An American Editor

December 7, 2015

On the Basics: Who are Those “Right People to Know” — and Do We Really Need to Know Them?

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

In an online discussion sparked by my mentioning that I recently got an editing project from the son of a high-school–days friend who knew my work because he works for a law firm for which I do proofreading, someone responded with, in part, “… the world is not a level playing field. I have a friend who cannot get editing work because he doesn’t know the right people and doesn’t know how to properly market himself.”

Putting aside my initial reaction of “Who said the world was fair?” and “The friend should quit whining and do what he needs to do,” here are a few suggestions for anyone who feels the same way — that you only can get editing work if you “know someone.”

Few of us started out by “knowing someone” important in the field. Some of us started as lowly interns, in secretarial positions, or — at best — as gofers and slush-pile readers at publishing houses. Others started in jobs at associations or companies where a natural eye for editing got them out of clerical positions and into something related to in-house publishing. Still others might have been entry-level reporters thanks to journalism degrees.

There’s also the question of who these mysterious “right people” might be. In my book, anyone who has work to offer is a “right person.” So is any colleague who refers me for work, past employer or coworker who remembers and hires or refers me, family member or old friend who cheers me on. Yes, there are major players in the editing world, and we can get to know them by attending conferences, reading their books and blogs, taking their classes, following them on Twitter. But we get work from clients, and the way to get to know them — or for them to get to know us — is to find them and pitch them.

Regardless, most of us started out at ground zero. We didn’t know anyone important. We weren’t known for our skills. If we’ve become successful either in in-house jobs or as freelancers, it’s because we made the effort to develop strong skills, develop networks with colleagues, and make names for ourselves.

Nowadays, it’s easier than ever to become known and to get to know prospective clients (or colleagues who might recommend us, subcontract to us, even hire us or hand off excess work to us).

Someone who “doesn’t know the right people” can remedy that by joining a professional organization, such as the EAC, SfEP, EFA, ACES, etc., to become known and respected among colleagues, or just to have his or her name listed in an association membership directory. And even the rankest newcomer actually may know people who could be leads to work. If that’s you (or if you’re established but have hit a slow time), assess your past employers and coworkers, friends, family, classmates (at all levels), etc., and consider sending them something about what you’re doing and the kind of work you’re looking for.

The reality, though, is that you must market yourself if you want to have a successful editing, proofreading, or other publishing-oriented business. It might seem hard to do, but it’s essential. Work won’t just float in the door without the worker making that kind of effort.

The good news for anyone who feels uncomfortable with that reality is that you can find work without being in with the in crowd. Judging from what I see from colleagues, quite a few find editing work without doing a lot of networking — primarily through cold queries and by using association/organization resources such as job services or directory listings.

If you think you have to know “the right people” to succeed in your editing career, this is the moment to take control and do something about it. The new year is right around the corner. Start planning now to meet some of those people, either online or in person, and to become someone they want to meet — and hire.

You can use LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook’s business groups, and a boatload of other online resources to find people worth connecting with because they might need an editor, and to position yourself as both skilled and worth knowing and hiring. That’s marketing yourself, and all it takes is time. It doesn’t require much in the way of interpersonal connections, so those among us who are introverts can manage it without the terrible pressure of interacting in person.

Identify the types of projects you want to do and the kinds of clients who might have such projects for you. Look for them in Literary Market Place, Writer’s Market, online, at websites, in colleagues’ conversations — and go after them. Polish up your résumé, craft a convincing cover letter, and go for it.

You also have to be findable, because sometimes work will come to us without our trying. Being listed in a membership directory is a good way to make it possible to be found for projects without making any further effort. Having a website is essential, even if it’s only minimal. Being at least a little visible in social media can make a difference — especially if you can give as well as take: offer advice, share resources, answer questions. And don’t be shy about mentioning your projects, skills, and successes.

There’s also self-marketing, which includes somewhat traditional approaches such as putting together and mailing out a promotional brochure or postcard; creating and distributing a newsletter about your skills, achievements, and projects; and doing the occasional press release — you start your freelance business, when you land an impressive client (but wait to announce that until after you’ve completed at least once project with that client!), win an award, make a presentation, etc. These kinds of activities will bring you the attention of prospective clients who are not in your network of colleagues or friends and family.

It may seem that some people have better luck than others when it comes to finding work. Whenever I would attribute a new job or project to luck, my beloved dad would say that I made my own luck. And he was right. Luck is a combination of effort and serendipity, among other things. Getting a new editing project because I stay in touch with old friends and do good work for current clients, as in the recent experience that touched off this column, is a form of luck, but I don’t stay in contact with friends to make use of them as potential clients or referrers. I stay in contact because I like them. It’s part of who I am. If those connections result in new work sometimes, that’s a bonus. You can call it luck, if you’d like.

If a one-time project turns into an ongoing relationship and series of projects, that’s a form of luck. It’s also the result of my letting that client know that I enjoyed doing the first project and would like to do more, or my suggesting new topics I could work on for that client, rather than my sitting by the computer waiting for the client to call with a new assignment.

You need a combination of both aggressive and passive marketing efforts to succeed in any profession, including editing. Even passive marketing is better than no marketing. You can’t sit back and wait for success, and you won’t succeed by worrying or whining about not knowing the “right people.”

Instead of complaining about not knowing the right people, make your own luck by looking for them and becoming findable by them.

Have you developed a network? How did you find “the right people” to know? How long did it take? Was there one key moment, effort, or connection that did the trick? Who are your “right people”?

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.

August 17, 2015

The Proofreader’s Corner: Testing for Successful Editorial Business Marketing

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.

Summing up

  • 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.

July 27, 2015

The Proofreader’s Corner: Editorial-Business Marketing — The 4 Ps of Persuasion

by Louise Harnby

Promoting an editorial business has never been easier — and it’s never been harder. The internet provides us with access to a global marketplace; that means each of us is discoverable to a much greater number of clients. The internet also provides our clients with access to a global supply base; that means each of us has a greater number of competitors. So how do you stand out in a world where anyone can say they’re a proofreader, editor, indexer, or copywriter? How do you persuade your potential client that it would be worth their while to contact you and ask you for a quotation?

The issue is one of instilling trust. It’s about persuading the client — making them really believe — that you are who you say you are, and that you can do what you say you can do.

Trust versus truth

Trust and truth aren’t the same thing. Truth is defined by Oxford as “That which is true or in accordance with fact or reality.” Trust is belief in that reality. Without evidence, potential clients can’t know the truth of the phrase “I am a professional proofreader”. The best that I can hope for is that they believe it to be the truth — that they trust it to be the truth.

Instilling trust is therefore key when we are creating our marketing messages, whether online or in print. Potential clients, who will often be complete strangers to us, are more likely to get in contact if they believe the content of our websites, brochures, and résumés.

