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How to Start an Editing or Writing Business

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!


Judy Vorfeld 2014Are you a writer or edi­tor who needs employ­ment? Perhaps you want to work for me or some­one like me. I’m an Independent Contractor, and I do not hire employ­ees. But per­haps I can help you.

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.

How to build credibility

howto-accountabilityYou 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 you 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.

Analyzing Yourself

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:

  1. Is my type of busi­ness in con­stant demand?
  2. How many other busi­nesses offer the same services?
  3. Where might my busi­ness be in three to five years?
  4. Can I cre­ate a demand for my services?
  5. Can I effec­tively com­pete in terms of price, qual­ity, and delivery?
  6. Can I price my ser­vice to give me the pro­jected profit?
  7. Do I have the time required to effec­tively mar­ket my business?

Financial Considerations

howto-financeStart 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.

Direct Mail

howto-directmailWhile 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.

General Tips

  1. Create an invoice tem­plate in QuickBooks, Quicken, or Word. I can give you a sample.
  2. Create a brief but com­pre­hen­sive pro­posal tem­plate. I can give you a sample.
  3. Create a work­sheet to use for each assign­ment. I can give you a sample.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Leave your busi­ness cards in as many places as possible.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. If you have a web­site, make sure to add the URL to all your busi­ness doc­u­ments, includ­ing busi­ness envelopes.
  11. 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.

Gratitude and Ingratitude

In the small busi­ness world, you need both return cus­tomers and referrals.

howto-thankyouAlways give clients more than they expect. Treat your clients with warmth. Be grate­ful even for those who take too much time or seem crit­i­cal. There are always life lessons in such situations.

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.)


howto-general-networkingYou 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.


howto-financeYou 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:

  1. What is the dead­line for the final copy? (Does this give you time to do thor­ough proofing?)
  2. What soft­ware is to be used?
  3. If using Word, will it be saved as a Windows or Mac file? And do you want me to use Track Changes?
  4. What is the size of the project?
  5. Is the source mate­r­ial hand writ­ten, in a com­puter file, or on the Internet?
  6. What is the final result to be?
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.

Targeting Your Market

howto-targetSelling 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.


howto-volunteerSchools … 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.



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.