Tag Archives: client

Flying solo: Focusing your website on your ideal client

In this Flying Solo column, Sue Littleford gets deep into the business of editing text for your website.

When it comes to the content of your website, there are four stages: the initial content creation of the text, editing it down to do the job efficiently, making it accessible and keeping your content fresh. Let’s take those in turn. (I’m not going to talk about using images in this article – but keep ’em relevant, keep ’em in small file sizes for faster page loading, use alt text for accessibility and be aware of copyright issues.)

Creating the initial content

To paraphrase Malini Devadas, of the recently (and, I hope, temporarily) mothballed Edit Boost, marketing boils down to (1) understanding what you do and (2) who you do it for, then (3) telling them about it.

Your website (alongside the CIEP Directory, for Professional and Advanced Professional Members), is the easiest place to demonstrate the first two, and do the third.

It’s clear that people don’t give your website much time to make a good first impression. I learned at the 2022 CIEP conference that websites have 50 milliseconds in which to do it.

Your content should therefore be attractive and engaging (how I hate that word ‘compelling’ in this context!), be easy to access in terms of language, layout and colours, and focus on the potential client.

So here’s the biggest piece of advice today: create an avatar of your ideal client, then write for them, specifically.

How can you help them? What problems do you solve? Why should they hire you?

It’s always about them, not about you. That should steer your writing.

Think not about what you offer, but about what your client needs.

Keywords are a big thing

These are the search terms that people use in browsers to find what they need. And as search engines have been developed to work with more natural language, so they now reward keywords that appear in natural writing, rather than being crammed in artificially.

Keywords come in three flavours, depending on their length. The shortest are short-tail keywords, and are a word or two long. Long-tail keywords are little phrases – five words or more in length. Medium-tail keywords fit snugly in between, at three or four words long. This flexibility means that using keywords of different lengths can still make the writing appear natural while getting good search engine optimisation – the SEO you hear bandied about.

Short-tail keywords are necessarily more generic: ‘proofreader’, ‘editing’ and so on. The longer the keyword, the more specific it becomes, which is why you need to know the keywords that people type into their search engines.

How do you find out the keywords people use?

There are a number of services available, some paid for, some not. If your website is live, Google’s Search Console will show you the keywords that people already use when finding your site.

Or you can simply search for your service in your browser (like most of the world, I use Google as my search engine, most of the time, anyway) and see what comes up at the bottom of the screen under the heading Related Searches or People Also Ask.

Google screenshot showing related searches

Google screenshot showing what people also ask

There you’ll see what people are typing into Google, which is what you want to incorporate into your content – somehow – so that you are found, too.

For instance, I’m a copyeditor. I don’t proofread – proofreading and I just do not get along. But I know that ‘proofreader’ is the catch-all term for what I do, and people outside the publishing industry will be searching for that, in all probability, or maybe for ‘editor’ far more than ‘copyeditor’. So, I lob ‘proofreader/​proofreading’ into my text whenever I can, even though I don’t offer that service. Google doesn’t read the negative!

Editing the content into shape

Once you’ve created your content (which you can, of course, tweak endlessly even after it’s live) you now need to make it look the part.

I buck the trend, as about 70% of my traffic is on computers, and only 30% on mobile devices (of the mobile devices, tablets barely get a look in. Most weeks, it’s just computers and phones). In most cases, those figures are reversed, I understand (I suspect it’s because I market to publishers and packagers, and people are searching during work hours at their desk; if you market to indie authors, I’d guess those figures flip over in favour of phones).

It’s therefore essential to think of how your content will look on a teensy-tiny phone screen, not just how it looks on your 33-inch monitor.

So that means subheadings (keyword magnets) for ease of navigation, short sentences and short paragraphs.

We editorial professionals do like our words. We use far too many of them (guilty as charged) so here’s a chance to practise your word-cutting on your own text.

Ask yourself what that ideal client of yours wants to know, and will be willing to read. It’s not necessarily what you want to say …

Aside from being visually accessible in terms of paragraph and sentence length, structured around those easy-to-navigate subheadings, you’ll want to make sure the language itself is also accessible. Take a look at a couple of ‘Flying solo’ articles on just this topic: Good communication is accessible and Conscious language and the business-conscious editor or proofreader for some guidance on this.

