Marketing tips for freelance copyeditors and proofreaders

I was recently invited to give a talk about marketing to one of my local SfEP groups. Here are the tips I put together for them. I hope you find them useful too.

Marketing does not need to be scary or complicated. Keep it simple, and do what works for you. You can have a website, a blog, be active on social media, attend events, join freelancer networks, have an email mailing list, phone potential clients. But you don’t have to do all (or any) of this if you don’t need to. But what you do need is to get and maintain a sustainable level of paying work.

In essence, marketing can be explained very simply – it’s the process by which you put your services in front of people who want to buy them, and finding a way of persuading them to buy from you (much like in a street market). You want to get noticed, and even sought out, by prospective clients.

Three questions:

  • What services are you offering?
  • Who are the people who will buy your services?
  • How can you persuade them to buy from you?

What services are you offering?

Are you a generalist or a specialist? As a specialist you may find it easier to stand out from the crowd, and you may also be able to charge higher rates. As a generalist, you might be able to get more variety of work, or more regular work, but you will probably have to work harder on your marketing to persuade people to use you rather than others.

Who are the people who will buy your services?

People might know what they need and seek you out (or someone like you), or they may not realise that they need you and perhaps might be persuaded to use you. If you are a specialist, you need to know your specialist market – who they are, and how they commission specialist work from freelancers. And you need to make yourself visible, through your online profile or through outreach, to your specialist market.

How can you persuade people to buy from you?

If prospective clients are considering whether to use you or not, they will want to know if your skills are relevant to their requirements, and whether you will do a good job at a reasonable price. Client recommendations, online information about your specific services and specialisms, and who you have worked for can all help. Try and put yourself in your client’s shoes to understand why they might need your services. Why should people employ you? What problems do you help them solve?

Getting your name in front of potential clients, and persuading them to use your services.

As an independent freelancer your product is YOU. If the term “marketing” seems a bit salesy, maybe think of it as personal public relations, and establishing a soft-sell platform for yourself.

How should you present yourself online?

Have a look at what other freelancers do. Look at their LinkedIn profiles, their websites, Twitter feeds, Facebook pages. What do you like? What do you dislike? What do you think they are trying to convey? Are they doing this successfully, or are there things which you think could be clearer. Use your editing skills to analyse how successful the text is! Looking at how others present themselves online can give you an insight into what kind self-presentation feels right for you.

Freelancer networks and directories

There are various professional organisations and networks through which you can reach your potential market. Many have directories of members where you can be listed. The obvious one is the SfEP, but others include Find a Proofreader, Reedsy, Whitefox. It’s also worth looking at Book Machine.

Think carefully about the keywords you use in directory entries, especially if you have a particular specialism. For example, in the SfEP directory there are only 17 people who come up in a search for “Mathtype”, and only 2 people with “Sibelius” in their directory entry. These people have a very high likelihood of being found by anyone searching the SfEP directory for freelancers with these skills. Again, it’s a question of knowing what you offer, and then making sure you make yourself visible to potential clients by making sure the text about you contains the kind of keywords your clients might search on.

Websites and blogs

Should you have a website?

Probably. It doesn’t have to be extensive, but a website is a very good shop window for you and your services. If you want to create your own website try WordPress, which is a very user-friendly platform – blog-based but with fixed pages too. WordPress.com is free (you can pay for enhanced features, but the free version has lots of features and an extensive range of designs to choose from). Other well-regarded website building platforms include Squarespace, Weebly and Wix. It’s quite straightforward to build your own website using one of these platforms, so there is no need to pay a web designer.

Advantages of a website:

  • Having your own website gives you professional credibility
  • You can link to your website from other online places, providing more ways for people to find you.
  • Raises your online presence, and helps you be discoverable via search. Relevant content and keywords can enable people to find you.
  • Provides an excellent platform for posting information about your specific services, client endorsements, FAQs, case studies, information about your fees and how people can contact you.
  • Can be updated with new information at any time.

Should you blog?

A personal blog is an excellent way of raising your profile. Blog posts can give people a clear idea of who you are and where your expertise lies. The downside is that you need to be prepared to write posts regularly (at least quarterly), and you may not want to commit the time to doing this. Try writing guest posts for other blogs before deciding whether you want to set up your own.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn can do many of the things that a website can. Your LinkedIn profile can include details of your specific services, endorsements, contact information. You can provide a link to your website. You can share updates with your connections, and you can also write longform posts. Posts become part of your LinkedIn profile, get shared with your network, and also reach the wider LinkedIn community. See this slideshare for more information.