The 4 Ps to instill belief

There are tools we can use to persuade our potential clients that we are worthy of their trust — these tools are the 4 Ps: pictures, praise, portfolios, and professional practice.

  • Pictures: images of the editorial freelancer’s face
  • Praise: testimonials from previous satisfied clients
  • Portfolios: lists of completed projects (and/or client lists) that reflect the editorial freelancer’s experience and specialisms
  • Professional practice: this includes professional-society memberships, relevant training and continuing professional development (CPD), and related educational qualifications and career history

P1: Pictures (smiley ones!)

It’s not uncommon for the new entrant to the field of editorial freelancing field to be horrified by the idea of including a mugshot of themselves on their website, brochure, or résumé. “I’m not photogenic”; “I don’t have any nice photos of myself”; “I hate having my picture taken!”

So you’re shy! Me too. Maybe you don’t have the kind of face that will have Vogue clamoring to put you on its front cover. Me neither. Do it anyway. Your client isn’t trying to hire a new sociable best friend, nor do they need a supermodel; what your client needs is a proofreader (or editor/indexer/copywriter). They don’t just want any old proofreader, though. They want someone then can trust when they hand over the manuscript they sweated over. They want a real individual, not some anonymous person they’ve never met working for a huge, faceless corporate agency whose website, while attractive, looks somewhat impersonal. “I’ve wept over this novel, literally torn hairs from my scalp as I tackled draft after draft. I needed to feel that the person I was hiring gave a damn and would treat me and my book in a way that respected that,” said one self-publishing novelist who contacted me for a proofreading quotation some time back.

One key word from the above quote is “person.” She wanted to hire a person, not an agency, not a machine. The other key words are “gave a damn.” She wanted to feel that the person she hired would care.

Providing evidence that you are a real person, one who is prepared (for a fee) to invest professional commitment (care) in your client’s project, is difficult when you don’t have a face. If you don’t include a picture of your face on your website, for example, all you have is words. Even if they’re great words, they won’t show your smile. Smiles are powerful — when you smile at people, you make them feel good. “Genuine smiles (the ones that involve the muscles surrounding the eyes) induce positive feelings among those who are smiled at” (“Want to Increase Trust in Others? Just Smile,” G. Greengross, Psychology Today, 2015). And Samuele Centorrino et al. published a study early in 2015 suggesting “that smiles perceived as honest serve as a signal that has evolved to induce cooperation in situations requiring mutual trust” (“Honest signaling in trust interactions: smiles rated as genuine induce trust and signal higher earning opportunities,” S. Centorrino et al., Emotion & Human Behavior, 2015). In other words, smiles create belief. So when you complement the great words on your website with a picture of your smiling face, you appear more trustworthy to your client. Compare that with the impact your faceless competitor is making, and then get out your camera.

P2: Praise

If you feel embarrassed by the idea of asking satisfied clients to write a few words in praise of the work you’ve done for them, consider the following points that I address in Chapter 24 of Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business:

  • Testimonials provide social proof that you can do what you claim. They help the potential client to feel confident in putting their money where a previous client’s mouth is. According to Kissmetrics, “social proof is the marketing tactic for easing the minds of worried customers” (G. Ciotti, “7 Things You MUST Understand When Leveraging Social Proof in Your Marketing Efforts,” Kissmetrics).
  • It’s standard business practice, so it won’t come as a surprise to your client when you ask. And, anyway, in my experience clients are delighted to publicly go on record and help to spread the word when they’re happy with the help you’ve provided.

Social proof builds trust — again, we’re talking about providing evidence that enables a potential client to believe that you can deliver on your promises. Testimonials from third parties provide social proof because “people tend to believe what other people believe, especially people they respect. So if you can assemble a group of people, especially opinion leaders, who rave about you, you build credibility … that’s how we humans work” (A. Neitlich, “The Importance of Testimonials,” Sitepoint, 2004).

P3: Portfolio

The third piece of evidence that helps our clients to believe what we are saying is found in the portfolio. I’ve already written a 1,500-word article about the power of the portfolio here on An American Editor. Rather than repeating myself, I’d ask you to read it in full (The Proofreader’s Corner: The Power of the Portfolio, 2015).

In summary, I argue that the portfolio instills trust because it shows the potential client not just what I say I can do, but also what I have already done. As I contend in The Power of the Portfolio, “Anyone can set up an editorial business and write (or hire someone else to write) great copy that tells the customer what they want to hear. The portfolio takes things a step further, anchoring the message in a have-done practice-based, rather than could-do promise-based, framework.”

Your portfolio shows your client that you have already practiced what you preach. It builds confidence in your client’s vision of you as a supplier who can deliver on his or her promises. That’s a powerful emotion to induce in a client because you’ve already placed your professionalism ahead of money in the client’s mind before they’ve even contacted you.

P4: Professional practice

Finally, summarize those key points that reflect your professionalism — these are the things that show that proofreading or editing isn’t a hobby. Rather, you are a skilled professional who has relevant training and qualifications that make you fit for purpose and deserving of the fees you charge for what you bring to the table.

  • Educational and career backgrounds: Your target markets will determine which elements of professionalism you want to focus your customers’ attention on. I began my professional proofreading career by specializing in the social sciences. It was therefore important to communicate to clients that I was familiar with the language of the field. My degree in Political Science played a part in this; so did the fact that I’d worked for over a decade in an academic publishing house, marketing their politics, economics, philosophy, psychology, sociology, and research methods journals. If you want to instill trust in, for example, independent academics submitting to engineering journals, and you have an engineering background yourself, you’d be foolish not to take the opportunity to show them that you understand the discipline.
  • Editorial training: Have you completed professional editorial training that demonstrates competence in your field? If so, summarize it. Anyone can set up an editing or proofreading business, but not everyone will take the time to engage in training and other forms of continuing professional development. These things help to make you stand out from the crowd and demonstrate your willingness to learn to do the job to industry-recognized standards.
  • Memberships: If you used to be a member of the American Bar Association, and want to make yourself attractive to legal clients, you’ll have an advantage over me if you tell the client this! If you live in a country that has a national editorial society (in which membership requires meeting rigorous criteria), you might appear to be a better bet to some clients (such as publishers) than someone without such an affiliation. And scientific and medical clients are more likely to trust an editor with, for example, a BELS accreditation, than one without.

Finally, think, too, about what your target client groups want. Marketing materials aimed at publishers might focus on attributes that an independent fiction author isn’t interested in; for example, ability to use industry-recognized proof-correction markup language. And academic clients looking to publish in scholarly journals may be more trusting of an editor who claims she knows how to work with particular styles of referencing and citation.

Summing up

Successful marketing isn’t about truth, but about trust — telling the truth is important (though that’s beyond the scope of this article), but a nervous client who’s never worked with you before can’t possibly know whether your claims are truthful. Rather, we need to do things that will help our clients believe that our claims have truth to them. Pictures, praise, portfolios, and summaries of professional practice are four tools that will help build this belief.

