When you’re building a career as a freelance editor or proofreader, it’s good to seek advice, right?
The trouble is that, as with many situations in life, there’s no single ‘right’ way of doing things.
A while ago I read a tongue-in-cheek blog post summarising conflicting advice on how to be a successful academic. It inspired me to think about the nuggets of wisdom that are often presented as undisputed truths to those seeking guidance about running an editorial business. Here’s my summary.
1. Devote plenty of time and effort to social media – but also don’t
✅ Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram can be great for raising your profile, engaging with potential clients and building relationships with colleagues.
❌ But social media can be a real drain on your time and energy. How does it fit into your overall marketing strategy? Would your efforts be better directed elsewhere?
2. Rely on word of mouth to gain new clients – but also don’t
✅ If people pass your name on to others, that’s great! It involves little effort on your part – other than ensuring you’re always providing an excellent service, of course.
❌ But it can be risky to rely on this as a strategy for finding work. What if the referrals dry up? How will you find new clients (or how will new clients find you)?
👉 Further reading: https://www.louiseharnbyproofreader.com/blog/word-of-mouth-marketing-for-editorial-freelancers-and-why-it-wont-work-if-youre-a-passive-marketer
3. Always charge an hourly rate rather than a rate per 1,000 words – but also don’t
✅ With an hourly rate, you should – in theory – be paid for the time you put in.
❌ But a rate per 1,000 words (or per project) rewards the efficient editor who uses time-saving tools and techniques. It also means the client knows in advance how much the work will cost.
👉 Further reading: https://aceseditors.org/news/2021/what-type-of-pricing-structure-should-freelance-editors-use
4. Refuse to edit in anything other than Microsoft Word – but also don’t
✅ If you’re skilled in using Word, it makes sense to focus on clients who use it.
❌ But you might be missing out on some interesting projects. Could you extend your skills into new areas [Google Docs, Excel, PowerPoint] to tap into different markets?
5. Refuse to work for free – but also don’t
✅ Working for free – often on the promise of exposure or further work, or for a client pleading poverty – is a mug’s game to be avoided at all costs.
❌ But if you’re looking for experience and the chance to practise your skills, perhaps for a worthwhile cause, you might gain as much as you ‘lose’ by volunteering your services.
👉 Further reading: https://www.forbes.com/sites/nextavenue/2018/05/14/when-should-you-work-for-free/?sh=7a229d58f556
👉 Also see this handy flowchart by typographer, graphic designer and lettering artist Jessica Hische: http://www.shouldiworkforfree.com
6. Always stick to your desired rates – but also don’t
✅ Accepting low-paid work can leave you caught in a trap of working for less than you’d like.
❌ But a low-paid project can sometimes have other benefits (raising your profile, giving you experience, providing at least some income), so it could pay off. And a big project with a lower rate might prove more profitable than several smaller ones with higher rates, as there’s less admin and set-up time involved.
7. Only work on material within your own subject area – but also don’t
✅ It’s great to carve out a specialist niche where you can apply your skills and expertise and feel comfortable with the subject matter. You can also market yourself as an expert.
❌ But restricting yourself to a niche can leave you high and dry if that market collapses. You’re also cutting yourself off from other subject areas and new types of work. And sometimes your perspective as a non-specialist can be valuable to the client, especially if the target audience aren’t experts either.
👉 Further reading: https://northerneditorial.co.uk/2016/03/25/to-specialise-or-not/
8. Find your own clients rather than working through an intermediary – but also don’t
✅ Working directly for your own clients allows you to quote the rates you want, set your own timescales and establish yourself as an independent professional.
❌ But you have to find these clients yourself. Working for an intermediary (such as an agency) takes the pressure off, marketing-wise, and can often provide a steady flow of work.
👉 Further reading: https://www.louiseharnbyproofreader.com/blog/who-finds-your-editing-and-proofreading-clients-for-you
9. Avoid showing your personality in the work environment – but also don’t
✅ It’s important to present yourself as a serious professional who can be trusted to do an excellent job. Clients aren’t interested in your personality.
❌ But clients are individuals too. Their purchasing decisions can be influenced by personal factors, so there’s nothing wrong with showing your character if the circumstances are right.
10. Take advice and inspiration from colleagues – but also don’t
✅ The editorial profession is a collegiate one. You should follow every piece of advice to the letter, while closely emulating other editors and proofreaders in running your business.
❌ But this will inevitably lead to frustration and burnout. By all means seek advice and observe how others run their affairs. Keep in mind, though, that not all advice will suit your situation (and a lot of it is contradictory anyway). What works for one person might not work for everyone.
👉 Further reading: Here’s the article that inspired this blog post, 10 steps to Becoming a Successful Academic – the definitive guide.
What conflicting pieces of advice have you been given?
[With thanks to Laura Ripper for comments and proofreading.]