Word-of-mouth marketing for editorial freelancers ... and why it won't work if you're a passive marketer
Here's why new freelance editors and proofreaders need to commit to marketing, rather than relying on word of mouth to grow their businesses.
In 'When one client isn’t enough – emergency marketing for editors and proofreaders', I offered an emergency marketing plan for proofreaders and editors who’d either lost their sole source of income or ended up in a situation where they were reliant on one client.
The first stage of the marketing plan asked for a commitment to active marketing.
If you’re simply waiting for a solution to present itself, you’re merely involved. And that’s a very different proposition from being committed.
I love this quotation from Martina Navratilova:
The difference between involvement and commitment is like ham and eggs. The chicken is involved; the pig is committed.
Editorial freelancers, especially new starters, need to be the ham. Committing to marketing as soon as we set up our businesses ensures that we’ll never be client-reliant or, worse, lose our sole source of income.
Acquiring work: commitment versus involvement
Involved: being passive
Most experienced editorial freelancers take advantage of passively acquired work. I have a number of repeat clients who fill some of my schedule.
If you’re highly visible, experienced, trusted and respected, this strategy could well be effective for you. For the new entrant to the field, though, it’s a non-starter.
That’s because these opportunities are a consequence of active marketing.
Passively acquired work might come through a variety of channels. Here, for simplicity, I’ve focused on three:
Committed: being active
Active marketing is the work you do to generate these passive opportunities. Here, again, I’ve focused on three:
A. Networking with colleagues and clients (e.g. on editing forums, at conferences, professional society meetings, social media platforms). This kind of marketing leads to an awareness of what your specialist skills are. If a colleague needs to direct a client or prospect to someone with skills or availability that he or she doesn’t have, you’ll be in the running (see 1, above).
B. Cold-calling and writing letters/emails to target clients (e.g. publishers, packagers, businesses, marketing agencies). This is direct marketing and if you do it extensively you can quickly build a solid list of similar client types. If the clients are satisfied with the work, they’ll rehire you, which leads to repeat work (see 2, above).
C. Just creating online profiles in itself is not enough to make you discoverable. Action that maximizes the visibility of those profiles in the search engines is key. This is where content marketing comes to the fore – creating and distributing (via your online platforms) advice, knowledge, tools and resources that your colleagues and clients will find useful, valuable. Examples include blogs, booklets, video tutorials, checklists and cheat sheets. High-quality content offers solutions to problems and makes your online profiles more findable (see 3, above).
In a nutshell, being active enables you to reap passive rewards later (if your office buddy will give you the space, that is).
Why word of mouth (WOM) is often misunderstood
‘But my colleague said that all her work is via word of mouth.’
I don’t doubt it. But if she’s been running her business for 20 years and has a portfolio and client list as long as your arm, she’s not in the same position as the new entrant to the field.
She’s benefiting from 1, 2 and 3 because she invested in A, B and C.
New starters should indeed commit to WOM marketing. What they shouldn’t do is assume that it’s a passive approach that requires no effort. Nor will there be short-term results. Top-notch WOM marketing requires an intense level of commitment to action and an acceptance of slow-burn impact.
Awareness and trust aren’t built overnight, especially in our field. Editorial freelancers aren’t selling a product that promises something that swathes of people have wanted forever – an anti-aging cream, a painless leg-waxing treatment, a broadband connection that never, ever buffers even if you live out in the sticks and there’s more chance of getting a wi-fi signal on Mars. Our services have to prove their worth.
For the editorial business owner, WOM marketing is like creating a garden from scratch. If you’re proactive, it will take many months to knock it into shape. If you hold back, it’ll take years. If you’re passive, the garden will remain barren.
WOM and colleagues
There are a lot of us, and many have already developed niche networks of friends and colleagues to whom we refer work.
When an editor or proofreader ends up on my radar, it’s because they’ve instilled trust in me.
WOM and clients
As for client A telling client B about you, you’ll need a lot of mouths to share the good news if you want to have a full schedule! That’s not where you’ll be if you’re a new entrant to the field, not because you’re not an effective editor or proofreader but because you don’t yet have a large enough bank of clients.
Find out which networks (online and offline) your clients and colleagues recommend and join in the discussion. There’s nothing wrong with asking questions but be prepared to offer solutions too. Even new editorial freelancers have specialist skills and background experience that are relevant and valuable to the debate.
In 'Why word of mouth marketing is the most important social media', Kimberly A. Whitler, Assistant Professor at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business, breaks down WOM marketing into the three Es:
Action first, passivity later
Clients can come via active and passive marketing strategies. It’s not a case of the right strategy but the right order.
If you’re a new starter, make active editorial business promotion a standard part of your working life, just like copyediting or proofreading, invoicing and updating your software. Assign space for it every week so that it becomes commonplace rather than a chore or, worse, something to be feared.
Be active. Be committed. Be the ham!
Once your business is established, you’ll be able to take advantage of the passive benefits that result from your effort. Just take care not to hand over the chill space to your Labrador!
Louise Harnby is a line editor, copyeditor and proofreader who specializes in working with independent authors of commercial fiction, particularly crime, thriller and mystery writers.
She is an Advanced Professional Member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP), a member of ACES, a Partner Member of The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), and co-hosts The Editing Podcast.
Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Fiction Editor & Proofreader, say hello on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, connect via Facebook and LinkedIn, and check out her books and courses.
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