This article shares some ways that I’ve found successful in getting proofreading, editing, localising and transcribing work. It’s applicable to all forms of freelance work but doesn’t look at getting a full-time employed job in publishing or for another large organisation.
It’s also worth noting here, in response to some of the early comments on here, that this is a suite of options and you wouldn’t expect to do them all at the same time. Once you’ve built up 1 and 2, you can pick and choose depending on what your career path is – and it’s important to indulge in some planning from the start. Thank you to my commenters for helping this to be a better and more useful post!
1. Make sure that you say what you do on your website
Many of your clients will come to you after doing a Google search. Remember: people will take the easy option. Why bother to search on lists and in directories if you can just stick a search in Google.
So it’s worth making sure that your website …
- Includes a clear list of all of the services you offer
- Includes a blog which is updated regularly – this really helps your position on the search results
- Is Search Engine Optimised in general (there is an art to this, but make sure you include your keywords regularly, write lots of natural reading text and include keywords in page / post titles and headings)
- Includes a picture of you and ways to contact you – a contact form is always good for this
Oh yes – do make sure that you HAVE a website. Even if it’s just one page, I really do think that in all industries, from carpentry to computer programming, people expect you to have some kind of web presence, and may well give up the search there and then if you don’t, even if you’ve been recommended by name by someone. I know that I do that when I’m looking for services …
2. Make sure that people know what you do
An awful lot of my early clients came through friends of friends and social networks. Obviously, don’t bombard your friends by begging them to refer you, but make sure the following are covered:
- If you have a company Facebook page, include a list of your services
- Include your services on your Twitter profile
- Mention what you do on social networks every now and again (a good way to do this is to mention what you’ve BEEN doing “This month I’ve edited this, transcribed that and localised the other”.
- Make sure peers in one area know you cover other areas, too (if you do), e.g. I make sure that my editing chums know that I transcribe as well
- Consider setting up a newsletter and making sure you mention all of your services
- Update your clients with any new services you’re offering
3. Join industry groups and publicise yourself through their directories
I gained early clients through being in a member directory associated with a copyeditors’ email list. Friends do well by being listed on the Society for Editors and Proofreaders’ website. My roofers are listed on a government-accredited tradespeople’s website. All of these are places where people will look for accredited and proved suppliers.
4. Advertise on general directories and websites
A hint: don’t bother with paid ones when there are so many free directories and websites!
Ask around your peers as to what they find useful. I am on Freeindex and get a few enquiries a month. Join as many as you want, but do make sure to update your profile if you change your services, fees, etc.
If you’re in a trade like roofing or plumbing, it’s worth looking at council and government approved listings and the paid directories, as people do search these first, but beware putting too much money in at first.
Again, for trades, local print directories and especially business association directories can be good. I have a free listing in our local business association one, which has never brought me any work, but I always try to find local tradespeople who are members, and other people will do this, too.
5. Use industry-specific freelancer sites
I’ve had a look at general websites like freelancer.com, elance.com and oDesk and personally, I don’t think they’re worth it. A lot of people on those will undercut and take any job at the lowest price possible. Many of the sites have “tests” which are actually a test of your understanding of the site itself, not your ability as a writer, editor or whatever.
*Edited to add: while I don’t find these useful, a couple of people have mentioned Elance to me as a good one to try that has got them decent jobs, so it’s worth looking at that.
However, there are industry-specific freelancer sites which are worth it. Again, ask your peers for recommendations. The one that’s got me the most work is proz.com, which is a site for translators where you can put up a profile and, if you pay for membership, that profile will be sent to people looking for freelancers, and they will contact you direct. This has paid back the membership fee for me tens of times over, because I work with translators into English, and offer localisation, which is related to translation.
You can also look for people looking for particular skills and freelancers and then pitch to them.
Take note, though: with anything you pay for, do assess each year whether you’ve got that fee back, and more. Only continue paying if you’re getting a good return on your investment!
6. Advertise (selectively)
I’m not a big fan of paying out for adverts. Most of the other methods I talk about here are free. But there might be specific advertising channels that will work for you.
When I was starting out, working as a proofreader on theses and dissertations, I put up some posters around the university where I worked, recruiting colleagues who were also students to put them up in common rooms, etc. (free, except for printing costs and a few coffees!) and I advertised in the university staff newsletter, which went to tutors and supervisors. The costs were low, even to non-staff, and I did get the money back.
As with using websites that you pay for, do check your return on investment and keep an eye on the outgoings.
7. Use social media proactively
This one particularly applies to Twitter, although LinkedIn can be used in this way, too. Search for people looking for your services on Twitter. Reach out to potential clients directly. I have got paid work using this method and, even better (see below), I’ve got clients who have gone on to be big recommenders this way, too.
No one minds one, polite Tweet if they’ve asked for recommendations for a good plasterer or translator and you fit the bill. Don’t hassle people and don’t blanket-tweet; do tailor your response to the person you’re contacting.
