Winning in the Freelance Game
Being a freelancer is hard. When clients don’t have work for you, you cease to exist for them even though your livelihood depends on them or on people like them. You need to be a team player, but often you will be dropped from the team abruptly when a project ends. This demands resilience.
Here are a few thoughts on flexing your resilience muscles by being proactive — boxing clever, if you like. (Some sporting metaphors are thrown in, because I like sport.)
We freelance editors can partly create our own world through the questions we ask and the initiatives we take while editing. A phrase that is used in sport these days — especially rugby — is “painting pictures.” The idea is that players try to influence the referee’s attitude towards them by being seen to do the right thing, in a manner that may be stylized and borderline exaggerated: they paint favourable pictures of themselves and of situations.
Similarly, freelancers can paint pictures for clients. You can portray yourself as being especially helpful and efficient, for example — a problem-solver, an obviator of headaches. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and consider whether the picture they’re seeing is the best possible one. As well as doing the right thing, be seen to be doing the right thing. Consider what they want (an easy life, basically). Don’t sit back and allow them to paint their own pictures (which, for all you know, might be grotesque caricatures).
Another adage from rugby is “Get your retaliation in first.” Visualize and pre-empt problems. Sometimes explain your thinking in comments to the author, even if that is not strictly necessary, to give an impression of efficiency and knowing the score. Copy the client in emails to the author as appropriate. Email the client with updates. If there are problems, these should be perceived as occurring despite you rather than because of you.
Be a team player
A client rang me recently about a book that was at the printer’s. There had been some glitch with the typesetter’s file; the client wanted me to go through a few pages of the printer’s PDF thoroughly, as a spot check. I had already been paid for the job; the client knew that I wouldn’t charge for this extra work. It’s good to be a “team player” even when you’re not on the team — that way you remain in the client’s squad, and it becomes more likely that you’ll be picked for the next game.
Polish your trophies
As well as making our own world, we influence the world around us. When you walk into a bookshop, you may not see many of the publications you have worked on, but they are out there, somewhere. They are better for your work, and this means that the world is better, too. The human need for clear communication has been served; you have made a difference. Your trophy cabinet is dispersed, but no less real for that. It’s a reflection of your work ethic and expertise and a harbinger of your future successes. Bear it in mind.
Previous post from Brendan O’Brien: Is It All About the Author?
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