Did you know that now is a good time for many writers and editors to start their own businesses? If you’ve been laid off, let go, or simply can’t find employment as a writer or editor, maybe I can help. Also, be sure and read a companion piece: Help for new editors and writers!
Unless you are an established Independent Contractor, compliant with IRS guidelines, most writers and editors will not hire your services. They don’t want the complications of withholding taxes, Social Security, of carrying Workers’ Compensation Insurance, and of paying benefits, etc. Here are some of the differences between Employees and Independent Contractors.
Creative people are often sensitive, subjective people who can spot an error at 1000 feet, but can rarely market their own businesses or promote themselves with ease. And do they dislike asking for money? Usually.
In our adventure together, I would like to help you by pointing out resources and ideas in the following areas:
- How to market yourself with grace and class.
- How to expand your network.
- How to switch industries and pitch opportunities in non-traditional environments (plumbers and painters also need good copy to sell).
- How to pitch to collegiate organizations or associations to increase critical mass.
- How to sell publishing and public speaking: sell the magic of copywriting and why your services matter.
You know you have much to offer, and that strong ethics are important. Somehow you must convey this to your potential clients. You may want to join a good professional organization, but membership costs are sometimes prohibitive.
Above all, I recommend that you get a WordPress website. This will be the most effective way for your to reflect your ability, energy, and talent. And it will be done by writing your website for your prospects. Everything in a website should be done with your visitors in mind. Make it easy to navigate and easy to understand.
You must become known as someone people can trust and respect, and you must get the word out. Knowing you’re talented isn’t enough. You must come up with credentials. Good credentials. I’m not talking about degrees, although they are valuable. Sometimes experience is what you have to offer. And savvy potential clients understand the value of experience. If you don’t yet have experience, do not worry. All in good time.
TIP: On my website’s “About Judy” page, I mention having worked for a church, bank, and construction company. Deliberately. I want my prospects to identify with me in some way, if possible. I also have a philosophical statement on that page. Again, deliberately. Don’t limit yourself to being a good writer or editor. Be a good writer or editor who also coaches Little League, owns a Harley, runs marathons, or volunteers for hospice.
It’s time to ask yourself some difficult questions. By analyzing yourself and your goals, you may decide to stop right now. You may also decide to wait, start immediately, or totally change the focus of your service. Ask yourself:
- Is my type of business in constant demand?
- How many other businesses offer the same services?
- Where might my business be in three to five years?
- Can I create a demand for my services?
- Can I effectively compete in terms of price, quality, and delivery?
- Can I price my service to give me the projected profit?
- Do I have the time required to effectively market my business?
Start with a business plan and a marketing plan. Once you’ve started, you may become the target of many businesses and organizations. Self-discipline and good analytical skills help decide what technological tools, insurance, and advertising, etc. to buy, and what organizations to join.
New, exciting toys are everywhere, but are they for you? Spend cautiously.
When considering every expenditure, ask yourself if – and when – this will help you bring in revenue.
Consider this: could you make better use of your money by joining a successful organization that will provide you with professional knowledge, support, community exposure, leads and information, than by paying for extensive, expensive advertising?
Never allow any salesperson or ad to distract you from a solid fact: it’s your money.
TIP: My take on advertising your business: for a one-person writing or editing business, ads may not be the best way to go. Most potential clients want referrals or want to learn about you through your website.
While a mass direct mail campaign offering discounts or coupons may not be for everyone, mailing postcards or letters to targeted audiences may bring results. If you have a limited budget, send out just a few each month.
Do your homework. Contact only those businesses that may want to use your services … address the message to the person in charge of such decisions (this means that you need to find out the person’s name). You can be fairly sure that if you send to “Manager, Human Resources,” or “Dear Sir or Madam,” and don’t include the person’s name, your letter will probably be recycled.
Your potential client has needs. Address those needs by offering solutions. The same for your website. Features tell, but benefits sell. If you send letters, include a superb business card at the very least.
Make your writing bright, to the point, and lay it out professionally. The two most important items in a direct mail letter are the headline and the P.S. You can educate, generate calls, or generate sales, but do only one at a time … be specific … make it easy.
One of the most important words in your business is the word “you.” (Keep this in mind when writing and editing websites, particularly those that offer services.) Give the reader a reason to respond … use bullets … follow up with a phone call a week or so after the mailing.
Don’t sell yourself short. It’s a perception thing. You are going to work hard to position yourself as a professional, and everything you say and do will add to or detract from this image. I’m sure you understand the value of building a solid foundation held in place by patience and hard work.
- Create an invoice template in QuickBooks, Quicken, or Word. I can give you a sample.
- Create a brief but comprehensive proposal template. I can give you a sample.
- Create a worksheet to use for each assignment. I can give you a sample.
