"Be a Better Freelancer—Take Your Business to New Heights" was EFA's first national conference in 10 years, and comments from participants were gratifying. One member said, "people were friendly, I learned a lot, met new colleagues and touched base with long-term colleagues, and just plain enjoyed the camaraderie and learning experiences."
Committee members. Sheila Buff, Norrie Feinblatt, Laurie Lewis, Claire Meirowitz, Mary Ratcliffe, Martha Schueneman, Elaine Sparber, Louise Weiss, and Jesse Weissman, did yeoman work; co-executive director J.P. Partland, at-large board member Tim Holsopple, and EFA member Elliot Linzer were great assets throughout the day; and office manager Judi Greenstein's contributions before, during, and after the conference were immeasurable.
Here are brief highlights of topics addressed during the day. Photos are by conference coordinator Ruth Thaler-Carter.
Making Friends with Word I
Using the ubiquitous MicrosoftWord software program for editing, proofreading, and writing is a fact of life for most editorial freelancers these days. In the first of two hands-on computer workshops, Word guru Hilary Powers presented a macro clinic on these keyboard shortcuts for frequently performed tasks.
Macros, according to Hilary, "are the way to eliminate much of the dog work of editing"—one example she gave coded seven different chapter-opening elements at once; another put real numbers and s on Word automated lists. Macros can be recorded, found, cannibalized, purchased, or written from scratch. The session included step-by-step instructions for creating macros in Word.
Getting published locally is a good way for "newbies" to build up clippings and contacts before trying to pitch ideas to more-intimidating national publications and organizations, and for established writers to branch out into new topics or markets. There are almost as many resources as there are places to live, according to Christine Frank, publisher of upcoming guides to getting published in Chicago, and in Missouri and Virginia.
"The key is to build on abundance, karma, connections, and happenstance," said Frank. "Circulate. Attend networking events in your hometown and surrounding areas. Check with the Chamber of Commerce—become involved with community activities—volunteer for committees and offer to write promotional materials for free. You're likely to meet others who will pay for your services, or refer you to someone else who will pay you. Join professional or community organizations geared to your interests and get to know people."
State historical societies, alumni associations, state arts councils and Small Business Administration offices, regional diversity initiatives, and networking groups such as BNI and AHBE are also good places to meet people to write for and about, Frank said.
Visibility can be easier to achieve at the local level, and visibility usually leads to assignments—by exposing writers to ideas, events, and people worth covering, as well as to potential clients. "Make them come to you," Frank advised. "Write a blog, circulate, become an authority and host a radio show or give speeches."
Selling Yourself on Paper
How to present a patchwork quilt of projects in a resume is a challenge for many editorial freelancers, especially those who offer a variety of services or work on several projects at once. According to Sheila Buff, the solution is a skills-based resume, sometimes called a functional resume, instead of the traditional reverse-chronology, employment-based model.
"The skills-based version is more appropriate for freelancers, because freelancers are looking for gigs from managing editors, not staff positions from the human resources department. The skills-based resume lets a client see at a glance whether you're the right freelancer."
Buff compared and contrasted different versions of the same individual's resume to show the basic concepts of such less-than-traditional resume formats. She advised participants to target their skills-based resumes to the person who will make the hiring decision and to find other ways of presenting themselves on paper, such as business cards and brochures. Brochures, she noted, must look professional and may not be what a potential client is looking for, which makes even a nontraditional resume that much more important.
Buff also suggested that freelancers consider the value of a "simple, inexpensive website" to enhance paper-based promotional efforts.
Breaking into New Markets
One way to build a successful freelance career is to offer more than one service or skill. If one area is slow, another can keep you going, and the variety will keep boredom at bay. There are essentially three ways to expand your markets:
- Cover new topics
- Learn and offer new skills
- Enter a new genre
To embark on new editorial areas, be proactive—let friends, family, colleagues, current clients know you are interested in new assignments in new fields. A good writer can always write about new subjects.
If you want to add proofreading and editing to your repertoire, look into courses or workshops in these skills. Other fields you might study: indexing, desktop publishing, corporate work.
Another avenue for finding new markets: a change in genre—going from fiction to nonfiction, academic to popular, general to medical, etc., isn't easy. Read as much as you can in the new genre, to get a feel for its conventions and voice.
Go forth, be adventurous, and prosper!
—Ruth Thaler-Carter, Conference Coordinator
How to Edit for People Who Don't Read and Writers Who Don't Study Grammar
While Linda Jorgensen addressed writers and Wendalyn Nichols targeted editors, they each pushed the same message during their joint conference session. Focus on the reader.
Both Jorgensen, editor/manager of The Editorial Eye, a monthly newsletter covering "publications standards, practices, and trends," and Nichols, editor of Copy Editor, a bimonthly newsletter presenting "language news for the publishing profession," stressed that writers and editors need to know their audiences.
Different audiences value different qualities. If you're writing an article for The New Yorker, focusing on your grammar is as important as focusing on your content. Grammatical gaffes jump out at New Yorker readers as much as typos do, while they slip right past the readers of many other publications.
Nichols encouraged editors to set priorities based on the publisher's house style as well as the publication's audience. The publishers and readers of academic journals expect a different level of writing and editing, for example, than do the publishers and readers of "chick lit."
While editors may need to close their eyes occasionally, things they should always do include flagging or correcting errors of fact, statements that might be libelous, quotes or other uses that might need permission, and text that might be misunderstood. In addition, Nichols said, "Get good at explaining things [to the writer]—you need to be able to justify your changes. And always find something to compliment—the spoonful of sugar, you know."
