing a newsletter, or helping you use social media to expand your visibility.
Being active in professional organizations and online contributes to your marketing efforts. If you at least do that much, you’ve expanded the limits on your business.
What have you done to limit your editing success? Even better, what have you done to overcome limitations on that success?
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.