Editing and More

Where Does a Freelance Editor Find Clients?

This week I’m marking the third anniversary of eDitmore Editorial Services, and I’m thrilled to be here. There have been ups and downs since I posted my first piece here more than three years ago, but I feel very blessed to be able to say there have been very few weeks in the past 36 months when I didn’t have at least one project on my desk.

People frequently ask me where I find my clients, so I decided to start this new year by examining that question in depth.

I discovered that, in the past three years, I’ve had about 48 distinct clients—individuals, businesses, university departments, organizations, publishers, and grad students. Of those, 18 came directly or indirectly because a family member, friend, or acquaintance hired me, referred me for a job, or put me in touch with a potential client. Nine came as a result of referrals from past clients or current colleagues; eight came from connections I made while attending writing and publishing functions; four came from my inclusion as an editor in various resource lists; four came when I answered ads for editors; two came because of my participation in email discussion lists; two found me online through my website; and one came indirectly from a letter I had written to a publisher.

The Personal Touch

So, according to my calculations, about 80 percent of my clients in the past three years have come to me through personal connections or recommendations from past clients. Although I knew I had good friends, I was a little surprised to see how completely personal contacts had filled my work days.

In LinkedIn groups and editing discussion lists, I often see questions from new freelancers about how to find editing jobs; they want to know about advertising or optimizing their website for SEO searches. But looking at my numbers, I can see that the best thing I’ve done is to let lots of people know I’m looking for editing jobs.

I’ve found jobs by telling friends and family about my new business; I’ve found jobs by emailing contacts from previous positions to let them know I’m available; I’ve found jobs by attending conferences and having genuine conversations instead of just passing out my business cards; I’ve found jobs by joining organizations and listing my information in directories; I’ve found jobs by participating in online editing discussion groups, which led other participants to recommend me to potential clients.

And I’ve also found a number of very good jobs because satisfied clients have recommended me to their friends or employers or listed me as a resource in their books or online material. In my mind, those are the best jobs to have—and it’s the best way to find jobs because satisfied clients can create a snowball effect. If every satisfied client tells just one friend, and that friend becomes a satisfied client who tells one friend …

As I see it, the more satisfied clients I have, the more opportunities I will have to get future jobs because of past work.

You Just Never Know

I’ve also discovered that opportunities can arise from unexpected sources: I have had two clients in the past three years who found me because of freelance editing work I did more than a decade ago. One found my name listed as an editing resource in a business book I didn’t even know I was listed in.

I even have one odd success story related to a “cold” letter I mailed in 2011 to a publisher I thought might be interested in hiring me as a freelancer. I sent about a dozen letters at that time and got nothing more than polite, “we’ll keep your information on file” responses. But this summer I got a call from an author who was self-publishing a book; he had been given my name from someone I had never heard of at one of those publishing companies I had never worked for. Apparently, the company really had kept my name on file and passed it along to this author, who wound up providing me one of my favorite projects of the year.

Freelancing inherently includes an element of risk, and sometimes I get nervous when I look down and realize I’m working without a net. But as I begin my fourth year, it’s getting easier to keep my head up and just keep moving. This in-depth look at my past clients makes me feel more confident about finding future ones: I just need to keep talking about what I do and keep giving my clients service they are happy to talk about.

I’d love to know if my experience is unique or if other freelancers have had similar experiences. Where do you find your clients? Do most of your projects come because of who you know? What has been your best source of work in the past three years?

9 Responses so far.

  1. Wow, this post came at a great time. I’m just getting started back into freelance work after 15+ years working a day job. I’m fortunate to still be working full time right now so I have a safety net for the moment, but at some point, I have to try the high wire without it. Getting those first clients is tough. I already network with people naturally, but Your experience will help me know where better to look for those first potential clients.

    • Glad it was helpful, Stephanie. I had lots of ideas about where I would find my clients when I got started three years ago; almost none of those ideas panned out, but I’m happy to say that jobs have popped up in places I never expected! Good luck with your high-wire act!

  2. Donna J. says:

    I appreciate the gift of your advice! Not everyone wants to give away their methods, knowledge, and observation… perhaps so as not to create competition? So, thanks for sharing. I found it brief but full of good info based on your experience. Your genuineness, I have to say, comes through as well, and sets its own example – I’m sure you do have many satisfied clients! And how clever you are in naming your business : ) Blessings from Charlotte in your high-wire act.

  3. Jesse says:

    I dig it! Many thanks for your insight, Tammy.

    In my experience, I’ve found that finding people who want their work edited (in my case, fiction editing), are not in short supply. It’s people who are willing to pay for quality service that I have a lot of trouble finding!

    I’ve been a freelancer for a little less than a year now, with a few sparse clients. I did good work (not just me saying it, hehe), but they were not high-paying jobs and things have stagnated — but I’m in an ideal position to jumpstart things. I’m inclined to think that for whatever reason, those few I did work with simply did not snowball.

    I like what you’re saying though, about just consistently reminding people who you are, what you do, and letting people know in your circles that you’re looking for editing jobs. I will endeavor to do the same. What about reaching out to my previous clients – with whom I have actually maintained contact – and asking them if they know any other writers? I wouldn’t want to come off as desperate; what would you advise?

    • Jesse, it can be tricky turning fiction editing for individual clients into a snowball of new business. I would say, yes, definitely reach out to previous clients. You could say something like, “I’m contacting you to let you know I’ve got some openings coming up in my schedule in the next couple of months. Please let me know if you would be interested in claiming a spot on my calendar. Or please pass my name and information along to any other writers you know might be looking for a good editor.” And make it a point to always ask satisfied clients to let other writers know about you. Good luck!

  4. Liz Dexter says:

    This is an excellent post and very interesting. I find now that most of my work is repeat business; anything that’s not comes from recommendations, one particular listing site I belong to (Proz.com – more for transcription and localising jobs plus some work with non-native English speakers) and some from Google searches. Over the years, this has stayed pretty constant. I got a few jobs through Twitter searches early on, but now I don’t run those because I’m fairly busy anyway.

  5. […] clients had originally come from and saw how many of them were from personal contacts. (I wrote a blog post about my findings if anyone is interested.) Since then, my advice to any independent business owner […]

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