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.

April 22, 2015

The Proofreader’s Corner: The Power of the Portfolio

The Power of the Portfolio

by Louise Harnby

Including a portfolio of clients and completed projects on your editorial website is one of the most powerful marketing tools you can use. Why? Because it’s shows you can practice what you preach.

The introductory paragraph on the homepage of my website tells potential clients how many years’ experience I have, the editorial services I offer, the types of client for whom I work, the national editorial society of which I am an Advanced Professional Member, my primary training qualification, and the number of books that I’ve proofread to date. Other pages on my website tell the client what I can do for them – for example, proofreading onscreen or on paper; the subject specialisms I’m comfortable tackling; the different types of mark-up I can offer. So far, all well and good — but how do I prove it?

Can do versus have done

The above information is, I believe, important and should be communicated to the client. But I don’t want just to focus my clients’ minds on what I can do; I also want them to know what I have done. That’s because what’s been done makes what could be done more believable. Inculcating a sense of trust and belief in a client is essential because each of us is competing with hundreds, if not thousands, of colleagues offering similar services. This is where the power of the portfolio comes in — it shows our customers that we are doers rather than just talkers. Anyone can set up an editorial business and write (or hire someone else to write) great copy that tells the customer what they want to hear. The portfolio takes things a step further, anchoring the message in a have-done practice-based, rather than could-do promise-based, framework.

But, oh, the clutter…

I’ll admit it, my portfolio web page is a dense beast. I made the decision to break it up across three pages in order to make information more accessible to potential clients: academic, fiction, and commercial non-fiction. But I’ve been in business since 2006 so, even with this remedial work, there’s still a lot of text. I’ve thought long and hard about this over the years, and on several occasions I’ve dabbled with the idea of decluttering, perhaps by offering a selected portfolio of completed projects. But then I’ll receive another request to proofread from a publisher, project manager, independent author or student, they’ll mention how impressive they found my portfolio, and I’ll put aside my urge to spring clean.

Some benefits of busyness…

  1. If you’re wondering how much information to provide in your online portfolio, and you are worried that including almost everything will make the web page look too busy, put yourself in your customers’ shoes and ask yourself whether you think they will be put off by your long list of completed projects, or whether it will generate a stronger belief that you can provide the solution to their problems precisely because you have shown you have done it before. I know this much: the people who’ve told me (gently) that my portfolio “might be a little on the heavy side” are not clients — they’re colleagues, friends, and my husband! All of their opinions are gratefully appreciated, but, alas, they’re not the ones hiring me, and they’re not the ones hiring you!
  2. An extensive portfolio, though busy, provides you with rich key words that may help make you discoverable and interesting to potential clients. I don’t believe it hurts me to have a long list of completed proofreading projects on my website that include author names like David Silverman, Jürgen Habermas, Mary Kaldor, China Miéville, and James Herbert, but that’s because I want to work for people who want proofreaders comfortable working in the fields of qualitative research, critical theory, international relations, speculative fiction and horror, respectively. Neither do I think it hurts me to have a long list of completed proofreading projects on my website that include titles such as Criminology and Social Policy; Ethics and War; Globalization Theory; The Transgender Phenomenon; A Visit from the Goon Squad; Beyond Duty: Life on the Frontline in Iraq; and The Mammoth Book of New Erotic Photography. These are more than titles; they include key words that may be used in long-tail searches (lengthier, more specific search terms) by my potential clients.

When considering your online portfolio, think about what these titles and author names tell your customer about what you have already done for other clients. Then consider how this affects their perception of what you can do for them.

Use navigation tools

You can include an extensive portfolio on your website without making your client want to gnaw off their own arm in a bid to navigate the information.

  • Consider separating the information into sections by genre, subject area, or the particular type of editorial service you provided.
  • Use multiple pages if you think this will add clarity.
  • Jump-to code is an excellent way of reducing the amount of scrolling the reader needs to do in order to move up and down a long web page (see how I managed this in “Website Tips for Editorial Pros: Using Jump-to Instructions” on my blog, Proofreader’s Parlour — I was surprised by how easy it was to incorporate into my website even though I’m not a techie!).

Test it!

Nothing is set in stone when it comes to any aspect of marketing your editorial business. If you’re nervous about what and how much information to include in your online portfolio, test different options: full portfolio of all works completed; selected works only; short summary including only a few key works. Keep an eye on your visitor stats (using tools such as Google Analytics or StatCounter), and do comparisons in six-month blocks to see who’s looking at which pages on your site. You may be surprised. Analysis of my own website stats (excluding my blog) in 2014 showed that my online portfolio represented 20% of all page views — second only to my home page.

Nailing the job before you’ve even quoted

If your client hasn’t seen your portfolio, the quotation stage can be trickier because you have to do all your selling at the same time as you’re discussing money. However, a strong portfolio that engenders trust and belief in a potential client before they’ve started talking to you means you’ve done a chunk of the hard selling work ahead of time. They can already see that you’re fit for purpose because of what you’ve already done. This instills in them a sense of professionalism that will be front of mind when it comes to direct contact.

In other words, a strong portfolio puts the value you are offering on the table ahead of the money that will have to leave the client’s pocket; the focus is, first and foremost, on benefit rather than cost.

What if I haven’t completed much work?

If you’re at the beginning of your professional editorial career, you probably won’t have an extensive portfolio. Be creative:

  • Consider using a narrative format that discusses the projects you have worked on in more detail, and how you delivered solutions to your client’s problems.
  • Expand your portfolio page to include testimonials from your smaller list of satisfied clients.
  • Include (with permission) a list of clients for whom you’ve worked.
  • Update your portfolio every time you complete a new project so that the list is always expanding.
  • Provide online samples (they can be made up) that demonstrate what you do when you are proofreading, copy-editing, or indexing. This shows you in a practice-based, rather than a promise-based, framework — these samples are things you’ve already done, not things you could do in the future.

Summing up

  • If you don’t yet have an online portfolio, get cracking and build one!
  • Tell the client what you have done as well as what you can do.
  • Focus on practice, not just promise.
  • Think of your portfolio in terms of what it tells people you want to hire you – your target customers — rather than your friends and colleagues.
  • Don’t over-fret about clutter — it’s about the quality of the information, and what it tells the client about your proven ability to solve their problems.
  • Consider the information you incorporate into your portfolio in terms of key word searches — that is, how it might help clients to find you.
  • Use navigation tools (including embedded code) to help your customer move around a busy portfolio web page.
  • Track page views to your site and test different portfolio styles to see what format you’re most comfortable with in terms of making yourself interesting to a customer.
  • Use your portfolio to put the value you offer ahead of the fee you charge.
  • Be creative if your portfolio is still in the early-growth stage.

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.