Then pare away at your text until every word earns its keep – but don’t be so concise that reading it is hard going.

When you’ve finished, your text should be doing a shining job of demonstrating your editorial skills (showing, as much as telling) and speak directly to your ideal client.

Shaping the edited content

When it comes to importing your text to your website, think about possible formatting issues, as you would with any text that is to be published.

Incorporate white space, avoid walls of text and make sure it is easy to find the bit you want. Choose an easy-to-read font, that’s big enough to read comfortably, even on a phone.

If you have things you want your reader to click on, have a button if you can, rather than an in-line link. On my site, the button to email me is pretty visible – different colour, big but not ridiculous.

Accessibility

In 2021 I completely renewed my website, including an entirely new colour palette. One of the hardest parts of the build was to make sure that there was sufficient contrast between text colour and background colour on links and buttons.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are supported by many websites offering to check a page and give instant feedback. My web guy and I spent a couple of hours going back and forth making sure we found colours that worked with the palette I’d chosen (I’d already had my logo redrawn – no going back! But the Coolors site helped us find compatible shades) and passed all the accessibility tests. I see that new colour contrast guidelines are on their way.

Keeping the content fresh

Search engines much prefer sites that don’t look neglected. That means periodically updating your text, whether that’s small tweaks, complete rewrites of a page, adding items to a resources page, posting a blog article regularly, adding new testimonials or adding whole new pages.

Throughout all your updates, do keep that avatar of your ideal client in mind.

But every now and again, as your business grows and you develop as an editor or proofreader, do ask yourself whether your ideal client has also changed. If so, work out a new avatar and then review all your content with that paragon at the forefront of your mind.

If you are getting more firmly established in a niche, you may want to trim your offer to reflect that, and stop targeting the type of client who is no longer a good fit for where you’re taking your business.

If you are adding services – maybe you’re a proofreader who now also copyedits, or now offers manuscript evaluation or developmental editing – then you have a new ideal client. Or one ideal client per service. Again, keep your text under review with that or those ideal clients front and centre of your thinking.


Buy a print copy or download the second edition of Going Solo: Creating your freelance editorial business from here.

About Sue Littleford

Sue Littleford is the author of the CIEP guide Going Solo, now in its second edition. She went solo with her own freelance copyediting business, Apt Words, in March 2007 and specialises in scholarly humanities and social sciences.

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

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Photo credits: header image by JESHOOTS.com, person on a computer by Andrea Piacquadio, both on Pexels, screenshots from Google.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Scammy editors, cautious editors, and the clients in between

By Kia Thomas

An open bookRecently, I received an email from the client whose manuscript I was working on. It said: ‘Just touching base to see if we are still on track for delivery of my manuscript by xx?’

I had given the author no reason to believe we wouldn’t be, so I could have, were I the type to take things overly personally, bristled at the implied questioning of my professionalism. But I hadn’t been in contact for a while (she’d sent the manuscript well before Christmas, but I wasn’t due to start until January), and I knew the author was on a tight schedule, so I sent a quick message back to say yes, still on track, and if I got done a few days early I’d send it back immediately.

Scammy editors

I received another email straight away: ‘Wonderful. Thanks for the update. With the last editor, I sent a similar message and never heard back. It was a relief to even just see your name pop up.’ Then I remembered – the reason this client came to me was because they had been horribly let down by another editor, who had just disappeared on them after taking payment.

Editors like this exist, unfortunately. Outright scammy editors, or just unreliable people who have no idea how to act in a professional manner. They can be found in every profession, and ours is no exception.

Kind editors and cautious editors

Most of the online editorial circles I move in are filled with people who would never dream of taking advantage of a client. They would be ashamed of doing a half-arsed job. They could never imagine ignoring a client for weeks on end. This kind of behaviour is so far from their own experience of being an editor that I think many of them don’t quite understand just how often this happens to unsuspecting authors, and how devastating it can be. So when they start working with a client who questions all their procedures and ways of working, or who bombards them with emails and requests for progress reports, those editors can see these things as signs of an overbearing client. To be fair, that’s sometimes exactly what they are. But sometimes they’re the sign of someone who’s been badly burned. Every editor, and every business owner, for that matter, should remember that not all clients are approaching the relationship with the same expectations and baggage.

