The Proofreader's Parlour
A blog for editors, proofreaders and writers
Freelance pricing, marketing, testing/tracking and terminology
This article is a summary of what I learned along the way: the effects on my own business and how I responded.
For some of you, what follows will chime with your own experiences. If that's not the case, perhaps you'll be inspired to test some of the issues I discuss.
What I learned
1. Prices – to show or not to show
I went public with my pricing structure for one month in November. The results were interesting; my explanation was uncertain; my response, however, was unequivocal.
I’ve been tracking my new-client contact data for over a year, so I could compare some numbers. In November 2015, I received 25 requests from new clients to quote. In November 2016, it dropped to 14.
Of those who did get in contact, the number who became paying clients increased by 50%.
On the surface, that’s good news – lower contact numbers but a higher rate of conversions. Dig a little deeper, though, and there are a couple of problems:
At the end of December 2016, I compared the new-client contact data with that from December 2015. This time, the figures were similar – two more in 2016. At first sight, this might imply that the public prices were an issue. But, again, I only have one year-on-year figure for comparison, which I don’t believe is enough to warrant anything more than a ‘Hmm, interesting. That’s worth keeping an eye on.’
Data from at least five previous years would have given me the confidence to make a statement one way or another. As it is, based on my experiment and limited data, I’m not prepared to conclude that public pricing is either beneficial or damaging.
My response for my business: I removed my prices from my website. This is the approach I feel comfortable with at present, and I’ll continue as such until I have enough information to make an informed decision. I’ll continue to track my new contacts so that I can better understand the patterns of enquiry throughout the year.
2. Content marketing over gin and pizza
I plan to write more about content marketing (or adding value, as I prefer to call it) this year. There’s a section about it in Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business if you want to dig deeper. Here’s the thing – many of us think of content marketing in terms of blogs, booklets, tutorials and templates. In other words, stuff that can be read, watched and touched. In 2016, I was reminded that great content marketing – great value – is sometimes as simple as a conversation.
At the 2016 Society for Editors and Proofreaders’ annual conference in Aston, I made a new friend (Victoria Woodside) and caught up with an old one (Sophie Playle). I’d already spent several months thinking about what it is I actually do (see Section 5 below) and how I present it to potential clients. The language used to define editorial services is tangled. Editorial professionals don’t define proofreading, copyediting and line editing similarly, so why should our clients?
I was comfortable blogging about the confusion but I hadn’t managed to solve the conundrum for my own business. I was going round in circles. Victoria and Sophie came to my rescue – not in any kind of formal consultative manner, but just by giving me their time and sharing their expertise over gin and Fiorentinas. They told me how they defined their services and helped me to unpick my own. From those conversations, I found a way forward.
I doubt either woman would define her conversation with me as content marketing – yet it was. Both had valuable, useful stuff (knowledge, time and expertise) and shared it with me. Later it would put them both top of my mind when I was in need of people to refer specific clients to. One of those referrals turned into paid work.
And that’s really what good content marketing is – sharing useful, valuable stuff so that it puts you top of mind (or top of Google) when there’s a client in need of a solution. That client might come via a colleague, which means your fellow editorial pros are your customers too. Meeting and talking to colleagues, online and face-to-face, is great content marketing. Many of us do it without even realizing. And it costs nowt but time and effort. You just need to be a nice human being.
My response for my business: This experience was a great lesson in just how far content marketing stretches. It was also a strong reminder that learning takes place in a range of environments. I already attend my Norfolk SfEP group meeting on a regular basis. I’m now committed to attending the annual meetings too – to speak (if I’m asked) and to listen to others speaking.
Two conversations helped me align my business in action with my business in words. That alone made it worth the registration fee.
3. The hard graft and the full schedule
I’ve had an active marketing strategy in place since I set up my business back in 2006. It’s worked well for me. I have as much work as I can handle and am often booked up several months in advance … And there’s the rub.
Some clients will wait, but many won’t. To put so much time into marketing – all those booklets and guidelines and other bits and pieces of valuable stuff that I hope my indie authors will find useful – only to hear, ‘Sorry, I can’t wait that long,’ is frustrating. It feels like wasted effort.
I’m all for a referral – I can put a client in touch with the perfect specialist. Legal editor? I know one of those. Fluent French speaker or Italian translator? I’m friends with the former and related to the latter. How about a proofreader who also has experience of scientific indexing? Yep, I have a phone number.
The thing is this – it’s a busy week and I’m up to my neck in deadlines. I don’t have the capacity to be thinking about who would be the best person in my extensive network of experienced colleagues for this or that bit of proofreading or light editing. That’s time I should be using to earn a crust for me, not someone else.
As a result, from early 2015 I’d stopped actively recommending named colleagues for general proofreading or light-editing work. If an enquirer actively asked for a recommendation, I’d point them to a directory. If they asked for specialist help (e.g. legal, medical, scientific), only then would I recommend a named colleague.
All in all, I felt that a lot of hard-graft was generating a lot of missed opportunities and missed income.
My response for my business: A trusted colleague whose company subs to experienced editors and proofreaders offered me a referral deal. I get a cut of any converted leads. This hasn’t replaced my specialist referral network; rather, it’s a two-pronged approach. Named specialist referrals earn me nothing, whereas more generalist referrals earn me a small passive income. Now I feel like my marketing’s working for me again, and for others too.
4. Data, data and more data
I talked above about the problem I encountered with not having enough data to make an informed decision on whether public pricing is good or bad for my business. Data limitations also became apparent when I introduced several contact forms on my website early in 2016. I was interested to learn whether clients preferred contact forms, email, texts or phone, and whether it was necessary to provide all of these options.
My initial observations were as follows:
My response for my business: I committed to continue my monitoring of new-client contact methods. I’m nearly a year down the line now so I have more data. Good job too. Now, my observations are as follows:
5. More than a proofreader
Well into 2016, a couple of things had become blindingly obvious:
My response for my business: I wrote, I pondered, I talked to myself. Then I had a conversation with two friends (see Section 2 above). Clarity emerged from confusion. I redefined (and repriced) my service packages so that they reflect the reality of what I’m providing. I’m confident and clear about how my services are differentiated. More importantly, I’m no longer worrying about what my colleagues are doing, or what definitions they’re using. My friends gave me the confidence to carve out my own way of doing things.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this personal review. I’m sure you’ve had many of your own ‘Hmm, that’s interesting’ moments over the past 12 months. Perhaps you’ve shared some of the same experiences but responded differently. No matter – there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to any of these issues. The important thing is that we use the review process as an opportunity to see not what we’ve done badly but what we can do better.
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.
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'.
Winner of the Judith Butcher Award 2017 in respect of 'highly visible contributions to the SfEP and its membership'.