An American Editor

August 7, 2020

Website changes that can lead to finding new clients

By Nate Hoffelder, The Digital Reader

Guest Columnist

With the pandemic dragging on in the U.S., public events such as conferences and trade shows are effectively canceled for the indefinite future. Your chance of meeting new clients (or colleagues who might refer you to new clients) in person is essentially nil, which means that your website is 10 times more important today than it was last year.

If you haven’t taken some time to refresh your site recently, now is a good time to do so.

In my last post for An American Editor, I discussed 18 questions you should ask when refreshing your site. Today I would like to share seven specific changes you can make to your site to win more clients.

Let’s start with email.

Get a professional email address

One easy way to set yourself apart from all the other editors out there is to get an email address that matches your website’s domain. Almost everyone has their email with Gmail, Yahoo, AOL or another of the big web service companies. Those services are fine, to varying degrees, but using MyName@MySite.com simply looks more professional. It sends the message that you are serious enough about your work that you choose to present a professional image. (Editor’s note: It also gives you a permanent e-ddress, so you can change providers as necessary without having to notify everyone you’ve ever corresponded with about a new point of contact.)

At the same time, you should also choose an address that starts with your name or occupation. If your current email address references either your kids, pets or hobbies, that again does not present a professional image. My email address is Nate@NateHoffelder.com. It’s not terribly original, no, but it does present the right image, while an email address ending in Verizon, Comcast or AOL would not.

Add a Services page

Clients can’t hire you if they don’t know what you do, and that is why your website needs one or more pages listing your services.

I used to have several service pages, each focused on a single service, but now I just have the one services page on my site. I list four services on that page, and for each service, I explain what I do and how my clients benefit. I also have a button that links to my contact form.

Pro tip: The easier you make it for a website visitor to take action, the more likely they are to become a client. (Repeat after me: A frustrated visitor is a lost client, while an engaged visitor is one step away from being a paying client.)

Include testimonials

One of the best ways to convince a potential client to hire you is to tell them what others are saying about your work, which is why you should add at least a few testimonials to your website. I have about 20, which might be overkill, but I formatted my testimonial page so they are not too overwhelming.

Find the eight or 10 testimonials in your files that you think are the best, and copy them to a new page on your site. Be sure to fix the formatting so the client’s name is in bold, and use enough white space between each testimonial for them to stand out.

Add samples of your work

Your website’s visitors are going to wonder whether you have the skills they need. The best way to show them that you do is to have samples of your work, either on your site as links or images, or as PDFs that can be downloaded.

If possible, try to include both a before and after. This will give potential clients a better understanding of your style, and what you bring to the table. (Editor’s note: One important caveat for editors and proofreaders, though — Be sure you have the client’s permission to show what you did for their material. Not everyone wants the world to see the “before” version. And even with that permission, do your best to anonymize the material to minimize the potential for embarrassing the client.)

Collect emails for your mailing list

Email newsletters are one of the most-effective ways of marketing your services. An e-letter is your best opportunity to be invited to talk to potential clients by sending messages to their inboxes. But before you can send newsletters, you need to get email addresses for prospective readers, and for that, you need a mailing list sign-up form.

Even if you don’t want to send newsletters now, you should still have a sign-up form just in case your plans change. I can’t tell you how many years I wasted by not collecting email addresses, and I don’t want you to repeat my mistake, so please do yourself a favor, and add a mailing list form to your site.

While we are on the topic, why stop at one form? My recommendation is that you have a form for your mailing list in the footer of every page, in the sidebar next to blog posts, as a pop-up, and at least twice on your home page.

Speaking of which, what does your home page look like?

Create a home page

One common problem I have seen with neglected websites is that they usually do not have a custom-written home page. Instead, blog posts take up the prime real estate. This is a terrible oversight because the home page is one of the most-viewed pages on a website. It is the best chance to introduce yourself to potential clients and win them over.

The marketing industry knows website home pages are so important that marketers have written whole book chapters about only that page. They’ve written 2,000- or 3,000-word blog posts explaining in detail how to get just one aspect of the page perfect.

I am not going to make you go read those voluminous posts, but I do have a post for you. It covers the six key elements you should have on your home page. I think that a website’s home page is so important that it has its own 996-word blog post. If you have limited funds or time, it is the one part of your website that you need to work on.

Ideally, however, I think you should improve all parts of your website. You never know which part will influence your next client the most.

Any questions?

Nate Hoffelder has been building and running WordPress websites since 2010. He blogs about indie publishing and helps authors connect with readers by customizing websites to suit each author’s voice. You may have heard his site, the Digital Reader (https://the-digital-reader.com), mentioned on news sites such as the NYTimes, Forbes, BoingBoing, Techcrunch, Engadget, Gizmodo or Ars Technica. He is scheduled to discuss websites for the 2020 virtual Communication Central/NAIWE/An American EditorBe a Better Freelancer® conference this fall. The Digital Reader was a sponsor of the 2019 conference.

April 27, 2020

On the Basics — Contracts, pro and con

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner

An American Editor

Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of questions about contracts between authors and editors (or other editorial freelancers and other prospective clients) — should we use them, what should go into them, how do we implement them, do we need attorneys to create them, and so on and so on.

Plenty of editors say they’ve never needed contracts in their work with individual authors. I’m glad for them; I’ve also had good luck with clients who didn’t have contracts and whose projects went smoothly enough that I didn’t regret not asking them to sign one of my own. For the most part, though, I think it’s smart to have something along the lines of a contract between service provider (editor) and client (author, publisher, organization, publication, company, university, etc.).