Red suitcase on a beachI think that as editors we could sometimes do better when it comes to understanding our clients’ concerns. There are people out there doing great damage to the reputation of our profession, in the indie world at least, and there’s a lot we can do to undo some of that damage and restore our collective good name.

Balancing risk: when cautious editors mistake a concern for a red flag

Freelancing is full of risk. Good business owners do what they can to protect themselves from those risks. But we need to be aware of the effect this might have on our potential clients. For example, you could ask the question ‘Should an author pay an editor in full before receiving the edited manuscript?’ in an editors’ group and a writers’ group, and you’d get two different sets of answers. Editors would lean towards ‘Always get payment first’, backed up with horror stories of being ripped off by clients. Authors would lean towards ‘Never pay first’, backed up with stories of being ripped off by editors. Both things happen. Both sets of concerns are legitimate.

The problem comes, then, when we start seeing the expression of these concerns as red flags, when they might be nothing of the sort. An editor might be the perfect person for an author’s work, but if both have been cheated with regard to payment in the past, and so the editor refuses to release the edits before payment, and the author refuses to pay before seeing the edits, they’re at an impasse. A potentially brilliant working relationship could be lost before it’s even begun.

Empathy, honesty and communication

I think the solution lies, as it so often does, in empathy, honesty and communication. Our clients are investing sometimes huge sums of money with us, and handing over a piece of work that could have taken them years. That’s a lot to trust a total stranger with, so we should respect that. Where we have developed practices to protect our businesses from risks, perhaps we could be better at explaining to clients why. We don’t have to, of course – we are entirely free to run our businesses as we see fit and only work with clients who accept that unquestioningly. But honesty and openness are generally good things, and we could be opening up great opportunities for ourselves by bringing more of those things into our interactions with potential clients.

And perhaps there is also room for compromise. Again, no one has to compromise on anything if they don’t want to. But are there ways we can protect ourselves while also allowing our clients to protect themselves? For example, I have recently decided to move to asking for payment before delivery of the full edited manuscript. But I recognise that this might make some new clients nervous, so I offer to send an edited chapter on request, any chapter of the client’s choosing, so they can be reassured I have actually done the work.

It can be a difficult thing, to give people the benefit of the doubt when the stakes are high. A non-paying client, or one who oversteps boundaries, can cause huge problems for an editor. But we aren’t the only party who has something to lose. I wrote once about editing with kindness. We can do business with kindness too.

 

Kia Thomas on a beachKia Thomas spent 11 years in the arts before becoming a freelance fiction editor at the beginning of 2016. She specialises in contemporary romance and is an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP. Kia lives in South Tyneside, and she can often be found networking with her colleagues in online spaces (ie spending too much time on Twitter).

 

This article was originally published on Kia’s blog on 4 February 2020. Many thanks to Kia for granting permission to amend and republish it.


Photo credits: notebook Kiwihug, baggage – Waldemar Brandt, both on Unsplash

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Five key questions to ask a potential client

Decorative image of a wood with question marks on the tree trunksBy Jo Johnston

1. What services do you need?

Hands up who’s had a potential client asking for proofreading when they meant rewriting, or editing which later turned into needing a project manager to liaise with stakeholders?

Phew … glad it’s not just me.

Most of us editors can share funnies or horror stories about how a client has misunderstood something key during the briefing stage, or how we, as the supplier, may have failed to clarify something that later is glaringly obvious.

So if you offer more than one type of editorial service, double-check that your potential client understands the differences between them.

The definitions of copyediting and proofreading can vary from company to company, so don’t assume that just because the client is a communications professional, the definitions they use are identical to yours. And make sure you have the brief in writing in email or confirmed in a phone call, so that you can iron out any creases in understanding.

Takeaway: Include an outline of service definitions on your website or create a PDF handout to share at the briefing stage.

