A discussion that’s cropped up several times in the years that I’ve run my own proofreading business is the disaster that can strike when you lose a client, especially if they are your only client.
You can lose clients for reasons completely beyond your control, including:
In view of this it’s essential to protect your future interests by building a portfolio of several clients rather than focusing all your energies on one or two. If you put all your eggs in one basket and one of the above scenarios occurs, the impact on your business could be devastating.
This happened to one of my colleagues a while back – an experienced, highly qualified editor who’d relied on regular work from one organization for over nine years. The recession hit her client hard and the press brought all its freelancing work in-house. A decade’s worth of stable workflow disappeared overnight and my colleague was left picking up the pieces.
One of my primary contacts at a publisher went on maternity leave last year. I absolutely noticed her absence. Fortunately I had plenty of other clients in my portfolio to ensure this didn't affect my workflow. It was great when my contact returned to work recently and offered me three novels in one hit, but I'm glad my business isn't dependent on her.
Take a “down the road” approach to your marketing strategy
I could wax lyrical about avoiding such a disaster, but fellow freelancer Jane Ward, an experienced STM editor, said it all in an online discussion between SfEP members. The following extracts are reproduced with her permission and the lessons she teaches are worth heeding:
When I started freelancing I was headhunted by a publisher, so I had work before I understood what a [freelance] proofreader or copy-editor was. For two years I simply did this large project and never really thought of the future.
Keep an eye on the market
Jane makes a crucial point, and the science publishing market is just one example of how mergers can have a huge impact on editorial freelancers if they don’t keep an eye on what’s happening in the market place.
My first job in publishing was for the UK arm of Williams & Wilkins, a Baltimore-based STM publisher. Prior to 1990, Wolters Kluwer, Lippincott, Raven Press, the medical division of Little Brown, and Plenum were competitors. Over the next decade these would all be subsumed under the WK umbrella – six potential clients gradually became one.
What to do when you lose a client
Jane also offers advice on how to manage the loss of the client:
Once one is in the position of losing the client, then I recommend sending letters to lots of similar clients, detailing your work experience and making it clear that the reason you have room in your diary for additional work is because client A is no longer using freelancers or because they have merged with another company.
This is a sensible strategy because it demonstrates to the new prospect that you are reacting to changes in the market rather than suffering fall-out due to poor performance. If you are approaching similar-type clients, they’ll be just as aware of the corporate changes going on around them. They’ll no doubt appreciate the experience you’ve gained from working for a competitor, so this is a way of selling your loss in a way that demonstrates your skills and freelance employability.
Jane didn’t just send out letters; she was prepared to visit, too, even if it meant travelling:
I acquired my new clients by writing a letter saying, “I happen to be in X for two weeks next month and would love to pop in and see you at your convenience. I realise that you will be busy but if you could spare ten minutes to see me I would appreciate it.” To those who said yes, I then travelled to where ever it was! Out of ten letters I wrote, two did not reply; two said they did not need any one; two said they would send me a test when they next trawled for freelancers; and four invited me to visit. Of those, three offered me work after the visit and one has given me constant work, filling 50% of my diary for 20 years.
Don’t stop marketing yourself
Even during the good times, it’s worthwhile ensuring your profile is always high in the places where your client type finds editorial freelancers. If you’re targeting the publishing market, a key society directory and cold-calling may be appropriate. If you’re working in the business market, regular attendance at local workshops and business networks may be crucial, as will be a website. Whatever your core marketing tool, don’t let it slip. It’s better to turn down work, knowing that a potential client has your details on file, rather than having to start over.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. We’re in a recession – whatever type of client you focus on, there’s still a risk that even if you’ve been a trusted provider for many years the work could dry up. Don’t make assumptions about stability even during the good times; publishing is a dynamic sector, and mergers and acquisitions are common. Keep an eye on the market, even during economic booms, and react quickly by trying to replace what you’ve lost; clearly articulate your experience and make sure new prospects understand that your availability is for reasons beyond your control. Finally, ensure you’re taking advantage of the myriad marketing opportunities appropriate to your sector even when your client base is stable. That way you’re proofing yourself for the future.
Louise Harnby is a professional proofreader and copyeditor. She curates The Proofreader's Parlour and is the author of several books on business planning and marketing for editors and proofreaders.
Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader, say hello on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or connect via Facebook and LinkedIn.
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Winner of the Judith Butcher Award 2017 in respect of 'highly visible contributions to the SfEP and its membership'.