The key to a successful freelance business is a steady supply of projects. First, decide how many hours a week you’d like to work — 20, 40 billable hours? — and then set out to achieve your goal. Your professional life and income will become almost predictable. Here are some suggestions.
Develop a strong client base
If you have only one or two clients, you’re sunk when they experience a downturn or your contacts there move on. Security comes with numbers. With multiple clients you’ll have too many projects at times, but you can work long hours or share the load with trusted colleagues.
Get a variety of clients
Different kinds of clients pay different rates for editing/writing/communications. It’s generally recognized that corporations offer the highest pay, followed by governments, indie authors, non-profit organizations, and publishers. If you love editing manuscripts selected by trade or scholarly publishers, balance them with a few reports or other well-paid but less interesting assignments.
Include one ongoing project in your mix
A multitude of short, one-off projects means a lot of searching and administrative work for you. Try to find one steady project that you’re responsible for — such as a scholarly journal, magazine, newsletter, report or other publication that appears regularly. The schedule will clash with your own plans on occasion, but, again, arrange for a colleague to take over in your absence.
Market yourself strategically
In recent years the number of in-house jobs with traditional publishers (newspapers, magazines, book publishers of all stripes) has declined. There are ample opportunities for freelance work — with established and indie authors alike — but the competition for attractive projects can be fierce. If you’re new to the business, you’ll need to get yourself known through an impressive website, online connections and skillful networking in editors’ and writers’ groups.
Develop multiple skills
The more professional services you offer, the more attractive you will be to clients. Today, most print and online publications use only one editor, so it’s not enough to offer copy editing alone. To be fair to your clients, you need the full set of substantive, stylistic and copy editing (see “Twelve-Step Editing”). And why stop there? Many editors are also writers and so can add rewriting, ghostwriting and researching to the mix. Others combine indexing, proofreading or design/layout services. As university and college courses proliferate, along with seminars, workshops and webinars, more and more professionals are becoming teachers, too.
Train for success
How do freelancers develop new skills? That’s difficult, now that many will never work on staff and have the advantages of experienced colleagues and in-house training. The obvious ways are to take courses, read books and articles, and participate in online chats. But how can editors know when they have reached an acceptable professional level? I have three suggestions:
1/ Register for a graded classroom or online course at a well-regarded university or college. There you should expect good assignments drawn from real manuscripts and helpful, personalized comments from your instructor.
2/ Try to arrange a mentorship with a gifted editor to shadow edit a long, challenging manuscript (“Mentoring”). You’ll get invaluable experience and have a “master” edit to compare with your own work.
3/ Never turn down an opportunity that excites you. It may seem scary, you may not feel up to the task, but find an experienced coach and do it well. You’ll never regret that breakthrough.
Previous post from Rosemary Shipton: Those Unpublishable Manuscripts.
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