When you’re new to your editing career – or any other freelance career for that matter, it’s tempting to rush around picking up every job you can. But it’s really worth evaluating the companies with whom you choose to work, from the very beginning. At the very least, you can avoid making yourself uncomfortable or making a small amount of money for a large amount of time. At the most extreme, you can avoid losing money, or even breaking the law! Read on for my hints and tips, and do add a comment if you can add any more!
Do conduct background checks
When a company contacts you to book your for a job, it’s easy to say yes without thinking. But it’s always good to do a few basic background checks.
- If the company has found you through a professional organisation or website that has discussion boards or feedback mechanisms, check what other people have said about the company
- Run a Google search for [company name] and phrases such as “bad payer”, “didn’t pay”, “don’t work with]
- Ask your peers or any networks you’re in (on and offline) about whether they’ve worked with them before
I love it when a company approaches me via Proz, a jobs website I belong to, because members can see peer reviews of companies that are also members. The only time I’ve had a problem with a company that booked me through Proz was when I forgot to look at the “Blue board” and assumed they’d be OK.
Do check what they say on their website
This can tell you a lot about the company that wishes to book you. Is their website professional? Does it have terms and conditions? If it’s a middle man itself, does it seem to offer fair terms to its clients (and what’s the difference between what it charges its clients and what it’s offering to pay you – always interesting!).
You can also find massive red flags by doing this. This article was inspired by a friend, new to the editing business, who told me that they were doing tests for a company that offered student proofreading. When we had a look at their website, they were boasting that their rewriting service was able to bypass plagiarism-detecting software! Now, of course, it’s not ethical to rewrite student work – so we could see immediately that this was NOT a good company to work for. Which brings me nicely onto the next point …
(If you’re considering going into student editing / student proofreading via middlemen, it’s worth reading my Choosing a Proofreader: Student Edition article and using that to help you decide who to work with.)
Don’t do something that goes against your ethics – or the law!
Is it worth undermining your own ethics to make a bit of cash? I don’t think so, personally. One, you’re going to feel uncomfortable about what you’re doing, and two, it might come back and bite you later. I certainly wouldn’t want to work with the company I talk about in the above point, and I also wouldn’t want my name to be associated with any company I wouldn’t be proud to be associated with!
I’ve turned down jobs for companies that operate in areas I’m not personally comfortable with (someone writing a website in order to attract people in the sex industry to his professional services springs to mind), and I have certainly turned down work for SEO and linking farms, which I don’t agree with as a concept. I’ve never been asked by a company to write an essay for a client, but I know that I’d say no if I was asked. You can find articles by people who work for content farms, or write fake reviews of products for money, or write essays for people and feel they can justify it*, so it’s not black and white, but do stick with your own boundaries and don’t upset yourself by crossing them,
I have written text for marketing websites that I find to be a bit cheesy and I am not exactly hugely proud of. But they don’t tell any lies (and it was “white label” work, i.e. my name is not on it. Doesn’t mean I’d go against my ethics if my name wasn’t on something, though!).
Do go to the edge of your comfort zone; don’t cross out of it
I took on my first transcription job as a “why not?” kind of test – but I did have audio typing training, so I knew that the skills involved would be close to ones I already had (read more here about what happened next). I also once took on a job doing some audio recording for a website that needed an English accent. I didn’t really have the experience or equipment to do this, and although I did a decent job, I turned down further requests to do this kind of work. The return on investment and the professionalism of the job I was able to do didn’t match my expectations or requirements, so I ditched that idea.
So do push yourself a bit and move into new areas by all means, but don’t jump too far in one go.
Don’t do (too much) work for free
I will do a test for a company for free, but I won’t do more than one, small job for them for free. And I don’t do anything for free for a commercial company (I do do the odd bit for other start-ups or local small businesses, to help them out) nowadays.
Even if you do end up doing something “for free” for a company while you’re building your client base and establishing your reputation, make sure up front that they will supply you with a testimonial / reference with their name and company name that you can publish on your website if you do a good job for them. This does give you some sort of return for the work.
It’s also OK to do work for a ‘skills exchange’ – I wrote some marketing materials for someone who designed some graphics to use on this site. Don’t do too much of that, though, as the tax man can get quite interested in that sort of thing …
The main point is, you don’t want to end up labouring away at unpaid work and – heaven forbid- turning away paid work because you’ve got to get the project finished!
Do ask for recommendations
Hopefully you’ll have been building networks and contacts in your area of work. I have lots of colleagues who I can turn to for advice, and I have a few colleagues who are just starting out in full-time editing businesses. I’m happy to turn to them for holiday, sickness and I’m-too-busy-help cover, and I’ve also passed on some of my clients to them – as my client base has matured, I’ve had to move away from some of my clients who needed me to be able to drop everything to do work for them on a tight deadline, regularly, whereas someone starting out who might be a little less fully booked is ideal to take them on.
It’s always worth asking colleagues if they would like some holiday or sickness cover, or just establish mentoring kinds of relationships that will promote this kind of thing. Hopefully, the clients who your colleague passes to you will be decent payers and good clients (otherwise you might want to look at your choice of colleagues!) so you’re likely not to get burnt.
Do check your return on investment
When you’ve done some work for a new client, and they’ve (hopefully … eventually) paid you, then do take the time to monitor the project and check for return on investment. For example, I always think that a client who sends you several small jobs a month and always pays on time is better than one who sends you a few big jobs but always needs chasing for payment. How much time are you wasting on chasing for payment? Here’s how I tell if a client is worth working with again:
- Were they decent and easy to deal with?
- Did they communicate effectively with you?
- Did they pay me on time? (the payment schedule might be a long one, but did they match it?)
- Was the work interesting? (this can matter, although at the start and through your career, you will need to accept that sometimes it just isn’t!)
- Am I proud to be associated with this work / client?
If you can answer yes, then they’re good at working with freelancers (see this article for more detail) and hopefully you’ve got yourself a regular client – try to keep hold of them and make sure you say thank you for their payment and express interest in working with them again.
If they …
- Didn’t resolve any project teething problems in good time
- Made you feel uncomfortable with what they asked you to do
- Didn’t communicate with you and answer questions
- Didn’t pay / paid late
… those are red flags and, even if you’re just starting out and you feel you’re desperate for clients, I’d have a good think about whether to work with them again.
Do listen to your gut feeling
On most of the occasions when I’ve had trouble with clients and have made a bad decision about working with one, I’ve found that I had a gut feeling that it wasn’t a good idea. If you get a gut feeling, by all means back it up with some of the ideas above, but do listen to it, and save yourself hassle and possibly heartbreak!
When it comes down to it, we all want clients who:
- Pay well and on time
- Have interesting and regular work to do
- Are likely to become regular clients
These tips and hints will hopefully help you to end up making good choices about the companies with which you work.
* Thanks to Linda Bates for alerting me to this article and this more recent one about why people work for essay writing companies. I wouldn’t do this, but it’s worth acknowledging that these things are a matter of personal preference. I do NOT recommend doing this, however!
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