Marketing Your Freelance Editorial Services

January 21, 2009
Facilitated by Karen Asbelle and Barbara Fuller
Notes by Karen Asbelle and Group Members

A good turnout and lively discussion focused on ways to promote our individual freelance editorial services in today's evolving, tight job market to attract new clients and retain existing ones. Barbara Fuller, Director of Editcetera, who has taught at UC Berkeley Extension and Editcetera, contributed her perspective and suggestions as we all shared our self-marketing challenges, hesitations and ideas in the pursuit of promoting and building a successful freelance business. 

Many admit self-marketing is an exercise they procrastinate, take stabs at occasionally or execute half-way in the absence of a plan or schedule. Making time to outline a short series of targeted action steps, then actually following through with the action on a steady-as-you-go basis, can significantly improve your visibility and your returns in terms of drawing new work your way.

Finding sources for work can be difficult in tight economic times. Some companies are clearly cutting back on hiring freelancers, and challenging standard pay rates in the face of their shrinking budgets. Some publishers are now using unpaid interns to do the work that freelancers used to count on.

On the other hand, when the job market is tight, there are still opportunities if you are flexible to accept, say, a small proofreading job or a tedious topic task that can establish your credibility and desirability for subsequent work that may develop. Tough times may additionally force you to delve into different areas "outside your comfort zone," but the work might lead you through doors that actually open to new possibilities.

One key point: When approaching a publisher or any other prospective client, project confidence. That was mentioned as a key trait publishers look for when hiring freelancers, and it can apply across the board. Most importantly, view your role and present yourself as a provider of SOLUTIONS. Step forward to respectfully offer your skills and experience, however they can be applied to further a client's goals, and believe in your abilities to deliver the needed improvement.

Additional discussion points were as follows:

  • Start simply. Do people you know really know what you do? Email everyone in your address book (yes, even relatives and neighbors) to let them know briefly what you do for a living and to say you're available. Prepare it in a way that your friends can easily forward it to others as appropriate. 
  • Make use of the auto-signature feature on your email account so whenever your emails, including those to friends, are forwarded, they carry the name of your freelance business or at least your job title (e.g., copyeditor), with a link to your website or even to your BAEF personal page.
  • Consider joining LinkedIn or Facebook where you can also let friends know what you do for a living.
  • Keep in touch with former colleagues who could send referrals to you as they move along their career paths.
  • Always carry some business cards with you. You can network as easily at a garage sale or your dentist's office as you can in a writing class or seminar. When you hand out your business card, offer two instead of one, so your contact has one to pass along when someone they know mentions they need an editor.
  • Identify any special knowledge or skills you may have gathered in your life experience. Look for opportunities to apply it. For example, do you have a background in science? Work experience in a specific industry? Familiarity with another culture? Passion for music? Experience with caregiving or illness? Obsession with cars? Be ready to offer it as a plus to your editing skills when it can distinguish or further qualify you.
  • Consider approaching mid-sized publishers that may pay better than university presses. Check Writer's Market or Literary Marketplace for "medium-sized trade publishers not located in New York." These are companies that publish 50-500 books a year. Also, don't limit your search for work to the traditional presses; promote yourself to the growing number of online publishers.
  • Go to your favorite sections in bookstores to survey the book spines and see who's selling books on your preferred topics. A publisher's logo always appears at the bottom of the spine, so it's a useful, quick index for identifying where you can promote yourself.
  • Introduce yourself to literary agents who may have clients with books that need editing before submission to a publisher. Promote yourself to authors who may need help preparing a book proposal for submission to a book agent. Consider attending general sessions (or hang out in the parking lot?) at writers' conferences where both agents and aspiring authors abound.
  • Barbara suggests researching potential employers and clients through sources such as bookstores, directories, workshops, exploring their website, and by asking an employer for an informational interview. Avenues for letting potential employers and clients find out about you also include editorial associations, résumés, cover letters, work samples and editing tests.
  • Barbara advises that potential clients can include trade, educational, professional and specialty publishers, and university presses. Corporate clients with direct mail, human resources materials and catalogs may need your help, as may magazines, advertising agencies, and institutional publications. Offer your services in technical arenas for user manuals, product documentation, programming manuals, marketing materials and white papers. Make the effort to reach students and professors who may also need your support to clarify, crystallize and better convey their content.
  • You don't necessarily have to answer ads, when you may be one among hundreds responding. In fact, inquiring with employers when they are not advertising may increase your chance to make an actual contact. Direct contact can yield a much higher return rate. Research your target employers; find out the names of hiring managers and contact them with a targeted, personalized cover letter.
  • Look for companies that are doing good work that interests you. Tell them you support what they do and want to learn more. Show them how you can help them with their newsletter, brochure, website, or annual report.
  • Approach local businesses that could use your help. Introduce yourself to merchants in your neighborhood. Advertise your services regularly in the local community newspapers and trade association newsletters to reach business owners who may be interested—or offer to write an informative article for their journal, which will serve to increase your visibility.
  • When approaching a prospective client, ask (or learn in advance) what challenge(s) they face. Show what you can do for them. In fact, use side-by-side, before-and-after examples of your previous work—or of the client's own content—to illustrate how your editing can improve their material. This can be especially helpful when speaking with someone who doesn't quite realize they need an editor or understand your role. For example, suggest to a merchant that you can make her promotional pieces easier to understand or her website copy less dense, eliminating customer confusion and promoting faster sales. Help the merchant anticipate the benefits of using your editorial services.
  • Look at the publications produced by organizations you're affiliated with—can you run an ad in a nonprofit event program or be listed as a sponsor?
  • Consider volunteering with nonprofits to build your range of experience and make personal connections. Even if you're doing other work—or if they can't pay much—you might donate some portion of your services, which could lead to paid work later while you support their cause (and yours!) now. And don't hesitate to include mention of pertinent volunteer or unpaid experience in your professional background; it still certainly counts toward your experience.
  • Depending on your situation, low-paying internships, too, can give you extra experience and add to your network of contacts, as you explore your interests and options "from the inside."
  • In the absence of available fully paid work in a specific niche category you find interesting, consider negotiating an adjusted rate or a barter transaction, or do a pro bono project, as a way to enhance your desired array of experience or smooth the way for you to break into a new area.
  • Sources for work leads:
  • You don't need to limit yourself to your local area when you search the job sites. You may already deliver some jobs via email without ever meeting a client in person, so there's no reason you couldn't search job boards in other regions. Why not try New York or Chicago or Phoenix...or Sacramento?
  • Barbara Fuller suggests ways to demonstrate professionalism and ensure repeat work:
    • Develop and maintain your professional skills through workshops and self-teaching
    • Demonstrate technological ability
    • Show that you understand the business
    • Communicate professionally
    • Show that your goal is to help the client
  • Barbara adds that establishing new work relationships can be done through networking, networking…and yes, more networking. The group agreed that no effort is ever wasted; some connections could bear fruit sooner, some later. To determine long-term success, Barbara advised maintaining both your professional and business skills. Continue your ongoing education—Editcetera offers a continuous selection of workshops to fortify and build your editorial skills, as do UC Berkeley Extension, Media Alliance, SF State and community colleges.

Many of us may shrink from the thought of engaging in hard-sell promotion of our freelance services, and with good reason. The best self-marketing can easily be a sincere, well-targeted offer of help where a need exists. And when we ground ourselves in legitimate self-confidence and offer real solutions to effectively help others meet their goals, a hard sell is not necessary—most people will be willing to listen to you.



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