“Go where your clients are”

There’s a really simple piece of advice that’s often given to new freelancers, and that’s “Go where your clients are”. It’s good advice, in general – you need to connect with the people who might want to hire you, and to do that, you need to find them. And you’d think it would be logical to maximise your chances by finding the places where the potential client base is the largest. So if you’re a freelance editor, and your potential clients are writers, you need to find where they gather, and you might want to find where they gather in large numbers. No-brainer, right?

Except there should be a big, huge caveat to that advice, and that should be “Except if that place is big writing groups on Facebook.”

I was once the new editor following that advice. I found the biggest, busiest Facebook writing groups and spent ages on there, answering posts about punctuation and promoting my services when people were looking to hire an editor. There was a lot of crap to wade through in the process, but it would lead to work, right?

Wrong. Every now and then I would get an enquiry from someone in one of those groups. I’d spend time doing a sample edit, only to discover that the writing needed a lot of work and the author wasn’t willing or able to pay anything close to what I wanted to charge. Often their budget would be well below even my starting rate, despite my having listed that on my website. Sometimes, it seemed they didn’t even really want to hire me, or anyone; they were just looking for some free advice. And I think I got off easy – I’ve heard of people finding clients in Facebook groups who have paid them far too little for far too much work, or not paid them at all, and other behaviour that could almost make you want to shut down your business and hide in a cave.

Now, I’m aware that there are plenty of fine writers and good people in many of these groups. And I don’t want to tar all big writing groups with the one brush (I admin one, for example, called Ask a Book Editor, and it’s marvellous). But in general, these groups are not usually the best places for editors to find decent work.

The mistake a lot of new editors make is thinking that their potential clients are “people who write books”. They might be, but if they are, you need to be prepared to work out a sustainable business model that can cope with the wide range of experience, writing ability and professionalism that falls under that huge umbrella. If you can, more power to your elbow. But for most of us, our working lives will be easier and much more pleasant if we narrow our criteria a little.

A better category of client is probably “writers who take their craft/business seriously enough to invest in it and behave like a professional”. That is a pretty small subset of “people who write books”, so connecting with those people requires a different approach. Many of those authors do not spend huge amounts of time in those big groups. By and large, those authors have (and again, I’m aware I’m generalizing) grown tired of the vague questions from people who don’t have a clue where to start and the terrible advice given by people who really should know better, and they’ve stopped engaging with those groups. They’ve found smaller, more focused groups of like-minded authors to hang out in, where their questions and answers don’t get lost in so much noise.

So if your main method of finding work is popping up in a huge group every now and then and saying “I’m an editor” whenever anyone asks, you aren’t necessarily going to connect with those more focused, more discerning clients.

Whenever I’ve broached this subject with people before, the next question is always “So where do I look then?” And my answer is this: stop looking.

I don’t mean stop marketing, because that would be silly. And I don’t really mean stop trying to find the best way to connect with potential clients. But it can help to start thinking the other way around. There are authors out there who are actively searching for an editor, or who will eventually be searching for an editor. You don’t have to find these people; what you need to do is make them see you.

You need to be visible. And the best way of being visible on social media is being helpful and friendly. Be a real person who knows real things. Connect with people. Show that you care about helping authors on their publishing journeys. Have a presence outside the one social media channel, one that backs that up and reassures potential clients that you are running a sustainable business. Join groups, yes, but be selective about which ones, and be a real part of them rather than just waiting for opportunities to sell your services.

And, of course, value yourself and your time. It’s easier said than done when you feel you’re competing with a million editors who will work cheaper than you. But if you don’t believe in the value of what you have to offer, no one else will.

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