- If you are discussing a large project, tell your client you’ll need a non-refundable deposit prior to beginning the project. If he/she values the project and you as a professional, they’ll gladly provide the deposit. Accepting large jobs without requiring a deposit, even if the person was referred by someone you know, may not be a good idea. You are a professional. Act like one.
- Brief comments by happy clients on your website can add value (Endorsement or Testimonial Page). After you’ve finished a job, tell your client that you’d appreciate a referral. Okay, how do you ask without seeming pushy? If the person says something complimentary, simply reply, “May I quote you on my website?” A satisfied customer is your best advertising medium. Of course, some jobs are confidential, but just be alert to praise as a potential marketing tool, and see if that person’s words can help your business.
- Because of your type of business, you may want to place “By Appointment Only” on all your marketing material, especially if you provide a street address.
- Leave your business cards in as many places as possible.
- Every time you mail a payment for a billing, include a business card in the envelope. You never know who might see it. The Accounts Receivable person may have a neighbor whose sister-in-law is writing a book. You never know.
- If you have a print newsletter, take copies with you and hand them out generously. Ask friends who have businesses to let you put small stacks of your newsletter in their lobbies. A newsletter helps reflect your work and your personality.
- If you have a website, make sure to add the URL to all your business documents, including business envelopes.
- Whether you are phoning, mailing, or emailing: be warm, low-key, professional, and brief. And it never hurts to do some homework on a company ahead of time. If you want to make inroads, make sure you’re a match.
In the small business world, you need both return customers and referrals.
You may wish for a bigger budget for promotional items and gifts, but that doesn’t mean you can’t say “thank you” in many imaginative, inexpensive ways.
Your tokens of appreciation don’t need to be lavish. And most clients don’t expect (or want) a constant barrage of mugs, magnetic business cards, imprinted pens, and calendars.
Take the time to snail mail a thank-you note or letter each time you get a referral from a customer. Send little notes at random times just to stay in touch, letting them know they are appreciated. These days, an occasional brief phone call or email message when you want nothing more than to say “thanks” is novel enough to be appreciated.
When you find an article on the Internet that reinforces a client’s point of view, send her/him the link. If you find a newspaper or magazine article that s/he might like, take time to clip it and mail it, along with a short note.
You show appreciation when you place a link from your site to theirs, refer them to a third party, or mention their expertise in a forum or social media.
However, if you have a client who is abusive … delinquent in paying for your services … not merely critical, but just plain mean, you have every right to explain that you will:
- Begin the next assignment as soon you are paid in full for work done to date (if you even want to continue).
- Withhold files and/or hard copy until you’ve received final payment.
Sometimes two people simply aren’t a good match. That’s understandable. But clients with little or no self-respect often treat others with little or no respect. If this is happening to you, it may be time to stop and re-group. Explain that they will clearly be happier with someone else, then finalize the situation. (Do not say you’ll refer them to someone else. That isn’t nice.)
You are the head of your marketing department, and may need to mingle with people in your community and on the Internet who can ultimately refer others to you. Healthy networking builds professional credibility.
There are many types of networking, both local and online. Find and stay close to people with knowledge and experience. Learn about them … then learn from them. Be slow to join local networking and social media groups until you know that you are a “fit.” It is possible that the world doesn’t care what a writer/editor has to eat at McWendy’s. And when s/he was there.
You can discover all kinds of price lists on the Internet, and they can be a good guide for you. I found a super writer’s pricing guide at Writer’s Digest. In order to get it, you must sign up for their excellent email newsletter.
When quoting a job (unless you’re quoting by the word or page), take your time. I cannot over-emphasize this!
Don’t let your client push you into quoting too quickly. I once agreed to quote by the job rather than by the hour, and let my prospective client’s sense of urgency pressure me into quoting before I’d analyzed several major factors … oh, what a difference the font size makes! Three to five more minutes and I would have made a better decision. Oh well.
The national average for the finished product is about six double-spaced pages per hour, including typing, editing, proofreading, and printing. This is at 12-point type, and is approximately 250 words per page. However, much depends on the quality of the source material … the formatting complexity … extent of editing, etc.
Determine these before quoting and be sure to see the source before quoting:
- What is the deadline for the final copy? (Does this give you time to do thorough proofing?)
- What software is to be used?
- If using Word, will it be saved as a Windows or Mac file? And do you want me to use Track Changes?
- What is the size of the project?
- Is the source material hand written, in a computer file, or on the Internet?
- What is the final result to be?
- Some people charge by the hour or page, and some by the job. Others use combinations. It takes experience and good judgment, but we will still make mistakes. Ask around.