—Elaine Will Sparber
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Websites
Katharine "Kat" Nagel, owner of MasterWork Consulting in Rochester, NY, is a technical writer/editor who designs and critiques websites. In the first of two conference sessions she conducted, she outlined ways for editorial freelancers to make their sites work for them rather than against them.
"Websites are good because they avoid bad stuff and use good stuff," said Nagel.The "good stuff" includes a strong headline that "grabs attention, describes your most important services, and persuades visitors to stick around," Nagel said. "Headlines are the most important elements of your site. They must be well-written, memorable, focused on benefits, and formatted properly."
Navigation—the way visitors move around and use a site—must be "clear, consistent, and obvious," said Nagel. "Images should be chosen carefully, help prospective clients visualize your products and services, load quickly, and make intangible services feel real."
An "About Us" page with the freelancer's background information and photo, certifications and educational qualifications, and client list, creates "credentials" and helps a website "build credibility and trust for its owner," Nagel said. A privacy statement, portfolio samples, and testimonials all help enhance this aspect.
The "good" also includes "a clear call to action that tells prospective clients what you want them to do and gives them an easy way to do it," Nagel said. Make it easy to get in touch: "Contact information should be on every page and on a dedicated 'contact' page, with your real name, real address, business phone number, and business e-mail address."
Making Friends with Word II
In her second conference session on "Making Friends with Word," Hilary Powers gave conference participants instructions for creating templates, which she called "the tools that make the difference between a computer and a typewriter hardwired to a TV set."
"Templates can dramatically change the appearance of a document or the behavior of hot keys (shortcuts) and menus," Powers said. "Word uses templates all the time, whether you know it or not, so you might as well go along for the ride."
Keep in mind that, as Powers said, "Word doesn't care if you like it or hate it. The program offers a variety of tools for getting any given effect; if you don't like the menus, you can use hot keys (shortcuts); if you don't like hot keys, you can use the mouse." She suggested taking "a literal-minded approach to doing exactly what Word says."
—Claire Meirowitz, Professional Editing Services & Ruth E. Thaler-Carter
Your Website as a Marketing Tool
In her second conference session of the day, Kat kept participants thoroughly involved as she led us through the do's and don'ts of marketing services via the Web.
Websites are "hot" marketing tools these days, but freelancers should consider a site as only one element in a marketing program, Nagel stressed: "If your website is the only piece in your marketing strategy, it won't work."
Six basic principles are vital for your website to work as a marketing tool, Nagel said:
- knowledge—knowing what you want your site to achieve;
- understanding—realizing what your clients need, want, and expect to see;
- responsiveness—giving your clients what they need;
- readability—making it easily viewed and understood;
- navigation—making it easy for clients to find things; and
- freshness—constantly updating with new content, so visitors will want to return to it.
Nagel estimated that three to five hours per month would be the norm for keeping a site up to date and attractive to visitors, with more time needed when creating new content.
Getting found is all in the wording, Nagel assured us. That means taking advantage of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), which depends heavily on keywords. "If it's important to your business, make it a link," Nagel said.
Probably the most important lesson I learned at Kat's useful session was: "Test, test, test!" Designs, colors, and fonts can display differently on people's screens, depending on their operating systems, browsers, screen configurations, and other factors. Without testing your website on a variety of setups, you will never know how your great site looks to others.
Strategies for Profitable Pricing
Keeping a detailed log of everything involved in a given project is the best way to develop a fair-to-all pricing strategy for freelance editorial work, according to Laurie Lewis, author of What to Charge: Pricing Strategies for Freelancers and Consultants, in a condensed version of her popular EFA workshop on that thorny topic. Illustrating her points with real-life examples, Lewis offered participants her most important strategies for successful pricing, such as collecting as much information about a project as possible before quoting or agreeing to a fee and not accepting a fee as soon as one is offered. She compared different methods of pricing and offered advice on how to approach and negotiate with clients, give oneself a raise, and analyze pricing decisions.
Lewis's approach is to develop a set of strategies for pricing that can be used regardless of the date, the industry, or specialty, or the tasks to be performed for various assignments, rather than getting locked into only one rate or one way of getting paid. The strategies must work, because Lewis has been a succesful freelance medical writer and editor in New York City for 20 years; colleagues who have taken her workshop consistently praise her approach to setting a value on freelance editorial services.
Even the shy and retiring editorial freelancer can increase business by networking. That was the encouraging message from motivational speaker Ilise Benun in her conference wrap-up remarks. "Networking," she said, "isn't schmoozing. If you don't toot your own horn, who will?" was only one of Benun's provocative perspectives on networking. "Here's the big idea," she said. "Marketing, and life, is all about relationships—developing, expanding, and deepening relationships. Developing relationships is as simple as meeting someone new, following up, and staying in touch."
Benun defined networking as "talking to people, being curious, learning from others, and helping out." She suggested that freelancers "find low-key learning environments, start conversations, be good listeners, be responsive, and make contact—not contacts. To "work" a room, arrive early, never sit with someone you know, be the one to suggest exchanging business cards. Make notes about the people you meet."
The four essential tools for effective networking, Benun said, are a business card; a 15-word blurb; an effective e-mail address and signature line; and a way to stay in touch. The blurb should include "what you do and whom you do it for, in language that is clear and piques a listener's interest. It may be different for each listener, and it should use verbs instead of nouns and labels."
One of the most frustrating experiences is when "they called you, you responded, you followed up, you never heard from them again," said Benun. Don't despair: "Know that it's not about you. Don't assume anything, except that they're busy. Don't give up or write them off." Benun urged freelancers to "follow up—on every lead that comes your way, with every person who expresses interest, and with everyone who says they know someone who might be interested."
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