January 12, 2015

The Proofreader’s Corner: Editorial Business Promotion — Four Mistakes to Avoid

Editorial Business Promotion —
Four Mistakes to Avoid

by Louise Harnby

Wrong and right aren’t words I’m particularly comfortable with when it comes to marketing, given how many different approaches we can take. Nevertheless, there are four basic mistakes that should be avoided when launching an editorial business.

Mistake 1: Not Actually Doing Any Marketing

Here are three ideas that I think it’s important to embrace when launching an editorial business:

  • All businesses should have a marketing strategy
  • All successful businesses do have a marketing strategy
  • If you don’t make yourself interesting and discoverable to potential clients, they won’t know that you can solve their problems

Let’s say that I’ve completed the relevant training, acquired the kit I need, worked out who my target clients are, notified the tax authorities of my business plans, acquired some experience via my mentor, designed my stationery templates, created my accounting spreadsheet, and hired a professional designer to produce a fabulous logo.

Now I need the clients. That means they need to be able to find me and I need to be able to find them. If ne’er the twain meet, I’m unemployed. Being discoverable is the first step to the success of any business, editorial or otherwise, because it bridges the gap between the services we offer and the people who need them. The second step is being interesting enough to retain the potential customer’s attention. Having found us, our potential clients need to feel they want to go further and actually hire us to solve their problems.

If you’re an inexperienced marketer, and feel nervous about the process, take a look at the marketing archive on my blog, The Proofreader’s Parlour; look at Rich Adin’s marketing archive here on An American Editor; explore KOKEdit’s Copyeditors’ Knowledge Base, especially the article Marketing Tips for Freelancers; and read my book Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business (there’s a sample marketing plan in the final section to guide you).

No matter how much the thought of actively promoting your editorial business sends shivers up your spine, to not do so is a mistake. Marketing your business gives you opportunity and choice. It puts you in a position where, over time, you can develop the client base, pricing strategy, service portfolio and income stream that you require and desire.

Mistake 2: Marketing Via a Single Platform

Relying on only one particular channel to make yourself discoverable to your customers is better than not doing any marketing at all. But it’s hugely risky—if that platform fails, so do you.

One of my most valuable marketing assets is my website. It’s my shop front and it’s the only space in which I have complete control over the content and design. I’ve put a lot of effort into SEO so I rank highly in the search engines. I use Weebly as my host. But what if the folks at Weebly ran into some horrendous problem and the site was inaccessible for a few days, or even a few weeks? It’s unlikely to happen, but even if it did it wouldn’t be catastrophic because I don’t rely solely on my website for work leads. It’s simply one tool among several.

Another scenario is more likely. Imagine I used to work for a major academic publisher. Now that I’ve launched my new editorial business, I ask a former colleague who works in the journal production department if I can proofread for them. They agree. The publisher has a huge journal list and my colleague keeps me busy with as much proofreading as I need. I don’t solely work for this press (here in the UK, HM Revenue & Customs wouldn’t like that) but it the provider of my primary income stream. Then double disaster strikes — the press merges with a competitor, and my colleague is made redundant. He gets a job for another press, though his new role no longer requires him to hire editorial freelancers. I don’t know anyone in the newly merged organization (though rumor has it they’re taking journal proofreading in-house in order to cut costs) and my colleague can’t take me with him to his new press. I’m scuppered.

Even if you’ve been able to establish a couple of apparently stable and lucrative work streams, and you’ve found that one particular marketing platform or tool works well for you, take the time to investigate other channels. At the very least they’ll provide you with a backup. Moreover, by experimenting with new avenues, you may find that customers whom you’d been invisible to beforehand are now placing you on their radar. That means more opportunities and more choices.

Mistake 3: Focusing Attention in the Wrong Place

Some new entrants to the field can make the mistake of giving information that focuses potential clients’ attention in the wrong place.

Focus on stand-out statements: Imagine a well-educated material scientist who’s decided, for health reasons, to move out of the professional lab and work from home, copy-editing written materials relevant to his scientific educational and career background.

  • He’s a new entrant to the field of professional editing
  • He doesn’t have an extensive client list or portfolio
  • He has yet to acquire any paid work, though he has edited (on a gratis basis) two engineering theses for students he met through is workplace. He’s also edited and contributed a significant number of reports and papers, and been involved with the boards of several industry-recognized journals
  • He’s in the middle of a comprehensive copy-editing training course run by a recognized national provider
  • He considers advertising the fact that he can offer lower rates because he’s in the early stages of developing his editorial business

His clients don’t need to know most of the above because most of those facts don’t represent him in the best light. Instead, he should focus on his stand-out qualities:

  • He specializes in editing for students, academics and professional institutions
  • He has a BSc in Chemistry, an MChem in Chemistry with Nanotechnology, and a twenty-year career background in material science
  • His extensive scientific knowledge and experience enable him to copy-edit papers, books, journal articles and reports to an industry-required standard
  • He has contributed to and edited numerous reports for colleagues in his twenty-year career
  • He has published articles in Nano Today, Chemistry of Materials, Journal of Materials Chemistry A, and Materials Research Bulletin, and sat on the boards of The Journal of Materials Science (2003–2009) and Materials Today (2009–2012)
  • His rates are in line with those suggested by the Society for Editors and Proofreaders [or other professional editorial society] and the National Union of Journalists [or other recognized body]

If what you say doesn’t sell your business in a way that makes you interesting, recast your message. If you lack experience and an extensive portfolio, focus instead on positive selling points that make the customer feel confident about hiring you to solve their problems.

Our message needs to focus on the skills we have to offer, not those we’ve yet to acquire.

Sell your positives, not others’ negatives: It’s also imperative that your message does indeed focus on what you have to offer. Just case you are one of the few people on the planet who thinks that focusing on a competitor’s or colleague’s mishaps rather than your own skills is a good marketing strategy (I’m sure you’re not!), then this is a quick reminder that it’s disastrous in terms of PR. Why?

  1. Pointing out a competitor’s foibles focuses the client’s attention on the competitor’s business rather than your own.
  2. Such an approach destroys integrity, which leads to a lack of trust. And if they don’t trust you, they won’t hire you. We need to make ourselves interesting and visible rather than trying to make our competitors look incompetent and unworthy of discovery.

You might enjoy this article by Lauren Bacon, who considers the benefits for business owners who move away from critical thought processes (as well as actions), and turn instead towards a what-can-I-learn approach: “How Trashing Others Holds You Back.”

Mistake 4: Ignoring Traditional Marketing Methods

Before Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989, editorial professionals had to promote their businesses using telephone and postal services, face-to-face meetings, and onsite networking groups. These methods worked then, and they still work now—don’t make the mistake of ignoring them in the belief that they’re out-dated.

Social media profiles, websites, and emails are all excellent and immediate ways to make yourself discoverable. However, from the client’s point of view they are as easy to discard as they are to access, precisely because they are digital methods of contact.

