Enough Work to Go Around?

In the freelance-editing field, the topic persistently arises of whether to share client lists with other editors. New editors looking for a way into the industry hope that some nice, established editor will put them in touch with the right people. Some new freelancers might even expect this, seeming to not understand exactly what they are asking. Conversely, established editors want to protect what they have earned with their years of experience and may be reluctant to share contacts with just anybody.

Should new freelancers expect a helping hand from the veterans among us? And just how important is it to guard your client list once you have built it?

Most of us received some amount of help in getting where we are. I know I did—a lot of help—and so, from the beginning of my career, I have tried to give back. Often that has meant sharing my knowledge of the industry with those looking to break in. Other times, it has meant sharing clients.

Several years ago, I said as much to a fellow freelancer, someone I considered a mentor. She said, “I don’t understand that saying. Give back what?” She felt she never was given anything she needed to return. As fate would have it, a few years later, her main client had dried up and she called me looking for a way to keep her business going. She had taught me plenty about editing; I was ready to do whatever I could. To start, I put her in touch with one of my clients who I knew was looking for editors. She never followed up. Perhaps not surprisingly, her freelance company is no longer.

What did I learn from this experience? This woman, who felt she had never been given anything she did not earn, was unable to see the gifts she had received. She acknowledged neither the training and education provided by her capable teachers nor the job opportunities and support her colleagues had given her. And she ended up with nothing. I adopted the opposite stance, and my business is stronger than ever.

New entrants into the freelance field need to remember that building a client list takes time. There should be no expectation of receiving client contact information without putting in the effort to hone the required skills and build relationships. Like many editors I have spoken with, I have had brand-new editors say to me, “Hey, I’m gonna need to get some contacts from you,” as if it were a given. That is when I say, “You will need to get your résumé in order before I can confidently refer you to any of my clients. Here are a few things you will need…”

I have also received calls from experienced editors who are just branching out into the freelance world. Those who are polite, respect my time, and understand that any contact information I share is given because I trust them, I am happy to put in touch with a few clients. Like many others, I have clients with more work than editors, and it doesn’t hurt me to share that information. In the cases when I am the beneficiary of someone else’s client contact information, I say thank you. Then I not only follow up, but also provide excellent service for that client. I know my actions reflect on the person who made the connection and I will not let them down.

To be clear, I do not advocate giving away your client list to every new editor or freelancer who asks for it. As noted, the established editor may be putting his or her reputation on the line when referring a new editor to a client. Therefore, you have to know something about and have a certain amount of trust in the other freelancer’s abilities and character.

So, what do you do when the asking editor does not meet your standards for referrals? In lieu of giving away contacts, consider educating the person about how you found and have held on to the clients you have. Although one can gain a gig based on a referral, maintaining the client demands high-quality work. At times, new freelancers need to be reminded of that.

Some established editors don’t only begrudge giving away their contacts. They also do not wish to give away their time, especially to those who are just dipping a toe in the water. I (and many others) enjoy educating new editors about publishing. Many people did the same for me when I was coming up, and I feel I owe it to the universe to share what I have been given. That said, these “young whippersnappers” can be the worst offenders in assuming that veteran freelancers should willingly give away their contact lists. More often, I have found they are well-meaning and simply need to be told what they can rightly expect. Although it may feel as if you are wasting your time when you spend 30 minutes talking to a “newbie” about how to break in, consider it an investment in your future. Freelance work often fluctuates, but if you take the time to help others, you will have a network of people ready to assist you when you need it.

Helping the next generation can take many forms, such as sharing knowledge, time, or clients. Next time some new freelancer asks you for a helping hand, I hope that you will remember the support you received and send that back out into the world. None of us has gotten where we are all on our own. And in this world of blogs, journals, trade book publishers, corporations, nonprofits, packagers, textbook publishers, academic presses, and self-publishers, there really is enough work to go around.

Like this blog? Find more insights and advice in Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, available from POP Editorial Services LLC, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and other fine retailers.