2. What’s the deadline and delivery method?

Some clients assume that you’re sitting around twiddling your thumbs waiting for their work to land; others understand that you may be juggling a range of projects.

So a vital first question is, ‘when’s the delivery date?’ Even if your client doesn’t have a date in mind, set one yourself. This gives you a goal to work towards and you can schedule in other work around the project – just as you would if you were working in-house.

Everyone has working preferences. So what format do they want to work in – Google Docs, Word, or PDFs? How do they want any amendments shown – as tracked changes and comments or edited directly in the document?

‘Assume nothing, question everything’ is the mindset you need when starting a new project.

Takeaway: Make sure that details such as the deadline or preferred way of working are listed in your project proposal.

3. Will you accept my rate and working terms?

Some freelancers say that they lack confidence when talking about the bees and honey, and let’s not even mention working terms.

It may be tempting to leave this bit until last, after you’ve established a good client relationship first, but don’t leave it so late that you’ve spent bags of time discussing the brief or even visited head office, only to find out that they won’t budge on your price and won’t sign your contract.

Being clear about prices upfront on your website could lead to an increase in higher quality clients. It may help to get rid of time-wasters or those trying to ‘pick your brains’.

Takeaway: State your rates and terms clearly and in writing, either on your website or project proposal.

A laptop displaying the time in a large font, on a desk.

4. Can you tell me about your target audience or how you will use the resource?

Most of the time, a copyeditor or proofreader is part of a much wider project team. You may have been drafted in at the last hurdle to make sure everything’s tickety-boo, or right from the beginning – as is often the case with developmental or substantive editing.

Whatever stage the project is at, you need to be brought up to speed. Find out who the project is aimed at and how it will be used. It will help you to do a much better job if you know why you’re doing it.

And don’t forget to include research within your project proposal – it’s perfectly OK to charge for background reading and familiarisation.

Takeaway: Ask to see a project brief, terms of reference or target audience research.

5. Can you give me feedback once the job is complete?

The job’s done and dusted. A week, a fortnight … darn it … a few months go by, and you’ve heard diddly-squat from your client.

One way to avoid this state of paralysis is by saying at the briefing stage that you’d like feedback once the work is complete. You may not feel you need this kind of reassurance, but you do need to make sure that the project is finished and won’t bounce back in six months.

Some clients are up against print deadlines and may not have time to respond – you’re not an employee after all. So it’s worth keeping all this in mind and not taking silence personally.

Takeaway: Get client feedback on the radar. It paves the way for you to ask for a testimonial in the future.


What are your key questions when liaising with a potential client? Let us know how you go about starting a project.


Jo Johnston's editorial assistant – a black labrador.CIEP Professional Member Jo Johnston has been working as a copywriter and editor for 20 years. She started off in the public and non-profit sectors, but now helps to finesse the marketing work of all business types from ambitious start-ups to global giants. As part of its social media team, Jo posts professionally as the CIEP on LinkedIn. Elsewhere on social media, she unashamedly shares countless photos of her beloved Labrador.

 


Photo credits: Trees Evan Dennis, Laptop – Markus Spiske, both on Unsplash; Mabel the Labrador – Jo Johnston.

Proofread by Alice McBrearty, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

 

 

 

 

Working with self-publishing authors: expectations and implementation

Self-PublishingIn this post, Sophie Playle looks at the practical elements of working with self-publishing authors.

Note: This post has been written with editorial professionals in mind. As with any type of client, it goes without saying that it’s important your skills are fit for purpose. This post doesn’t go into the foundations of training and finding clients, but instead looks at what an editor might consider when working directly with self-publishing authors.

1. Assessing the project for the right service

The number one thing to remember about self-publishing authors is that most of them do not know much about the editing industry. Their main job is to write, after all. They’re often aware that they need editorial help to self-publish professionally, but are not sure exactly what this entails.

Many writers will think they just need a quick proofread to catch any typos when the reality is that most would benefit from a development edit and a copy-edit first. These terms are often unfamiliar to writers, and since there are so many editors offering slightly different variations of the same service (which is also often called something slightly different), a little confusion can only be expected.

