by Louise Harnby
- “Is [directory name] worth advertising in?”
- “Should I include a full portfolio of work on my website or just a selection of completed projects?”
- “Are business cards necessary?”
- “Should I include images on my CV/résumé?”
- “Does cold calling work?”
- “How much text should I include on my homepage?”
- “Is it best to charge per hour or per 1,000 words? Or should I charge a flat fee?”
These questions, and many others, are frequently asked by new entrants to the field of editorial freelancing. They’re perfectly good questions and our colleagues usually have some excellent answers. There’s nothing wrong with asking more experienced professionals for advice on how to go about promoting one’s business; indeed, I’d recommend it as one tool for deepening one’s marketing knowledge and stimulating one’s creative juices.
However, it’s important to remember that “advice” is just that — guidance and recommendations for action; advice is not a rule of thumb that needs to be followed without consideration of our own individual business goals, target clients groups, and required income streams. We all, too, have our own voices — some people shine when promoting their businesses face to face or over the telephone; others make more of an impact using their written communication skills.
In brief, the marketing tools that work for me might not work as well for you, and vice versa. That’s why we need to incorporate testing into our marketing strategy. Testing involves experimenting with particular marketing activities over a fixed timescale, and evaluating the results.
Testing allows you to discover which promotional activities are effective for generating business leads in particular segments of the editorial market. The results may well match the experience of many of your colleagues, but don’t be surprised if they differ too.
Before you start …
Before you begin testing, it’s crucial to consider what you are trying to say and to whom. Spend some time reviewing your business plan so that you have the following in mind:
- Your core skills and services
- The types of client for whom you can provide solutions
- The problems those clients need you to solve
- The key selling points that will make you interesting to each client group
A fictive case study
Let’s return to just one of the questions that I posed at the beginning of this article and consider how testing offers a constructive approach to acquiring market knowledge that complements the advice gleaned from colleagues.
“Is [directory name] worth advertising in?”
Ash is a recently qualified proofreader. He’s considering advertising his services in his national professional association’s online editorial directory. The cost would be $300 per annum, which is a big chunk of his marketing budget. He asks 3,000 of his fellow association members whether the directory has proved successful for them. He receives 30 responses, which at first sight is useful, but when he reads the replies in full, the advice is mixed. One-third of the responders have had work from the directory, primarily from publishers. These publisher clients have offered repeat work over several years; and even though some considered the rates of pay to be on the low side, the advertisers have seen a positive return on their annual investment. A further third of responders tell Ash that they have had a few enquiries off the back of their advertisement, but the enquirers were one-off student clients who had small budgets; the advertisers struggled to break even on their investment. The remaining responders have had no work from the directory, though a few felt that their presence in the directory, with its backlink to their personal business website, had SEO benefits.
Despite the mixed responses, there is some really useful information to be gleaned. Ash considers the following:
- Are publishers a target client group that he’s a good fit for?
- Why did two-thirds of the responders receive little or no interest? Are their core client groups not using that particular directory to source editorial suppliers, or are these responders poorly communicating their ability to provide the required solutions?
- What about the experiences of the 2,670 members that didn’t read the question or respond to it?
Ash reviews his business plan (including the skills he has, his career and educational background, the editorial training he’s carried out) and concludes that, although he has little experience, publishers are a good fit for his business model. The price tag of $300 is a little on the steep side for him, but he wants to acquire experience from publisher clients. Publishers seem like a core client group for the directory, though Ash is cognizant of the fact that he only has feedback from a small percentage of the society’s membership and he’s unsure whether their views are statistically significant.
He decides to test the effectiveness of the directory for 1 year. He constructs a listing that is designed specifically to appeal to the publisher client group. In 12 months’ time he will evaluate the results. If the listing has generated his required income-to-cost ratio, he can continue investing in this marketing activity, confident that his money is well spent. If the listing doesn’t generate the desired results he will have two choices: (a) test a reworked version of the advertisement or (b) abandon the directory and explore other methods of making himself discoverable to publisher clients.
Whatever the outcome, Ash’s test will provide him with evidence that he can use to make informed and confident decisions about how best to market his editorial business.
What should you test?
