An American Editor

February 21, 2018

On the Basics: Developing and Posting Business Practices

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter 

Several things came together recently to make me think about aspects of my freelance business that I usually “just do” without conscious thought or planning.

It isn’t that I fell unthinkingly into being a freelance writer/editor. I did freelance writing for several years while working full-time, and one newsletter writing and editing project saved my bacon when I lost one of those jobs. That taught me to have at least one substantial freelance project in hand at all times, even with a satisfying full-time job. But I did reach a point in one of those jobs when I felt burned out and decided I was ready to freelance full-time.

Although I didn’t take what is common advice (including my own nowadays) to save several months’ worth of expenses beforehand, I did consciously plan the launch of my business: I negotiated turning that full-time, in-house communications manager job with a trade association into a freelance contract, along with finding two onsite editing projects. That meant I could start out with a known income and didn’t have to panic about finances, unlike unfortunate colleagues who experienced “involuntary freelancing” by being laid off unexpectedly, RIFFed (a government worker who was part of a Reduction in Force), or fired.

My approach was more reactive than proactive. I didn’t have a formal business plan, marketing strategy, set of policies, contracts, work process, or any of the other elements of what some people would say are important to a successful business. And I launched Communication Central with nothing but a list of conference topics and speakers jotted on a napkin! I would query potential clients — mostly publications and organizations I wanted to write for — and respond to unsolicited offers of projects, but none of it was especially organized, even though it was successful.

I did make a point of joining and being visible in professional associations even before going out on my own as a freelancer. Using the job bank of a regional writers’ group resulted in those two onsite projects that constituted two-thirds of my business when I officially launched my business, and helped me garner a variety of writing assignments as well.

I’ve done quite well over many years without a formal business structure for either my freelance business or Communication Central. Income went up and down over the years, but never down enough to be frightening. New work sometimes seemed to appear almost magically when needed. However, these recent developments made me think:

  • A friend and colleague posted about developing a mission statement for her coaching and presentation business. (She works primarily in the not-for-profit sector, where mission and vision statements are standard.)
  • A prospective client asked me about my process for handling editing projects.
  • Another prospective client asked how I handle deadlines.

I decided that it couldn’t hurt, and could help, to develop some formal guidelines for my business this year. Clients — whether current, prospective, or even past — might be reassured by knowing something about how I work and what my principles are.

My Business Principles

In thinking consciously about what I do and how I do it, I realized that I do have both a process and a set of principles or ethics to guide my editorial business. They may need some further fine-tuning — with each item I thought of, another one came to mind — but the essence is there.

Clients (and colleagues) can expect that I will do the following for the core services I provide.


Do research as needed for each assignment.

Write in a clear, active, direct voice.

Produce original material.

Quote or paraphrase sources accurately.

Include diverse voices as sources whenever possible.

Check facts.


Confirm and maintain client’s preferred style.

Maintain (and learn from) a library of current style manuals and grammar guides.

Retain/Respect the author’s or client’s voice and style.

Maintain consistency and accuracy throughout each document.

Check everything twice.


Stick to the proofreading perspective — maintain the distinction between proofreading and editing.

Any and all projects

Be reliable.

Meet or beat deadlines.

Provide quality and consistency.

Be accessible and responsive.

Provide new insights and resources.

Respond to clients promptly, pleasantly, and tactfully.

Track and respond to new trends and tools as they arise.

Continually learn new techniques and adapt to new technology.

Give clients more than they ask for.

Develop a network of colleagues for support in case of an emergency.

Respect and learn from colleagues.

Share resources and opportunities with colleagues.


Provide prospective clients with background information.

Discuss project in detail.

Confirm client style preferences, project scope, rate/fee, deadline(s), revision policy, kill fee, cancellation policy, payment process, etc., before beginning project.

Request information about client — website, past issue(s)/previous edition, annual report, previous publications, CV or résumé, etc.

Obtain full contact information for interviewees and details of other research sources.

Alert client to any problems or concerns immediately.

Ask client before going beyond original hours or budget.

Complete project on schedule.

Invoice as agreed with client (advance and interim payments or on completion).

Do not accept projects involving unfamiliar technology or tools.

Wrapping Up

Now that I’ve clarified what I provide and how I work, maybe I should add something about what I expect from clients! In initial conversations about any new project, I do make a point of confirming as much of the project elements as possible and asking pertinent questions about how the client and I will work together (as noted in those process points). It might be worth posting the other side of the equation to my website. Something to think about.

Do AAE subscribers have written business practices, policies, or processes? If so, do these include any elements not discussed here? How do you relay them to prospective and active clients? Do you state any requirements for how you expect clients to work with you?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter ( is the editor-in-chief of An American Editor; an award-winning provider of editorial and publishing services for publications, independent authors, publishers, and companies worldwide; and the owner of Communication Central, which hosts an annual conference for current and aspiring freelancers. Ruth can be contacted at

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