A cleverly designed postcard can be tacked onto a wall; a targeted CV and covering letter can be read anywhere, even if there’s no internet connection, and held on file; a well-thought-out gift pack will be appreciated, talked about and used; and a business card can all be retained in a wallet, purse or card deck.

I’ve addressed in more detail the benefits of letter writing on the SfEP blog (“Don’t forget the “old” ways: marketing via letter writing“), and I’ve discussed custom card-giving here on AAE (“The Proofreader’s Corner: Giving Your Business Promotion the Personal Touch“). See also Rich Adin’s “The Business of Editing: Thinking Holidays“, an excellent guide to gifting.

Balancing immediacy and permanence is key to a well-rounded marketing strategy. By using a mixture of the two, you will enhance your visibility and spike your customer’s interest.

Summing up

  • Even if you’re nervous about the idea of actively promoting your business, don’t avoid it—make yourself discoverable to your clients so that, over time, you provide yourself with opportunities and choice.
  • Use a variety of channels to cover your back. That way you’ll minimize the chances of unexpectedly, and through no fault of your own, being without a work stream.
  • Make yourself interesting to your clients by drawing their attention to your business—the key skills and knowledge that you possess to help them solve their problems; the things about you that differentiate you, that make you stand out.
  • Use a combination of traditional and digital marketing tools so that your promotional campaigns have both immediacy and permanence.

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.

December 10, 2014

The Proofreader’s Corner: Giving Your Business Promotion the Personal Touch

Giving Your Business Promotion the Personal Touch

by Louise Harnby

The holidays are round the corner. We freelancers, and our clients, are working flat out to finalize current projects (or to find a comfortable pause point) before we take a short break for the end-of-year festivities. In the Harnby household we celebrate Christmas, so my mind’s on the tree we’re getting this weekend and the couple of hours we’ll spend decorating it with some of the beautiful baubles I’ve collected over the years. I’ll turn 48 next March but looking at that tree will give me the same warm, fuzzy feeling it did 4 decades ago!

I love this time of year — the lights, the gift wrapping, the tree, the decorations, the frost on the holly bush in our garden. Here’s the thing, though — it’s also a really good time to do some targeted and personal business promotion to past and present clients.

I could have sent an email to my customers, wishing them well and telling them I’m looking forward to working with them in 2015, even if I haven’t heard from them in a while. I could have gone a little further and sent them a holiday card from that rather nice selection box I picked up a few weeks ago.

Both of those are fine — that’s what most people do. Each of my customers can add his or her card to the pile of other cards from other freelancers. If I’m lucky, he or she will hang it up on their pin board. But that’s about as much impact as it will make. It will be appreciated for what it is — one not-so-interesting example among many. Still, my clients are nice people and they’ll appreciate the thought.

Getting the Client Talking

What if I can do better than just “fine”? What if I want more than a quick nod of appreciation? What if I could garner more than an appreciative smile? What if I got them talking? What if I could make the following happen?

Kim:  “Hey, Joe, look at what’s just arrived from Louise Harnby!”
Joe:  “Who’s Louise Harnby?!”
Kim:  “One of the proofreaders I use.”
Joe:  “She any good?”
Kim:  “Yeah, she’s top notch. But look at this fabulous custom card she just sent me. Isn’t it brilliant?”
Joe:  [Looks at my card] “Ha! That’s great. I want one of those! It’s got her website info on it, too. I’ll take a look — I need a good proofreader for that crime novel I’ve got coming up in two months. Mind if I give her a call to check her schedule?”
Jane:  “What’s all the noise about, guys? Oh, Kim, that card is funny! Who gave you that?”
Kim:  “It’s from one of my proofreaders, Louise Harnby. She’s great. You should try her out.”

In the above scenario, my holiday card has turned into a talking point. It’s no longer one client smiling appreciatively at a card; instead, three people are talking about my business. And that’s the point, as Rich Adin reminds us: “You must not forget the primary reason for sending a gift, which is to promote you. Consequently, whatever you send should be something that can be (is likely to be) shared among office colleagues or shown around” (“The Business of Editing: Thinking Holidays,” 2014). I’d recommend reading Adin’s article in full, not least because it offers useful advice on timing.

Certainly, many of us have clients who work alone, so sending a customized card won’t always generate a conversation. But at the very least it will get you noticed by those whose radars you’ve slipped off, perhaps because you haven’t worked for them recently. If like me, however, you work for larger corporations such as publishers, and have one managing editor working within a larger team, this scenario could very well lead to your client discussing you and your work with colleagues.

Customize It!

This year I decided to make my own holiday cards. I say “make my own” — I drew the pictures and wrote the words, but I let a professional take care of the printing. The thing is, you don’t have to be a gifted artist — I’m not. All you have to do is stand out, thereby giving the client a reason keep the card, place it in a prominent position, and talk about it. If it’s in front of them, and it’s branded with your logo and your web address, it becomes more than a holiday card — it’s also a huge business card. It keeps you (or puts you back) on your client’s radar; what’s more, you might well end up on your client’s colleagues’ radars too.

This year, my seasonal greetings come in the form of large postcards (see below), with my business name and website address on the front, and a picture of a snowy scene that I drew in Microsoft Publisher, using nothing more than the Shapes tool. I differentiated my cards by incorporating the UK proof-correction symbols in the design — the snowflakes are made from while delete symbols; the tree is decorated with insert carats, transposition instructions, space markers, and so on; and “Christmas” is spelled incorrectly (I used the relevant symbols to mark the error). Then I added my business name and website address. The reverse was left blank so that I could write a personal message to each recipient.

Harnby Christmas card 2014

I uploaded a PDF of the final design to a UK high-street printer’s website (Vistaprint). Printing costs worked out at less than a pound per card (including envelopes). The stock is 350g, so it’s sturdy, and the cards have a gloss finish that looks great but still allows me to write on the reverse using a standard pen.

I’m thrilled with the results. Each of my clients will get a custom card that I hope will make them smile — and make them talk. I’m wishing them a Happy Christams [sic], but I’m marketing my business too.

Appreciating Others’ Beliefs

I chose to send Christmas cards this year. What if my clients have different beliefs? Will I offend them? The clients I’m sending these cards to are those whom I’ve worked with for years. They send me Christmas cards, too, so I’m not going to be offending them by reciprocating.

As our relationships with particular clients grow, we learn more about them and their preferences. As time passes, we can be more personal. But as a business trying to accomplish multiple tasks with a single stroke of the pen, we do need to tread cautiously and use common sense.

I’ve worked in publishing, particularly academic publishing, for over two decades. I’ve found this industry to be one that is particularly open, tolerant, and celebratory of difference. I suspect that most recipients of cards with messages that don’t match their own belief systems will accept them with good grace, rather than taking offence. Still, if you are worried that you might offend even one of the clients you are gifting, make your season messages neutral. “Seasonal greetings,” “Happy holidays,” and “Peace and good health” are sentiments shared the world over.

