Summing up 10 Years of Full-Time Freelancing
2019 marked my 10th year of self-employment. I am a full-time resume writer, copyeditor, and business copywriter. Here are my top freelancing recommendations learned from experience and my editorial colleagues’ generous chats and blogs.
Many of these suggestions are instructions to myself. Some may apply to freelancers from other industries. It’s a long post, and I hope you find here something that is useful specifically to you.
- If you can, lay the foundations for freelancing while employed with a company. The transition could be more efficient and fulfilling.
- Self-employment is a constant effort. Cultivate the right mindset. Qualities like patience, tact, persistence, and versatility are essential.
- Set up your work station early on and make it a pleasant environment.
- Identify your key skills and credentials, projects/genres you want to work on, and audiences who need your services. Do this gradually and regularly; this will be an ongoing task.
- Launch your website early on with a clear description of your services, work ethic, credentials, and fees. While there is value is waiting to have a larger portfolio of clients, testimonials, and credentials, there’s arguably more value in being findable online. You can add new training and achievements as you go.
✪ I recommend Erin Brenner’s materials on web writing.
✪ My own website was designed by Ginnie at https://ginius.me/
- Keep a list of your clients’ difficulties and recurring questions. Draft your web and blog content to help them solve these problems. Provide only useful content.
- Know your competition. Do not worry about the competition. There is enough work for everyone, and we all have different niches and skill sets. Know your subject areas, target client groups, and unique selling points. Market yourself accordingly.
- Think about your payment policies and contracts. Consider being paid up front in full or in part, depending on the project. When offering discounts or waiving rush fees, reflect the discount on the invoice.
- When clients reach out, be responsive and willing to provide samples, explanations of your service/process, and offer brief, free phone consultations. In a remote setting, establishing credibility is done via training, online presence, and the quality of work, but nothing replaces live contact and the ability to get to know your client by asking the right questions about their goals, needs, and expectations.
✪ The Subversive Copy Editor by Carol Fisher Saller is an excellent resource on author relations.
- Compliment clients using specific, authentic language. In editing, my goal is to provide 1-2 positive reader response comments per page to mark the portions of the text that are particularly successful and interesting. We all need positive reinforcement.
- Outline several simple steps of your process for your clients to let them know how to proceed if they want to place an order. Make it easy for them. This can be a PDF flyer and/or a web page.
- Use social media as a teaching tool, not a sales channel. People who find you credible and helpful will want to hire you.
- When sharing content, indicate what about it provides value to the clients and how they might best use it.
- On any platform, make it easy for potential clients to get in touch with you.
- Select marketing tools and strategies that you love. You will engage in them naturally and be genuinely useful.
✪ Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business by Louise Harnby is my preferred resource.
- Be findable online: develop your social media strategy, website (including ads, analytics, SEO, security), professional association directory listings, and free directory listings. Chose several channels based on where your target clients are. You will only be able to manage a certain number of listings. Keep them all in a spreadsheet or any other format that allows you to keep track of renewals/updates.
- Create lists of your ideal client groups. Note their characteristics, problems, needs, and behaviors.
- Create a list of companies you would like to freelance for. You can identify them by looking at conference sponsor lists, your colleagues’ employers on LinkedIn, local employment fairs, etc.
- Keep several drafts of cold emails for various client groups. Keep honing these letters to be concise and show how you can assist your clients. Include your unique selling points (briefly) and 1-2 links to your online presence or key publications.
- When applying for job ads, draft cover letters from scratch, for each specific employer.
- Learn the fundamentals of web writing, SEO, and social media algorithms to produce effective content that gets attention and offers quality. Readers appreciate applicable suggestions, white space, and low visual complexity.
- In addition to online presence, consider public speaking, podcast interviews, local college/university presentations, conference presentations and volunteering, Facebook Live interviews, and community events (book signings, library events, career fairs, local Chamber of Commerce meetings).
- Record an introductory video for your website or business social media pages.
- Keep a list of clients who agreed to be your references.
🎯 Professional Development:
- Attend conferences or live/recorded webinars via professional associations.
- Research, compare, and choose the training courses or certificates you’d like to complete.
- Explore professional associations by joining one or two each year, assessing their value, and choosing one or several you’d like to stay with long-term.
- Network with colleagues and other creative professionals (PR strategists, graphic designers, web designers, marketing professionals, etc.). We all have different specializations and can refer clients to each other.
- Choose several well-established freelancers in your field and study their materials for those who are starting out.
✪ In editing, I have learned countless useful tips from Louise Harnby, Katharine O’Moore-Klopf, Erin Brenner, Jake Poinier, and Richard Adin, to name a few.
- Select several professional development resources that you trust and like; participate regularly in learning and discussions. These can be Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups, listservs, professional associations, online courses, newsletters, blogs, and print materials.
