Maya has a PhD in social anthropology, and is an experienced editor and proofreader. She’s in the process of expanding her editorial business while continuing to publish academic research.
To date, she’s focused on acquiring work through a freelancing website, but the work flow is unpredictable and she’s not convinced it will supply her with a viable income stream in the long term.
She’s created a website but recognizes that it’ll take time to become visible to potential clients, and to earn their trust.
She asks: ‘There are a couple of other freelancing websites that look promising, as well as academic editing agencies. Does it make sense to try to sign up to those as well, or is it better to focus on one thing at a time? I'm planning to blog and make YouTube videos about academic writing on top of these things. But is this a case of "less is more" or "more is more"? I’m an experienced editor but completely new to marketing!’
Great questions, Maya.
Two things to consider
There are two different elements to your strategy here:
Both approaches are important in the editorial industry, so hats off to you for recognizing that even though you’re new to marketing. You’re doing brilliantly!
The reason why both approaches are important is because directories and agencies have already done the online visibility work on your behalf. By using them to make your business visible now, you’re freeing up your marketing hours to focus on the longer-burn stuff – your blog and videos.
I’ll explain why further down, but first I wanted to ask you whether you’ve considered approaching publishers too. You didn’t mention it in your email so I think it’s worth my taking the time to discuss it here.
Publishers and freelance editors – a gift
Directories, agencies and content creation are all great ways to acquire clients, albeit over different time frames.
The biggest problem the editor faces, however, is getting the client to raise their hand in the first place. ‘I’m interested in you, Maya!’ is what your directory entry, agency listing, blog article or YouTube video needs to make your audience member feel compelled to say.
That means working hard to create stand-out information that sets you apart from the competition surrounding you. Furthermore, in the directory and agency fields, there will always be a group of clients looking for cheap rather than brilliant. And in the marketplace more generally, there are potential clients who don’t even realize they need you, or, if they do, which of the different levels of service will be the most appropriate.
But here come the publishers! (Sing it, like the Boots ad!) We’re in a rather privileged field of having a core client group who understands exactly what we do, why we’re necessary, and the value we bring to the table. We don’t have to get them to raise their hands; their hands are already in the air!
Some publishers will take the time to scour the SfEP’s Directory of Editorial Services, but to my knowledge the single best way to get noticed by a production manager is still to go direct. Email, letter, phone call – whatever you prefer.
I worked almost exclusively for publishers for the first half of my freelance career. I had about 10 publisher clients who kept my schedule as full as I needed it to be. Feast and famine? Nope, just feast.
Like you, I have a background in the social sciences, so that’s where I focused my initial wave of inquiries. You mentioned in your original email that you’d 'bought my marketing books', so you’ll find more information on how to tackle that in Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business.
Take a look, too, at the SOS Marketing Strategy PDF below. You’re not in an emergency situation but the basic principles about how to proceed still stand.
Publishers, like agencies, will give you regular work, and that means you can focus all your marketing juice on creating compelling blog posts and irresistible YouTube vids.
Publishers are a bit of a gift like that – while their rates aren’t always top-notch, the time they free up for you by handing you a steady supply of work certainly is. And creating valuable, usable, accessible content does take time.
Directories and agencies: more is more
Perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration! By more is more, I’m not saying you should sign up with 20 directories and agencies; you’ll spend more time being busy creating the entries than you will being productive finding the work!
I do think, though, that you needn’t limit oneself to one. If you identify a group of, say, four or five that are used by your core clients to find people like you, I’d recommend you sign up. More is more, as long as you’re selective.
There are SEO benefits, too. For certain medium-tail keyword searches, I rank first on page one of Google – but it’s not my website showing up. It’s my SfEP directory entry.
And, anyway, you’re in control. You get to accept work, or decline it – whatever suits your needs.
The key thing to remember is that if you get too many requests to quote from the directories and agencies, you can always trim and focus on those that deliver the best-quality clients to you. Plus, you’ll never know what’s working if you don’t test in the first place.
Testing is something else you’ll see me bang on about in my books, but only because it’s the foundation of any solid marketing strategy. It doesn’t matter if you try something, and that something doesn’t work. You’ll still have learned something, and having learned it you can make an informed decision about what to do next. Otherwise your marketing is just guesswork – which is exhausting at best!
So, yes, go ahead. Sign up for a few more and find out what works for you. Evaluate in a few months’ time. Then leave behind the ones that don’t work out and try something else instead.
