An American Editor

November 9, 2015

The Business of Editing: A Fourth Fundamental Business Mistake That Editors Make

Flexibility and Accessibility

When someone is asked why they chose to be a freelance editor, quite often the response centers on flexibility — the idea that freelance editors can set their own schedule. Need time to watch a child’s soccer game? No problem. Need to schedule a doctor’s appointment? Again, not a problem.

Flexible scheduling is nice in concept but the schedules of freelancers aren’t really all that flexible. Sure we can do our work in the wee hours so we can attend that soccer game, but we still have deadlines to meet and it is those deadlines that dictate how flexible our schedule truly is.

When we focus on the flexibility of scheduling, we tend to forget that we are a business and that there are certain expectations that those who would make use of our services have about our schedule. The mistake is not the flexible schedule but the failure to make ourselves accessible as expected by clients. Flexibility and accessibility are not synonymous. Ideally, we can combine flexibility with accessibility.

One hallmark of a business is hours of operation. We know, for example, that the brick-and-mortar repair shop where we take our automobile opens at 7 am and closes at 5 pm. There are posted hours of operation and we know from experience that an 11 pm call to the business finds it closed — and often gives us the message that the business opens at 7 am. We get these same types of messages from online stores — you can make purchases 24/7 but customer service is open only during posted hours.

Granted that our business is not like an auto repair shop or an online retailer, but client expectations are similar: Clients expect to be able to reach us during “normal” business hours. Our flexibility is in what constitutes our business hours, not in our accessibility during those hours.

Accessibility Is…

This does not mean that we need to be accessible 24/7; it does mean that we need to be accessible during set, established times with occasional exceptions. It also means that, depending on who our clientele are and who our target audience is — that is, what our target market expects — when a client contacts us when we are not accessible, the client should receive a message saying when we will be accessible. For example, in response to an email inquiry we might autoreply, “I am sorry to have missed your email. My office is currently closed but will reopen at 9 am local time tomorrow, at which time I will respond. However, if you believe it is vital to contact me before that time, please.…”

Clients have problems that they want us to solve. They do not want to wait to know that they can entrust the problem to us or that they need to look elsewhere — our client’s goal is simple: assign the problem to a problem-solver as quickly as possible so that it is off the client’s list and on someone else’s list. Consequently, clients want to be able to reach us during known times; that is, they want to feel assured that if they wait to contact you during what they expect your business hours to be, that they will, in fact, reach you at that time — without that feeling of assurance, clients simply move to someone else, to someone who is accessible as expected.

Accessible today — at least in my business — usually means by email; I rarely receive a telephone call anymore. In olden days, clients wanted to be polite and chat for 60 seconds before getting to the point of the call; today, they want to avoid “wasting” those 60 seconds, just as we do. (I admit that I have a certain nostalgia for those olden days when chatting with my clients let me learn how their children are doing or learn about the wonderful time they had in Paris. It “humanized” what was otherwise an isolated experience by providing a watercooler moment.) The advantage of email is that it is a 24/7 nondisturbing way to contact a client or an editor.

Expectations

But there is also an expectation that when the client sends an email to me during my business hours, I will respond quickly — not in hours, not tomorrow, not when the client is not available, but nearly immediately. If I am accessible, I do make it a policy to quickly respond, even if it is to say something like, “I received your email and will give you a detailed response within the next 2 hours. If you need my detailed response more quickly, please let me know and I will address your email immediately.”

The issue of accessibility does go hand-in-hand with contact information, which we previously discussed (see The Business of Editing: A Second Fundamental Mistake that Editors Make). A reason to provide contact information is to make yourself accessible to clients. But it does no good to provide that information if the client cannot actually reach you. The counterargument is that clients who email do not expect a prompt response; clients know that the editor may not be accessible. Of course, we don’t know that as fact; we assume it is true because it fits within our needs and what we would expect.

I think that counterargument had more merit in past years. Increasingly, I receive client emails for “routine” jobs that have been sent to several editors and include the statement that the first to respond positively to the job offer (by which the client means the first who says he can meet the schedule at the offered price) will be awarded the job. If I wish to compete for those jobs, then a quick response, which means I am accessible, is required. (Fortunately, most of my work is “nonroutine” and clients seek me specifically for my editorial services.)

Clients with questions related to a job I am in the midst of editing also want their questions answered today and quickly, not tomorrow. (The Internet has altered greatly the concept of patience. Just as people wonder why they have to enter multiple clicks to buy an item instead of a single click, so they wonder why I can’t answer their email within a few minutes. Patience — meaning patience of hours rather than seconds — has become a lost virtue.)

Successful businesses are accessible to their clients and meet their clients’ expectations of accessibility. Freelance editors are as subject to those accessibility expectations as any other business. We have so much competition that clients do not need to be patient; clients can make multiple simultaneous requests and deal with the first responder, or they can internally decide to wait an hour for your response and if one is not forthcoming, seek another editor.

The Key

Consequently, we need to act like a business and set hours of operation that we mostly adhere to — and we need to let clients know what those hours are. Notice can be by posting on a website or by mentioning in correspondence; it doesn’t really matter, but it does depend on who you want to be your client — that is, who is your target audience. If I were seeking indie authors as clients, I would post that information along with my contact information at my website. With corporate clients, I try to have my accessible hours overlap my clients’ office hours and I let my clients know via email.

