At the recent Norfolk Group meeting of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders, which took place in Norwich on 2 July 2012, the members in attendance jointly agreed to publicize a summary of the discussion that took place on editorial freelancing and marketing. The meeting was extremely productive – we all came away feeling we'd learned something new and wanted to share this with colleagues from within the Society and beyond. We hope the following notes prove as useful to you as they have done to us.
Each member of the group outlined how they got into editorial freelancing, their primary market, and what their preferred tools are for accessing that market. We then shared ideas based on our own experiences or those that we’d heard about second-hand. The following is a summary of the discussion.
Members of the group come from a variety of backgrounds (IT, teaching, publishing, for example) and offer a number of different services (marketing, copy-writing, development editing, copy-editing, proofreading, writing, business consultancy). Most of us in attendance work for mainstream publishers, but businesses, agencies, students and independent authors are also markets that we’ve all had various degrees of experience with.
So what are the tools that we’re using to get noticed, and how are we getting the best out of them?
Are you thinking about your business in the right way?
Two group members highlighted the importance of the approach you take to your business. If you don’t have the correct approach in your head, you’re less likely to be able to take advantage of marketing tools in a way that will generate the best leads. Think about yourself as a business owner first and foremost. Only then should you focus on what services you have to offer.
Thinking about yourself as a business owner makes you acknowledge that proofreading, editing, copy-writing etc. in themselves will not be enough to generate work. As a business owner you need to think about how you will get that work – in other words, your marketing strategy. This is as core to your business as sending out invoices or managing the delivery of completed work. If you don’t take proactive action to sell your business, you’ll be self-unemployed not self-employed. Don’t be shy about marketing your business – this is what companies do and editorial freelancers, as small business owners, shouldn’t feel they have to wait for referrals in order to generate leads.
Websites and email
The consensus was that having a website is crucial for several reasons:
Summaries of experience: CV or promotional leaflet?
During our website/email discussion, and a quick mention of LinkedIn, the issue of placing CVs online came up. Everyone agreed that it made sense to place such a summary online so that potential clients could download something to keep on file. Several points are worth considering:
Is your bank of clients large enough?
We also discussed the importance of ensuring you don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Some members have found themselves taking the bulk of their work from a very small number of clients. We all agreed that while it’s good to have repeat work from core suppliers, it’s important of protect yourself from future changes in the market. An example that highlighted this was that of Williams and Wilkins and Lippincott. In the early 1990s these were two separate publishers, both of whom bought in editorial services. The companies have since merged, meaning two work streams are now one. We also recalled the experience of an SfEP colleague who lost a core publisher client when all proofreading work was brought in-house as a result of the recession.
The group talked about sharing contact names and email addresses of relevant publishers in a bid to help each other broaden our client portfolios and future proof ourselves from economic shocks and corporate restructures.
Working with businesses
We talked about how the business market is far harder to penetrate than, say, the publisher market. Publishers understand us – our services were born in that industry. Businesses are different – they often don’t realise what we do, or the differences between the various roles (copy-writing vs copy-editing vs proofreading). The main points were:
Developing good business relationships
Many of us felt it was important to build links with more than one person within an organization that provides a regular supply of work – it’s useful to try to get work with several desk editors in a press or project management agency. That way, when one contact leaves for pastures new, your work stream isn’t threatened.
Most of us stated that we’d never met any of our clients – all communication was done by email or on the phone. However, another member gave us something to think about – he tries to get face-to-face contact whenever possible. He wants to get under the skin of his clients, to make them like him and want to give him work. In that way, he becomes one of their freelancers of choice.
Use your local group
SfEP members – use your local group! The friendships that one develops in these settings can forge business links that are stronger than in the society at large. The Norfolk group is a good example. By the end of this marketing session, not only had we all learned some valuable tips for how to better promote ourselves, but some of us had promised to share publisher contact details to help each other broaden our client portfolios. And we’re not alone – many people in local groups all over the country offer work opportunities and leads to fellow group members in the first instance.
The lesson is: if you’re not a member of your local group, consider joining. If there isn’t a local group that you feel you can travel to, think about setting one up. If you live in an isolated area, consider setting up a virtual group where you communicate with others in a similar situation by email, conference call or Skype.
Directories and other advertising
While we acknowledged that we do know of people who get a steady supply of work from key directories, none of our group members relied on this as a primary marketing tool. Some key points emerged:
Cold contact: letters, emails and phone calls
Those of us who work for publisher clients felt that cold contact was a very effective strategy for targeting this market, particularly because our services are known and understood by the publishing industry. Members agreed that identifying the name and title of the person responsible for hiring editorial freelancers beforehand was important. All of us had generated strong response rates by making cold contact with publishers. Those of us who had used the same strategy with non-publisher clients had found it ineffective.
Are you selling your full skill set?
Some of our members were keen to highlight the importance of making sure you are taking advantage of your full skill set. Are you really just an expert proofreader? If you have an IT or accountancy background, for example, there may be add-on skills that you can offer to prospective clients, particularly in the non-publisher sector. If you were once a marketing manager in a previous working life, you could consider offering marketing consultancy services to local companies. If you’re a blogger you may have writing skills that could be utilized in your freelance business, too.
The point is to be confident and broad-minded. Bring what you know to the table and don’t be shy about selling it. Listen to what people say and if you see an opportunity and think you can add value, even if the skills fall outside your editorial remit, put yourself forward. The more you can offer to a client, the more indispensable you become and the more likely they are to bring you in on future projects.
Using time zones to your advantage
One fascinating idea emerged from one of our members. He suggested targeting overseas clients (west coast United States, Australia and New Zealand for example) where the time difference enables you to offer a fast turnaround because the client is sleeping during your most or all of your working day. You can therefore promise a completion time on an urgent job that local editorial freelancers won’t be able to compete with!
A summary of promotional tools to consider
The following articles offer a few ideas about enhancing your online presence. You never how someone with a work offer might find you.
Come and join us!
Why not join the Norfolk Group of the SfEP? We’re a very friendly and vibrant group of editorial freelancers who get together in Norwich once every couple of months. We share a meal and chat about different aspects of our business. If you’re already an SfEP member or associate but haven’t had the chance to pop along yet, we'd love to meet you. Contact Paul Beverley for more details firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re not yet affiliated with the SfEP but want to get a flavour of the Society via our local group, you are also welcome to visit us and see what we do.
For information about the Society more broadly visit the SfEP website. To find out more about local SfEP groups, take a look at the Regional Development section.
Search the blog
I'm an Advanced Professional Member of the UK's national editorial society.
All text on this blog, The Proofreader's Parlour, and on the other pages of this website (unless indicated otherwise) is in copyright © 2011–17 Louise Harnby. Please do not copy or reproduce any of the content, in whole or part, in any form, unless you ask first.
Author Member of The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi). I abide by its Code of Standards in regard to my status as an independent writer.
Advanced Professional Member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP). I'm a signatory to its code of practice as a professional editor.
Featured in The Book Designer's Carnival of the Indies: Joel Friedlander's collection of 'outstanding articles recently posted to blogs'.
Terms and conditions
Q&A with Louise
Tel: 07767 028976
© Louise Harnby 2011/17