An American Editor

February 28, 2018

On the Basics: Making the Best Use of Interaction with Colleagues

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

Networking and Etiquette

It seems to occur almost every day — someone in a Facebook group or on an e-mail discussion list says they’re available for projects and asks colleagues in the group to send work to them. They might ask for referrals or recommendations or say they’re available for overflow or projects, that they’re starting out and need work, that they’re having a slow period or just lost a major client; some even ask group members to share contact information for clients. It doesn’t matter exactly how they phrase the request, but the basic message is “Please give me work.”

These messages invariably are from people who have never been seen or heard from before. They haven’t introduced themselves, haven’t asked any questions, haven’t contributed anything useful in response to other group members’ questions. Some are new to editing or freelancing, with little or even no training or experience; some have been working for a while, but have hit a dry spell.

Just this past week, a new member of a professional association showed up at its discussion list with the fast-becoming-classic “Hi, I’m new here, please give me your contacts or overflow work and recommend me to your clients and colleagues” message as his first post to the list. He did present his credentials, but still — he posted the same information about his background (essentially his résumé, which is not considered de rigueur on a list) — six times in an hour or so. This did him little, if any, good in terms of respect or interest from listmates.

As with most online communities, it is important to understand that people we “meet” in these collegial environments can be generous with advice and insights into our craft — both editing and freelancing — but that there is a certain etiquette for becoming part of these communities. It is becoming clear that we can’t say it too often: Not only is networking a two-way street, but newcomers should listen, read, and contribute before asking to be referred, recommended, hired, or subcontracted with.

Perhaps even more important, newcomers should remember that established colleagues, both freelancers and in-house workers, are invested in their contacts and clients, and in their reputations. We have put many years into building up our relationships and reputations by providing skilled, high-quality work and respecting the privacy of those we work with. Most of us are more than glad to offer advice and resources, but are not going to risk our reputations, and our relationships with clients or employers, by handing off contact information to strangers.

Keep in mind that there’s a difference between saying “I have openings in my schedule,” “I’m looking for new clients,” “Expected payments are running late and I could use some new projects” versus “Give me your contacts” and “Send me your overflow work when you don’t know anything about me.”

Some editors (and freelancers in other aspects of publishing) may list our clients and projects at our websites. That is not an invitation for others to contact those clients to offer their services, although we have no control over whether someone might do so. We can only hope that anyone who does take advantage of that information doesn’t pretend to know us in the process, or suggest that we’ve referred or recommended them.

With this as a basis, how do we make the best of getting to know each other either in person at meetings and conferences or online in discussion lists and groups without ruffling feathers and crossing lines?

Newcomers to a group can (some would say should) sit back and observe — “lurk” — after joining to develop a sense of what is appropriate for discussion, the tone of the community, and more. Once that is clear, ask questions about the profession, the skills needed, worthwhile resources for enhancing one’s skills, how to break in (most of us love recalling and recounting our early years in the field or in business).

Look for opportunities to establish a professional image and be helpful. Answer colleagues’ questions (if you can). Suggest new resources that haven’t been mentioned or vetted. Relate experiences that demonstrate skills in doing editorial work or dealing with difficult clients. Announce good news about new training you’ve taken, clients and projects you’ve snared, even kudos from clients who are happy with your work. Dial down any boasting, but let colleagues know how your work and business are progressing.

It takes time to gain the trust, confidence, and respect of colleagues. Once you’ve done so, it might be appropriate to ask for referrals and recommendations. Before doing that, though, stop and think about how you would feel if someone you don’t know anything about were to ask you for the contacts and clients you have worked so hard to build up. Use that insight to influence how you word your requests, whether one-on-one or in a group setting.

On the Other Side of the Fence

For colleagues who have established successful editing careers and businesses, today’s culture can be annoying, but it can’t hurt to provide some kind of response to pleas for help.

I try to live by the good ol’ Golden Rule “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” — and “What goes around, comes around” (or, as Billy Preston sang it, “Nothing from nothing leaves nothing”). When I was ready to start freelancing, I figured out most of what I needed to know on my own, but I also had some very generous colleagues. I tried not to take advantage of their time and knowledge, but it was so reassuring to know that they were available if I needed them.

Nowadays, even established, experienced editors and freelancers need help with the occasional sticky language, client, or technological matter, or even with financial dry spells. No one is immune. It makes sense to give back when possible, because we never know when we may have to ask for help ourselves.

I keep a list of useful resources to offer when someone asks for help in finding work. I also have a boilerplate response for people who ask — whether privately or in a group of some sort — for my client contact information, and for referrals, recommendations, “overflow work,” and other elements of my editorial business.

Helping colleagues feels good — and is an investment in karma: It might seem selfish, but you never know when helping someone out, even with just a list of resources, will come back to help you out in the future. I aim to enhance that karma through avenues like the An American Editor blog (both my own posts and those of our wonderful contributors), participating in lists and groups of colleagues, hosting the Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference, referring colleagues whom I know for projects outside my wheelhouse for any reason, and even hiring or subcontracting to colleagues I know and trust.