Other Ideas?

You don’t have to do it my way, of course. Your budget will determine what’s feasible; your creativity will do the rest. If your clients celebrate different holidays because of different belief systems, your choice of how to communicate will be influenced by this.

Other ideas could include mugs, fridge magnets, pens, Post-It notes, baubles, other small decorations, perhaps even food, all with a holiday theme and branded with your logo and website address.

The holidays are a time for giving. Telling our clients that we wish them well, value their custom, have enjoyed working with them in the past, and look forward to doing so in the future, is common sense. To differentiate ourselves while we’re doing it is good business practice.

Happy holidays to all of you who’ve read my column on Rich’s blog in 2014. I wish you all peace and good health for the rest of the year and beyond. See you in the New Year!

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.

December 1, 2014

On the Basics: Making Good Use of Business Down Time

Making Good Use of Business Down Time

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

Here’s another topic that shows up often at LinkedIn, on the Copy Editing List, the Editorial Freelancers Association discussion list, and elsewhere: When you don’t get any editing work for a while, what do you do to keep your skills sharp?

Both the question and the answers apply to writing, editing, proofreading, indexing, graphic design — whatever your editorial freelancing niche might be. We all experience the occasional downtime, and we all could probably benefit from a fresh look at how to make the most of that time.

Doing

Simply continuing to do what you do professionally, even without pay, is one way to keep those skills up to par. My editorial eye never sleeps; I find typos and infelicities in everything I read or see. I clip and correct typos. I notice and mentally revise clunky writing. I like to think of that kind of activity as one way to keep my skills sharp. It might mean that even my reading for pleasure has a work-like edge, but that’s OK. I’d rather notice errors, inconsistencies, clunkiness, and other problems in the magazines, newspapers, and novels I read for fun than relax my guard enough that noticing those problems in work projects might suffer.

As for writing, there are always opportunities to exercise that skill if you don’t mind not getting paid for the effort. And November is National Novel Writing Month, so you could join that movement to keep the writing groove going if current assignments slow down.

Learning

There are plenty of more-structured ways to keep your skills strong, though, when there isn’t much work to do. You could:

  • Take courses, either in person or online — on editing in general, on grammar, on using Word and other relevant tools of our trade, on macros, on working in a new genre, on self-publishing, on new tools or programs…. Maybe even take a noncredit university course on a totally new topic, so you can go after writing, editing, or proofreading work on that subject if an opportunity arises (or create such opportunities yourself).
  • Look for a volunteer project to do — nonprofit organizations can always use help with writing, editing, and producing publications, both print and electronic. That can help build your skillset, your portfolio, and your network of contacts; it gets you out of the house and in touch with the real world; and it makes you feel good about contributing to a cause or organization you believe in.
  • Spend some time at the library or a nearby bookstore to find books you can invest in to learn about new ways of working, new programs or applications to use, new techniques worth learning — or just new angles on the world at large. No matter how esoteric, the information will come in handy eventually.

Managing

More prosaically, downtime is good for catching up on filing and other bookkeeping headaches. Not only will you finally get those piles under control and battled down to nothing, you might uncover something that is just what you need to study or work on as a skill refresher. You might not learn anything earthshaking in terms of skills, but you’ll feel so much better about your workspace.

This is also an ideal time to figure out not only your business needs, but your required effective hourly rate (see the five-part essay on calculating fees that begins with Business of Editing: What to Charge (Part I)), and any other aspects of your freelance business that need work, and then create or modify your business plan accordingly.

Use this time to give yourself a treat — a day trip somewhere nearby but new, a couple hours at a local art gallery or museum, get-togethers with friends or colleagues, reading for pleasure. Fun and culture are good for the soul and can refresh the spirit, opening up channels to new ideas and different ways of doing things that could yield new projects or clients.

Marketing

It’s the exceedingly rare editorial freelancer who never has a gap in the work schedule or a dry spell when it seems as if that next project is never going to show up. While refreshing, strengthening, or adding to skills is always a good idea, what might make more sense when work slows down is to ramp up your marketing efforts. When immersed in a current project, especially a demanding one, it’s hard to think beyond getting through a given chapter (or page!) and meeting the deadline for that project, no matter how important it is to make marketing an ongoing, constant process. If you do your marketing right, you should reduce your downtime, but if downtime strikes regardless, focus on marketing to make it pay its way.

Use down time to:

  • Build up a batch of posts for your own blog, if you have one, so you can drop them in as needed and don’t have to interrupt time on a paying project to put a new post together.
  • Find blogs to contribute to whose audiences might become clients.
  • Search Literary Market Place or Writer’s Market for potential new clients.
  • Update your résumé.
  • Join LinkedIn if you aren’t already there, expand or revamp your LinkedIn profile if you are, and look for LinkedIn groups to join and contribute to.
  • Contribute to discussion lists.
  • Contact former clients and long-lost colleagues to let them know you’re available for projects.
  • Make the most of any professional memberships by refreshing or adding to your profile or listing in organization directories.
  • Create or enhance your website.
  • Look for new places to be visible in social media (see Erin Brenner’s The Practical Editor: 5 Social Media Sites You Should Be Using (Part I) and The Practical Editor: 5 Social Media Sites You Should Be Using (Part II) here for specifics).
  • Let past and current clients know you’re available — call or write to them, even if just to chat or share an interesting resource.
  • Hone your query letters and pitches to prospective clients.
  • Look for colleagues who might use your help. This can be tricky — you don’t want to seem desperate, and you don’t want to violate the etiquette of discussion lists or online groups by asking people for work when you’ve never been active in the group before — but, if you’ve been visible and helpful, colleagues will be inclined to help in return.

In essence, whatever you can do to become more visible and look more valuable, do it! You can never do too much marketing. Get in the habit of marketing your skills and services, and those downtimes should become a thing of the past.

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.

October 13, 2014

On the Basics: Overcoming the Isolation of Freelancing

Overcoming the Isolation of Freelancing

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

After helping to finalize The Business of Editing, the book compiling columns from Rich Adin’s An American Editor blog, I decided that we hadn’t done enough with the topic of how a freelance editor (or writer, proofreader, indexer, or any solopreneur who works from home) can overcome the potential isolation of working alone.

Although I understand it as a problem for others, I’ve never had a problem with isolation. That’s in large part because I’m about as extroverted as one can get — someone once said I could make friends with a lamppost. It’s also because of how and where I lived for the past many years — in apartment buildings, which provide built-in communities to interact with, and in walkable urban neighborhoods, where I could meet and interact with all kinds of people right outside my front door without much effort — neighbors, business owners and workers, beat cops, restaurateurs, dog walkers, other shoppers, and more.