The con

One reason, and probably the only valid reason, not to have a contract for working with a new client is that some people are scared off by the very concept of “a contract.” It seems so … legalistic … so serious … so untrusting or suspicious. Asking for or offering a contact apparently comes across as expecting problems to arise at some point in the relationship.

One of the telecommunications companies even uses that perspective by boasting that they don’t require contracts for their services, making it look like an advantage for the consumer over providers that do. The problem? The consumer doesn’t have any protection against rate increases, service reductions and other issues that can arise during the life of the relationship.

The pro

And there’s the concern: Not having a contract with a client means that neither party has any protection in case there’s a problem. It can be worth the effort to explain to a reluctant client that a contract protects both you and the client. It gives you protection against the client not paying, paying very slowly or adding to the project without additional compensation, among other potential issues, but it also protects the client against the freelancer not doing the work as expected. Not that any of us would do that, of course, but it’s something to use to reassure the client.

The process

With the disclaimer that I am not an attorney, the good news is that a contract doesn’t have to be complicated or heavily legalistic. It can take the form of a letter of agreement or a checklist, or even a confirming e-mail message. You can ask the client to sign and return the agreement, or use language like “Unless I hear otherwise by Date X, this will constitute our agreement/contract.”

And speaking of e-mail, a contract nowadays doesn’t have to be on paper. A chain of e-mail messages describing the project and setting out and agreeing to the parameters can be treated as a contract. Just be sure to include language like “As we discussed and agreed, I will do such-and-such for this amount by that date …” — and to save those back-and-forth messages, just in case.

Contract details

What should go into a contract for editing services? Here’s a checklist I use to identify what I’m expected to do (for writing assignments, I include number of interviews and who provides the interview sources).

Genre

Scope (topic and length)

Fee or rate (per hour, word, page, project, etc.)

Definition of page

Payment policy and timing

Deadline(s)

Number of passes

Number of revisions (for writing projects)

Fee or rate for additional work beyond original scope

Expenses

Mediation jurisdiction if any problems

What you don’t need or should try not to agree to

One reason contract questions come up is the increasing tendency of clients to include draconian terms in current contracts, especially businesses and companies that aren’t used to working with freelance editors. The most-common one is expecting the freelancer or independent contractor to have liability insurance. Something like errors and omissions coverage might make sense for an investigative journalist, but editors rarely need something like liability coverage. That kind of policy is usually intended for situations where the contractor works onsite at the client’s office or property, uses heavy equipment on the client’s behalf or project, has subcontractors, and otherwise is likely to have access to the client’s information or property.

Accepting liability for your work is especially an issue for writers, editors and even proofreaders, because other people are likely to change (or not accept) what you submit. The publication process is fluid and involves people we never meet; even printers/production people have been known to introduce changes — and, unintentionally, errors — after an editor or proofreader signs off and gets paid for our role. We can’t be responsible for what happens made after we finish our part of the project.

Pointing out that you are a sole proprietor who works from home and doesn’t use heavy equipment or subcontractors can help carry the day when you’re asked to provide liability insurance to a client. If they still insist, add the cost to your contract and include language to the effect that you aren’t responsible for any changes made to your version of the material.

Authors new to the publishing process also might ask you to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). These are usually benign and more valuable as assurance for an author that an editor won’t steal their precious words for some reason than for any other reason; they generally commit you to not telling the world all about the author’s work, or perhaps that you worked on their manuscript. If you’d rather not sign an NDA, you could point out that any editor who would violate an author’s trust in such a way wouldn’t stay in business for very long.

What you don’t want to sign is a non-compete agreement that limits how you can use your skills with new clients in the future, even the near future. Signing such an agreement can lock you out of doing similar work for similar (or any!) clients, which would interfere with your ability to pursue your career or business.

Protecting yourself

You might not need a formal contract of your own that’s packed with dense, incomprehensible legalese, but you at least need someone with legal knowledge to rely on when a prospective client offers a contract that seems impenetrable. It’s one thing to say, “Read any contract before signing it.” It’s another to actually read and understand some of these documents.

My attorney is an old friend from back in high school whose practice is in intellectual property, copyright and contracts. I have her look over any contract or NDA that I’m asked to sign; we swap services, but it would be worth whatever she would charge if I were paying for her help. If you don’t know anyone who would be willing to review contracts for you, check with your local bar association or chapter of Lawyers for the Arts; some professional organizations also have legal services where one consultation is free, or there’s a substantial discount on an initial request. Such reviews shouldn’t cost much, and any expense is deductible at tax time.

For a template or boilerplate language, look to professional organizations and online resources like LegalZoom. Pick one and tailor it to your needs and each project.

The ideal resource

You don’t have to take my word for any of this, and you can get a lot more advice from colleagues Dick Margulis and Karin Cather from their book, The Paper It’s Written On: Defining Your Relationship with an Editing Client. That’s a must-have for every editor’s bookcase — and well worth having no matter what kind of editorial or publishing work you do.

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com) is an award-winning provider of editorial and publishing services for publications, independent authors, publishers, associations, nonprofits and companies worldwide, and the editor-in-chief and owner of An American Editor, which was founded by Rich Adin. She also hosts the annual Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference for colleagues (www.communication-central.com), now co-hosted with the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (www.naiwe.com), sponsored by An American Editor, and (still) planned this year for October 2–4 in Baltimore, MD. She can be reached at Ruth@writerruth.com or Ruth.Thaler-Carter@AnAmericanEditor.com.

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