Earlier this week, the Editors Association of Canada hosted a Twitter chat on working as a freelance editor. It was a quick hour, with guests Rachel Stuckey (@NomadicEditor), Kaarina Stiff (@kaarinawrites), and Marie-Christine Payette (@Mahika24) and other participants sharing lots of wisdom.
1. Find Your First Client
It’s a cliché problem: you can’t win clients without experience but you can’t get experience without working for clients. How do you break in?
If you had an employee position prior to becoming a freelancer, use the relationships to jump-start your business. Let your former coworkers know you’re freelancing and ask them to refer clients to you and write recommendations for your website or LinkedIn profile. Where appropriate, offer your services to your former employer.
List yourself in relevant directories—ones that focus on publishing professionals or on the market you want to work in. I won my first client by joining MediaBistro; I created my directory listing and answered ads on the site. It wasn’t a huge job, but it was a start.
Most importantly, though, is to network. Said Frances Peck, “Tell all friends, family, neighbours, colleagues you’re freelancing. The leads will come.”
2. Pitch Your First Clients
You’ve identified a potential new client and you want to make a pitch. What are some best practices?
First, have a mutual friend or acquaintance refer you. Ask someone with a good reputation and whom you trust to introduce you to the potential client. LinkedIn is a great way to discover common connections and request introductions.
Next you might want to send some work samples. Stiff advised sending published work samples, not edits. The samples should showcase the skills the client needs. You can also share your own published work, project lists, and testimonials to demonstrate your expertise.
Alternatively or additionally, you can offer to do a sample edit on the project document. Word count on a free edit ranges from 250 words (1 standard manuscript page) to 1,000 words (4 standard manuscript pages). This lets the prospect see that you won’t destroy their work and will actually improve it.
3. Win More Clients
You can’t stop at one client; you have to keep marketing and selling yourself to bring in more clients. Networking and referrals remain top of the list for winning new clients. Ask current clients to refer you to others. Said Peck, “Tell good clients you’re open to more work so they don’t assume you’re booked.”
Stuckey noted that volunteering can also connect you to potential clients. While Stuckey doesn’t edit for free—it is her paying gig, after all—she’ll volunteer for groups that interest her. One participant noted that volunteering to work the registration desk at a conference is a great way to meet people. In addition to editing conferences, check out your prospective clients’ conferences. You may be the only editor in a room full of the people you want to work for!
Cold-calling potential clients can provide attendees with limited success. Sophie Playle noted freelancers should consider it, though, if they want to work for traditional book publishers “because they rarely have time to look for freelancers.”
More freelancers are creating content and participating in social media to get potential clients’ attention. Publishing blog posts and live presentation materials such as PowerPoint decks are two strategies you can try. Once published, share those links in social media so others can find them.
You can’t stop there, though. Have real conversations with people in social media. You want to build relationships with your social media audience. They should get to know the professional you. You’re building trust and goodwill that could someday turn into paying work.
No matter what kind of marketing you do, though, remember that it takes time to pay off. The key is to be consistent and patient. Certainly, the more time you put into marketing, the faster it can pay off, but we’re still talking about a year or so when you’re just starting out. Remember to take care of yourself.
4. Learn More About Freelancing
Finding your first few clients is just the start of your new editing business. In addition to marketing and selling, you will need to do the actual editing and handle scheduling, billing, and more.
Build a good foundation for your freelance business, and it will take care of you. Purchase our Master Class Launching a Freelance Editing Business with Katherine Pickett, and start building that foundation today!