An American Editor

June 19, 2019

How Not to Network

By Ælfwine Mischler

With spring weather comes conference season and plenty of conferences for indexers, editors, and communications professionals of all types. For those of us who are freelancers, conferences offer a chance to socialize in addition to learning more about our craft and networking that might eventually lead us to new work gigs, since people are more likely to recommend or offer work to someone they have met in person.

But conferences are expensive. While there are ways to reduce the costs, unless you are a fantastic trainer or speaker whose costs will be covered by the conference hosts, you will have to lay out a considerable amount of money for travel, hotel, meals, and conference registration. It’s one reason that so many of us interact with colleagues online rather than in person.

That expense is particularly difficult for those of us who are new to the field. With that in mind, friends of an indexing software developer who had been generous in helping indexers established a scholarship in his memory to help defray the costs of a conference for newer indexers. In 2019, they offered two scholarships to entrants who had completed some formal index training within the past five years and had registered and paid to attend one of the annual national conferences offered in the USA, UK, South Africa, or Canada. If there were more than two entrants, the winners would be chosen by a blind drawing. (Disclosure: I was one of the 2019 scholarship winners.)

This was a great opportunity for networking and professional development. Unfortunately, it also led to a level of bad networking behavior in social media. While this is only one instance of how not to network, and an unusual one at that, it might be instructive for colleagues.

It so happened that the other winner and I had both completed our training five years ago, so this was the last time we would be eligible for the scholarship. As soon as the winners were announced in one of the indexing e-mail groups, one person — whom I’ll refer to as I.M. Pistov — started to rage in the group. Pistov complained that the scholarship had unfairly gone to two established indexers and that this showed bias in the indexing organization. Pistov claimed to have experience in editing and writing, but having difficulty breaking into indexing. The organization was corrupt, this was a terrible field to go into, etc.

When some people tried to tell Pistov otherwise, he accused them of calling him a liar. At least one other person on the list said something about how entertaining Pistov’s behavior was. Others politely told Pistov to reconsider his marketing plan: Maybe he should concentrate on using his website, and he should consider how he speaks to clients — if it was anything like what he was demonstrating on the forum, he should reconsider being a freelancer in any area, not just indexing.

I stayed out of the fray until one of the administrators of the scholarship spoke up to reiterate the rules for the scholarship and to state that the indexing organization and the forum were not in any way affiliated with the scholarship. A few hours later, Pistov came back on the forum and apologized for his earlier behavior. At that point, I came into the discussion to say that I admired his courage in apologizing in public and to wish him well. One of the less-gracious posters from earlier in the day then apologized to Pistov, moving herself up a notch in my estimation.

This incident is an example of how not to network. It might not be as common as other kinds of rude behavior toward colleagues online, or something like asking colleagues to share their client lists, but it had the potential for Pistov to be known and remembered for anything but his professional skills and value as a colleague.

Nowadays, most of us do the majority of our networking in e-mail discussion lists, online groups, blogs, and similar outlets. We have to remember that our behavior in an online forum is just as important as our behavior in person. If you feel that you must publicly voice your disappointment with something related to your profession, at least do not accompany it with name-calling and unfounded accusations of bias or cheating. Better yet, vent your anger and disappointment in a Word file and delete it unused, so there is no risk of accidentally hitting the Send or Post button.

There are dozens, at the least, of associations and social media communities to participate in for networking purposes — but we all need to remember that our online behavior in these forums is also an important way to connect with colleagues. Over the years that I have been a member of the Copyediting List (CE-L) and various indexing e-groups, for instance, I have learned who the frequent posters are and what areas they specialize in, and I have also gleaned something of their personalities. One member seems to be very sensitive; I have to be careful how I word things directed to her. Another always gives such short, almost cryptic answers that I have to ask for clarification. I ask questions, but I also have learned to be of assistance to colleagues whenever possible, and to always use a polite, pleasant tone — it’s so easy for online communications to come across the wrong way.

It works both ways: Colleagues have contacted me both on- and off-list with questions in my area of expertise, and I have referred colleagues and been referred by colleagues for gigs. The ones who behave professionally are the ones who earn responses and referrals.

There are many more tips for networking online, some of which have already been discussed in this blog. See, for example,

Are Networking and Marketing Essential to an Editing Business?:

https://americaneditor.wordpress.com/2014/05/12/on-the-basics-are-networking-and-marketing-essential-to-an-editing-business/

Making the Best Use of Interaction with Colleagues:

https://americaneditor.wordpress.com/2018/02/28/on-the-basics-making-the-best-use-of-interaction-with-colleagues/

Have you had any difficult experiences in social media behavior? How have you handled such incidents?

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?

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