If you’re a freelance editor, you’ve probably heard the advice that you shouldn’t “put all your eggs in one basket.” It’s good advice: relying on just one or two clients can land you in trouble if a client drops you or goes out of business. Diversifying your client portfolio is a good way to make sure that you always have work coming in. But what does that diversity look like?
Identifying what kinds of clients you have can help you plan your business. To do this, look at your client roster and then ask some questions:
- Which clients offer a steady, reliable stream of work? Which don’t?
- Which clients pay the best rates?
- Which clients pay quickly? Which require a long wait?
- Which clients require a lot of additional administrative work, research, or professional development?
- Which clients offer you opportunities to raise your profile or build your network in valuable ways?
- Which clients are likely to lead to future work? Which might potentially hire you to provide additional services?
- Which clients do you enjoy working with? Which interest you or align with your passions?
From there, you can categorize your clients. I provide some categories below, but depending on your business, you may want to add others.
Now look at your financial records. What proportion of your income in a given year comes from each kind of client? What categories do you want to increase, and which could you do without?
BREAD-AND-BUTTERS: These are the solid, stable, decently paying, maybe-not-that-exciting clients that you count on to pay the bills. They send you lots of work on a regular basis. Perhaps you’re proofreading articles three days a week for a local news website for a flat monthly retainer fee, or you copyedit every press release a company sends out. Ideally, you want clients from some of the other categories to become bread-and-butters.
BLUE CHIPS: These are exciting clients! They’re the ones who pay the highest rates, ask you to edit for your favorite authors or star clients, or drop thousands of dollars in grant money in your lap. They might ask a lot, but you are highly motivated to deliver. You are always pursuing these.
One of mine is a company that produces large, public-facing documents about health that approaches me a few times a year. They generally need a quick turnaround and they use a style manual I don’t often work with, but they pay well—including rush fees—and are well organized and professional. I’m happy to make room for them in my schedule because they make it worth my while. Another is a well-known band; their jobs aren’t a huge payday, but I’ve been a fan of their music for many years and it’s a joy for me to work with them.
HALLEY’S CLIENT: These are the folks who love working with us but aren’t frequent enough to be bread-and-butters. For me these are usually individual authors who come back every few years, when they’ve written the next book. You can’t rely on them to pay the bills on an individual basis, but please enough new clients and you’ll always have a Halley’s or two in your roster. They also love to give referrals, so make sure to ask!
ONE-OFFS: These are one-time clients who, for one reason or another, are unlikely to turn into longer-term clients. Resumés and small-business websites tend to be one-offs; so are one-time projects whose authors are not normally writers. A company that needs a substitute for an employee who is on leave may be a one-off, but keep your eyes open: sometimes jobs that look like one-offs can lead to regular work with another part of the company.
CATTLE CALLS: These are the low-paying agency jobs, the ones that make you bid on projects or take a large cut of your fee. If you need to fill a gap in your schedule or make it through a difficult period, they can help, but you won’t build a sustainable business by relying on them.
NEW VENTURES: These are exciting projects that might not pay off until later. For example, a colleague and I recently launched an online class on academic editing. We aren’t paid directly for the hours we put into developing the course, recording it, and putting it online, but as more people sign up, that work becomes a long-term investment. Writing a book, blogging, and other passion projects often fall into this category.
If you’re an Excel wizard, you can create a pie chart from your data; if you’re not, try a free data visualization app like Meta-Chart, which allows you to plug percentages or other numbers into a variety of clear and attractive charts and graphs.
If you have a sense of how each of your clients fits into your goals, you’ll be better positioned to decide where to focus your energies and how to market your services.