- Consider requiring deposits on large projects. Much depends on the consistency and credibility of the client. Create a Proposal that explains your key policies and procedures and also allows for estimated job costs. You’ll want to talk with the client about payment terms, but sometimes talking isn’t enough. When you invoice, always put down the payment terms (net at once, net 15, etc.). If you forget to note the terms, you may have to wait months for payment.
- Always make clear that final proofreading is the client’s responsibility. Put this in writing on your proposal, and anywhere else that seems appropriate.
Cheerfully ignore promises … to earn thousands of dollars per day, week or month … if they were true, the world would be overflowing with millionaires.
I hear from (and visit with) people who believed that by just liking to read and write and having a computer and some typing skill they could earn a substantial income. Not so. It takes things like time, determination, organization, finding good people to mentor you, and the willingness to make mistakes and learn from them. Experience and education help, but if you’re a savvy, gutsy person, give it a try.
Wanting to be at home isn’t enough. Having been laid off isn’t enough. Generally you need a business plan, a marketing plan, and the time and money to implement them. Too much work? Perhaps. But it may make a difference in the success of your business … and the length of time it takes to reach your goals.
For a good business plan idea, use Google.
Selling is a component of marketing. Marketing includes foresight and planning for a profitable future while emphasizing and understanding the customers’ needs. This places a responsibility upon your understanding of the customer and delivering a service that fills a need.
You need a written plan, not something you’ve scribbled on a piece of scratch paper. But it doesn’t have to be lengthy or large. Try to spend time with professionals online and in person to get some good marketing ideas. But before you begin, ask yourself what you are willing to do within the scope of your business. Some of the questions below will not apply if you plan to do all your work virtually.
- Do you prefer writing or editing?
- Do you want people coming to your home, or will you meet them in a non-threatening environment?
- Do you prefer all virtual work as opposed to local work?
- Will you work five, six, or seven days a week? What hours?
- Will you decide the software you’re to be skilled in, or let the client or potential client determine that? If so, who pays for you to learn new software?
- Do you plan to have a list of other trusted, skilled professionals who offer complementary services? If not, will you research in this area?
- How long can you wait before you begin earning some income?
- What parts will the following play in your business: Direct Mail? Promotionals? Networking? Community involvement?
Did you know that generally businesses offering services get many of their clients from referrals? How? By networking … and networking is a powerful marketing vehicle if you’re committed to reaching your goals. Traditional networking groups may or may not work for you as a writer or editor. Chances are slim that you will get much business from others in the group (nor will many of them get your business, since most networking groups have a majority of people who are just starting out). But again, if you’re creative in presenting yourself and your product, you may get referrals. And sometimes it’s important to get out of the office and mingle with others.
Schools … churches … hospitals … social and human services organizations … retirement homes … children’s groups … police departments … shelters … thrift stores … animal rescue … the list is endless. Community service is a way to contribute something rewarding while spreading the word about you and your business.
Many nonprofit (501c3) organizations welcome people who know computers. They may need help in typing data, designing brochures, or training for their key staff. They almost always have funding needs!
You’ll probably meet some of the finest people in the community in such groups, and as you earn their trust and respect, they may eventually ask you — for example — to sit on an advisory board. This allows you to give to the community and also to have a higher level of personal and business exposure.
You may want to note these affiliations in your website, newsletters, and social media pages. But never enter this arena primarily for personal gain.
- Anything by Seth Godin. Subscribe to his blog, so you can get his brief, pithy messages in your email. Highly valuable.
- Rich Becker: Words. Concepts. Strategies.
- Danny Brown. The Human Side of Media and the Social Side of Marketing.
- Jane Friedman: Helping authors & publishers flourish in the digital age.
- Ivan Levison, Copywriting.
- SBA Business Plan Outline.
- Starting an Online Business for Dummies by Greg Holden (he interviews me in his book).
- Sign up for my small business ezine, eCommunication Food for Thought.
- Writer's Digest: a site you'll want to bookmark. Download the Pricing Guide, and will help you price your services. Just seeing the various types of writing listed, and how rates are figured, is amazing and valuable.
- Editcetera, a self-governing association of freelance publishing professionals.
- Bay Area Editors Forum, a nonprofit with killer descriptions of every phase of editing.
- The Chicago Manual of Style Online is a “must.” Or at the very least, buy the book. It is the most widely used style manual in existence.
- Help A Reporter Out: over 200,000 mainstreet and expert sources responding directly to your query on your terms.
- The American Heritage Dictionary is a fine resource. Very current.
- Visual Thesaurus (subscribe)
There isn’t any. Things change daily. Your business will evolve, as will your business plan and your marketing strategy. And these are Good Things. But there’s more … I now have an eBook out that gives new editors and writers tips and sample forms. It’s called “Help for new editors and writers.” Remember, I’m here, and happy to do a bit of “lite” mentoring if it will help.