My website attracts a lot of traffic from potential clients looking for proofreading services. I often have to turn down the work because: (a) it’s not actually ready for proofreading – it needs a substantive editor or copy-editor to work on it first, or (b) I don’t have capacity in my schedule and can’t meet the client’s deadline.
The last thing I want to do is just say “thanks, but no” to someone who’s taken the time to contact me. I don’t run a consultancy and I don’t have a bank of editorial freelancers who work for me, but I will do my best to help. This means referring the client to a colleague or helping them access a number of colleagues quickly and efficiently.
Being honest about the process
If you haven’t worked directly with a colleague, making a direct, if informal, referral can be tricky. Openness and honesty about what’s on offer are key. There are two important points to make clear during the process:
How the informal referral works
I share job opportunities in two ways:
What are the downsides?
Of the many job opportunities I’ve shared in the past twelve months, most have gone swimmingly for both the client and the freelancer who took the work. However, in only a few cases, problems occurred:
Assessing for direct colleague referral
Despite the huge international network of editorial freelancers that I’m engaged with, I’ve only been able to directly assess the work of a very few colleagues. Following are just a few examples of the ways in which I’ve assessed my colleagues’ competence.
Assessing for indirect colleague referral
Even if I haven’t worked directly with colleagues, I like to nose around their websites and LinkedIn profiles to see how they present themselves. That way, if a particular project comes my way that’s outside my time frame or my skill set, I have a sense of what their specialist areas are and the levels of editorial service they supply. Hazel Harris’ wonderful blog Editing Mechanics regularly features articles that present the world of editorial freelancing from the project manager’s perspective; her guidance on how we freelancers should present ourselves online is must-read stuff. In a nutshell, if you want to maximize your chances of having work referred to you, consider the following:
What’s in it for me? Finder’s fee or not?
I never charge a finder’s fee because I’m not operating a consultancy service. All I’m doing is sharing the opportunity with a fellow freelancer (or group of freelancers), outlining very briefly the client’s name, what service they want, what their deadline is, and perhaps a summary of the project’s subject matter. Once the job is in the hands of a colleague, it’s up to them to assess the viability of the project from all angles. Since the risk is theirs, I don’t feel they should be paying me a bean.
Furthermore, colleagues who get the chance to quote for jobs I share often return the favour. For me, freelancing is as much about engaging with others in the editorial community as anything else. In the past year I've secured a proofreading contract with a European translation agency, taken on a large fiction proofreading project from an independent author, and been contacted by a major international academic publisher, all on the recommendation of my freelancing colleagues. They didn't charge me a finder’s fee; why would I charge them one?
The editorial freelancing community is a generous network – what goes around, comes around. Informal referrals do pay but, in my case, not with percentage cuts. Instead, they generate return opportunities, and these result in pecuniary rewards far more valuable in the long run.
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