The operative phrase, of course, is “colleagues I know and trust.” I might not have met some of them in person, but I’ve learned enough about them to feel comfortable with referrals or projects.

How do you respond to people who make what you feel are unreasonable or inappropriate requests for client contacts or business leads?

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.

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.

May 12, 2014

On the Basics: Are Networking and Marketing Essential to an Editing Business?

Are Networking and Marketing
Essential to an Editing Business?

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

A recent discussion on the Copy Editing List (CE-L) raised the interesting question of whether it’s necessary to do marketing to have a successful editing business. At the heart of the conversation were varying takes on what “marketing” actually means. Networking came into the discussion as well.

Most of the participants in the conversation agreed that it’s essential not just to market your skills and business to be a success, but to do so constantly and regularly. A number of participants spoke up to reassure the introverted and shy amongst us that “marketing” can be done in a way that doesn’t force them into behaviors that don’t come naturally.

I see marketing as a necessary process for the success of any business, and as a constant one to work effectively on your behalf. I also see networking as a vital element of your marketing efforts.

A couple of “CELmates” argued that they have successful freelance editing businesses without ever doing any real marketing, making the point that having worked in editing jobs created a natural base of marketing and networking activity for their freelance ventures. They had a built-in network of employers and colleagues who would call on them for freelance services without their making much of an effort to get work from those prospective clients. Just “hanging out a shingle” by letting those former employers and colleagues know they were going freelance was often enough to establish a strong base of ongoing work. They saw no need to do any conscious marketing or further networking.

That laidback, no-effort approach may work — but only “may.” Nowadays, when the marketplace includes consolidation in the publishing world, outsourcing to cheaper markets or providers, and the proliferation of inexperienced people using the Internet to hang out their shingles as freelance editors, marketing and networking become more important to a freelance business, especially for anyone who doesn’t have years of experience and contacts to rely on.

What the colleagues who were able to launch their editing businesses didn’t realize is that simply letting an employer and coworkers know that you’re going out on your own is marketing. It may be a one-time effort, it may not feel like a marketing campaign — but it’s still marketing. Marketing is nothing more than letting the world know, on a large or small scale, that you’re open for business and available for assignments. Whether you tell five people or 500 that you’re a freelance editor, you’re doing marketing. The larger audience you reach, the more likely you are to succeed.

Neither networking nor marketing has to be especially aggressive. Among the less-aggressive techniques is joining professional organizations or communities that have membership directories you can be listed in or discussion lists where you can be visible. A well-crafted profile on LinkedIn can result in prospective clients contacting you, instead of you having to contact them; participating in relevant LinkedIn groups takes some time and energy, but also can generate new clients and assignments by clients coming to you, rather than you having to find or go to them.

Having your own website is also an effective marketing tool, because it gets your name (or business name) out there among those of other freelancers and in the environment that many prospective clients will use to find us. Once the site is up, you can let it function as a static “online business card” or you can make it active and up to date; how much time and effort you want to put into it is up to you and where you fall on the passive–active scale of marketing efforts.

These are essentially passive marketing activities that are ideal for the shy and retiring types, because they don’t involve any in-person, face-to-face activity and they don’t require leaving the comfort of a home office to engage directly with the outside world.

One colleague made the point that rethinking her approach helped her be better at marketing, despite a reluctance to engage in that activity in any formal way. She started focusing on how she could help her clients and presenting herself from that perspective, which felt more comfortable and less-pressured than anything using a “here I am, hire me!” approach that she saw as marketing.

That ties in nicely with another colleague’s approach: to put the focus on storytelling — telling people something about who you are, how you approach the editing world or process, how skilled editing can make a difference in the value of a document or project — and “stop beating people over the head with ‘marketing.’”

That makes sense when you consider that many freelance editors find the whole concept of marketing a little scary. We don’t want to seem pushy or aggressive; we just want to get and do the work. But you can do networking and marketing without much effort or being more aggressive than is comfortable for you (although more — when done well — is usually better in terms of building up your business).

Even subscribing to and commenting on a blog like this one is a form of networking — you’re interacting with colleagues, making your views known, showing how well you use language or understand the business of editing, as well as the editing process itself. Making cogent, coherent contributions to a blog or discussion list is also marketing, because it’s another way of putting yourself and some aspects of your skills out there, in front of potential clients or at least colleagues who might refer you for projects.

The vital thing for any freelancer, whether a newbie or a long-time pro, is to find ways to get in front of prospective new clients. Those prospects include friends, family, colleagues, and employers from past jobs, clients you haven’t heard from or worked with in a while — and people who don’t know you yet. How you do this is less important than that you do it. Whatever you call it and however you do it, marketing is important, if not essential, to a successful editing business — just as it is to any business.

We freelance editors have to remember that we are businesses and have to act like businesses, and that includes getting the word out about who we are and what we can do for clients — that is, marketing. Because we are businesses.

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.

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