Twitter

Should you use Twitter?

It’s a misconception that if you use Twitter, you have to have something to say. Many people do not tweet things themselves, but use Twitter to hear what others are saying. How useful Twitter can be for you is influenced by how well curated your “following” list is – who you choose to follow. If you follow key people who have interesting information to share, then Twitter can be a really useful source of ideas and information. You can think of it as a headline service with links.

Try these for starters:

SfEP Official @TheSfEPthe SfEP official Twitter feed

Oohpub @oohpubOut of House Publishing. Producing books, journals and digital content for busy academic and education publishers.

Manual of Style @ChicagoManualClear, concise, and replete with commonsense advice, I offer the wisdom of a hundred years of editorial practice.

Guardian style guide @guardianstyleThe Guardian style guide editors on language usage and abusage, and lots more

Susie Dent @susie_dentThat woman in Dictionary Corner

Babel @BabelzineBabel is a language and linguistics magazine for both experts and non-specialist readers

If you find someone you want to follow, take a look at their Twitter profile and see who they are following, and who follows them. This is a great way to find more useful people to follow.

Also, look to see if useful Twitter accounts have created any lists. Twitter lists group together tweets from a curated group of Twitter feeds. So, for example, @copyediting has a list called “professional-orgs” which brings together tweets from 15 organizations for editors and other publishing professionals. The SfEP has a list of members who tweet.

Twitter hashtags are also useful. A hashtag is a word preceded by a # symbol, which Twitter automatically turns into a tag, so if you click on a hashtag you will see all tweets that have been given that tag. Hashtags are often used for events so, for example, people are tweeting about the 2016 SfEP conference using the hashtag #sfep16. There are also hashtags relating to activities, such as an #amediting one. Simply type the hashtag into the Twitter search box to bring up the related tweets.

Facebook

I’m not a fan of Facebook for business purposes. I prefer to keep Facebook for personal use. Facebook posts do not come up in Google searches, and in my experience the set up process for business pages is not intuitive – if you make a mistake it’s not easy to fix it. Facebook is useful for local businesses though, so if you have a local client base then you may want to look at Facebook.

Outreach: emailing, attending networking events

Emails are a good way of keeping in touch with existing clients and also a way of reaching out to potential new clients. Consider sending regular emails, perhaps every couple of months, to keep your name and your services in front of people. For existing clients, don’t forget to mention other services that you offer. If a client uses you for proofreading, they may not realise that you also offer substantive copyediting, so why not remind them every now and then? For potential new clients, mention work you have recently done for similar customers, perhaps point them to a case study on your website.

Use a simple customer database system for keeping track of existing and potential clients. Insightly is very good, and the basic version is available free (click on the grey “sign up free” button bottom left on the pricing page). Insightly also links with Mailchimp, which you may find useful if you email groups of contacts regularly.

Networking events are a good opportunity to get away from your desk, and broaden your horizons. Meet other people with similar challenges to yours. Meet people from different but related industries who provide a different perspective. Hear about industry developments and new technologies.

Some examples of websites and blogs from copyeditors and proofreaders:

Louise Harnby: http://www.louiseharnbyproofreader.com/

Louise’s blog: http://www.louiseharnbyproofreader.com/blog-the-proofreaders-parlour

Beverley Sykes: http://www.superscriptproofreading.co.uk/

Clear and informative website, includes testimonials and also has a good FAQ page. Beverley is @BevSuperscript on Twitter.

Kate Haigh: http://www.kateproof.co.uk/

Lots of endorsements on the site. Also a very good blog, with contributions from other proofreaders. Kate tweets as @Kateproof.

Denise Cowle: http://www.denisecowleeditorial.com/

Denise also has a good blog on her website. See this recent post about marketing.

Katherine Trail: http://www.ktediting.com/

Kat has an active blog, and her website also includes a video! She also has a resources page where she shares things with other editors, including a time sheet template, a quote calculator, a Microsoft Word styles tutorial video and a guide to KDP and Createspace. Offering free resources (and regularly pointing people towards them via social media) is a good way of increasing the number of visitors to your site, and this in turn will improve the site’s search ranking with Google, so this is quite a clever thing to do. Kat also has a Facebook page.

Further reading:

Louise Harnby has published a book about marketing your editing and proofreading business. You can read an extract through the “search inside” facility on Amazon.

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