There are countless avenues for careers in the freelancing world. Sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming. How do you get your foot in the door? How do you get enough experience?
If you’re interested in becoming a freelance editor, you’ll need to establish yourself as a professional with plenty of experience – it’s going to take work, and it will take time.
You’re also going to be one of many freelancers in an extremely competitive industry, so starting out strong will help launch you further into the game.
Many of our Writer’s Edit team also successfully freelance as writers and editors, so we know that there are many ways to approach freelancing as a job. But here’s our best advice for those just starting out…
1. Set up as a Professional
If you’re truly serious about freelancing, you’ll need to start thinking of yourself as a business person. You may have workshopped with friends or edited documents for your office day job but you’re essentially becoming your own business as a freelancer.
People will be coming to you for your services, and they’re unlikely to part with their money or hire you for ongoing work if you don’t look professional.
Get an ABN (Australian Business Number or Equivalent)
This sounds scary but it’s just a number. If you’re going to be charging people for your editing services, you’ll need to get an ABN or the equivalent in your home country.
ABNs not only show that you’re legit and ‘in the system’ but they’re essential at tax time when you need to organise your finances (especially if you make money from more than one source).
Getting an ABN is super easy – you can apply online and receive your number within 15 minutes.
You’ll then get an official statement in the post and you’re ready to go.
Buy a Domain Name
Another must-have for any freelancer is a website. And we don’t mean anything with WordPress or Weebly in the URL.
Buying a domain name is fairly easy. We’d recommend signing up with WordPress as it’s easy to build your website and navigate the design (no IT degrees or coding experience necessary), and they’re a very reputable company in themselves.
Your rights to a domain name usually last for a year, although you can buy longer contracts. It’s not super expensive, and you can claim it as an expense on your tax return (because of that ABN!).
Design and Print Business Cards
I didn’t realise how important business cards were until I went to a writing event, met lots of great contacts, and had nothing to hand out. It may seem small, but you’ll be thankful when you’re swapping details with your next paying client!
You can design business cards online through several companies, including VistaPrint which is quite popular. However, the Writer’s Edit gang is hooked on Moo.com which is a UK printer that has a wider range of super cute designs.
The most important thing to remember is to limit the amount of cards you get on your first run. Don’t go for a crazy number like 200. Start small. You can always order more!
Set Up Social Media Accounts
In this modern world we live in, you need to be on social media to make contacts, set up a brand for yourself, and communicate with the world. Branding is very important as a freelancer, and you need to be visible to your audience.
The top three accounts you should be setting up are Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Instagram, Tumblr, and Pinterest are great if you have them. But the three above are essential in both reaching people and providing a professional avenue for people to find you.
We could talk forever about social media, so check out our post on mastering your online author presence for tips.
2. Know Who Your Target Client Is
You’ll need to use your website and social media accounts to create a name for yourself, to project yourself as a professional freelancer – to the right people.
If you want to freelance edit books, it’s no good focussing all your energy on following and tweeting to established authors. You need to target emerging writers and self-published authors – the people who need you!
And if you’re not interesting in editing books but are more about technical writing, approaching small businesses directly can be a good place to start – if you see a website with copy that needs improving, don’t be afraid to get in touch! Promote yourself on job sites and LinkedIn, where people will be actively searching for an editor to help them.
3. Start Networking
So you’ve set yourself up in your editing business, you’re ready for clients (and you definitely know what sort of clients you’re looking for). Next stop is networking.
You can network online through social media or the old fashioned, face-to-face way. A balance of both is best. It can be tough to start out networking with people at writing events like book launches and festivals, but with those business cards handy you’ll do just fine.
Get along to writing festivals when you can. You might just find your target clients walking around or waiting in line. If you’re a bit nervous about making conversations, take a friend along with you for a casual approach. This isn’t big business after all!
4. Get Experience
This is the tricky part if you’re just starting out as an editor. It’s one of those head-scratching questions: where do I get experience? The answer is tough. You may have to charge less or even do a little (very little!) for free.
There’s no reason that you should give your services away for pittance forever. Most definitely not. But there are ways to get a few jobs under your belt (and use them as testimonials or feedback!) without having to sell out. You need to make money, after all!
Volunteer for Friends
Ask your writer friends if they have any stories or poems they’re looking to submit to journals or competitions and offer to help them edit the work.
This works out well for you and your friend, because you get used to the editing process (and how different clients may respond) and your friend’s writing improves.
You could also ask people you know if they need any technical writing edited. You’d be surprised how many small business owners and office workers need someone to look over their website, business proposal or grant application (especially when they aren’t writers themselves!).
Get Involved in the Industry
If you have a little more time on your hands and don’t mind working for next to nothing, try getting an internship or small role on an editorial team.
Getting involved in the industry in this way allows you to be part of a wider community of writers and editors. You can easily bounce off others who are probably in similar freelancing positions, ask for advice, and include your work on your website.
If your client sees that you’re not only a freelancer, but you also edit for others in the industry, it gives you an edge of experience over others. As we’ve mentioned, you obviously can’t intern forever but it is an option if you’re just starting out.
5. What To Do When You Get Work
The seemingly impossible has happened – you’ve got an email from someone who wants to pay you to edit their writing. Take a minute to jump up and down, pop the champagne, be proud of yourself. You did it!
Now comes the (real) work. You’ll need to negotiate price, deadlines, and be briefed on the work involved. There are a lot of technical bits to tick off and it’s easy to fall into a trap of niceties and get stung.
Be Clear About What is Expected
Above anything else, you need to be extremely clear with your client about what work you’ll be doing and for how much.
It may seem obvious but an edit can easily turn into three rounds of structural edits, proofreading, and formatting. And when you’ve already been paid up front, it’s difficult to ask for more money.
This is when you need to put your business hat on and be firm yet friendly in your emails or discussions. Outline exactly what you’ll be doing, and make it clear that if you need to do more, then the price may go up. And if they don’t pay you on time? The price might go up then, too.
Write a Tax Invoice
This bit sounds just as scary as getting an ABN, but once you’ve written a few invoices you’ll be a total pro. If you’re going to claim tax on your freelancing, or if your client wants to claim it on theirs, you’ll need to whip up an invoice.
You can find tax invoice templates online with a simple search and the best way to go is by designing it in Word or Excel. Once you’ve created a blank template of your own, save it to your computer, and then you’ll only need to fill in the details whenever you need a new invoice. Always turn your docs into PDFs if you’re sending them via email. That way your client can’t mess with the details too easily.
It’s easy to get carried away with working on a project so make sure you keep in touch with your clients about how the work is going and how you’re dealing with the deadline.
You obviously don’t need to bombard them with updates every day, but if the project is a longer one then just keep in touch at least once a week.
You’re essentially building a relationship with your clients, because you want to keep working with them in future (or at least refer you to a friend!). So reassuring them that the work they paid for is going swimmingly is a good thing.
Every freelancer's journey will be different. It's not an easy road to start on, but it is extremely rewarding.
With the right knowledge base and growing experience in the field, you'll be on your way to becoming a successful and self-sufficient freelance editor.