For those who don’t live in such environments and have to go farther afield to feel connected with colleagues or the world in general, or who just need a little nudge to get out of an isolation rut, I have a few ideas. And I’m one of those folks now — I’m in an apartment building in a totally residential neighborhood and that lively outside world on my doorstep isn’t available any longer; it’s a world I miss. There are still neighbors to chit-chat with in the elevator or mailroom, and I can go out for a walk around the neighborhood, but there’s none of the business vitality, diversity, and community of Adams Morgan and Dupont Circle in Washington, DC, or Federal Hill in Baltimore, Maryland. It takes a little more effort to get up and out of the home-office rut.

The good thing is that, unlike when I started freelancing, nowadays you can combat isolation through the Internet, by participating in blogs, e-mail discussion lists and LinkedIn groups; on Facebook, Google+, Twitter; through Pinterest and Instagram, and whatever other new outlets pop up from one day to the next. There are new online communities every day. You can ask questions, offer insights and advice, explore new ideas, make friends, find clients and colleagues to work with — all without ever leaving your computer, much less your home.

Not that never leaving your home or computer is a good thing, but that connectivity does expand your horizons and connections with people with less effort than it takes to get out of the house, and with less trauma and more control for the introverted. The Internet makes it possible to stay connected to people you already know, find ones you thought were lost forever and meet new ones you would never otherwise have an opportunity to know. It might encourage introverts to stay put and leave the house even less often than otherwise, but it does expand your world.

That isn’t the same as, or enough, human contact, though. At least not for me. Ways I’ve gotten myself out of the office and away from the computer include:

  • Not subscribing to the daily paper, so I have to go out at least every other day, but ideally every day, because I still much prefer to read the newspaper on paper.
  • Joining a nearby pool club (for swimming, that is!) — or one for fitness, running, biking, hiking, dance — which has the potential to meet new friends, colleagues, and clients while counteracting the negative effect of all that sitting at a desk to work.
  • Joining and actively participating in local chapters of professional organizations — if there isn’t a local chapter, you can always start one.
  • Teaching and speaking, which brings in extra income while creating opportunities to meet new people.
  • Occasionally doing some work on my laptop at local coffee shops, where other people might ask what I’m working on or I might overhear and plug into conversations around me.
  • Playing mah-jongg (or bridge, euchre, etc.) — it’s good for your brain as well as your social life, probably brings in new people to meet, and could be good for your freelance business; a colleague invited me to join a regular game, and I’ve already met someone I’ll be doing some work for through that connection.

Other ways to combat isolation, both mine and a colleague’s, are:

  • Get a dog — You have to go out at least once a day (usually several times!), which creates opportunities to interact with neighbors at local dog parks.
  • Be proactive — Don’t sit around waiting for opportunities to socialize to come to you; be the one to start a writer’s or editor’s group, book club, dinner group, alumni connection, hobby club, etc.
  • Reconnect — Join a high school or college alumni association; some of those difficult old classmates may have become interesting, even likable, adults!
  • Get culture — Hang out at local galleries and museums; even if you don’t make new friends, you’ll enrich your soul (and might find new things to write about or edit).
  • Volunteer — You meet new people (some of whom might become clients), do good, and feel good.
  • Meet-ups — Considering how many freelancers there are in all professions, it is unlikely that you live where there are none, so why not start a local freelancers’ monthly meet-up? Meet for breakfast or lunch once a month and, if nothing else, discuss problems freelancers in your area are facing.
  • Marketing day — If you work directly with individuals and small businesses, why not set a marketing day — that is, a day when you will go out and meet with potential clients. For example, call your local bookstore and ask if it would be interested in your giving a presentation to writers, or call your local Chamber of Commerce and ask if they would like you to give a presentation on how members can benefit from hiring services such as you provide. The possibilities are myriad — just put on your thinking cap!
  • Silly day — The hardest thing for most people to do is to walk up to a stranger, introduce themselves, and give a marketing pitch. Why not break the ice with a Silly Day. Put your creative juices to work and do something silly (e.g., dress up like a clown and film yourself editing with humongous fingers); send it around to past, current, and potential clients and/or to colleagues with a note saying you hope this brings a smile to them; and invite them to participate in the next Silly Day with you. It will start slowly, but you will be surprised at how well this works on multiple fronts. People like to smile and smiles bring comradeship.

Thanks to the Internet, there’s really no excuse for being isolated, but the more introverted among us may need a little nudging to get out of the home office and at least see, if not interact with, the real world. Give it a try and try to make getting out a habit. You could be happily surprised at the results.

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.

October 8, 2014

The Business of Editing: Thinking Holidays

In the United States, the holiday season is rapidly approaching. Soon it will be Halloween, followed not long thereafter by Thanksgiving, which will be followed in quick time by Hanukah, Christmas, and New Year’s. Of course, there are any number of other holidays in the season, depending on your religion and cultural background. Are you prepared for the holiday season? By “prepared” I mean do you have a game plan for gifting clients? In years gone by, I had carefully crafted holiday plans.

All year-round I tracked holidays and even made some up. Why? Because holidays are a good time to both thank clients (and those you want to become clients) for thinking of you and providing work for you (or considering you for work), and to remind clients that you are interested in more work from them. One issue is timing.

One colleague believes that it is better to wait until after the New Year holiday to send her clients holiday gifts. Her reasons are (a) no one else will be sending gifts at that time so this will be a welcome surprise and (b) this way she doesn’t insult someone inadvertently by sending, for example, a Christmas gift to a Jewish recipient. I disagree with her — both with her reasons and her timing. I think that the message she sends is that the gifts are an afterthought, that it would be better for her not to send anything. The flipside is that the timing is shrewd but that to pull it off, the gift needs to be more unique and expensive than it would need to be if sent at the time of the holiday.

Over my many years of marketing my editorial services, I have found that the “best” time to send clients holiday-related gifts is so that they arrive about two weeks before the office closes for the holiday (or the client plans to take off for the holiday). This particular timing applies to the standard holidays; for my self-created holidays, any time is the right time as long as the gift arrives close to but before my “holiday.” Timing is important because it sends a message and fulfills expectations.

Equally important is the gift itself. I usually send a couple of gifts, one of which is a 2+-lb bar of custom-made chocolate that is molded to display greetings from me. Colleagues have told me that they would not send chocolate because one never knows if the client is allergic or simply doesn’t like it or is on a diet or … the reasons go on.

When I am presented with that argument, I used to ask (now I just ignore it) how they know that the client likes handmade scarves, or apple-pear soap (and what message are you sending when you send soap?), or yet another coffee mug, or whatever? Unless you have a close relationship with a client, it is not possible to know.

There are some things to avoid, of course, such as sending a gift that includes bacon in it. But when it comes to items that are generally universally liked, such as chocolate, I think you are on safe grounds even if the recipient is that rare person who hates chocolate or is allergic to it. They will give it away but still be appreciative of the thought.