Communication is key with self-publishing clients. (Well, all clients, really!)

Ask what the client wants to achieve, and what they expect from your service. Take a look at a sample of the work – this is crucially important. Remember: there are no gatekeepers here, so the quality of work will vary greatly.

If you believe the client’s expectations don’t quite match what the project needs, open a discussion on why you think this, and how you can help.

Alternatively, if you can’t help – for example, if the client really needs a development edit but you specialise in proofreading – decline the work and point them in the right direction, whether that’s to an editorial friend who offers a different service, or to the SfEP directory of editorial services, or some other resource.

2. Assessing the project for compatibility of style

This might be most relevant to fiction writers, but in my experience many self-publishing authors are looking for an editor who ‘gets them’. They want to feel that the project that they’ve poured their heart and soul into, possibly over the course of several years, is in safe hands and that the editor isn’t going to mess it up.

An independent author doesn’t have the assurance of a publishing house that you’re going to do the best job. They only have their own assessment of you and your editing skills – based on recommendations and what they’ve gleaned from your public professional presence. They want to know they’ve made the right choice.

In fact, the client’s freedom to choose a compatible editor with whom to work is a benefit traditionally published authors often don’t get.

It’s in the editorial professional’s best interest, too, to work with compatible clients. For development editors, this might mean working with an author in your genre of interest. For a copy-editor, this might mean working with an author whose style you understand. There’s nothing more horrifying to a writer than to receive an edited manuscript in which the editor has stripped out all nuances of their voice.

Working with compatible clients means you can do your best work, and your client will feel they are in good hands.

How do you assess for compatibility? You might want to offer a sample edit – paid or free, that’s up to you. You might want to get to know your client and find out more details about their project through email or phone conversation before you commit to working with them.

There are lots of ways to go about this. The result should be that both you and your client feel confident that you understand each other.

3. Setting boundaries and looking after your client’s emotional needs

Self-publishing authors often require a little more reassurance and communication from their editors. They usually don’t have an agent or a publisher to answer their questions – they rely on you for your professional knowledge of the industry.

You’re often their main professional contact, and this means they have one burning question they want to ask you: ‘Is my work any good?’

I’ve heard varying opinions from freelance editorial professionals on whether or not we should pass judgement on a self-publisher’s work. Do we refuse projects if we think they are of unpublishable quality? Or should we simply do the job we’re being paid to do?

On the one hand, we are not gatekeepers. And whatever we say in response to this question would be purely opinion. (If I’d been asked whether 50 Shades of Grey would have been a success, I’m confident I would have said no!) We’re being paid to conduct a service, and so that’s what we should do. The rest is out of our control.

On the other hand, if a self-publisher asks for our thoughts or hires us for our professional skills, don’t we have an obligation to pass on our professional opinion? Isn’t that what they’re paying for? (Or should they only expect this if they’re paying for a critique?)

It’s a conundrum. There’s no right answer. My one tip? Make sure you communicate with your author. Don’t offer unwanted criticism (or unwanted mollycoddling), and let your author know your stance on the issue before you begin working together.

Be clear on your professional boundaries from the outset. You’ll be working directly with the creator, and this person will be emotionally invested in the project and possibly not have much experience of navigating the publishing world as a professional business owner (a hat self-publishers must decide to wear if they want to be successful). Clear terms and conditions are key. Look after yourself, as well as your client.

In summary, self-publishing clients have slightly different needs to other kinds of clients, and these should be taken into consideration. The main things to think about are whether they are commissioning the best service for their project, whether your editing style is best matched to their writing needs, and the emotional and professional boundaries you will address in the working relationship.

When it comes down to it, these are all issues of consideration and communication. I hope these pointers will help you and your self-publishing clients get the most out of your work together.

Sophie Playle profile photographSophie Playle, of Liminal Pages, is a freelance editor who specialises in fiction and often works directly with writers. For brownie points, connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn. (Please note: No real brownies or points will be awarded.)

Proofread by Samantha Stalion.
Photo credit: kodomut

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Originally posted in January 2015; last updated February 2022.