Now let’s deal with the content strategy.
Creating delectable content! Less is more (sort of)
When I say less is more, I’m talking about platforms, not the actual content itself.
This isn’t just me banging my drum. The professionals emphasize this. My own content marketing coaches Andrew and Pete recommend focusing on one or two platforms, and really honing them. Plus, I’m halfway through the online conference Summit on Content Marketing, and speakers Rand Fishkin, Ilise Benun, Dave Jackson, and Stoney deGeyter agree: concentrate on what your core clients are using – in other words, choose the platforms your customers prefer, rather than the ones you prefer.
So, you’re planning to use a blog and YouTube to deliver your advice on academic writing. If those are platforms that your core clients like using, then go ahead. And stick to those two – really craft them into something special, something compelling.
Some quick tips (you might know the following already but other readers might not, so bear with me!) …
Make sure your content is really useful so that it offers solutions for your potential clients. Don’t sell – just solve. I used to call content marketing ‘value-added marketing’ (see the marketing book you’ve bought). Seriously, I didn’t know ‘content’ marketing was a thing until a year ago! I still think it’s an oddly bland name for such an exciting strategy.
Anyway, I don’t get to make the rules, so content marketing it is!
Focus on value above all else. Value trumps everything (unless your great writing is so blurred as to be unreadable, or the audio quality of your video so poor as to make it unwatchable).
If you create a beautiful video, or a blog post with loads of fancy pictures, but the story you’re telling your viewers or readers is of no use to them and doesn’t help them, you won’t grow that audience.
But if your video is a little flawed, or your blog post a little ugly, you’ll still grow your audience and build trust and relationships if you’ve made someone’s life easier. It’s no different to friendship. I don’t pick my mates because they look gorgeous – it’s all about the relationship and how we make each other feel. Content marketing’s no different.
I’ve tried hard to make my blog look prettier this year. But you know what? Some of my most popular posts are still those I wrote years ago – posts with really long paragraphs of dense narrative – 1,500 words of me telling people what publishers think about proofreading training courses, and another 1,500 of me on how to upload custom stamps of PDF markup symbols. No pictures. No clever SEO titles. Just loads of text. But it’s text that answers the questions that (some) people are asking.
Be consistent with how often you deliver your blogs and videos. The expert view is this: whether you post twice a week, once a week or once a month is less important than choosing one of those and committing to it. That way your readers and viewers get into the routine of engaging with you.
Furthermore, if you commit to once a week, but you don’t have enough content to fill that schedule, you’re more likely to feel deflated and stop. Which would be a huge shame! It's better to excite an audience by raising your game than disappointing them by going backwards.
If you write great blogs that are 400 words long, perfect. If you need 2,000 words, perfect.
If your videos need to be 5 minutes long to solve your client’s problems, make them 5 minutes long. If they need to be longer, and that’s what your audience wants, make them longer.
Just make sure that every word and every minute is full of value. I know I’m a right old rambler so I struggle to make every word count. Let’s just call me chatty!
Think about how you’ll direct people to your blog and YT channel. I post to Facebook and Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ to make editors and writers aware of what’s new on my blog.
I’ve also recently created a mailing list for writers to enable me to alert them when new self-publishing resources are available.
And, these days, Google Search is working wonders for me. In time, it’ll work for you to if you commit to creating all that delicious stuff for your potential clients!
If academic writers are also using Twitter, FB and LI to get their updates, those are the channels you should use to direct them to your blog and video platforms. If they’re using some other channel to get their news, that’s where you should be.
Again, it’s about what your listeners and readers want, rather than your own preferences. (I really, really hope authors aren’t big Snapchatters! If they are, I might just have to break my own rule and say, ‘Stuff what my clients are doing!’)
If one of the books you told me you’d bought was my content marketing primer, you’ll get a good overview of the basic principles. You can always post another question if you want to dig deeper.
Hope that’s helped, Maya. Thanks so much for asking two great questions. I hope my response has told you what you wanted to know.
P.S. Click on the image below to access the PDF.
You ask. I'll answer
I'm more than happy to tackle questions, especially from beginners. If there's something you want advice about, drop me a line and I'll post a solution to your problem here. The more focused your question, the more in-depth my answer will be! And if you want me to mask your identity, no problem.
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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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'.
Winner of the Judith Butcher Award 2017 in respect of 'highly visible contributions to the SfEP and its membership'.