The key is being accessible when and how clients expect. Remember that we need our clients more than our clients need us. It is harder for us to find new clients than it is for our clients to find new editors. We need to approach this like Amazon does — by meeting our clients’ needs and expectations.

We need to avoid sending the message that we do not care or are not interested in our clients. We need to provide client-centric, not editor-centric, service. Failure to be accessible and to make known our accessibility as part of client-centric service is a fundamental mistake that editors often make.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

Related An American Editor essays include:

November 4, 2015

The Business of Editing: A Third Fundamental Mistake That Editors Make

Prelude

It’s time to buy a gift for your niece. You know what you want so you go to one of the price comparison websites and search for the item. Within seconds the results appear and you find three online stores have the item:

Macy’s $79.99
Big Joe’s Discount $59.99
Rita’s Marketplace $69.99

Although you are familiar with Macy’s, you like a bargain and so decide to check out Big Joe and Rita.

Big Joe’s website is plain-vanilla, spartan. There is an image of the product and a short description. Because you are not sure whether your niece will really like the gift, you look at Big Joe’s return policy and find it to be pretty liberal. The only requirement is that you contact Big Joe for a return authorization before making the return. So far, so good, you think, and now you look for contact information. Under Contact Us, you discover that the only way to contact customer service is via email — there is no telephone number, no physical address, just an email address.

So you decide to also take a look at Rita’s website. This is a more substantial website than Big Joe’s. The product description has more details and there are customer reviews. As with Big Joe, you check out Rita’s return policy and discover that it is similar to Big Joe’s and that a return authorization is required. You check how to contact Rita’s customer service and find that contact can be by email or by telephone with a telephone number and available hours listed. There is also a physical address listed.

Quandary

Now you face the question of from whom to buy the gift. Who would you buy from? When you buy something over the Internet from a company with whom you have not previously done business, do you buy if the only way to contact them is via email or a contact form on their website? Do you look for a physical address or a customer service telephone number? Does seeing a telephone number, a physical address, hours of operation, and the like make you feel more confident about the business?

Since the advent of email, I rarely get phone calls from clients or prospective clients — almost all contact is via email. Similarly, when I buy from an online business, most of my contact with the business is via email or the site’s contact form. But when deciding whether to buy from a business with which I have no personal experience, I look for things that give me a sense of confidence.

Which brings us to the crux of the matter: What is the purpose of our website?

Why a Website

I suspect that for most editors, the primary purpose of the website is to attract new clients who don’t know us and who aren’t being referred by their friends and family. If we are banking on referrals, then we really don’t need a website at all. Someone who has been referred will contact us — usually — regardless of whether or not we have a website. Instead, our website is intended to attract and capture the client who has used one of the search engines to look for editorial help, which is why there is so much concern and discussion about how best to design our website.

To snare that new business, we want to be sure to appeal to the customer. We know what our preferences are, but we do not know the preferences of the visitor to our site. Consequently, we generally try to make our website as appealing as possible. What we want to do is make it as simple as possible for clients to contact and interact with us.

Yet when we set up our websites, many of us do not list complete contact information. We have all sorts of reasons for doing so — we want to avoid spam, we want to avoid telemarketing phone calls, we don’t want people to know where we live in case they are criminals, etc. — even though we will provide that same information to other businesses and social media.

Sharing Information

Going back to our example, Big Joe doesn’t provide any contact information other than an email address. Yet if we placed our order with Big Joe, we would have to supply our name, address, telephone number, email, and, more importantly, our credit card information. We would have to trust that Big Joe is legitimate and will not use any information we provide for nefarious purposes. And we would do so because we have come to expect to give that information when we place an order.

Why are we comfortable giving that information to Big Joe and others who want to be paid by us, but are not comfortable giving that information (less the credit card information, of course) to people who want to pay us? A fundamental reason for being in business is to encourage others to buy our services and products, to pay us.

Fundamental Rule

A fundamental rule of business is this: You can always turn down or accept an opportunity that is offered, but you cannot turn down or accept an opportunity that is not offered. Consequently, the businessperson is focused on ensuring that opportunity comes knocking by removing potential barriers to opportunity. Yet editors find reasons to erect barriers.

In our three-business example, from whom would you buy? I know I would not buy from Big Joe. No one I know has recommended Big Joe and I don’t trust businesses that I can’t locate, can’t telephone, and was not referred to by several people I trust. I would consider buying from Rita because the contact information and design of the website give me confidence that this was a real business. Importantly, Rita is trying to meet my preferences, not forcing me to meet its preferences. I wouldn’t hesitate to buy from Macy’s because I am familiar with the company and it provides complete contact information.

Editors need to remember that we need the client more than the client needs us. As such, we should strive to make it as easy as possible for clients to engage us in a manner that makes the client comfortable. That we may currently have more business than we can handle doesn’t mean we will tomorrow.

Fundamental Error

It is a fundamental error when we make our business editor centric rather than customer centric. When we make decisions such as what contact information to include, we should strive to do so from the client perspective:

What information will a client want available as a prelude to doing business with us?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

Related An American Editor essays include:

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