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?

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.

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