I’ve written a separate article on searching for freelance jobs on Twitter, with a worked example.
8. Seek recommendations and referrals from clients
The best way to get new clients is through word of mouth. The two main advantages?
- It’s free!
- If person A recommends you to person B, and person B gets in touch with you, they are far more likely to convert into a paying customer than someone who’s randomly got in touch with you through an ad or Google search.
You do need to be a bit proactive about this, though …
- Make sure that your clients know you’re looking for more clients just like them
- Say thank you whenever you find out someone’s recommended you
- Ask clients for references to put on a reference page on your website (this makes enquirers more likely to use you as you come recommended by lots of people)
I have several clients who act as “nodes” for me, recommending me either individually or via blog posts and pages on their websites.
9. Seek recommendations from your peers
Your peers fall into two groups:
- People who freelance or run small businesses like you, who you might meet in online groups or at networking events
- People in the same industry as you, who you might meet in the same ways
It’s important not to see people in the same industry as you as competitors – you’re much better off considering one another as colleagues. When I was starting out, I was passed what turned out to be a major client by a proofreader friend who wanted to stop working at weekends and in the evenings. So I did evening and weekend cover for them. Now I’m established, I much prefer to be able to recommend potential clients who I can’t take on to another qualified person who I know will do a good job.
When you’re starting out, it’s worth forging (genuine) relationships with people in your industry who are more established. They may well have the odd customer they want to pass on, or have too much business and be looking for people to recommend on to. Nowadays, I pass quite a few people who I can’t accommodate on to a core set of five or so recommended proofreaders, writers and transcribers. I also keep a note of people in allied industries such as book design, graphic design in general and indexing, so I can pass people to them with a relevant recommendation, rather than just leaving them hanging.
You can also profit from either teaming up with peers in different industries – for example, I’ve worked with web designers on projects where they’ve written the website and I’ve provided the content, and I’ve done proofreading work for virtual assistants who don’t offer that service themselves.
I haven’t got many clients directly through networking, but I met an author at an event who went on to recommend my transcription services to a fellow author, who now uses me for transcription and editing, AND recommends me on her website!
10. Go cold calling and door-knocking
Some people do cold calling and door-knocking, where they literally call people on the phone or walk up their front paths and ask them for work. For a start, I don’t think that works in the service industry. I know some editors cold call publishing companies, and I’d love to know how that works out for them.
Personally, I feel this takes a LOT of investment. Cold calling requires a list, which takes time and research or money to get, and taking time out to walk up a lot of paths is a fairly hefty investment, too. It might be more worth looking at trade directories or local directories before you take this path – but do share your stories if you’ve had other experiences!
Edited to add: as people have kindly shared their experiences, I’m adding a note here to say that cold calling can be useful if you’re targeting a specific and maybe narrow group of clients. Fellow editors, for example, have gained work for publishing houses or journal publishers by taking this route. As my client base is more individuals and other small businesses and freelancers, this approach wouldn’t work for me. But if there’s a group of companies that you can identify as a good fit, by all means approach them with a call or letter, cold, as it were.
How do you get freelance clients? Can you recommend any other ways, or do you use any of these? Do let me know whether you try any of these successfully as a result of reading this article!
Related posts of interest on this blog:
Thinking of going freelance (1) – some initial points to think about
Thinking of going freelance (2) – how to organise yourself once you’ve got going
How do I decide to who work with? – choosing companies to associate yourself with
How to turn a new customer into a regular customer
What’s the best mix of customers to have?
How to make more money in your freelance business
December 17, 2013 at 10:16 am
I’ve had the opposite experience to you with number five – proz has not been great for me, whereas I have a free membership with Elance and have had lots of work through them – with some regular clients who I now work for off Elance.I’ve also been able to branch out with Elance to offer research and data entry as well. There are still far too many people who will undercut and work for pennies which can be massively frustrating but there are people out there who appreciate the value of the work and won’t just be attracted to a cheap price. You have to research carefully sometimes to avoid those who want a lot for very little money but it can be worthwhile. Certainly I get enough work to justify paying the membership fee, should I ever want to.
Very interesting reading. Next year, when both girls are in school, I should really sit down and think about these, especially number one.
Liz at Libro
December 17, 2013 at 10:20 am
Thank you so much for sharing your experiences – very valuable. Thinking about it, I’m not sure that I’ve explored Elance for transcription work, so maybe it works differently for different work areas (Proz has been good for transcription, editing and localisation for me, but mainly editing and localisation). Glad you found the article interesting!
Liz at Libro
December 17, 2013 at 3:59 pm
Note: I’ve added a note about your experience (in general) to the post – with a note that it’s an edit so your comment doesn’t look out of place.
December 17, 2013 at 10:58 am
What a very helpful email as a time when you might be thinking what and how you might do things differently next year. Like you, I have not had much success with elance, but I was interested to read about perfectcircle77’s experience. I might look at that again next year. Thank you, Liz.
