Conference Lessons 3: Selling Yourself

And so we come to my third and final set of SfEP conference sessions (you can read about the others here and here, and general blithering about the conference here), which were about marketing. These were the probably the sessions I needed the most because, I’ll be totally honest, I HATE marketing. It’s the thing I find the hardest. I love editing, and the administration side of running a business comes easily to me because I did admin for over a decade, but marketing was always the thing I got to leave to other people. People whose job it was, and who were good at it. But when you run your own business, marketing is your job, and if you’re no good at it, you’d better get good at it or you won’t get very far.

So off I went to John Espirian and Louise Harnby’s content marketing session. I’d been really looking forward to this, despite my marketing heebie-jeebies, because John and Louise must be two of the nicest, most helpful people in the entire world. John never fails to make people feel welcome in the editorial and copywriting communities, and Louise is undeniably one of the rock stars of editing and proofreading (confirmed by her being awarded the Judith Butcher Award at the conference gala dinner). I’ve followed them both on social media ever since I started my business, and I’ve seen them mention content marketing often recently. It definitely seems to be working for them, so I was interested to see whether this could be an approach for me.

The session was really good fun. It sparked a lot of creativity, and I even managed to be on the winning team of the content marketing challenge, which was a massive surprise for me. I think the last thing I won was a trophy in the 1993 Camping de la Pointe St Gilles talent show for being one-fifth of a Take That parody act.  Louise has a great write-up of the challenge on her blog, including our team’s winning idea for marketing our human-scarecrow business, named (by the brilliant Kate Haigh) Outstanding in the Field.

Aside from the challenge, the session was full of tips on how to create valuable, memorable and visible content that can help potential clients and colleagues find you, and how to generate ideas to keep your content creation sustainable. One of the most important lessons for me was realising that the idea for your content doesn’t have to be 100% original. It’s OK if someone else has blogged about the same thing as you – what matters is that you’re giving people your take on it, in your style and voice. I needed to hear that; I have a folder full of half-written blog posts that I haven’t wanted to publish because other people, people I look up to, have already published posts on the same subject. I need to remind myself that my angle on something is valuable as anyone else’s, and, as John and Louise said, the point is to allow someone to find as many answers as they can in one place, preferably your place.

I came away from the session with lots of ideas and lots more confidence. I’m nowhere near ready to be as prolific a content creator as John and Louise are, and it’s going to be a long, long time before anyone persuades me to create videos, no matter how SEO-friendly they are. But I’m definitely ready to take the baby step of blogging much more regularly, and to stop worrying so much about perfection and originality.

The second marketing session was by Tracey Cowell and Jackie Mace, and it was about marketing yourself to publishers. I love working with my indie clients, and I suspect it will always be the thing I do most of, but I’m also really keen to do more work with traditional publishers, so I was hoping to get some good advice about how to make that happen.

I definitely got that. Tracey and Jackie have been working with big publishers for several years, and they shared their tips based not only on their experience, but on the questions they had asked some of their clients about what they were looking for in a freelance editor. One of the most important things when marketing yourself to publishers is to be persistent. Not in annoying, creepy way, but in putting in a concerted effort to make connections with people and maintain those connections. Publishing is busy and fast-paced, so you need to remind people that you’re there and, most importantly, that you can help them. Publishers don’t care that you want work; they want to know what you can do for them, so you need to make sure you know what the customer wants and show them how you can deliver it.

Another important lesson is to pay attention to marketing even when you’re busy. I’m terrible for this. I had a very quiet spell earlier in the year, so I had a good flurry of contacting publishers, but as soon as work started to come back in, I let the effort slide. I need to be better at ensuring that next dry spell is less likely to happen, by keeping on top of my marketing more regularly.

Thus concludes my round-up of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders Conference 2017. It was an absolute joy to attend, and I’m massively grateful to everyone involved in its organisation, particularly all the wonderful session leaders and speakers. I’ve learned valuable lessons which I can hopefully apply to my business and my work to make them even better. Roll on next year!