Tag Archives: client

Assume nothing, question everything

Five key questions to ask a potential client

By Jo Johnston

1. What services do you need?

Hands up who’s had a client asking for proofreading when they meant rewriting, or editing which later turned into needing a project manager to liaise with stakeholders?

Phew … glad it’s not just me.

Most of us editors can share funnies or horror stories about how a client has misunderstood something key during the briefing stage, or how we, as the supplier, may have failed to clarify something that later is glaringly obvious.

So if you offer more than one type of editorial service, double-check that your client understands the differences between them.

The definitions of copyediting and proofreading can vary from company to company, so don’t assume that just because the client is a communications professional, the definitions they use are identical to yours. And make sure you have the brief in writing in email or confirmed in a phone call, so that you can iron out any creases in understanding.

Takeaway: Include an outline of service definitions on your website or create a PDF handout to share at the briefing stage.

2. What’s the deadline and delivery method?

Some clients assume that you’re sitting around twiddling your thumbs waiting for their work to land; others understand that you may be juggling a range of projects.

So a vital first question is, ‘when’s the delivery date?’ Even if your client doesn’t have a date in mind, set one yourself. This gives you a goal to work towards and you can schedule in other work around the project – just as you would if you were working in-house.

Everyone has working preferences. So what format do they want to work in – Google Docs, Word, or PDFs? How do they want any amendments shown – as tracked changes and comments or edited directly in the document?

‘Assume nothing, question everything’ is the mindset you need when starting a new project.

Takeaway: Make sure that details such as the deadline or preferred way of working are listed in your project proposal.

3. Will you accept my rate and working terms?

Some freelancers say that they lack confidence when talking about the bees and honey, and let’s not even mention working terms.

It may be tempting to leave this bit until last, after you’ve established a good client relationship first, but don’t leave it so late that you’ve spent bags of time discussing the brief or even visited head office, only to find out that they won’t budge on your price and won’t sign your contract.

Being clear about prices upfront on your website could lead to an increase in higher quality clients. It may help to get rid of time-wasters or those trying to ‘pick your brains’.

Takeaway: State your rates and terms clearly and in writing, either on your website or project proposal.

4. Can you tell me about your target audience or how you will use the resource?

Most of the time, a copyeditor or proofreader is part of a much wider project team. You may have been drafted in at the last hurdle to make sure everything’s tickety-boo, or right from the beginning – as is often the case with developmental or substantive editing.

Whatever stage the project is at, you need to be brought up to speed. Find out who the project is aimed at and how it will be used. It will help you to do a much better job if you know why you’re doing it.

And don’t forget to include research within your project proposal – it’s perfectly OK to charge for background reading and familiarisation.

Takeaway: Ask to see a project brief, terms of reference or target audience research.

5. Can you give me feedback once the job is complete?

The job’s done and dusted. A week, a fortnight … darn it … a few months go by, and you’ve heard diddly-squat from your client.

One way to avoid this state of paralysis is by saying at the briefing stage that you’d like feedback once the work is complete. You may not feel you need this kind of reassurance, but you do need to make sure that the project is finished and won’t bounce back in six months.

Some clients are up against print deadlines and may not have time to respond – you’re not an employee after all. So it’s worth keeping all this in mind and not taking silence personally.

Takeaway: Get client feedback on the radar. It paves the way for you to ask for a testimonial in the future.


What are your key questions when liaising with a prospective client? Let us know how you go about starting a project.


SfEP Professional Member Jo Johnston has been working as a copywriter and editor for 20 years. She started off in the public and non-profit sectors, but now helps to finesse the marketing work of all business types from ambitious start-ups to global giants. As part of its social media team, Jo posts professionally as the SfEP on LinkedIn. Elsewhere on social media, she unashamedly shares countless photos of her beloved Labrador.

 


Photo credits: Trees Evan Dennis, Laptop – Markus Spiske, both on Unsplash; Mabel the Labrador – Jo Johnston.

Proofread by Alice McBrearty, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.

 

 

 

 

Why should I train?

SfEP logoGood-quality training is an investment, and whether you’re just starting out and trying to figure out how to spend a limited budget, or you’ve been working for a while, it can be hard to know what you need. You might even question whether you need it at all.

Here are some reasons why editorial training is essential, though – whatever stage you are at in your career.

I learnt on the job, and my clients are happy. Why should I bother?