Liz at Libro
December 17, 2013 at 11:01 am
Thank you for your comment, Lindsay, and I’m glad that you think the timing is good. It’s always a bit hard to know what to post at this time of year!
Adrienne Montgomerie (@sciEditor)
December 17, 2013 at 1:56 pm
I pretty much agree, and have written similar advice on my own blog. However…
Cold calls DO work for me—they have been my main source of work from day one, leading to repeat clients that support me for years. The ROI on cold calls is one of the best you can get according to _The Wealthy Freelancer_. According to them, listing in a directory is about as effective as throwing your business cards off the roof. My experience supports that. Throwing cards off the roof is dead easy, but if I gets zero clients (or worse, bad clients), it’s a massive waste of time.
The invitation to hear how cold calls work has inspired me to write up a new blog post explaining the criteria. Thanks! 🙂 Of course, your mileage may vary. You’ll find my advice (in a couple days) over on my blog: Right Angels and Polo Bears.
Liz at Libro
December 17, 2013 at 2:01 pm
Fascinating stuff, and do pop by and post a link to your article when you’ve published it. I’d be interested to know more about the companies you’re calling – presumably they’re publishing companies and the like? I tend to work with individuals, other freelancers and small businesses and agencies, so the customer group is a bit different.
I wouldn’t recommend devoting a lot of time to putting one’s details in directories, and I certainly haven’t paid for any entries, so the jobs I have got in that way have been fairly high return for low effort.
I’ll look forward to reading your post – do please pop back to leave us all a link!
Louise Harnby | Proofreader
December 17, 2013 at 3:32 pm
I’ve done well, too, with cold contact (but very specifically aimed at a core client group with whom I have an excellent skills match). As for directories, for me it all comes down to targeting. As a proofreader, I’ve found specialist editorial services directories key to building up long-term clients who provide repeat work (easily earning me a superb ROI). More general directories (like Yell) have not provided a viable work stream but I still take the free listings, just in case. I like to be findable across multiple channels, and if something doesn’t cost me anything, but is reputable, I consider it worth the small amount of time I need to invest to enter my details.
When it comes to marketing a freelance business, I feel one of the most important things to do is plan carefully first. This ensures that when you’re carrying out activities to secure work, you get it clear in your head – before you do anything else – where your primary client groups are and the most effective way to access them. There’s a danger otherwise that too much time is spent on activities that don’t generate the best outcomes. In the longer term we can cover all the bases but when starting out I think it makes sense to take a focused approach – investing effort and, if necessary, money where there’s the highest chance of success.
Adrienne posted a great link about this effort/reward issue on her blog – it’s a matrix that each individual can adapt for their own uses (it may well not look like the author’s, of course, but still serves as good tool for forcing a freelance business owner to think strategically). It’s called the Marketing Effectiveness Matrix™ (MEM)and was developed by Ed Gandia. All credit to Adrienne for drawing my attention to this! You can read about it at http://internationalfreelancersacademy.com/the-3-pillars-for-landing-progressively-better-clients/ – scroll down a bit to find the section on MEM.
Liz at Libro
December 17, 2013 at 4:01 pm
Thank you so much for your detailed comment, Louise. I’ve updated the post to talk about planning and about cold calling, with the latter marked as an edit and the former clearly an edit with a thank you to my commenters for helping to make this a better and more useful post.
I planned my own marketing around my customer base at the time (starting out advertising around the University to get more student clients) then controlled it at my own pace for a while (using Twitter to look for clients when I had room on my roster) then going more general when I went full time with LIbro, at the same time building my website and trying to remember to keep people informed about my new services!
December 17, 2013 at 5:27 pm
Great column, Liz. Very helpful information.
I had a rather odd cold-letter success recently. I was contacted by a self-publishing author who got my name from one of his contacts at a publisher. I had never heard of his contact and had not worked for that publisher. But I did send them a letter a couple of years ago when I was just starting out on my own. My client turned out to be delightful and paid well. And the experience again brought home to me the value of spreading your availability far and wide. You never know when or how it will pay off!
Liz at Libro
December 17, 2013 at 5:29 pm
Wow – that’s good going! You never know, do you! I had a client come to me for transcription who told me he’d been recommended to use me two years previously and had carefully kept my name just in case!
January 12, 2014 at 4:21 pm
Just came across this post but wanted to say thanks for sharing your advice, as someone who has just left an in-house job to go freelance (eek) it is very useful to read about how other people have got work! I’ve been enjoying your blog.
Liz at Libro
January 12, 2014 at 5:24 pm
I’m glad to help! You might find my books useful, too.
August 21, 2014 at 4:44 pm
This is great information. Thanks for posting it! I’ve been reading your posts a lot as my wife and I try to grow our home-based editorial service!
Liz at Libro
August 21, 2014 at 4:58 pm
That’s great, thanks for popping by to let me know. You might find my books useful, too (visit http://www.lizbroomfieldbooks.com for more info). Good luck with your joint career!