What you should test will depend on what you want to know. Here are three ideas that I’ve either already tested, am currently testing, or are on my to-do list — one is a small adjustment that costs no money and little time; the other two require a greater commitment:
- TEST COMPLETE: I wanted to decrease the number of enquiries from students requiring proofreading work on Master’s dissertations and PhD theses. I no longer have the capacity to take on this work but I was spending at least 30 minutes each working day responding to these enquiries. That 30 minutes could be spent on marketing my business or doing paid work. I felt cautious about placing text on my website that clearly stated what I don’t do; it felt negative, and it cluttered up the page. I decided to test it over a 4-month period. If the number of student enquires didn’t decrease, I’d remove the text, since it was ineffective. The test was informative — I now only receive a one or two student queries a week, so I’ve left the text in place.
- TEST IN PROGRESS: I wanted to know whether creating a profile on Reedsy would make me more discoverable to independent fiction authors. It costs nothing financially to generate a listing, although Reedsy takes a percentage of any income earned. Feedback within the UK and the international editorial communities has been mixed. In May 2015, I decided to carry out a test over a 12-month period so that I could evaluate the potential benefits for my own business. Early results have been positive — I picked up a high-value client within only a few weeks and completed several projects for him. The process was smooth and payment was timely. I’ve had a couple of bites from other potential clients since then, but neither resulted in being selected for proofreading work. In May 2016, I’ll review the experience and make a decision as to whether to continue to advertise on this platform.
- TEST IN PIPELINE: If I create short audio streams of some of my written blog posts, will there be SEO benefits? Will the project generate sufficient additional high-value work opportunities to make the investment in time worthwhile?
Don’t mix things up
Take care when carrying out more than one test. Multiple tests on one marketing tool are problematic — it won’t be clear why any changes to response rates, either positive or negative, are occurring. For example, if I decided I wanted to find ways of increasing the speed at which I receive payment, I might consider tweaking my invoice as follows:
- Highlighting the late-payment-penalty information in a yellow box
- Offering a 5% discount for early-bird payment
- Adding a thank-you message and an emoticon smiley
It’s crucial that I test each of these things separately; otherwise, 12 months down the line, I’ll have no idea which of these tactics is working (or not working). It could well be that the message and emoticon are just as effective as the 5% discount. Unless I identify this by carrying out the tests separately, I’m needlessly throwing money out of the window. Tests can, of course, be carried out separately but simultaneously by dividing similar clients into groups, with one tweak applied to each group. So, in the invoicing case, I might divide all my publisher clients into three groups and send out invoices with the late-penalty payment info highlighted to group A, a 5% discount for early-bird payment to group B, and a thank-you message and emoticon smiley to group C. Then I would track the results for each group.
Track the results
Make sure you track test results. If, for example, you’re mailing your CV to a large number of publishers, and testing different designs, or different wording in the accompanying cover letter, make a note of who was sent what. That way you’ll be able to identify whether a particular test is generating a higher response rate.
Codes can be a useful way of collating data if you’re want to work out where your best leads are coming from. Many editorial freelancers receive emails and phone calls from clients who don’t identify how they discovered them. Adding a distinct code to each call to action on your website’s Contact page, leaflet, business card, or advertisement helps you to distinguish the results of your marketing efforts. Likewise, if you are testing different pricing models with, say, students (e.g., a flat fee vs. $X per 1,000 words), you might issue them with different ordering codes if they decide to commission you (FF2015 for those offered a flat fee vs. PK2015 for those offered a price per 1,000 words); this would enable you to track which test generated the best likelihood of being hired.
- In my book Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business, I include some words attributed to Thomas Edison: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” It’s a marvellous quotation — a great reminder that marketing is as much about learning as about being interesting and discoverable to potential clients. Testing is integral to marketing because it provides a considered framework in which we can look at what we don’t know and move to a position where we do know.
- Don’t be frightened to test new ways of doing things; your colleagues can provide guidance but there is unlikely to be consensus, especially so given the number of voices in the online editorial community. What works for one person may not work for another. If some of your colleagues have found a particular promotional platform to be unfruitful, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will have the same experience; they may have mismanaged the way they communicated their message, or they may have a less-appealing skillset than you.
- Testing allows you to make the decisions that are right for your business, rather than your colleagues’ business. Seek advice and use that guidance to help you through the thinking process. Ultimately, though, your decisions need to reflect your business goals, your target client groups, your skills and services, and your income requirements — no one else’s.
- Set time frames for your tests and track the results.
- Avoid confusion — carry out one test on one marketing tool at a time. Simultaneous testing is possible where the number of targets is large enough to apply different tests to groups of similar-type clients.
- Most importantly, keep trying new methods. Even methods that are successful today can become unsuccessful tomorrow — innovation is as important in market testing as in any other endeavor.
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.