- Develop ways to estimate your working speed for various assignments. This will help you quote fees with confidence. Charge for the value you deliver, not strictly for your time.
- From time to time, explore new audiences and genres. Learn about the market and demand.
- Write a list of your current, target, and transferable skills.
- Identify new training opportunities and new target client groups.
- Analyze your income and expenses regularly.
- Review and raise your rates every year.
✪ Consult Richard Adin’s and Jake Poinier’s materials on effective hourly rates and persuasive pricing.
- Think twice before providing services for free or at a rate below your lowest acceptable rate. People do not usually value the work they get for free.
- Decide early on how you will manage invoices, accounting, insurance, and other administrative matters.
- Find an accountant who has experience with self-employed workers.
- Keep a list of deductions you are allowed as a self-employed professional. This will help you plan business and training expenses. If you haven’t done this yet, meet with a financial advisor at your bank to discuss savings/investment tools and business accounts.
- Keep a list of all clients you worked with in a given year and consider sending winter holiday greetings to show appreciation.
- If you have a newsletter, decide how often you will send it based on your clients’ needs.
- Design the necessary templates (invoices, capability statements, etc.) with consistent branding (your logo and contact information).
- Consider environmental impact (delete useless digital data from time to time).
- Establish processes for data backup.
- Create an email signature that features key information you want your (potential) clients to know: links to your online directories, website, publications, free content, or social media. If most of your work is done remotely, your signature may also include your photo.
- Create and maintain a file with your life hacks—key terms, tools, keyboard shortcuts, style sheets, etc.
- Set your business hours and define your scope of services for yourself and your clients.
✪ Editors Canada provides definitions of editing skills here.
- Create back-up partnerships with several colleagues you can refer a client to, if necessary.
🎯 Health, Energy, and Productivity:
- Understand your energy levels and manage your energy, not time or workload per se. Think in terms of activities that replenish or drain your energy and plan the day accordingly. I allow for flexibility by listing my weekly goals in one column on the right in my weekly planner and spread some tasks out as the week unfolds. At the end of the week, I quantify the gross amounts earned and the number of projects completed; then I draft the goals for the next week.
- Do not delay investing money and learning time in software and equipment that will help you work more effectively.
- Explore insurance options and have savings for 6-12 months.
- Decide how many times a day you will check email to avoid distractions.
- Focus on one task at hand.
- Use noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs to limit the noise in your work environment.
- Schedule work in specific time slots to provide breaks to recharge your mind, move around, eat well, and lower the stress.
✪ Tanya Gold and Heather Saunders have started a great social media initiative #stetwalk for editors to share how we see the world on our walks.
- Save your clients’ positive feedback in a separate file. Use it as testimonials for your website (with the clients’ permission), reread it on days when you need some encouragement, and even include 1-2 brief testimonials on your resume.
- At the end of every year, review the list of your accomplishments and draft the goals for the next year (financial, personal, professional, training, travel, etc.).
- Network on an ongoing basis (online and in person) to be known and share ideas. The editorial hive mind is very helpful.
🎯 Resources to start with:
- Facebook groups: EAE Backroom, Conferences for Editors, EAE Ad Space, Editors’ Association of Earth, Business + Professional Development for Editors, Binders Full of WRITING JOBS
- Louise Harnby’s marketing books and blog
- Katharine O’Moore-Klopf’s Copyeditors’ Knowledge Base
- An American Editor blog and the resulting book The Business of Editing: Effective and Efficient Ways to Think, Work, and Prosper by Richard Adin
- The Subversive Copyeditor by Carol Fisher Saller
- The Copyeditor’s Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications by Amy Einsohn
- Editorial Niches: A Companion to Editing Canadian English by Editors Canada
- Garner’s Modern English Usage by Bryan Garner
- Writer’s Market
- Children’s Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook
- Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook
- Literary Marketplace
- Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary (online)
- Oxford Canadian Dictionary (print only)
- Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus
- Chicago Manual of Style (History, Art History, Fine Arts, Anthropology, and Philosophy)
- The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (Psychology, Education, Business, Economics, Linguistics, Nursing)
- The MLA (Modern Language Association) Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing (English, Literature, Foreign Language, Communications, Religious Studies)
- Several grammar books of your choice (Maxine Ruvinsky, Mark LeTourneau, or Anne Stilman, to name a few)
Resources for freelancers:
Job Application Process for Freelancers (Editors Canada blog)
Job Search and Application Strategy for Freelancers (ACES blog)
Conferences for Writing, Editing, and Publishing Professionals
How to Design a Flyer to Advertise Your Services
Top Challenges Freelancers Face & How to Address Them
About the author:
Tanya Mykhaylychenko is a professional resume writer with a background in content writing, university teaching, and IT staffing. She is a member of Editors Canada and Career Professionals of Canada. For more information, please visit https://tm-editorial.com/about/.