5 Tips for Successful Networking at Conferences

Conferences are an excellent place to meet people and make business connections. Yet the idea of networking at a large venue like a conference makes some people sweat. Often it seems people place undue stress on themselves to do it right and never show their flaws. If you approach it as a human being and not just a marketer, however, it becomes much easier.

The following five tips will help you make the most of a conference.

1. Go to learn.

This is a big one. Conferences of all kinds offer valuable information for attendees. If you are a writer at a writers’ conference, this fact is obvious. If you are an editor at a writers’ conference or business leaders’ conference and you’re attending because you want to meet new clients, it might not be as clear-cut.

Even if the topics aren’t directly applicable to the work you do, these conferences give you an opportunity to learn something new. You might be surprised by how much of the information applies to your own work and business.

More important is the attitude you carry. If you are there to learn, you will be engaged, ask good questions, and show respect to the presenters you are listening to. Attendees will notice you have more to offer than a business card.

2. Plan to ask a question in each presentation you attend.

One part of networking is making yourself visible. Asking questions is a great way to do that. Stand up if it’s a large room, give your name and occupation or the name of your company, and ask a relevant question. Listen to the answer.

To ask good questions, you have to be engaged in the presentation. Again, you are showing respect for the topic and the presenter, and you are demonstrating that you care about the same things the other attendees care about. You also show that you are a critical thinker, always a valued attribute.

3. Talk to the person sitting next to you in a session.

While you’re waiting for the next session to start, you may find yourself sitting quietly, elbow to elbow with a complete stranger. This is your chance to practice your networking. If you aren’t outgoing, you might not be used to starting conversations, but there are a few easy questions to ask to get the ball rolling. Start with hello, then follow up with a question about the other person:

  • Are you having a good conference?
  • Are you a writer/editor/businessperson also?
  • What did you think of the keynote speaker?
  • Are you from the area?
  • Have you been to this conference before?

Now listen to the answer. If the person on one side of you doesn’t seem interested in talking, don’t get discouraged. Those are the rare ones. Try someone else. If you two have something in common and want to stay in touch, exchange business cards. After the conference you can send a brief email to reconnect.

4. Join others at lunchtime.

Scarier even than talking to the person next to you is walking up to a table of strangers and asking to sit with them. Nightmares from junior high may flash through your head. But conference organizers these days are very good at taking the pressure off. Some have conversation starters at the tables. Others have tables labeled with topics of interest so that you can locate like-minded people. Even if your conference does not have these things, a warm smile will usually result in a warm welcome from the people already at the table.

The conversation starters above apply here as well. The difference is that the conversation will last longer than the 5 to 10 minutes that you wait for the presenter to speak. So be prepared to talk a little about yourself — what you’re working on, what services you offer, what brought you to the conference.

If this part really makes you nervous, do a few warm-ups by yourself. Practice using your voice so that it works when you need it. An exercise I learned recently is repeating “minimal animal, minimal animal” and “unique New York, unique New York.” To say the phrases right, you have to open your mouth and project. You will feel silly the first time, but it works surprisingly well.

Again, if you meet someone you might be able to do business with, exchange cards and follow up with a brief email after the conference.

5. Wear an ice breaker.

Now we have discussed meeting people while attending a presentation or when sitting at lunch, but what about those in-between times? What happens when you’re looking at exhibits or grabbing a muffin before the next session starts?

If you have been asking questions at each presentation and talking to your neighbors, people may approach you. Give them something to talk about. Wear a funny or notable tie or a memorable brooch. Add the title of your book and/or your occupation to your name tag. Wear a pin that says “Ask me about my editing services.”

You don’t need to wander into the realm of “flair.” Keep it professional. But wearing something unusual can make it easier for someone to approach you, and everyone appreciates an “in” to striking up a conversation.

And that’s really all networking is — talking to people to learn about them and determine how you can help each other. If you talk to enough people, exchange cards with the ones you connect with, and follow up after the event, you are virtually guaranteed to grow your network.

Like this blog? Find more insights and advice in Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, available from POP Editorial Services LLC, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and other fine retailers.