Perhaps you worked in-house before going freelance, or you built your freelance business from scratch with a natural aptitude and a handful of reference books. You may reach a point where you’re producing work that is consistently good enough for a few repeat clients. Everyone’s happy.

But ask yourself honestly – would you have the confidence and the skills to move outside your comfort zone? The chances are there’s plenty you don’t know. (You might not even realise you don’t know it!) Good-quality editorial training will cover a range of material, giving you the knowledge you need to tackle more diverse work.

Even on more familiar ground, sooner or later you will come across a really intractable problem. (If you have not yet done so, you’ve been lucky.) Extra skills will help you define more accurately what the problem is, and that’s a crucial step towards solving it.

I’m not interested in working in academic publishing, so will the training be relevant?

These days, plenty of editors don’t work for traditional publishers. They may work for businesses, charities, government departments, self-publishers, students … and the list goes on. They probably work exclusively on screen. Yet quite a lot of editorial training starts with the skills required to work for publishers – sometimes even on paper. So is this kind of training more widely applicable?

The answer is that it is. You never know when a client will ask you to work on hard copy (so those proofreading marks needn’t be wasted). Another point to consider is that academic publishing probably encompasses more of the conventions of editorial work than any other genre. Even if you don’t use all the principles all the time in your everyday work, you’ll have the tools at your disposal when you do need them.

I’ve got plenty of clients without needing to demonstrate any professional affiliation; will training be a waste of money?

One argument for basic training, or continued professional development (CPD) later on, is that it can help you upgrade your membership of professional associations. For example, to become an Intermediate, Professional or Advanced Professional Member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP), you will need to show evidence of experience and training.

If you’ve got enough work already, you might question the need to go down this route. Your clients know what you can do already, after all. The first rule of freelancing, though, is not to depend on one client for all your work – or even two or three. This is because companies are taken over or go out of business, move their editorial work offshore or change their business model or way of working. The way to build a sustainable business is to have a range of clients – and one way to appeal to them is to show, through your professional credentials, that you are committed to training and CPD. Training may mean a financial outlay now, but look on it as insuring yourself against dry spells in future.

If I need to know something I look it up online, or ask a colleague. Do I still need extra training?

These ways of finding things out are extremely useful (the SfEP forums are considered by many to be one of the main benefits of membership). However, they are best for fixing specific problems. Training gives you a broader grounding, and you’ll know better what questions to ask to improve your practice further.

Remember that technology changes rapidly, too. If the first you hear about this is when your main client sends a form email about ‘improved workflow processes’, you’ll have to scramble to catch up; all of a sudden your hourly rate will plummet. Training can help you see the big picture and stay ahead of the game.

I’m too busy to train. Why should I take time out of paid work to do it?

You’re established, you’re getting plenty of work most of the time, and you can get through it quickly enough to earn what you need. However, you may be surprised at how much efficiency you can introduce to your practice simply by picking up new skills. It could make quite a difference to your hourly rate, for example (or simply save you having to do lots of very repetitive and boring things). You could find you very quickly make up for any time you felt you ‘lost’ to training.

I can keep my skills up to date through my work, so training is unnecessary, isn’t it?

It’s true that learning on the job is a vital part of successful editorial freelancing, and the SfEP believes that this is as important as training, which is why you will also need experience to upgrade your membership.

However, training can fill in the gaps in your knowledge, however long you have been working. Just because one client wants something done a particular way, it doesn’t mean it’s the right way, or the only way. And just because you have your own trusted approaches to various tasks, it doesn’t mean they can’t be improved. Editorial training should be something you return to throughout your career.

You can find out more about the training offered by the SfEP in the training section of our website.

Liz Jones SfEP marketing and PR directorLiz Jones is the SfEP marketing and PR director.

 

Proofread by SfEP entry-level member Karen Pickavance.

Working with self-publishing authors – Part 2: expectations and implementation

Self-Publishing

Photo credit: kodomut

In Part 1: An industry of opportunity, SfEP ordinary member Sophie Playle explored who self-publishes, why and how self-publishing has developed over the years, and what this means for editorial freelances. In this post, she’ll be looking at the more practical elements of working with self-publishing authors.

Note: This post has been written with editorial professionals in mind. As with any type of client, it goes without saying that it’s important your skills are fit for purpose. This post doesn’t go into the foundations of training and finding clients, but instead looks at what an editor might consider when working directly with self-publishing authors.

