In one of many LinkedIn group posts that had me shaking my head over the lack of business sense of “colleagues,” someone recently said, “I found it very hard to get anyone to respond to my website for editing. How do you all do it?”
That was the entire post. No info about her background, no URL for her site (had she provided one, some group members might have gone to her site to give her input on why it wasn’t working), nothing about any methods she has tried to find work or clients.
My response may be helpful to STC colleagues, since it goes beyond that bare question:
“I had a few years of in-house writing and editing jobs that gave me, in addition to skills and experience, an excellent networking base. Once I was freelancing full-time, I made a point of being active in professional organizations that provided job listings, among other services, and expanded my networking range. Most of my current projects come from people finding me, rather than my having to find them, but I still get new projects through listings from professional organizations. I also get some from being active in LinkedIn groups.
“The key is ‘active.’ A website is passive. You have to be active. You can’t sit there and wait for clients to find you. That means joining, and being visible in, professional organizations. Maybe joining a local writers’ group or writers’ center to meet potential clients, if you want to edit books. Sending cold queries to publishers and being willing to take their editing tests.
“You also have to tell prospective clients why they should hire you—what skills and experience you have, which style manuals you know, what your approach to projects and clients might be, etc.”
Readers of this blog, as members of STC, already have figured out the value of joining a professional association. And many of you also have figured out the value of not just being what I call a checkbook member (pay your dues and wait for the association to do something for you), but of being active and visible in that organization. If you’re planning to go freelance, you have to make sure that people know who you are and what you can do. Just as you can’t just pay your dues and wait for STC to make you a better or more-successful tech communicator, you can’t just sit there and wait for prospective clients to stumble over your website and hire you for freelance work.
It’s easier for freelance writers to find new business, in a way—it isn’t that hard to find publications to query with article ideas, while editors may have to be more creative in finding and connecting with prospective clients. Proving our experience may be easier for writers as well, because we can usually point to our published work, while editors and proofreaders often can’t display their projects—a lot of editing/proofreading work is proprietary, and a lot of clients don’t want the world to see how badly their projects needed our editing skills!
The key to getting more work is to be seen and heard. That means not just having a website, but being active in places like STC communities and online groups, Twitter, LinkedIn, and even Facebook—and not just with questions or requests for help, but with the occasional answer, tip, and help for colleagues. It also can’t hurt to let everyone you ever worked with, and even everyone you know in the personal realm, know that you’re freelancing and available for projects. Keep it low-key and professional, but you have to get the word out about your freelance business, at least initially.
Getting the word about your business isn’t easy, but no one ever said freelancing would be easy. Having your own business never is—it’s fulfilling, rewarding, and often exciting, but it isn’t easy.
For a freelance tech communication business to gain traction and succeed, the freelancer has to move past the “build it and they will come” mentality and move into one that’s more of “Here’s who I am and what I can do for you.” Don’t be afraid to make the first moves in getting the word out about your freelance business. Once you establish that groundwork or foundation, work will start coming to you by referral, word of mouth, and other passive outlets, but you have to make those first moves.
Ruth E. Thaler-Carter has made presentations on freelancing, editing, and proofreading, and websites for local and national STC conferences and webinars. In addition to her freelance writing, editing, and proofreading business (www.writerruth.com), she is the owner of Communication Central, which presents an annual conference for freelancers. STC members are entitled to a colleague’s discount for the conference: http://www.communication-central.com/2013/events/2013-conference/.