An American Editor

December 14, 2015

The Proofreader’s Corner: Tackling Editorial Learning Anxiety (or Embracing Change Rather Than Resisting It) — Part II

by Louise Harnby

In this two-part series, I consider how resistance to change can stop us from learning new skills or testing new methods to make our editorial businesses more successful.

In Part I, I discussed “learning anxiety” and how it can stop us from embracing change. I introduced three ideas for how to tackle anxiety: planning the change so that it’s considered and systematic; redefining “failure” as “lessons learned”; and doing a cost-to-benefit analysis.

In Part II, I present a personal case study of how I dealt with anxiety about offering a new customer-engagement service with regard to quoting. I explain how I used a cost-to-benefit analysis to identify my concerns and come up with a solution that enabled me to move forward rather than rejecting change outright.

Case study

I recently carried out an exercise with regard to a new marketing technique. My colleagues Adrienne Montgomerie and Nick Jones were the inspiration for it. Nick’s Full Proof website includes a Get a Quote button and a page that details a range of rates per 1,000 words. Adrienne’s Right Angels and Polo Bears website has an Instant Estimate tab.

I love the customer-centric nature of these websites – when I’m considering buying something, I want to have a rough idea of what it’s going to cost, so it’s not unreasonable to assume that my customers are the same. Nick and Adrienne already provide this sense of immediacy and customer engagement, though in different ways. Up until recently, I’d resisted including such a device on my own website. I’d read a lot of opinions on the issue, most of it focusing on how one can’t offer a quotation unless one’s seen a sample of the work. That’s all well and good, but is it what the customer wants? Both Nick and Adrienne make it clear that their instant quotations are preliminary and nonbinding. I wanted to take this idea and run with it in my own way – provide a quick way for the customer to engage with me, a device that would give them a sense of immediacy. I wanted to be able to provide them with a ballpark price for proofreading that they could use to decide whether to continue the discussion. So I tackled the questions above, and the answers helped me to map out a solution that I could test.

What are the potential gains from the change?

  • Customers who previously passed me over because they wanted an immediate sense of what the cost would be might be more inclined to contact me.
  • In particular, I might be a more attractive prospect for self-publishing authors (a client group that I particularly enjoy working with) scouting for editorial assistance but who have a fixed budget in mind.
  • I’ve always provided detailed value-on quotations in the past (see “Value-on or money-off? Putting a price on your editorial services”, Proofreader’s Parlour, September 2013 http://www.louiseharnbyproofreader.com/blog-the-proofreaders-parlour/value-on-or-money-off-putting-a-price-on-your-editorial-services) but these take time to produce, and if the price isn’t even in the customer’s ballpark I’ve invested a lot of time for no return. The quick-quote option would be an interesting alternative to test.

What will I potentially lose if I introduce a quick-quote function?

  • I’m always “on” – customers can contact me whenever they want and I’ll be committed to responding to them accordingly.
  • An instant quotation is all about the money, not about the value.
  • If I want to avoid placing prices on my website, I’ll need to have a device with me that enables me to calculate a price – this could be a challenge, as I want to offer different rates for different client groups, and I want to introduce economies of scale for larger word counts.

What will stay the same, even though I’ve made this change?

  • My proofreading website is still focused on providing comprehensive advice about the value I bring to the table. The customer comes through that medium and so will see this information.
  • My current client list is not affected.
  • I’m still offering a proofreading service.
  • I can still refuse the work after I’ve seen a sample if I don’t think I’m a good fit for the customer – the quote is preliminary with no obligation on either side. Critics can argue that no matter how much one protests that the quote is not binding, it gives the user a number around which to wrap their thinking. If my quote is £150 but then I see the manuscript and realize that the real quote needs to be £450, I have a major hill to climb to move the client off the £150 mark. However, I’d counter this as follows: I’m a proofreader. If the sample file arrives with me and it needs so much work that there is going to be a significant difference between the preliminary quote and the post-sample quote, the manuscript is not ready for me to work on and I’ll decline the work anyway.
  • I’m still in a position to turn down the work if it doesn’t fit in my schedule.

How will the changes make me feel once I’ve completed them?

  • I hope I’ll be glad that I’ve tried something new.
  • I’ll be excited to see what the results are.
  • It will give me even more confidence to embrace future ideas for change that I might have rejected in the past.
  • I’m in control of my website, so I’ll still feel secure in the knowledge that I can withdraw the quick-quote service instantly if I deem this to be necessary.

My solution was to offer a “Within 1 hour” service via text messaging to customers requiring a preliminary ballpark price. I require a few words of description, a deadline, and a word count. I commit to responding within 1 hour to any request that comes in prior to 10 p.m. GMT. I don’t want to have to carry around a tablet or laptop all the time because I won’t always have internet access, but my phone is always with me and I can always take calls or texts. I’ve set up a spreadsheet in the Excel app on my phone; this contains formulae that calculate the preliminary price based on different word-count ranges and client types. When a text comes through, I can place the word count into the spreadsheet; the fee is calculated automatically. I reply to the customer with the preliminary price and an invitation to continue the discussion, this time with a sample. At that point, I’ll be able to demonstrate the value I can offer.

I’ve placed this quick-quote service on a dedicated “Get a quote” page of my website. I’ve copied some of the client testimonials onto the page so that customers have a sense of the quality of service I offer.

On the same page I also offer a “Within 1 day” service via email. This provides customers with a confirmed quotation (rather than a preliminary ballpark figure) but requires them to furnish me with additional information and a sample of the work.

The quick-quotation tool has been up for a month at the time of writing, and early results are encouraging. I’ve had around 20 enquiries via text messaging, 4 of which have led to commissions to proofread works of self-published fiction. I also acquired a small, fast-turnaround job for a business client. I’ve turned down requests to proofread a business book and several theses, owing to the time frame.

I’m delighted that I decided to work out a creative solution to my earlier resistance. I’m even more delighted that the outcome has been positive. My fears about what I’d lose have been overshadowed by the decisions I made on how to manage the service: The time limit means that I’m not available 24/7; the fact that I’ve limited the service to text messaging means that I’m using a device that is always with me, so there’s no added inconvenience on that front; I’ve not been so inundated with requests that the service has felt intrusive; I can tweak the Excel spreadsheet at will; and if I decide to withdraw the service, I can update my website in an instant, even from my phone. I’ve also found a way to display the information in a way that provides social proof of the quality of service I offer.

Even more importantly, perhaps, carrying out this exercise has forced me to think more broadly how customer trust relates to pricing transparency, and about whether I want to increase my customer engagement further by being more explicit on my website about my pricing model – but that’s another test for another time! For the next few months, I’m going to focus on monitoring the “Within 1 hour” text-messaging service.

Taking professional responsibility

Resistance to change is a normal human emotion. However, we are business owners. We work for ourselves. There’s no one in the HR department to walk us through the changes we might need to make even though we feel nervous about them. Change is inevitable. The fact that it can be anxiety-inducing needs to be acknowledged. The key is to ensure that anxiety doesn’t get in the way of action. The decision I’ve made about my quick-quote service will not be something all my colleagues will agree with or want to implement. That’s fine – they have their businesses to run and I have mine. They make the decisions that are best for them while I make the decisions that are best for me.

Still feel reluctant to make a change, or learn something new? Break it down into smaller components so that it seems more manageable. View it as an opportunity for discovery rather than failure. And analyze it in terms of what you stand to gain and what you stand to lose. Chances are you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the results. Whatever happens, you’ll know that Woody and Thomas would pat you on the back for it!

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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