1. Assessing the project for the right service

The number one thing to remember about self-publishing authors is that most of them do not know much about the editing industry. Their main job is to write, after all. They’re often aware that they need editorial help to self-publish professionally, but are not sure exactly what this entails.

Many writers will think they just need a quick proofread to catch any typos when the reality is that most would benefit from a development edit and a copy-edit first. These terms are often unfamiliar to writers, and since there are so many editors offering slightly different variations of the same service (which is also often called something slightly different), a little confusion can only be expected.

Communication is key with self-publishing clients. (Well, all clients, really!)

Ask what the client wants to achieve, and what they expect from your service. Take a look at a sample of the work – this is crucially important. Remember: there are no gatekeepers here, so the quality of work will vary greatly.

If you believe the client’s expectations don’t quite match what the project needs, open a discussion on why you think this, and how you can help.

Alternatively, if you can’t help – for example, if the client really needs a development edit but you specialise in proofreading – decline the work and point them in the right direction, whether that’s to an editorial friend who offers a different service, or to the SfEP directory of editorial services, or some other resource.

2. Assessing the project for compatibility of style

This might be most relevant to fiction writers, but in my experience many self-publishing authors are looking for an editor who ‘gets them’. They want to feel that the project that they’ve poured their heart and soul into, possibly over the course of several years, is in safe hands and that the editor isn’t going to mess it up.

An independent author doesn’t have the assurance of a publishing house that you’re going to do the best job. They only have their own assessment of you and your editing skills – based on recommendations and what they’ve gleaned from your public professional presence. They want to know they’ve made the right choice.

In fact, the client’s freedom to choose a compatible editor with whom to work is a benefit traditionally published authors often don’t get.

It’s in the editorial professional’s best interest, too, to work with compatible clients. For development editors, this might mean working with an author in your genre of interest. For a copy-editor, this might mean working with an author whose style you understand. There’s nothing more horrifying to a writer than to receive an edited manuscript in which the editor has stripped out all nuances of their voice.

Working with compatible clients means you can do your best work, and your client will feel they are in good hands.

How do you assess for compatibility? You might want to offer a sample edit – paid or free, that’s up to you. You might want to get to know your client and find out more details about their project through email or phone conversation before you commit to working with them.

There are lots of ways to go about this. The result should be that both you and your client feel confident that you understand each other.

3. Setting boundaries and looking after your client’s emotional needs

Self-publishing authors often require a little more reassurance and communication from their editors. They usually don’t have an agent or a publisher to answer their questions – they rely on you for your professional knowledge of the industry.

You’re often their main professional contact, and this means they have one burning question they want to ask you: ‘Is my work any good?’

I’ve heard varying opinions from freelance editorial professionals on whether or not we should pass judgement on a self-publisher’s work. Do we refuse projects if we think they are of unpublishable quality? Or should we simply do the job we’re being paid to do?

On the one hand, we are not gatekeepers. And whatever we say in response to this question would be purely opinion. (If I’d been asked whether 50 Shades of Grey would have been a success, I’m confident I would have said no!) We’re being paid to conduct a service, and so that’s what we should do. The rest is out of our control.

On the other hand, if a self-publisher asks for our thoughts or hires us for our professional skills, don’t we have an obligation to pass on our professional opinion? Isn’t that what they’re paying for? (Or should they only expect this if they’re paying for a critique?)

It’s a conundrum. There’s no right answer. My one tip? Make sure you communicate with your author. Don’t offer unwanted criticism (or unwanted mollycoddling), and let your author know your stance on the issue before you begin working together.

Be clear on your professional boundaries from the outset. You’ll be working directly with the creator, and this person will be emotionally invested in the project and possibly not have much experience of navigating the publishing world as a professional business owner (a hat self-publishers must decide to wear if they want to be successful). Clear terms and conditions are key. Look after yourself, as well as your client.

In summary, self-publishing clients have slightly different needs to other kinds of clients, and these should be taken into consideration. The main things to think about are whether they are commissioning the best service for their project, whether your editing style is best matched to their writing needs, and the emotional and professional boundaries you will address in the working relationship.

When it comes down to it, these are all issues of consideration and communication. I hope these pointers will help you and your self-publishing clients get the most out of your work together.

Sophie Playle profile photographSophie Playle, of Liminal Pages, is a freelance editor who specialises in fiction and often works directly with writers. For brownie points, connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn. (Please note: No real brownies or points will be awarded.)

Proofread by SfEP ordinary member Samantha Stalion.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.