Which brings me to another point. You must not forget the primary reason for sending a gift, which is to promote you. Consequently, whatever you send should be something that can be (is likely to be) shared among office colleagues or shown around. In my early years, I sent a tin of popcorn to a client whenever we finished project, especially a difficult and/or lengthy project. The note would say something like “Celebrate the end of the Smith project. I look forward to working with you again.” Invariably I was told how the client and his office colleagues enjoyed the popcorn and, by the way, here’s another project — sometimes from the client, often from a colleague of the client.

In the days when I was more generous with the gifts (in my semiretirement, I’m not marketing like I once did), I would occasionally receive calls or e-mails from client colleagues asking if they could be put on my gift list. I always responded that the easiest way to be on the list was to send me some work.

Gifting requires planning. You need to plan the when, what, and why: when to send the gift; what to send as a gift; and why you are sending this particular gift at this particular time to this particular client (i.e., what you hope to accomplish). Yes, it is enough to send a gift just to say thank you, but if that is your sole reason, then do so consciously so that you are not disappointed if the client doesn’t send you work for months or years. It is better, I think, to send a purposeful gift; that is, a gift that has multiple purposes, including to say thank you for past work and to ask for future work.

Colleagues have also told me that they do not like to send items that have their name or logo as holiday gifts. Why not? Because it seems tacky. Again, I disagree. I have always sent gifts that incorporate my logo. I have no trouble remembering that my relationship with my clients is a business relationship. My clients are not bothered by gifts bearing my logo; it is expected. Holiday gifts are an ideal way to market yourself.

As I mentioned earlier, I also made up holidays. There was “In-house Staff Day” and “Copyeditor’s Day” and “Goof-off Day” and whatever else I could come up with. I tried to have a holiday at least once a month. For “Goof-off Day” I might send a yo-yo with my logo imprinted in it or a balsam wood airplane. For “Copyeditor’s Day” I have sent Post-it Notes imprinted with my logo. Remember what the purpose was: To remind clients that I am available and to send me work! Consequently, that these items were little tchotchkes was not important. Clients like being continuously recognized and these little things accomplish that.

Where editors fail when it comes to marketing is in not thinking of it as an important arm of running their business. Marketing requires planning and investment. Returns aren’t overnight (although they can be); you must think and act long-term. Colleagues who have done marketing have complained that they sent out, for example, their resume with pens but got no response and so didn’t plan to do it again. Short-term thinking and marketing will never succeed. You need to plan carefully and be in marketing for the long-term. Sometimes it took me five years before I got a response, but once I got a response, it more than made up for all the time of no response.

With the holiday season coming up, it is time to start planning to market yourself. I know I am prepared. Are you?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

May 28, 2014

On Books: Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business

What is the one thing that every freelancer needs to do but most don’t do? Self-marketing!

Many freelancers have websites or participate in social media, but their marketing efforts are more passive than active. We are uncomfortable with active marketing largely because we do not know how to do it.

Years ago I taught marketing to editors and writers. It was an all-day course and I was surprised at how few people attended and, in follow-up, how few of the few who did take the course actually implemented what they learned. I suspect that in those pre–social media days, we believed that our community was small enough that personal relationships were more important and “marketing” was an unnecessary evil. (This view was often stated on editor forums.)

I admit that my view was different and for many years, I dedicated at least 10% of my gross income to marketing my services. My experience convinces me that smart marketing was and is necessary. Over the years I would read in online forums complaints from colleagues about having too little work, too long between jobs, too low an income, etc. These were phenomena with which I was unfamiliar and I attribute that to marketing. But I was preaching to the deaf.

It appears that the new generation of freelancers recognizes the need to market but needs direction on how to do it. At long last, there is a starting point for learning how to market. Louise Harnby has written Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business, a guide for freelancers through the labyrinth of self-marketing.

Harnby’s book is not perfect and I have some disagreements with some of her statements, but then I look at marketing through much different glasses. For example, early in her book (p. 6), Harnby writes: “The truth is this — there are no rules.” Yes, there are rules. What there aren’t are limitations to what can be done — marketing is limited only by your imagination and pocketbook. But there are fundamental rules to successful marketing.

One such rule is that to be successful you must repeatedly market to the same audience. You cannot, for example, send an inquiry once to a prospect and leave it at that, even if the prospect says no or ignores you. If you want to work for that prospect, you must repeatedly remind that prospect of your interest and availability. Harnby both makes and skirts this point in Chapter 10, “Regular Marketing.” She emphasizes the need to keep marketing but doesn’t point out directly the need to keep marketing to the same group.

One of the great strengths of Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business is its “case studies.” I wish more detail was given in some instances, but every case study was enlightening. Importantly, the case studies reinforce the idea that what Harnby suggests is both doable and worthwhile. I particularly liked her sample marketing plan. If you read nothing else in the book, you need to read this because it is a good introduction to preparing a marketing strategy.

Another exemplary chapter is Chapter 20, “Going Direct.” When I worked in advertising and marketing in the very early 1970s, going direct was a cornerstone of a marketing plan for a small business. With the growth of the Internet and social media, going direct declined greatly or turned into spam. Harnby explains both how to go direct and why to go direct, making the case for its use even in the age of social media.

Not talked about in the book, but something that should be included in any revision, is the marketing calendar. Creating and maintaining a marketing calendar is important and a key to marketing success. Marketing is about timing as well as content. Great content that is used at the wrong time loses impact. A marketing calendar lets you focus on creating a marketing tidbit around a specific time or event. For example, I used to send out special gift packages for Halloween with my marketing pitch, which pitch was also Halloween oriented. Next up on the calendar was Thanksgiving. Because I kept a calendar, I knew when I had to prepare the material for each of these marketing events and when I had to mail the items. It would do little good to send something for Thanksgiving and have it arrive after the holiday or when no one was likely to be in the office to receive it. In addition to the detailed marketing plan that Harnby discusses, the detailed marketing calendar is also important.

Another item that should be included in a future edition is the marketing budget. How to create one, how to fund one, how to spend one — these are all important issues that need addressing when dealing with any marketing effort. For example, an issue that would fall under the budget category is should you design your own website or hire a professional? How do you make the budgetary analysis?

Harnby’s book, Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business, demonstrates that any of us can do successful marketing. All we need is a little help and guidance, which Harnby’s book provides. It is the first book on marketing for freelancers that I would whole-heartedly recommend. It covers the essentials in sufficient detail for any freelancer to start a successful marketing campaign.

Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business is a must-have book in my library. I learned quite a bit that I was unaware of and that I am not taking advantage of in my marketing efforts, which I will think about rectifying. I am convinced that freelancers who follow Harnby’s advice — and persist in their marketing efforts — will ultimately find themselves overwhelmed with offers for work. For more information about Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business, click this link.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

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