I studied services marketing in college and before my studies began I had a perception of marketing as a complicated and theory-based business system practised by big US multinational corporations. By the time I finished my degree, this view had changed: for me, services marketing boils down to a simple ‘Which customers do you want to serve and how can you persuade them to buy your service?’ So, in relation to a freelance editorial business, my top five ‘marketing’ tips are very straightforward: be nice (provide excellent customer service); be focused (which specific customers do you want to buy your service?); be professional (build your reputation and protect it); be online (establish a professional online presence); and be generous (network).
1. Be nice
As an editorial professional you are a service provider. You may have the keenest editorial brain in the world and a long list of top academic qualifications but unless you realise that in providing a service to customers you must look after those customers as best you can, then your freelance business will not be all it can be. You are an intangible part of the service your client is purchasing and the client has to want to work with you. As Steve Baron and Kim Harris write, ‘customers often use the appearance and manner of service employees as a first point of reference when deciding whether or not to make a purchase’. In every aspect of your service to clients – be they an independent author, a publishing house, an academic or a corporation – be friendly, helpful, genuine and, most importantly, customer-driven. Use every opportunity to put your client at ease, make it easy for them to work with you, and make them want to work with you again. As retired Irish retailer Fergal Quinn puts it, ‘Think of the main task as being to bring the customer back.’ It sounds simple, right? But so many service providers fail to understand the importance of this concept. Think about it for a minute: are there certain people/shops you won’t buy from, no matter how low their prices, simply because they or their staff are rude and unhelpful?
2. Be focused
Don’t try to be all things to all people: identify your editorial speciality and then actively target those clients who seek this specific area of expertise. According to proofreader and author Louise Harnby, ‘Your educational and career backgrounds will help you to identify core client groups.’ A good way to start thinking about this is to imagine someone you’ve just met asks you what you do. Can you define it in approximately ten words? For example, my response would be: ‘I am a freelance copy-editor and proofreader providing editorial services to fiction authors and corporate clients.’
3. Be professional
Clients are paying you (hopefully) good money to provide them with a service. They want to know that their money is well spent. If they haven’t worked with you before then from their point of view they are taking a risk by contracting your service. You can help minimise their perception of that risk by behaving in a professional manner. This is especially the case if you are starting out as freelance editor and have minimal testimonials or no portfolio. Behaving professionally extends to all aspects of your business. Meet project deadlines or alert the client as soon as possible if there will be a delay; issue formal quotations, project agreements, invoices and receipts; acknowledge client correspondence promptly; treat a client’s project with confidentiality; and so on. If you are a member of an editorial professional body, act in accordance with their code of practice.
4. Be online
Again, it’s very simple: if potential clients don’t know you exist how can they hire you? If they search online for editorial services will they find you? A business website is an excellent opportunity for you to control the message you give to potential customers. WordPress, Weebly and About Me offer free, easy options to create and maintain a website. You can list your services, portfolio, client testimonials, qualifications and, most importantly, your contact details! Ensure the content of your website accurately reflects your values and professional approach. Social media (Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, etc.) provide effective means to interact with potential clients. For example, if your target market includes independent authors join one of LinkedIn’s writers’ group forums. Help potential clients find you by listing your services in online directories, such as the CIEP Directory of Editorial Services.
5. Be generous
The more you give the more you receive, and what goes around comes around. They may be clichés but also good mottos for life – and for business! Network not only with colleagues (online through social media, and in person at editor meetings, conferences, courses, etc.) but also with members of your target market. Don’t focus solely on yourself when networking; few like to converse with someone who drones on about ‘me, me, me’. Think about ways you can be helpful: perhaps if your work schedule is booked up and you cannot take on an author’s project you could refer the author to a trusted colleague and thus be helpful to both; share a colleague’s interesting and informative article/blog post with your network of colleagues, friends and clients; or introduce a client to someone who can add value to their project further down the production process, such as an illustrator or typesetter. Genuine goodwill and generosity will come back to you tenfold.
What’s your top tip for marketing your freelance editorial business? Which marketing activity has worked best for you and which have you found the most difficult?
Baron, S and Harris, K (1995) Services Marketing: Text and Cases. Macmillan, London
Harnby, L. (2014) Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business: Being Interesting and Discoverable. Louise Harnby, in association with The Publishing Training Centre
Quinn, F. (1990) Crowning the Customer: How to Become Customer-Driven. The O’Brien Press, Dublin
Based in Wexford, Ireland, Mary McCauley is a freelance proofreader and copy-editor working with corporate clients and independent fiction authors. She is a member of both the CIEPand the Association of Freelance Editors, Proofreaders and Indexers (AFEPI) in Ireland. She helps run the AFEPI Twitter account and also blogs sporadically at Letters from an Irish Editor. Around the time she started her editorial business she took up running – not only to keep fit but also to help maintain her sanity. One of these goals has been achieved. Say hello to Mary on Twitter, Facebook or Google+.
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.
Originally published May 2014; updated June 2021.
The biggest one missing is site design – the graphics, fonts and style of your website makes a huge impact on how seriously people take you (and how much they’re willing to pay you).
Yes, Derek, that indeed could be included in the Be Online tip: “Ensure the content – and design – of your website accurately reflects your values and professional approach.” Thanks for that!
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Thanks, Mary, for sharing these tips.
I apologise for having little to share in return! In retrospect, I plunged into my profession and learned along the way. My aim has always been to do every job to the best of my ability; that seems to be enough, as I’ve been receiving repeat business since my first project, through word of mouth. Quite simply, I love my job, and I think that shows 🙂
Thanks, Felicity. It always helps to love your job! Referrals and repeat business are so important to us freelancers, but it’s probably a good idea to have some other avenues open to us as well so as to soften the potential impact of losing a regular client, etc.
Thanks again, Mary! I do have back-up options, but I haven’t needed to use them so far.
Thanks, Mary, for presenting on this subject at the recent SfEP 2014 conference. It was a non-stop tour de force. Great work.
Thanks, John and thanks so much for chairing the session for me. I really enjoyed the entire conference – I learned so much from it and met such great people. Well done to Christine and to everyone who put so much work into making it such a fantastic experience.
Thanks for sharing these tips with us, some very useful information! Great article!
Thanks, Jules! I’m glad you found it helpful.
Hi Mary McCauley, the points on which you have focused are perfect for the proofreaders and the one who want to become a professional proofreader, I think he/she should work according to these points only it will be beneficial for him/her.